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.