9 Months

Tomorrow, if he would have been a normal baby, Henryk would be nine months old.  I find myself wondering what special days they celebrate in heaven?  Will they feel like it’s as significant as I will?  It always has felt like a milestone – as much time out of the womb as in it.  I remember at this age, Lily was saying, “Hi!” to everyone she met.  I realized the other day that if he were normal he would surely be crawling by now.  The baby gate would be up and I would be running around after him getting into everything!  I was sitting on the couch when I thought of this and looked down and my floor was empty.

This week my mom is watching my nephew so Lily and I drove to Wisconsin to meet up with them and my grandma.  I took the opportunity to go to Marathon to the cemetery alone for the first time.  It is only the second time since we buried him that I have gone.  It was just the most beautiful day out.  The cemetery is up on a hill and the sun was shining and the breeze was blowing.  The ground was finally dry of all the snow.

I cried as hard as I did the day we buried him.  I am continually struck by the fact that he isn’t coming back.  No matter how much we hurt we can’t get him back.  I have heard that everyone who has a significant person die needs to deal with God’s sovereignty.  I have very much felt the need to do that in the past months.  I have been reading a lot about suffering and about God’s power.  I have all of these questions that just keep pounding in my head.  It has felt like a very lot of work.

These questions and resolving them have caused me to think about if I believe what I have believed in the past about Christ and God.  It’s interesting, I fully understand that whether I believe in something or not doesn’t make it true.  Lily has a way of arguing with us about situations every once in awhile.  We will tell her that her bunny is up in her room.  She will say, “No he’s not, he’s in the car where I left him.”  And no matter how much I tell her that her bunny is up in her room because I brought him in myself when she forgot, she won’t believe me.  But her not believing it doesn’t make it false.  It’s still as true as it was before.  So will I believe what I know is true?

Sitting there by his grave I told God that I knew He was true but I just hurt so much it was hard, too much work, to believe it.  But where else would I go?  And why not believe in what I have so much proof is true?  Why all this work?  Why am I not resting in Him and His character?  So I believe.  I believe that God is good.  I believe that God is loving.  God will not let me go. He knows that I cannot do life without Him much less death without Him.  And in this belief in Christ there is hope in the resurrection and in hope there is joy. The possibility of joy again.  I laid down next to Henryk’s grave on my side looking at his spot.  Just me and him again.  The flowers from the funeral are still there.  The ground still looks like freshly dug dirt.  It was wonderful to lay next to him again, even if only for an hour, even if it wasn’t truly him.

I laid in my own burial plot next to my baby’s.  Michael’s is on the other side of Henryk.  I think that it is good for us to know death as such a reality, so much a reality that we can lay in our own spot saved for when we too go away, so that we can somehow learn to make the most of the time here.


Waking Up

Every morning, right when I wake up, before I open my eyes or I move, my mind always goes to the same thing. I think about where Henryk would be if he were alive. Where he always was when I woke up when he was alive. Michael would usually sleep with Henryk on his chest, and then when he would get up, slide Henryk carefully right into the middle of our bed. So when I would wake up, or when Henryk would wake me up, he was always right next to me.

So I wake up and think of where I’m laying, and where Henryk would be in relation to me.  Am I facing the outside of bed, so Henryk is right behind me?  Or am I facing into the bed and I’m curled perfectly around his little body?  And then, also before I open my eyes, I know that he is still not there.  He is still gone.

My book club just finished a book about a man with physical disabilities telling his story.  He says that the pain is always there and it is intermittent.  It hurts unless it really hurts.  That’s a very good description of how we feel these days.  The pain that is always there also has waves of intensity.  Some days we wake up knowing that we are sinking down, or rather being pulled down, by the current of the wave of sadness and pain.  We can’t figure out what brings the waves or when they will come, they just happen.  And when we have sunk into the sadness, and are there, there are specific instances that are just too hard, and it comes bubbling up and overtaking us at the drop of a hat.  Two specific feelings for the same thing – sinking down and bubbling up.

I find myself going back to evaluate the big truths I believe in light of Henryk’s life and suffering.  I see how much bigger and more powerful God needs to be than I realized before.  I see what a very big deal it is to believe in Him.  So it helps to go back over things and as I do this trust that it still all holds true and that the bottom will not give out.  And it does hold true and it doesn’t give out.  But it is so important to address these questions rather than either ignoring them (setting up for a future implosion) or turning away from them.  We are thankful to grasp what we can understand and reconcile with God’s character what He chooses to leave as a mystery.

It also helps to trust that we will not always hurt this way.  We have spoken with some people who are further down this road than we are, and they say that it is like an amputation of a limb.  You never get that limb back.  You can never function as you did when you had it.  You will always miss it.  But the place from which it was severed can heal over.  With work and faith you can adjust.  It is helpful to trust that even though we have no idea how and the amount of time it will take (we have heard it is usually years).

And even if it does not get better, even if there is more suffering as untimely and difficult as this, even if this life continues to go in distinctly the direction we do not want, there is hope for the sadness.  We are very, very sad.  That is the only way to say it.  We are very, very sad at our loss and the overall state of the world.  But Jesus is sad about it too.  He was so sad that he came and did something to fix it for eternity.


We went to Wisconsin this past week for a couple of days. This time, when we came to the cemetery, we didn’t drive past. We stopped. The cemetery is at the top of a hill. We got out of the car and trudged through the snow. We stood with the cold wind whipping on our faces looking at the frozen light blue flowers. A wreath held a laminated card that says “Henryk Otto Thiel.” A broken little family standing over a little grave. His body was really there under that ground.

We stood for a minute and then prayed. Then we said, “Ok, let’s go.” And Lily said, “Ok, let’s go in and see Henryk.” When we had told her earlier in the car we were going to stop she started getting upset. We realized afterwards that she thought we were actually going to see him. She had been working herself up to it. I went in the car and cried while Michael stayed out by the grave and explained things to her yet again. That Henryk’s body is in the ground because it stopped working, but that the other part of him, his soul, is in heaven. She was confused why we weren’t getting him out. Michael explained that we can’t bring him out of the ground. We think she got it, as much as any of us get it.

Today she was playing with a toy phone and said, “I’m looking for Henryk’s soul in the contacts. Oh, here it is, I found it. ‘ Hi Henryk . Merry Christmas to you. See you soon baboon.'”

So many people have been asking us how Lily is doing. We are so thankful that people ask about our Lollipop, our Lilypad, the Pumpkin, the Peanut, the Honey Bunny, the Lilybird, the Scrump Nugget, the Goof Ball.

Lily is moving through the process of healing from the upset to her life and also understanding death. Each day there is a new facet to her perspective. At first she kept thinking Henryk was laying on our bed in our room. She kept saying, “Henryk is in your room,” and we kept telling her that no, he wasn’t, he was gone. Then finally, after she kept saying it, I asked her if she really thought Henryk was in our room. She said, “I know he’s not. But he’s in your room.” She was just trying to figure this out.

Then for a while she thought he went back into my belly and asked him to come out again. When I told her that is not where he was, she wanted him to be in her belly. Then she asked to have more babies so we could be happy again. Yesterday she told us that Splatter, one of her toy trains, was kind of sad because Henryk is gone.

Shortly after Henryk died while we were standing in line at Barnes and Noble a woman and her small son came up in line behind us. Lily started yelling that she wanted the boy to go away. He had to go away. She was so upset we just left. Michael talked to her about it twice afterwards and basically gathered that she didn’t want that other mama to have a boy when her mama couldn’t. She said that mama could stay but the boy had to go.

We have some dear friends who are expecting a boy and when we were telling Lily that there was a baby that would be coming out she said, “The baby boy will come out and then he will die.” We had to explain to her that not all babies die, but that Henryk did because he was sick.

Some days she does really well. She is so sweet and funny and learning so many things quickly. Other days bring pretty emotional melt downs. More emotional than a normal tantrum. Transitions, like leaving home or going from one thing to the next, can be a challenge and need a lot of lead time.

We are just so happy that she is talking to us, and pleased that she can verbalize these things. We figure talking through things is the most helpful for her long term. It has been quite special to be able to focus on her again. She really is a shining star to us.

And we are sure that Christ will redeem both of our children’s lives. The Psalmist describes his grief here: For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. (Psalm 31:10) But then Isaiah says: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)


When our hospice nurse would come she always had stickers.  Lily would get to pick one for her and one for Henryk each time.  She would always put his on him.  I went in his rom today and she had put these on the special medical pillow we always used to support his head.

When our hospice nurse would come she always had stickers. Lily would get to pick one for her and one for Henryk each time. She would always put his on him. I went in his room the other day and she had put these on the special medical pillow we always used to support his head.



It has been a while since we wrote.  This hasn’t been because there isn’t anything to say.  Things are just different now.  There are lots of things to say but they are not organized and also are not urgent in the way they were when Henryk was alive.

Another reason not to write has been realizing the need to answer the question, “How are you doing?”  It’s not a bad question.  It is a very kind and caring question.  We so appreciate the love behind it.  But it is not a good question for us right now.  It’s just so broad of a question for our narrow abilities right now.

So instead of talking about how we are doing we can talk about what we are doing.  We are hoping.  We are remembering, every second of every hour of every day.  We are missing, every second of every hour of every day.  We are crying and sorrowing.  We are working and playing.  We still laugh even though now we feel so old and I specifically am so very, very tired.

It already feels like a long time ago that Henryk died in bed with us.  And that makes me feel like someone is thrusting their whole arm into my chest and grabbing onto and squeezing my heart.  It is a physical pain.

At first after Henryk died it felt as though nothing I would ever do again would be as important as what I had been doing for those five and a half months.  But really, that is not true.  What God has given us to do is what is important to do.  And as long as we are alive he is still giving us things to do.  So I am finding value in the things of life because it is the life in which God has me.

Each new task that I complete is a small victory and a small defeat.  I am happy that I can do things like go to the gym and work out.  It feels great to move.  But each time I go I think about why I can go.  I can go because he is gone.  And it makes me hate going.

The point is not to move on and be fine.  That’s not the goal.  It’s not about how we went through a hard time but overcame it and afterwards did better than ever.  That is a very romaticized view of suffering that our culture promotes.  We aren’t planning on that.  Things are too messy and too real for that.  Henryk was too awesome for that.  But at the same time, God is too awesome to lead us into unending sorrow.  There is a limit to our sadness because of our hope.

Psalm 42:11 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  This kind of hope is an eager expectation.  A knowing that God saves souls and has eternity in store for them. Knowing that although things in this life seem not to be as they should God will make all things right for those who believe in Him.  Matthew 7:24-25 says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

The Cemetery

We went to Wausau last weekend to meet up with my parents for a short visit. The cemetery is in Wausau. We haven’t been there since we buried Henryk.

The cemetery has strange feelings for us. On the one hand, we really don’t feel that much of an attachment to going there because we saw Henryk die and felt so clearly that the part of him that we really knew was gone. His soul that we so deeply connected with was no longer in that body, and so that body didn’t feel like it was Henryk anymore.

However, the day of the funeral, when it actually came to burying him I totally lost it. I mean crying, sobbing, wailing lost it to see him being put in the ground. And last weekend, when we could’ve gone to the cemetery, we felt that again. Even though it isn’t Henryk anymore, it still is the body that was created in and lived inside my own body for 40 weeks. It is still the body that we held for five and a half months and that smelled like Huggies wipes, breast milk, and J.R. Watkins baby lotion.

Everything hard that we have had to do in the past had such a purpose. It was hard but accomplished some thing or another for him. But it isn’t like that anymore. Henryk doesn’t care if we go to the cemetery or not. So four weeks to the day after he died we drove past the cemetery without stopping, and came home. We just couldn’t do it and we didn’t have to.

It reminds me so much of praying for Henryk. One of the most startling things for me after he died was how many times, all day long every day I would start praying for Henryk and then stop because he was dead and I didn’t need to pray for him anymore. It made me realize how very constantly I was crying out to God for him. And then, all of a sudden, that was over. You really can’t pray for your children after they are dead. But the amazing thing about it is that we don’t have to because Henryk is doing just fine. In fact, he’s doing great. And we can still pray to Jesus about how much we miss him, and maybe he’ll tell Henryk for us.

A Memory

Today I am thinking a lot about one of the the last baths we gave Henryk while he was alive.  It was Christmas and my parents were here for the holiday.  Henryk hadn’t had a bath for a while because he was so frail we didn’t quite know how to get him into the baby bath tub. So we waited for my mom, the ever-present help that she is, and thought about how to do it. Henryk so loved baths we wanted to figure something out.

We put the space heater in our room to make it really toasty.  Since the tub didn’t work we put a waterproof mat on our bed and a towel over that. We laid Henryk on the towel and gave him a sponge bath. What a sweet scene it was: Michael, my mom, and me all bending over him. I will never forget the sweet look on his face as I gently washed him with a baby wash cloth. How his mouth opened so sweetly in relaxation. How he took such deep breaths. My mom rubbed his head.  Michael whispered to him.  I used baby lotion and massaged his little legs and feet, his little chest and back, his arms and hands, and then picked him up and hugged him so close.

We are keeping life small these days.  Only seeing a few people, going a few places, and honestly, only doing a few things. It seems to be the best way for now.  For me, some times are ok and others are so sad I can’t even move. There are times when I can view the whole situation and carry it through.  For example, Henryk was very sick, we tried some things that didn’t work like we hoped they would, he died, but now he is in heaven.  Carrying it through to his presence in heaven is helpful.  But some days, I just get stuck at him dying.  I have trouble carrying it through.  I know that he is in heaven but I can’t carry myself all the way through to that and I get stuck at he died.  He died, he died, he died.

Really feeling and living that we are not above or bigger than death is requiring a fuller, broader, deeper view of God.  I find myself going back over all the truths I know about God and seeing them in light of reality of death and suffering.  It leaves me in a state of disbelief (not unbelief, but disbelief).  I can’t believe our souls actually separate from our bodies. What does that feel like? And heaven really does exist. And God really does have the capacity to have an intimate relationship with each person even though there are millions of people.

I just read in a book that the word courage is derived from the French word for heart, which is couer.  Your courage grows for those things which impact your heart.  May our courage grow to handle the things that come in life.

Supposed To

We came home yesterday after a weekend in WI and our last planned event for Henryk’s death. It was very hard coming home. The whole car ride my head swirled. “We can’t go there. He is supposed to be there and he won’t be. He should be there with us and he isn’t. I can’t go back there. He is supposed to be there. He is supposed to be there. He is supposed to be there.” We got home in the evening and quietly unpacked. Lily played by herself. We sat emptily at the table. He’s supposed to be here.

Today was a big day. It was our first day of going back to “normal.” Our first day in over 14 months that didn’t have a significant or full portion dedicated to him and his care. Michael went back to work. I don’t know how to do life anymore. I don’t know how to live without Henryk. This isn’t the way things are meant to be.

All I want to do is sit and stare at pictures but it is just torture. But I don’t want to stop because we now have all the memories of Henryk that we will ever have and if we stop looking at pictures we are afraid we will forget. Then they will be gone.

This is what we are praying: Ephesians 5:18-20. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord with your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Henryk the Great

One of our best friends, David Mathis, gave the sermon message at Henryk’s funeral.  We love him very much and appreciated his efforts to serve us and honor Henryk the way that he did.  This funeral will be one of the most significant memories of our lives and we could not be more thankful for David’s thoughtfulness and care.  Below is the link to the audio, as well as the written transcript, of the message.


The First Week

We have been somewhat confused about our feelings the past few days.  We are very sad, and this is very hard.  We went to the Mall of America the other day to take Lily on rides and just the sight of every double stroller pierced our hearts so deeply.  We cry throughout the day every day.  We do not know what we will be feeling from moment to moment.  There are many questions.  There have been times of numbness, our brain’s occasional method of self-preservation, and there will be again.  We do not know what the future of our grief looks as we are only a week and a half on this side of death.  We must again be ok with unknowns.  But last night we talked for a while about how it is hard for us to understand how we are not constantly in a puddle on the floor, sobbing and distraught.  That is what we were expecting.

We don’t understand how we are still able to laugh about something funny, understanding that the funny thing does not change the fact that we are deeply grieved.  We wonder, how are we doing this now?  And in the past week, we didn’t only have a very trying week by nature, but we, in a trying week, consistently didn’t take the easier way to do things.  We ended up doing things the hard way this past week.  And further, the preparations caused us to look back at his life and so much of what we saw made us think, how did we do that, then?

We were warned not to close the casket ourselves, that it is a very traumatic moment.  But we did.  How did we close his casket?  The same way that we let him go into a surgery with un-guaranteed results and complications.  How did each of us stand up and read scripture at his funeral?  The same way that we engaged in complex discussions about his health for hours with doctors.  Why did we wait at the cemetery until the casket was actually in the ground instead of leaving after the graveside service?  The same reason that we stayed at the hospital for hours, only leaving to sleep when we knew and trusted the nurse that would be holding him throughout the night.  How did we go to the funeral home and dress him for the funeral?  The same way that we had cried every time we changed him and bathed him for the past two months because his poor body was wasting away.  How did we discuss the way they had to embalm him due to his condition?  The same way we looked at countless scan pictures of the state of his brain time and time again.

We didn’t have an “easy way” in his life and we didn’t have an “easy way” in his death.  We chose the ways that would most honor and respect him because we love him so much and we were given the opportunity to do so, which so many people are not given.  We were given the opportunities and the time and ability to think about them, which doesn’t always happen.

We have realized that part of the how, practically, is that we are now well conditioned to grief.  But we are also wonderfully well conditioned to love.  And we could love him so much because we have been loved so lavishly through Christ’s doing the hardest thing in his life, death, and resurrection.  We have a high capacity for grief with what we have gone through, so doing what we did this past week, although it added to our grief, did not crush us.  It was exactly 9 months from the day we found out that he had brain damage to the day he died.  And throughout all of those 9 months we have been helped and held by God.  He has helped us to work through the terrible emotions, and He helps us still.  The sadness is great because the loss is great and that is the way it should be.


Thiel Family Top 80-49

Henryk Otto Thiel, precious infant son of Michael and Emily Thiel, died at home with his family on Sunday January 6, 2013 at 2:54pm.  Henryk was 5 months and 10 days old and was born on July 27, 2012 in Minneapolis, MN.  Henryk died due to complications resulting from in utero brain damage.

Henryk was a sweet little boy with a delightfully content temperament.  He appreciated the warmth of a good blanket and was the perfect snuggle companion, always desiring to be held close.  He gifted all who held him with his perfectly featured little face, the soft skin of his cheeks, his long fingers, and warm breath.  He was incredibly tough and slow to register his complaints with a cute cry.  Caring for him was a privilege, honor and blessing.  In the course of his prenatal and postnatal life Henryk, Michael, Emily and Lily were enveloped with love and support from their family, friends, faith and medical communities.

Henryk is survived by his parents Michael and Emily and his sister Lily of Minneapolis;  grandparents Otto and Bette Thiel of Howards Grove, WI;  grandparents Ben and Ann Salzmann of Kohler, WI;  great-grandparents Arline Thiel of Cleveland, WI,  Doc and Doris Hanke of Howards Grove, WI and Mary Myshka of Wausau, WI.  Henryk is also survived by aunts and uncles: Charles and Carey Thiel of Texas, Steve and Linda Thiel of Vermont, Melanie and Chad Voskuil of Oostburg, WI and Andrew and Sabitha Salzmann of Kansas.  Henryk is further survived by his cousins Madeline and Eleanor Thiel; Gabriela, Sam, Juliana and Jeremiah Thiel; Jonah and Elisha Voskuil; and Benjamin Salzmann.  He is also survived by many wonderful friends including David, Megan, Carson, and Coleman Mathis of Minneapolis, and Lindsey Dare of Minneapolis.

Funeral services for Henryk will be on Thursday January 10, 2013 at 10am with a visitation at 9am at Bethlehem Baptist Church, downtown Minneapolis campus 720 13th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN with Pastor Kenny Stokes and David Mathis officiating.  Visitation will be at Washburn-McReavy Nokomis Park Chapel 1838 E Minnehaha Parkway, Minneapolis, MN on Wednesday January 9, 2013 from 1pm-3pm.  Burial will be at St Mary’s Cemetery, Marathon, Wisconsin at 4pm on Thursday January 10, 2013.  There will be a reception in Howards Grove, WI at Zimmer Westview Funeral Home W2132 Garton Rd Sheboygan, WI on Sunday January 20, 2013 from 1pm-3pm.

The family would like to thank our wonderful extended family, our community at Bethlehem Baptist Church, the staff at Children’s Hospital 6th Floor and Hospice Program (Alycia, Alicia, Jordan, Kirsten), Dr. Tom and Deb Stealey, Dr. Michael McCue and his team (Pete and Therese), the Minnesota Perinatal Clinic, management and coworkers at Nol-Tec Systems, and all who have followed Henryk’s unique story.  The encouragement, support, medical care, and prayers they have received have been like a shield of protection during this difficult time.

John 9:1-3 “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”