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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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Blue and Pink October

October is miscarriage and infant loss awareness month. I do not quite know how I feel about awareness months. I think some of them help raise needed money for research and hopefully better medicine. I think some of them actually do shed light on things we were previously oblivious to. The thing about miscarriage and infant loss though is that there is no “research and cure” for it, and most people already know it happens, or even know someone who has been through it. Dedicating a month to it does not necessarily do anything for it except perhaps stir a lot more emotion for the families who have survived it. Maybe more people are sharing their own stories because of this month, and that’s good, they need to be told.

At my roots I’m a fixer, and if there is going to be a month dedicated to it, I want it to be productive. I do not know how to do that. What do you do when throwing money at it or doing walks in matching t-shirts and selling rubber bracelets does not bring babies back from death or prevent it from happening in the future?

I have a new friend who recently experienced the stillbirth of their son, and just sitting in the thick of how raw and earth-shattering that pain is reminds me that the only thing that can and needs to be done is circle around that sweet family and let them feel what they need to feel, because there is no campaign or 5K or colored ribbon that is going to take away that pain. Know what? That is perfectly ok. It is ok for people to hurt. It is ok for them to take all the time and feel all the feelings they need to without anyone rushing that along, regardless of how uncomfortable that may make the rest of us feel.

I guess what I have then is a list of do’s and don’ts. Maybe you have not walked with someone through miscarriage or infant loss, or maybe you have and you want to do it better next time. I hope that coming from the heart of a mama who has lost babies I had not met yet, as well as a baby who lived earth-side with us will help those of you looking outside in, wondering what to do.

DO acknowledge that it happened. You cannot just keep trying to carry on with business as usual and hope that your person will be over it soon enough. They lost a huge chunk of their heart; hopes, dreams, memories, and they need you to tell them that you realize they are going through that.

DON’T try to compare their loss to, well, anything else. Their loss and their grief is completely unique to them, and believe it or not, it does not help them feel better to hear about your friend’s mom’s sister who lost a baby and how they handled it. Let their story be /their/ story, and let them share it with you through their own lense, not the one you had ideas about before this.

DO make specific offers of help. Saying “call if you need anything,” will never actually result in a phone call. You need to take the wheel here. Tell them you are making them a meal and ask what night is best. Tell them you are heading to the grocery and ask what can you pick up for them. Go over and rake their leaves/cut their grass. Tell them you’d like to help with some housecleaning and give them a choice of days to choose from. It is very hard to ask for help. Period. You need to not offer it, but to actually just give it and help with the decision making.

DON’T rush them into the future. Never ask if they’ll try for another baby or if they’ve ever thought about adoption, or reassure them that at least they are young and can try again. I do not want to have to explain this one. Just don’t do it.

DO continue being supportive well into the weeks, months, years ahead, not just right now during the “crisis period.” This is a hurt that is always going to stay with them, and there will be triggers for the rest of time such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, random Mondays. Remind them throughout time that you remember and are thinking of their little one. Use their baby’s name; it means the world to hear it.

DON’T use platitudes like, “God just needed another angel,” “everything happens for a reason,” “you can always have another,” “now you have an angel looking after you,” or anything that begins with the words “at least…”.

DO say “I’m sorry,” “my presence is unconditional,” “do you need anything?” “[baby’s name] will be greatly missed,” “this was not your fault,” “just take the moments one at a time.”

It is ok to tell your person you are at a loss for words, and have no idea what they are going through. Assure them that you want to be there for them, and then follow through and show up. They will help you know what they need if your eyes are open and your heart is receptive.

Miscarriage and infant loss are sad and hard and uncomfortable, but if you can look past your own discomfort and come alongside a friend or a family member who is going through it, you will not only bless the socks off of them, you will learn a lot of good things about yourself as well.

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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.

 

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