Some people aspire to inspire – Olympic athletes, motivational speakers, the odd politician, etc. But I’ve always believed that the most inspirational figures are those who never intended to set an example; the ones who, due to adversity or tragedy, reluctantly took up this mantle, for lack of a better alternative.
In my life I’ve been inspired by many people; both public figures and people I’ve known personally. But lately I’ve found myself inspired by two people who don’t fit either description.
A little over two years ago Mike and Heather Spohr welcomed their premature and tiny new daughter, Madeline, into the world. After two-plus months in the NICU she went home and, despite a few hospital stays here and there, lived a vibrant and healthy life. Like any smiling, joyful baby, Maddie was the sun around which her parents orbited.
It was last April when the game changed. After a sudden and critical respiratory infection, Maddie passed away quite unexpectedly. And it was at that time that Mike and Heather’s incredible blog, The Spohrs are Multiplying, went from a happy record of their normal life to a gut-wrenching account of the grief of losing a 17-month-old.
Most marriages end in divorce after the loss of a child. Not Heather and Mike. They have stood together every day since Maddie passed away. They founded the Friends of Maddie organization that provides support to other NICU families. And when their blog won a $1,000 prize in December they donated all of the prize money to their foundation – enough to provide 40 families with NICU support packs. They raised more than $100,000 for the March of Dimes through donations that were made in honor of Maddie. And in October they traveled to Washington, DC on behalf of the March of Dimes where Heather spoke to members of Congress to help raise awareness about the perils of prematurity.
However. In spite of all that they’ve done to honor their daughter and fight for other preemies, it is the intimate account of their journey through grief that has most touched me. They have told their story, in all its dark shadows and glimmers of light, for nearly ten months now. They have told of being broken. They have unveiled the facades they wear when they brave the world outside their home. They have confessed anger and envy and its gruesome supporting role in the grieving process. But most of all, in the face of sadness and emptiness that I can’t summon the will to imagine, they decided to live!
One week ago Heather and Mike welcomed their second daughter, Annabel. Through a grueling and high risk pregnancy that included blood thinning injections, anti-contraction medications, gestational diabetes, and bed rest Heather bravely carried Annie until she was just a few days shy of full term. She is healthy. And she is home.
As has been eloquently explained on their blog, grief is not a process with an end point. They will never stop mourning Maddie. But we muddle through heartbreak to find our way to redemption. I hope for Heather and Mike that Annie’s birth is the light at the end of this tunnel.
It isn’t my pain. I cannot fathom a loss of this magnitude. But tiny slivers of Heather and Mike’s pain traveled through cyberspace and into my heart. I am overwhelmingly inspired by the Spohrs. I wish I weren’t. I wish their story were ordinary and uninteresting. But it isn’t. And while inspiring is nothing they ever aspired to be, I am grateful that they are.
Heather and Mike, thank you for sharing your story. I pray that I never know this breed of pain. But in the event that I do, it is the example of your strength that I will follow. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter.