By: Ashley Opliger
It’s been six years since my daughter, Bridget Faith, went to Heaven at 24 weeks and 5 days into my first pregnancy in 2014. Some days it feels like just yesterday that I held her so carefully in my hands in the cradle my mom had knit for her, soaking in each second, trying to memorize her face and features. Other days it feels like there’s this infinite chasm that divides the only moment in time I had to hold her and the time that keeps on ticking now. Time is elusive like that.
If you’ve experienced the loss of a baby, you know how precious those moments are and how fleeting the time seems as it disappears into what was and what is now. On this earth, we know we won’t get those cherished seconds back. Time that was quickly stolen in a desperate attempt to strip us of all hope or joy. But, praise God that we are promised eternity in Heaven with our babies!
This November, as I reflect on all that I am thankful for, I can’t help but thank God for all the good that has come into my life because of Bridget’s short, but impactful life. I know that sharing the “silver linings” of loss can be a touchy subject. I would never want to undermine the anguish and pain that pregnancy loss wreaks on the human heart and I am very sensitive to those feelings. The loss of a baby is undoubtedly one of the most heartbreaking and soul-crushing experiences a person can endure on this earth, and with it comes a wide range of emotions: sadness, anger, grief, guilt, and loss of joy.
I’ve experienced every single emotion and more. I’ve walked in the depths of despair and allowed myself to feel every feeling of grief. It hasn’t been easy. I know you, too, have a broken heart and have wondered if you’d ever be able to experience joy again, smile again, or live life again. But, I would be remiss to not share all the good that has come into my life because of my sweet Bridget. Therefore, I view these sacred gifts within grief as the process of “holding both.” There is space for the and – sadness and joy, pain and purpose, grief and hope. We can hold both.
I often tell people that other than Jesus Himself, my daughter, who never took a breath on this earth, has impacted my life more than any other person in this world! God knew the number of beats her heart would beat inside my womb and had counted the days of her life before they even came to be. And even in those earth-limited days, she came and turned my world upside down and changed my life for the better for all of eternity.
One of the most immediate changes that happened after Bridget went to Heaven was that my focus shifted from thinking only of my time on earth to now focusing on getting to spend eternity with her. Burying a child and frequently sitting at their grave in a cemetery has a way to remind you that we are all mortal. Though cemeteries used to be scary places I would avoid, Bridget’s cemetery is now a calming place of solace and acceptance. One day we will all die and end up there too. That fact, which used to be an uncomfortable truth, became a welcome promise. I will see her again. The hope of Heaven gives me peace that I do not have to fear my own death. Through Jesus, I am promised eternity with Him and with my sweet girl.
My renewed focus on eternity also shifted my mindset to making a difference here on earth. I want my life to count and I want to honor my daughter’s life each and every single day until I am reunited with her in Heaven. After Bridget’s birth and death, God gave me the calling to start a nonprofit ministry in her memory called Bridget’s Cradles. We donate small hand knit and crocheted cradles to over 1,000 hospitals in all 50 states for bereaved families to hold their precious babies born so tiny in the second trimester. We also host support groups for women and couples grieving the loss of a baby called Hope Gatherings. Annually, on October 15th, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, we organize a community candlelight vigil event called the Wave of Light.
Though leading Bridget’s Cradles was my specific calling from God, this same calling won’t be the same for you! Everyone has a different calling and each calling is uniquely important and special. He gives out assignments based on our own strengths, passions, and unique gifts! I know grieving moms who make customized pregnancy loss candles or jewelry, give journals to other bereaved moms, or write blogs or share inspiring memorial quotes on social media. No matter what it is or how big or small an act, serving others is a meaningful way to heal your heart and honor your baby in Heaven. You have time and God-given talents to use and you have the power to comfort others who know your pain!
Many of my closest friends today are women that I met because of Bridget and the ministry we started in her memory, Bridget’s Cradles. I am so thankful to have other bereaved mommas to walk alongside on my grieving and healing journey. I would be so lost without the loving support and encouragement of friends who truly understand my pain. We have been a shoulder to cry on for each other and have held each other’s baby’s memories close to our hearts. We remember their important milestones (due dates, Heaven days, holidays) and say each other’s babies’ names frequently. I am honored to serve with so many kindhearted bereaved moms in our ministry and consider them all to be my dearest of friends.
A Changed Life
This thanksgiving season, sweet momma, I pray that you would be able to reflect on the blessings your baby in Heaven has brought into your life. Though sadness and heartbreak surely still wash over you (as it does for me), I hope that you would also discover the gifts your baby has given you and the opportunity he or she has to change your life forever. I know I will never be the same after meeting Bridget and I pray you would feel the same.
Dear God, thank You so much for the gift of our babies. Though our arms long to hold them again and our hearts ache from missing them, I pray that You would give us peace and comfort this holiday season to remember and celebrate their lives in a positive way. Help us, Lord, see all the blessings they have given us and all the lessons they have taught us. Keep us focused on eternity and give us ways to honor our babies by serving others. Thank You for the hope of Heaven that we are promised to see them again one day! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Ashley Opliger is President and Executive Director of Bridget’s Cradles 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas. After the birth of her first child, Bridget Faith, who was born into Heaven in 2014, Ashley left her career as a Speech-Language Pathologist and founded Bridget’s Cradles in her daughter’s empty nursery. Ashley’s mother had knit a small cradle for Bridget that allowed their family to hold and bond with her in a special way.
Under Ashley’s leadership, with God’s guidance, she has grown the organization from first donating cradles to their local hospital in 2015 to now donating cradles to over 1,000 hospitals in all 50 states and comforting over 26,000 bereaved families a year from their own headquarters space.
Ashley also leads Hope Gatherings monthly Christ-centered support groups in person in Wichita, Kansas and online for women and couples throughout the country. She also organizes an annual event on Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, October 15th, called Wave of Light that impacts hundreds of grieving families.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), Branton, a baby boy on the way, and a golden retriever. She is a fully-devoted follower of Christ and longs to glorify Him with her life. Ashley’s desire and mission is to share the hope of Christ and Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby and to comfort others with the same comfort she was given.