Monday, July 3, 2017

Table for Six

It's been almost eight years since we had our Gabriel.  Since we lost our Gabriel.  Over the past several years, one child in this family has continued to talk about him the most.  Joel, now nine years old and the only sibling to have the chance to actually meet his brother, doesn't often speak his name these days.  He is, however, very protective of his "Gabey Bear" that he sleeps with every night, and goes to find when he's sad or hurt.  I'm still not sure Ruby, who just turned four, completely understands that she has a brother who is no longer with us.  The only photos she's ever seen of him are obviously baby pictures from the day he was born, but she does usually ask if every random picture she sees of a baby, is our Gabriel. 

But our Zoe, almost six, talks about him all the time.  She points out that there is a seat in the back row of our family car, between she and Joel.  "That's where Gabe sits."  And when she asked about the key I have hanging from the rear view mirror, and I explained it was just something pretty that reminded us of Gabe, she explained that when it swings back and forth (as we drive) it's because Gabe is up there moving it.  And you should have seen how happy she was one evening when we pulled the highchair over to our big dining room table, for youngest sister Gracie, and that it still left one empty chair.  "That seat's for Gabe!"

It's both surprising and heart warming when she brings him up all on her own.  Because we no longer take trips to the cemetery, until it's time to celebrate his life.  And I no longer take the time to sit with his photo album, we just have one photo of him hanging in our living room.  And he doesn't often come up in conversation.  It's been a long time now since the day we lost our son. 

And for the record, Gracie is now in a booster seat which is on one of the dining room chairs.  So there is no extra, additional, empty seat at our table of six.  I don't point this out to Zoe.  I don't make her talk about him.

Because the reality is we only need a table for six.  To everyone who sees us, we are a family of six.  Two parents, four kids.  But THEY remember him.  In all situations.  Just yesterday I was counting up the children who attended Ruby's birthday party over the weekend.  My sister in law's four kids, and our four kids.  And Zoe corrected me, "No, there were nine kids! We have five kids!"  If only everyone remembered him like she does.  If only everyone included him in the count.

He was not an idea of a baby.  He was my baby.  I carried him until my 36th week.  And after we got that horrible fatal diagnosis, I laid in bed every morning until I felt him move, and only then would I have enough strength to put my feet on the ground and get through one more day.  He had a face.  He has a name.

Just like every year on the day he was born, we will be at Rose Hill Cemetery to honor his sweet little life. You're welcome to join us at 6pm on August 21st as we step on, what we call, "Holy Ground" to remember our sweet baby boy.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Four Little Ones

What does grief feel like when you are this many years out from the day you said both "hello" and "goodbye" to your precious one?  When the world has forgotten, but your heart still remembers?  The number one thing people tell me about this blog is that it allows them to see what grief looks like through various stages.  So, when Facebook reminded me that it was on THIS day, eight years ago, that we announced we were pregnant with our second child, I made myself sit down and write about my precious Gabriel.

Here’s a riddle.  What do playdates and doctor visits have in common?  They both want your childbearing history.  I can’t tell a doctor I only have four kids, because they need to know that I birthed five.  If you’re not a momma, this may not make sense to you - But let me assure you, after talking with a variety of doctors this past year about my dislocated tailbone, they ALL asked for my complete prenatal history.  So for anyone who thinks his memory should have been buried along with his tiny body, the medical community would disagree.  The details surrounding Gabriel - conception,  pregnancy, and birth - are ingrained in both my medical files and my heart.

In the same way, it’s too difficult to tell a new friend I only have four kids when they innocently ask about my family.  After all, if they're going to be any friend of mine, they will most certainly hear about each of my precious little ones.  Bonus Tip:  I have found that to complete strangers, it is easy and efficient to simply say, “I have four little ones at home.”  As I’ve said before, this phrase allows me to tell the truth, without revealing my sorrow, which inevitably activates their Sad Eyes.  It’s the best thing I’ve come up with after all these years.  So, you’re welcome.

This period feels like an emotional Tug of War.  Some days, my mind wins.  When the craziness of life buries the energy my sadness requires.  When I'm lost in the mundane schedule of being a stay at home Momma.  But some days my heart fills with such heavy sorrow that my mind never stood a chance.  Just this week has been full of tugs.  Monday I attended my Bible Study, spent the day feeling encouraged.  On Thursday, everyone was celebrating the birthday of Dr. Seuss and sharing his most precious quote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  Heart TUG.  Friday was crazy busy with doctor appointments, driving all over Washington County.  Then today, Saturday, I log onto Facebook to see I missed the Angelversary of dear friends who are mourning the third year without their son.  Push, pull.  Push, pull.

It is exhausting, draining, difficult.  But this is the "normal" that Infant Loss Parents know.  We’re all just walking around trying to figure out how to “move on” without “getting over” and still keep their memory alive.  How to muster up the strength to put on that fake smile until the real one emerges with genuine joy.

Michaela Evanow is a sweet Momma I follow on Instagram, who started the hashtag #MamaGrief.  She’s simply amazing; you can read her story on her beautiful blog HERE.  Everything she writes makes me hold my breath as I soak in her raw, healing words.  So I’ll end this entry with her thoughtful remarks...

“And so it begins.  March.  Another birthday month, another year without my Florence.  She was born on March 7th and the first week of March always hits me HARD.  Harder than May, her heavenly anniversary.  Birthdays are much, much heavier for me.  I can't believe she would be turning 5 this month.  I see other 5 year olds and my head spins.  I know she is three and I'm not sure how heaven works, but I hope she is three when I meet her again.  I don't want to miss a thing. 

I know I don't have a 5 year old, but my body remembers.  And my body tells me, right down to the tingling in my fingers and the awe in my eyes as I watch other 5 year olds that were born around the same time as her.  Hello... I feel my bones whisper, hello little big one.  What a miracle it is that you are here.  What a miracle it is that I gave birth to one like you, and then birthed her back to heaven and yet I am still standing.

Death demands miracles on a daily basis from the parents that are left behind.  Stand up.  Breathe.  Eat.  Work.  Laugh.  Somehow, life pulls this from us, and we begin to thrive again until we walk right into our walls of grief.  We face them, Davids against our Goliaths; sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.  But our children will always give us a sense of victory, no matter how the battle is waged.  For that, I am grateful.”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Remembering them at Christmas

Last night was the always beautiful, somewhat magical, Labor of Love Christmas service.  It's a night I look forward to every year.  Last year there were two men who shared about their losses, and it moved me so much I blogged about it.  You can read that entry here.  I knew I needed to share this year, but only if when I sat down to write, something poured out of me.  And, of course, that's exactly what happened.  Below is what I shared to the many Infant Loss mommas, daddys, grandparents, nurses, and friends in attendance...

This year's ornament -  a Key, to unlock the Love in our Hearts.

I just wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude to Labor of Love, and all the people who are now more like family than friends. Being able to gather with a group of people who understand exactly how you feel, who have endured the same tremendous loss, is such a beautiful gift.

I lost my son, Gabriel, seven years ago. In many ways it feels like a lifetime ago, but no, I'm not over losing my son. And, no, I won't ever be. This year I sought counsel from a therapist who questioned that I still had tears in my eyes as I spoke of my son. This licensed counselor wanted to know whose idea it was that I keep his memory alive each year by celebrating the day he was born. And to be honest, the experience broke me a little.

It took a lot a talks from friends and family, mostly my sweet husband to remind me that this "professional" was simply wrong. That even in his years of training, he clearly had never experienced a loss like ours. 

That every book I had read, every song that brought me comfort, every medical professional I've ever spoken to - from nurses and midwives at the hospital to therapists from Hospice, and especially every other momma and daddy who had been in my shoes - All proclaimed the opposite:

He was my child! He will always be my child. No matter how many more children I have been blessed with, there is no replacing him.

He was real. He was mine.

From the moment I stared at that positive pregnancy test, to all the times I felt him move inside me, to the day I finally got to see his sweet face. There is NO forgetting them. And trying to push all of these realities inside would do far more damage than remembering his short, sweet life. So thank you, Labor of Love, for giving us this beautiful night every year, to come together and remember. To simply speak their name, and reflect on how much we love them, and how deeply we miss them.

My sweet sister, who attends this service with me, along with my Momma.

The gorgeous tree in the beautiful church.

I ran over and took this photo of this amazing statue before the night had even begun.  Just seeing it brought me peace.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What I Said, 7th Angelversary Edition

Yesterday's forecast called for thunderstorms and hail.  I was already a hot mess, and the thought that we'd have to cancel for the first time ever due to weather was heartbreaking.  It rained while I picked up the balloons.  It poured while we gathered everything to bring to the cemetery.  It sprinkled when we arrived and started setting everything up.  Kyle pointed out the gorgeous floral arrangement left by a precious friend, and the tears started.  My mother-in-law arrived with cupcakes that perfectly matched the bouquet (completely not planned) and I was officially bawling.  But then the skies cleared as people joined us around his gravesite.  We were all able to give hugs, catch up, and talk about my special little boy - all while not having to huddle under the tiny canopy we brought as back up.  We quickly sang Happy Birthday so that the kids could enjoy the Main Event - the cupcakes.  As they ate I said the following words, before we all signed your balloons and released them into the darkening skies.  And as soon as we declared we were done, the rain came.  

My sweet Gabriel, when I thought about what I'd say today, I thought about who you'd be now. Seven years old. Scuffed up knees, with a super hero obsession, and a sweet spirit. Probably tall like Daddy, cause that's how we grow em.  

I thought about how my Zoe, my Rainbow Baby who came after the storm of losing you, just started school and should have TWO big brothers to protect her as she navigates getting on the bus, making new friends, and finding her classroom. And then I thought, "No, there's no point in sharing what would have been, what should have been. You're not here, you haven't been here since the day I laid eyes on you. Since the day I held you in my arms and carefully watched you take shallow breaths."

But then I decided to ask the kids what they'd want to say to you if you were here. After all, they're getting older and understanding your loss more and more. And do you know what Zoe said? "I'd ask him to sit beside me on the school bus."

Thank you, five year old, for that Life Lesson.  My girl who pointed out just this morning that she was GLAD it was raining, because after the rain, we'd be able to see a rainbow.  Of course it's okay to think about who you'd be today! You are just as much my child as the four others I watch grow year after year, heck, day after day. 

Of course my Momma Heart will wonder every time I think of you, what you'd LOOK like today. I held you inside for nine months, so of course I wonder what you'd BE like. I endured painful labor and even more painful grief, so of course I think about how our lives would be so very different by your very presence. 

There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of you, Gabey. I miss you more than most people on this side of Heaven will ever understand. My sweet Joel and the three girls who came after you are the gifts I cling to when I just want to be gone from this world and into your presence again…

Thank you guys for coming out today. It helps my family and I feel held, supported and loved as we take the time to remember him. It means the world to us that you continue to show up, to stand by us during the saddest day of our year. And to my sweet mother-in-law, who made it clear a few years ago that she needs to bake a cake for her grandson every year. A few days ago, I cautiously texted her to see if she wanted to just make cookies instead, as that would be less messy, and she said she'd bring wipes cause "all birthday parties are supposed to be messy."

One of my best friends just shared a song with me this week.  One that has over 3 million plays on YouTube, and yet I'd never heard before.  I was so excited to share it with Kyle, even he had heard it on the radio. But I needed it the moment it was shared with me and I've been clinging to it ever since. The lyrics shoot straight to my heart, a mother's words to her Savior after enduring the loss of her baby.  I'd like to play it for you. So, if you've heard it, sing along!

I’m so confused. I know I heard You loud and clear.   
So, I followed through, somehow I ended up here.
I don’t wanna think I may never understand   

That my broken heart is a part of Your plan
When I try to pray, All I’ve got is hurt and these four words - Thy will be done.

I know You’re good, But this don’t feel good right now.   
And I know You think Of things I could never think about.
It’s hard to count it all joy, Distracted by the noise.  

 Just trying to make sense Of all Your promises.
Sometimes I gotta stop, Remember that You’re God, And I am not - Thy will be done.

I know You see me. I know You hear me, Lord. 
Your plans are for me, Goodness You have in store.
So, Thy will be done. Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is, Thy will be done.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Unexplainable

I think you only really "get this" if you've lost a significant loved one yourself, but I'll try to explain.  And I can really only speak for myself, but I have a feeling I'm speaking for many of us...  You don't always miss your baby (or spouse, or parent, or best friend) on the days you are "supposed" to miss them.  In fact, sometimes the days leading up to a certain triggering date is worse than the significant day itself.  And sometimes your body feels the sadness before your head can catch up.

This has happened to me a lot over the years since we lost our Gabriel.  But there's a specific time it happens that still both surprises and confuses me, so I've never talked about it before.  But, it kind of "proves" that us grieving parents don't "choose" our sadness.  It's not something we talk about to get attention from loved ones, or to gain sympathy from strangers.  Sometimes, it's like our soul recognizes the loss whether we want it to or not.

This weekend our family celebrated our daughter's third birthday.  She's our fourth child, our second Rainbow Baby.  The day was perfect, everything going according to plan.  I woke up at 6am and started cleaning our home, decorating the dining room, and preparing the food. The party was full of feel-good emotions, like joy and gratitude and love.

By the time everyone left, and everything was put back in its place, I was exhausted.  I napped on the couch as Kyle and all four kids relaxed and played, watching a movie.  When my hubby sweetly started to wake me up, I was still in that daydream state - unsure of what time it was, why I was asleep, if I was still dreaming.  For the next ten to twenty minutes, I was physically awake with this very specific feeling like I was waiting for someone.  Like we'd been waiting all day for this someone.  Every few moments, I would feel this intense anticipation for them to arrive.  This is so hard to explain with words, but I felt like it was someone I loved so very much.  Someone who was just so obviously missing.  Then I would look up at Kyle, the love of my life, and sit there in my confusion.  Unsure of who else my heart was longing for.  If Kyle was right here with me, who was I waiting for?  In those moments, I honestly couldn't figure out who in the world my mind was expecting to join us.

Four Fifths of my Heart

It wasn't until the next day that it hit me like a smack in the face.  Meghan, it was your Gabriel.  It was your son who felt missing.  Yesterday had been a wonderful, special day with family.  And somewhere deep inside, you knew he should be there.  And maybe that "feeling" was that he was there.  Maybe napping by my side, visiting me in my dreams.  Maybe dropping by to see just how big his older brother has become.  And to sit with his three baby sisters, watching over them with a protective hand.

Maybe I'm just a grieving momma missing her baby boy with every fiber of her being.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Truth about our "Blessing"

Our fifth baby started forming in my womb seven months after my husband underwent a vasectomy.  Maybe the procedure didn't work.  Maybe we didn't wait long enough.  Eighteen months later and we're still not sure.

I tried so hard to blissfully enjoy the pregnancy, but ended up overdue and begging for an induction.  I endured a painful labor and an even more painful recovery.  There were bleeding complications afterwards, an injured tailbone, and severe postpartum depression.  It's only now, that baby Grace is three months old, that I can share these details.

On social media I posted photos of my brand new baby with lovely captions such as, "The baby I didn't know I needed."  But the truth is, I was only able to share such precious words when she was finally asleep in my arms after crying for hours.  Only after I asked God for forgiveness for yelling at my other kids, as I was suddenly a stressed out, unkind version of myself.

My REALITY versus what I SHARED.

So for two months I did everything I knew to do to be the best momma to this little "blessing" screaming back at me.  I breastfed, obviously.  I swaddled.  I made eye contact.  I took a safe dosage of Zoloft and hoped for the best.  But there were moments when she'd scream bloody murder, even after all her needs had been met - she was fed, in a clean diaper, not too hot, not too cold.  So I'd just hold her and watch her tiny face crying in misery, unsure of what to do next.  The reality was - she was miserable, I was miserable, and something had to change.

I distinctly remember walking by one of my favorite nurse practitioners when I brought Grace in for an appointment.  Her face lit up as she got closer to the carseat to take her first look at our newest addition.  I told her this was our "surprise" baby and she said, "Oh, what a blessing!"  I sarcastically responded, "Is it?" instead of the expected, "It is!"  My comment got a few laughs from nearby doctors, but as I walked away I couldn't shake the feeling that I had become one of those moms.  One who is more annoyed by her child, than grateful.  One who feels her children are a burden, instead of a blessing.  As a momma who had to bury a child, I never thought I'd be in that category.  I was absolutely disgusted by myself. 

And what I'm about to say next is the reason I'm writing this blog.  I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving family and compassionate friends.  They were brave enough to share their concerns, and took the time to check in on me.  So I really consider it a joint decision that I started giving baby Grace formula, in order to be able to take care of myself first.  It's the same theory behind the airline reminding you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else put on theirs.  I needed to quit breastfeeding to regain myself, my body, and my sanity.  This momma clearly needed way more wine, and a little more Zoloft.  As my sweet doctor advised, "It's better for baby to have a happy momma feeding her a bottle, than to be on the boob of a distraught, overwhelmed, stressed out momma" - a phrase, although a little long, I believe should replace the popular "Breast is Best."

And it was only after this decision that we quickly discovered baby Grace had the same milk protein allergy as her older sister.  After a few more difficult days of trying various formulas, we landed on soy and haven't looked back.  Well, until now.

It is only now, three months later, that I am really able reflect on how difficult those first few months were.  The turbulent combination of sleep loss, postpartum depression, increasing anxiety, caring for a colicky baby, and being an overwhelmed momma who was still getting used to caring for four little ones.  I now understand that I wasn't in a place where I could really appreciate the gift I'd been given.  It's only now that I'm able to really enjoy those smiles, cherish those cuddles, and deeply inhale her sweet baby smell.  And for that, I am so very grateful.

I felt convicted to share this very personal matter in the hopes that it may help someone feel understood, and not alone.  I also wanted to share where God has been in all of this.  After talking with our Pastor about how tough the last few months have been, he helped my husband and I to see God's grace (how appropriate) in the midst of our very chaotic life right now.  He urged us to see that in life there are some things that are within our control, and some things that are outside of our control - and the key is to trust God's sovereignty to meet us in those moments.  To call out to Him, to rely on Him, to remember that God is still good, and forever by our side, even when we're in the midst of storm - whether that storm is the tragedy of a significant loss or the chaos of everyday life...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

To Keep His Memory Alive

In the seven years since Gabriel's fatal diagnosis, my husband and I have been blessed with three healthy daughters.  Our family is now big and crazy and wonderful.  Our evenings are full of bickering and laughter, chaos and cuddles.  I can't count the times Kyle and I look at each other, both tearful, so full of joy we feel we may explode.  And yet...

And yet there is still that empty hole.  I admit it - I still grieve the tremendous loss of my son's death

April 29th is the date that will mark seven years since we received Gabriel's fatal diagnosis.  Seven years since our once illuminated world turned dark.  We were young parents with one toddler, thrilled to be giving him a sibling.  All that joy, all that hope.  To then find out our baby boy wasn't going to make it long after his birth.  Suddenly all we could feel was despair and intense sadness.  After enduring months of carrying around the son who would soon die, the real sorrow began on August 21st.  The day we said both "hello" and "goodbye" to our beloved baby boy.  Have you ever felt such grief that your heartache felt quite literal?  It's a true sensation.  Your heart actually aches.  Your chest is tight, your eyes are heavy, and your body longs to hold your baby just one more time.

And then life just keeps going.  At first you are forced to deal with the shock of everyone else going about their days, as if all is normal.  But your life is not normal.  You are struggling.  Time goes by and you find yourself falling back into routines and traditions, feeling pulled by your past while being flung forward.

You begin to feel desperate to remember, and to keep him remembered.  You never want to forget his sweet face, the color of his hair, the smell of his very existence.  I distinctly remember the first time I took his tiny hospital hat out of its little bag, inhaled deeply, and realized his scent was gone.  

You fiercely seek ways to keep his memory alive.  Lighting candles around the dinner table at holidays, releasing balloons for his birthday, keeping his pictures around and seen, even just saying his name.  But you don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, so you struggle to fight for any actions of remembrance.

One of our biggest efforts was organizing a yearly event to raise money for The Gabriel Fund, which was set up in his name within a local Christian organization.  Since his death, we have intensely wanted everyone we know and love to remember him as well, and to show up to show their support.  And because of the closeness of the cause, we found ourselves hurt and taking every absence personally.  Our hearts started to feel torn as we asked the community to rally around the remembrance of our son year after year. 

So we will no longer be organizing and hosting such events.  We are at the point that we want to tuck him away in our hearts and no longer ask the world to join in our sorrow.  While this gives me great relief, it also makes me feel like I'm doing the one thing I never wanted to do.  The one thing everyone around me wanted me to do.  I'm moving on.  Not getting over, never getting over, but moving on.

This all became so abundantly clear to me the other week when my oldest child came home with an assignment from school.  He was given a writing prompt, "Who is worth more to you than gold?"  And his response brought instant tears to my eyes.  "Gabe is worth more than gold to me because he is special to me.  I was only one when I saw him.  Now he's up in Heaven.  I will always remember him."

That's it.  My complicated grief simplified in the words of my seven year old.  I no longer need to feel obligated to urge others to keep my son's memory alive.  I no longer need to feel sad if the entire world forgets, because my family will always remember.  His story is written in our hearts.