“I’m sorry, your daughter has no brain or skull. She is not compatible with life outside the womb. She will likely pass in utero, during birth, or minutes to hours after she is born.”
Time stopped. My body went numb and I struggled to take a breath with what felt like collapsed lungs. I sank down next to our bed and wrapped my arms around my swollen belly. I felt a kick, kick, and a roll. There was life growing there. How could they say she was going to die?
All I could do was sit and cry. Family was called and in minutes they were by our sides. No words were spoken; it was a silence I won’t soon forget.
It was not a voice that spoke to me next. Peace washed over my broken soul—peace that could only have come from a loving God. A name soon entered my empty mind. Aunt Koren, my aunt who had walked the road of childhood cancer and death with her son. One quick phone call and the lives of two broken mothers collided. She shared with me a poem that had been shared with her—A Child of Mine, by Edgar Guest. Little did I know that this poem would set the stage for our daughter’s walk Home.
Thirty-six hours later my husband and I walked out of the specialist’s office with our daughter’s fatal diagnosis: Anencephaly. No words will ever describe the feeling of carrying life and impending death. We decided to name our daughter Willow Marie.
By worldly standards our daughter was broken, her life terminal. At 20 weeks pregnant we were presented with two options; termination (abortion), or carry to term with the knowledge that she could die at any time.
The Bible is where we went for answers. It was there that our beliefs were solidified. Our daughter’s life was important, no matter how long or short. God knew Willow before she was even formed, and her days were set before she was even a thought in our minds (Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5). God created her. Her life was a gift. Her life had purpose. She was our heavenly warrior. Ending her life was not our choice to make.
Now what? What do we do now with this life we were gifted? What do we do with the knowledge of impending death? The last part of A Child of Mine says this:
“Now will you give her all your love,
Nor think the labor vain,
Nor hate me when I come
To take her home again.
“I fancied that I heard them say,
‘Dear Lord, Thy will be done!’
For all the joys Thy child shall bring,
The risk of grief we’ll run.
“We’ll shelter her with tenderness,
We’ll love her while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known,
Forever grateful stay.
“But should the angels call for her,
Much sooner than we’ve planned.
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.”
If there was a choice to be made, it was not life or death, but love. To be grateful for the time given and not bitter for the time that would be taken.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40). Helpless, defenseless, and deemed non-compatible with life, our daughter was “the least of these.”
Earlier in the summer I had set a walking challenge for my kids and me. From that, God grew a journey greater than I could have ever imagined. We could do nothing for Willow’s physical body; we could only love her and cherish her and live life with her. However, we serve an almighty God, and even though we could do nothing physically for Willow, we could ask people to do something spiritually.
We created a group on Facebook,1 not only to share our daughter’s unique story, but also to ask others to join us in helping our daughter live a full life in the short time she would have by remembering Willow in prayer as they experienced life. With that, “Walking with Willow” was born.
We stated: “Please join us in celebrating Willow Marie’s life by ‘Walking with Willow.’ Share your miles, stories, adventures, and pray for Willow as you go. Each step, each mile, and each adventure is our way of walking by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).”
In five months, over 2,000 people joined to help walk our Willow Home. As they remembered Willow through prayer, she walked—in a sense—in every US state and in several other countries. She climbed mountains, and swam in oceans. She walked through parks on evening strolls, and ran a Triathlon. She walked dozens of beaches while the sun slowly set, and watched the sun rise on the morning commute. She packaged meals for starving children, and handed out meals to the homeless. She went to camp, and walked the streets as part of a marching band. All this, as people lived and served God with thoughts and prayers for our daughter in their hearts.
Not every day was extraordinary, but as my husband wrote: “The mundane is what binds our days, years, minutes and moments… God calls us to embrace these things, and to pursue godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6:6), and count it as gain. Maybe he does that because he knows there are more good days than great days. More sad days than devastating ones. More days filled with the mundane, than the extraordinary. In either case, our joy is complete in Christ and in his love and sacrifice for us.”
The days passed, then weeks, then months. Willow continued to grow. Through the prayers of many and by the grace of God we walked into our hospital at 40 weeks to start the induction process.2 It was time to see the face of our heavenly warrior. To see the feet that had walked so many miles without ever touching the ground. To see the hands that had touched so many hearts.
We were blessed to have nearly 16 hours with Willow before God took her hand from ours. We had walked as far as we could. Willow passed peacefully in the arms of her earthly father. In nine months and 16 hours our daughter had lived an extraordinary life. She is forever in our hearts and because of God’s gift of eternal life she is forever Home. We have no regrets. We will be together again.
“God is good. God is faithful. We say in unison and in truth ‘praise God from whom all blessings flow!’ Willow was and is our blessing, and we praise God for her life. Rest easy, my sweet, sweet girl. You are treasured. You are loved. You are forever Home.” — Will Droogsma
Adrienne Droogsma was raised in Menomonie, Wisconsin and grew up attending Oak Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church. Adrienne currently lives in River Falls, WI. She is the blessed mother of three beautiful children and wife of a worship leader.