From Olivia's funeral yesterday:
I can’t believe I’m writing words for my daughter's funeral. How do I reduce what just happened into words? How do I reduce Olivia into words?
When Heather was pregnant with Olivia and we received the news, that she had a disease and wouldn’t survive more than a few hours, I distanced myself from Olivia. It was subconscious. At one point I realized I hadn’t talked to Heather’s belly the way I did with our other kids. I never felt for kicks. I avoided naming her. I remember realizing that Fear had stopped me from loving my daughter. Maybe she wouldn’t survive her first day, but she was alive today. Living, for me, looked like giving her a name, and talking to her. It looked like giving her my love. Becoming attached, knowing one day soon I would have to say goodbye. Fear said to stop. But Life said to be her daddy. I chose to live.
Meanwhile Heather knit a dress that took months to finish. It was beautiful. It was probably never going to be worn. I could hardly understand the amount of love and COURAGE it would take for her to make it. Olivia wore that dress her first day. She’s wearing it today. Fear said not to make the dress. But Life said to be her mommy. Heather chose to live.
Heather’s choice to make that dress pales in comparison to the decisions she made from that point on and continues to make even this week. The dress is a picture of the love and nurture that Heather wrapped Olivia in every single hour of her life. Over 10,000 hours of continual decisions to Live, when Fear said to stop.
We Petersons don’t quit very easily. We don’t listen to authority the way we probably should. I think God knew that when He chose us to carry Olivia.
Olivia wasn’t supposed to make it through her first day. She wasn’t supposed to make it through her first week, or month, or see her first birthday. She wasn’t supposed to be able to nurse, or smile, or dance, or laugh, or drink from a cup. She had a sense of humor! If I made a fart sound she would smile and then make her own. She wasn’t supposed to do much of anything. And she couldn’t do many things. Still, her beauty and life reached across continents and changed the way thousands of us look at life and the world and God. She couldn’t hold her head up, but that was ok - we could do that for her; she couldn’t eat right or breath right, but that was ok - we could do that for her. And while we carried her, she impacted thousands upon thousands of people and generations to come with her life and with her beauty.
Similar to Olivia, we felt completely disabled most of this year. We couldn’t hold our heads up. We couldn’t wash our floors or do our laundry or shovel our driveway; many times we couldn’t find the strength to pray, but that was ok - our community (you) did it for us. While we carried Olivia, you carried us. The entire 14 months, we have been carried. And when our friends weren’t there and we weren’t able to be there for each other, we rested on God’s repeated promise, that He would be there no matter what. And He was. We’re so thankful to you and to God - thank you for carrying us.
Olivia was and is our beautiful daughter. We miss her more than we can put into words. The pain is almost unbearable. But we wouldn’t give up one minute of this pain or any of the pain or discomfort or inconvenience or insanity or terror of the past 14 months, for anything in the world. Because this. is. life. And not only do we accept it; we embrace it.
I can’t reduce Olivia into words, and I refuse to try. I won’t be reducing her into songs either. But I will attempt to honor her and reproduce her beauty in the way I live my life. I don’t think we have a choice. Olivia is a part of us now. Heather and I and our kids and family and many of you will never be the same. So we honor Olivia by choosing to live, today, whatever that looks like. Fear will say to stop. But in the pain, the discomfort, the terror, the not-knowing, we will choose to live.
Thank you Olivia for teaching me about life. Thank you for letting me gaze upon your beauty for so many sleepless nights. Thank you for living for so many more days and months than you were supposed to- like a little warrior, you fought to live the life you were meant to live, every day of it. You did it! I’m so proud of you. Thank you for letting us carry you. We love you, and we will see you and hold you again, Olivia.