A post about feelings and being heard.

Your feelings are valid. Your feelings are valid. Your feelings are valid.

I don’t think the grieving hear that enough. Actually, I don’t think people in general hear that enough.

After my daughter’s passing, as I began to grieve the loss of my only child, I was constantly facing this belief that I needed to grieve in a way that was neat and tidy. It needed to be linear, and I needed to rise each day feeling better than the last. People began preaching platitudes about time healing all things, and telling me how important it was that I handled this gracefully.

After the first few months, I found myself feeling guilty for not improving each day. I would have days of great joy only to find myself incapable of getting out of bed the next day. This wasn’t the journey with grief people had been describing so I wondered, what was I doing wrong? I was also getting frustrated that instead of always walking on the bright side, I often turned to bitterness and anger. I didn’t want to be that kind of person, and I never had been in the past. I wanted desperately to change that, but I just couldn’t find the strength to move beyond it. The littlest things would send me into a tailspin, and well meaning but poorly worded comments would cause anger and resentment to well up inside of me. I felt so devoid of grace and I couldn’t stand it. I knew people weren’t intentionally trying to hurt me, so I tried really hard to suppress my anger but that only made it worse. I felt like I was constantly being forced to forgive people who weren’t even sorry, or were totally unaware of what they had put me through.

David Augsburger, an American author and theologian once said, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” And the truth is that it wasn’t just the comments that were upsetting me, it was that I also felt like I couldn’t voice my feelings without someone misunderstanding or becoming defensive. I just wanted to be heard because it made me feel like people cared. It’s not that I didn’t know I was reacting in an extreme way, but I had also been through an extreme loss. It’s completely normal to want to fly off the handle over things that most people wouldn’t bat an eyelash over.

While time hasn’t healed my wounds, time has allowed me to become intimately familiar with my grief. I have developed such an understanding of it that carrying it no longer feels as heavy. So now when someone says something I don’t approve of, I analyze it. I ask myself if it is worth correcting, or if that would only create a bigger divide. I also think about where that person is coming from, and what they are walking through that may have caused them to be a little less understanding. If I can’t come to my own conclusion, I consult someone I trust who can talk through the situation with me. A lot of times, just being heard by someone is enough for me to extinguish the fire in my heart. There is immense healing power in being able to say, “This hurt me.” And for someone to simply respond with, “I understand.”

So I want you to know, your feelings are valid. Even when they are selfish. Even if they are tinged with jealousy. Even if they are mixed with wounds from decades prior. Even if they don’t fit the mold of grief that people are telling you to fill.

The important thing is what you do with those feelings. I encourage you to find a safe, and secure space to express those feelings where you won’t be judged or chastised. This blog, counseling, and confiding in friends and family have all been excellent ways for me to do that. They have helped me find appropriate responses to those feelings so that I could prevent them from continuing to weigh me down. Truthfully, I think that is something we all could benefit from, whether we are grieving or not.

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Dreams

The other day Brian was helping me in the kitchen as I prepared dinner when he looked at me with glistening eyes and said, “What would she be doing now?” He didn’t have to specify who “she” was or what exactly he was asking, I already knew.

“She’d be talking. Not a whole lot. But several words by now I’m sure.”

“Would she be walking?” He asked.

“Walking? She’d probably be running by now.”

I watched the corners of his lips turn up just slightly, like his proud smile was some kind of secret he was trying to keep inside of him.

This pride we feel is an interesting thing, and not easily understood by those who have not been where we are. To think about all the growing and thriving she could be doing right now if things had been different brings so much mixed emotion. The most apparent and obvious are the negative ones, the pain, the longing. The ones that form tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart. But there’s a pride in imagining her growing up, and the joy that would have brought.

Sometimes, for the briefest of moments I pretend it was all different. I ignore the fact that she never came home from the hospital and let myself imagine what it would be like if she were racing around the house with our dog, Lana in tow. My ears fill with the symphony of tiny footsteps and excited squeals. I close my eyes and watch her black hair bounce in the air as she plays. Oh, it feels so good to imagine how those curls have grown since the day she was born. I sit there in that joy for just a moment. And then…

The weight of the world falls back onto my shoulders, and reality floods all my senses like a rising tide, washing all my dreams away.

But that imaginary joy, it still left its mark on me. A hope for what is to come. On that day when that little girl turns around and sees me standing at the gates of heaven. One sweet day.

Until then, I will do my best to thrive here. To build something beautiful from the wreckage that became my life nearly eighteen months ago. And I’ll dream, because no amount of anguish can take that from me.

I’ll dream about life on this earth. I’ll dream about growing old with my sweet husband. I’ll dream about having more babies. I’ll dream about having a farmhouse with a bountiful garden. I’ll dream about finally living next door to my best friend. I’ll dream about holidays surrounded by family.

But most of all, I’ll dream about her until I won’t have to dream at all.

Sometimes, there are answers.

For a few weeks I’ve been struggling a lot with “what if?” What if I had gone to Philadelphia sooner? What if I had pushed my doctors in Florida harder? What if I had told them to put all of the tubes in Aria’s chest and head at birth? What if I had told the doctors to keep fighting?

And then my ultrasound and MRI images from the Children’s Hospital showed up on my doorstep.

As I scrolled through the images one thing became abundantly clear. Aria had no lungs. I mean, technically she did. But when Dr. K said, “She has a small sliver of healthy lung tissue.” It really was just a sliver. A tiny little line of lung tissue pancaked on the side of her chest, smothered by a massive tumor. Seeing it clear as day in those images was both jarring and oddly calming.

She didn’t have lungs. They said it to me a thousand times, but to see it with my own eyes…

You know, some things are just not in our hands, no matter how convinced we are that we’re the ones in control.

It is also not lost on me that Aria lived over an hour, surviving on an underdeveloped, sliver of lung tissue. Maybe we could come up with a bunch of scientific reasons as to why she was able to live for so long, maybe it was God breathing life into my little girl. Either way, it was a miracle.
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When grief feels harder than the year before.

Mother’s Day last year was so bittersweet. The days leading up to it were grueling, and the day itself was so emotional. Somehow, despite all the sadness, it ended up being a really good day. My husband and I went kayaking, ate lots of Chantilly cream cake, and I was showered in flowers and gifts from loved ones. It was a day of love more than anything, and I felt Aria’s spirit so close to me. But when the clock struck twelve and Mother’s Day officially came to an end, I felt grateful it was over. Even though it was good, it was still so messy.

I wasn’t really expecting it to be this way, but Mother’s Day this year feels harder than the last. I told my husband that I want to skip it altogether, which I said last year as well, but I mean it a lot more this year. I just don’t feel like celebrating my own motherhood right now. Truthfully, I don’t even want to talk about it.

All of this is compounded by the grief I’m feeling about it being over sixteen months since the day we lost our first child, and still being without a second. I haven’t spoken too much on this subject because of it’s personal and sensitive nature, but it’s weighing so much on my heart right now. You see, the silver lining of my last Mother’s Day was the hope of holding a second baby in my arms, or at least in my womb by my second Mother’s Day. I’m still as barren this year as I was the last, and it makes me feel so stuck. I feel like my life hasn’t progressed at all, even despite knowing how much I have grown in grief in the last year. And there is some fear mixed in too, because I have a few too many cysts in my ovaries, and I am so afraid they are impacting my body more than I realized.

So I’d like to ask for prayers. Prayers for me and my aching heart, along with prayers for every other grieving mother this Mother’s Day. I hope this day comes and goes gently and quickly.

Learning more about our baby.

It all started with a clerical error.

I had requested a copy of all of Aria’s ultrasound images, longing to have copies of every picture ever taken during her brief life. I asked them to withhold all the other records, like the lab results and diagnostic information. I was so afraid of going down a rabbit hole and researching every little number, trying to find a way she could have been saved. I just wanted the images and nothing more.

And then I opened up the envelope and realized the huge stack of papers I was holding were my medical records, and not a single ultrasound image. They had gotten my request backwards, and now I was facing my worst case scenario.

I decided to double check, and make sure the images weren’t somewhere in the stack of papers. The first page I flipped open were the surgical notes from Aria’s birth.

I went from calm to hysterical in less than a second. I grabbed my phone and quickly dialed my best friend because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stop myself from reading everything, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. We stayed on the phone as as I skimmed through everything. I was stunned to learn new, sweet details about my baby girl.

Here’s the thing about baby loss, it’s the loss of so much more than just a baby. It leaves you with a lifetime of wonder about who she was, or who she would have been. So to learn something new, another detail about her life, no matter how small is absolutely magical.

I learned that her Apgar scores at one minute, and five minutes old were both a two. Which isn’t a good score by any means, and is a sign of how truly sick she was, but it’s something I didn’t know until now. It’s new information about her life, and when you don’t have much, it’s everything.

I also found so much comfort in the notes made about her condition at birth. “Her skin is warm. Her body appears well nourished. She is active and alert.” Beautiful reminders that she was here, and she didn’t suffer.

Then there’s the notes they made about me. Someone wrote that I was “grieving appropriately.” I felt so loved and cared for by our hospital staff, and I was grateful that they cared enough to make note of how I was doing emotionally and not just physically.

It was still so hard on my delicate heart, but overall I’m grateful for the mix up. I got to learn more about my sweet little girl, and that is worth more than I could ever put into words.

They are mothers all the same. (International Bereaved Mother’s Day)

Bereaved motherhood is different, but it is motherhood all the same. I still raise my child in my own unique way. I still worry about her, despite knowing in my heart that she is safe in heaven. I still think of her every second of every day. And the space in my heart that was made for her the moment we began to discuss having children will always be hers.

But bereaved motherhood is a confusing version of motherhood. It’s the type of motherhood that you often have to squint your eyes and search for. It’s the type of motherhood that constantly forces you to ask yourself if it really is motherhood at all. Could I really be a mom if my child isn’t standing next to me? Or if I never stayed up all night rocking her? Or if I never changed a dirty diaper? What if your child never took a single breath on this earth? What if their heart beat for the last time before you even had the chance to know if the baby in your womb was a boy or girl? What if all you know of your baby was two pink lines on a pregnancy test?

It is motherhood all the same.

Today is International Bereaved Mother’s Day, and I want to invite all of you to celebrate this sacred version of motherhood. For it deserves celebration despite the inevitable pain it brings. Bereaved mothers are warriors, and among the bravest women I have ever met. They have been through the unthinkable and yet continue to wake up each day clinging to hope. They manage to find light in the darkest and most desolate spaces. They are links in the strongest chain of support I have ever seen. They are mothers of the most sacred kind.

Today, I’m sending all of my love to every mother walking this journey after loss alongside me. I want to thank all of you for being part of this community, for you have been my strength in so many difficult moments.

Wildflowers

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“They say that time in heaven is compared to a blink of an eye for us on earth. Sometimes it helps for me to think about my child running ahead of me through a beautiful field of wildflowers and butterflies; so happy and completely caught up in what she is doing that when she looks behind her, I’ll already be there.” (Quote from Sufficient Grace Ministries)

Ever since I read this quote about a year ago, I have been in love with wildflowers and the symbolism they now hold for me. If I let myself think too long about the moment Aria will turn around and say, “Come on, Mom!” my joy and excitement always turns into the sweetest tears. One of the big reasons I fell in love with our house in Texas is the field of wildflowers just down the street. It is a daily reminder each spring of the child waiting for me in heaven. In our family full of Roses, Aria is our wildflower.

So when I saw this field of flowers during our road trip today, I just had to get a picture of Aria’s furry sister next to them. Its the little things!