A sister in loss.

A few days ago, a woman came into my workplace to take care of some business with a coworker. We started to chat while she was waiting, and it was a typical conversation between strangers. You know; the weather, the news, our husbands, etc. Then she asked the question I was dreading from the moment our conversation began:

“Do you have kids?”

I panicked. This question is by far the hardest thing I am asked on a daily basis. I never know what to say, or how to say it. But on the other hand I’m grateful they ask because I do want to talk about my daughter. I just despise the way people often respond.

“I have a daughter, but she passed away about a year and a half ago.” I said shakily.

And then I stared at the floor and quickly cracked a joke about how I also have a dog, who I treat like she is my second child. Which is how I always follow up my answer to the “kid’s question”, because people are often quite visibly relieved when I change the subject. For the general public, talking about how my daughter died is just too uncomfortable for them to navigate.

But when I looked up, she stared at me with tears in her eyes, grabbed onto my hand and said, “I am so sorry. I lost my son right after he turned eighteen years old. I know your pain, and I’m sorry.”

I stood there for a moment, shell shocked. She caught me completely off guard. I had become so accustomed to people clamming up and quickly changing the subject when I explain that I am a bereaved mother. But this woman wouldn’t let me switch topics and gloss over my loss. Instead, she chose to open her heart and sit in this messy, emotional moment with me. Just like that, this woman who was a total stranger a few seconds ago had turned into a sister in grief.

“How old was she?” She asked.

“Only an hour old. She was very sick at birth.”

She blew a kiss towards heaven and said, “Oh, sweet baby girl” and put her hands over her heart. I could see the sincerity all over her face.

“How long has it been since your son passed away?” I asked.

“Eleven years. He died two weeks before he was supposed to graduate from high school.”

I told her I was very sorry, and we stood there for a few moments with our red and misty eyes locked onto each other. We then nodded in unison, and continued to go about our business.

The moment was brief, but I can’t tell you how much that conversation meant to me. The impact changed my entire day. I suddenly felt like I was no longer at work, but in a community where I belonged. A place where I was understood. For the first time in what feels like forever, someone was seeing me for me, and not the brave face I plaster on each morning. She saw the tears I was trying to blink away. She heard the subtle shake in my voice when I told her that my daughter had died. And she felt that same searing pain in her heart when she heard that I too had lost a child. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once, which is really the best way I know how to describe bereaved motherhood.

Even as I rocked on my knees, howling. I detected soft breathing behind the roaring. I leaned in, listened. It was the murmuring of ten million mothers, backward and forward, in time and right now, who had also lost children. They were lifting me, holding me. They had woven a net of their broken hearts, and they were keeping me safe there. I realized that one day I would take my rightful place as a link in this web, and I would hold my sister mothers when their children died. For now my only task was to grieve and be cradled in their love. – Mirabai Starr

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.

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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Grandma Lee

Today, my sweet Grandma Lee was laid to rest.

Walking through the last two weeks has been hard on my already grieving heart. I’ve let go of a lot this year, and now I’m releasing even more.

When my Grandma was first hospitalized, there was great grief as I feared she may not recover. I cried as I told Brian one of my biggest fears, that none of my children would ever meet my grandma while on this earth. For several days, I begged The Lord to give us more time. When she was entered into hospice care, I felt an unexpected shift in my heart.

While I was overwhelmingly sad that I would never get to play Scrabble with her again, or help her bake a peach pie; an unexpected joy grew. I realized that very soon, my Grandma would be meeting my Aria. She would be holding my baby girl in her arms. Oh, how the thought of that moment made my heart sing. I know how much my Grandma loved being with her grandkids and great-grandkids. I always loved to see how much her face lit up when we came to visit. So I knew my Grandma would be very excited to see Aria in heaven.

It’s never easy saying goodbye, but it is the hope of heaven that keeps me going. For now though, I’m really going to miss her.

I love you, Grandma. Thank you for everything.

I’m scared of feeling relief.

I posted two days ago about picking the day we would pack up Aria’s room. I haven’t been able to stop the topic from swirling through my mind ever since.

I felt strange after setting the date. I liked the certainty in knowing when that day would come. I could prepare and brace for it, and that felt like a good thing. There was also a lot of sadness as I thought about the reality of never seeing Aria’s room again. It’s the place I run to when the sadness overwhelms me and I need to feel close to her. It is the only place on this earth that I feel totally surrounded by her, and to lose it is incredibly tough.

There is some part of me that looks forward to the day we will pack everything up. I have known for over eight months that this day was going to come. I have spent a really long time dreading this day. It’s been a huge dark cloud that looms over me every time I walk past her room, or spend a few minutes sitting in her rocking chair. I have to constantly remind myself that much like Aria, this room would not be here forever. So a part of me looks forward to no longer having to walk through life fearing this day. I want to let go of this because I have carried it on my back for so long and I just want to feel a little lighter.

But how can I want this? Seeing all the hope we had poured into her room get packed up into cardboard boxes is going to shatter my heart. How could this ever be a good thing?

I guess what I am trying to say is, I feel like letting go of her room is a lot like letting go of her. I know that is far from the truth, but it’s a tough feeling to shake. I don’t want to dishonor Aria’s memory, and I don’t want to distance myself from her. I don’t want to be happy about letting go of something so connected to my memories of her.

And yet… I have hope. I have hope that packing up and starting over in our new house will bring us a lot of joy. I have hope in the possibility of a few of Aria’s things eventually finding their way back into our home, to be used for her future siblings. I have hope that doing all of these hard things will bring us one step closer to a brighter future.

When past and present collide: On new beginnings and old wounds.

Brian and I spent all of Labor Day weekend on a mission to find a house in Texas ahead of our move in a few short weeks. We went from house to house, trying to shorten our long list of prospects. Finally, we brought our list of over twenty homes down to two. They both had pros and cons, and were such similar houses that it made the choice incredibly tough. Brian loved certain things about one house, and I loved certain things about the other. We had reached a fork in the road.

As we picked each house apart, room by room, trying to determine which would be the one, the stress of the entire weekend began to well up inside me. I was so afraid of choosing the wrong house. This is such a big commitment, and a huge decision. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. There was something so familiar about this feeling. I had been here before, only a million times worse.

The last few times we made major, life changing decisions we were sitting at a conference table across from our team of doctors and nurses, while I was nearly seven months pregnant. We were sifting through so many different options, trying to save our daughter all while protecting her from any unnecessary suffering. We tried to make the best decisions we could as we fought for her life, but despite our best efforts – we still lost her.

So here I was, sitting across from my husband talking about floor plans and paint colors, trying to tell myself this wasn’t the same, but the stress felt so familiar. I looked Brian in the eyes and asked if we were doing the right thing as tears began to form in my eyes. He immediately began to change his tone to a happy, confident one. He told me he was excited, this was good, and we were going to make the right choice.

I tried to stop the next sentence from escaping my lips, but I couldn’t hold it back. “But the last time we thought we were doing the right thing, Aria didn’t make it.” I knew this wasn’t the same, and I didn’t want to ruin Brian’s joy by bringing it up, but I felt like I was sitting in that conference room all over again.

With the utmost understanding and compassion, Brian grabbed onto my hands, and assured me this was not the same. He said it multiple times as the tears fell from my eyes until he could make sure I was really hearing him. This was not the same. Our story was not going to take another horrible, unimaginable turn.

The next day, after a much needed night of rest, we both agreed on a home and confidently put in an offer. The nervous hesitation still lingered around me, but as soon as we heard that the sellers had accepted our offer, joy exploded.

I’m excited that we will soon be the owners of our first home. I can’t wait to start unpacking, decorating, and making it our own. This home will soon be a place filled with many wonderful memories, and I am so ready to begin.

I have heard it said before, that there will come a day when the pain and trauma of your past will coexist with the joy of your future without negating it. I have a much better understanding of that phenomenon now, and I’m grateful for it.

It’s still tough to leave Florida, because we began our journey with Aria here, and this place holds so many memories of her life. But we will always carry her with us, and leaving here does not mean leaving her behind. She is still just as much a part of this new chapter as she would have been, if she were still in our arms.

We are still the Rose family of three. Two on earth, and one in heaven, ready to take on Texas.