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Blue House

This hot summer has been brimming with opportunities, and through my delight in seeing my littlest having grown into shoes big enough for some life-changing new experiences I did not even realize that the very thing that brought so much joy and revival for him would be the thing to send my head swirling under the tepid waters of another grief wave unexpected.

Finally old enough for church camp we excitedly rolled tshirts and shorts into the duffel bag as big as he is, and lingered in the aisles of the dollar store choosing just the right snacks to share with the other campers who would become friends. We watched videos of what to expect, and excitedly counted down the days to when he would set out on his big adventure. My heart bubbled with anticipation for him as I prayed over the days ahead.

Finally it was time to drive him the 40 minutes out to where camp was being held, and he was ready as ever. As I heaved his bag into the back of the car I felt a surge of emotion I could not put my finger on. I pushed it out of my mind and slid into the car to see him grinning in the back seat. He looked solid and strong, a maturity I had seen blooming in the preceding weeks. His face was already tanned from days spent playing in the sun; a smattering of freckles beneath his fluffy shock of dark blonde hair. His eyes were bright with enthusiasm, and it was the smile he flashed at me that poked that emotion I had pushed away, and sent it raging to the surface. It filled my insides with gravel and sent my thoughts spinning. I knew exactly what had me feeling a little “off.”

Looking over my shoulder into the back seat I was staring at the carbon copy of his older brother, blonde and freckle-faced also at the age of 9 going off to his first faith-based summer camp. When we dropped our firstborn off for a week at camp we had the same joyful anticipation for him, but that week was the one that changed our lives in the most painful way, tearing from us something so sacred. The last time I picked my 9 year old up from camp I had to tell him his little sister had died unexpectedly, and I watched his whole world turn on its axis and shake every foundation he had believed in.

Somehow, without me even realizing it my subconscious had put all of these signs together, and the unease I had felt was a full blown terrifying fear that when 9 year olds go away to camp, terrible things happen. I was in fight or flight mode; my memories having strung together a warning of perceived danger.

I prayed silently across the stretches of tar specked pavement that cut through swaying wheat fields and sleepy towns. I prayed for protection, for freedom, for healing. I knew my thoughts were just tricking me, so I pushed them down and smiled as I helped my littlest man choose the top bunk and unpack his belongings for the week. As he stood tall for the obligatory first day of camp photo, I could not believe how grown up and how tender and small he looked all at once. We prayed again as I hugged him goodbye and all the way home I sung loud with the truth on the radio to drown out my anxieties.

Each night that I got to talk to my boy that week was such a balm to my soul, and this time I was the one counting days. Camp ended on a sweltering Friday morning, and I arrived right on time, fiercely ready to pull my little bird back under my wing. The parents all waited in scattered patches in the burning sun until we heard it; the low buzz of a large group of children walking toward us, smiling and skipping and hugging each other. It took me a minute to pick my boy’s face out of the crowd, but as soon as I did I let out a huge exhale I had unknowingly been holding; perhaps all week? I tried to control the tears that swelled at the rims of my eyes and pricked at my throat. Some part of me had still been waiting to know that everything was going to be ok.

I talked with my counselor about these events this week, and she shared something so enlightening with me. She put it this way: If you walk by a blue house and a dog comes out and bites you, it’s going to make you leery of blue houses. The next time you see a blue house you are going to feel afraid, palms sweating, anticipating the ferocious beast you met before. But not every blue house has a dog that bites. We can learn to pick out those blue houses, call them what they are or are not, and confidently walk by with our heads high because we know; this blue house is different.

Glancing in the mirror at my suntanned and thoroughly exhausted 9 year old, I thanked God to be bringing him home with joyful celebration, and I thanked him for the lessons of the last blue house, and the blessings of this one.

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When Mother’s Day Wasn’t

Today millions of moms woke up to hand-drawn cards and beautiful flowers, breakfasts in bed and cute little “What I Like Best About my Mom” papers from school. Moms woke up to the pleasure of the kids doing the dishes, and the distinctive taps of their tiny baby’s feet as they wiggle and turn in the womb. Moms woke up excited for this day and the joys it would hold, but what if you didn’t?

What if your story does not look like the Mother’s Day version written in the Hallmark cards? What if you woke up with an aching hole in your life from your mother passing away? What if you woke to the sight of all the days crossed off on the calendar that you had not conceived, or a counter full of needles and liquids, a longing attempt at being a mama? What if you saw your child’s beating heart on a screen, but never got to hold them in your arms? What if you have to share your children with another adult, and they do not get to be with you today? What if your child is grown and this date sends you counting the days since the last time they have wanted to be around you? What if you wanted to hide under the covers because you were so weary of the arguing and fighting? What if you do not know where your child is? What if the children you sacrifice so much for forgot it was Mother’s Day? What if you cradled your child as they drew their last breath; what then of Mother’s Day?

To the ones that woke up today and had tears and sorrow and grief… I see you. I hear the loud crack of your heartbreak as you wake up hurting on a day that is supposed to elicit such joy. I hear the echo of the emptiness where you grasp for what was once in your arms, or what you hoped would be. I understand your sadness and shame when instead of an Instagram perfect breakfast in bed, you are met with harsh words and an ungrateful attitude. I see the tally of all the hours you have spent pouring your very lifeblood into the littles in your life, only to have your circumstances not look like you dreamed they would. I hear the deafening silence as you sit at a familiar grave sight.

I hear you and I see you and I want you to know that you are not invisible. I know that the hard, painful threads of your story can be woven into something more beautiful than you have thought to imagine. I know that the One who holds your shattered heart is big enough to put it back together again. I know that this day brings a burden heavy to carry, but I also know that your current situation does not have to be the end.

Choose to feel those hurts and be transformed into the gentle, compassionate human that you are capable of. Choose joy and life and hope and know that even on this hard day that challenges your motherhood, you are created for something beautiful. Believe that.

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Never

Someone recently asked how long it would be until we “got over” the death of our youngest daughter. As if it were an obstacle course to leap over. As shocked as I was, it shed some light on an area where maybe people need help to understand. Perhaps for those who have never walked through something like that it truly is something they can’t comprehend. I think I know the answer to the question, and I’m going to share it with you.

When will we get over the passing of our daughter?

Never.

That’s right; I said never. If “getting over it” means when we will we stop talking about our beautiful blue-eyed little girl, stop sharing her pictures, stop acknowledging that she was a part of our lives, then that will never happen.

Last week would have been our Ellie’s 10th birthday. It has been most of a decade since we held her in our arms. Did we check the box; “10 years, now you can move on, stop bringing her up.” No. We did what we always do on Ellie’s birthday. We celebrated.

We celebrated because we are grateful for the 4 1/2 months of pure joy of having her here with us. We celebrated because her short life has changed us in ways we needed to be changed. We celebrated because if she were here we would be celebrating her, so why not still celebrate? Also we never pass up an opportunity to have cake! We reminisced over cake and then carried on our tradition of doing something helpful and kind for someone else in need.

Are you familiar with muscle memory? How your body automatically remembers how to do certain things because you have done them so many times? Well 10 years later my arms still have the muscle memory of what it felt like to hold my girl close against my chest. I can close my eyes and remember her smell and how her fine hair tickled my lips when I kissed her on the head.

These things will forever be treasured in my heart, and we will always find ways to honor her on special days, and that does not mean we are not “over it.” It means we loved someone so deeply we gave pieces of our hearts away and those holes will never be filled by anything else.

There will always be triggers of grief; when she would have started school, graduated, gotten married, etc. No matter how long it has been we will allow ourselves to grieve those things; that is a normal, appropriate, and necessary part of our healing process.

I am aware that some people are uncomfortable because, well, sad things are uncomfortable and they want us to get back to the happy baseline as soon as possible. We are not stuck in the deep mourning of our daughter, but as far as getting over it, we will never get over it, nor would we want to. We want to honor her life, her place in our family, and her spirit, which is still very much alive.

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A Decade

My sweet little love. How is it possible that today is already your 10th birthday? A whole decade! It seems just yesterday I was feeling the warm weight of you on my chest, your delicate fingers wrapped around mine.

We talk about you often around here. Reminiscing over sweet memories with you, and wondering over so many things. What your laugh would sound like. If your eyes would have stayed that piercing blue. If you would have my sense of humor or your daddy’s quiet strength.

It still hurts, missing you. There will always be an Ellianna-shaped hole in our lives. That hole has brought about so many amazing things though. I am thankful for that. We have formed deep and lasting relationships built around the scars of losing you. We have reached out and filed gaps and met needs and made magic happen all in the name of honoring you and the impact your mighty life had on us.

On this momentous birthday of yours I am eternally thankful that I was chosen to be your mama. I’m thankful for the scars that have pushed me closer to Christ and helped me stand in the shoes of the hurting. I’m thankful for the people we have gotten to love on because we’ve been there and we get to pay it forward. I’m thankful for all the ways that your life and death has opened our hands to trusting in God’s plan, and has opened so many doors for us to spread love and support in your honor.

We love you, Ellie Grace! Happy birthday!

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The End

All things must come to an end. Except suffering maybe. The verdict is still out on that one. I do not know anymore why I am so candidly sharing my heart-thoughts with a world unknown to me. When I first starting blogging, when our daughter died, I found it therapeutic. Getting my thoughts out and also believing they might help someone else who was going through trials somehow eased a bit of my grief. Then my life carried on and this horrible disease struck, and I kept putting it all out there. The good, the bad, and a lot of the ugly. What I’ve come to realize is I don’t know what the purpose for that is anymore. I am blaring my deep hurts, vicious disappointments, and strongest hopes to an audience who can neither see nor hear me, and the void of comforting souls doing life beside me remains vacant.

Perhaps one day my children will read my words and gain an understanding of the storyline that played in my head, hidden beneath the brave face I tried to put on for them, and they will learn the truth-depth that is woven in the coming and going of our every day.

Thank you each for being here to follow along and cheer me forward. For now it is time for me to step away, to let my silence be the echo of the words I have clung to for so long; Choose Hope.

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Empty Stockings

I opened Facebook this week, and it didn’t take but a couple of swipes to see a pattern. 

The Christmas season is upon us, and with the joy and anticipation, there are many people feeling heavier emotions as the day of wonder draws near.  There are people having their first Christmas since the death of someone they love, and there are people who years later are still feeling the sting of someone’s absence.

For those who have lost a loved one, the celebration of Christmas will always have painful spaces that are difficult to fill.  There will be an empty stocking, a missing ornament, a lonely heart.  Please don’t ignore what is all around you; you can help make the holidays more bearable for grieving hearts.  Help them remember, say their names, do something to let them know their loved ones are not forgotten. 

We are all trying to find ways to include our people, even when they’re no longer here. Knowing that our family and friends remember our loss is a healing part of moving through grief. 

Take the time to think through your friend list today, see who you can reach out to with a bit of encouragement as you remind them that you see their grief, remember their loved ones, and choose to help fill those empty spaces during this time of year.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

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Let’s Talk About It

I have been trying and trying to write a post, but the words just won’t flow, so I’m just going to keep it simple. I’m sure most of you have already seen posts announcing that October is miscarriage and infant loss awareness month. Loads of people have been publicizing their take on 1 in 4, and trying to make the lives of their babies seen. It may have surprised you to see friends post about it that you didn’t know had been through this. The best thing I can pass on to you from my experience with miscarriage is this: it’s ok to talk about it.

We’ve had many people talk with us about the death of our youngest daughter because even though she was young, she was still here.  Our people met her and knew her and got to participate in her short life.  Our friends and family do not however, talk to us about the two babies we lost to miscarriage. That’s taboo, and people don’t think it’s ok.

Let me tell you something about people grieving a miscarriage. It is healing to talk about it.  One of the worst things about a miscarriage is that it feels like a baby that you pinned so many hopes and dreams on has slipped away unnoticed.  That mom and dad want their baby to be seen, known, acknowledged.  As soon as they found out they were pregnant they started imagining every event and holiday with that little one a part of it.  When that dream is dashed away, there are going to be holes. Remember that they are missing that little one when those special days come around, and don’t be afraid to acknowledge it.  A small token of your love, a text, a kind word… these things will go a major distance in helping to heal that mama and papa’s hearts.  Let them know you know they are missing their baby.  Let them know that you’re sad too that he or she isn’t here to celebrate.  Let them know that you care about their hurt.  I promise you these little things will be so much less awkward than you imagine, and will be soothing balm to a grieving heart.

 

 Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

 

 

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July 14th

Today we remember those last moments we got to know our Ellianna. We were thankful this week of her anniversary to get to be in Colorado to celebrate her mighty life.

Our months with Ellie brought us so much love, we aim to always pass that on and continue to let her life make an impact on others. It’s not always we get to be in her hometown, so we took advantage of being able to continue her legacy here. Since we don’t get to shop for our little peanut we went shopping for another little girl who needed love and encouragement:

Looking for things to bless a baby girl, we were overwhelmed with the small reminders of our little one. Purple with rainbow stripes couldn’t have more embodied all that we remember.

When I looked for a card, we immediately saw one not only with the little Piglet that she was known for, but the quote on the front was the same as is written on her headstone. I melted at the tender reminders that God knows exactly what our hearts need.

We packed up our bag of love and headed up to Ellie’s NICU. Tears brimmed as we embraced one of the nurses who has become a lifelong friend. We asked her to choose a family for us, and she knew just who needed the encouragement. Standing in that familiar hallway, we got to meet the mother of another baby girl there fighting for life beyond the hospital doors. It was evident that God had placed her nurse on just the right day that a weary mama needed the love and hope we had to share. There we were, getting to exchange hugs and a gift of love because of the short and mighty life of our little girl. I will never stop being thankful.

After the hospital, we headed to the cemetery to remember. I know many people don’t see the point in visiting the cold hard stones, but for us it’s a tangible place where we can open our hearts and express our sorrow and joy as we remember the moments where we stood between earth and eternity and gave our girl back to the arms of the One who holds her. It’s especially helpful for our other children as they bring tokens of their love and remembrance for her. Little Colby had chosen a special shell on the beach of Florida for his big sister that he brought with him all the way to Colorado. We enjoyed a beautiful stormy sunset as we each wrote notes to our girl and then lit them, sending them floating into the sky.

We are truly blessed to have gotten to be Ellie’s family. She has changed us in ways we all needed, and we will forever be grateful for every day she was with us. We will continue to find ways to share the hope we have, and spread the love she gave us, until we meet again.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

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An Open Letter to my Grieving Friends

Dear Mark and Stephanie,

You have just joined a club no one ever wanted to be a member of. How I wish no one has to wear the label of grieving parent. It’s one thing I wish we didn’t have in common, but because we are both here together, I’ll be here.

When you walk slowly out of the hospital into the sunshine with empty arms, wondering where to go from here, I’ll be here.

When guilt creeps in and tries to make you question your decisions, I’ll be here.

When you walk by her bedroom door and break down at the sight of all that was hers, I’ll be here.

When you struggle through all the “what-ifs,” I’ll be here.

When you numbly stumble through the surreality of laying her to rest, I’ll be here.

When you have to put your own grieving on hold to help her siblings in their grief, I’ll be here.

When school starts back up and her backpack still hangs on the hook, I’ll be here.

When people ask you how many kids you have and you struggle with what to say, I’ll be here.

When her birthday rolls around and you’re ripped apart by her not growing a year older, I’ll be here.

When the days and months and years tick by and your grief ebbs and flows like the ocean waves, I’ll still be here.

I will walk with you when you find new memories that make you smile, and I will sit with you when the sadness is too crushing to function. I’ll support you as you forge through the future, finding a new kind of normal. I will help you remember the good times, and I will never stop saying her name. I will be here as the landscape of your life takes on a new shape; one that you never hoped for or imagined, but one that is now reality. I will be here as you bravely pick yourself up and keep going, with all these precious pieces tucked away in your hearts. When you wake up each morning still a member of this new club, I will be here.

All my love,

Hannah

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A Rock and a Hard Place

Sweet Hailie Marie. This girl has shown me more about perseverance than most adults I know. This world is going to feel more empty without her.

Hailie’s father, Mark, and I first became friends in middle school. Thankfully technology has allowed us to maintain our friendship through many moves and life changes. There is a quote from Harry Potter, however, that I feel explains the foundation of our friendship even better.

“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a 12-foot mountain troll is one of them.” -JK Rowling

Our 12-foot mountain troll came in the summer of 2011. Mark tragically lost his wife while giving birth to their son. I tried to be a supportive friend without really having any idea how to walk with someone through that. Several weeks later, I unexpectedly lost my baby girl, and entered a whole new world of understanding the hurting. Going through those great losses helped give my friend Mark and I an understanding of each other, and forged a friendship of encouraging each other through a pain we both now knew very well.

I’ll never forget the phone call which seemed only a short time later. Mark’s daughter Hailie had brain cancer. It was an extremely hard thing for me understand, but I watched the family take this new challenge with strength and calm.

This is when I became privileged to know a little girl with fight and determination that is awe-inspiring. Three times over the next few years she fought this beast. She bravely faced the treatments that stole much of her childhood, and she pressed on. She’s fierce, and she’s gentle, and that girl always has a smile. It’s been tough watching her family walk through this suffering, but seeing how they handle it with such calm perseverance and deep trust has been inspiring to me.

Now we know that the time to fight has come to an end. That beautiful, courageous girl is not going to be with us much longer. It’s excruciating. It’s confusing. I know I have argued with God many time over allowing so much heartache in this family’s life. Answers to questions we’ll never know, but I do know that Hailie, as well as her family have given us all a lesson in perseverance, the importance of family, and the hope that can never be squelched by the darkness.

Will you keep them in your thoughts and prayers with me? These days ahead promise to be heart-crushing, and sometimes I lose the words to pray within the searing of watching my friend walk this path of suffering.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!