April 21, 2014

Feliz Easter

The first time we went to mass at the local Catholic Church here in Texas, we unknowingly went to the Korean service. We felt a bit out of place (which was our first hint that I had looked up the wrong mass time), and we left after communion, laughing about our somewhat failed attempt to be better Catholics.

Today when we showed up for the Easter service, there was standing room only and we were told that there was plenty of room in the Parish hall where the service would be broadcasted. So, we went over to the Parish hall, sat down and the service began. In Spanish.

We aren't the greatest Catholics, but at least we are fairly cultured! Instead of staying through that mass we snuck out and went back to the main church and stood in the back with the rest of the people who didn't plan accordingly.

Our Easter was very enjoyable and a little (a lot) extra special this year as Miles is back home - he just got back late Friday night. We had family pictures taken today in the Texas Bluebonnets - something I wanted to do before we moved. Mary wore a little ivory dress that was mine as a baby. I thought she looked as precious as could be. Miles said she looked like a Mennonite. But a precious one nonetheless.

Hoping everyone had an equally enjoyable day. Happy Easter!

April 16, 2014

Grief and Closure

When bad things happen, do we need closure?

My friend Erica recently sent me this TED talk on grief and closure. In it, Sociologist Nancy Burns discusses the space between grief and closure. She talks about how closure isn't even something we should strive for and how it doesn't even exist. She gives examples of people who have endured heartache and tragedy and how they have grieved and been able to move on with their life in a healthy manner, but never fully experience closure of their grief or their loss. She not only explores this as a sociologist, but as someone who has endured loss, and therefore grief, herself when her first child was stillborn. She said a lot of things that resonated with me and I wanted to share a few.

Don't tell them to find closure. Meet them where they're at.

She talks about how when you see someone grieving, a loved one especially, you want to end their pain. You want to bring them out of the circle of grief and back in to the circle of joy. But that's not what we should do. We need to recognize that someone can carry grief and joy simultaneously and we shouldn't push closure on them, but rather let them experience their pain and be there along with them while they do.

The concept of closure distorts what's going on with our grieving.

Closure makes it seem like there is a definitive end in sight. And when you are grieving, especially in the thick of it, it's easy to want to feel like there will be an end to your pain and those that love you want to take away your pain. Because in those early days and weeks, the pain is all consuming. When I went out in public the first few times after losing Cale, I had a lot of anxiety. My heart would literally race and I'd be on the edge of tears when doing simple things like grocery shopping. What if someone asked me about my baby? What if no one did? Can they tell by looking at me that I just lost my child? What if I run into someone who hadn't heard? Etc. It was suffocating and so hard. But, it got easier. But it didn't get easier because I found closure or had it pushed upon me. It got easier because little by little joy trickled back into my life. And the thick circle of grief I was in started to blend with the circle of joy that existed, but was hard to see, much less experience.

We live in a world that needs to be in better touch with our humanity.

I loved that line. We need to know that it's ok to carry both joy and grief together. That they don't have to be separate entities. I don't need to have this false sense of closure over losing my first born son to be able to continue on in life and love and find joy in my other children. I think one of  the most important things you can do when someone has experienced loss (of any kind), is to respect their grief over that loss and what it means to them.

There's freedom in knowing you don't need closure to heal.

There really is. It's just that you often don't realize that until the healing has already begun. I liked this line because it recognizes there is a difference in healing and closure. Closure implies you're all done, you're all better. And it just doesn't work like that. I'm continually healing over the loss of Cale and will be the rest of my life. I've long since gotten over the anxiety of going out in public, newborn babies (especially boys) don't make me want to burst into tears as they once did. I've healed in many ways. But, I will always grieve. I will grieve for the enormity of his loss and all that could have been. I will grieve for what we have missed out on these past few years and what we (and he) will miss out on the rest of our lives. And that grief - it's ok. The loss is not ok, but the grief is.

We grieve because we love.

April 10, 2014

The One in Which I Avoided a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day

On Tuesday evening I was headed home when I remembered we needed napkins and I wanted to get some descaling solution for our Keurig that is on the fritz. Since I was right by it, I decided to just run into Walmart. Finn had wanted to wear his rain boots out anyway (it wasn't raining), so he fit in just fine (let's be real - he was still better dressed than most patrons).

I checked out, and then foolishly I placed my wallet in the cart next to the carseat and not back in my diaper bag. I was parked right next to the cart return and put the shopping bags and Finn in the car and pushed the cart into the cart return, grabbed the carseat and put Mary in the car. Then got in and drove away. This was close to 6pm.

The next morning, shortly before 10am as we were getting ready to go to the gym (Finn's open gym - no gym for me. Ha), I was loading the kids in the car when I realized my wallet wasn't in my diaper bag. I ran back inside and checked the counters and when I didn't see it I immediately remembered putting it in the cart, but could not remember taking it out of the cart when I loaded up the car. I was instantly sick with worry and told Finn we couldn't go to the gym because mama had to go look for her wallet. "We need a new wallet at da store." Yeah, buddy - not that simple. I called my sister in near tears to tell her I think I lost my wallet and was driving back to Walmart to see if it happened to be turned in. But of course I was going to worst case scenario - it's Walmart for crying out loud, I surely was going to have to cancel my cards, get a new license and military ID, I was thinking of all the things I had in there that I couldn't replace - Target and Hobby Lobby gift cards, sweet notes from Miles, and even though they could be replaced, I carry a picture of Miles with Daren and a copy of Cale's sketch with me. I was just sad thinking those were gone. My sister told me not to jump to conclusions and to just hope that people are better than you think.

As we are walking into Walmart Finn says, "Mama, I need to go potty." He JUST went when we left the house, but I'm not going to NOT take him - so I waited until the handicapped stall was open and I could bring Mary in and take him to the bathroom. Sure enough, he needed to go so I'm glad he told me, but I was just in such a hurry to see if my wallet was there before calling and canceling all of my cards! I got to customer service and asked if anyone had turned in a wallet to lost and found and they called back an associate who said she thought she saw one. I said, "it's pink with a gold zipper" (it's actually cute, I swear) and just held my breath while she went back to look. And sure enough . . .she came out holding my pink wallet with everything still in it - to include the $1 in cash I had on me. Of course I cried a little bit - mostly out of relief for the huge pain it would have been to replace everything on a short timeline since we are moving in two weeks, not to mention the potential identity theft and fraudulent charges that could have occurred! The moral of this story is twofold. One, don't put your wallet loose in a shopping cart. And two, the people of Walmart are good! Their attire may be cringe-worthy, but if you can leave your wallet in a Walmart parking lot and have it returned, untouched - then there's hope for all of humanity.

After we left I had to go to a doctor's appointment, but told Finn we would go to Chic-Fil-A for celebratory milkshakes. "Mama, I want da french fries!" Ok, kid - you got it. We drove through the drive through because I wanted to pay for the person behind me. Since I just lucked out by someone doing a good deed for me and returning my wallet, I wanted to go pay it forward.

We stopped at the park on our way home and ate our lunch and then Finn ran around and played for a little bit before we headed home. It ended up being a really nice day, the only loss of the day was some bread I left too close to the edge of the counter:


April 7, 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I've mentioned before that one of my biggest regrets when we lost Cale was that I said I didn't want to take any pictures. I had my camera with me. It was tucked away in my carefully packed hospital bag that also contained a newborn outfit and cord blood banking kit and various other things that we never got to use.

I was asked if I wanted to take pictures, but I said no. It didn't seem right. You don't take pictures of a dead baby. We weren't happy. We were devastated and heartbroken and why would I want to capture that?

I didn't know that it wasn't (just) heartbreak and devastation we would be capturing, but love and beauty as well. I couldn't see past Cale's death to capture his brief life. And so I didn't.

Thank God one of my nurses took two pictures anyway. But I wish that they didn't take "no" for an answer and gently held my hand and said, "I know it doesn't feel right, but you're going to want these pictures and here's why..."

Fortunately for many of my other loss friends, they did capture images of their babies. A lot of them used the services provided Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep - a nonprofit organization that sends professional photographers to the hospital to capture remembrance images free of charge. It's an incredible organization and I'm so grateful that over the years, family and friends have made donations to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep in honor of Cale.

Last week a friend of mine contacted me to let me know that she was applying to become a NILMDTS photographer. She's never lost a child, but has been immeasurably kind and sympathetic since we lost Cale. She's also started her own photography business in Hawaii and is quite talented. I'm far from being a professional photographer myself, but the truth is being a volunteer for this organization is something I would love to do as well. But I need to get better at my own camera skills, and practice more with auxiliary lighting before signing up for something like this as it's so important that the families in need of these services are provided with the very best pictures. When we move, I'd like to look into being an assistant to the photographer or community volunteer.

But when my friend Jessica contacted me and shared with me her reasoning, I couldn't help but cry. I'm so touched that she is willing to help others who will be faced with the unimaginable task of saying goodbye to a much wanted and loved child:

Why do you want to be a photographer for NILMDTS?
Losing a child during pregnancy, naively, never occurred to me.  Ignorantly, I assumed once you make it past the 20 week mark you're pretty much in the clear.  This completely changed for me when a friend from college lost her child at 39 weeks- to an umbilical cord entanglement accident.  My heart completely shattered for her.  I was pregnant at the time and it really stopped me in my tracks and made me rethink EVERYTHING about pregnancy and carrying a child.  How does that happen?  Losing a child at 39 weeks?  Why does that happen? I remember when she was expecting her second child she sent out a note telling everyone in lieu of gifts to send a donation to NILMDTS if you wanted to send something for her and the baby.  I didn't know what the organization was- so I did look in to it and made a donation in Cale's name.  Volunteering for this organization has always been in the back of my mind since then but I never thought I was quite 'good enough' or mostly, selfishly, wasn't sure I could handle such an emotional and sad situation.  I've probably opened the photographer application 100 times in just the last few months, and decided yesterday that I do really want to do this.  And that my own sadness isn't anything compared to what the family is going through and will live with forever- and that if I can gift them some photos for them to cherish forever then I would love to do that regardless of if it makes "sad."  So here I am submitting my application today for Cale & Caroline and hopefully to help other families in this  unfathomably difficult situation.

Amazing isn't it? It warms my heart to think of how Cale prompted this amazing and selfless act. I told Jess that I would be happy to share with her some insight into what images I wish we had captured. I wish that I had pictures of Cale that I was comfortable displaying in our home - not tucked away in a special box as his two images are. We have our sketch and I love it, but I wish I had a picture of his little feet, or a close up of our hands and his. Simple, yet powerful images that say "yes, Cale was here! He existed and was perfect." I wish we had a family picture of us holding our first born or a picture of me kissing his forehead and telling him I loved him.

I'd like to solicit feedback from anyone who used NILMDTS or had pictures taken - what images are you grateful you have? What do you wish your photographer did differently? What are the things you know now, but in your shock and heartbreak you didn't know you needed or wanted?

If you'd like more information on becoming a photographer or volunteer for NILMDTS, please visit their site here.

April 1, 2014

Commonly Used Sayings

At this juncture in our lives, these seem to me the most commonly used sentences/questions/statements I find myself saying over and over again:

Stop scratching, Roscoe

Finn, do you need to go potty?

Who's that cute bay-bee? 

Finley, sit down and finish your dinner.

How do you ask nicely? 

Go potty all by yourself and then we can . . . .

Roscoe, stop licking!

I can't understand you when you're whining. 

One more bite

Sleep well baby, I love you.

And Finn's:

I gonna do it all by myself

Want da Dadda to read George (video of Miles reading "Curious George")

Stop scratching, Roscoe

Mama, you gonna feed Mary? (asked every time Mary cries)

I want my milk (often said in a whiny tone. First thing in the morning.)

Hiiii, beau-de-ful Mary

I wanna watch a choo-choo train bideo

I wanna snuggle (stalling tactic at bedtime. Works every time)

Mom, do you wanna read dat book?