Tag Archives: grief

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.

Untitled

 

 

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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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Salon and More

I’ve been going to the same hair salon for, I think, about 11 years. And the same stylist for probably seven or so — I’ve lost count exactly. But, it’s a long time. Needless to say, my stylist knows me — and my story — very well.

For the most part — save a couple of years when I was kidding myself — my hair’s been short. I like it short. I feel the most “me” when it’s short. Through single-hood and wedded bliss, weight gain and weight loss (and weight gain), pregnancies and motherhood, loss and success, I’ve always felt the most confident when my hair’s as short as it can go without becoming bald.

So, I’m a regular every-four-weeker for my hair cuts and every 7 to 10 days for my eyebrow wax (I can’t help if I’m furry!). Well, lately, as the salon gets busier and my time gets more precious, it’s been harder and harder to find an appointment time that works with my schedule and on my timeline.

This week, I tried a new stylist at a new salon. It can be scary going to a new stylist:

What if she’s scared to take my hair as short as I like it? (Trust me, it’s happened a lot.)

What if she makes my eyebrows too thin? 

What if she talks too much?

What if … 

What if … 

What if …

Well, let me tell you: it was a wonderful experience! She talked exactly enough. She cut my hair perfectly short. And I am the proud owner of two neatly trimmed — but just right — eyebrows.

And the best part? She didn’t know my whole story. Because I’ve chosen to live my life in a little bit of a public way — at least some bits — and I try to be very honest in my sharing, it’s hard to live my daily routine (that’s pretty, well, routine) without someone knowing at least a bit of my tale. But, not when I went to the new salon. I wasn’t the woman with the tragic story. I was just the woman taking a one-hour break to get her hair done.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I love talking about Penelope Joy and sharing memories about my dad. And everything that’s happened to me is so very important to who I am. That story, tragic as some parts may seem, has brought me to a place in my life where I find myself happy, content and loved. But, for once, it was nice to just be another mom talking about her job, her husband and the silly things her daughter does. It was nice, for one hour, to just be … me. Short hair and all.

Family photo

Photo by The People Picture Co.

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Forgetting to Remember

Mr. B and I went shopping last week. And something happened. Something sorta big, I guess. We — for a split second — forgot to remember about Penelope Joy. About her existence and about her death.

We were shopping with Dottie Lou at one of my favorite places. And Mr. B picked up this super cute mug that he thought would be perfect for his mom. It said “Grandma. Est. 2015.” I agreed, and we started to take it off the shelf. And then, my eyes started welling up seconds later as I realized what we’d done.

You see, Grandma B was not made a grandma in 2015. She was made a grandma in 2013 — when Penelope Joy was born.

The Day She was Born

It’s actually been happening a lot lately. Well, not us forgetting so much. More like life going forward. As time goes on, we get further and further away from Penelope Joy. We’ve done our first “official” family photo shoot without Penelope Joy. And, I certainly felt the hole. I feel it every time I look at the pictures. And I have a feeling I always will — no matter how big our family grows.

Family Photo

And, as our life gets busier, our days seemingly get shorter. And there is definitely less focusing on the past and more living in the now. Life with Dottie Lou is a whirlwind — there really is no other way to explain it. She’s a lively, joyful, curious child. And she keeps us on our toes every second.

Curious Dottie

Smiley Dottie

She makes my heart leap for joy every morning when I wake up and every time I see her after a long day apart. To be honest, I was not remotely prepared for how much I could love this child. Every day she teaches me about hope and love, wonder and joy. She also teaches me about strength — because momming is so very hard. Being a mother — actually getting to BE a mother — is more than I could have ever imagined.

When I think about that statement, though, it does make me sad. Because I feel like Penelope Joy made me a mother, too. And I don’t ever want to take that for granted. And I don’t ever want to forget — not for a single second — that I am the mom I am today because of Penelope Joy. In so many ways she taught me what “Mom” means — and in ways, I suppose, that Dottie Lou will (hopefully) never make me a mother.

Penelope Joy made me a mom, and she’ll always have a special place in my heart as my first-born. And Dottie Lou? She continues to show me the way. She teaches me about the best parts of myself and, some days, the worst parts of myself. Both of my girls has contributed so much to my story — to what makes me, me.

I’ll probably always get sad when I realize that I’ve forgotten to remember Penelope Joy — even though it’s just for a fleeting second. While she’ll always live in my heart and define so much of who I am and how I live my life, life does move forward. The earth keeps spinning. Because, as Mr. B said, “that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

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A Mother’s Day Sandwich

It’s Wednesday. And we’re sandwiched right in between two special days: International Bereaved Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day. International Bereaved Mother’s Day was started in 2010 and now falls on the first Sunday in May. Mother’s Day, as you (hopefully) know, falls on the second Sunday of May. So … this is the way it will always be — a sandwich week. And, so far this year, it’s been a pretty emotional one. I’ve been feeling the loss of Penelope Joy so much lately. But, at the same time, have been finding so much joy in Dottie Lou. Every time I think I couldn’t love her more or be more in awe of her, I wake up and it’s a new day and there’s a fresh stock of brand-new love and admiration for her.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that this week is sandwiched between two days that are somewhat definitive for me. I’m grieving our loss of Penelope Joy — I’ll always be grieving it. But I’m celebrating — both her life and Dottie Lou’s. And I celebrate both of them for making me a mother — and for teaching me so much about life and what really, truly matters.

Penelope Joy made me a mother.

Penelope Joy made me a mother.

As Dottie Lou continues to hit milestones (she’s rolling over!!) and celebrate special days, I’m reminded of the milestones and celebrations we’ll never get to celebrate with Penelope Joy. While there’s a fleeting moment of sadness (OK, some days it may stick around a little longer than others), I try so hard not to live in the sadness of missed milestones and, instead, live in today’s celebrations. Because to focus on the sadness of the “what ifs” and the “why nots” is to completely miss the gift we have in Dottie Lou.

Dottie Lou teaches me how  to be a better mother — and a better person.

Dottie Lou teaches me how to be a better mother — and a better person.

I’ve said it a dozen times before — had Penelope Joy not lived and died, we would not have Dottie Lou. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss Penelope Joy. Because I do, and my heart hurts every time I think about her. It just means that I can’t wish her back and this is our story. And Dottie Lou is here.

So, Mr. B and I celebrate every milestone and rejoice with every new expression Dottie Lou gives us — even her pout pout face. And I share way too many photos. And I talk about Dottie Lou way too much.

Yes, I’ll always be sandwiched between grieving and rejoicing. But I can choose how I live and which one of those I allow to take root and grow.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk of sandwiches has me hungry.

While we'll never have a complete family photo with both of our girls, we will always carry them both in our hearts. Always and forever.

While we’ll never have a complete family photo with both of our girls, we will always carry them both in our hearts. Always and forever.

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The Club No One Wants to Join

When you lose a child you become part of a club that no one ever wants to join. In fact, most people would prefer to ignore it. Because recognizing it makes you realize that — in a blink — you, too, could become an unwilling member. Whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, accident or illness, your child’s death is an initiation. An initiation that lasts a lifetime — when every single life’s occasion, every milestone, is clouded by your loss. And the membership fees? They can devastate you — in every meaning of the word.

Some days, this club — that has so many members — is a lonely one.

Some days, though, you realize there are far too many people in it. And that realization, in and of itself, can be too much to bear.

While I’m only an 18-month member of this club myself, I do know that there is hope. And there are some things to help you make it through your initiation:

  • Know that there is no membership handbook. When you are a member of this club, you must find your own way to survive the grief. I will gladly help you by talking to you, talking with you, listening to you or just staying on the phone with you while you cry — or while you just try to keep breathing. I will offer support in anyway I possibly can. I will tell you what worked for me — because maybe it will help you, too. But there is no one way to get through this. And however you need to survive this is what you need to do.
  • Know you are not alone. While it’s a club that no one wants to be a part of — a club that I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to have to join — it sure helps knowing that there are others there who have gone through it, who have survived it.
  • Embrace the sadness and all the other emotions, too. It is because you have loved that you feel loss. Sadness and grief are another part of the continuum that is love. And love is sometimes the only thing that will carry you through.
  • Be prepared to be surprised. Some days you’ll think you’re doing great — you may go for days at a time without crying or really feeling your loss. But then, it will hit you. Like a wave. Out of nowhere. On the flip side, be prepared to be surprised by the light and laughter and happiness that you can feel — even within your grief. Some days, the smiles and laughs of another child will knock you down with grief. Some days, though (and these are my favorite), those smiles and laughs will bring you so much happiness. Because every child’s laugh contains your child’s laugh — if you really listen. Yes, I hear Penelope Joy’s laughter in the laughter of other children. And it brings me such peace.
  • Realize one thing: you don’t have to be strong. One of the things people will tell you when they hear your sad news is to “stay strong.” These people mean well. And they want to say something to help because they love you. But, if there’s one time in your life that you don’t have to stay strong, it is when someone you love dies. So, break down. Scream. Yell at God — if you believe in God. Cry. Hide under your covers. Immerse yourself in the fantasy world of books and movies. Do whatever you have to do to survive this. Even if it makes you feel weak.
  • Take it day by day. Every day will be different. Some will be sad. Some will be happy (and that’s OK!). Some will be a mixture of sad and happy — and everything in between. Whatever you’re feeling in every moment is right. Because feelings can’t really be wrong.
  • Find a way to honor your child. I help Penelope Joy live on through my writing. I continue to tell her story. And I talk about her — because her life matters. I will never, ever be afraid to talk about her — even if doing so makes other people uncomfortable. Penelope Joy is — not was — my daughter. And she forever will be. We also have a beautiful rose bush in our front yard (a Penelope rose bush, in fact) that reminds me of her every day. I want Dottie Lou — and any other future children — to know Penelope’s story. Because her story is theirs just as it is mine. We also celebrate her birthday with cupcakes at the beach — and we honor her angelversary. But other people have found ways to honor the children who’ve died: trees planted in their memory, garden stones, charitable organizations — you name it. Just find something meaningful to you.
  • Know that this will forever change you. Losing a child — however it happens — changes your life forever. You will never “get better.” The pain will dull, but the scars will last a lifetime. But, the thing about scars? They show that you are a survivor — that something has touched you deeply and left a mark forever. Just like your child and your love for your child.

While you never wanted to be part of this club, you are here now. It is part of your story. And I believe that even beauty comes from loss. From Penelope Joy’s death, so much goodness has happened — not only in my world, but the world at large. It would be very, very easy to wake up every day and choose the darkness, the sadness — and, in a way, I’d have every right to do so. Instead, I choose the light. (To be honest, some days it’s a very conscious effort to choose the light.) Because, truly, without Penelope Joy’s life — and her death — we wouldn’t have our Dottie Lou. It’s very hard to live in the darkness and sadness when I can, instead, live in the lightness of Penelope Joy and all of the beauty she brought into our lives.

But, before I could embrace the beauty, I had to get through the ugliness. I had to live the grief in order to live the light. So, take your time. Grieve. Live what has happened to you. The beauty will come — maybe when you least expect it.

Let me leave you with a quote that helped me through many days:

Max Lucado Quote

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