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

Sharing

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.
~ ~ ~
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.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ten Months

Today, Aaron would have been ten months old.  As I sit here and cry, I find myself wishing that I had the time to devote to some writing today...as my soul is overloaded with things that need to be said.  Unfortunately, I can only steal a moment away to share just a few thoughts.

My four-year-old caught me sniffling at the computer this morning as I was looking at pictures of Aaron and deciding which one to share with Facebook on what should have been his 'ten-month' birthday.  And, of course, she asked why I was crying.  As we've done each time before, I just let her know that Mommy missed Baby Aaron but that I would be okay in a few minutes.  She placed her hand lovingly aside my face and said, "And God doesn't mind if you're sad about Baby Aaron?  Because He understands." 

I suppose He probably does, but I find myself struggling to understand.  I find myself hoping against hope that I could find the innocence and the acceptance that our children seem to share so readily just when we need it most.  The faith of a child really is something to be admired. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Changed

You hear a lot of parents in the babyloss community who talk about the friendships and family relationships that they've lost since the death of their child.  Sometimes it happens because there is a big confrontation where hateful words are exchanged and irreparable damage is done.  Sometimes it just happens slowly because phone calls and visits taper off and the relationship quietly fades away.

We often hear that we have "changed" or we are "different."  Of course we are.  It would be foolish to think that we wouldn't be.  What others don't seem to realize is the depth of the ways in which we have changed and become different people.

In some ways, we learn to appreciate things more.  We truly understand what a blessing it is to be given each day and strive to make those moments count.  We work to cherish the relationships and the love that we are fortunate enough to have.  We do all of this because we have come to realize that the life we are living today could be altered in the blink of eye.

With that knowledge also comes an intense fear.  It becomes a near-constant companion and one that we may not even be aware that we carry around sometimes.
  - I find it in the moments when I am watching my children sleep or in the breaths that catch the smell of their shampoo...without warning, I find myself terrified to walk out of their room or to let go of them because the fear of losing them too overwhelms me.
  - It attacks me when I come across a photo of a friend's baby on Facebook.  I have become so used to the idea that "babies die" that my first thought now when I see a sleeping infant is "Oh God. What happened??"  Images of smiling, happy newborns actually catch me a little off-guard because that is no longer the norm for my haunted mind.
  - I have to swallow the panic sometimes when my husband takes the girls for an outing while I nap because my mind starts racing with the thoughts of what my life would be without the three of them.

So, if you want to know why we are different or why we look so tired and haunted...it is because we are.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Walk Your Own Path

For what it's worth, I actually wrote this post about a month ago when I had been reflecting on a few recent events...when I came back today, I found that it was still something heavy on my heart and I felt like it needed shared. 

I know that I have examined the topic of bitterness a few times and have always been glad to find that it isn't something with which I have had a terribly difficult struggle. I am human, so therefore I certainly have those brief moments where I simply can not help but think "She got to have a perfectly healthy baby and I had to bury mine??" Thank God those are few and far between.

For the majority of the time, I am genuinely happy and excited for others when I find out that they are expecting a baby.  I am thrilled when they get to experience a pregnancy journey free from the agony of losing a child.  While I wish that Aaron's pregnancy and birth had been free from sorrow, I would never begrudge anyone else that experience.  In fact, I pray that no one should have to find that kind of pain in their lives.

Lately I have seen so much bitterness and anger seeping from others in my life who have lost a child or lost multiple children and it has been weighing heavily on my heart.  I understand that "hurting people hurt" but I do not accept that as an excuse.  I firmly believe that you have two choices when faced with such a deep and crippling grief, because no matter what you do, you can not escape a change of epic proportions.

You can choose to let that grief consume you and let it proceed to fill every corner of your life.  You can choose to shut down and allow yourself to cease functioning in a world outside of your own.  You can choose to believe that your life completely ended in the moment when your loss occurred.

Or

You can choose to take ahold of the grief and make a decision to say that it will not define you.  You can choose to stand up and find a way to fit the "new you" back into the world that will continue to exist whether you choose to accept it or not.  You can acknowledge the fact that the life you used to know may have ended, but find strength in knowing that there is a new life you can create for yourself.

I believe that you will find days when it isn't possible to be in control of the grief or when it simply isn't possible to reach inside and find that kind of strength...but I also believe that if you don't wake up and try again the next day, you are condemning yourself to misery.

None of us asked for the pains we've been given.  Sometimes, we simply are not in control of the things that life lays at our feet.  And we may not always be in control of our reactions to what we are given.  I do, however, think we absolutely have to strive every day to try to regain control.

Stop wasting precious energy resenting those around you who get to walk what appears to be a sunnier path and start figuring out how to navigate the path that has been set before you.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One Year

It has been one whole year since we received the initial shock of Aaron's diagnosis.  It was October 9, 2012. It was supposed to be the day we found out whether we were having a girl or a boy (although as it turns out, we still got a surprise on that one at delivery). It was supposed to be the day that we got to see perfect little ultrasound pictures of our baby so we could share them with friends and family.  It wasn't supposed to devastate our whole world. But it did.

A year ago, the girls were staying at our house with my parents.  They knew that Mommy and Daddy were upset but we hadn't even had time yet to process the news for ourselves, so there was no way we could have possibly tried to explain anything to them.  We stayed about thirty minutes away in a hotel room just trying to make sense of everything that had happened in the last twelve hours...an entire year later and there are still days where I'm not sure that we've made sense of anything.

I know that I have been guilty lately of long absences from writing anything and that isn't because I think of Aaron any less often or because I don't have things rolling around in my head that I should really be putting down.  My absences are more because of this unbelievable fatigue that has settled over our house in the months since his death...although I know that it is therapeutic to sit down and put words to the thoughts, it's tough to make a choice between sneaking into bed a little earlier or stealing a few minutes at the computer - sometimes it isn't even a choice, we barely make it to bed before we both just give up for the day and collapse.

I know that as parents who work full-time jobs, it isn't such a strange thing to be so tired...and if it was just the physical exhaustion of too-little sleep, I think it would be a lot more manageable.  Actually, I think I would welcome that sort of physical exhaustion.  Where we stand right now is with that painful combination of mental fatigue coupled with the normal physical exhaustion. 

Shortly after Aaron's diagnosis, I would spend hours looking through other blogs and often found many of those parents suffered the same sudden absences in their writing several months after the deaths of their little ones...I naively thought that maybe this was because that was the point at which things really started to turn around and the therapy of writing wasn't quite so necessary.  Now, I'm beginning to wonder if it is more because they found themselves at the intersection of fatigue, grief, depression and life.

It's just another step of the journey and although it is proving to be pretty unpleasant, I find myself more and more convinced that it's a pretty normal one.  We are learning to live in a reality where few people speak of our son and when we dare to do so, their discomfort is nearly palpable. We are still struggling to manage our grief and our loss in a world that feels as though we should be healing and "moving on."  It probably looks a lot like our lives have "returned to normal" but the simple truth is that we still have no idea what that is supposed to mean. 

Little by little, I trust that life will continue to smooth itself out and we will continue to get better at balancing everything.  There are days here and there where I am hopeful and it seems like we're really succeeding at that task...I can only hope they find their way more frequently into our lives.