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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.

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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!

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Pulling the Trigger

Last weekend, someone I love took his own life. It brought a whole new rawness to the mysteries I ponder over suicide.  It brought sadness and wondering and questioning from places that did not feel very good.

In the aftermath of the unexpected suicide of our beloved actor, Robin Williams, there was this heightened awareness of the possibility that anyone, at any time, could chose to end their own life.  I appreciated that it suddenly was not the elephant in the room, and  scatterings of suicide hotline ads lined public places and television commercials. People were having conversations about how a person gets to that place. It saddened me though that it took someone so iconic to bring about that shift. It saddens me more that once the shock wore off, we went right back to our comfortable lives and forgot about the life around us that keeps being snuffed out at their own hands.

flowers marguerites destroyed dead
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

I will tell you, after working on an ambulance and in the ER for 13 years, the ones that actually do it are not the ones you think. Yes, often times the warning signs are there, but too often it is the person who never brought it up, the person who everyone thought had it all together, the person who had no reason to feel that way. Their loved ones stand in stunned disbelief. Those calls are some of the ones that haunt me the most.

One of my son’s classmates died by suicide not long ago.  The star of the team.  The boy who made everyone feel like a friend.  The boy no one expected.  What if that is exactly why he did it?  That’s a lot of pressure to maintain the status everyone looks up to.  That pushes the door wide open to feel not quite good enough.  I watched my son wrestle hard with the questions, and I didn’t know what to say.

It’s all around us.  It’s in the young boy angered by his parents’ divorce, the teenage girl struggling to fit in, the elderly man no longer visited by his family.  It’s in the movie star who seems to have it all, the business man who gives the perfect pitch, and the mother grieving the loss of her child.  It’s in the pastor’s wife, the put-together, the successful, and the disheveled.  It’s not only in the trauma, it’s also in the mundane.

Depression isn’t always because something terrible happened, sometimes it just shows up.  It’s stuffed and tucked and disguised and ignored, but remains that constant companion beneath the dull-eyed smile.  We frown upon it; frown because they must be doing something wrong, they’re not trying hard enough, or they aren’t thankful for what they have.  Wrong.  Depression can show up anytime, anywhere.  I know because I have fought it.

From bouts of post-partum depression after a few of my births, to a longer streak of hopelessness when my body was so worn, to a perfect joy-filled blessing-soaked day of wanting nothing but to cease to breathe, I realized this is not something so easily defined.

I do not know the answer.  I’m afraid no one does.  I want us to keep looking though.  Keep talking about it. Stop shaming people for seeking the help of a counselor, or for needing to take anti-depressants.  Stop entertaining your assumptions, and get out there and make people feel enough. Make them feel loved, and cared for, and seen.  Be kind.  Take the time to connect, even if it’s just for a few seconds.  I feel like none of us know when we might be the one standing between a person and their death.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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Giving it Up

This week I had a pretty hard doctor appointment that revolved around the words “severe muscle impairment,” “tracheotomy,” and “ventilator.” The same day I received an email reminding me it is nearing time for me to recertify my national Paramedic license. It was a sobering day.

For these past couple years, I have let my husband’s encouraging words and glass-half-full spirit spur me on in believing that I will walk in my Medic boots again. He was always reassuring me that we would get through this; I would get strong again and go back to the career that I love. During that time I have struggled with who I am when I’m not a paramedic or a firefighter. It became such a big part of what motivated and moved me that when it was gone I struggled with depression and wondering who I was. I still do at times.

Being a paramedic and firefighter is unlike any job on earth. To get to walk into people’s lives at the time they need you most, it’s indescribable. It was a privilege and an honor to get to show up in homes, cars, churches; all the places people have built their beautiful messy lives, and serve them at their most vulnerable moments.

I know that I am loved and cherished as I am. I know I am still me, and the people that matter the most will accept me as I am, but it has been a painful walk to slip further and further from my polished boots, the distinctive smell of bunker gear, and the smooth weight of my stethoscope around my neck. Like most folks in my line of work, I am a strong type A that likes to have everything under control. It is extremely humbling, and sometimes discouraging to see that I have lost much of that control, and have to surrender to something that controls me, rather than myself controlling it. What an important lesson in life though; one I undoubtedly needed to learn. We are not our own, and the power is not ours.

Most nights I don’t dream, but when I do it is of being back on the streets alongside my cherished partners, rushing toward the danger and the opportunity to help save a life. I know they are just dreams, but until I can’t anymore, I will keep clinging to them with a smile.

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

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The Long Goodbye

Today I am remembering my pastor’s wife, and sweet friend Kara, on the day she left this world for the Heaven she so joyfully believed in. She is missed, and the legacy she left behind is one of great encouragement and grace. I know I was honored to learn from her about life, family, and faith.

Today her documentary came out. I encourage you to watch it and learn what made this woman such an inspiring friend. I am still challenged by many of our conversations, and always striving to love big like she did.

Click here for a link to the trailer.

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

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Vacancy

After another night of tossing and turning, I woke this morning with my heart feeling heavy, raw. A strange, sick-butterfly feeling tumbled in my stomach. It’s funny what the heart remembers before the mind even has a chance to catch up. Today it has been five years since I was woken by the call that my little brother had unexpectedly passed away.

I suppose it still feels so raw because in the years that have passed there have been many curveballs to handle, which have left little time for the grieving process that I know is still to come. Even so, my chest squeezes tight and my eyes pool with watery thoughts as I ponder back on the special friendship I shared with my brother. There is so much I wish and need to talk to him about right now, and it’s crushing that I can’t.

I want to work on the streets again with him side by side. I want to drive to Kansas to cheer through his epic fourth of July firework extravaganzas. I want my youngest to know his Uncle Ben as he grows. All these things in a beautiful, painful tangle of joy and heartbreak and anticipation of an eternity.

The rhythm of life continues to ebb and flow, even with these hole-shaped pieces of my heart unfilled. Someday, all will be new, but while I am waiting I’ll never stop missing him here.

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