Tag Archives: loss

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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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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‘How Can I Help?’

You learn a lot about how to support someone when you’re on the receiving end of it. There have been things people have said that really stung — and then I realized I’ve probably said them myself at some point. They meant well, I’m sure of it. I mean, if I ever said those things, I know I meant well. But, wow, when you’re going through rough waters, it becomes crystal clear how wrong — or right — certain words and actions are.

I’ve  gotten asked — many times, actually — by people who have a friend with a baby or child in the hospital about what they can do to support their friend. Now, my story is not everyone’s story. And just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean every parent in my shoes feels that way. But, if you were to ask me, here’s what I would suggest:

  • Show up. Sit in the waiting room with a book or your work or some knitting. Even if your friend can’t come out and see you — she knows you’re there. You don’t have to sit in silent vigil. But, let her know you’ll be there from 1 to 3 one afternoon. Having a kid in the hospital is tough — you never know when they’re going to start crashing or when it’s going to be smooth sailing. So many times, just knowing that I could sneak out to the waiting room for  quick hug from my friend was enough to get me through. Even if I couldn’t sit and visit.
  • Create a hospital care pack. Include quarters (for vending machines), healthful snacks (because vending machines snacks get old — literally and figuratively — maybe try trail mixes, bottles of water, mints), crossword puzzle books, decks of cards, toiletries (the hospital-supplied ones are not exactly high-quality), etc. Make sure to put a hand-written note in there. Or, better yet, maybe several hand-written notes that say on the outside “Open when you need a hug.” Or, “Open when you’d like to smile.”
  • Make her dinner. Tell her you’re going to bring it on whatever day at whatever time. Don’t expect your friend to sit and eat with you, but know that she will appreciate the friendly face, quick hug and fresh homemade dinner.
  • Call and text and email her. We heard a lot of “we didn’t want to bother you.” But, here’s the thing, if your friend is busy or in a meeting with a doctor or holding her baby, she won’t answer her phone or email. But, she’ll know you cared. And she’ll know you’re thinking of her and her family. And, when she has a few minutes, she’ll answer you back. It just might take some time.
  • Stop by her house and do some stuff: check her mail, do her laundry, pet her cats, wash her sheets. What I wouldn’t have given to slide into fresh, clean sheets on the few nights we went home after the hospital. But the last thing we had time — or energy — to do was wash our sheets. Thankfully, though, the hospital had a small laundry room for us to use or else we may have gone for quite some time without clean britches, too.
  • Don’t stop living your life. Just because our life stopped while we sat by Penelope Joy’s side doesn’t mean our friends’ did. They still had work and kids and life they were living. Don’t be scared to talk about your life. And, for crying out loud, don’t be afraid to be happy. Sometimes talking about what’s going on outside the hospital is a welcome reprieve from the constant talk of blood test results, EEGs, pulse ox levels and end-of-life decisions. Talking about normal, happy things is OK. If we weren’t in the mood, we wouldn’t have had you visit.
  • And, finally, be patient. Some days, it’s hard enough to remember to brush your teeth when you have a child in the hospital. The experience is exhausting — mentally, physically, emotionally. So remembering to call someone back or trying to be a gracious host when someone visits can be a lot of work. Have patience — and compassion — for your friend. She is experiencing something no one should ever have to experience. And she deserves a break.

In the end, know that there is nothing you can do to take away your friend’s pain. Or fear. Or sadness. But, by putting yourself out there and showing her you’re there for her, it will bring in moments of light.

I’m going to go one step further, here, and provide some advice that you didn’t ask for. Mr. B and I have gone through something life altering — and life shattering. And we’ve had some of the most amazing support, encouragement and love we have ever experienced in our lives. No, I mean, seriously amazing. And I thank God for our support system every single day. But, we’ve also had some well-meaning people try to find just the right words to say, even though there are no right words. And some words that sound good coming out actually cause the recipient more pain and sadness than they’re already experiencing.

  • It was God’s will.” I could go on and on about this one. And, I kinda already did. But, let me just say this: I can’t believe in a God who would give us this chapter of our story simply because he (or she) could. And I certainly can’t think that Mr. B and I deserved to lose our daughter or that our sweet, innocent Penelope Joy deserved to die. Bad things happen — too often to even count — simply because they do. God isn’t there to hand them out. He/she is there to get us through them. Instead of “it was God’s will,” try “oh, wow, I am so sorry. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.” Or, “is it OK if I add your family to my prayer chain?”
  • “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” God thinks a heck of a lot more of me than I do of myself — probably true on many occasions. But, again, the thought that God purposefully did this is pretty disheartening. And not something to tell someone who is in a situation that would  make even the most faithful question their faith.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything.” Oh, gosh. We heard this so many times. And most of the time, my response was no response. On any given day, we didn’t know what we needed — except our baby, happy and healthy in my arms at home. And not even some of the most talented doctors and nurses I’ve ever met could do that. Putting the ball in our court was a game-ender. There were people, however, who just … did. They said they’d show up with dinner, and they showed up with dinner — no expectations for us to eat it with them. Just a hot, homemade meal and a hug. And then there were the people who showed up and cleaned our old apartment because we were making funeral arrangements and, well, mourning. Instead of telling your friend to let you know what she needs, see if there’s anything you can anticipate — and provide it for her. No strings, no expectations, no added stress.
  • “It wasn’t meant to be.” I’m hoping I don’t even need to tell you why this is an inappropriate response to someone who just lost a child.
  • “I know just how you feel.” People have told us this countless times — I still hear it to this day. I actually had someone tell me that their dog of 10 years recently died, so she knew “just how I felt.” And a mom whose baby had a cold “totally understands” because she, too, was watching her child suffer. Please. Just stop with the comparisons. Even Mr. B doesn’t know exactly how I feel — and I don’ t know exactly how he feels. And we lived the exact same story. Every person is different. So, no, I’m sorry, you don’t know exactly how I feel. I know you mean well — I really, really do — but comparing my situation to yours is hurtful — especially if you’re talking about your dog. (Don’t get me wrong, I love our dog — but she is no replacement for Penelope Joy.)
  • Or, maybe you don’t call or don’t write or … quite frankly … fall off the face of the earth. Because you’re uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. Remember, though, there are no right words to say. Those friends who stuck by me? The ones who called and just sat there in silence because there were no words? Or the ones who sat with me and cried? The ones who said, “Sh*t. That sucks.”? The ones who showed up with a bottle of wine and Kleenex? Those are the ones who nailed it who got it. Because they’re the ones who were there for me through the worst possible experience of my life. Even though it sucked and was ugly and made them, God forbid, uncomfortable.
  • Last, but certainly not least: “Are you going to try again?” As if Penelope Joy was just our first stab at something. As if practice makes perfect. As if she didn’t matter and we can just move on to the next kid. What I think you mean to ask is: “Are you going to have more children?” Because Penelope Joy mattered. And she will always be our oldest child. And any future kids (if we have any future kids) will know her story — they will know she existed and that she mattered and that she was a light in our lives.

In closing, the very best thing you can do for your friend — no matter what she’s going through — is love. Love hard. And love her through it. No matter what “it” is. Be there — physically and emotionally — even when, no, especially when things get ugly and uncomfortable.

Please, please don’t take this post the wrong way. Mr. B and I are eternally grateful for all of the love and support we received — and continue to receive. And, I will always take someone saying the “wrong thing” over someone who disappears. I only share this post (written from an honest, caring spot in my heart) as a look into things from the other side. The side where moms and dads leave the hospital with a small biohazard baggie of their baby’s curls instead of their actual baby. Thankfully, not everyone has been on this side of the story — and I hope none of you ever are on this side of the story.

Hopefully, some of this may be helpful if you ever are in this situation, looking for how you best can love your friend through some pretty rough waters. Remember: the words and actions we use matter. And so do the ones we don’t.

P.S. If you’ve made it this far, let me apologize for the length of this post. Another reason I’m not a very successful blogger is that I can’t/won’t/don’t limit my posts to “a readable 200 to 300 words.” I’ve got stuff I wanna say — and a lot of words in the dictionary at my disposal. What’s a girl to do?

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