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.

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.

Find your place: on the importance of community for all of us.

For most of my life, my community was my family. My father, mother, and sister were my entire world. We moved so much throughout my childhood that they were my home, and the house we were in really didn’t matter.

As I got older, and my friendships matured, my community started to grow. My husband first joined my community years ago as my high school boyfriend. When we got married, I added his family into my community as well.

My community also consists of some amazing friends that I’m so honored to know. These are people who I’ve bonded with through shared experiences, shared faith, similar likes and dislikes, and even some who I have connected with on a heart level. Some have become permanent fixtures in my life, while others just stayed for a little while. Each one adding to my story, and impacting me greatly.

When my unborn daughter, Aria was diagnosed with a major congenital defect, I turned to my community of friends, and family for support. They were incredible. They supplied us with so much love, and prayed endlessly. But there was one problem. We kept hearing the words “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” It wasn’t wrong for them to say that. I appreciated the honesty. It’s true, they didn’t know what we were experiencing. But unfortunately, that started to cause a lot of feelings of isolation for us.

It’s so important to be around people who just get it. I needed to communicate with people who understood what I was talking about when I said things like CVR, hydrops, type II CCAM, and pulmonary hypoplasia. I needed people who didn’t need me to explain my feelings, because they already knew.

So I found my place in two different CCAM support groups. Those people provided me with a wealth of knowledge, and an overwhelming amount of support. On one of the hardest days of our journey, as we fought for our unborn daughter’s life, a CCAM mom in England called me. She let me vent about all of the tough decisions we were facing. She let me cry, and helped me to figure out the questions I still needed to ask our doctors. But most importantly, she listened to me with ears that knew my struggle. I had never met her, and she had nothing to gain from that phone call, but she listened anyways. That was the first time I really began to understand the importance of community.

We also joined hands with an amazing team of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. They were such a massive part of our journey, and probably saw more of our pain than our closest friends and relatives.

When Aria’s condition worsened, and we opted to continue the pregnancy anyways, we became part of a community of parents choosing to carry their baby to birth despite a poor or fatal prenatal diagnosis. We were only in this community for a few days, because Aria was born and passed away shortly after her diagnosis became life threatening. But the support we received still helped us immensely.

After losing Aria, we found ourselves feeling isolated yet again. CCAM is rarely fatal. Only 15% of the cases become this severe, and there is no known reason as to why this happens. I can count on one hand the number of mothers that I know personally who have lost a baby to CCAM. While I am grateful so many families were spared from this pain, there is so much difficulty in being in a support group that is filled with success stories, and not understanding why we weren’t one of them.

So once again, we turned to our family and friends, and we were showered with so much love. But we were also faced with the same problem, yet again. As support rolled in, we continued to hear people say, “I can’t imagine what you are going through.” And the loneliness returned. Could I really be the only one?

But it turns out that I wasn’t alone. Not by a long shot, because I found yet another community. This one is filled with parents who have also lost a baby. I have joined hands with so many grieving parents, many without even meeting in person. I have poured out my pain in front of them, and they have supported me through some of the darkest moments of my grief. I have received messages from women just days after their loss – their heartbreak so intensely raw, and desperately searching for an understanding ear to hear their stories. As much as I wish no one else ever had to join this community, it is always an incredible honor for me to be the one someone feels comfortable speaking to.

But none of these communities would exist if one person never stood up in front of the world and said, “This is my story.” And these communities never would have grown if countless more didn’t stand up beside them and say, “me too.”

It doesn’t matter what you are struggling with. Maybe you lost a child, or a spouse, or a parent. Maybe you are dealing with postpartum depression, or another form of mental illness. Perhaps you have endured abuse, or had to walk a difficult path through life. I can promise you this, you are not alone. You belong to a community, and if you cannot find one, perhaps that is the world’s way of telling you that you are brave enough to stand up and tell your story. To share it with the world, so that we can grab onto your hands and say “me too.”

The mystical (and nonexistent) band aid called time.

As the days, weeks, and months have gone by, I have begun to sense a false belief that every passing second is creating a pathway for us to get over the loss of our daughter. There is an expectation that the magical band aid of time is making us better, and bringing us out of the darkness.

To a certain extent, I get it. How many times have you heard the phrase “time heals all wounds?” But here’s the thing – time heals broken bones, not broken hearts. Depending on my mood, there are times when I actually take offense to that well meaning phrase. You see, I’m not just sitting here patiently waiting for time to heal me.

I am healing me.

Grief is an active process. I am grieving with every cell in my body. I don’t run from my thoughts and emotions. I allow myself to spend hours sobbing on the floor of my daughter’s empty nursery. I frequently find myself running to the nearest restroom seeking refuge, and a place to shed a few tears in the middle of my day. I think about my daughter as I sift through apples at the grocery store. I think of her as I catch a glimpse of other moms pushing their babies in shopping carts at Target. I am constantly allowing myself to remember her, and process it all.

Many people in the “time heals all” camp often encourage me not to think about it, and to completely avoid the painful thoughts. This is because they operate under the assumption that one day I will wake up and it won’t hurt so much. But honestly, that is terrible advice. Ignoring your wounds only makes them worse. Most will agree that it isn’t healthy to bottle things up when it comes to anger, but the same is also true for grief. Attempting to avoid dealing with the pain only makes it worse, just as ignoring a literal wound would likely lead to infection.

You have to honor the process of grief. You cannot rush it by restricting it to a certain span of time. The truth is, no matter how hard you try to say that you are done, and time alone has healed you, you will end up dealing with it at sometime or another. There comes a point when those pent up emotions will become so destructive, and all consuming that you no longer posses the power to ignore them. This is how grief finds a way to swallow you whole without warning, years after the fact. If left untouched, time has the ability to completely destroy your wounds.

However, I do think there are still moments when it’s appropriate to postpone your grief. One really good example is the workplace. I know breaking down in the middle of a staff meeting is certainly not my idea of a good moment to grieve. It’s fine to tell those thoughts to come back later, once you are in a place where you feel comfortable embracing them. But that is the key here – you have to come back and process it.

There are also moments when I have said not now because I am desperately trying to find joy again. Sometimes, I have to allow myself to relish in the brief moments of peace, so I can recharge and build my strength. There is a very delicate balance between grief and joy that is a vital part of this process.

But having said all of this, it is important to admit that there will never be complete healing. Wounds of this magnitude tend to leave behind many scars and weak spots. For a while, I really resented that. I wanted to be made whole again so I could go back to being the person I used to be. On the other hand, this everlasting ache for what will never be stems from an undying love for my child. I am so deeply affected by her passing because I am her mother, and no one else on the face of this planet shares this specific bond with her. That is something worth embracing.

The bottom line is this: Although time has passed, and I have begun to heal within that time, the catalyst for healing is not found in time itself. It is found by allowing the process of grief to mold me.

As toilsome as it may be, the jagged rocks and relentless waves will guide you to where you need to be.

**I wanted to add a little disclaimer because I know the grief process is very unique and different for everyone. This post is written with knowledge I have gained from my own process and from speaking with others. I hope it encourages and helps you as you navigate the waters of grief, but I understand that these words may not be true of everyone. I wish all of you the very best in your journey through life.

 

 

When “I don’t know what to say” is the best thing to say. 

As we started to share the news that our daughter had gone to heaven, we could tell it was really tough for people to know how to respond. We watched as people fumbled through their words, completely unsure if their response was appropriate. A lot of people looked at us and simply said “I don’t know what to say but I’m so sorry.” And that was more than enough. I’ve often heard that people feel guilty when they’re at a loss for words because they really want to be helpful. Honestly, “I don’t know what to say” is a million times better than pulling some random cliche out of the air and hoping it will work. 

I can tell you that admitting you don’t know how to respond is a whole lot better than “God just needed another angel” or even worse “God was just protecting you from less than his best.” I can still feel the fury in my bones from that one. Then there’s the overused, and insensitive “At least you can try to have another baby.” But the most hurtful of all is silence. I will admit that there are people in our lives who didn’t respond at all. They just disappeared. I assume it’s because they felt awkward about the raw emotions of it all, but I guess I’ll never really know for sure. 

I’m not trying to make this an angry rant. But I think it’s helpful for people to know what is appropriate when supporting someone who is going through pregnancy or infant loss. Below are a few things that I’ve found really helpful and comforting. 

  • Don’t shy away because it’s awkward or emotional. Admit when you don’t know what to say, and that you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. It’s actually really helpful to have someone just share the silence with me and simply be there. 
  • Don’t stop calling or texting, even if I don’t respond. Sometimes I need a break from reality so I may not always pick up the phone, but it still makes me feel less alone.
  • I love when people send us messages out of the blue that say “I got to talk about Aria today!” or “I am thinking of you.” It means a lot for people to remind us that we haven’t been forgotten, and everyone hasn’t just moved on. 
  • Talk about her. I hate when I walk into a room and I can tell the subject of our daughter is the “elephant in the room” but no one acknowledges it. So they just dance around the subject completely as it it never happened. This tends to come off as if no one cares enough to step out of their comfort zone to remember my baby girl. When someone does bring her up, I excitedly jump at the opportunity to share her story. It really makes my day. 

The bottom line is, it’s totally ok to not know what to say, and it’s even better when you admit to it. Together, we will find a way to navigate this awkward mess that grief has made of my life.