Hanging On and Letting Go

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In writing that last post (and in searching through boxes of Christmas stuff for a bone-shaped stocking for Max), I thought about all the decorations that remain in their boxes downstairs. In over 20 years of marriage, we've accumulated a lot of Christmas things!  As I thought about what I pulled out to display and what I left in boxes in the laundry room, I discovered something...

I'm hanging on tightly to what's important and letting a lot of the "fluff" go.  I don't know that I even realized it until just now, but from Christmas decorations to relationships to how I spend my time--that's what I've been doing.  Hanging on to what's important and letting go of the fluff.

Maybe that's a speck of beauty from the ashes of the last 16 months...the realization that some things (both tangible and intangible) are important and need to be hung onto, while others are just fluff and can--and should--be let go.

Trust me, there's still more "fluff" in my life than I'd like, but suddenly, I have some clarity regarding what to do with it.


O, Christmas Tree

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and the memories of Christmases past...

In 2008, I remember spending hours sitting near the Christmas tree, staring into the lovely multi-colored lights that lined its branches.  I had been so sick with my third pregnancy, I hadn't had the energy to put up the tree.  My Emily, however, was eager to show me how "big" she was by doing it herself.  (This is the same child that, as a toddler, would climb back down out of the van before I got her strapped into her seat just so she could climb in by herself!)

As I directed her on how the tree went together and shared my special "trick" for putting the lights on as you go, she was so pleased to see the final result as it stood in our living room.  We added our very favorite ornaments, each one with its own place in our family story.  From ornaments we received as wedding gifts to "Baby's 1st Christmas" ornaments for both Emily and Grace to sweet homemade ornaments made with little handprints to little bells and tiny stockings knit by my great-aunt, we had a tree covered with a story.

I spent many hours praying as I lost myself in the branches of that tree.  I prayed my baby would be okay.  I prayed for strength to make it through all the uncertainties.  I often wept as I prayed, my tears conveying what I could not find the words to express.  We hadn't planned on this baby.  The timing was undeniably God's.  He just had to make things right, didn't He?

After Christmas, I was excited to find some red plaid flannel pajamas for Emily and Grace--in sizes that would surely work the next Christmas.  Amid visions of an adorable Christmas picture of my big girls with their new baby brother or sister, I tucked those pajamas away, having no idea of the emotions that would one day be tied to red plaid flannel.

The details of Christmas 2009 aren't so clear.  I muddled my way through it, still in a such a state of sorrow, shock and disbelief.  I was engulfed in wonder at how this could now be my life...how I could go from safely delivering a beautiful baby girl in May to losing her in the last moments of lung surgery in August.

I remember not wanting to put up the tree and not wanting anyone else to put it up, either.  I didn't want to hang the stockings.  I didn't want to "do" Christmas.  Deciding that it wasn't fair to my family to ignore the holiday, I asked Will to find us an "easy" tree...one that wouldn't take up so much of the living room, one that already had lights on it, one that wasn't covered in memories.

He and Emily brought home as perfect a tree as could be found in our small town.  Its branches had white lights already attached and became home for the memorial ornaments we had received.  I had some ornaments made, too, using photos of each one of us with Kristen.  The girls and I strung popcorn to hang as garland.  I bought some new red ornaments that were a beautiful complement to the white lights.  Like my life, it was very different.


And now, faced with another December, I've had to consciously make decisions about how we will celebrate Christmas 2010.  Our Advent wreath adorns the dining table.  The girls still love to light those candles.  I love that it keeps us all focused on the right things...the hope, the love, the joy and the peace of Christmas.

This year, we have not one, but three Christmas trees!  Upstairs, we have the old one I love. 


Downstairs, we have "Kristen's Christmas Tree" (the "easy" tree Will bought last year). 


There's certainly nothing "easy" about what it represents, but what began last year as an attempt to have a little bit of Christmas continues as a new tradition.  Even though Kristen isn't here with us, and she never got to be a part of our old Christmas traditions, she's become a part of our new ones. 

The third tree is a little 4-foot pre-lit Walgreens special (formerly our classroom Jesse tree) that I let the girls decorate with some of their own special ornaments.


Each of those trees tells its own story. 
Certain chapters bring smiles and warm feelings.  Others bring tears. 
Yet others sing with the promise of hope!

I can't say that anything this Christmas season has been easy...because it hasn't.  I've had to be very intentional about many things.  I can't say that I've not wanted to just crawl into bed and stay there with the covers over my head until January...because I have.  But, I also can't say that I haven't felt the true meaning of Christmas more deeply this year than in years past...because I have.  And I can't say that I don't know what it's like to be held by my heavenly Father...because I do.  He continues to carry me day by day.


Thanksgiving

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I had another post I'd been working on, but this one bubbled its way to the surface first.

Our Thanksgiving last year is a bit of a blur to me. Our losses were still so very fresh, and my heart was broken. The baby who was supposed to be with us, wasn't. And I hadn't even begun to process my mom's death at that time. The one thing that jumps out at me, however, when I think back to last Thanksgiving is that I never heard Kristen's name.

We spent the holiday with family, yet no one mentioned our daughter's name. Our tragic loss was the elephant in the room that no one was willing to acknowledge. Conversation, like electricity, seemed to follow the path of least resistance. I was very deeply hurt. I let that hurt fester into anger, and I've held onto that anger. Oh, I've "worked" on it, but not seriously. I've given it over to God (many times), only to take it back (many times).

I'm making steps in the right direction. And I will continue. Tonight, in the midst of preparing pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce and homemade rolls, I had a thought. I'd love to be able to share some scripture and a few words of thanksgiving with all who gather around our table tomorrow. I know, however, that my emotions would get the better of me...they always do. So I will share in a different way, acknowledging the losses of those who gather with us, but more importantly, giving thanks to the God who sustains us.  I created and framed the following, which will sit out for all to see:

Have a meaningful Thanksgiving.


He Giveth More Grace

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After cleaning up the kitchen tonight, I sat down at the computer and found myself looking through the bookmarked sites on my web browser.  Though I may look for a specific bookmark fairly often, I don't just look through them all on a regular basis (though based on the number I have out there, I probably should!).  I found a few that I didn't need anymore (and I deleted them), and I found a couple of really good ones that I was glad to see again.  As I continued to peruse the very long list, I found one that didn't look familiar, one titled "He Giveth More Grace."  When I clicked on the bookmark, I found a beautiful poem written by Annie J. Flint:

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

As I said, I have a lot of sites bookmarked, but I don't remember ever seeing this before, nor have I heard the hymn.  The fact that I can't explain how these beautiful words made their way in front of me tonight makes them even more meaningful.  And timely (it's been a rough week).  I need to be reminded of the amazing grace I receive daily.  I need to be reminded that when I feel like I'm at the end of my rope, God is waiting there for me.  I need to be reminded that His grace, His mercy, His peace are there when the trials and afflictions come.  Through His limitless power and love, I received tonight the gift of that beautiful reminder...and more grace.


Hard Things

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I read recently that life is a series of losses.  The losses we experience over our lifetime are not only the result of physical death; they include less tangible disappointments as well (missed promotions, loved ones moving away, lost opportunities).

Each successive loss can complicate things.  A new loss, whatever its nature, will often dredge up old feelings or intensify fresher hurts. And when they seem to happen in rapid succession, they can be completely overwhelming.

Last week was a week full of hard things.  I'm still a little emotionally tuckered out.

My husband's uncle was killed in a car accident a week and a half ago.  The shock of that brought back some feelings.  I remember that wonder of how I had come face to face with tragedy.  And I thought of the aunt and cousins who were now faced with the same wonder.  And I hurt for them.  I hurt for me.

Kristen's gravestone was finally installed this past week.  I had a picture in my mind of what it would look like...her beautiful face etched on a piece of black granite.  But I have to say that I was not prepared for actually seeing it at her spot.  Her eyes seemed to look right through me (that artist did an AMAZING job on the etching), and that made me miss her even more.  As I sprinkled flower petals around her spot, I felt the feelings of that hot, windy August afternoon last year wash over me.  Then, as I focused on that stone there in the cemetery, it somehow all seemed more final.



In the midst of all this, I received word that my grandmother is nearing the end of a long battle with her failing heart.  I spent some beautiful moments with her on Sunday, holding her hand, listening to her talk.  For a time, I was 12 years old again, snuggled up next to her, staring at the ceiling and just talking.  We talked about my granddad (her husband who died when I was in high school), we talked about Kristen, we talked about my mom (her ex-daughter-in-law).  She's ready to go, whenever the Lord takes her.  And as hard as it was to leave, I'm grateful for the beautiful moments I had with her that day.  I love you, Grandma.♥

September 2009
Those things are hard things.  But, as always, God sprinkled a few blessings in among them.
  • A sweet aunt told me as she clasped her hands over her heart, "I keep Kristen in here."
  • Another aunt lovingly made a beautiful shadow box of photos to remember Kristen.  I never knew.
  • Despite the tears that I couldn't keep from falling, I got to hold my cousin's sweet little baby girl.
  • The continued support of my husband's parents reminded me that I have the best in-laws ever.
Yes, there are hard things.  Yes, they hurt.  Sometimes they hurt a lot.  But God is always good and always there.  How blessed am I!




Remembering

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Last year on October 15th, a friend brought by a candle for me to light in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  I was grateful, not only for the candle, but for her thoughtfulness.  She remembered me as I remembered Kristen.  

As this day of remembrance is here again, I remember that friend, who has suffered her own pregnancy loss.  I barely knew her when she experienced her loss, but as I light that beautiful candle today, I remember her and the sweet baby she never got to hold.

I also contemplate the moms that know the pain of losing a child.  Some never got to hold their child.  Others did, but had to say goodbye much too soon.  May God shower you with His grace and mercy this day.  Whether it's been a few weeks, a few months or even decades since you had to say goodbye, I remember you this day. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. -John 14:27

An Elephant in the Back Yard?

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Today is the anniversary of the day we found out that I was pregnant with Kristen.  The weeks that led up to October 10, 2008 found me generally not feeling well and having hot flashes ("personal summers" as a good friend of mine calls them).  I won't go into all the reasons why, but I truly believed that I was experiencing early menopause.  That's what led me to make an appointment with my OB/GYN.  Imagine my surprise to find that I was not going through any kind of menopause, but was pregnant!

Will had called me at lunch that day, knowing that my appointment had been that morning.  I didn't want to tell him this unexpected news over the phone and tried very hard to put him off until he got home that evening.  I could sense the worry growing in his voice, however, so I said, "I didn't want to tell you like this, but I'm pregnant."  (There was a long pause on the other end of the phone...)

At this point we already had two daughters who were well past the stage of relying on us for everything.  They could do most things by themselves, and we had all grown very accustomed to that level of independence.  The girls helped with chores around the house and were capable of conversations beyond their years (my dear sister-in-law has said many times that her talks with Emily, even when Emily was only 6 years old, were far more intellectual than many conversations with her friends!).  The thought of starting all over with a little one was a 180 degrees from where either of us thought we were headed.  We were perfectly content with our family of four.

After the initial shock wore off, we shared the news with the girls over supper.  I'm not even sure exactly what day it was, but I do remember going through our traditional goofy question ritual.  I'll explain.  Most evenings when Will arrived home from work, the girls would meet him at the door with hugs and squeals of delight at seeing their daddy.  Grace often continued the welcome with, "Guess what, Daddy!"  It became a game of Daddy coming up with silly guesses and generally concluded with a comment of "There's an elephant in the back yard!"  (By this time, Grace had often forgotten what she wanted to tell him in the first place.)  That night, over our chicken and noodles (with mashed potatoes, of course), we told the girls that we had some news to share with them.  The guesses began!  Grace thought we were moving, and was relieved to find out that we weren't.  Amid laughter after hearing the obligatory "There's an elephant in the back yard," Emily shouted, "Mom's going to have a baby!"


Will and I exchanged surprised looks across the table and then told them, that yes, we were going to have a baby.  That was such a special time, one that we have a hard time remembering together, even now.  The joy that was shared around the dinner table that night seems to be overshadowed by the great sadness that has taken up residence here.  I pray that there will come a day when we can share in that memory as a family and smile, even laugh...perhaps over chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes.


Grace for Grace

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Daughter #2 has always had a flair for drama.  Because of that, I find myself sometimes ignoring her theatrics, chalking it up to her role as "Drama Queen" at our house.  She had a role, however, that she cherished, one she looked forward to with months of anticipation, one she took very seriously, one that was ripped away from her just over a year ago...her role as a big sister.

I was a mother before Kristen; I still have two living daughters.
Will was a father before Kristen; he still has two living daughters.
Emily was a big sister before Kristen; she still has a living sister.
Grace was not a big sister before Kristen; what does she have now?

We all miss Kristen so very much, and the fact that I have two living daughters certainly doesn't take away the pain of losing my baby.  Our roles in the family, however, were not defined, as Grace's was, by the birth of Kristen.

I've written before that surely no one was ever more excited about becoming the middle child than my sweet Grace.  She talked incessantly in the months before Kristen arrived about all she would teach her, all she would do with her baby sister...her baby sister.  That same baby sister elevated Grace to a new role in life, that of a big sister!  She now had something new in common with Emily and with me.

With Kristen gone, Grace no longer has a physical confirmation of her role.  Of course, Kristen is still her baby sister, but it's awfully hard to be the big sister you always wanted to be to a baby that isn't here anymore.  It's exactly that hard reality that leads to her emotional meltdowns.

Bless her heart, she had a big one just last week, the day before my niece was born.  She certainly doesn't understand why other people can have babies, but we can't, especially since all she ever wanted was to be a big sister.  I'm right there with her in not understanding, but I continue to pray that she learns to trust that God knows what He's doing.

Now that little Sonny girl is actually here, Grace seems better.  My dear sister-in-law brought to my attention something I hadn't considered.  Everything about her pregnancy must have seemed very deja vue to Grace.  (My sil lives just 30 minutes from us, and we see her a couple of times each week.)  The anticipation of it all was hard on all of us, but perhaps more so for Grace.  Once Sonny was born, however, Grace could see that this baby was an individual, her own person.  She looks very different than Kristen.  Sonny has a head full of black hair.  Kristen had a head not-so-full of very light fuzz. :)  Kristen is Kristen.  Sonny is Sonny.  And Grace is Grace, with her tender heart that's still trying so hard to love the God that didn't answer her prayers as she had hoped...the Grace who is still the reigning drama queen of the house...the Grace who, by the grace of God, now has a renewed role...older cousin.

May He grant you the grace you need, dear Daughter, to come through this very dark place a stronger person, one with even more compassion, one who understands that the trials of this life can lead to an intimacy with your Heavenly Father that you never imagined possible.

Grace for Grace is my prayer tonight.



A Time for Everything

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I've tried to stand in the same spot at the corner of our driveway every so often to get a picture of Kristen's tree from roughly the same vantage point.  Each season of the past year has brought drastic changes to that little oak.  When it was planted early last September, it was green and beautiful.  With the gift card in hand (given by some dear friends), the four of us drove to our local nursery and walked up and down each row of Shumard Oak trees.  We carefully inspected each one, making sure that we found the "right" one for us...for Kristen.  A couple of weeks later, the nursery called and said they would be by to plant it.  We had marked out just the right spot in the front yard, easily visible from both the sidelight next to the front door and from our bedroom window (the only windows on the front of the house).

Will was at work the morning the nursery workers showed up to plant the tree.  Not wanting him to miss it, I recorded the planting on our video camera.  I had to laugh a little as I played it back later.  One of the workers just couldn't keep from looking directly at the camera...time and time and time again!  He had no idea why I was capturing the planting of a tree on video.  Who knows what he thought!  I didn't feel the need to share that day, so I recorded and the girls watched with anticipation as the tree settled into its new home on Meadowlark Lane.

Emily wanted Kristen's tree to have just the right marker.  She and I searched on the internet and found a company that makes stainless steel tree markers.  We were able to add a laser etched photo to the small marker that reads, "In Memory of Kristen."  That little marker has weathered well.  It gleams in the sunlight and makes me think of Emily as much as it reminds me of Kristen.

Last fall, we watched all the other trees in the neighborhood change to lovely fall colors.  Kristen's tree, however, complete with lots of tiny little acorns, stayed green clear through most of October.  At the end of that month, its leaves had changed to the most beautiful deep red color.  I loved how it looked and decided that it had been worth the wait.

As Thanksgiving approached, the sweet little tree in our front yard lost all of its leaves.  Even bare (except for the little acorns that continued to hang on), it was beautiful to me.  Each leafless branch held the promise of new life.

Ice crystals decorated the tree in the winter, accentuating every bend, every tiny twig.  One cold, sunny winter morning I looked out the sidelight window to see tiny ice crystals that seemed to completely fill the air.  I told Emily that it looked like it was "glittering" outside!  She commented that maybe God sent those few seconds to me to bring a smile to my face.  It was breathtaking.

Just as we waited so long to see the beautiful red leaves in the fall, our little tree seemed to be one of the very last in the neighborhood to leaf out in the spring.  By mid-April, we finally saw tiny new leaves beginning to pop out all over the tree.  They were velvety red in the center.  The sight of them lightened our hearts.

By early May, the beautiful green leaves had filled in, and the tree was as lovely as ever.  A ring of pink geraniums decorated the base of the tree just in time for Kristen's birthday.  Even through the heat of the summer, the tree (and the geraniums) have thrived.

I expect in another month or so the leaves will begin their colorful change.

Looking back at the photos of Kristen's tree over the seasons of last year brought to mind the words of Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything,
       and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
       a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
       a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
       a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
       a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
       a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
       a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
       a time for war and a time for peace.
Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Even when we don't understand, even when we don't like it, God has everything timed perfectly. There truly is a time for everything.


The dark before the morning

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You know that feeling when your foot goes to sleep?  It tingles and doesn't work quite right until you get the blood circulating to it again.

That's a little like I feel right now, really like I've felt for a while.  Maybe my heart is just a little numb.  The days now are not so full of tears and sorrow.  Of course I still miss Kristen and my mom so very much, but I don't feel overcome with the sadness that I once did.  I think of them both every day, but I don't always feel those emotions in such a physical way.

I guess I'm still waiting to feel the joy.  God promised me that I would have it again, and I believe Him.

Psalm 30:5
...his favor lasts a lifetime;
       weeping may remain for a night,
       but rejoicing comes in the morning.

I've joined an online Bible study for moms who have experienced the loss of a baby.  I know how important it is to stay in God's Word.  I also know how hard it can be to do that when you feel such a numbness in your heart.  We "meet" each Sunday evening online using a web conferencing tool.  It's really pretty cool.  With either a phone or a headset (or speakers and a mic), we can come together and actually have real conversations.  I pray for these moms whose hearts are hurting.  After hearing each one of them introduce themselves and share about their loss(es) at our first meeting last Sunday, I was overcome again with such sadness.  But together, I know we'll find healing through this study of God's Word.

Will and I also received confirmation for a spot at the next Respite Retreat near Nashville in February.  I've written before about how my husband and I are grieving so very differently.  I believe that this retreat will help us to further understand those differences and to be encouraged as we learn ways to strengthen our marriage and our family.  I pray that it truly is a respite for us, and I am thankful for the ministry of David and Nancy Guthrie.

The Josh Wilson song, "Before the Morning" puts to music the words that describe so well where I am right now.  If you haven't heard it before (or even if you have), please listen closely.  It just might encourage you, too.

Josh Wilson - Before the Morning
video

It's sure been a long "night," but I have hope for that "morning."


It took my breath away

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My oldest daughter turned 12 just two weeks ago.  She opted for a day of family activities this year, which was nice (though I discovered that I'm much worse at miniature golf than I remembered!).  Daughter #2 turned 10 last Thursday, and as I was looking through some baby pictures of hers the night before, I caught sight of a couple of photos...


While I've always thought that Kristen resembled Grace, I had to admit that seeing these two photos together took my breath away for just a moment.

I've had plenty of moments over the past year when I've felt like I couldn't breathe.  The first morning home without our littlest one, our middle daughter, Grace, woke up and ran to the living room nearly shrieking, "Where's Kristen?  I can't find Kristen!"  She had received a Build-a-Bear bunny from the hospital before we left that awful day.  Emily had received a bear.  I remember as we pulled out of the hospital parking lot, the girls were discussing names for their stuffed animals.  Emily quickly picked "Elaine," which was the middle name we had chosen for Kristen...it had been Will's Grandma Blondie's middle name as well.  Grace decided on "Kristen" for her bunny.  She was searching for her bunny that next morning at home, but it took me a few minutes to realize that.  That was definitely a wind-knocked-out-of-me moment.

After trying so hard to smile and celebrate Emily's 11th birthday with a small family party last year, my dad broke the news to me that my mom had died the day before.  I was standing in the entryway.  I remember reaching for the door knob and leaning back against the front door because I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me again.

Though the physical feeling of not being able to breathe for a moment is pretty much the same, experiencing something that takes your breath away and feeling like you've had the wind knocked out of you are really quite different.  It's not in the delivery...both situations are often unexpected.  It must be in the perspective.

I've written this before, and I only repeat it because I believe so strongly that it's true.  Distance from this situation will change my perspective.  Right now, if I let myself, I can be right back in those moments of August 2009, feeling the heart-wrenching pain of my losses.  It hurts.  It physically hurts to do that.  And it may not be next week or next month or even next year, but I know there will come a day when I will be able to remember Kristen and the miracle that she was and have to catch my breath, but not because I feel like I've been punched in the stomach.  Remembering the beautiful gift that God gave me will simply take my breath away for a moment, much like happened when I saw my husband on our wedding day, waiting for me at the end of the aisle...and when I laid eyes on each of my three daughters after they were born...and when I really stop to think about how much God loves me.

Knowing the awesomeness of Him, the very one who gave me life, takes my breath away, too.


Surviving

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I've survived a year without Kristen.

There have been days that I have been emotionally knocked to the ground, unsure if I would make it through the next hour.  But, I have survived.  There have been days that I've been just too sad to do much of anything.  Even so, I have survived.  Too many nights, I have cried myself to sleep and awakened with swollen eyes and an aching heart.  Yet, I have survived.  There have also been days that I have smiled, even laughed.  Those days are special and remind me that it won't always be like this.

As I spoke recently with a friend who lost her husband a little over a year ago, she said, "They say it gets easier, but I think they lied."  When our hearts are so very tender, it certainly doesn't feel easier.  In fact, there are days that I feel like for every step I've taken forward, I'm moving two steps back.  Grief is definitely not a static experience.  It changes everything.

There's a reason that they call the family members of a deceased person "survivors."  We endure the circumstances that change our lives forever.  It's taken just about everything I've got to survive, but I have.  Actually, it's taken me giving everything to God to survive this past year.  He has been there, even when it felt like no one else was.

Thanks be to God, I have survived a year.


That ache...

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is back.

That awful, terrible ache deep in my still-tender heart - the one that drops me to my knees - is back, yet again.

I am missing Kristen so very much right now.  A year ago she was here in my arms.  A year ago all three of my sweet girls were here together under one roof, the older two giggling as they lay on the living room floor with their baby sister, watching her respond to them.

As each day goes by, I seem to be swallowed up a little more by the great sadness that has taken up residence here.  The tears are very close to the surface, yet again.  The nights come with restless sleep, and the mornings are difficult to face.  I am just so very sad.

I anticipate that once I get past this anniversary, the pain will ease.  I certainly hope so, because right now I feel like I'm being crushed beneath the weight of it.

Still trusting that God is completely in control, but missing my baby so very much,

Max

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Thanks to all of you who kept us in prayer last weekend.  The trip was very long, but my mom's service was nice and gave me the opportunity I needed to say goodbye to her.  It wasn't easy, but it was good.  I'm so grateful to my dad for going with us.  Since he and my mom divorced over 30 years ago, my dad felt a little awkward about going.  Understandable.  But, my mom's family really wanted to see him (and his oldest brother is married to one of my mom's sisters).  It worked out well, and it was nice to see family that I haven't seen in many, many years.  Through the CaringBridge book I made a few months ago, I was able to share Kristen with them.  And I was actually able to respond to the question, "How many children do you have?" with a smile, no tears, and a proud, "I have three beautiful daughters."

Something inside my dear husband snapped while we were in Iowa, and he gave the okay for a dog.  And not just a dog, but an INSIDE dog (I'm still in shock)!  The girls are beyond excited, and frankly, with the sadness that has blanketed our family this past year, it's a welcome change of pace.  We visited the puppy this week (a miniature schnauzer named "Max") and will bring him home in about a week and a half.
Maxwell the mini schnauzer

It's with a certain amount of dread that I've anticipated the month of August this year.  Kristen left us on August 17; my mom on August 21.  Perhaps it will be that the days leading up to those dates will be harder than the days themselves.  I feel like the emotional roller coaster has started again with the twists and turns that often leave a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Nothing will ever take away the memory of Kristen...no amount of activity, no puppy (no matter how cute), nothing.  But if this little creature can make the days ahead just a little easier for all of us, I will be thankful.


On my heart

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So many things are on my heart right now.  I've wanted to write them down for a few days now, but just didn't know where to start.  If this ends up being a "popcorn post" (all over the place), that's why.

My mom
We leave for Iowa soon to see my mom's side of the family and bury her ashes next to her parents.  I've been so consumed with the effects of Kristen's death on the four of us living in this house, I just don't feel like I've really grieved for my mom yet.  Of course there have been moments of grief, tears, missing her, but the process of healing from this particular loss doesn't seem  like it's really begun.  Maybe it's just different from what I've experienced with Kristen, I don't know.

Celebrating my 4th birthday
It may seem odd that it's been nearly a year since Mom died, and we're just now getting everyone together to say goodbye.  There was a memorial service for her last August.  It took place just five days after Kristen's service and 500+ miles from my home.  Sweet friends offered to drive me there and back, but I just couldn't do it...emotionally or physically.  But now, Mom's side of the family...her stepfather, her brother and two sisters, all of her nieces and nephews, her granddaughters and her daughter...will be gathering to say goodbye to her.

My mom and I weren't as close as I think a mom and daughter should be.  There are a lot of reasons for that, and the many miles that separated us is not the only one.  We talked fairly often and always had a connection, but it just wasn't the mother-grown daughter relationship that I hope to have with my own daughters.  Regardless, she's still my mom.  I love her, and I miss her.

The last couple of weeks have been full of moments that remind me of the anniversary that approaches.  Remembering Kristen's CT scan last July and believing that this test would prove to the surgeon that we wouldn't need him after all.  The x-rays and ultrasounds done on Kristen after her birth didn't show the mass in her chest.  We just "knew" that the CT scan would be evidence that God had healed our baby girl.  But, it wasn't to be.  The mass was still there and had to be removed.  As straightforward as the surgery sounded (though certainly not a routine procedure by any means), it didn't turn out as any of us had imagined.

I'm still struggling so much with feeling out of place in situations and relationships where I once was so comfortable.  Every part of my life has been affected by the death of my daughter.  Nothing feels "normal" anymore.  When we were on vacation in Colorado a couple of months ago, I remember actually feeling, for a couple of very brief moments, pretty much like I did before my life was suddenly turned upside down.  Perhaps it was the change of scenery or the company we were with or just being able to step out, even for just a minute, from underneath the cloud of sorrow that follows me around. 

My dear sister-in-law's due date approaches, and I find myself still so very torn between being happy for her and so very sad for me.  Every week that goes by seems to get harder.  I think what I worry about most is that Kristen will be forgotten by the rest of the family once my niece arrives.  I've been told that's silly, but the thought is still there.  I am praying for extra grace in that area.

As I continue to mull over these things (and several that I didn't include here), I know beyond all doubt that God will reveal something in each one that I need to learn.  I'm doing my best to pay attention to Him, to glean the good from such difficult times.

Puzzle Pieces

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You know when you're working a jigsaw puzzle, and you find a piece that looks like it belongs in a particular place?  The colors and patterns seem right.  The shape seems right.  It looks like it was made to fit in that spot...but it just doesn't.


I'm discovering some parts of my life that are a lot like that.  Things that I was very much involved in before Kristen's death just don't seem like they "fit" anymore.  I had chalked those awkward feelings up to being so consumed with grief.  And maybe that's still the case, but after a statement in this week's GriefShare video (Session 12), I have to wonder if there's more to it.  The statement made was regarding easing back into church (#9 in the "Top Twenty Lessons of Grief") and how the groups you were a part of before the death of a loved one may no longer be a good fit.  Though the video spoke about church specifically, it seems that the lesson would certainly apply to other areas of a person's life as well.

Grief changes you.  Those changes occur at such a deep level within your heart and soul that the outward portion of your life can't help but be affected.  Despite how much my life today looks like it did prior to finding out I was pregnant with Kristen, I know it to be so very, very different.  Those differences are things I cry over and rejoice about...sometimes at the same time.

I suppose it makes sense that relationships will change because I'm not the same person I once was.  Friendships seem different (some strengthened, some fractured), family relationships seem changed (again, some for the better, some not), areas of my life that I've poured my energy and talents into seem forced, new things seem hollow.

Nancy Guthrie shared on that video that deep sorrow actually expands a person's capacity for great joy.  That is truly a beautiful observation, one that I'm sure will become more and more obvious as I gain more distance.

Yes, grief has changed, and is changing, me.  I may not "fit" into the puzzle where I thought I did, but there is a place for me.  Just as it's best to keep hunting for the right spot rather than to jam a puzzle piece into the wrong place, I must be watchful as God reveals to me that place where He wants me to be.  Changes are going to happen to all of us, and some of those changes will not be ones that we would ever willingly seek out.  Because of Who He is, God can, and will, use them all for good.  We just have to continue to trust Him.  We may see a piece or two of the puzzle, but He's got the box lid and knows where every single piece goes.


For a season

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I had a complete meltdown the other night.  I'm talking fall-in-a-heap-on-the-floor meltdown, complete with uncontrollable sobbing.  It was an absolutely anguish-induced episode.  I had been bombarded by so many things that had made my grief raw, yet again.  My heart ached.  Sadness engulfed me.  A number of different situations had come at me from all directions, and as I was getting ready for bed Sunday night, I melted into a puddle on the bedroom floor.  I felt so emotionally fragile that I was certain I would break before long.

My sweet husband of nearly 20 years came in to check on me.  And rather than try to "fix" things (as is his normal way of dealing with such a situation), he sat down beside me on the floor and just let me cry.  He listened as I went on and on (and on) about all that was weighing so heavily on my heart.  He listened, and he held me close.  He prayed with me and in doing so, assured me, yet again, that God had brought me just the right man so many years ago.

We are grieving so differently, my husband and I.  I've had emotional meltdowns before, and have endured them alone, sometimes because no one else was around and sometimes because it was just too difficult for him to reach out to me.  The tenderness in his voice, the gentleness of his touch that night soothed those places deep in my heart that were inflamed.

God is the ultimate healer, but it seems to me that sometimes He uses people who are willing to let Him work through them to help us heal.  Perhaps by letting God work through them, not only will they help someone else, they will experience something intimate and precious as well.  Maybe as they respond differently to a situation than they normally would, they will see a new aspect of their own character, and of God's.

Grief has stretched me in ways that I would just as soon not know.  But, I do.  I know that it's up to me as to how I respond to that.  And I pray for strength to respond in a way that pleases God.  This particular season of my life is not an easy one.  I don't know how long it will last, but I am grateful for the rays of sunshine that occasionally break through the clouds.  They let me know that I'm not stuck here.

Compassion

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Lord God, Your unfailing love and compassion for me are amazing. Even when I rail against You, You love me just as much. Show me how to have Your compassion for others. Amen. 
This came from a recent GriefShare e-mail.  It made me think about my own compassion for others.  Has the grief I've encountered over these last 10 months changed me for the better?

In some ways, it has.  I am much more aware of the difficult anniversaries that those who remain on earth have to face, and I do my best to let those who have lost loved ones know that I am thinking of them, that I am remembering with them.  Until you've been down that road yourself, I don't know that you can fully understand how hard it can be to face dates that remind of your loved one.  It's painful to think about your baby's milestones that will never be.  Or that it's been so many months since you heard your mom's laugh.

A dear friend, though she has not experienced the death of a child, dared to step into my world and remember those anniversary dates early on.  She knew the 7th and the 17th of those first months were emotional days for me.  She knew that Sundays were difficult for months, and she faithfully let me know that she was thinking of me.  It didn't take away the pain I was feeling, but it let me know that I wasn't as alone as I felt.  I knew that I wasn't the only one remembering Kristen.

There's another side to that compassion that I am struggling with now.  It's the side that takes me right back to the PICU at Children's Mercy Hospital.  It's the side that remembers how it feels to sit helplessly in a hospital room, unable to do anything to change the circumstances.  I heard just a couple of days ago about an 8 year-old girl in NC named Ellie Potvin.  She lost her battle with cancer today, and I wept aloud as I read the CaringBridge entry in which her mother shared that her sweet daughter had breathed her last breath on this earth.  I had never heard of the Potvin family before this week, yet I have been touched so deeply by their loss.

A cousin on my husband's dad's side of the family had surgery last Friday and never regained consciousness.  We just got word this evening that she passed away.  My heart has been with the family throughout the last few days as they have waited for test results.  I remember waiting for test results.  I remember looking for those small signs that Kristen was going to be fine.  I remember.  And it hurts to remember.  And my heart breaks for Ann's family.

Could the memories of such a painful experience be useful?  I expect they can and will.  Perhaps one day God will use me to reassure someone else that, despite their circumstances, God is still in control and God is still good.  Because He is.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. -Romans 8:28

Joyful...Patient...Faithful

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Romans 12:12 is a verse that God planted firmly in my mind many weeks before Kristen was even born.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
During those uncertain weeks as we waited for news on the mass in Kristen's chest, after each sonogram and specialist visit, I did my best to be "joyful in hope" and "faithful in prayer."  It wasn't always easy.  There were times I would leave the doctor's office and cry the whole way home.  I wanted  someone to tell me my baby would be fine, that the mass they had found was shrinking.  There were times that I did hear that, only to hear something very different from another doctor.  Those many weeks in early 2009 were a very literal roller coaster ride.

As difficult as those weeks were, they were completely overshadowed by the pure joy of Kristen's safe arrival in May.  My faithful prayers of asking God to give me the strength to deal with whatever might lie ahead were followed by grateful prayers of thanksgiving.  Little did I know that the middle part of the verse that I had written on a sticky note and placed on my side of the bedroom mirror would one day call out to me.  "Patient in affliction" began to call out to me quite loudly last fall.


This season of grief has stirred up some strong emotions in me.  Patience hasn't really been one of the qualities that has come about as a result.  I've lacked a patience with friends, with my family, and with myself.  Perhaps I've hidden it well, but I've been anything but content and without complaint.

I know I don't have to like what's transpired since last August (and I don't), but I do have to continue to trust that God knows what He's doing (and I do).

Right now, I'm asking God for patience.  And if you're in a season of grief and not feeling especially patient, either, I pray that He grants you an extra measure of patience, too.  May we learn to be patient with those around us who say the wrong things (or don't say anything).  May we learn to be patient with those closest to us, realizing that each day is a gift to be treasured.  May we learn to be patient with ourselves, understanding that grief knows no time line and our journey through it is as unique and different as each one of us.


I've since replaced the sticky note with a more permanent version.
(Love the Cricut vinyl!)

Better than a miracle

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It seems that everywhere I've looked recently, I find stories of people who faced serious medical challenges that doctors did not expect them to survive, yet they did. It's perfectly logical to me to label situations like these as miracles, because I know that with God, all things are possible. I have no doubt in my mind that He heals people. And hearing of such situations brings joy and smiles and praise. For me, though, it also stings a little.

In my humanness, I saw a perfect set-up for a miracle last August. I found myself in a situation where a miracle would have been been the perfect ending to a long and bumpy road that began with a routine sonogram. I prayed fervently for that miracle, as did so many others. Yet, the miracle in my mind, the one that I so desperately longed for, was not what I got. That perfect ending turned into an ache in my heart like I have never known.

Still, God is God. He is the same now as He was when Kristen was born. He is the same as He was when she went in for her surgery. He is the same as He was when we had to say good-bye to her. He is the same, and He is good.

For years now, Emily, Grace and I have listened to "Adventures in Odyssey" on the internet during lunch. The girls have always loved the radio show, and we've all enjoyed the lessons learned in each episode. It's fun to imagine what each character might look like, and we've all voiced a wish that there really was a place like "Whit's End" right here in Great Bend. A couple of days ago, we listened to an episode about miracles.

A little girl remained unconscious in the hospital following exposure to carbon monoxide. Her brother was searching for proof of miracles and traveled in the imagination station to find answers. The very wise ice cream shop owner, John Avery Whitaker, told little Grady a couple of things that I needed to hear. First, sometimes we pray for someone to be healed, and God doesn't answer our prayers the way we hoped. In cases where our loved ones AREN'T healed, maybe God has in store for us "something better than a miracle." Second, after facing the death of a loved one and seemingly unanswered prayers, it can help you to pray differently. His thoughts are not my thoughts...His ways are not my ways. God's will has certainly become a more prevalent part of my own prayers.

Part of what makes hearing stories of people in dire situations so difficult is that they bring back my own memories of being in the hospital, feeling helpless to do anything to change the outcome. Another part, the part that really pinches my soul, is hearing all the praises to God when miracles do happen and wondering if those praises would still be there if God had something better than a miracle in store.


Distance will change the perspective, and I look forward to the day when I have enough distance to see what God has in store for me.

Celebration

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It's been a little over a week since we "celebrated" Kristen's birthday. That just doesn't seem to be quite the right word for it.  It certainly wasn't the celebration I envisioned a year ago.  We did, however, spend the day remembering our sweet baby with a few loved ones. We released pink balloons and had cake and ice cream and looked at pictures of Kristen.  We smiled as we wondered whether Kristen would have daintily picked at her cake like her sister, Emily.  Or if she would have worn most of it like her sister, Grace (who ended up with frosting in her ears!)  From the beginning, Kristen seemed the perfect mix of her two sisters. In looking back at some of her pictures (which I put into the Smilebox scrapbook below), I definitely saw a hint of orneriness!

Celebrations bring to my mind pictures of all that is happy.  I think of smiles and laughter and gathering with loved ones.  While we had all those on May 7, there was a sadness over not having our guest of honor with us.  She got to celebrate in heaven, and as a friend wrote to me, birthday cake there has to be delicious!

To celebrate is to remember, to honor, to glorify.  I celebrate Kristen's life and in turn honor and glorify God when I remember who I am and whose I am.  God chose me to be Kristen's mom, and I will always be a mother of three.  More importantly, I belong to Him who was, who is and who will be.  I can't even begin to wrap my human mind around all that God is, but it does bring a peace to my heart to know that my youngest daughter is in His care.  She may not be home with me, but she is home with Him.  And that in itself is cause to celebrate.
Click to play this Smilebox scrapbook: Kristen