In this week’s Real Stories of Loss, Hope & Healing I am honored to share an interview with Jill Ford, a corporate business woman turned artist. You can get to know Jill a little more and follow along as she navigates the waves of grief over on instagram: @jillgordonford.art.
Jill, thank you for sharing your story with us. We are so grateful.
Hi Jill, tell us about yourself.
I’m originally from the Florida panhandle and have lived in Georgia for 7 years. I’m a mom and a wife. I have a 4-and-a-half-year-old son named Major. I take him to school and work on my art.
I left my corporate job after Everly died and opened my art business. I love to spend time with my family in the woods. I love to hike and spend time in nature, where I feel closest to my daughter.
Jill, will you tell us about your loss and experience with grief?
“You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.” – unknown
The morning of May 2nd started out different than usual in that I didn’t rush. Everly woke before Major, my 3 ½ year old and I pulled her into bed to nurse. As I laid there on my side feeding her from my body I took her all in. I savored her. I distinctly remember looking into her eyes as she nursed, stroked her hair and thanked God she was mine. But she wasn’t mine. Not entirely. She was on loan and little did I know that loan was being cashed in later that afternoon.
I left for work that day not knowing it would be the last time I would hold my baby girl. I nursed her before I left because she wouldn’t take a bottle and prayed I could get home to nurse her again without having to pump. I was the Regional Manager of Georgia for lululemon athletica and my Area Director was flying in that day to visit my stores with me. I was on a store visit when I noticed I had several missed calls from my husband Josh. One of the workers came up to me and handed me the store phone. It was Josh saying in a desperate, frantic voice for me to get home and that Everly wasn’t breathing.
I screamed as I dropped the phone and ran towards the door. My boss grabbed my things and ran after me asking me what was wrong. In between groans/screams I told her what he had told me and she drove me to the hospital. My husband had called me back to tell me to go to the hospital and not to come home. He would be on his way behind the ambulance. What he really didn’t tell me was that the investigators were at our house and treating it like a crime scene. He didn’t want me to have to deal with that. (My husband is a federal agent and has been on the other side of situations like this. He knew how to handle law enforcement and shielded me from that side of things.)
I arrived at the hospital and someone was waiting for me. She ushered me down a hallway and another until we passed the emergency entrance. I saw a gurney and a paramedic standing there. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes and I knew. I knew my baby girl was gone. I screamed, “He won’t look at me.” Over and over until I was hoarse. The doctors and nurses who worked on her came into the tiny room they put me in conveniently positioned next to the psych ward to tell me the news. I couldn’t believe it even though I already knew in my heart that what they were saying was true.
She was gone. It felt like a bad dream.
I hadn’t pumped and my breasts were beyond full. I was so angry that she wasn’t alive for me to nurse. My whole body hurt, yearning for her. My husband arrived shortly after the doctors told me and I howled in pain as we held one another, hot tears streaming down my face. How in the world was my beautiful, perfect baby girl dead?
Everly was with my trusted nanny Cici the day she passed. She put her down for her nap like any other day and Everly never woke up. She passed peacefully in her sleep with no suffering. She was face up and perfectly fine. She didn’t suffocate or suffer. Her autopsy months later came back perfect. She had nothing wrong with her. It was a tough blow to hear because it would almost be easier if there was something wrong.
No one can ever prepare you for something like this. You hear of it happening and yet you never think it will happen to you. I can honestly say I was one of those people who never in a million years thought that I would lose my child. Everly was a gift from God. Through all of this I have come to the realization that God doesn’t take our babies. He received her that day but He didn’t take her. I know she is with Him and that does give me some peace.
Grief is THE hardest thing I have ever been given the task of navigating and yet I knew almost immediately that God has a plan and a purpose in all of this suffering. He will see us through this. Everyone kept telling me that I can be “mad” at God. I have never once been mad at God. I knew that God cried too that day. God didn’t mean this to harm me. The enemy did and I would NOT allow the enemy to win this one.
There’s a quote by a poet named Yung Pueblo that goes like this, “true love does not hurt, attachments do.” He goes on to say that Love cannot cause pain; attachments cause pain. When the attachments that we create in our minds break, we feel their rupture deeply, how deeply depends on how much we identify with the image that we have created. This resonated with me so deeply.
I had created the perfect image in my mind of my life with my daughter. I’d bought clothes sizes ahead never once thinking she would never wear them. I assumed. I was confident she would. I was wrong.
In reflecting on this, all I see when I open that closet is pride. My pride for my beautiful daughter. None of it matters. Actually, she hated all of the frilly smocked dresses and large bows I put on her head. She couldn’t have cared one bit about any of it. It was my own pride and wanting that bought all of it thinking I would have her here to dress her like a baby doll.
I can’t beat myself up for the images in my mind that never came to fruition or for the fancy clothes. What I do know is that the images of what would be created more pain for me in thinking about what might have been.
So, I choose to remember the love I gave her in the eight months she was here. The really good happy times that did happen, not the ones that didn’t and never will. To be present with my son and husband and give them a wife and mother they deserve. I am still here. There is still a purpose for my life and I must live it to the fullest.
Everly James Ford is a bright light in this dark world. She set me on a path of deep spiritual awakening and has brought me closer to our Lord during this than I ever thought possible. I am forever grateful to be her mother. I will continue to heal through this and know that I will NEVER get over her loss but will get through it, day by day, minute by minute, second by second.
Each day is different and I take it as it comes. I recently left my corporate job to pursue my career as a full-time artist. Everly taught me to take risks and live big. We are not guaranteed tomorrow and I am living life out loud for her. My art helps heal me and others. It is where I find peace in the storm of her loss.
We started the adoption process. No one will ever replace Everly. We know that. We just know how much love we have to give a child and we weren’t done when we lost her. The process of adopting is just that…. A process. We are navigating the emotions of adopting along with the deep emotions of loss. It’s uncharted territory for us and yet it brings us hope.
Hope for our future as parents. Hope for our family. Major is so excited and asks me every day if I will go get him two babies, a boy and a girl. I try to remind him that we will take whatever God gives us. He misses Everly so much and talks about her all the time. I pray he will never forget her and will do my absolute best to keep her memories alive to him.
I have really good days and not so good ones. That’s to be expected on this rollercoaster of child loss and adopting. I am so hopeful that God will give us a baby that is perfect for our family. Somewhere out there in the world, there is a baby- either existing or fated to be born- that needs a home. God already has it worked out. My husband and I pray every single night about it and while we worry and things are tight financially, we have nothing but faith it will all work. It has to. God redeems the broken and we are nothing, if not, beautifully broken.
Some have questioned if we are “ready” to start the adoption process. Are we done grieving, they want to know. Clearly, this is a question being asked by those who have not yet known loss. We will never be done grieving Everly. If we wait for that to happen, life will pass us by. But we are ready to choose hope, to choose life, to choose family and love and the chance to raise a child again. We are ready to hold our loss in our hearts while we seek out JOY. I don’t give two figs if my child is flesh of my flesh or not. Put a baby in my arms and that baby is mine. I know Everly already has her sibling picked out for us. I’m grateful she will be the first family member they will meet. We hold her in our hearts forever.
What has surprised you about this journey of loss and grief?
A few things.
Initially how physically painful grief is. It felt like my whole body was being stabbed over and over.
The waves of grief also surprised me. They would come so unexpectedly and at the most inopportune times. I remember I was in a grocery store a few months after Everly passed. It was my first time being out by myself. I saw a little girl that looked just like Everly. The grief started rising. I started crying. I lost it. The grief went away in that moment, but it never actually goes away. Grief ebbs and flows. There’s this ball of grief. Some days grief is a little tiny dot and there is space between you and the grief. Some days the grief grows and you are so close to it. You can’t get away from it. It’s just there, sitting on you.
What resources have been helpful & encouraging to you in your grief?
Hope Family Care Ministries. My friends Jeff and Mackenzie started this non-profit after losing their daughter, Zoe. The ministry does retreats for entire families who have lost children. They have been incredible walking with my husband and I through grief. Every week, for 6 months, Mackenzie would send me a text asking how she could pray for me. She was relentless in her pursuit of me. Some days I didn’t want to answer. She wouldn’t stop texting me. I started to open up to her, really telling her what was going on and how I was feeling. She experienced the exact grief because her daughter died the same way Everly died. Mackenzie has walked ahead of me in this and has been my biggest resource.
My faith. Relying upon who I am in Christ. I know God does not take our babies and I have a very defiant faith in that I knew that the enemy was at work in this. And I would never let the enemy win by being bitter or angry or resentful towards God. Lean into God and who he is for the broken hearted.
My art has given me an outlet to paint through the pain and to help others commemorate beautiful memories.
How would you encourage someone who has a friend grieving?
|What was the most meaningful thing done for you during your grieving? How have you been best loved?||The day after Everly died my friend Lauren showed up to my house without question and she put her head down and got to work cleaning up Everly’s bottles and things of Everly’s that were out. She started cleaning my living room and very respectfully asked questions. I remember her asking me if we should donate Everly’s baby food. |
She showed up for me. She put things away that she knew we would want to keep and labeled things. She worked quietly in the background while my family was here.
My mother gave me a bird feeder. You’re given so many random things from people. Necklaces, bracelets, books. I didn’t have the capacity to read. The bird feeder gave me an outlet, a sense of purpose. I knew I had to feed the birds. The feeder sits outside of the breakfast window. We feed the birds and have fallen in love with watching them and caring for them.
|What’s the one thing you wish people would ask you?||I wish people would ask me about Everly. It often feels like people are afraid to bring her up to me because I typically tear up and cry when I talk about her. It makes people feel uncomfortable, but not talking about Everly passing away makes me more uncomfortable. |
Crying is part of the healing and grieving process. We as a society believe we should push things under the rug and stop grieving. We never stop grieving.
I want people to ask me how she died, ask me about her in general.
I wish people would stop asking me what I need because I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t know what I need. I need people to show up. To be present and do whatever they feel they would want in this scenario. Simple things. Call me, don’t tell me to call you if I need something. I don’t have the fortitude to do that. Step into the uncomfortable.
|What advice would you give to someone who has a friend who is grieving the loss of a baby?||Show up. |
Force your way through the door.
Get to work.
Look for things around the house to do for them.
Don’t take “no” for an answer.
Jill, what final encouragement would you give to a mama who is grieving?
It doesn’t hurt the way it does initially, forever. The pain does subside. Every month that you continue on through the process of grief, is another month of thin skin over the wound. Eventually you will have a thicker layer over that wound again. You don’t hurt forever.
You will laugh again.
You will find joy again.
Don’t be hard on yourself when you laugh and smile. I felt super guilty at first when I started to smile and laugh again because I felt people expected me to be sad all the time. I felt like people thought I was over it. I wasn’t.
I will never be over it. But I will live through it.
Thank you Jill for sharing your story with us.