Tag Archives: grief

Back to School Blues

Back to school is my favorite time of year. Seriously, Christmas and Halloween have nothing on this most wonderful time of year for me. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and even though I’ve not been to school for many moons I still celebrate in my own small way each year with new pens, markers or and notebooks.

I’ve always looked forward to the back-to-school sales and smell of fresh Crayolas lining the aisles at the stores. But this year, it’s different.

Since Penelope Joy was conceived, I looked forward to September 2018 when she would head to kindergarten. I thought about shopping for her first-day-of-school outfit and picking out her backpack. What would she want on her lunchbox? What sorts of friends would she make? Where would she catch the bus?

Then, Penelope Joy died. And I’ve looked forward to September 2018 with dread and fear rather than joy and excitement, knowing that this would have been my precious girl’s year. For quite some time I’ve been preparing for this day, knowing that I’d be a wreck as friends posted their 5-year-olds’ first day of school pictures and talked about their mixed emotions of joy and sadness as they sent their little ones off to school. I had every intention to stay off of social media for the week before and after Labor Day because my heart cannot handle it.

But now things are different as we prepare to send our rainbow baby off to preschool in September. While it’s not kindergarten, it’s her first school experience — and it’s my first mom experience with school.

We received Dorothy’s supply list in the mail the other day, as well as her child information sheet and request for vaccination records. And it hurt my heart — not just because Dorothy’s growing up (way too fast, I might add) but also because of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas.

I think most of these milestones will always be bittersweet for me — both celebrating my kids’ experiences while internally mourning everything we missed out on with Penelope Joy. I try so hard not to let my grief — my lifelong grief — get in the way of our celebrations and joy. But some milestones are harder than others. Back to school, it seems, is going to be one of them.

So please be gentle with my tender heart as I experience more than the normal I-can’t-believe-my-little-girl-is-going-to-preschool sadness. And know that when I hop briefly on social media to share my shining rainbow’s first-day-of-school picture, it is because I am the proudest mom ever of a child who deserves every bit of pomp and circumstance we can muster for Back to School 2018.

I wonder what she’ll want on her lunchbox …

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Before and After

I was working on an article earlier as a submission to my friend’s nonprofit organization, which seeks to help others heal, find hope and try to be happy again after someone they love dies. She asked me to contribute a piece about grief and, as my story flowed, about living with grief.

As I was looking for photos to share with the story, I came across two family photos. The first one is from 2013 and is the last family photo we ever took with Penelope Joy. The second one is from April this year.

So many striking differences between the two photos — and not just in the amount of hair on Mr. B’s face or the color of my glasses. I don’t think I noticed before quite how much fear and sadness were living behind our eyes in that photo. Mr. B’s eyes, I think, say it best — though my blotchy face and misty eyes give it away as well. We were terrified. We were devastated. We were holding on to a very thin rope of hope. We were, in the instant this photo was taken, preparing to say good-bye.

Sometimes I feel like I have two families: my “before” family and my “after” family. So, in a way, these are my before and after pictures.

It’s not that Penelope Joy isn’t an important part of who we are now — because she’s written into every word of our story. It’s more that who we were then is so entirely different from who we are now — as individuals and together. So much of where we are in life could never have existed in the version of our story where Penelope Joy lives. Who we are now would never be if we didn’t have this very specific “before.” Hobbes and Dorothy wouldn’t be part of our story if our “once upon a time” didn’t start with Penelope Joy’s way-too-short chapter.

I miss that little girl with such fierceness, so much force of heart. Even as I celebrate the life and light Dorothy and Hobbes bring into our tale, I can’t help but think about our before. And how it’s directed our ever-after.

I’ll be sure to share the link to the full story about grief — Grief — once it’s posted on my friend’s site.

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When a picture’s more than a picture

We live in an age where people are increasingly over-sharing, over-posting, over-exposed. And — I admit — I’m as guilty as the next person. I am an open book. Too open? Maybe. And, my greatest weakness is posting photos (upon photos … upon photos … upon photos) of my family’s adventures. I’ve heard, more than once, from people in various areas of my life to “put down the camera” and “just enjoy making the memories.”

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And I do that — sometimes. As I vowed to Mr. B in that day we officially joined our lives together in 2012, there are some things I save just for us. But, there’s lots of other stuff I share, quite often.

There are a lot of reasons I take — and share — as many photos as I do.

  • I’m super close to my family — just not geographically. It hurts my heart to know they’re missing out on so much of my kids’ lives (and that my kids are missing out on experiencing the true, crazy joy that makes up their Up North family), so I share lots of photos in hopes that it makes up for a tiny bit of the distance.
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  • I know, all too well, that there’s going to be a day in your life that you only have pictures left. As I was updating our family photo wall the other day, it struck me — directly in the tear-makers — that I’m regularly going to be changing out our family photos and updating pictures of Little Miss and Mister Mister, but I’ll never have new photos to post of Penelope Joy. All I have of her are the pictures I took in the (way too short) time period of 38 days. And, I’ll tell you what, I should have taken more.

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    Our final family photo with Penelope Joy.

  • I think, perhaps one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard (and read) is that “you should put down the camera and just enjoy making memories.” Here’s the thing — memories aren’t forever. And they certainly aren’t guaranteed. My dad died at 63, having no idea who most of us were. Literally, all he had were pictures — and all we have, now, are pictures. My kids won’t know their Papa except through the stories I share and the photos I show them. Younger onset Alzheimer’s disease stole my dad’s memories — and so much more — from him, and from us. But, I’ll be damned if it’s going to take my pictures.On my wedding day with dad
    So, next time you’re looking at my feed or my page and you think to yourself, “geez, she takes a lot of pictures,” maybe your second thought will be “isn’t it great that she’ll always have those photos to help her treasure those moments.” If that’s not your second thought, I invite you to close that tab and look away — you don’t have to look at them. And you also don’t have to worry if I’m living enough in the moment. Trust me I am. I’m savoring every single, beautiful second.

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These Shoes Are Made for Running

This is a post that comes from a deeper place than my post the other day. But … first … let’s start with shoes.

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These are my work walking shoes, my “second string” because they’re old and worn out. The big toe on my left foot peeks out at me as I lace them up. And the heel on my right foot is pretty much rubbed through.

I keep these well loved shoes under my desk — a tool for my lunchtime walks, when my (super-casual-cuz-I-don’t-do-heels) dress shoes won’t do. They’re also a reminder to myself to use my lunch hour for my health. Mental. Physical. Emotional. I’ve found that making myself/my health a priority has been really tough. And some days, my lunch hour is all I have.

Take this morning, for example. Mr. B moved my spin bike upstairs for easier access. (Which, by the way, was no easy task — have y’all ever tried to lift a remarkably heavy spin bike up two flights of stairs?) I was so excited for my 4:45 alarm so I could get in a ride before work. But, as soon as I rolled over to turn off my alarm and get out of bed, Little Man also rolled over — and attached himself firmly to my nipple. So … no workout for me since I was busy serving breakfast.

That’s why my work shoes are so important. Some days, that’s the only Kimi time I get and the only exercise time I’m able to make for myself. At least in this season.

“So, Kimi,” you ask. “What’s the real deal with the shoes?”

These shoes are a reminder of something else for me, too. They’re a reminder of “when I used to be a runner.” Most importantly, these stinky, worn-out, probably-shouldn’t-be-wearing shoes are a reminder of Penelope Joy.

You see, I wore these shoes in the last half marathon I ran. In April 2013. I was three months pregnant — and clueless about the path we would soon be asked to walk.

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Crossing the finish line at the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in Grand Rapids

I had spent several years getting myself in the best physical state I’d ever been in for my entire life. I had run a number of half marathons; I had happily trained for and completed a full marathon; and I was working out regularly.

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Three months pregnant and just starting to bust out of my running jacket — about 7 miles into the race

Then the bottom dropped out. And we heard the worst news any expectant-parent should hear: “I have bad news.

Soon after that, I was told not to run. I was told to keep my physical activity more limited — walking and swimming would pass, but that was about it. Because to do anything more vigorous could risk the baby’s life. So I stopped.

And, I never really laced up my shoes again. I tried. I really did. I tried to find my legs and I tried to get back out there. But it never stuck. It became increasingly clear that it’s more than a time issue — although, as I’ve said before, I’ve pretty much been pregnant or nursing since January 2013.

In the years before getting pregnant with Penelope Joy, I had spent a lot of time and effort getting myself healthy enough to carry a baby without risks. And my body betrayed me and I was classified as “high-risk” with a baby who was given a pretty low chance for survival. In a small way, I blame myself. I blame my body for not providing a healthy growing environment for Penelope Joy. Even after therapy and two very healthy, happy babies, I’ll probably always carry some guilt — warranted or not — for what happened to Penelope Joy.

To be honest, that mental barrier has been really hard to get over. And something as simple as running carries with it some painful emotions. For anyone who says your mental, emotional and physical health aren’t linked, gimme a call — I have a lot I’d like to share with you.

I will tell you this — I’m getting the itch again. My legs want to run. My heart wants to run. I just need to get my brain on board. I know it’ll be a long, slow road back. I am in no shape to hit the trails like I used to. It may not won’t be tomorrow — or even next week — but I’ll be back out there. Because, inside, I’m still a runner.

But I think I’d better get to the shoe store first.

 

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Clean Teeth and Some Memories

I met my new dentist the other day.

I’ve been going to that dentist’s office for 10+ years, but my dentist recently retired and I haven’t had the chance to meet one of the partners who took over the practice. As I was uncomfortably reclined back in the chair, my mouth hanging open and drool — made even more … drooly … by pregnancy — practically flowing out of my mouth, the dental hygienist informed the dentist that I was pregnant.

“Oh, congratulations! Is it your first?”

Then, my mind did what it always does when someone asks me what number kiddo is currently making his home in my ever-expanding belly: raced through all the possible responses.

“Nope, he’s our second.”

“Nope, he’s number 3.” And leave it at that, knowing the next question is how old our other two are.

“Nope, he’s number 3 … but number 1 died, so he’s like number 2. But really number 3.”

It’s exhausting to pretend like Penelope Joy didn’t exist because it makes people uncomfortable to talk about her. I love my children. All three of them. They are all a huge part of who I am as a person and as a mother. They are our family. Dottie Lou is no more important in our life’s story because she is alive, just as Penelope Joy is no more important because she isn’t. And Wink? He’s right up there with them.

Please don’t get me wrong — I know, with my whole heart, that people mean well. No one wants to purposely hurt someone’s feelings or open old wounds or be uncaring when it comes to subjects that cut so deeply.

But to ask me about my kids — ALL of them — doesn’t remind me that Penelope Joy died. Trust me, I remember that every single day all by myself. Instead, it gives me the opportunity to talk about her — to celebrate her life.

I share funny stories about Dottie Lou every day, and daily (or even more often) photos of her have pretty much taken over my social media accounts. Wink even makes his appearance — especially now that he’s making himself known (in size and full-on kicks to my bladder). But I don’t get that with Penelope Joy. There are no new photos to share; there are no new stories. All I have of her is what lives in the past. Her book has been written, and the only place it lives on is in the stories I get to tell every now and again — when she accidentally comes up in conversation.

So, I did what my heart told me to do when Mr. New Dentist asked about my kids: I told the truth.

“He’s number 3. Our first died when she was 38 days old, and our second just celebrated her 2nd birthday.”

There was, as there usually is, an awkward silence and a little stumbling as he found the “right” words to say.

“Oh! You’ll have a boy and a girl! How exciting!”

Yes, but no, I wanted to say. Instead, I smiled (drooly mouth and all) and said (slobbered), “We couldn’t be more excited.”

Because it’s so very true.

 

Family Photo

Photo by The People Picture Company

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The Thing I Thought I Couldn’t Do

I’ve been thinking a lot about bravery lately. Bravery, and all the forms it takes. You see, “brave” isn’t the same thing for everyone. Just like our fears and anxieties are all different, finding courage to face them means something different for every person.

For some people, being brave means facing tangible fears — like snakes or spiders or the dark. For others, being brave means waking up each morning and facing the day — when all your depression wants you to do is stay in bed and hide from the world.

For others … well, for me … it’s about facing things that still bring me a deep sense of grief and anxiety. Like being out in public on Mother’s Day and seeing all the happy moms and their happy kids going to church, eating brunch or playing in the sun. And, this week, it was about visiting family at the hospital where Penelope Joy was born, where she lived and where she died.

It took me nearly a week to offer a visit. Not because I didn’t want to. As soon as I heard they would be at the hospital, all I wanted to do was to rush there and hug them and be there for them. But I couldn’t do it. There are still days when I avoid the road the hospital’s on because I can feel the weight of the air caving in on my chest as we left the hospital for the last time with only a plastic bag of Penelope Joy’s things.

I knew the day was coming that I’d need to face the trauma, to look it in the face and say “hello again.” And, finally, after talking about it with Mr. B for over a week, and with my therapist, I was able to take the first step and reach out for a visit. The whole time, telling myself I had the freedom to turn around at any point if I had to.

As I pulled into the parking deck, slowly circling down … down … down, the last time I’d been in that parking garage nearly three years ago flashed in front of my face. I parked, got out of the car and looked down, realizing my whole body was shaking with the anxiety of what was coming.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

The elevator ride up out of the parking level was full of heavy, deep calming breaths and some tears. I stepped off the elevator and sat in the chairs before making my way over the bridge to the hospital. Everything came back to me: the long, sleepless nights; the desperate prayers over Penelope Joy’s bed; the early (early) morning calls from the hospital to “get here as soon as you can”; and, finally, the last story, the last good-bye.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

When I had collected my thoughts, and myself, I made my way to the hospital to get my visitor’s badge and head up to the NICU to see my family and meet the precious Baby E for the first time.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

“Have you ever been here before?” as the man at the NICU check-in counter.

“My baby lived here for a while a few years ago,” I wanted to say. “Then she lived upstairs for a few weeks. Then she died.” But I couldn’t bring myself to tell the whole story. Not that day.

“I haven’t visited her yet,” is what I actually said. He directed me to the hand-washing station. And in I went.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

The smell of the soap almost sent me right back through the door. The memories it brought with it too much to face. But I went on.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Then … I walked in their room. And my cousin was holding his gorgeous baby girl. The love in that room took away all those dark, scary memories I was holding onto and replaced them, at least temporarily, with every single happy, beautiful, good memory that we had there with Penelope Joy. From the first time we held her to the day they took all her tubes out because she was in such a good place, from the doctors and nurses who became our family to the prayers and love we received from all over the world. And, finally, my heart was filled with all of the people who came to meet our little miracle baby and filled our room with such light and hope.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

It wasn’t a long visit, but it was an important visit. Because I was reminded of the difference a little love can make in the middle of a scary situation. And I was reminded that bravery and courage come in all forms.

Sometimes it’s a mom and dad waking up and going to the hospital morning after morning, not knowing what kind of day is in store for their little baby — but they do it with tentative smiles and extravagant love because that’s what their daughter needs from them, and that’s what’s going to get them through.

And, sometimes it’s a grieving mom doing the one thing she didn’t know she could do — because that’s what family is for.

I won’t say there were no sad tears as I drove home after the visit. Because there were a lot of them. But, they were healthy tears and, in a way, much-needed tears. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to drive past the hospital without thinking of Penelope Joy. But, I hope one day the happy memories of her life we shared there will come flooding over me more often than the sad ones.

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On Assignment

Timehop tells me it’s been eight years this year since I graduated from my master’s program. That means it’s been eight years since I’ve had homework.

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And, yet, here I sit: on assignment.

I’m writing this because my therapist told me to. Well, he didn’t specifically say what to write. And he didn’t tell me to write a blog post. He simply said, “write.”

“I don’t care what you write. Just take an hour, by yourself, and write. It might be hard, and you might not write anything. But you need to get back into it.” 

So, at 11 a.m. today, Mr. B — my ever-supportive (sometimes annoyingly so) husband — kicked me out of the house and told me not to come back until I had an uninterrupted hour of time. And, apparently, he wasn’t willing to include drive-time in that hour, either.

My first session with J was on Monday. I’ve done therapy before — twice, actually — for a couple of different seasons in my life. But it was never anything that I thought was particularly life-changing. And it never lasted. After just one session with J, I think I know the reason: I hadn’t met the right therapist yet.

After just an hour with J, he’s pretty well figured me out — well, at least figured out how my mind operates and how I need to do things. At the end of the get-to-know-you, why-did-you-call-me session, he asked me what I would need to have accomplished at the end of our time together (whether it’s two months or six months or a year …) to know it’s been a success. Together we set three very measurable, very realistic goals.

And from those goals came my weekly “homework” assignments. This week’s? Make time for myself to write.

It’s not that I don’t want to write. I actually really, really do. And I miss snuggling up with my computer, the romantic glow of the screen keeping me company while I drink green tea and type whatever words happen to be at the top of my mind that morning … or noon … or night. It’s just that I’ve been struggling to make it a priority.

You guys are probably pretty sick of all of my blog posts about trying to make time for myself, about filling my cup before I can fill the cups of others. But it’s all I’ve got right now. This is the season I’m in. And as I sit here writing, listening to the buzz of the coffee shop around me, I’m beginning to think I know why it’s so hard for me — or at least part of the reason.

I don’t want to miss a thing with Dottie Lou. Not a single thing. No mom does; no dad does. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the world for working parents — whether they have to work or they choose to work, or both. For me, I think there’s even more to it than that.

I’m still carrying with me the grief of all of the experiences we missed with Penelope Joy, and the fear of missing out on one of Dottie’s milestones keeps me as close to her as possible whenever it’s in my control. There are days I still cry when I drop her off at daycare — even though I know she’s loved and welcomed as one of their own children. There are nights I cry to Mr. B because I miss Dottie so much during the day.

While Dottie goes in and out of stages of separation anxiety — when all she wants is me — I’m experiencing separation anxiety of my own. It’s hard enough to leave her during the day while I work, but to take extra time alone in the evenings and on the weekend is really difficult. And the thought of leaving her overnight causes me pretty bad anxiety — even if I want to go on the trip. Because every time I think about the possibility of missing something with Dottie, the wounds of Penelope Joy’s loss feel so fresh.

As J and I settle in to our relationship, I’m certain we’ll be working on these — and so many other — issues associated with Penelope Joy’s and my dad’s deaths. The grief? It will always be there. Because that’s how grief works — it’s a constant (sometimes gentle, sometimes not) reminder that we have loved; that we have lost. But I need to find ways to deal with Grief’s friends, Anxiety and Fear.

Writing helps.

catharsis

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