Monday, June 1, 2015

Grasping the Memories

It’s been just over two years since we held our first son in our arms. In those years, not a single day has passed where Aaron’s name hasn’t been spoken in our household or when he hasn’t been on our minds. We think of who he would be right now and what he would be doing. We listen to the sorrow in the voices of his big sisters as they speak of missing their little brother.  We see him carefully sketched in the sky of every single family drawing they make.  We find ourselves absentmindedly running our fingers over the treasured keepsakes that are the only tangible evidence of his brief little life.

Aaron is, was, and will always, be a part of our story and a part of our lives. These days, it has begun to feel like those around us have all but forgotten the tiny little baby who stormed into our lives, stole our hearts and was gone again just as quickly. There is this mistaken notion sometimes that grief is supposed to follow a linear path and should get easier over the course of time.  Unfortunately, this just isn’t typically the case.

Our children spent this past weekend with my parents so that Chris and I could spend some much needed time focusing on one another.  On the way to drop them off, we stopped by the cemetery to “spend some time with Baby Aaron” just as we do every time we head that direction for a holiday or family gathering. (For those that don’t know, the cemetery is just outside my hometown and is just over an hour away from where we live now.)  They love to sit in the grass and talk to Aaron while they rearrange every single trinket and keepsake that we have placed on his headstone. This weekend, they pulled up handfuls of little clovers so they could leave him bouquets of “flowers” and talked me into making a clover chain to leave for him as well.  They blew him kisses, told him they loved him and then we continued on to see my parents.

When we picked them up yesterday, we had only made it about fifteen minutes into the drive before my oldest daughter asked to go back to the cemetery before we went home.  The weather was terrible, everyone was tired and we were running behind so we reminded her that we had just been there and promised that we would go again next time. She quietly agreed but when we checked the mirror a minute later, we saw her tear-streaked little face and she gently explained that she missed Baby Aaron and really wanted to go see him again today. We pulled over so I could climb in the back to hug her and her sister. Then I tried again to explain why we couldn’t go to the cemetery today and promised that we would get down his pictures and keepsakes so we could look at everything when we got home.

So, that was what we did.  We brought down three large black and white NILMDTS photos that sit atop our entertainment center, got out the blanket that he was wrapped in at the hospital, and carried in the weighted teddy bear that we had made to match his birthweight. Then we all sat in the living room floor as the girls carefully wiped the dust from the photos and our youngest snuggled his head into the belly of the teddy bear.  We patiently answered questions that we’ve already heard a hundred times about why Baby Aaron had to die, how he got his “boo-boo,” what his head looked like, and why he had to wear a hat.  We had to carefully navigate questions from our four-year old about why she couldn’t see the pictures of Baby Aaron’s head without his hat.  I had to fight back my own tears as hers began falling when she told me that she was so sad because she couldn’t remember seeing him at the hospital. 

It tears me apart to see such innocent little people struggling so hard to comprehend something that even their parents will never begin to understand. We wonder at every turn whether we’ve handled things in the best way for them or whether we should have done everything completely differently. We fight almost daily to keep our emotions in check so that we can help them to properly process their own.

Yet, they are often the ones who end up teaching us in the process. We marvel at the wisdom and the grace that they continue to exhibit at the most surprising times. We are often left speechless at the faith they possess and the untainted trust in God that they harbor. Their simple explanations, unbridled compassion, and awe-inspiring unconditional love for their baby brother are some of the greatest blessings we have been given in this lifetime. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

In the Grass

The holidays are rough.  Nearly anyone who has ever lost someone close to them will tell you that.  What they don’t tell you is that there will be no real rhyme or reason to exactly how rough or how gentle a particular holiday might be. Sometimes you reach the end of the day and think to yourself, “Well that wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.” Other times, you find yourself sobbing in the grass struggling to breathe. Yesterday was Easter and unfortunately, it was the latter of those two options.

I can’t, or won’t, speculate about the exact reasons why yesterday was so rough because I’m sure it was a combination of things.  This would have been Aaron’s third Easter and he would have been old enough to toddle around trying to find an egg or two in the back yard at my parents’ house.  He would have had a noisy little toy car to throw around just like his brother and my nephew were doing.  We would have been struggling to keep him from trying to eat handfuls of candy like his sisters did. And at the end of it all, we would have packed him into his car seat and hoped he fell asleep for the car ride home.

Instead, the “Easter Bunny” left a little toy car on the table with everyone else’s chocolate bunnies, candy and toys. I heard my five year old remark how nice it was that the Easter Bunny brought something for Baby Aaron too.  We opened baskets and took pictures, all the while thinking in the back of my head that I should have been trying to fit four happy little faces into the frame instead of three. We got everyone dressed and packed into the van, stopping to make sure that we had the toy car and the pinwheel for the cemetery. We spent time eating and laughing and spending time with our family. We watched as the kids had their egg hunt and I fought back silent tears as I thought of the two-year old missing from all the fun. When it was time to go, we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. But instead of heading home, our next stop was the cemetery…just like it is after every holiday and family get-together.

I can assure you that there is no feeling in the world quite like watching your two oldest children running across a quiet cemetery to the grave of their little brother. There really are no words to describe how it feels to watch your five year old kneel in the grass so she can play the music from her new jewelry box for her baby brother or to see your four year old bend down carefully to kiss the top of his headstone. I can not explain to you the anguish in my heart as they tenderly and purposefully rearranged each little trinket we have left for him during the last two years. And I would never want you to know exactly how it feels to watch that same four year old do a little dance in the grass beside your son’s resting place because she wants her brother to see what a good dancer she is.  I hope you never have to hear a five year old explain to her little sister that their brother’s soul is up in Heaven and his body is below the ground under “the pretty stone we got for him.” I wish she didn’t have the need to feel like she has to remind her sister about how to be careful of other people’s gravesites because “you don’t want to step on their special resting places because we wouldn’t like it if someone else stepped on Baby Aaron’s.” I wish I didn’t know how it felt to comfort those same little bodies when the tears slip from their eyes and they tell me how much they wish he was here with us instead of in Heaven. I hope you never find yourself sobbing in the grass on a sunny Easter afternoon feeling so sad, angry and frustrated at a world that no longer resembles the one you used to know not so long ago.

I have always fought so hard to find the grace and the beauty in Aaron’s short little life…sometimes I win that fight and sometimes I don’t. I have tried so hard to keep this space one of healing and encouragement, but that also means being honest in times when I don’t feel like being honest.  This is one of those times because honestly, I’m having a hard time finding the grace and the beauty right now.  I’m sure it will return one of these days but for right now, the truth is that I am angry and bitter and hurting. And sometimes, I think we have to remind ourselves that this is okay too.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Struggling Back to the Shore

It is said that grief often creeps up on us when we least expect it and takes us by surprise. I've described it before as being like a wave where one minute you seem to be on solid ground, then all of a sudden it comes crashing down on you leaving you drowning, scared and disoriented. You could be standing on the shore just watching the small waves roll by for months or even years, then without warning you're under water once again and struggling to breathe as though this time was the first time all over again.

 Tonight, I am so far underwater I can't even see the sky. I haven't cried about Aaron in months...I have certainly teared up here and then but haven't had the urge or the need to break out in the kind of tears that seemed to flow so frequently in the beginning. It isn't that I've been ignoring my feelings - I still talk about him often and think about him almost constantly, but I truly felt that I had reached a place of peace, rest and stability.

 My trigger tonight was something so simple and so beautiful...a friend had shared the story of a woman whose family had been given a bag of toys for their little boys from a stranger in a parking lot. They noticed that the bag had a tag attached and when they read it, they saw the story of a little boy who had died and that day would have been his third birthday. The note simply asked for this family's little boys to enjoy those toys since the little boy in heaven wouldn't be able to.

 What started out as a small sentimental tear in the corner of my eye quickly turned to the kind of all out gasping, full body sobs that seem to be specially reserved for the kind of pain that can only come from the death of a loved one. It was a release that I hadn't even known I needed and for which I was certainly not prepared. I know with all my heart that I miss my little boy every single day, but that all-consuming sense of loss and mourning is usually carefully tucked away and guarded.

 So, I find myself once again struggling to breathe...struggling to bring my head above water and plant myself as firmly as I can in the ever-shifting sand beneath my feet. I'm not nearly as terrified of the drowning as I once was because I know that, in time, I'll find myself upright again and standing tall enough to face the next wave when it comes.

 And that, I believe, is the whole reason that I felt compelled to share this...if you are drowning or struggling to find your way back to your feet, don't lose heart and don't give up. Sometimes it takes a little longer than others but as long as you keep pushing and trying, you're going to get there - this is a part of the process. Reach out for help and accept it if you need it. And if, right now you find yourself standing firmly on the shore watching the waves, enjoy the reprieve and don't let yourself feel guilty for the break.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Witness to Grace

Today, our little guy would have been 17 months old. He'd be walking and babbling and melting our hearts just like his siblings. Our lives would be immeasurably different.

 Instead, I am struck daily by the fact that I will never hold or see or smell that beautiful little boy again. Sometimes, it registers and passes quickly. Other days, it knocks me to my knees and leaves me with a tear-streaked face and an aching heart.

Yesterday was one of those that left me struggling to catch my breath. I'm really not even sure why it hit me so much harder than usual, but I literally had a few moments where I just could not get it under control. My oldest is a very observant young lady and she noticed immediately that I was upset. This isn't the first time it's happened for any of us and we've always used the tears as an opportunity to discuss how much we miss Baby Aaron and to talk about how it is okay to be sad.  Usually, both of the girls will respond with "I know Mommy, I miss him too."

This time, however, Tori decided that she wanted to do something more.  She immediately set to work drawing a picture and said the following to me:

"Mommy, I know you're sad about Baby Aaron today, so I'll draw a picture of you with him!!"

  "Look Mommy!! He's all wrapped up 'cause you just got him from the hospital! And he's all better because God found a way to fix him. Do you like it??"

For a moment, I was simply speechless.

Then her sister chimed in,

"Look Mommy!!  I made this one for you!  I used lots of purple because I know it's your favorite!!"

It was at that moment that I realized, "This. This is the reason that we made sure that the girls got to meet their brother.  This is why they got to hold him, kiss him, hug him and love him. This is why we don't try to hide our grief. This right here."

They know that he was real and loved and cherished.  He exists for them in no less real a way as our rainbow baby does. They continue to grow and learn and amaze me in ways that I could never have imagined.

As much as I hate the fact that our children are so well acquainted with grief and death, I feel so completely blessed to be witness to the grace with which they handle it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Son

Today was Aaron's first birthday - our little guy would have been turning one today.  We should be planning the last steps for a first birthday party for this weekend.  We should have been gathered around our kitchen table tonight so the girls could sing "Happy Birthday" to their little brother.  I should be sketching exactly what I want his big birthday cake and cupcakes to look like.

Instead, we went to Hobby Lobby so we could all pick out something to take to the cemetery.  We went to the party store to pick out balloons so the girls could "send a balloon to Baby Aaron in heaven." I stayed up late last night making a little Noah's Ark cake for just the four of us. We drove an hour and a half to the cemetery where we ate cake in the back of the van and picked up the pieces of the tiny angel statue that had shattered in the cold weather.  We watched as the girls carefully picked just the perfect spots for their pinwheels and rearranged the froggy statues for the hundredth time.

We spent the entire day acutely aware of the fact that this day wasn't the way it was supposed to be.  A first birthday is supposed to be about celebrating the completion of your little one's first year on Earth.  It's supposed to be a day where parents get to plan this cute little party for a baby who will never remember it but is thrilled at the opportunity to eat way too much sugar. 

For someone who has lost a child, it is instead a day where we spend the entire day wondering who our baby would be right now, wanting to know what milestone he would have just achieved and pondering what his personality might have been like.  It is one more day where we face the reality that our child is no longer with us.

On a day like today, the greatest presents aren't what you might expect on a normal 'first birthday.'  The most precious treasure is for someone to simply acknowledge that our baby existed.  It's a text from a friend  to let me know she's been thinking of Aaron.  It's a Facebook status by another mommy who knows just how I feel today.  It's a family member who checks in to ask how we're doing and let us know we're in their thoughts.  It's the toy fire truck and the "Happy Birthday" balloon left on Aaron's grave.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


I don't post as often anymore but I do still write from time to time.  Many of those things are written in such a dark place that I'm just not as comfortable sharing them.  But yesterday, I had an experience that was so touching I felt that I just had to share.

I almost always go to the same small post office when I mail the packages for Aaron's Angel Arms.  It is the closest to our house and the ladies that work there are simply fantastic.  They recognize me, chat kindly and nearly always have a smile.  In the course of the last ten months or so, I have literally mailed hundreds of packages through their hands. 

Yesterday, one of the ladies asked me about what I was mailing (it's been briefly mentioned when filling out customs forms, but I've never really elaborated).  This time, however, the office was empty and I was given the opportunity to tell her about Aaron and about the items that I've sent out around the world in his memory.  She was visibly moved and said that she would have to share her story with me some time.

As her computer slowed to a near halt, she then began to tell me about her only child that was born nearly forty years ago, but unfortunately her machine quit altogether, the office began to fill up and we didn't get to finish talking.  I am truly looking forward to another quiet moment in the post office when she and I will get to talk more about her own journey down this road. 

I have said it before, and will likely say it again, but sometimes I am simply speechless when confronted by the sheer number of parents who have had to go through the loss of a child.  It is one of those things that makes people so uncomfortable that many parents are terrified to mention their own loss because they simply don't know how others will react.  The fact is that every single person reading this knows at least one person, and probably more, who has had to deal with the death of a child - whether it be a miscarriage, a stillbirth, an infant loss or the death of an older child. Though each loss presents itself a little differently, they are all devastating.

It is easy to underestimate how much it means to one of us when you simply give us the opportunity to mention our deceased child.  I have made it a point to include Aaron whenever I feel the need to do so; though I do not always choose to include him when someone asks how many children I have (I often simply say "I have two little girls at home.").  He will always be our third child, but because the question is often so casually asked, I don't feel like having to explain.  Other times, when I feel like the conversation warrants it, I will include him...what strikes me is that I am nearly always met with a parent who has their own story of loss that they seem relieved to be able to share.  I am always glad to listen and allow that parent to let their own child live out loud in that moment - do you do the same?

All we ask is that you listen intently to what we would like to share.  We don't need you to fix anything or offer the perfect words of healing.  We don't need you to fidget or change the subject.  If we have chosen to share the memory of our child with you, it was a conscious choice.  Just choose to be present and remember our little one with us in that moment. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Tiny Little Shoulders

I have been reading through the dozens of posts that are sitting in "draft" right now and realized that I never came back to share the story of our anatomy ultrasound.  Obviously, things went well and we are now just four weeks from our due date but it seemed a story worth sharing.
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Thankfully, everything went wonderfully and we got some extremely clear pictures so there is really no doubt that we will be welcoming another little boy into our family soon.  Provided that all goes well in the weeks to come, there should be no reason for us to have to visit the specialist again.

While we were there, the ultrasound tech asked the girls if they thought they were getting a little sister or a little brother...despite the fact that they have both said "boy" several times throughout the pregnancy, they both enthusiastically indicated that they wanted a little sister.  Much to their dismay, the picture paused on the screen overhead told a different story.  To our surprise, Tori stomped her little foot and reacted pretty strongly to the news.  Thankfully, it was short-lived but she was visibly displeased for the rest of the ultrasound.  We were a little puzzled because it was pretty out-of-character behavior for her, but she was at least quiet for the rest of the appointment.

We stopped at the restroom on the way out of the hospital - Tori came with me while Abby decided to stay with Daddy.  That gave me a quiet moment to ask her about why she was so upset with the news that we would be getting another baby boy...there was nothing that could have prepared me adequately for her response.  When most parents ask that question, they expect any number of answers ranging from "I don't like boys" to "I want someone to play dress up!"

What I discovered in that quiet restroom with my nearly tearful four year old was that she had become convinced that "all little brothers go to Heaven" and that this new development meant that our baby wouldn't get to stay with us this time either. I think I literally felt a piece of me die inside when I realized the magnitude of the grief and anxiety that the tiny little person in front of me was shouldering.  What on Earth was I supposed to do with that?

The only thing I could do was to pull her close, hug her tight, tell her that this little baby was as healthy as he could be right now and that we would do everything we could to get to bring him home.

Notice anything about those words? I couldn't bring myself to promise her that this baby would be okay. I couldn't offer reassurances that we would get to bring a baby home this time.  I can't tell my little girl that everything is going to be all right.  I want to believe that all of those things are true and I wish with all my heart that I could make those promises, but the best that we have to offer is that we will try.