1)If you do not know my whole story, this will be a tough first read for you and may not give the right impression. I highly suggest you read the first entry in this blog as it will reveal a little more about my attitude towards the events that touched my life over a short period of time....one of them addressed in this entry. You do not have to go back far to get to the first entry. Sadly there are not that many for, while I believe I have a lot to say, my life does not afford me the time I would like to put pen to paper...or in this case fingers to keyboard.
2)I did NOT bring you to this blog entry for a financial donation to Team in Training. This blog was created in November 2009 to document the events surrounding my wife's second diagnosis with cancer. To honor her fight, I signed up for my 8th Team in Training event and fundraised to fight back against such a horrible disease that has affected most people in one way or another. Because I am so active with Team in Training, I am always fundraising so there is still a link at the top of this blog. Again, that link is not why I am writing this post.
3)In conjunction with the second item, while I do not have a financial request, every year I do ask a favor of friends and family on Isabella's Day. In today's virtual world, I have come to consider as friends people whom I have never met in person so if we are connected on Twitter, I will ask the same favor of you. It is a simple one. It is an important one to me. I will share it with you at the end of this entry.
4)Lastly, I cannot really tell you why I am writing this post or which direction it will head. It may go somewhere, it may not. It is my way of remembering and keeping Isabella alive. For someone that never spoke a word, I would argue she has made a huge impact on me and, because of the impact on me, an impact on the many people I have been able to impact over the years. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge a part of this entry is selfish........a way to cope with the silence I find deafening around this time of year. My reaction to the silence is to raise my voice and fight harder to make a difference. In that sense, I must share my thoughts for even if they impact only one person......it was worth laying my feelings on the line.
On to my thoughts.............
As I sit at my desk, it is mid July 2010. It is the seventh July since my daughter Isabella passed away at birth. Every July gets a little better. Every July finds me a little stronger. Every July also finds me very much the same though... as I don't think you ever fully recover after the loss of a child. Isabella Soleil Wilno passed away on August 1, 2003. She never spoke a word. As I wrote in an email to all my friends and colleagues days after her passing, Isabella spent 9 months with the warmth, comfort and security of my wife and then passed straight to the hands of the Lord. It is tough not to think of that as a blessed life. It is this view of the world that I believe has me writing this post. A very sad day.........one that can bring me instantly to tears if I allow my mind to take me back there........ultimately helped to define me. Did it all start with this email...I am not certain. I am sure folks would have understood a somber email speaking of the injustice of it all.......that is not what they received.
It was the afternoon of July 31st which also happened to be my wedding anniversary. I had been out of town a lot because 3,000 miles away my father was fighting for the life cancer was trying to take and ultimately took from him. I was at work where just a few days earlier, my wife Crea had visited the office where we shared many friends. I remember making jokes about how large her belly was. As I would walk nearby her, I would pretend to be sucked into orbit and start circling her. Dumb humor....I know...but it made me laugh and I am my biggest fan. Days passed and now we were 2 days from the official due date. This night would be a celebration of 4 years of marriage and in a few days we would celebrate the birth of our new little girl, Isabella Soleil Wilno.
I was feeling on top of the world.
Then the phone rang. Crea's name appeared on the screen of my cellphone and I anxiously answered it. With only a few days to go until the due date, any call could be 'THE' call to rush to the hospital. I picked up the phone. I remember Crea being very calm. I also remember Crea telling me she was going to head over to the hospital. I was very confused. Why was she going to the hospital directly instead of coming home to get everything we would need for the trip? At this point, I thought it was 'THE' call but something did not feel right. I asked Crea again and she explained that something felt wrong to her.........she could not feel the baby kicking any more. As fast as I have run in my life........I am sure I never ran faster than on this day to my car. I remember my tires screeching out of the parking lot as I passed a coworker with a look of terror on her face. Everything seemed to be crumbling around me.
A little while later, Crea and I were in Santa Monica sitting in a hospital room. Same drill that we had gone through many times over the last few months. An ultrasound machine was wheeled over. Crea pulled up her shirt. Squeeze some fluid onto her stomach......Doc says "this might be a little cold"......shortly thereafter we see a beating heart on the screen. Today went exactly that way except attempt after attempt after attempt revealed no beating heart. I cannot remember if I was crying or not. It was all so surreal. How did we go from this amazing place of joy to such a place of desperation hoping Isabella was just on her side? "Please baby, be okay, please God, let everything be okay" I remember screaming this in my head but after many futile attempts, the conclusion was that Isabella was no longer with us. Her body was still present but that little spirit had already moved on. It was the worst moment of my entire life. It was the lowest point of my entire life.
The next few hours are a blur for me. I was the one that had to make all the phone calls to family. I do not remember most of them. All I remember was when someone picked up the phone there was positive anticipation expecting to hear good news. I was the one that had to shatter the joy........shatter the hope of a sister, a niece, a granddaughter. The toughest call was, of course, to my Dad. He was fighting for his life. I always thanked him for fighting back and not giving up. He always said he had a lot of reasons to fight. Certainly one of those reasons to fight was me.........we were best friends...........but Isabella most definitely was high on the list. He could not wait to hold her. I now had to call him and tell him that was not going to happen..........at least not here in this world. To most, he would have appeared to take it very well...........to me, I could hear his heart break like someone had blown off a cannon inches from my face. Not taking it so well was my Mom. My parents were living out of a hotel room near the University of South Carolina where my father was being treated. She was screaming so loudly that hotel staff came running to her to try and ease her pain. Not a good day.
Hours later, my amazing wife was induced into labor. While this makes sense medically it struck me as so unfair at the time. How could one still have to go through labor knowing the outcome was so unpleasant. The rest of our anniversary night was spent waiting. As midnight neared, things were definitely moving forward and pushing was upon us. This part I have shared before but it is at this point when pushing was the instinct that my wife fought back. She fought NOT to push. She used all she had inside of her to hold off until after the clock struck midnight. It was our anniversary. Isabella would not be born...........and as such, officially pronounced dead on this day. Once the clock struck midnight, Crea let nature take its course and shortly thereafter, the doctor was holding Isabella. No screaming baby. Silence except for the sounds of sadness coming from my wife and me. It was such an empty moment.
A little while later our little girl was handed to us and we were left alone. She was so beautiful. So very beautiful. We spent as much time with her as we were allowed. We have pictures of her that I will never ever share. The only one I ever shared is the one you see here with the hands of Mother, Father and Daughter. Crea's family all made it to the hospital. Everyone held Isabella taking their turns at saying both hello and goodbye. Ultimately everyone left except for me. I never left Crea's side. I stayed with Crea the entire time until she was released from the hospital. I do not recall much from those days. Friends and family came and left. I remember going in and out of our room dozens of times and seeing a dove that had been placed on the door. It was the way to let folks know things had not gone so well. I remember calling hotels because we really were not ready to go home. We needed to be somewhere else because the silence in the house would be too much to take. We ultimately found ourselves at a Residence Inn near Manhattan Beach. I had shared our story with them and they naturally put us in their biggest and best room. That was our home base for a while. Home base to plan the memorial service. Home base to figure out how to step forward.
Isabella had passed. I was born.
During our time in the hospital, there were many tears shed but there was a great sense of strength that overcame me. A big part was trying to be strong for Crea. The rest I think ties to being strong for everyone else. The feeling in the air was great sadness........understandably.........but I really felt I had the ability to make it better. I cannot explain it any better than that. I went to work. People were shocked to see me. They did not know what to say. I could see the intense struggle within people so I sat down to write the email I mention above. I tried to find words to make things better. I searched for the positive.
"Strength is born in the deep silence of long-suffering hearts; not amid joy"
After sending the email, I was off to be with Crea again. We had to handle all the details that accompany death. We found ourselves at Forest Lawn picking out Urns and at the church planning the memorial service. These were the tasks that filled our days. In mapping out the service, I really felt like I needed to say something. Isabella was my daughter. I needed to speak on her behalf. I needed to make things okay. So, while Crea would hang out at the Residence Inn recovering from the effects of having a baby, I would go to a park in Manhattan Beach with pen and paper and try to find the words to do justice to my precious little angel. We always say about those that passed that they would not want us here suffering. I certainly felt the same about Isabella. She was, after all, just a little girl. She did not know ANY sadness. I always pictured her laughing and playing. I know she was a baby but I never pictured her in Heaven that way. I think Heaven has to afford the luxury of no dirty diapers. Anyway, the words came fairly quickly for me. This memorial service would be all about the blessings that Isabella, in her short time with us, bestowed upon us. I went home, I read the speech to Crea to make sure she was okay with the message. Her tears let me know I was on the right path.
I kept returning to the park only this time I did not need a pen. I just kept saying my speech time and time and time again. My theory on speeches stands very firmly on not using any notes. I say the speech so many times that it is committed to memory and in doing so, I am able to just talk. The speech will come out different every time but the message will always be the same. I am not joking......I must have said this speech 100 times just to make sure I was ready. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I didn't. For my very last self rehearsal before heading out to the church, I was walking on Pacific Coast Highway. I had just turned into a parking lot and probably appeared insane as I was saying the speech outloud and gave the appearance I was talking to myself. At that point, I looked up and out of the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle I found myself came this amazing white rabbit. It came out of nowhere. It came right up to me. It did not run away. It did not belong. It did not fit. It felt right, though. It just stared at me from a foot away. For all I know, a mile down the road was a panicked family madly searching for their loving pet that had escaped. For me, it was a moment. I was ready.
Well, the rest is history. Crea and I want to the church. We hovered in the back until the Memorial Service was to start. I remember walking out in amazement. So many people had made the journey to join us. It was incredible. The service went on. 'Tears of Heaven' by Eric Clapton played. Seemed appropriate. I gave my speech. No notes of course. Afterward we stood as a procession of friends and family passed by us to offer some words. The consistent theme was twofold. One, of course, was condolences. The other was gratitude for the words I had shared. People had come wanting to help us but, instead, it was the words I spoke that helped to ease their pain. One good friend of mine shared through tears that he could feel Isabella in the room as I was talking. I, of course, knew she was there and maybe it was her that was giving me the strength to hold everyone on my shoulders during this time.
That is my story. I apologize if it brought any sadness to you. That is not my intent. I read before that there is a big difference between 'dead' and 'passed on'. Isabella most certainly lives on in Crea and I. She also lives on in others. I know this for a fact. She has changed lives. Someone who never took one step on this planet changed lives. What should that tell you? I would argue it should tell you that you can make a difference. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, to affect lives, to affect the world. Every event that touches your life.........be it the happiest moment one can imagine or the loss of your child........has value. In that sense, even the darkest time of your life can be your best time. I am now going to share the speech I gave for Isabella. Read it if you want. Skip it if you want. I questioned for years whether I should share this or not. This year, 7 years later I have decided to put it out there. If you choose to read it, please know this was just the outline I used to speak to. I did not read these words exactly as they appear on the page................I just talked. Secondly, this will certainly not be the best speech you every read. That is not remotely close to my claim. Please remember it is important to my family and I so please treat it as such.
Good afternoon everyone. It is wonderful to see so many loving faces here today and I only wish it were for a much happier occasion than this. Crea and I know that it is not only ourselves and Tiana that need to heal from the loss of our beautiful Isabella but that all of our friends, our family and even some strangers we shared tears with this week that need to heal. We thank you very much for being here.
I have been concerned all week about standing up here and speaking with such a heavy heart. I have not only worried about crying my eyes out but of not crying my eyes out so if I do break down, I know you understand and please bear with me as I will do my best to recover. If, on the contrary I do not break down, please know it is not a sign I have built up a wall to all of this. I have cried my eyes out with Crea for the past week but I have also seen God give me a great amount of strength to help me endure some very tough situations over that same time period.
When Crea and I got married almost exactly 4 years ago, my father was the best man and preceding his toast, he mentioned through crying eyes that asking a parent to give a speech on such an emotional day was asking quite a difficult task. As I stand before you today, I can assure you my father was correct. My wife, Crea, and I come here after a week of tears and for someone that has little difficulty with words, I find words very hard to come by or at least they come very heavy to me. After this week of tears though.....of thought....of reflection....and of prayer, I do come here with something to say for Isabella, though not physically with us anymore has touched my life, has touched Crea's life...has touched all of our lives to the point where I know.......without question, she is a Miracle from God.
I first want to touch on a few things....a few ways Isabella has touched the lives of Crea and I as well as other lives around us. First of all, Isabella...through pregnancy, birth and her passing on to the Lord melded one amazing group of people into what I would now with great pride, great appreciation and great Love call my family. Over the last nine months, and especially shining over the last sorrowful week, everyone has shown Crea and I so much love and caring and compassion through words, through visits.....through a wide array of means for which our gratitude would be difficult to express in words. Seeing people...friends, family and, again, complete strangers that have heard our story...come together as one has truly been a blessing.
From a personal perspective, these types of situations are very difficult for me as all of my blood relatives are on the East coast and being unable to share this loss face to face is quite difficult...especially as it pertains to my mother and father whom I Love and miss terribly. Many of you know my father has been fighting with all the strength God has given him to beat Leukemia and I ask that you keep him in your prayers that God be with him and heal him and give him the strength to keep fighting as there will most definitely be a new grandchild to hold one day soon. Anyway, it is easy when two people come together in marriage to think of my parents versus his or her parents and, to be honest, I may have been victim to that same thought process. I think it is human but Isabella has changed all of that and as I stand here I truly feel I no longer have a mother and father in law or brothers and sisters in law but that I have true family on both sides of the country. I want to thank all of Crea's family and her great friends for taking me in their arms over the past week and making me feel like I do today.
Another blessing that Isabella has provided is that she did give my father another reason to keep fighting through his pain. My Dad could not make it here today but he is here with us and Crea and I are going see my parents in a month and my Dad will see the tape of this service and that is truly a great blessing for me.
I have another daughter that you all know. Her name is Tiana. I have always loved her and I have always considered her my own daughter. Through Isabella, however, my Love and my admiration for Tiana has grown more than I could have thought possible. Over the past week, Crea and I have seen an eleven year old girl put on an amazing show of strength and courage. Crea and I are so proud of you Tiana and please know that Isabella would have Loved you so much as a big sister.
Another blessing over the last week has been Crea and I learning that our relationship with God...our trust in God...our Faith in God is far stronger than either one of us realized. Isabella's passing.....in many ways...could have pushed us away from God. We could have cried out in anger at God but we didn't choose that path. We know that God has Isabella in His hands and we know that Isabella is safe and very well Loved. I do not claim that I understand any of this and we so very much wish we were at home with Isabella right now but we know that Isabella...our beautiful Isabella...is HOME with God and take comfort in that fact.
There are many more blessings that Isabella has bestowed upon us but I only want to mention one more at this time and it is a very important one at that. Isabella....from just the very thought and possibility of her, without question, saved, or at the very least rejuvenated the marriage of Crea and I. Without getting into great detail, there was a time when Crea and I were not looking like our marriage would survive but less than a year ago, God came back into my life.....talk of working things out began.....thoughts of having a child developed and we stand here today very much in Love and very much needing each other. God, of course, was a great catalyst to all of this but the Hope of Isabella really brought us together. Those of you that made it by the hospital this past week were witness to what I am saying and could see how close Crea and I have become. We shared a bed the entire time in the hospital and were pretty much inseparable. We could have been angry with each other...we could have pushed each other away but we chose each other and I thank our little Angel in Heaven for that.
As for Isabella herself.......she was and is such a beautiful little girl. She was so amazing to hold. She had beautiful little hands and beautiful little feet. She had a perfect nose, tiny rosebud lips and a little cleft like mine in her chin. Her heart stopped beating but I know it was a big heart....a Godly heart and I know she would have been an amazing person to know and I am sorry I will not get to see her grow up. Her earthly measurements were 5 lbs 9 ounces and 19 inches long but her Godly measurements go far beyond that. As one great friend wrote to me in an email this week:
"It never hurts to think about having your own little saint already in heaven who intervenes directly with God on your behalf. In that sense, you have truly been blessed in a special way!"
This is how Crea and I choose to look at what has happened and we hope you all do too. In closing, I would like to quote myself from a poem I wrote long ago. Those of you at our wedding heard this verse. It reads:
"I will hold you in my arms on the day our lives cross like I have held you in my heart for as long as I can remember."
Isabella, I have held you in my heart my whole life. I dreamed of you my little baby girl. I will never ever forget you and I will see you in Heaven.
Now two more things:
First, I would like to offer some words to those that may find themselves in a place of despair....financially, physically, emotionally or all of the above.
"You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give" Eleanor Roosevelt
I believe we all go through things for a reason and, for that to be true, we have to accept we are where we are meant to be. If you can read this post, you are breathing and that means you have more to accomplish with your time here. I truly believe.....with all that I am......that blessings come from even the darkest of events and most trying of times. Open your eyes. The blessings may be in front of you. They may be around the corner. They may reveal themselves immediately or they may be hidden for years. I am certain of one thing, though, and that is the blessings are there. Live your life with passion and out of your darkness will come amazing things.
"It's not what they take away from you that counts, it's what you do with what you have left that counts" Hubert H. Humphrey
I lost a father. I lost a daughter. I watched my wife fight cancer twice. Dark times...perhaps....but I gained the understanding my Dad and Isabella are still with me. I gained the understanding I will see them again. I gained a wife. I gained some amazing friends. I gained an organization in Team in Training that allows me to fight back. I gained the ability to help others. I gained the knowledge I can make a difference. I gained the knowledge anyone can make a difference. I gained the knowledge any one person has the ability to change the world. I gained a son, Jaden. I gained a daughter, Thalia. I gained running. I gained triathlon. I gained a life of giving back and for that I could never have regrets.
Lastly for this post is the favor I request of you. It is a simple one. On August 1st, I would be honored at some point in the day if you would raise a glass in Isabella's name. A simple toast to her. It can be a beer, a shot, a glass of water or a triple shot Latte......it does not matter to me. Just help me remember the little girl I miss so much, the little girl I carry in my heart.....the little girl that made me who I am. To Isabella.