In memoriam: Harper Gianna Secrest

Below is my daughter, Megan’s, eulogy for her baby, Harper Gianna Secrest, who was born on April 20, 2018, at 4:24 a.m., and passed away at 4:25 a.m. Robert and Megan wanted to preserve Harper’s eulogy from the funeral here. I’ve closed the comments, but we appreciate everyone’s prayers and kindness toward our family during this difficult and beautiful time.

The first time I spoke with Robert on the phone before we had ever met in person, I remember him asking me about my “intentions” for a relationship which I thought odd, but when he said, “I’m doing this to get married and have children,” my heart was equal parts nervous and happy. I quipped back, “Well, I won’t marry someone who isn’t Catholic!” Robert became Catholic in 2015, and I fell in love with him that year as well.

When we were preparing for the sacrament of marriage, I remember Father Wickersham talking with us about being open to children and life and we laughed and said, “Oh, we very much want children.”

Our wedding day was beautiful. I never felt nervous, and I got the chance to pray the rosary moments before saying our vows. When I stood at the end of the aisle, I could see Robert’s face, and he mouthed the word, “Wow!” to me multiple times. Father Wickersham gave a beautiful homily about sacrifice in marriage. I was not prepared for sacrifice to be so close to us the first year of our union.

We honeymooned, we laughed, we settled into new jobs, and one day in September, we found out I was pregnant. Robert cried and hugged me, and thanked God and me for giving him a child.

I was not a graceful pregnant woman. I complained to anyone who would listen about my nausea, my mood swings, and my swollen feet. I regret that now. Robert, meanwhile, could not stop beaming anytime a new symptom emerged, because as he said, “It means baby is healthy.” When we went in for our 20-week ultrasound, we told the tech we didn’t want to know the sex of our baby. We had planned a small gathering of friends and family for a reveal later that weekend on my birthday. She obliged us by making us close our eyes for most of the procedure. When the doctor came in, she scanned me for about ten minutes, and said, “I’m so sorry, but we do these ultrasounds to find out if baby is healthy and has any birth defects, and your baby has a serious one called Acrania.” The room became blurry then as I recall. When we asked her what we could do, she looked really sad and said, “It’s fatal. But there are options to terminate.” I put my hand up in a stop sign position and said, “There are no options. We’re Catholic.”

Megan, Robert and Harper.
Megan, Robert, and Harper.

We opted to find out the sex at the appointment. A girl. What Robert had wanted deep down.

With my family that evening, we discussed names. We chose Harper after my favorite author, Harper Lee, and Gianna after St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Robert chose her because she is the patron saint of lost children.

Thus, this pregnancy became an opportunity to evangelize about the Gospel and God’s goodness, even in suffering. And, He is good. We believe that even now. He understands sorrow because He himself felt it when He lived on this Earth. My favorite verse in the Bible is John 11:35, which says, “And Jesus wept.” It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but one of the most indicative our Lord’s heart for all of us. I also loved it because if you know me very well, I cry at everything, so part of me felt validated that the Lord Jesus took time to weep when he lost his disciple and friend, Lazarus.

Carrying Harper Gianna became a beautiful mystery Every kick, every hiccup, every moment was celebrated because we knew it wouldn’t last. Every time I ate something new or different, I would record her response to it, and tell Robert, “She loves ice cream!” We had picked a C-Section date to meet her on June 7th, which is why I ignored severe back pain for two days, and a strange dream, in which my mother came to me and said, “You’re going to go into pre-term labor with Harper, honey.” Then, on Thursday, April 19th, I got home from work and told Robert, “I need to go to the hospital. I think I’m in labor.” When we arrived and told them of my symptoms and her condition, we were admitted rather quickly.

She was born on April 20th at 4:24 a.m., was baptized by Father Wickersham and then passed away at 4:25 a.m. We all held her, and I was fascinated by her fingernails, which were tiny and perfect. I looked at Robert and said, “She’s had these since week ten.” A true testament to the beauty of life, and all it brings. It comforts me us that Harper decided to be born in the midst of a rosary we were praying with our doula, Rachel, present.

Robert holding Harper at her birth.
Robert holding Harper at her birth.

Losing a child is terrible and so hard, and I don’t know how anyone copes without hope in Jesus, or without our family and friends, who prayed for miracles from the moment we found out about her condition. When people told me they were praying for miracles, I wanted to tell them, “But, you are the miracles, you are praying for us when we can’t because our hearts are too heavy. You are bringing us meals, and offering up Masses, and giving up your entire Lent to pray and sacrifice for our family.” The miracle in all of this is that Harper Gianna was so loved by everyone in our lives, and we are eternally grateful. We could not write enough thank you cards to tell you that.

In the midst of all the sadness and brokenness, and death and suffering, Robert and I know God is good, and He is kind. He loves us, and He is for us, and He gives, and He takes away, and we are called to bless His name.

Thank you for coming today. We are overwhelmed at your response, and we hope that our family may be symbols of God’s love for your families in the future. Please know of our heartfelt prayers for each of you and our continued love.

To our family, thank you for loving us through this. We could not have been better loved by you.

To Robert, thank you for being a solid rock, for hugging me when something would remind me of her, and I would cry anywhere, anytime. Thank you for your courage to lead our family. Thank you for loving me. I love you, and I don’t know what I would do without you.

To our sweet baby Harper, know that while we mourn for ourselves, we rejoice for you, as we know that you are in the presence of God and his angels. Thank you for giving us a beautiful reason to live saintly lives so that when we meet Christ again, we can also be with you where you are perfect and whole.