A Time to Remember and Give Thanks: Our Return to CHOP

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The morning of the memorial service, Brian and I were a bit on edge. I felt uneasy and was so afraid that I would completely fall apart. Once we arrived, I struggled to hold back the tears as we walked through the hospital. There were so many memories flooding back, and so many things I thought I had forgotten. I tried so hard to block out the emotions, out of fear that I would break all over again.

Each step forward brought back a memory. Rushing to the Special Delivery Unit on Christmas Eve to receive another shot of steroids to keep Aria going. The moment we learned Aria was terminal. Walking into the operating room. The memories played in my mind, fresh as the moment they happened.

As we turned the corner to walk into the auditorium, we were greeted by the faces of every child we were here to remember. Silver frames with pictures of precious faces glowed in the soft light from candles that lined the table. As soon as my eyes fell on Aria’s picture, the flood gates burst open, and tears began steaming down my cheeks. I held onto Brian and did everything I could to hold the pieces of my broken heart together.

As we stood there, trying to collect ourselves, we saw numerous hospital staff members walking by and pausing in front of each child’s picture. They looked at each of their faces and acknowledged their existence. It was beautiful to see how much they all cared for our children. I will always cherish that moment.

The service included music that was performed by hospital staff, prayers, and readings. There was also a slide presentation where each child’s name was read, while their picture was shown on the screen. It was an honor to celebrate all twenty six children that day, and to share Aria’s life with everyone. I was so touched by the love that overflowed in that space. Each child was so loved, so missed, and so cherished.

Afterwards, we were able to meet with other families, and hear their stories. For the first time, we were among people who truly understood our loss, because they have felt it too. We were reminded again and again that we are never alone.

Just before leaving the hospital, we took a picture in front of the entrance to CHOP’s Wood Pediatric Center, where the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment, and Special Delivery Unit are located. The last time I walked through those doors, I was pregnant with Aria. As we stood there, I could barely comprehend how much everything has changed since then. I had dreamed of taking this picture while holding Aria in my arms, and proudly announcing that we were finally busting out of the NICU and going home. That was not the path that was intended for us, but we still found a way to take that picture and include Aria in it. The pink balloon is in remembrance of our baby girl, who soars above us.

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Overall, I’m really happy we made the trip. I was so anxious about it, and unsure if going back to CHOP would be a good idea. But during the ceremony, I realized that as bereaved parents, we don’t get many public opportunities to acknowledge our daughter. There won’t be first days of school, graduations, or weddings. However, attending this memorial gave us a chance to sit in the audience, hear our child’s name, see her face, and celebrate her life. I’m really thankful for that.

In addition to attending the memorial at CHOP, we got to visit the cemetery where Aria is buried. Since we are a military family, we chose to bury her in Maryland, where our families are. It was the best choice for us because we know it’s a place we’ll visit often, no matter where we live. Although it is really difficult to be so far away, our family visits often and keeps her little spot of earth full of love.

When we got to the cemetery, I was so excited to see the cherry blossom trees that surround the baby section beginning to bloom. As the wind blew, little pink and white flower petals trickled down and covered the earth below. I couldn’t help but think that really suited her. We placed flowers at her grave, and played her song. We felt like we were reunited with our daughter for a moment, and that was really wonderful.

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Weightlifting and Marriage: The reason I can’t be my husband’s spotter.

I know this is a space where I usually talk about Aria, baby loss, and birth defects, but truthfully I’ve always wanted this blog to encompass more facets of my life. Since losing our daughter has fully consumed me for the last three months, and still does, that is usually the only thing I have wanted to write about. But while at the gym with Brian today, I realized something, and my mind kept telling me to write about it. So here I am…

I had finished my workout, and was about to head over to the treadmill so I could walk until Brian was done lifting. I stopped by to give him a few words of encouragement and he asked if I could spot him. “Sure! No problem.” I thought, but as he started his set, I quickly realized I was not the right person for the job.

Brian was fighting, I could see the strain in his face as he moved the weight. In his eyes, he was just working out but I could only see one thing; struggle. It was obvious he was using every bit of strength in his body to push the weight up. All I wanted to do was help, even though I knew he could lift it alone. I couldn’t stand there and watch him fight by himself. I just kept thinking “we are a team, let me help you.” As he raised the bar for the fourth time, I could tell he was summoning extra strength to keep going. I couldn’t take it anymore, I needed to help him! So I grabbed the bar and pulled it up.

“KIM! STOP! NOT YET!” Brian looked at me with dismay. He was not happy. I had just inadvertently ruined his set. Whoops.

I knew the struggle was very reason he went to the gym. He wanted to do the difficult task of lifting hundreds of pounds with his body, it’s how he stays in shape, builds muscle, and gets stronger. You know, no pain, no gain.

I just couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the weeks that followed Aria’s passing. All of the nights I helplessly watched him struggle, knowing there was nothing I could do. I hated sitting there watching his heart break and not being able to do a damn thing. I couldn’t bring Aria back.

The strangest thing about our journey through grief is that we rarely cry at the same time. If I am losing it, Brian switches over to protection mode and consoles me. I always do the same for him. One of us is always trying to fix the other’s pain, even though we know it’s impossible.

So as I watched him fight to lift the weight in the gym, I realized it was the first time I saw his pain, and knew I could fix it, so I did. And you know what? Even though I “ruined” his set, I’m not sorry. I refuse to ever come to a place where I can see him struggling and not feel the need to do something. I will always be the first one there, trying to rescue him.