I will love you forever, p.1
I Will Love You Forever, page 1
I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER
The raw, vulnerable, and profound stories Cori shares in I Will Love You Forever reveal the true heart of a woman who earnestly believes God uses ordinary, flawed people for His extraordinary, perfect purpose. Cori beautifully portrays how she and her family have found that in giving yourself away to love God and others first, you just might find a purpose big enough for your life. If that is the desire of your heart, I Will Love You Forever is a must-read.
–Jeff Jaeger, Senior Pastor at
Crossroads Community Church
When I first asked Cori Salchert how she handles the pain that accompanies the love she pours into dying babies, she told me her heart was like stained glass—cracked and splintered from having loved and lost, but all the more beautiful thanks to the joy of having had these little ones in her life. In I Will Love You Forever, Cori boldly shines light through the broken places in her family’s story and creates a stunning work of art that truly reflects the tears, love, hope, and heartbreak she, her husband, and her biological children have experienced while welcoming dying children into their home. I Will Love You Forever is a must-read for anyone who could use reminding that there is abounding beauty left in the world.
–Terri Peters, Contributing Editor at TODAY.com
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern WI, provides a supportive and comforting place to stay for families like Cori’s. Her tremendous story captures the variety of emotions—pain, fear, joy, and peace—that families experience when going through a difficult medical journey with their child.
–Ann Petrie, President/CEO of Ronald McDonald
House Charities® Eastern Wisconsin
I Will Love You Forever is a tremendous testimony to how we can find deep meaning and purpose in suffering through the glory of God. Cori’s family wrapped around my heart, and her words of struggle and redemption were a gift to read. Through Cori’s powerful stories, we learn how periods of waiting in our lives give us the courage to steadily trust the way God moves and works. In I Will Love Your Forever, Jesus’ light shines through the broken places, leaving you hopeful and encouraged!
–Courtney Westlake, author of A Different Beautiful
Copyright 2018 © Cori Salchert
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To Sister Jamesine, cousin Polly, and friends Liz, Mary, Ivona, Shirley, Beth, Marlene, and Faith, who have told me for years that I should write a book. I finally did.
To Bonnie and Rod, and their Sunday school of sweet little prayer warriors at Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church: Your support over the years is precious to me.
To the pastoral staff at Crossroads Community Church in Sheboygan: Your vision and encouragement to reach those around us in our sphere of influence with the Good News of Jesus Christ is priceless and exactly what was needed to give direction and flight to our particular dream of caring for these kiddos!
To Jessica, Jack, and Bill: You’ve rolled with my kind of crazy and accepted the support role required with grace, and a huge scoop of humor.
To Kia and Rosie, who love my Charlie and have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
To Dr. John Piper: You didn’t record all those messages about suffering and the sovereignty of God with me in mind, but God knew I needed them, oh yes, He did.
To Beth Moore: Your Bible study on Esther has forever changed my way of dealing with fear. “If this… Then God, then God, then God!” Thank you!
To Pete, Sarah, Bev, and Paul: Your gift of the means to go to Sanoviv the first time has had exponential results.
To Drs. Francisco, Armonia, Fernando, John and Dawn: That you find my health challenges fascinating and not frustrating is such a relief!
To Caitlin, Charlie’s first foster mom: Your unshakeable belief in Charlie’s value, declaring to everyone who met him, “Isn’t he amazing?!” and all those prayers believing God was going to show the world Christ’s love through this baby who is unable to speak, just wow! You loved our buddy first, and we’re so thankful for your influence in his life!
To Jay, Steve, Keith, Kelly, John, Paul, Anne, Gordy, and all the others involved in creating a beautiful Hospice Room in our home. Our gratitude knows no bounds!
To my parents, for giving me life.
To Leah from the Sheboygan Press: I am so thankful we were introduced.
To Terri from TODAY.com: You stepped back to let me tell my story. Your humility is a gift!
To Tiare from People magazine, who fought to convince me our story should be shared with the world.
To Jennifer Chen Tran, who believed there was a story worth telling and tangibly stood her ground in spite of the waves of doubt and fear I expressed about having anything worthwhile to say.
To Gordon Warnock from FUSE Literary, who took the risk to make the call and start this journey.
To Kelly at Barbour, who has be
To Marianne, who took my pedantic drivel, which might have been solid but lacked the magic a publisher wanted. If there is anything amazing or great about this book, it’s because of your influence. I’ve not only gained a co-writer, I’ve gotten a friend, and a sister in the bargain.
1. Beauty in the Broken
3. Fifty Days
4. The Funeral
5. Flaws Revealed and Healed
6. The Broken Vessel
7. The Dark before the Dawn
8. The Tight Fist of Fear
9. Breath of Life
10. Strength Made Perfect in Weakness
11. Crazy Amazing Answers to Prayer
12. Stained Glass Windows
BEAUTY IN THE BROKEN
O Lord, my best desire fulfil,
And help me to resign
Life, health, and comfort to Thy will,
And make Thy pleasure mine.
—WILLIAM COWPER, “OLNEY HYMNS”
The first time I laid eyes on the unnamed baby girl, I fell in love.
It was on a Tuesday in August, and the infant was swaddled in a pastel blanket and lying in a standard-issue wooden hospital crib on wheels. She was so still I found myself gazing intently at her chest to see if she was even breathing. She was not making any sound. No crying, no cooing. Her eyes were closed, and she was seemingly unaware of the medical staff bustling about, attending to the other infants requiring immediate attention in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
I had been told over the phone that this tiny two-week-old girl was expected to die at any moment, and I guessed that was the reason there was no flurry of activity or staff hovering closely over her. She was not a typical NICU patient from the looks of her or the traditional crib in which she rested. The other babies, lying in isolettes or radiant warmers, were surrounded by equipment that flashed and beeped. These at-risk infants had wires and tubes attached all over their tiny bodies, and the nurses were expending great effort to make sure they would survive. The lack of life-support apparatus surrounding this particular baby was a telltale sign she was ready to be moved out of this high-energy, high-tech environment. And I was there to move her.
I exercised a great deal of self-control by reining in my eagerness to hold her by waiting about three seconds before I asked for permission to pick up Emmalynn, the name we decided to give her. The nurse assigned to her for the p.m. shift agreed with a cheerful nod that I could. I leaned over the crib, my breath catching in my lungs, a sob in my throat, tears pricking my eyes. I thought, Oh God, is this really going to happen? Then I carefully scooped Emmalynn into my arms and snuggled her close.
I took a breath, catching a whiff of the sweet, distinct newborn scent mingled with Johnson’s baby shampoo. Baby Emmalynn was almost feather-light, and her fragility added to my desire to gather her in close and protect her.
Holding her near me and peeking underneath the typical nursery blue-and-pink striped cap, I could tell that her head, although abnormally tiny, was formed with an intact skull and a downy covering of light brown hair. My eighteen-year-old daughter, Johanna, had driven the eighty miles with me to the hospital. This was our initial visit, and I wasn’t exactly sure what the protocol was or what Johanna and I would be expected to do. The nurse brought us some guest chairs, and we sat so we could dote on the precious infant. I gently ran the back of my first finger across her smooth pink cheeks.
A neonatologist wearing the usual wrinkled and faded blue scrubs came into the nursery and pulled up a stool next to us. She leaned against the edge of Emmalynn’s crib and cocked her head to the side, brows furrowed in concentration and caution. “How did you get into this situation?” she asked.
I think it was a little hard for her to believe we had willingly volunteered to care for this baby. Or perhaps she thought we hadn’t understood the gravity of Emmalynn’s prognosis. I quickly explained that I had experience as a neonatal nurse as well as a bereavement specialist offering hospice care to families when their babies died on the labor and delivery floor. I shared my desire to come alongside an infant with Baby Emmalynn’s lethal condition. I couldn’t change the fact the baby would die, but I could care for her and love her for the short time she had on earth.
Once the physician realized I wasn’t going to be deterred from taking the baby home, she sat back, relaxed her shoulders in relief, and grew tearful. She said, “When this baby arrived in the NICU two weeks ago, I was so dismayed because I thought she would never have a family. I’m so relieved this is happening. I don’t know if you’re a person of faith, but you’re a godsend for this baby.” She had other infants to attend to, so she left us to bond with the newest addition to our family.
Though I didn’t want to hand her over, I needed to share, so I cheerfully placed the precious bundle in Johanna’s arms. She was beautiful to us, and so still, like a porcelain doll. Johanna held her as gently and carefully as she could while I plied the nurse with more questions about Emmalynn’s care routine. I wanted to know everything. I had already decided to give her my all, no holding back, no regrets. This baby was not going to feel the least bit unwanted. For whatever time she spent in this world, my family would give her open arms and open hearts. God had numbered her days before the beginning of time. He was fully aware of when she would be called home. I was confident He would carry us through whatever lay ahead.
After holding the precious infant one last time that evening, I gently placed her back in the wooden crib, promising that, God willing, we would be back soon. We left the NICU hoping and praying this baby would live long enough to come home.
Earlier on the same sunny day, I had been required to empty my hands of a job I had held dear. After a year of being unable to work because of health issues, I returned to the office of my former employer, a hospital on the eastern coast of Wisconsin, and met with HR staff to collect the personal items I had left behind the previous summer—boxes of photos, mugs, books, and mementos such as a hand-crocheted angel and a plaster-of-paris cast of a baby’s foot. I was no longer a confident employee walking through the halls with purpose; instead, I felt beaten down and discarded.
I did not want to keep the appointment; the internal resistance I felt over this door closing in my life was stifling. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go into the hospital by myself. My husband, Mark, drove me to the employee parking lot and came inside with me, expressing one of his trademark sentiments as we walked: “I cannot carry it for you, but I can carry you.” His presence was steadying, and I said a silent prayer thanking God for Mark’s loving support.
Stepping through the automatic doors, I realized the grief was as fresh as it had been ten months before when I learned that the funding for my job had been redirected. There would be no job for me to come back to even if I ever did become well enough to work.
We passed by the office that had once been mine; it was now being used by a different department. Files that I had deemed of utmost importance now languished in boxes stacked on the desk in my old cubicle until someone could find the time to move them to more permanent storage.
My job as a bereavement specialist had been one of my passions. I had even come up with the program’s name: Hope After Loss Organization (HALO). I had spent countless hours and had poured a significant amount of personal energy into championing the rights of miscarried and stillborn babies, and those infants who died shortly after birth, as well as their parents. One of my goals was to see that those little ones were treated with dignity and respect.
When the OB doctor needed to tell a mother her baby no longer had a heartbeat or was going to be imminently delivered and wouldn’t survive, I was called. If it was possible, I would be present when the doctor shared this news, and I stayed with the family after the physician left to tell them what next steps they needed to take.
My job entailed helping pa
One remarkable afternoon a baby boy was born alive after only eighteen weeks’ gestation. His parents were completely overwhelmed by his untimely birth and seemed to be in shock during the delivery process. After the baby boy was born, the doctor placed him on a blue sterile cloth and handed him to me, his arms and legs gently wiggling. I had no clue how this was physiologically possible given the immaturity of the baby boy’s lungs.
Seeing their tiny son moving but knowing he would die quickly was too much for the parents to bear. The boy’s mother sobbed, choking out words between ragged breaths. “Please, take him away. I can’t do this.” The father responded to the panic in his wife’s voice and motioned frantically with his hands that I should move along.
I carried the baby to an unoccupied room just around the corner and stood near the window. I held him in the palm of my hand; his tiny feet were no bigger than the nail on my pinkie finger. I could see his heart beating in his chest; I could see his veins through his translucent skin. At this early age, the nerves were just below his skin, leaving him extremely vulnerable to pain because fat stores hadn’t yet covered the nerve endings to insulate them. I eased onto the wide windowsill and sat, pulling my knees up toward my chest, instinctively protecting him by arcing over his precious little body, holding him in my hands only inches from my face, cradling him with the tenderest care, offering what comfort I could. The afternoon sunlight streamed in and created a serene setting. I marveled at how beautifully his tiny body was formed, and my breath was taken away by this miracle of life, in awe that one so young continued to live outside the womb.
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