You Might be Praying Wrong…

A few friends and I have been talking about the grieving process lately and the things people say.

“I’ll be praying for you.”

Have you told someone that you will be praying for them after a loss? A child, a pregnancy, a mother, a brother, any kind of loss.

You might be praying wrong. Yeah, you. Have you been praying we will just stop being sad? Have you been praying that one day we’d just stop grieving altogether and that would mean we were healed?

It’s uncomfortable to see someone in pain and so people just naturally want to wish it away. But how could we not be sad? How could losing someone just suddenly not affect us anymore? It’s insane for anyone to think you could ever just suddenly stop grieving a loss. Grief is love with no place to go. Grief is the price of loving someone. If they were loved, they are grieved.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I don’t know how I do it either. But I do know I don’t have a choice. I go on because I have to, I have other people who need me. My husband, my friends, my two children at home. I am sad he died but I am not sorry I was chosen to be his mother. I am still his mother. My grief for Reece has become part of who I am.

If you are a praying person, pray for the ache that person feels to manifest into something good. Pray that they grow to become compassionate BECAUSE of their pain. The loss happened and I assure you, they won’t forget and nor would they want to.

True healing is simultaneously experiencing grief and gratitude. Pray that person can live gracefully while experiencing both. Because loss can turn people bitter. Loss sucks. Pray that as the waves of grief recede and they wash up on the beach, that the place they land is a mostly beautiful place.

 

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Stop saying this to people. Seriously. Stop.

It is THE STRUGGLE with death and grief and the challenges to our assumptive world views that causes growth. The struggle. Not the death itself. It isn’t because my son died that I have become stronger, more outspoken, more compassionate. So do not misunderstand. It is rising from the ashes of my world on fire. I am not lost in my fire. I am forged in it. My strength was not gained from his death, but the fight to find joy after experiencing hell on Earth.

The grief will always be part of my life-that is my unspent love for my littlest boy. Don’t pray my grief away. Grief is not the enemy, it’s the first step to gratitude. If we are not aware of what we have lost, how can we measure what we have? Gratitude comes from the work and the growth of seeing who he has made us become. He is still very much a part of our lives. And we would be less without him.

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An Open Letter to a Friend

Dear friend,

First, let me open this letter with asking for forgiveness of my curtness last evening. In our communication, I had to keep my responses short to protect myself. As I saw your post about baby number three, my head started to swirl. With two boys already in your house, my grieving heart began to race. Will this be a third boy? The short video clip attached to your baby bump pictures (my goodness, you are so cute!) revealed the gender. I clicked on it. As the trail of firecrackers trickled down the line to the bucket, I prayed for myself and chanted in my head. Pink pink pink, please be pink.

It wasn’t. Blue. Blue smoke. Another little boy will join your family. Three little boys. My heart fell to my feet. I remembered my own gender reveal party for my third baby. His blue smoke, my shining baby bump, the crowd of friends chanting as I did just now, pink pink pink!

Except my chanting was not in celebration but in self-preservation. I had three boys, two excited big brothers, a whooping husband, and a baby on the way. I remember it all.

I never got to live the rest of the story the way I had planned. My sons never got to hold their baby brother or invade his personal space on a daily basis. They never complained about his drooling or hair pulling or his non-stop crying. They tell me they miss him and they want him alive. Little Grant keeps telling me to go to the hospital to give Reece some medicine so I can bring him home from Heaven. He even dares to talk about a new baby, but that just isn’t a direction our family will go. Dane talks about adopting a baby into our family and won’t take “no, sweetie,” as an answer.

I am so sorry you are my first friend with three little boys. You are a good friend and have been nothing but loving.  Firsts of any kind are hard for the grieving. In these last 20 months, there had yet to be a family with three little boys. I’m sorry it had to be you. It isn’t really you; the struggle is the contrast between us. This surely is a fate neither of us could have ever imagined. And you are due in November. There is always this sense of foreboding when someone’s baby is due near my baby’s birthday. I can’t really explain why. Territorial?  A sense of salt in the grieving wound as someone’s happily welcomes a new healthy baby during the days surrounding your baby’s death and subsequent birth? Perhaps it is both. And a sense of being forgotten, as I want the rest of the world to be a bit quieter and dimmer on those days. Discovering he was dead inside my body will always be the hardest day of my life. That day will always come back around on the calendar, year after year. His death day. And then his birthday. With no dash in between.

I feel like I’m sitting on the other side of the glass at the zoo, watching you celebrate another boy. And soon enough, I will get to see your life unfold just as it should, with a healthy new baby, adoring big brothers, and a proud husband. Little snips of what our life would have been like to have a baby boy right before the holidays. A November/December baby is a very special thing.

And while I would never, ever wish for another person’s baby to die, I just want to undo the death of mine. The joy you celebrate reminds me of my pain. It reminds me of what I did not get. It reminds me that my son died and that my big boys never got to hold their brother.  I want to slide of out this experience  like a snake skin. But this knowledge IS my skin. And this IS the story we have about Reece. It isn’t the love I have for him that hurts. The pain comes from wrestling the unfairness in life, of coping with the death of someone we were only just getting to know. The pain is boldly facing the truth in life: that it is fragile, often taken for granted.

Thank you for loving me well, even when my grief twists into jealousy. Life after baby loss is full of confusing turns and unwelcome surprises. As your friend and fellow mother, I will say this.

IMG_1530A house full of boys is an adventure. The noise, the dirt, the wrestling, and the Legos, I wouldn’t trade the BoyMom life for anything. I pray that your baby boy arrives healthy and loud, filling his lungs with cold Earthside air the minute he is here. You deserve the best that parenting has to offer. And while it is hard, thankless work, it is the best work there is to do.

Congratulations, my friend.

 

Diving into the Mire

Social media is really hard on the grieving soul sometimes. If it wasn’t for the gardening groups and the grief support, I’d quit it all together. Pregnancy announcements, progressive baby bump photos, even pregnancy complaints abound.  It feels more invasive when it seems everyone is pregnant or newly post-partum in the social network. The outsider feeling is intensified by the fact everyone else is excited, happy, and celebrating the announcement of a baby on its way. Everyone celebrates again when the baby arrives. 

Everyone except the “other mothers.” The mothers who have lived through the death of a child and feel a sting of terror with every pregnancy announcement. When the baby arrives healthy, the jealousy sets in. Terror and jealousy are not in the list of normal or acceptable “announcement emotions,” making the mother feel even more isolated. 

It is NOT that I wish this perspective on anyone. Never. It is just a reminder that I have love unspent and a knowledge that no life, not even brand new life, is guaranteed.  The physical love, the action, the doing of diapers and nursing, of raising a baby, has no where to go.  Part of my anger comes from feeling cheated and left out. Another large piece is feeling like I have all this extra love to give and no one to give it to. All the babies around me already have their mommies. And I don’t want to weird anyone out with requesting to wear their baby or wanting to buckle in a baby seat in my minivan just one time. (We never got to the chance.) So it went for more than a year. It just festered into a thick mire of bitterness and jealousy because I was too afraid of seeming weird. 

Reality smashed me in the face one day when Dane called out,” Mom! There is a baby on this commercial so you’d better look away so you don’t get sad and cry about Reece.” 
My six year old had called it. I was teaching my sons to avoid babies and hesitate to engage in loving them. 
That sure seemed like a crappy way to live the rest of my life. I really do love babies, in all their grunts and stretchs and squawks. I knew then that something needed to change. I needed to be brave again. 

It started in very small steps with my neighbor and her baby. It took a few months to make my way over there and I was hesitant the very first visit. My dear neighbor acknowledged my struggle and spoke openly to my tremendous grief. That seemed to instantly soothe my ache. The boys seemed to engage as best they could with a baby all of three months old. My goal was for them to see me holding a baby and not being overwhelmed with emotions. Goal met.

My dear friend Tori lost sweet baby Evan just two weeks after Reece died. We have been friends ever since. She recently welcomed Baby Emme into the world. I hadn’t held a baby that small since Reece’s birthday buddy Ezra was two weeks old. 

When Tori handed her to me, there wasn’t any sorrow. I soaked her in with all my senses, just watching her, and even rested her against my chest in what I call “the hollow.” I thought for sure I would burst into tears. But she just felt so soothing. Where my heart was raw, holding her smoothed it out. I went home feeling refreshed, with only a tinge of sadness in missing Reece. I was actually surprised at how soothed I felt. Not jealous. Not bitter. Just soothed. 


So then I did something even braver. I offered to babysit my friend’s 20 month old toddler and her infant for a few hours. Every mom needs a helpful friend because getting a break is hard to coordinate sometimes when you are a SAHM. And yeah, that’s four boys and one me for a few hours: 6, 3, 20 months, and 3 months. This is what our minivan looked like. 


Again I was slightly worried about how I would feel with such a tiny baby, especially a boy. And you know what? It was fantastic. I asked my friend if she was comfortable with me wearing her infant. She was. We all went to the park, where I had commissioned Dane to become my toddler helper. He was fantastic as a guide and got some really big giggles outta that kid. 


Grant offered to hold Baby Eli’s bottle and was so gentle in his touches. I thought maybe Grant would be a bit jealous or upset about a new baby on my chest but he was too busy attempting the monkey bars.

I have discovered something about myself. I have a deep fantasy about snuggling babies. And even though I’ve had two myself to raise, I have forgotten the reality. The work. The exhaustion. The crying. Two and half hours of babywearing was just what I needed to soothe my aching soul. It was part reality check and part soul-soothing. 


I worried about asking Diana if I could borrow her kids for snuggles because…isn’t that weird?!? I worried I would seem cloying and delusional. But I know Diana knows “the hollow” just as all my loss friends do. Would she really let me drive them around in my minivan?!? Is that not a bit much? She didn’t seem bothered but grateful for a break. 

At the end of this day, I have come to three conclusions: Motherhood is hard, phone a friend. All babies need love, some are even ok with being worn by “strangers.” Babies aren’t as great as my fantasies lead me to believe–Doing cool shit with my big kids is right where I want to be right now. Now if you’all excuse me, I have a very determined boy waiting to return to the monkey bars. 

A Little Something

I followed the notification to a tag with my name on it. Still Standing magazine was calling for contributors and my friend thought of me. I pondered it, began piecing something together in the quiet moments when the boys were watching a movie or playing quietly together over a mountain of Legos. In three days time, I had a good start on my application. 

Also in three days time, the process for submissions closed. Just over. In the middle of things. (I’m sensing a continuing theme…) I was upset. As I stared at my application, I got a strange tingle. I poked around the website. They were still welcoming guest posts so I picked a little something and sent it in. It got accepted. Goosebumps and chills as I read through the email. 

My post goes live tomorrow. Read it here.

http://stillstandingmag.com 

I’m honored and humbled to be among such warriors.

The Heart Babies

This Sunday, May 7th, is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. A post from the Carly Marie project asked loss mamas to photograph and submit an image with our hands over our hearts. Those babies we have lost are carried in our hearts. As I pondered over the project, it occurred to me that I couldn’t narrow it down to one photograph. My heart baby goes with me everywhere. Like here: 


The space aches because it is always there and forever unfillable. We are their mothers. Are. Just as your mother is still your mother after her death. She does not cease to be your mother. She is not erased from having been. Nor are our children. Our children remain our children even after their death.  We are always mothering our heart babies. That’s the unfillable space. It is because of his absence that there is the presence of space. Like a balloon that is full of only air, and yet the presence of the air is what makes the balloon take up any space at all. The ballon skin itself actually has a very small claim to the space. But we know that the balloon isn’t empty. It isn’t an emptiness but a presence of absence. 

Perhaps it will not always hurt the way it does sometimes, but even a year and half after his death, there are still intense moments for me. Deep longing and sadness because I want all my sons together. The sting of feeling cheated out of knowing him more and watching him grow. I want Reece here on Earth.  I’ll be pulling into the garage, and I hear a song and I’m sucked under a wave of grief. I clutch my chest and cry with my head pressed against my minivan window. Alone, I have a moment of gut-wrenching sobs in the half dark of a shut garage. Something bumps my scab and it tears open and begins to bleed again.

Broken heart tissue never heals back into normal heart tissue. When I hear of tragedy befalling someone, my new heart throbs, the new tissue rippling with strength. My inner compassion wells, I am compelled to help. That’s Reece, my heart baby. 

I was deep into practicing yoga while pregnant with Reece. He hated the slow down. He especially hated “child’s pose” which I still find delightfully ironic. After his loss, thousands of tears were shed for him on my yoga mat. 

A transformation has taken place. The unfillable space takes up a spot in my heart. The living tissue pulses around the place where it cracked. For me, there was no atrophy of function. Quite the opposite. My heart is now more alive and aware than ever before. Reece did that. He came, he left, and it’s because he was ever in our lives that I am wide open. I am transformed, implanted with an unfillable space. 


Nothing will fill it up. Not new clothes, not food, not exercise, not returning to work full time. Not even a new baby. It is just there. Some things cannot be fixed or filled, they can only be carried. I’d rather carry my empty space for Reece than be able to fill it in with something as though he was never here. Having to give him back just before he was ready for others to meet him is a struggle for me as a mother. I fear that others will forget him. He is with us every day as the boys and I ride in our minivan. With my oldest wanting to ride in the third row, Reece’s seat is left open. Not empty, but open. 


I recently went to visit a friend I haven’t seen since Reece’s funeral. As we talked, she announced that she had something for me. She handed over a fleece tied blanket in blue and green, a size and style that matched the other two she had made for my boys when they were born. Now we had a matching set of three. 

As I drove home, what happened had time to sink in. She had asked me at his funeral if I wanted his blanket still, given the circumstances. I had said yes. 

That was a year and a half ago. Surely she could have given the blanket to another mother who had birthed a healthy baby boy. I would have been none the wiser. And yet, all this time she had kept the blanket in her house, waiting for a time together, no matter how long. In the deep grief of losing her husband, she perhaps understands the unfillable space. The presence of absence. My heart baby, Reece Michael. 

The Thing About Birthdays

The smell of vanilla cake hangs in the warm air. Colored sprinkles are on the floor throughout the kitchen. Balloons shine in the afternoon sun at the corner of every doorway. A cardboard birthday banner with the Avengers is strung across the dining room. Recently,  my middle-born son turned three. He is a spunky, stubborn, friendly child who loves all animals and all people. It seems like just days ago he was drooling on the stairway baby gate, intently cooing at the birds in our bird bath, his dimpled hands pointing through the bars. Now, overnight it seems, he is a walking, talking, opinionated little boy. Celebrating a birthday of a child naturally comes with a bit of sadness for mothers. It marks the progress of our children growing and continuing to peel away from us. 

For bereaved mothers, the passing of time is even more painful because time has not included one or more of her children. One of her children is not growing and marking the milestones alongside his brothers. For our family, we were only just adjusting to the mindset of embracing Grant’s maturity  because we were starting over at square one with a newborn. Then with Reece’s death, we were suddenly yanked back to our middle son being our youngest living child. Double grief and twice as deep. 

Turning three brings many big transitions. G has outgrown the need for diapers even at night. He has moved from a crib into a twin size bed. He has begun to dress himself and have opinions about his clothes. He’d rather walk than ride in a stroller. He is three, the age his older brother was when we were planning to welcome a newborn. We celebrated our firtborn’s maturity because we knew we were starting all over again with another baby. At the time, Dane seemed so old and capable. Grant was not even finished nursing when we discovered I was pregnant with Reece. Having babies that were only 20 months apart cast a gloom of overwhelm on our family. From Grant’s first birthday for the next six months, we were busy rearranging our lives to make space for another person in our family. 

Grant learned to walk just as we moved into our new house. Reece died and was born when Grant was 18 1/2 months old. From Reece’s death until Grant was about 2.5, I suffered from post partum depression and post traumatic stress disorder concurrently. In short, the deepest depression of my lifetime to date. 

Once I received treatment for PTSD, much of the detachment I felt from life was alleviated. I was finally aware of the present again for the first time in more than a year.  There are moments when I feel like I have only just awakened from April 2015. Two years of passive survival. In the time of a toddler, that is huge growth and change. There we were, sitting on a blanket in our backyard, our four year old and one year old scrunched together with us on a beautiful Spring day, Grant’s first birthday party. We had only just discovered we were going to have another baby. Even then, sitting on that blanket, clutching baby Grant, a tiny Reece seed just beginning to nestle in and grow, I was spiraling away. Now, with the passing of his third birthday, I am aware of what I lost. We are coming to the end of these baby-to-boy transitions for a final time. 

The day Grant and I dismantled the crib, my heart was throbbing. He was so capable in helping collect the screws and knew just what to do with the power drill. 

It is much harder to celebrate his growth and milestones when the thick slime of “should be” is in my throat. Reece should be using this crib still. There should be dents and rub marks against his room’s walls where he has stood jumping while holding onto the railing. There should be another set of scratches and bite marks from his teething days. But he isn’t here to grow with us. When your youngest child dies, those milestones feel like a door being slammed just an inch shy of crushing your nose against the wood. As your living children grow and leave behind their babyhood, the reality of never doing this again sears your heart.  

So Grant and I did what we could, coming to this place that hurt more that it was celebrated. He is always up for an adventure, something a bit risky and definitely something physical. I let him ride the crib mattress down both levels of stairs with giggles of glee. I even took a turn. Where I used to be concerned about keeping things preserved, I now feel the freedom from attachment to material things. If the mattress ripped open as we rode it down the stairs for the fifteenth time, then we did so while injecting joy into a sad moment. 

As my heart ached for my missing son, I turned my face to the one that was here, his giggles spilling out like hiccups as he bumped lightly down each step. I watched him, focusing on his mop of blonde hair, his twinkling eyes, his toothy, dimpled grin. He was here. I was here. I was really really HERE, in the room, not lost inside my heart or deep inside my noisy head. 

Upon his arrival at the bottom of the stairs, he jumped up, his face full of light, and begged for more. Who am I to deny one more ride to the little boy who has been waiting for me to come back to him? 

What Wasn’t and What Isn’t

Charlie Brown Christmas jazz plays softly through the radio. A string of white Christmas lights twinkle across the mantel where five stockings hang. Daddy, Mommy, Biggest Brother, Middle Brother, and Baby. The smell of baking cinnamon rolls wafts from the oven. Mommy shuffles through the kitchen in her pajamas to get coffee. Daddy pours another cup and decides it’s time to start opening presents. First coffee, then presents.

The Christmas tree is surrounded by presents big and small. Two unwrapped disk sleds are propped in the corner, an long box for Daddy, a shallow large one for Grant, many small ones for Dane. A few for Mommy. Everyone circles around the tree. We start with the youngest first, that means little Reecer-man. Mommy sets the present down in front of him, his chubby baby face round with wonder. She tears a piece from the corner to get him started. His brothers buzz around him, eager to see him learn what presents are all about. His oldest brother jumps in place.

They can hardly contain themselves as they wait their turn with their own presents. Grant doesn’t contain anything. He squats low next to his baby brother and begins to tear the paper for him. Dane swoops in saying, “No, Grant! That’s not yours” and grabs his hands. A fight, like one of many, ensues.

Reece watches it all with his big baby eyes, having no idea what the fuss is about. He is barely a year old, sitting soundly in his footie pajamas and his fresh morning diaper. His flop of honey blonde hair is finally growing down around his hazel eyes. He crawls away from the package and makes a play for the Christmas tree lights. It’s then that Mommy decides to give each brother their own present to keep them occupied. They settle down in their own spaces on the floor.

She retrieves Reece from under the tree and folds him down into her lap as she sits. Reece smells like honey lotion and his sprig of hair tickles her chin. She pulls the present over and begins to encourage Reece to grab the paper. He grabs it and it tears to the sound of Mommy’s glee. He wads a fistful and puts it in his mouth.

“Oh, no, uuucky!” Mommy says, pulling the soggy wad away. She looks up at Daddy and says, “Daddy, will you take a picture of us?” She holds Reece up onto his feet and rests her face against his face. “Cheeeeese!”

And Daddy does, as he has a million times before to ensure Mommy makes it into at least some of the Christmas morning photos.