Two on earth, a sweet baby in heaven… and a dog?

“Are we really going to sit here and watch her chew on her bone all night?” My husband asked, as we sat on the floor next to our newly adopted German shepherd mix, Lana. I nodded my head and replied, “Yeah, I think so.” I smiled at her as she happily gnawed on her bone, blissfully unaware of what my husband, Brian and I were feeling.

This was a first for us. To be still, soaking up the moment we were in. After our daughter passed away, it hurt too much to be still. There were too many hard thoughts that would race through our minds when things slowed down. So we kept busy, found distractions, and tried our best to keep moving. Suddenly, we found ourselves being more present than we had been in months and it was all because of a dog.

I thought it was somewhat bizarre. We lost our first and only child. We held her, loved on her, then buried her. How was a dog, of all things, making my pain a little softer? How was a dog changing the way I live my life?

To be honest with you, I never really wanted a dog. I adored the dog I grew up with, and Brian and I frequently went to pet adoption events to love on the animals there. But the thought of a single dog hair finding it’s way onto my new sectional was just too much for me. I didn’t want to be the girl who had to lint roll her whole body every morning before work. I didn’t want to deal with slobbery mouths, potty accidents on my carpet, or chewing on furniture. It was my husband who relentlessly pleaded that I would change my stance. His eyes would glisten with pure joy every time we would play with the dogs from our local shelter. Every time we saw our neighbor walking his German Shepherd he would go on and on about how beautiful she was, and how he would just love to own one.

One night, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across a picture of a cute little German shepherd mix. She had the coloring and ears of a shepherd, with a few other features that what we assume to be from a pit bull. I showed Brian her picture, and told him she would be at an adoption event tomorrow. He really loved the German shepherd in her, but didn’t seem too interested.

The next morning, Brian hopped out of bed and immediately started getting showered and dressed. He was rushing me to get up, so we could leave quickly. This was not typical Saturday behavior for us, so I asked, “Where exactly are we going?” He looked at me like he couldn’t believe I even needed to ask. “The adoption event! Duh!”

As we drove into the city he explained it was important that we get there early, so if we want to adopt Lana we would be the first in line to get her. I was still confused as to how we just went from looking at a picture on Facebook to discussing actually adopting a dog. I wasn’t really expecting this kind of a response.

We walked into the store where the event was being held, and Brian immediately begins scanning the room, searching for Lana. I made him stop at every dog we saw, making sure we didn’t pass up one we loved. Each dog was incredibly sweet but they all seemed to lack a quality or two we were looking for. Finally, we came up to Lana, the last dog in the room. I stuck my hand out to let her sniff me, and she immediately plopped down, rolled on her back and began begging for a belly rub. “Oh, no.” I thought. This dog was making quite a first impression. As soon as Brian started loving on her, I knew I was in trouble. We were about to become dog owners.

I immediately began asking her Foster Dad a million questions. I was certain there was going to be a red flag.
“Does she get on the furniture?”
“No, we don’t let her and she doesn’t try.”
“Does she chew up the furniture?”
“No, she usually sticks to only chewing her toys.”
“Is she potty trained and housebroken?”
“She’s 90% of the way there with potty training but she’s housebroken.”
I was getting ready to ask how she was with strangers when a huge crowd of people and children walked into the room. She was incredibly docile and sweet as they came up and started petting her. She didn’t jump on anyone (a huge pet peeve of mine), and didn’t get aggressive in anyway. She was so gentle with everyone.

I couldn’t find a single solid reason to say no to adopting her. So I looked at Brian and said, “You want her?” And the rest is history.

It’s been two full weeks now, and she’s adjusting nicely. Her time as a stray roaming the streets was not the kindest to her, but she’s on the mend and still a very loving pup.

Somehow, she’s managed to make really happy people out of Brian and I, and it’s a welcome change. She’ll never truly know how much she means to us, but we’ll do our best to tell her with belly rubs and dog treats!

We’re so glad you’re here, Lana!

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Turning off survival mode.

It has been just seventeen days since we ended our first year of grief, and I am already thinking about the second. What will happen this year? Will it be drastically different, or more of the same? I wonder if we should continue celebrating the monthly anniversary of Aria’s birth, or are we supposed to stop at twelve? I wonder if I’m going to cry less, or feel less triggered by everyday things.

I did this a lot in the first weeks after losing Aria. I kept looking to the future, wishing for time to hurry past so I could get to a place where I was able to function normally. In the days leading up to Aria’s birthday, I kept wishing I hadn’t done that. I spent a whole year on edge, anxiously waiting for the days to pass. I didn’t really live, I just moved through the motions.

My goal this year is to change that. It’s time for me to stop being in survival mode all the time. I need to force myself to get out and start overcoming my fears. My counselor tried coaxing me out of my bubble six months after losing Aria, but it gave me a ton of anxiety and I realized I simply wasn’t ready yet. Now, the thought of going back into the world is exhilarating and exciting. I feel like I am on the cusp of so much opportunity and that feels really good.

In fact, some things have already changed. I shared on Instagram earlier that we just adopted a dog named Lana. She is a one year old, German Shepherd mix, full of spunk and lots of love. She has already taught me so much more than I thought she would. Sometimes I find myself spending several minutes just watching her sleep. She makes me forget about running errands or cleaning up the house. She reminds me that it’s OK to slow down and enjoy the little things. She’s also done some remarkable things for my grief. It is often said that grief is just love with nowhere to go, and because of Lana I now have somewhere to express some of that love. It’s also much harder to have a bad day when she keeps laying next to me, begging for belly rubs.

I didn’t anticipate Lana joining our family when we rang in 2017. In fact, I was pretty against getting a dog because I am such a clean freak. But Brian did a lot of convincing, and meeting Lana allowed me to open my heart. I am wondering, “what’s next?” But I am going to do my best to just be still and wait. Most of our biggest gifts aren’t things we can predict anyways.

 

A recap of Aria’s first birthday.

I’ve finally had a chance to unwind from our trip to Maryland to celebrate Aria’s first birthday. Although, this day of rest wasn’t exactly voluntary. Traveling in the middle of flu season is always a risky move, and it has gotten the best of me this time. So I’m taking a day to recoup while downing multiple bowls of chicken soup.

I figured since I wasn’t doing anything productive aside from rewatching every episode of Dawson’s Creek, I might as well write a post recapping Aria’s first birthday.

Her birthday went nothing like I expected, but a lot like I had hoped. I tried really hard not to make assumptions on how I thought I might feel on her birthday because grief is so unpredictable that there is no point in forecasting it. I figured it was best to let the chips fall where they may, and handle each emotion as it came.

My biggest hope for her birthday was that it would be celebratory. After all, a birthday is about celebrating birth. It is about your entrance into the world regardless of how long a life was lived or even if a baby was born still. A birth is a birthday.

Because of this, I wanted to separate Aria’s birth and death into two separate events. This was so hard to do since they both occurred during the same afternoon. So I kept reminding myself that we already had a year full of days spent lamenting the loss of her. This day, her birthday, was about life. Although, it would have been just fine if I spent the day crying my eyes out. All of these things are displays of love, and that is completely ok.

I woke up that morning in a brief state of shock. Could it be? A year, already? I couldn’t believe we had survived a full twelve months since saying, “See you later, Aria.” For a year that had so many grueling days, it went by incredibly fast.

We had several errands to run before we were to meet with friends and family at the cemetery at 4:15, so we got up and hit the ground running. Our first stop was a local party supply store to pick up a few pink balloons. While the sales associate was filling our balloons with helium he asked, “Are these for a little girl’s birthday?” I smiled and said, “Yep!” I was so grateful for that moment. I didn’t have to say anything about Aria not being physically present for her party, or share that she had died. I got one brief moment of normal motherhood and I relished in it.

After that, Brian and I picked up her cake, then came back to my parents house to set up everything and prep the food. I kept asking Brian if we were doing too much. I couldn’t help but wonder, would people think we were crazy for throwing such a big party for a little girl who has passed away? But Brian was so persistent in reminding me that it did not matter what anyone else thought. We have every right to continue parenting Aria beyond the grave, and anyone who has walked in our shoes would completely understand.

I knew I was running out of time and needed to hop in the shower. But when I looked at the clock, I realized I needed to wait a few minutes. It was almost 3:06 PM, the exact time Aria came earth side. Brian and I stood in the kitchen waiting for the clock to strike 3:06. It did, stayed that way for sixty seconds, then changed to 3:07. I was somewhat surprised and disappointed time didn’t stop. It sure seemed to one year ago.

Finally the time had come for us to make our way to the cemetery to meet our friends and family. I was not pleased that it was raining, but as my best friend so eloquently stated, “Aria can’t give us a rainbow without a little rain.”

While at the cemetery, we stood by her grave that was covered in pink flowers. I read a letter I had written for Aria, specifically for this day. We then prayed the same prayer that our Chaplain at the Children’s Hospital had written on the day we said our final goodbyes to Aria’s body. We wished her a happy birthday, and reminded her that she is so loved.

We also decided to do something we had debated about for quite some time. While I was still in the early stages of pregnancy, Brian and I agreed that we wanted to ask our friends M and T (names withheld for privacy) if they would be Aria’s godparents. Our lives became so hectic once Aria was diagnosed, we never had the chance to ask them before she passed. We figured there wasn’t a point after that. But over the last year, they acted exactly as Godparents do. They made it a point to visit Aria’s grave when they were in town, sent us pictures of her beautiful decorations, stood bravely beside us as we battled with grief, and refused to let us walk alone. They were already her Godparents, whether they knew it or not. So as we all stood around her grave, we finally asked the question that never really needed to be asked, “Will you be Aria’s Godparents?” And they accepted.

Then we all went back to my parents house where we ate, talked, laughed, and celebrated. I loved that despite such unique circumstances, it still felt like a normal party. It felt right, and it felt good.

At the end of the meal, we gathered around the tv and watched a video that I had been working on for a few months. It was a collection of our most sacred memories from Aria’s life. We loved being able to share those moments with our loved ones.

Of course, all good parties need cake, and this one was no different. We had a little vanilla cake with an elephant on top. The elephant was so perfect for our little girl, as it also wore a pink bow and clutched a yellow blankie. We lit a glittery pink “1” candle on her cake, and handed out candles for all of our guests. We asked each of them to make a special wish in honor of Aria after we sang “Happy Birthday” and the traditional Rose family birthday song. It was a beautiful moment of remembrance and celebration.

I can’t thank everyone enough for all of their prayers, birthday wishes, and the kind gestures we received. The love we received that day was overwhelming in the greatest way. I know there are many people who wish they could have been with us physically, but your love was still felt. I believe the day would have been so different if we hadn’t felt so supported by so many wonderful people. You held our broken hearts together so we could focus on celebrating Aria. As Brian and I were preparing for bed that evening, he said, “My heart feels full.” And I replied, “Me too.” I think that was the greatest gift of all.

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Dear Aria: A letter to our daughter on her first birthday.

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Dear Aria,

It has been quite a year. We’ve experienced such deep sadness, and our arms have felt an emptiness far greater than we could have ever imagined. And yet, there was also joy. There were many moments when we saw pieces of you, and your legacy poured out all over this earth. Your story has reached people in so many different corners of the world. So I want you to know this, your father and I are so proud of you.

I often fear that you left this world without knowing the real story, so I think it is important to share it with you. You see, sweet girl, you were very sick. Your little lungs were so damaged, and your tiny heart was under a lot of pressure. Everyone says this happened because you had a birth defect, and I strongly disagree. I dislike anything that implies you were defective because that simply isn’t true. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. Every inch of you was a shining symbol of God’s grace. You were full of beauty, and had a personality that shined even before you were born. So I really want you to know, that this happened not because you were not enough, but simply because our world didn’t have the means to sustain the body that held your unique and perfect soul. Your life was a precious gift, and one that we are honored to have been a part of.

Today is a really special day for so many reasons. Exactly one year ago, you emerged from the womb that grew you for twenty six weeks and three days. We finally got to see your face for the very first time, and your beauty completely astounded us. We got to hold you, our sweet little girl, and shower you with kisses. You finally felt the warmth of your Daddy’s arms that I have loved all these years. You got to prove your mama wrong when you showed us you didn’t have my forehead like I had proclaimed, and instead an exact copy of your father’s. But that doesn’t surprise me much; as I had a feeling you were a Daddy’s girl through and through.

It was on this day, on year ago, that your little lungs breathed oxygen for the very first time. But that miraculous moment didn’t last nearly as long as we had hoped. So although we celebrate your life today, we also lament your passing. This is not the outcome we had hoped for, and it completely shatters our hearts. Every single cell in our bodies yearns for you, and I could never adequately explain how much we miss you.

But it is you who also calms my soul as I grieve today, because I know you would want the tears to be brief. I know this because while I carried you, every single time I would cry, you kicked your hardest, and you would not stop until my tears dried up. You told me then, and I know you are still telling me now: “It’s okay, mama.” So, I’m going to do my best to celebrate you in the way you would have wanted.

Happy first birthday, my sweet Aria girl. I hope you are enjoying the singing of angels, and are dancing alongside all our loved ones who have gone before us. Tonight, as the sky turns dark, I’ll be thinking of you, and hoping that it’s you blowing out your birthday candles.

Love,
Mom

Happy First Birthday, Aria!

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Today is Aria’s first birthday.

I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. A year has gone by in the blink of an eye. This day is more bittersweet than I can even begin to explain. I wish with all of my heart that everything was different, and that she could smash into her little pink elephant cake with us. But today is not about the loss of her. Today is about celebrating her birth, and the brief moments of life we shared with her. Letting her go was heartbreaking, but experiencing life with her – that was pure joy.

Please join us in wishing our daughter a very happy first birthday. We’d love if you would light a birthday candle for her tonight, and share a photo with us. We want our little girl to see just how loved she is, and just how many people are celebrating her life as she watches over us today.

Happy First Birthday, Aria! We love you so much.