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Susan is sixteen, unmarried and pregnant and about to make a choice no woman should ever be forced to make—surrender the precious child she is carrying to adoption. A promise is made, and then, years later, that promise is broken when, yet again, tragedy strikes in her life. 
This is her true story...

Prologue

Shadowy, bare branches loom ominously over the familiar streets. Christmas lights decorating our neighbors' houses seem frighteningly wrong. During the one-hour drive home, waves of intense pain grip my chest and back, pain that is always a prelude to my mysterious and ever-worsening bouts of pneumonia. I pray I will make it to our house and not become ill again. And, with every ounce of my being, I pray that my daughter will survive the night. My world is crashing down around me for a second time.

My husband, Jay, is staying with her. Jackie is too scared to let him leave, but our two other daughters need one of us, and I must go to them. Such a delicate balancing act between all their needs. Although it's against hospital rules, Jay is allowed to sleep in ICU with Jackie, since it is Christmas Eve. To think, in the early days of our relationship, I had a hard time letting Jay into my daughters' lives, because I was so overly protective.

It’s heart wrenching to tear myself away from her. I’m terrified I will never see her again and, for the first time in twenty-one years, I feel the same way I did when I kissed my first daughter goodbye, when she was just eight days old.

Despite the pain, I stop by our parish church and manage to slip the daily novena Jackie and I write each evening to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, through the slits in the church doors. Most nights I sleep at the hospital, so I usually bring our novena down to the hospital chapel and place it on a table that serves as the altar.

The house is dark and silent when I let myself in, and I am suddenly frightened of my big, empty new home, this home that was to hold all of our dreams and happy memories as a family. During the nine long months it took to build, I supervised the entire project, keeping our camping trailer on the site as an office. From time to time, the whole family stayed the night to keep an eye on things and prepare the house for the next day’s construction, sweeping sawdust off floors and keeping the area ship shape for the carpenters. Even with my intense schedule, working part-time and taking care of the girls, that was the first time in ages I was not plagued with my recurring pneumonia. And, amazingly, it was one of the few times when my mind was not preoccupied with thoughts of my first daughter, whom I had named Madlyn.

This is our first Christmas in our new home. As I gaze at the unlit Christmas tree, shiny presents so lovingly wrapped by my girls beneath it, everything seems unreal, eerie. This can’t be Christmas. Jay can’t be holding vigil with my dying daughter. Our very first Christmas together ten years ago, Jackie was six and Kristine was nearly four. The girls and I had spent the better part of two days setting up and decorating our tree, making it perfect because Jay was coming for dinner. Just when we had finished setting the table and dressing up for his visit, we heard his car door slam. We found him peering in through our front window, admiring our handiwork. Jackie had run to the door to let him in, and we stood around our beautifully decorated tree awaiting his much desired approval. He took his time admiring our handmade ornaments, and then pulled at one of the branches.

"This tree's fake!" he exclaimed, appalled.

Right then, he wanted to dismantle our fake tree and rush out to buy a real one. Protesting all our hard work and Kristine’s allergies, I was able to win our little tree a reprieve. The next year, Jay suggested we donate the tree to our church. Before I had a chance to remind him of Kristine’s allergies, Jay had the girls dressed in hats and coats, and out on the porch, on their way to buy a new tree. No sooner had the door shut, when I heard squeals of laughter coming from the street. A tree was already hanging from the trunk of Jay’s green, 1975 Plymouth Volare. Grinning from ear to ear, he had the girls convinced that Santa must have put it there, while he was in the house. And, as Jay had predicted from the start, none of our Christmas trees have ever made Kristine’s allergies flare up.

My cold, dark house is now filled with sadness and impending loss. This just can’t be Christmas. Where are my girls? I need to see Kristine and Beth! A note on the kitchen counter says they are with my parents at my cousin Madeline’s. Mom senses my panic over the phone, and promises to bring them home right away.

As I await their return, I pace and pray. “Dear Lord, please help our Jackie. I promise never to ask for anything else. Haven’t I already paid my dues for being a bad girl getting pregnant and a bad mother giving my baby away? Please, why can’t You forgive me? Why do You have to take it out on Jackie, making her pay for my sins? I want You to take me instead.”

Helplessly watching Jackie suffer and slowly wither away before my eyes, knowing death is about to take her away, is horrifyingly similar to when I watched my first child grow within me, knowing all the while she was going to be taken away.

When the girls arrive home, I hold them close, not wanting to let them go. I find, as we go through the motions of lighting the tree and creating some semblance of Christmas Eve, that I have a hard time speaking to my parents. So many conflicting emotions are flaring up inside of me that I just want to be left alone with my daughters. As I say good night and thank them for taking care of the girls, I can’t keep from thinking that if it weren’t for their decision, Jackie wouldn’t be my second child lost.