She looked so helpless, wrapped in a newborn diaper under the blue light in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. It had been a pretty rough first day of life for Sarah Jennifer Lynn Brinkmann. Born by way of C-Section, she developed a small respiratory issue that required extra attention from her caregivers and a prolonged separation from her mother, neither of which she was very pleased about. Those of you who know Sarah will be able to predict, with reasonable certainty, how she responded to these unpleasant events, for her personality appeared early. To say she was unhappy would be an understatement. She was, from the moment of extraction from the only ‘home’ she had ever known, demonstrably infuriated. She spent her first few hours furious at anyone who tried in any way to touch her, treat her, care for her or hold her. She held in special contempt the respiratory therapist who, while administering breathing treatments, was frequently rewarded with a dirty diaper.
I was able to visit her a few times during that first day, and every time I saw her she was screaming at the top of her lungs, beet red at times, complaining loudly about the unfairness of it all I presume, to anyone who would listen. A few hours after her birth, and after numerous unsuccessful attempts to coax her to feed, the decision was made to insert an IV into the remains of her umbilical cord to provide much needed nourishment. Seems that all the fussing used up the sugars she had stored in her body and the NICU Staff was concerned for her well being. As for me, I was just glad she had stopped screaming so much! Toward the end of that first day, the NICU Staff determined that she had stabilized and could benefit from a visit with her Daddy. So I donned the required gown, mask, and booties and excitedly made my way to her bassinet, not expecting what I was about to see.
Shock and heartache are probably the best words I can use to describe how I felt the moment I saw her. I was shocked by the number of wires, tubes, cables, monitors, bells, alarms, sirens and machines connected to her tiny body. She was placed face down under a small oxygen canopy, wearing only a diaper and white bootie socks. My heart ached for her. She looked so defenseless and vulnerable. Thankfully, most of those machines and monitors were precautionary, and the Nurses assured me that Sarah was actually doing quite well. I leaned in close to the plastic bubble, and when I called her name, she opened her eyes and looked at me. I know that babies are physically unable to visually distinguish objects for several weeks after birth, but at that moment, on that night, as I gently sang a lullaby and spoke to my beloved daughter, she looked up at me and knew that I was her Daddy.
Despite assurances to the contrary, I was still afraid to touch her, fearing that I might hurt her or cause one of the alarms or sirens to go off. But as I stood there marveling at her beauty, I noticed that she had begun to squirm, and her little face began to contort, and I could sense that she was about to cry. Her left hand was outside of the oxygen dome, so I gently touched it with my left pinkie finger. She immediately opened her hand, wrapped her tiny fingers around my finger, and pulled it close to her face. The oxygen dome kept me from touching her face, but as she held tight to my finger, she stopped fussing, closed her eyes, and eventually fell asleep. I could have stood there forever. The bond had been made, she was now officially “Daddy’s Little Sarah-bear,” and I was forever wrapped around her tiny finger.
To say “there’s something special about the bond between a father and a daughter” is certainly not revelatory, and describing this bond as a wrapping of the daughter’s little finger with the father’s will is certainly not unique. What is of personal significance however is the amount of love in, and strength of, the bond that we shared. Our bond, like all father-daughter bonds, had to be strong, or our relationship would not have survived the normal trials and pains of growing up. We tested the bond, repeatedly. Me, by sometimes being overprotective and over restrictive, her by sometimes being overly rebellious and super-independent. But no matter what the dispute, I loved her unconditionally, and she loved me. She knew this because I told her daily, and I know it because she wrote in on my mirror in white shoe polish. In fact, those were the last words we ever spoke to each other. As I left for work on the morning she was killed, I said, “I love you, sweetie,” and she replied, “I love you too, Daddy.” Less than three hours later she was gone.
Grief causes us to think about things long forgotten, in an attempt to answer questions of ‘why,’ or just simply provide a comforting memory that helps us get through a sorrowful time. For me, reflecting on the day that Sarah was born has provided both. I am reminded of the joy I experienced at her birth, at the happiness of being a Daddy for the first time, and the joy I should experience this time of year as I reflect on the birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Joy and sorrow co-exist as I celebrate the birth of the One who came to deliver us from sin, while I mourn the loss of my beloved daughter. For I know that she is at this very moment in Heaven, having received the promise of eternal life from a God who loved her before the foundations of this world were laid, who loves her more than I ever could. As for an answer, my memories of her first day have shown me why it still hurts so much.
The amount of pain felt from the death of a loved one is directly related to the amount of love for that person. The more I love Sarah, the more her death hurts. It’s that simple. The love I have for Sarah is deep and unconditional, and therefore, the pain I experience is deep and often nearly consuming. When the pain is overwhelming, God reminds me that Sarah is with Him, and is free from any pain or suffering, and, having fulfilled her purpose here on earth, is spending eternity worshipping Him. For this I am grateful, and I long for the day when I too, will be forever in Heaven, worshipping alongside my little girl. Until that day, however, I will still experience the pain, because I am still wrapped around her little finger…