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.