A picture is worth a thousand words.

I wanted to take a few pictures of Aria’s nursery since we will be moving soon, and from then on her room will only exist in boxes. I wanted to have photos to look back on through the years, so we never forget what her room looked like.

I decided I wanted to take a few pictures with me in them as well. To be honest, I’m not really sure why. I know it may seem a bit strange to take photos in her room after her passing, but this phase of my life is so pivotal that I felt I should document it. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I can feel her presence every time I set foot into her room. So in some way it almost feels as if she’s with me in these pictures.

This image stands out to me the most.

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There is so much more to this photograph than meets the eye. The pink blanket in Aria’s crib is one of two that were handmade by my sister. One of the blankets was given to me, and the other was placed on Aria just before she was buried. It’s such a symbol that although Aria is no longer with us on earth, we are still connected in so many ways. My head is lifted towards the sky instead of gazing downward into her empty crib, for she soars above me in heaven. My eyes are closed because her presence isn’t something that I can see, it is felt deep within my bones in ways I can’t explain. When I quiet the noise around me and really focus, I can still feel her. The connection between mother and daughter is unbreakable, not even death can destroy it.

I am constantly amazed at how frequently I find pieces of Aria’s legacy in my everyday life. Aria has impacted me so much more than I ever realized she could. I have been forever changed by her existence – in the most beautiful and powerful ways.

And the old saying is definitely true, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
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Embracing the void.

It shocks me that there are moments when Brian and I are truly and genuinely happy. It seemed so impossible that we would find joy a few months ago, yet here we are. These little bursts of happiness are so delicately sprinkled between the most intense feelings of sadness. It’s a sacred balance, and it stops the pain from completely swallowing us.

The smiles, the laughter, it’s all so beautiful. I cling to those moments because I have felt the desperation of a joyless life. I was living one for the first few weeks after our daughter died.

But the grief still exists. It always does. No matter how hard I try to fight it, or tell myself I’m healing, the ache remains.

This evening, Brian and I decided to grill up some watermelon, peaches, pineapple and shrimp. It was a spur of the moment decision after a great day of browsing at the local farmer’s market and shopping. We laughed and joked as we prepared the food. I glanced out the window as Brian was getting the coals going on the grill, he looked so content and peaceful. It made my heart swell to see him like that.

Today had been such a good day. Brian and I were in a really great place. It was really wonderful, but I couldn’t block out the ache I was feeling. Something was missing.

As Brian came in to grab the plate of peaches, I looked up at him with misty eyes and said, “You know, Aria would have had so much fun with us.” We stood there for a moment, our eyes locked on each other. The emptiness swirled around us as we longed for our little girl.

No matter how well we seem to be coping, the emptiness that exists where our daughter should be is ever present and the ache is constant. Sometimes we try to tiptoe around it, so we don’t fall apart in front of everyone. We agree when people tell us we look great, or sound happy. But when it’s just the two of us, we feel our grief freely. We embrace the void because it comes from a place of great love for our little girl. We ebb and flow with all of our emotions because blocking them out only intensifies the pain. So we took a few moments in the middle of preparing dinner to grieve, then gathered ourselves and kept going. We ate, went for a walk, and the laughter returned.

Through the months, we have learned that the key to survival is learning how to dance between each emotion, and always welcoming joy when it comes.

Stay at home “mom”

After Aria was diagnosed at my 20 week ultrasound, my life quickly turned into a whirlwind of doctors appointments. We had to drive an hour away every week for level II ultrasounds with a Perinatologist, and I was seeing my OB once a week on top of that. As Aria’s condition worsened, it also became clear that we would be facing a very long journey in the NICU once she was born.

At 23 weeks pregnant, Brian and I decided it was time for me to leave my job. This made it much easier to schedule doctors appointments, and once Aria was born, I would be able spend my days watching over her in the NICU.

And then we lost her.

Here I am, nearly five months later and I don’t know what to do with myself. Making the decision to return to work is really tough. Part of me wants to continue staying home because this is the last remaining piece of the life we had planned to have with Aria. Every time I think about going back, I can’t help but feel incredibly bitter because this is not how things were supposed to be. I wasn’t planning on returning to work for several years, and doing it now feels like going back in time. Once I start working again, we are back in the exact same place we were before Aria joined our family. It almost feels as if it never happened.

There is also a small part of me that wonders if work will help me get through this. Although I’ve been filling my days with trips to the gym, baking experiments, and other random tasks, I still get bored. When I’ve run out of things to do, and find myself alone with my thoughts is when grief hits the hardest. Work could be a good distraction, but in the end I know it won’t stop the pain. Employed or not, I still have to endure the process of grief.

So right now, I’m continuing on as a stay at home “mom”. I know that eventually, I’ll go back but I’m not putting a timeline on it. When my heart feels ready, I’ll go.

Aria Bear

I haven’t mentioned anything about our beautiful, and perfect gift from the Molly Bears organization, and I wanted to share it with all of you. Molly Bears provides families who have lost an infant with a teddy bear, handmade by volunteers, that is the exact same weight as their child.

I really looked forward to receiving our bear because I just couldn’t wait to feel two pounds, and eleven ounces in my arms again. I longed for anything that could help me feel closer to holding my little girl.

Our little Aria Bear arrived just a few days before Mother’s Day. My hands shook as I opened the box, and I couldn’t believe I was this excited to see a teddy bear. Our Aria Bear is beautifully made, and honors our baby girl perfectly. I cried as I held the bear in my arms for the first time, and was shocked at how familiar the weight felt. I slept with the bear resting on my chest that night, and it was the first restful night of sleep I had since the day Aria was born. Our Aria Bear has been such a comfort to our family.
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Brian and I think it would be neat to bring our Aria Bear with us when we take family photos to symbolize Aria’s everlasting place in our family. We have used a pink balloon in the past though, and I like that idea a lot too.

If you are interested in a receiving a Molly Bear, or supporting a wonderful charity, please visit http://www.mollybears.com

Living in the “after”

I swam at the beach for the first time today.

Yes, I have done this before. But this time it felt so different and brand new.

It is because it was the first time I had done it since my daughter passed away. The first time I had done it during the “after”.

My life is now in two parts – before and after. The person I was before and the experiences she had, are almost foreign to me now. I look at pictures from before and all I can see is how blissfully naive and innocent I was. Sometimes I wonder who that woman was, and if she’s coming back.

Today, the ocean felt so familiar, and yet completely different. The water was more blue, and refreshing on my skin. The weightlessness of my body in the water was more freeing than ever before.

Someone once told me that at one point during my journey with grief, the clouds would part and I would see blue in the sky again. I was told that this shade of blue would be more brilliant than it ever was before. I would feel a thankfulness for it that I hadn’t experienced in the past.

As I think about today, I wonder if it’s happening. Am I coming back to life? Maybe the person I was never left, and I just have to find a way to infuse her into the person I have become.

I was also warned by the same person that the clouds of grief can and likely will come back at times. Grief can rip the color right out of your world in an instant. I know that it will again. I know this peace is fleeting, and before long something will trigger the pain again. I know the guilt for feeling happiness will soon tear me down.

But for right now, I’m going to settle in and call this place home. I’ll relish in the peace while it lasts, and cling to the memory of this feeling when the clouds return.

The most beautiful thing about all of this is being able to separate my daughter’s memory from my pain. I love looking at pictures of her, and feeling thankful for her life and being astounded by her beauty, without it all being overshadowed by sorrow. I really want my little girl’s place in my heart to be joyful.

Sometimes grief is ugly.

I try with all of my night to find beauty through all of the pain and sadness. It is grueling and painstaking work. But you know what? There are times when grief is just plain ugly.

There are people in our lives who have walked away, and decided not to support us through the loss of our daughter. We have encountered people who couldn’t withhold judgement, or keep their opinions to themselves. Several people have said incredibly hurtful and disappointing things to us. Some have tried to ignore the fact that our daughter existed, always change the subject when we talk about her, and shut her memory out of their lives.

It’s truly the most difficult part of it all. These things are sometimes referred to as secondary losses. When you lose a child, you often lose so much more.

I’m writing this here because I always try to portray myself in the most honest and authentic way. I wanted to share that grief isn’t always a steadily moving process that heals itself into a neat little package.

I also needed to release these thoughts from the place where I’ve kept them locked up in my heart. I wanted to let go of the anger, hurt and disappointment, so I can keep moving forward.

At the end of the day, these secondary losses have taught me to really appreciate those who have stepped up. The people who selflessly walk through the messy emotions with us. They have made all the difference and I am so thankful for each of them.

Dear Aria,

If I could hold you and talk to you right now, there is so much I would say. We would reminisce about your birth, and I would gush over how amazing it was to carry you in my belly. I would kiss you a million times. I would tell you that you are the most beautiful blessing in the universe. I would hold you tightly and never let go.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and it was so hard without you. Your Daddy was so sweet to me, and made the saddest day turn into something beautiful.

You know, sometimes I feel guilty for being happy when you aren’t here, but I know that’s not what you want. So I’m doing my best to fight the little voice that wants me to give up.

I want you to know that my love for you still grows everyday. I miss you so much, sweet girl. Until we meet again.

Love,
Mom