Philomena’s Diary

This past Thursday we celebrated Philomena’s entrance into heaven. The memories of that parting are still vivid. Looking back, I marvel at how God took me through that day. How did I survive that day when I knew I had to say goodbye to my daughter on this earth? I know, without doubt that God carried me through.

Philomena’s journey was more than that one day though. She had 10 weeks on this earth I was able to share with her. As you know, I sent friends and family almost daily updates and pictures. I have never been one disciplined enough to write a diary. However, I had done exactly this in my updates. I have a diary of Philomena’s life. This is a treasure!

Someone mentioned in passing to me, how it would be wonderful to read those updates in a book. I tucked the thought away until I was ready to embark on that project. Thankfully, my sister had put all my posts into a document for me. Getting those into book format would prove to be an undertaking.

I read my updates from each day as I created my book one page at a time. I traveled my journey with Philomena from beginning to end through this process. I looked at pictures I had forgotten I even took as it had been difficult for me to go through them. I read the hope and anticipation in the beginning. The uncertainty as things continued to get harder for Philomena. It brought tears to my eyes to read my own words. To know now, what I didn’t know then. To be able to see more clearly all the warning signs that Philomena was never to be able to come to her home on Berrypatch. I was able to witness through my own words and pictures the story of Philomena’s beautiful, short life.

The wisdom of hindsight allowed me to see God in so many of the details. God was preparing me a little bit at a time for the parting that was before me. He was strengthening me through the prayers and support of friends and family that kept me afloat in the storm. God was clearly on every page and in every picture.

When I was finished and the book finally arrived, it was so worth the effort. I found this was something not only for me, but for my children. They heard the updates from me each day, but it has been something entirely different to read and see the pictures of her. A friend was looking at it recently and Mary Catherine said to her, “I looked at that upstairs and cried.” Tears are therapeutic. Mary was touched by her sister’s life and suffering. I am so grateful this diary has allowed them to get to know better the sister they saw so little of. I am so grateful to God that I was inspired to write those updates and have this diary of her sweet life.

Joseph reading Philomena’s Diary💕

God continues to walk with me on this journey. He gives to me friends and family who do what I am unable to at this time. I know He continues to give me the graces necessary for my daily life. Praise be to Jesus Christ!

April 15th of this year was much different from last year. We truly celebrated with friends and family. We were privileged to be together in person to thank God for the life of Philomena on this earth and now in heaven. The cooler temps did not dampen our exuberant spirits! I was reminded through the celebration that this life is but a foretaste of our joy of being united forever in heaven with God. As much fun as that party was, how much more the heavenly banquet!

Again, I am reminded to thank you, my family and friends, for loving me and Philomena. For wanting to know what was going on in her life so you could pray for our family. Your love of us brought about the fruit of Philomena’s Diary. This book is a testament of God’s work in our life and in Philomena’s.

Pax Tecum Philomena. Peace to you Philomena. This year has been but a blink of an eye for you. Pray for your family here on earth that we may join you in eternal bliss at the end of our earthly journey. JMJ

Gifts from Philomena

It was a beautiful November day earlier this year. One of those days you have to seize upon knowing the cold winter is coming. We decided to take the day off school and made reservations for the zoo. As is always the case for these expeditions, getting out the door proved harder than expected. Sadly, in my rush I lost my patience with sweet Thomas, 2. This was no more than raising my voice mind you, but it was uncharitable and unnecessary.

A glorious day for the zoo!!

Car drives can be incredible times of reflection for busy mothers. Everyone is buckled in and knows mom is unavailable. As I drove down Columbia Parkway to the zoo that day, two things were on my mind. One, I was remembering my daily drive to see Philomena in the hospital taking the exact route. Secondly, I was regretting losing my temper with dear Thomas. It then struck me that I had the privilege of never losing my patience with Philomena. I was able to love her and care for her without falling into impatience even once. What a gift! As any mother knows, regrets over not being the mother we want to be weighs heavily on our hearts. I have no such regrets with Philomena. What a blessing.

On our way home that day, we stopped by Philomena’s grave. I was amazed at how tender Thomas was there. Sitting by her grave marker and placing clover flowers on it, he was giving her his love. Here before me was another gift from Philomena. The veil between heaven and earth is not as hard for my children to see having lost a sibling. Even little Thomas talks about his sister in heaven and enjoys going to see her grave. Yes this knowledge of the connection between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant will serve them well. Another blessing.

Big brother love

Before Philomena, the mere thought of losing a child made me shudder. It was something no parent wants to think of. It is only natural. I never had the ability or desire to ponder such a painful cross. Now, having lived this experience, I can thank God for not only the gift of her life, but the gifts He continues to teach us through her passing. St. Philomena Pauline Marie, pray for us!

We Are Born Into Eternity, and We Shall Never Die

I can certainly see why people are drawn to the life of Chiara Corbella Petrillo. Not only did this woman bravely face an early death, she experienced the death of two of her children shortly after birth with heroic love. As I was reading this week about the loss of her little Maria, I was struck by a phrase Chiara and her husband found great comfort in.

“We are born into eternity, and we shall never die.”

The more I think about Philomena, the more I realize she was perfect during her time here on earth. Yes, she was physically ill, but she was perfect. She was loved from the very first moment, baptized and ready to go to God with a pure soul. As much as I tried to help Philomena, I think it was really Philomena who helped me. She helped me become a better person with all her little lessons she taught me over her short life.

My view while holding my sweet Philomena. So thankful for the many hours holding her.

Last week was the feast of St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. St. Therese’s Little Way was the theme in my thank you I wrote to Philomena’s caregivers. In my note, I reflected on how Philomena showed me the power of the Little Way. As my sweet little baby, she became the teacher in the ways of love. I have included a copy of it below.

My Sweet Theresie Rose

My little Philomena was born into all eternity, she shall never die. I know she has more lessons for me to discover as I ponder my time with her. St. Therese, pray for us!


Thank You Letter to Philomena’s Caregivers

Dear Care Providers of Philomena Hilgefort,

Let me begin by thanking each of you for your care of my dear sweet daughter, Philomena.  So few outside the hospital were able to gaze upon her sweet perfection.  You shared that privilege with me.  The memory of her chubby little hands, perfect little feet, and angelic face will always bring tears to my eyes.  Tears of sadness, but also tears of thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving to God for the gift of Philomena, even if for a short time.  

There are moments in time that change you forever.  Experiences that transform how you look at the world.  For many, 2020 will be the year of the pandemic that upended our way of living.  For me, 2020 will be remembered for my time with Philomena.  We had not anticipated losing our little girl so soon.  It seems from the first moments after her birth Philomena took the harder road.  Nothing seemed easy for her.  I don’t need to tell you she was feisty.  At times, we were all afraid to touch her lest we send her down a rabbit hole. Although I miss holding her in my arms, it brings me much comfort to know she is past all her sufferings.  Holding her in my arms with what seemed like a thousand lines attached.

I have spent much time reflecting on her life and the lessons she taught me.  Truly,  I could write a book on my experiences and my time with her.   Her life is a reminder that small things done with great love, in good times and in bad, is the path to true happiness.  This was a motto of St. Mother Teresa who is known by many.  Less known is the saint she took her name from, St. Therese of Lisieux, often called the Little Flower.  St. Therese died shortly before the 20th century at the age of 24.  As a cloistered Carmelite nun in France, she saw very few people outside the convent.  She wanted to be a great saint like St. Joan of Arc, but knew this was not her path.  She imagined St. Joan of Arc to be like a magnificent lily in God’s garden.  Therese humbly realized her path was doing her daily tasks each day with great love.  She would be God’s Little Flower.   Her Little Way, as it would become known, is a model for each of us.  As simple as it sounds, it is so difficult to live.

I had always hoped to be able to take Philomena home.  To teach her to walk, talk, dress, play, pray, etc. etc.  Instead, my time with Philomena was spent simply being with her.  At times I was able to hold her for hours on end, at other times I could simply hold her hand, at other times I could only sit beside her bed.  I was able to do nothing great – at times I felt like I could do so very little.  Since her passing, I can see the gift of all my little acts of love.  I am so thankful for my time spent doing these little things with great love.  My daughter knows me, my daughter loves me.  Yes, this Little Way changed Philomena’s life.

As caregivers, it can become frustrating looking for those big things to do for your patients.  How to make them well, looking for the path to healing.  Never forget about the little things you can do with great love.  These are right before you each and every day, don’t waste them.  Taking the time to spend with your patients, talking with anxious parents, doing each task to the best of your ability – this is your Little Way.  I will forever remember the kindnesses you showed Philomena and me over the course of this journey.  Whether I could articulate it to you or not, sometimes a kind word to me saved me from collapsing into tears when you left the room.  We all need little acts of love.

Like St. Therese, Philomena was never able to go outside into the wider world, but she has touched each of us in her little way.  I pray you are able to take these lessons to heart and into practice.  I pray I can live these lessons she has taught me until the day I see her again.  Little things done with great love change the world.  

Thank you again for your love and care of my daughter.

St. Philomena Pauline Marie, pray for us!

In Christ through Mary, 

Lottie Hilgefort

Saying “Yes” Everyday

“I wish it was a year from now when all this craziness has passed,” Cecelia said with a sigh as we were sitting together recently at the end of the night. I was thinking, “Amen to that!” Before I could respond Tate said, “Who’s to say things are going to be better a year from now? We can only live our life to the fullest today.” So glad Tate beat me to the response. He was absolutely right.

Little kids teach us how to enjoy each day to the fullest!

If you had told me a year ago that in 2020 my baby girl would spend every day of her life after birth in the hospital, die and there would be a worldwide pandemic that would shutdown even our churches, I probably would have gone to my room and fallen into a clinical depression. Mercifully, I was unaware what the year before me held. I had an idea of the future before me, but it was only an illusion.

We are in a time of great unrest and division, it can become overwhelming. What are we to do? How can we make a difference in a world so full of hurt and injustice? Perhaps the answer is very simple.

I am reading the life story of Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a young Italian wife and mother who died very young. As she was struggling with the illness that would eventually claim her life she said, “We do not feel courageous, because in reality the only thing that we have done is said yes, one step at a time.” Perfection. This is what we are to do, this is how we make a difference – we say “yes” to God one step at a time.

Many times over the past year I struggled to give that “yes,” to give my full surrender. I wanted Philomena to get better. Everyday I was waiting for her to turn that corner, a corner that never came.

I can remember the moment when I finally accepted in my heart that she may not make it on this earth. I begged God that if this be His Will, he allow the Blessed Mother to take Philomena into her arms to heaven. This acceptance didn’t bring noticeable relief. In fact, I cried endless tears from the depths of my soul. However, it was a first step in the process of me beginning to say “yes” to losing Philomena.

Over the next couple weeks, I would continue to take small steps towards surrender. These small steps, one “yes” at a time, allowed God to fill me with the graces necessary to say my final goodbye to Philomena on earth.

I love this picture of the boys with her

What I knew a year ago, as I do now, is that God is in control. I could never have imagined what lay before me then and certainly do not now. However, upon reflection I can see clearly that God prepared me and gave me the strength to handle each day of the past year. I trust He will continue to do so each day that lies before me. I simply need to continue to give my “yes.”

I have experienced painful lessons in regards to the tenuousness of life. We are not promised tomorrow. God is asking me to say “yes” to Him today in a thousand small ways as a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend.

Dear God, I pray for the grace to give you my “yes” in all my works, joys, and sufferings today and always.

St. Philomena Pauline Marie, pray for us!

Singing Happy Birthday to the Blessed Mother! Notice sweet Thomas folding his hands❤️🙏

Reunions

One of the hardest parts of Philomena‘s time here on earth was the isolation. I thought I was isolated when we were at Good Sam NICU. I had no idea what lie ahead and just how lonely and strange it would become. The isolation magnified the already arduous struggle immensely.

Reuniting with my family each day, all day long, has been a gift

Loneliness can be just as debilitating as a physical illness. To be cut off from family and friends in such a radical way so suddenly, it was devastating. I don’t know all the answers to coronavirus, but I am certain we were not made to live in isolation. This is from the devil. By nature, man is made to love and be loved. We are made to be a communion of persons united in our love for one other and our Creator.

It has been a great joy to be reunited with my friends and family. To be hugged and to sit and share conversations with friends and family has been glorious. I am able to talk about Philomena and make her even more real for them. I always cry a bit when I speak about her still, but it is good to talk about her. I love to say her name. I don’t want to forget that she was here and for a time I held her in my arms.

My birdwatchers…

As incredible as these reunions have been – what will my reunion be like when I am able to hold Philomena again in heaven? Since her nativity into heaven, I have pondered and longed for my heavenly home as never before.

A good friend who lost her sweet little girl one week before Philomena sent me the most beautiful quote a priest wrote over a hundred years ago about what this reunion will be like.

You were heard to lament when death laid low one of your daughters, still an infant in the cradle; you will be heard rejoicing and glorifying the Lord when you meet this cherished little one again on a throne near Him, having all at once obtained a maturity without decline, eternally beautiful, eternally young. In taking her to Himself, God has assumed the care of bringing her up. He has educated her Himself. Fear not that He will have left no place in her heart for you…God will enable her to know her mother [and father] and will give her filial piety as a supernatural virtue”

Excerpt from In Heaven We’ll Meet Again by Fr Francois Rene Blot, SJ
What joy to see my sweet Philomena again…

Yes, this is a reunion I greatly look forward to. If, by the grace of God, I am able to persevere in living a good and holy life – I will one day have this reunion. Death is not only about our loss here on earth, it is also about a glorious reunion in heaven. Philomena returned to her Maker. As devastated as I was the day of her death, that was the greatest day of her life. Her joy is perfect. What a mystery to reflect upon!

I can understand a bit more now when St Paul asks, “O Death, where is thy sting?” Although I cannot claim to be exuberant to die today, I do find death less terrifying knowing I will be reunited with my little saint Philomena

I look forward to continued reunions here on earth with you, my friends and family. When I see you, I will tell you just how beautiful my sweet Philomena was. Please, give me a great big hug.

Saint Philomena Pauline Marie, pray for us!

I love you sweet baby girl…

Lessons in a Mother’s Love

My entire life my mother has been an unfailing support to me. These past few months have been no exception. In fact, my mom has shone even brighter. She carried the extra weight of worrying about Philomena and me. As I was writing her Mother’s Day card, I couldn’t help but reflect on our time caring for Philomena in the hospital. Constant updates, text messages and phone calls about what was going on. If I wasn’t there, I was always checking in with Mom on how she was doing. When she wasn’t there, she was checking in with me. We may not have always been at the hospital in person, but we never really left.

Nothing like a mother’s embrace. A much younger Dez and Lottie.

What is a mother’s love? What can it accomplish? It is a thing of glory, full of laughter and joy. It gives strength when you don’t feel you have anything more to give. It is selfless and all consuming. It puts your feet on the ground in the middle of the night. It forgives, encourages and embraces. It can also at times be painful and seem impossible to bear. A mother’s love is a reflection of Christ’s love for us.

I so miss holding my Philomena

This love for Philomena gave us the endurance to spend the greater part of each day for 10 weeks in the hospital with her. This love gave us the courage to suffer helplessly next to her on so many occasions. This love gave us the strength to to stand hours without end by her bed and hold her little hand and stroke her head when she was not well enough to be held. This love allowed us to rock her until we could no longer feel our back side when we could hold her. This love gave us the energy for many, many sleepless nights. This incredible love is what made the time spent in the hospital with her possible. This love is what makes losing her bearable.

A love that even makes parting possible…

God is continually calling us to greater holiness. The path to holiness is through imitation of his perfect, selfless love. God began these lessons through the gift of my mother who first taught me what love is. God continued these throughout my life. The lessons with Philomena broke my heart wide open. These lessons were and are painful but efficacious. They have taught me the power of love to carry you through the valley of death. This love reminds me that death is not the end of my love for Philomena, but merely another chapter.

This is where the world gets love all wrong. Love is not always about warm fuzzy feelings, Valentine’s, roses and carefree evenings. Love is about laying yourself down for others until it hurts and you think you cannot go on. Somehow, in those moments, Christ’s love carries you through.

Christ loves each of us with this love. A love I can only begin to comprehend through my experiences. Jesus commanded that we love one another. A love whose foundation is self-sacrifice and seeks what is best for the other. I pray for the grace to be an example of this love for my children as my mother has been for me.

Thank you God for the gift of my little Saint Philomena. Thank you for the gift of my mother who first taught me what it is to love. Thank you for continuing to teach me to love more as You love.

Teaching Philomena to say hello…

IS versus IS NOT

As I was getting ready yesterday morning, my little Rosie was lounging on my bed. I had already gotten her dressed, but every kid loves to lie on Mom and Dad’s bed, right? She looked up at me and said, “Mom, is Philomena going to get better?” The question surprised me. I looked at her and said, “Oh baby, Philomena is not going to get better. She died, remember.” I so hate to say that statement.

Then I thought about it for a moment and corrected myself. I said, “Philomena is all better Rosie. She is in heaven.”

This struggle to focus on what Philomena IS versus what she IS NOT is constant. Where my focus is has a great impact on me. Philomena is in heaven. She is perfectly happy. She is well. She is beautiful. She loves me and knows my love for her.

Philomena is not in our home. Philomena is not in my arms. Philomena is not here for me to kiss and talk to.

IS versus IS NOT

If I focus on the later, the tears never seem to stop. My head throbs, my heart aches, and I feel very low energy. If I can focus more on the former, my day becomes more manageable. I still cry at times, my heart still aches for her, but I am able to go about my day and be joyful with my children.

Focusing on what is before me, the blessings I have been given by God, including Philomena being in heaven – it doesn’t erase the pain, but it makes it bearable. I wish I could just read my own words and it would be that easy….

One so little can touch so many…

It has been one week since we buried our dear little girl. Despite social distancing, family and friends found a way to be there. Lining the streets outside of church and the cemetery. For those of you who were there, I cannot tell you how much this touched us. Thank you.

Each day brings with it the joy of my children all around me and the sadness of losing Philomena. Tears flow easily and pictures are difficult to look at right now. This process, we know, will take time.

Little children’s joy is contagious!

Philomena never left the hospital. She met so few outside the nurses and doctors that cared for her. Yet, I am astounded by the letters and emails I have received over this past week. One little baby girl, held in so few peoples’ arms, has somehow touched so many. Like St Therese who never left the convent and is the patron saint of missionaries, somehow Philomena’s isolated short life and death has left a mark on the hearts of many. For this I am grateful. That so many of you love the little girl I so dearly love is a great solace.

I have asked Philomena to comfort me in my sadness as I was privileged to comfort her in her short life. She has taken with her to heaven the knowledge of my love and care and all the prayers that were offered for her by so many. I encourage you to go to our little saint Philomena and ask for her intercession. You have a new friend in heaven.

During Philomena’s last moments on this earth, Fr McCullough led us in the Divine Mercy Novena. The intention for the day just happened to be for the souls of little children.

“Today bring to Me
THE MEEK AND HUMBLE SOULS
AND THE SOULS OF LITTLE CHILDREN,
and immerse them in My mercy. These souls most closely resemble My heart. They strengthened Me during My bitter agony. I saw them as earthly Angels, who will keep vigil at My altars. I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace. Only the humble soul is capable of receiving My grace. I favor humble souls with My confidence.”

No coincidences. What joy to know I had some small part in giving to God something that brings Him such comfort. St Philomena Pauline Marie, pray for us!

Here is a link to a video a good friend made of all who came out to support us at her funeral. https://www.dropbox.com/s/nt3x7sibw34jokn/2160p-1.mov?dl=0