After losing my daughter, Trinity, I am writing to share how her short life has transformed mine. She was like a flash of lightening, a bright light gone in an instant, but the thunder that resulted is still reverberating today. It shook me to my core, but I’m still here, albeit rearranged.

(This "complete" blog is a 12 chapter mini-book, with a few stray posts at the "end". To read it like a book, please start with 02/12 at the top of the archive on the right.)

Monday, February 13, 2012


Today is February 13, 2012, my daughter Trinity’s sixth birthday. There will not be a party or presents or guests. It will just be my husband and me trying to explain to her 4 year old twin brothers why she is in Heaven, as we eat a small pink birthday cake. Perhaps we’ll also escape to the mountains, as has been our tradition each year so far. That sounds pitiful, but we have to validate her existence as part of our family, and the significant impact her short life has made. She was like a flash of lightening, a bright light gone in an instant, but the thunder that resulted is still reverberating today. It shook me to my core, but I’m still here, albeit rearranged.

Though the catalyst to my writing was loss, the inertia propelling it is encouragement. This is not just a sad story. It is also a story about rising from the ashes. So if you are unable to make it through today’s post, please join me next week.
The plan is for this to be a 12 week project, with one post per week. If this were a book, it would have three parts. Parts One and Three are the beginning and end. Part Two is the meat, comprised of ten chapters that detail ten milestones of my rearrangement, my Trinity Transformation. 

(Though this was six years ago, I retell it as if were happening today.)

It is before dawn on a Monday, chilly and damp, a common San Francisco morning. My husband, Richard, and I are alone, except for various hospital staff. The closest family is several time zones away, but our dear friend/professional photographer, Joanne Lee, is on the way to capture the occasion. She does not arrive in time for the birth, but thank God she gets here shortly after. We could not have anticipated the importance of her role.

It’s been a long, slow labor and the moment is finally here. Our baby girl emerges at 5:04 am with that final push, and her silence fills the room. As she is rushed to the warming table, Richard turns off the video camera. The joyous birth of our first child is turning into something we will not want to watch again and again, perhaps ever again. What is going on? We didn’t learn about this scenario in birthing class. I had envisioned having her handed directly to me for immediate skin on skin contact. Richard would cut the cord, and I’d offer her my breast right away. I wanted the bonding to begin from the first seconds of her life. I wanted to gaze into her little eyes and feel that indescribable connection. I had become fixated on a picture in my birthing book of a tiny newborn held in dad’s strong hands. There was something so dreamy about those eyes, and I’ve really been looking forward to getting lost in her gaze. Would they be blue like mine? Or brown like daddy? I would have to wait to find out. I put my disappointment on hold as the goal of healthy baby trumps the methods it may take to achieve that goal.

Several people are tending to her, cleaning off her fresh baby skin and cleaning out her airways. I hear, “Come on baby!” as they pat her little feet, the way a coach would encourage an athlete. It’s taking too long. When will I get to hold her? At the same time people are tending to me and scurrying around the room. Exhaustion, relief, concern, disappointment, and medication cloud my senses.

Finally, someone hands me my warm little bundle. I have waited so long for this moment, too long, and it is not what I’ve imagined. Her eyes are closed and her breathing is shallow. I know she needs more help. What I do not know, is that this is my only moment to hold her while she is alive, so I hand her back to a nurse to take her to the NICU to get the additional care she needs. I think she will be fine, but she isn’t fine yet. It’s an unsettling feeling. Richard accompanies her, and I stay in bed, immobilized from the residual effects of the epidural. I learn about my second degree tear, which is about to be repaired. The room is now empty except for me, the doctor, and the heavy, awkward quiet. Time continues to drag.

Richard cycles between the NICU and my room. Each time he comes back, he is more hysterical. As her condition worsens and more staff joins the effort to help her, he is asked to leave. At this point, his hysteria is full blown. He’s a very passionate, emotional man, and I think he is overreacting. My coping methods leave me stoic. I hold it all together until the facts are in, and then fall apart in private. Besides, she will be fine right? God is faithful. Richard, Joanne, and I hold hands and I pray out loud. ”Where two or more are gathered…” We wait. Richard would later tell me how before he was asked to leave the NICU, she opened her eyes and looked at him. He was at her feet. She gave him a knowing look.

A small medical team walks slowly across the room and eventually reaches my bedside. The head of the NICU takes my hand with both of hers and speaks. 

© Joanne HoYoung Lee
I think she is going to tell me how my baby girl is doing. Instead she tells me they have done all they could. I can’t remember how she phrased it, but it felt cold and insensitive. I suppose there’s no good way to deliver such news, and she probably has to do it more than we care to know. Perhaps she was just trying her best to keep it together and be professional. I can’t remember what else she said, but this must be when she explained that there wasn’t an explanation. She was severely anemic, and they couldn’t account for the blood loss. The little blood she did have was clotting massively, which is highly unusual. They kept trying to get an IV in her, but couldn’t find a vein that would accept fluid. All of them were too clotted. As a last resort, they tried to get an IV into her belly button, which they do not like to do, but the situation was dire. That also failed. Too many clots. Time of death, 7-something a.m. I am too stunned to feel anything at first. But the pain won't stay away for long.

Richard and Joanne now have to call family and friends who are waiting to hear the happy news. I am desperately grateful to be spared that task. Listening to my husband tell our moms is agony. “She didn’t make it.” My mom, on the other end, is obviously unable to process what she just heard. And then he must repeat those unthinkable words, a little louder, voice broken, barely able to say it again. My mom would be on the next flight. The conversation repeats with his mom. She would arrive the next day along with his grandmother and sister. Joanne is out in the hall calling friends.

The pale hospital light has been gradually replaced with sunlight. It doesn’t fit, and I am angry at the sun for shining, and the cars going by on the street below. How dare the world continue about its business. The news spreads quickly and a dozen or so friends rush to comfort us. They actually miss work to take part in the worst day of our lives. This is just one of many acts, for which we will be forever thankful. When everyone arrives, I ask our friend Dean to pray. It’s sort of like an impromptu funeral. Would we have a funeral? How does all this work? All our thoughts have been focused on how to prepare for the arrival our baby, not her death.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

 © Joanne HoYoung Lee

We have her brought back in so our friends can see her. I know this must be hard for them, but she is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and I want them to see her too. By now, she’s been gone a little longer. Her small mouth gapes open as I cradle her limp little body in my arms, haunting as Lisa describes it. Justine encourages me to inspect her fingers and toes. She actually has long fingernails, perfectly manicured somehow.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

I treasure her while I can, knowing our time is short. I study her sweet face and button nose and try to commit them to memory. Joanne at some point asked permission to take pictures. I barely remember her asking, but thankfully I agreed. She captures these priceless moments. She captures Trinity. I am glad I will not have to rely on my devastated mind to remember what she looks like.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

I hate goodbyes. I find “until next time” much easier to accept. But Richard & I know that it’s now or never. She’s starting to look worse, and we can’t bear it. We know she’s not really in that little body anymore anyway. With heaviest hearts, we send her back for the last time.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee

They’ve taken blood from Richard and me to test us for a common blood clotting disorder, we’ve consented, with sadness, to an autopsy so that they can try to provide answers, we’ve visited with Trinity and friends; it’s time to leave the labor and delivery room. We are transferred to a tiny post partum room, and most friends depart due to lack of space. A few stay and walk to a nearby grocery store to pick up a pint of my favorite ice cream and a pink and white variegated azalea to brighten the room. Little did I know that I would manage to keep that azalea alive for several years, and that it would bloom for her birthday every year.

A hospital social worker arrives with some bland words and a packet of papers. I am offended that there are pamphlets for this. You mean this happens often enough for there to be literature? I’m disgusted. But stepping outside my emotion for a moment, of course I am not the first person this has happened to. That’s exactly why there is a packet of papers full of resources. I am not interested in any of it now. I’m not sure I can even read right now. And we have paperwork to fill out. How can we possibly be expected to do paperwork right now? But they need to know her name, and we need to decide. We had it narrowed down to a few favorites and wanted to see which one fit her best. Naming your child is supposed to be fun. Again, this is not how I imagined it. We decide on Trinity Layne Wons. Trinity had been our front runner all through the pregnancy, and Layne was my middle name that I gave up when I got married. She shares our last name.

We then learn that we will unfortunately receive her death certificate before we get her birth certificate, another irritating detail. This would become more upsetting several weeks later when we take her death certificate to a government building, have them issue her birth certificate and watch them pound the red stamp “DECEASED” on it. Another crushing moment.

The hospital provided us with a small keepsake box with handprints, footprints, and a lock of hair. She had dark curly hair like daddy. These I will cherish, but they are not enough. I want all of her! It feels like a lame consolation prize. You can’t have the new car, but here are some tire tracks, and a sample of the leather interior.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

The sound of all the crying newborns is unbearable, when your newborn never made a sound. The hospital staff is compassionate enough to make arrangements for us to move to a different floor. Someone suggests that we should consider staying there to help us accept our new reality. Absolutely not. We are acutely aware of our situation, and do not need to be reminded. Everyone grieves differently and perhaps that would be the right choice for others, but not us.

Now that we are settled for the night in a bigger, quieter room, I am looking forward to a long, hot shower. At last I am alone, alone with God. I don’t seem to know what I am truly thinking or feeling unless I am totally alone. Tears come again, and I want to ask God why. Why me? Why did He take her? It feels surreal like a scene out of a soap opera. People always cry and ask why. I feel stupid asking why though. What good is it asking that? It happened. There is nothing that can be done to reverse it. So “why” doesn’t seem to matter. It doesn’t appear to be anyone’s fault. There is no one to blame. I suppose a lot of people, my husband included, would be angry with God if no fingers could be pointed at people. I can’t explain it, but I am not angry. Maybe I don’t have enough energy to be angry. I just tell God that He has to do something good. We’ve all heard inspirational stories where good things come out of tragedy. That is my desperate plea and my prayer. Something good must come from this or else I won’t be able to take it. I can’t accept that she died for nothing. My mind cannot rationalize senselessness.

I would later run across a very reassuring Bible verse that would become my mantra. “And we know that all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28.

After work hours, more friends arrive. The room is dim and quiet, full of comfort. We have a really nice visit. I am feeling a little more at peace, still exhausted and heavy with grief, but the initial shock has passed. I am starting to realize I also have the physical recovery to get through. It’s good to be out of bed, but I am moving slowly. What about post partum depression? Is that a given for me now? This is going to be really hard for a really long time.

Just before midnight my mom arrives. Julia picked her up from the airport and brought her to the hospital. She also went as far as to fill our fridge and freezer with food. We are dumbfounded at our incredible friends. How do they know what to do? We don’t feel worthy. I don’t think I would know how to be as supportive. Perhaps I will after all this.

My mom is also a very emotional person, and I knew she would feel all this deeply. I am glad she is there. We haven’t seen each other in months since we live on opposite coasts, and this is not how we expected our next visit to be. She gives me a big hug, some sympathetic words and tears. She falls into bed, and Mom, Richard, and I escape into sleep. We have survived the longest and worst day.


“CONGRATULATIONS!”: Leaving the hospital, I am holding sympathy flowers in my lap as I am being wheeled to the exit. An innocent person, smiley but ignorant of our situation, congratulated me. Ouch. I am not angry. They didn’t know, but ouch. There is just no running from this pain. I’m going to encounter it everywhere.

MASTITIS: Distracted by the magnitude of everything, I have completely forgotten about my milk coming in. The physical pain of overfilled breasts adds insult to injury. The implications multiply the emotional pain. I am headed toward mastitis because my baby girl isn’t here for me to nourish and nurture. I will just have to suffer through this, too.  

THE LOGISITCS OF DEATH: Should we have a funeral? How do we plan one? How are we supposed to make important decisions right now anyway? We meet with Dean and Justine from our church, and they help us figure it out. It won’t really be a funeral because Trinity won’t be there. It will be a memorial service. And Dean and Justine will take care of it. It’s a big relief.

What do we do with her body? Do we bury her? We know we are not settled, and we have no idea where we will end up later, so burying her somewhere alone is unthinkable. We decide on cremation, so we can keep her ashes with us until we settle someday. Cianna steps up to hold our hands through this process. She unfortunately has experience with death, so she finds a funeral home for us. We make an appointment, pick out her tiny urn, and specify the engraving. This was terribly draining, but also a relief. After we make it through each difficult step, we can stop to rest. We are making some progress with these awful, unavoidable details.One less thing to dread.

FAMILY: The simplest arrangements are nearly insurmountable. All nine family members are from out of town and will not fit in our small condo. Feelings are hurt about who gets to stay with us and who has to get a hotel. One night, those staying at our condo cannot decide where to sleep, and I am called in to help. I’m still embarrassed about the string of expletives that spew from my mouth. I can’t believe a bunch of grownups can’t figure where to sleep. Richard and I feel like we somehow need to take care of everyone who is supposed to be taking care of us. Every meal is a chore. I don’t feel like I can stay in bed, where I want to be. Richard needs backup. But grace prevails, and we realize that everyone else is grieving and incapacitated, too.

THE MEMORIAL SERVICE: It’s a drippy Saturday evening about dusk. We arrive early to the roomy, but cozy Axis Café. The living room type furniture is arrayed around the fireplace. More chairs are aligned in rows behind. The room fills with people while soft music plays. As guests arrive, we receive the first of countless embraces.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee

Family and friends sign the guest book that Joanne has made, complete with photos. The last photo is of Richard, Trinity, and me, and catches my mom off guard. She points it out to my Dad, Sisters, and Grandma.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

© Joanne HoYoung Lee

© Joanne HoYoung Lee 

Joanne has also assembled a shadow box from the contents of the hospital keepsake box and added photos to that, too. It is on display with pregnancy photos she’d taken of me, a picture of Trinity, and a mosaic tile goody box my sister, Jamie, had made during my pregnancy. It is all carefully arranged with flowers and one white votive candle.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
The program is poignant, well thought out and well executed, led by Dean and Justine. Lisa sings a solo, accompanied by Mike on the keyboard. Friends share sweet words. Somehow Richard manages to speak, and it’s beautiful. There is no way I could have done that, and I am amazed at him. Dean closes with prayer and light refreshments are served. We thoroughly enjoy everyone for the whole evening. It is a lovely culmination to a hideous week.

© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee

© Joanne HoYoung Lee
© Joanne HoYoung Lee

It means everything to be surrounded by family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and friends of friends. Family dropped everything and flew in from the East Coast and Midwest. Friends changed plane tickets and plans. Friends’ significant others who barely know us are here. People we don’t know are here from church volunteering. We are overwhelmed by love in action, and are forever grateful for each and every person that has reached out to help us survive this time.