Reece’s Birthday

We made it through Reece’s second birthday. This year was really hard. Other loss mamas had warned me that it could be harder than the first birthday. They were right.

Last year, we indulged in a big party. Family, friends, and fellow loss families gathered to surround us on the weekend before his birthday. One of my dear sisters made the trip from out of state to be with us. We made Reece bear a special hat, a special pumpkin, and all his party guests a giant crock pot of chili soup. Everyone in attendance decorated cookies shaped like a moose or a pumpkin. We crowded outside on the deck with a single blue balloon and sang Happy Birthday. My sister made a video I will cherish forever.

At the conclusion of the song, we released the balloon into the sky. We watched it drift away for a long long time. On his party day, I didn’t feel sad. There was only joy and love. The people that surrounded us confirmed that Reece had meant something to them. That is all a loss family wants. To feel that their child held meaning for other people.

I did not go to work on his birthday that first year. I didn’t work on his birthday this year. I might never work on his birthday. I like the idea of having the day to clear my heart and have some space to feel his presence. True to birthday traditions for other other boys, that first birthday is a big deal. The parties after vary in size and activity. We are rolling much more low key. No big party, just a smaller cake for our little family.

This year in lieu of releasing long-decomposing latex balloons, I discovered something called flying wish paper. It’s like a tissue paper roll that you light on fire and it goes into the air for a second. The boys each got to write something on their paper and roll it up. There is no way I could light a birthday candle, sing the song, and then blow out his birthday candle for him. The flying wish paper was really fun! Fire is always fun with birthdays. With just the four of us, we crowded around the cake and wrote little wishes on flying wish paper. One by one we lit them. The last one with his name on it cued us for Happy Birthday.

In the last seconds, the paper floats up all the way to the ceiling as ashes and comes softly to rest. My husband got really good at catching it with the “launch” paper to minimize the mess.

My husband is a doer. He grieves by taking action. This year my husband was in charge of ordering Reece’s birthday cake. Aside from our oldest son’s request for a marble cake, my husband was free to think of Reece and choose a design. He chose two Hot Wheel cars to share with his brothers. It was most definitely the manliest cake I’ve ever seen!

I still wanted to invite others to celebrate his short life. This year I wanted to spread color and share my love of gardening. Over the course of the last two years, I have struggled to find “my people” in our new city. After Reece’s death, I knew my people would not be typical moms complaining about sleepless nights and sore nipples. I needed people who could help me outside the lines of motherhood. I needed a little piece of myself to flower during the darkest days of grief.

Part of this group’s mission is to spread the use of U.S. native plants. Everything was freely given and guidance was happily shared. I started working in the garden beds of our house, turning bald spots into thriving patches of yellow and purple. I learned how to grow native plants and save their seeds for sharing.

For Reece’s birthday this year, my husband and I were honestly…kinda tired. Our family dog of 10 years passed away about a month ago and the grief bubbles up again in weird ways. I invited a handful of faithful dirt enthusiasts in a small Facebook event as Reece’s planting party. I added my husband as a co-host. He doubled the invitees without hesitation. We shared the work of pulling seeds off the dried heads, mixing them, stamping packets with Reece’s life-sized handprint, and addressing envelopes.

We drank tea and talked about Reece and told stories. It was so special to me to spend time and energy on my littlest boy, just the way I craft birthday decor for Dane or blow up a thousand balloons for Grant.

The day itself was hard. After I dropped the boys off at school and preschool, I had a meltdown in the van. I wanted to sit under warm blankets and stare out the window all day. The tears came in heavy waves. At midday, Ryan needed to get up and DO something. We ended up across town checking out the new Costco. As we walked in, Christmas decor twinkled in our eyes. I walked straight to a box and patted it.

“Ha! It’s a Christmas Moose!” I felt the flood of tears coming on and I had to walk away. I did the best I could to gather myself near the granola bars. As I turned, I see Ryan pushing the cart with the moose in it.

“Today of all days, we can make irrational decisions.”

Grief comes in waves and sometimes a person has to do whatever they can to keep swimming. I see the traditions forming around Reece’s birthday and although the day knocked me over this year, I won’t stop honoring him as I do my other sons on their birthdays. I will always be his mother and he will always be my son.

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Running in the Sun

Just last night we said goodbye to our faithful companion of ten years. As I process this loss, I find myself capturing  moments in my mind. Colors and shapes that come out as poems as we grieve the loss of the first creature that made us a family. 


“Hi Pup,” he said, lowering himself to the floor next to his head. I moved myself there, squeezing beside my husband to gaze onto our dog’s face. His eyes were already looking beyond the room. 

The strain of breathing squeezed his body, the churn of a train. 

I stroked his grey muzzle, his faded puppyhood left behind him while running around us and chasing rabbits from the garden. 

A blue towel propped his head, prepared to catch his mess made in death. 

We stroked him

I rubbed his flaps of brown velvet as I had done for ten years. 

“It’s ok, pup. We are here. You can go. It’s ok. Good boy, Tucker. Good boy.” 

I felt his body shudder, his eyes squinting. 

His breathing stopped. 

He relaxed. 

His eyes widened, his jowls folded into his teeth. 

His body curled three times, his legs stretching out. 

His soul untying from his Earthly body. 

I saw him free, young, 

running into the sun.


A Meeting on Rainbow Bridge

The mist of Rainbow Bridge kissed against the emeralds of eternal summer. 
Sun gleamed off the muscles of a young dog, his muzzle ebony.

He came full speed, bounding into the grass. 

A mop of blonde hair waited, mesmerized. 

“Doggie!” He squealed excitedly, clapping his dimpled hands together, his little feet stomping. 

Tucker paused, nudged him, sucking his smell from the armpit, huffing after inhaling.

Family. Heaven boys smell like family. 

Tucker splayed his front legs, bowing to play, inviting a chase. 

Grass and dirt tornado as he spins, Game On.

Peels of laughter erupt as our Angel boy 

finally meets our family dog. 

The Show

The building was humming with excitement. My clammy hand clutched a ticket as I milled through the mass of women, they chatted around me, smiles wide. I glanced down at my ticket. December 22nd, 2015. As I looked up, I saw a woman step out of line, her face ashen. The line moved up, so did I. The excitement increased as we got closer to the curtain. Some had never seen this show and they babbled excitedly. 

I had seen this show before but I did not buy this ticket. It was given to me. I smiled politely, trying to engage in the excitement around me. We stepped closer to the long sweeping curtains. I was finally just steps away from entering the auditorium when a hand was placed on my shoulder.
“Excuse me, you are going to have to come with me.”

“No, I’ve waited a long time in this line and I’m finally near the front. I have a ticket for this show.”

“No ma’am. You need to step out of line.”

“No!” I felt my heart beginning to beat faster. “I waited here nicely. I have a ticket to this show and it’s about to start.” I thrust the ticket stub in his face. “Look, December 22nd, 2015. This is the right line and this is the right show.”

“I’m sorry, come with me.” His hand was on my elbow, trying to gently pull me from the line.

“No! I’m not moving. I did everything right! I followed all the rules for waiting in line. Take someone else. I’ve even been to this show twice before so I know all the rules for getting to see it.”

The grip on my elbow tightened and I was plucked from my spot.

“No, I was just talking to this lady, she is the same as me.” Panic was squeezing my chest, the volume of my voice rising. “And that’s my friend, see her, in line up there? She will tell you I’ve seen the show!” 

“Your ticket is not for this show.”

I looked down at my clammy hand and unfurled my fingers. My red ticket had faded to grey.

“How can that be? My ticket was just fine. It was red! IT WAS RED!”

“Your ticket is no good.”

“But my ticket is for a comedy! A redemption tale. A funny story about a couple who had plans and then had to adapt but everything turns out fine in the end. I’m in the right line!!”

“No.” He said simply. Now pulled out of line, the women moved forward without me, their eyes down, embarrassed for me and aware of the scene I was causing. I looked up over the sea of hair and saw my friend. We locked eyes. She pushed forward with the throng of women. She disappeared through the doorway and behind the curtain.

“Ma’am, this is your line.”

The line headed in the opposite direction away from the gold carpet, dipping down by ramp, under the excitement of the main show. The curtain was grey. The walls were grey. The carpet, grey. I got in line behind a woman who was sobbing.

“I don’t understand why I got picked out of line. I didn’t buy a ticket to this show.” A grim faced woman turned to me.

“Nobody here bought a ticket.”

“What is this show? I had a ticket to ‘Motherhood: Comedy and Redemption.’”

“This show is called “Stillbirth and Other Losses.”

The blood drained from my face. I looked down at my grey stub and felt the blood in my toes. Stamped across December 22nd was a new date: November 7th, 2015. 

My eyes came up slowly, the tears forming in my eyes. My voice quivered “Does it have a happy ending?”

She locked eyes with me, clutching her own grey ticket. She shook her head slowly, the weight of my question sinking in. 

“I….I don’t know.” 

Draining the Swamp

Over at Still Standing Magazine, I’ve begun a series of articles detailing the process of Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy so others can understand the steps and gain insight to what it can do to soothe symptoms of PTSD.

As I continue my grief journey (yes, it still hurts. No, I won’t get over it.), I’m meeting many lovely mothers who are struggling with life-altering anxiety. I struggled with anxiety, too. It was debilitating. Nightmares and panic attacks and strictly structuring the day just so I could function like a normal mom. Living that way was nothing short of Hell on Earth. 

Everyone’s grief is unique and there are many ways to heal. EMDR isn’t just for the grieving or the traumatized; it can also help those with generalized anxiety. One dear person in my life shared that EMDR helped soothe her overwhelming fear of flying. Another said it helped her friend adjust her feelings about her divorce. I’m sharing the link to my article here from Still Standing Magazine to enlighten partners and friends, and bring hope to all the mothers who are having less than a full life. 

http://stillstandingmag.com/2017/09/draining-swamp-using-emdr-therapy-treat-ptsd-baby-loss/

This One is for my Littlest

I have had the honor in joining a team of amazing humans to write and share my journey of grief and healing on Still Standing Magazine. 

Trauma comes in many forms and has lasting effects. It wasn’t Reece who caused the trauma but losing him. For such a tiny human, he has had such a powerful impact on my life. 


Today my post went live and I look forward to speaking loudly about our story so it may help other mothers and fathers. Anxiety is Hell on Earth. You don’t have to live here. 

http://stillstandingmag.com/2017/08/living-in-a-swamp-ptsd-after-baby-loss/

A Tale of Two Hearts

She slipped through the door, just a blur of blue as I continued to sob.

“You told me your baby was due right before Christmas. I want to give you this little Christmas ornament so you have something to hold and something to remember him by.”

She handed me a lacey glass heart with a baby blue ribbon. The texture made my brain hum as I rubbed my fingers over the edges. 

“Can I tell you a story?”

The nurse named Nikki pulled up a stool and sat, her legs folded in listening. And I told her about our bonus baby, how he was conceived despite all the odds, how we had rearranged our lives for him, bought a house and a minivan, moved to a new city. 

Hours later, I clutched the glass heart as we left the hospital. We waited for the elevator down from Labor and Delivery, my red fleece jacket stretched taunt over a belly full of Reece. The next night he would be born, we would say hellogoodbye, and the glass heart would hold a spot next to his box of cremains. 

When I started back to work, I hung the glass heart on my rear view mirror. It was a simple way a piece of Reece could come with me every day. It grounded me when I stressed about running late and reminded me of what really mattered in life. An added bonus was that it helped distinguish my van from all the other grey Honda vans in any parking lot. Even at work, there was a van exactly like mine. 

Then there was a day. Mother’s Day weekend the boys and I were headed to a plant exchange. As a gardener and budding horticulture nerd, I lived for plant exchanges. I could meet other gardeners and share an interest that had nothing to do with motherhood or children. The boys were playing in the van while they waited for me. I was digging one last plant for sharing when Dane approached me.

“Grant broke this!” He handed me a chunk of my glass heart. 

I ran to the van, addressed my three year old, and crumpled into a pile on the garage floor. The very first gift I had received from Reece’s birth was shattered. I sobbed uncontrollably. My boys watched in mild shock. My three year old kept chanting “I sorry. I so sorry, Mama.”

The grief kept pouring out in heavy waves in my open garage. My literal heart was broken. My metaphorical heart just shattered, too. There are so few gifts from Reece’s time on Earth. Especially gifts from others. 


A month later, our family was on vacation in the Black Hills. Like all tourist destinations, we stumbled upon a glass blowing shop. Dane and I went in while Ryan stayed with napping Grant. Inside, my breath caught when I saw the same delicate lace technique on small trinkets. 

We watched a drinking glass be created and then I asked the woman about the skill behind the tiny pieces. I told her I used to have a heart made in the same style, but it had been broken. She sat down and began to heat her tools, happy to amuse me. 

As I watched the skinny rod of glass melt, my eyes welled. Reece’s glass heart was made this same way. My glass heart, my sweet baby boy, both gone. She looked at me and I smiled as the tears rolled down my cheeks. 

“Ha! Sorry,” I said, wiping my face. “This is just so neat to see. The ornament I had was so special because it was given to me when we learned our son no longer had a heartbeat.” 

“Oh, that’s a terrible day,” she said, looking from me back to her work. 

“Yeah. Some days are still hard.” She nodded. I watched, entranced, while Dane wandered the shop and fingerprinted all the cases. He wanted to buy a penguin. He wanted to buy a snake. He saw a frog that would be cool to have. I price checked them all. For a boy of six, I was not going to buy a glass trinket of any price. But these were exceptionally pricey. 

After about ten minutes, the glass worker held out a glass heart. I beamed with pride. 

“That looks just like the one I had. What’s the price on something like that?” I held my breath, prepared for a number I wasn’t willing to pay. 

“Oh…twelve dollars.”

My heart skipped a beat. I stood among expensive artwork and she wanted twelve dollars for a custom piece. That’s when Dane pipped up. 

“Hey! That looks like the heart from Reece that Grant broke! Except it had a blue ribbon.”

“Blue ribbon?” She mumbled to herself and rummaged through a drawer. She pulled out a spool of ribbon. Blue ribbon. 

“How’s that?” She held it up by the ribbon for Dane to see. 

“Yeah!”

I paid, thanking her profusely, telling her she had eased my heartbreak over the loss of a thing. 

She shrugged and nodded. She didn’t fix my broken heart. She had offered me a new one. The loss of Reece broke my heart. And it didn’t heal so much as I grew a new one. One that is deep and tender and holds space for the broken people. 

There are good people in this world, readers. We sometimes aren’t sure how we can help a hurting soul. But everyone has something to offer. Even stoic glass blowers in the Black Hills. 

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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