Monday, December 12, 2016

Lily's Second birthday

It’s hard to even know where to begin when you are describing what it’s like to celebrate your daughter’s second birthday in Heaven. So much of this journey of life after loss is so different than I expected, including a second birthday celebration.
For starters, I thought it would be easier as each year passes, but I think I cried more this year than I did last year. And I didn’t think that was possible.
We didn’t really know what to do with her birthday this year. I’m so torn between wanting to broadcast my love for her and selfishly keeping it all to myself. But when it comes down to it, I only want it to be Jason, Ted and myself celebrating our girl the best way we know how.
Her birthday was on a Saturday this year. And I just knew I needed to leave town for the day. Her birthday was a double whammy of emotion for me because I also should have been 37 weeks pregnant, but I wasn’t. So knowing that if I had been big and pregnant our plans would have been so different, just adds a new layer of grief to missing our babies.
As much as I want to keep Lily all to myself, I also wanted to celebrate her with family. Ted picked out a box of pink cupcakes and we made them the night before her birthday. We met my sister and her family at the cemetery to celebrate Lily. Ted picked out a gift for her, and my sister made the sweetest banner and we ate pink cupcakes.

Here is what I shared on Instagram:
I hate pink. And princesses and tutus. Really anything frilly and girly. I always have. But today I would give anything to be throwing a princess party instead of having pink cupcakes in a cemetery. I would dress her in whatever princess dress she wanted. I would do my best to curl her stick straight hair. And I would cherish every moment of “terrible twos”. She is a princess. The best kind there is because she dances all of her days in Heaven, the daughter of a King. Every moment of every day I try to wrap my head around this painfully beautiful mystery. And I will spend the rest of my days trying to perfect this dance so I can spend eternity twirling with my girl and our King.
Happy birthday sweet girl. I miss you more than my words can tell.
On her birthday, we started the day like we have since she was born. We started with prayer. We went to Mass and it was so wonderful to have family and friends to honor her day with us. I said earlier, I am so conflicted between keeping her all to myself and sharing her with everyone, but it was a balm to my soul to know how much our friends and family love us through this life of grief. It was the perfect start to our day.
We then headed north to Williams, Arizona. I think it will always be a special place for us to celebrate Lily. Almost a month after she was born, my sweet cousins surprised us with a trip to the Polar Express in Williams. We were still riding the wave of shock before grief really set in, so we were able to really enjoy our time there. This trip, we decided to go to Bearizona with Ted.  
It was an incredibly beautiful day. There are few things I find more enjoyable than a weekend with just Jason and Ted. We drove through the park and walked through the exhibits. But just like every moment of every day since she was born, I am struck with the lingering thoughts of what if she was here? What would we be doing? Not just for her second birthday, but for every moment of every day. Where would she be in our lives?
I think that’s a part of life after loss that no one really allows themselves to think about. I didn’t just lose my newborn. I lost my daughter, my now two year old. We lost a generation. Every day, I find myself wondering and imagining exactly what she would be doing if she were here.  Would she be sharing a room with Ted? Would she have stick straight hair like her brother or the red curls I’ve always dreamed about? How would they play together? Who would her little friends be? Would she follow Ted around? Would she be in awe of her big brother?
So many questions and I will never have the answers.
But we press on the very best we can. We embrace all the sweet and tender moments with Ted, meanwhile longing for glimpses of Lily in Heaven.
We spent the night in Williams. It was fun to hole up in a hotel for the night. We watched movies, ate pizza, and went swimming. We embraced this day and made the very best of it because that’s what you do to honor your child.
We remembered again our one and only night with her. How we examined her every sweet detail and tried our best to soak it all in as best we could. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t take enough of these pictures. The one of Jason holding Lily, with a smile on his face, tears and exhaustion in his eyes. It perfectly captures every feeling of that night.
Here again from my Instagram:
If I could relive one day over and over it would the day Lily was born. Every day leading up to her birth was full of anxiousness and uncertainty, but the day she was born was grace. Pure grace. I understand addiction a little more now, because every day since she was born I have obsessively been trying to get that grace back. Her birthday is full of glimpses of it, reminders of how extraordinary it was to finally hold her in my arms, to memorize every sweet and perfect detail of her. And this picture of Jason holding his beloved daughter sums up every moment of the past two years…smiles through tears, joy intertwined with sorrow. Teetering between here and there until we are reunited with our precious girl.
I am so grateful for the birthday wishes for Lily. So grateful for everyone who hasn’t given up on me and has tried to love me through this grief, through this journey which is nothing what I imagined. I have experienced grace in a more intimate and divine way than most and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. We love and miss you like crazy Lily. Thank you for showering us with peace and grace from Heaven, we felt it baby girl…all day long.
We went to Mass the next night when we got back in town. It was a quiet Mass, and now looking back, maybe we should have gone earlier in the day. Because as I was kneeling there, watching the sun descend outside, it all just washed over me again. My daughter is dead. And I didn’t anticipate a wave like that to crash into me again after such a beautiful weekend celebrating Lily.
But the quiet of the Mass, the darkness outside, brought me right back to the exact night two years before. My first of many nights without my daughter. The weight of it all was just too much for me to bear. I found myself weeping. Big, fat, ugly tears.
I miss my daughter. I miss Lily with every ounce of my being.
After Mass, one of my dear friends came up to me and I just buried myself into her hug. She’s one of those friends that just knows when the waves are starting to crash one after the next. I could hardly breathe between the sobs. After a few moments of me sobbing into her shirt, she just looked at me, smiled through her own tears and said, “I wish I had any words that were good enough right now.”
And I just sobbed again.
Because there are no magical words. And hearing someone else say that is actually a tremendous gift.
I believe in God and I believe without a doubt my daughter is in Heaven. But when you get to throw a princess party for your two year old and I don’t, all that sentiment is lost on me. Many days my comfort comes from knowing she’s where I long to be, but not on her birthday. On her birthday, I just wanted to braid her hair and eat pink cupcakes with her, not sitting next to her grave.
I can’t imagine a birthday where I ever won’t long for her to be right by my side.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The littlest Clare

About six years ago I attended the funeral of a five year old girl from our church. I remember thinking I've never seen such a small casket. A few years later someone spoke similar words when our friends' buried their one year old son. Honestly, at the time, I didn't even think they came any smaller.

A little over a year later we buried Lily and I remember the funeral director actually saying, "This is the smallest casket we have," and it was smaller than the one I had seen the previous year.

But he lied.

There is one smaller and it's the one we used to bury another child seven months ago. 

Our littlest Clare Therese.

We won't know until Heaven if she is a she or a he. I didn't have any premonition until they told me she no longer had a heartbeat and then girl names started to flood my mind. Maybe it's because I associate death with girls now. Or the thought of losing a brother for Ted was just too much to bear. 

It does give me a sliver of peace to imagine Lily with her sister in Heaven, so maybe that's why my mind assumes girl. 

Anyway it doesn't really matter. Our baby is dead. Boy or girl. Dead.

I went into the ultrasound nervous. I wasn't nervous until that day. I had felt nothing but immense peace since the moment I found out I was pregnant again. Because this baby's story was perfect. From the day I found out (Good Friday), to her due date (today) two weeks after Lily's 2nd birthday. She was my redemption song.

But on the way there, I started to get more anxious. For some reason tears started to threaten my eyes. And then I heard a whisper, "It's ok. I'm here for you mama." My Lily. Whispering in her mama's ear. 

It's so surreal when you really think about the reality that your daughter's wisdom at 18 months surpasses your 37 years. 

I thought she was whispering it me because I was anxious and nervous. I thought she was whispering to me because she knew my mind always goes to her ultrasound when I found out I wouldn't get to keep her. But now I know, she was whispering it me because her sister was right beside her.

I knew before the nurse said anything, but I didn't want to say. I wanted to be wrong. I wanted to keep pretending we were finally getting redemption in the form of a new life. I know what an 8 week ultrasound should look like. And I was hoping eight weeks was far enough to see a little round head to give us some reassurance. Not seeing a heartbeat wasn't even close to my radar.

I knew I should have seen a flickering heart. But it wasn't there. I knew even more when she asked, "Are you sure about your dates?"

My words, "Yes," with a sinking feeling in my stomach and the tears remembered this place. Even if I was off two weeks there should have been a flicker

And then she said it. "I can't find a heartbeat." Despair immediately washed over me. The same despair I was met with almost two years before. The same sinking feeling that leaves you gasping for breath and crying out in agony. The same feeling I had when they said, "Anencephaly."

I honestly never thought it would feel the same. But it was...the exact same absence of hope that I will never forget. It didn't matter that I was only eight weeks along. Maybe it did to other people, but it didn't matter to me

I had dreams for this child.  

And I dreamed those dreams again last night. 

I dreamed of her all night long. Even when I woke up and kept trying not to, I fell back asleep dreaming about her. I dreamed how different this day was supposed to be. That she should be in my arms for the world to see, instead of just in my heart where no one can see her. I dreamed that Ted would finally get to wake up on Christmas morning with one of his siblings. I dreamed that he would pick out the sweetest little stuffed animal for her instead of another ornament for his dead sister's tree.

I had the same dream nine months ago before I even knew she was mine. 

Some days there are just too many uncertainties this side of Heaven and today they just feel like too much to bear. 

I'm weary and I'm tired. I'm tired of hoping, tired of trying, tired of begging for this month to be different. Tired of surrendering the will I want for the will God apparently seems to have in store for us.

I'm tired of people telling me it will happen. I'm tired from all the pregnant bellies and announcements of new babies that aren't mine.

I prayed and wished and hoped and dreamed for this baby...probably more than all the rest and it just didn't matter. People want to tell you to just keep hoping or to pray harder, and part of me just has to laugh at that. Because there is no prayer stronger than a mother's prayer for her children.

And if there is a stronger prayer, it's the prayer of a grieving mother. 

When I first looked at my phone this dreaded morning, a friend had shared this on Instagram. And I know it was meant just for me. I needed this reminder on yet another day that triggers deep grief.  

My sweet Lily Frances and littlest Clare Therese...please pray for your mommy, I miss you so, so, so much.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

30 weeks not pregnant

That's where I am right now. Counting the weeks and months of what should be

I have a 3 year old. 

But in a few weeks I should also have a two year old and a few weeks after that I should have a newborn. 

The world gives you permission to miss your newborn...for awhile at least. Not nearly as long as you really need, but still, most certainly a lot longer than they give you permission to miss a child you lose through miscarriage. 

Perhaps it's because someone, somewhere, somehow has decided my grief should be measured by how long my children were with me, but in my reality it's measured so much more by how long I am without them

I miss Lily with every ounce of my being. And I miss Clare too. Just as much

Some days it seems like more. Some days the pain of missing Clare is magnified so much more because of all the "things" I don't have. I don't have pictures or outfits or a memory of holding her that I can cling to. I don't have a huge trunk full of memories of Clare like I do with Lily. I have one tiny box with a handful of cards and one ultrasound picture.

Some will say this is a blessing. Because you can't miss what you never had, right? 

Then why do I miss this baby so much? Why did it feel just like losing Lily all over again? Why has my grief been multiplying over and over these past five months?

We've emptied our house of everything baby. I've given away clothes and toys, only holding on to a few sentimental items. The infant car seat has been stashed away and the crib has been lent to a friend. Because keeping baby items for 3 1/2 years seemed practical, but keeping baby items for 4 plus years seems foolish. Wishful thinking that I just don't have in me right now.

It's hard to truly believe that this is our reality. So many mornings I wake up hoping it's all been a dream and I wait for a second to see if I will hear the two sets of feet that should be running into our room and another set that should be kicking my ribs. But instead, I look down, and my belly is flat (or rather flabby), and just one set of feet run to greet me in the morning. 

It's only September and I am already dreading this holiday season. Desperately wishing for the holidays that should be. The Thanksgiving where I should be nesting and hoping for labor to set in. The Christmas that should be with two excited toddlers giggling in excitement for Christmas morning and a newborn who should be snuggled up in Christmas jammies. The Christmas card that should be sent out late because it would be a birth announcement too. The New Year's Eve with three kids in bed by 8:00 and a toast to my sweet husband for all this goodness that should be.

Everything that should be. And yet, every single day I still manage to find hope in what is, in this reality of life amidst loss where we find ourselves. Every single day, I beg and plead with God for all that seems impossible. I ask for faith that surpasses my understanding and can hope against hope. And I pray over and over and over, "Teach me Lord to pray with my whole heart, 'Jesus, I trust in You.'"

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lily's dad

The most memorable part of my wedding day was the moment I walked up the aisle towards my soon-to-be husband. I had been anxious all morning, but seconds before I walked down the aisle I was filled to the brim with peace. I took my dad's arm and he kissed my cheek. We walked down the aisle to one of my favorite songs. As we got closer to Jason, I noticed he had a huge smile and tears streaming down his face. It was the first time I ever saw him cry.

We planned and planned for months, but nothing prepared me for that moment. Nothing prepared me to see the emotion of that day on his face. In that moment, and so many that have followed, I continue to learn how sensitive and sweet he truly is. And almost four and a half years later, one child here and two in Heaven, it was very telling of the journey we were about to embark upon.

I saw that smile with tears streaming down his cheeks again when our son was born. And just over one year later I saw him cry again. Only this time there was no smile. This time, with a sick and somber face he asked the question I was too scared to, "Is there something wrong with our baby?" Then the answer, and suddenly seeing him bury his face in his hands and weep for our unborn daughter. 

Every dream and hope we had for her stolen from us in that moment. He will never get to take her to daddy/daughter dances. Never coach her in softball or watch her twirl. She will never ride on his shoulders or squeeze his face with her hands. He will never walk her down the aisle to meet her husband.

I grieve and ache for my daughter, but when I think about what my husband has lost too, it's almost too much to bear.

Shortly after Lily's diagnosis, we met with our pastor. He offered his prayers, the support of our church, and two pieces of wisdom I will never forget. 

The first: He told us that we need to remember that we will each grieve differently and that is okay. He said the most important thing is to be aware that we will go through this differently. 

The second: He looked directly at my husband and told him, "You need to talk about this."

We don't talk about child loss nearly as much as we should and we certainly don't talk
about the dads much. So often the attention and focus is on the moms, after all we are the ones who carry our babies and for the most part, we may be the ones who visually show our grief.

The dads generally go back to work sooner. They may need to shut off their emotions in order to get through the day. They may put up a strong front to be able to take care of their wife. I'm even guessing people rarely ask them how they are really doing. More often than not, they hear people asking about the moms. I imagine they don't feel like they even have permission to grieve for their child.

The grief of missing Lily didn't really hit me until several months after she died. When the pain meds were gone the fogged finally lifted, and the shock wore off. The waves were washing over me and I could hardly catch my breath. 

And I was mad at my husband. 

Because he wasn't going through it like I was. He seemed fine. He could function. He could go to work. He had normal conversations. I was lying in bed one night while Jason was reading and I just started crying and I couldn't stop. Jason leaned over and held me and these four words he whispered was all I needed to hear, " I miss her too."

We grieve differently.

I am a writer. I write my pain. I write it down and share it with the world in hopes that it reaches the right people for the right reasons. I get it out of me. Sometimes it pretty and sometimes it's not. I close myself off from the world who doesn't understand me or even tries to. I cry. A lot. 

For Jason, the grief builds and builds. It starts out slow and steady and he can handle it for awhile. And when it gets to be too much, he breaks. He cries. And then he talks. Sometimes to me and sometimes to one of the few people he lets in.

We are getting better at it...if that's possible to "get better" at grief. I can see now when it's getting to be too much for him and a wave is about to hit. Sometimes I know it means we need some "just us" time and sometimes I know he needs to talk to a dude. 

But this is just my husband's story, how he is living this life without his daughter. There are many, many other dads out there who are missing one of their children, or several of their children, or ALL of their children

And they are hurting. Whether they tell you or not. Whether they show it or not. They are hurting. Underneath that strong and brave exterior is a man who just wants to hold his baby again. And play catch with his son. Or give his daughter butterfly kisses.  

But instead, his arms are empty. His eyes may be dry, but his heart is weeping.

Remember him and remember all the dads who we cannot see grieving.