Grieving other losses

Yesterday’s post about, among other things, the first day of school had me thinking about the other losses that we grieve when we lose a baby.

We don’t just grieve our baby who died.  Which seems unfathomable because that loss is enormous – how can we possibly add more to it?  But we do.  We add so much more.

Many of us grieve the loss of bringing a baby home from the hospital.

We grieve the loss of flowers and cards that people get when they bring home a new baby.

We grieve the loss of “Congratulations!

We grieve the loss of decorating the nursery (or possibly worse, we grieve the loss of a baby to enjoy in our beautifully decorated and lovingly prepared nursery).

We grieve the loss of late night feedings and diaper changes.

We grieve the loss of trips to the park and the zoo and Disney World with them.

We grieve the loss of siblings for our children.

We grieve the loss of brushing their hair and dressing them in cute outfits and giving them baths and reading them stories.

At holidays, we grieve the empty spaces where their stockings or Easter baskets or gifts or presence would be.  Should be.

We grieve the loss of first words, first steps, first teeth, and first days of school.

Some of us, like me, grieve the loss of having multiples when one or both of them is gone – it is such a rare thing that everyone loves to comment on.  Oh wow, twins!  Triplets!

There are so many facets to our losses that it is no wonder that our grief can spiral back and catch us off guard sometimes, rearing its ugly head and reducing us to tears at different times throughout the year.  Years.  Not just on their birthdays or on anniversaries.  Maybe that’s why it seems unending and bottomless.

i-learned-about-grief

Knowing that this is a normal part of grief and loss is helpful, but those things still hurt.  Sometimes, people don’t understand.  How are you still grieving like this is new? It’s been years.  But every one of these is a new loss.  A loss of something else that we didn’t even realize that we’d be missing, reminding us of the ultimate sadness which was seeing our baby die.

What other losses do you grieve with the death of your little one?

Clovers

clovers

photo by: elizile

The clover has become my favorite flower.

Not for the leaves of four that bring good luck –

In all my life I’ve never been able to find one

Search though I may.

This small white weed mars our otherwise perfect lawn.

Finally free from dandelions and crabgrass,

It’s the clover that lingers

And attracts the bees

That make me scared to let my children

Roam barefoot in the grass

As every child should.

Their lightly scented flowers are unattractive,

But their beauty is found

When they are brought to me

By a little boy with outstretched arms.

One bloom chosen from among the many

“For you, Mommy,” he says, grinning

And then my heart melts

And that flower is more beautiful than any rose.

So many of these blossoms have been handed to me

Each summer by my darling boys.

And just today, with a heavy heart,

I visited for the first time 

The spot where my baby girls lie.

They have been there together for one month now.

As I sat in the grass weeping and speaking to them,

I looked around through eyes blurred by tears,

And noticed clovers there as well –

These ones touched with palest pink.

It felt like my girls were giving them to me too,

And I felt so lucky.

 

I wrote this not long after Brigid was buried in 2011, but every summer the clovers make me think of them.  Butterflies, too.  What things make you think of your little winged ones?

 

Car rides and rainbows

I’ve been thinking about my last post – the one about the What Ifs – and realizing that while I do think that asking those questions is a part of the grieving and healing process, they do also reflect a lack of faith.

And that’s okay.  I think our faith waxes and wanes sometimes.  Especially in the wake of tragedy.  It’s where the rubber of our faith meets the road of life.  And sometimes we skid a little.  We get flat tires.  We want a little more evidence of things not seen.

That had me thinking about this post that I wrote on our family blog in the midst of the NICU time immediately following Brigid’s premature birth.  I’ve copied and pasted it below:

We’ve had a week of rapidly changing weather, and as Patrick and I are driving back and forth to Hershey each day, it will often alternate between downpours and sunshine, and occasionally it will do both things at the same time. It’s been prime rainbow weather every day.

Only I haven’t seen one.

I’d find myself making little deals in my head with God in the car. “Okay,” I’d think. “If I see a rainbow, that means Brigid’s going to be fine.” And then I’d crane my neck all over looking for one, all the while reasoning with myself that even if I don’t see a rainbow, she could still be fine and realizing that I could see one and she could die tomorrow. I’m testing God, I’d think, and then I’d feel ashamed of my silliness. He doesn’t owe me a sign. He’s told me enough about himself for me to have faith in this situation, whether or not I see a rainbow.

It’s not faith that Brigid will be okay that I’m called to have. If that were the case, and she died, my faith would be shattered.

Rather, it’s faith in God’s goodness. It’s faith in the fact that His ways are not our ways. That all things work together for the good of those who love Him. It’s faith that God is sovereign and knows us and loves us and sees our situation. Faith that we’re still in the palm of His hand. It’s faith that if it’s His will for her to heal and grow, she will. And if it’s not, we’ll still be okay. It’s faith that He knows more than we do. Faith that He is trustworthy and that He loves our baby girl even more than we do.

This is the faith that we are called to have. This is the faith that I have to exercise each day, as surely as an athlete exercises his heart and muscles for an endurance trial. God is so good to give us our daily bread – the strength to get through each day, even when we don’t know what is at the end of the road.

I’ll still crane my neck to look for the rainbows.

But not because they have anything to do with Brigid.

I was looking for signs then, too.  But the same principles are as true today, more than two years after her death, as they were then, a few days after her birth.  God is good.  He loves us.  He works all things together for our good.

I’m not sure why I felt it so strongly then and now I struggle sometimes.  I have to keep telling it to myself, I think.  Over and over until I am facing my own death.  Sometimes I just read the words of Brigid’s eulogy over again to myself.  They bring me so much comfort.

I am working on posting our story, though it is so incredibly long.  March to June – the time from our diagnosis until the second one of our twins died – was only four months, but brought a lifetime of ups and downs, hopes and fears, joy and sorrow.  In an effort to keep faraway friends and family up to date on each twist and turn, and to process my emotions myself, I wrote about the experience on our family blog.  There are so many posts, though, that it is hard to condense them and still give the whole story.  Suffice it to say, you are welcome to peruse the posts starting in February of 2011 and continuing until…well, until today, I guess.  Our loss is threaded into our lives since then and there is not really any separating ourselves from it, even as we keep living.  We never move on from it, we just move on with it.

absence

Surprised by grief

This week, I’ve found myself feeling grumpy and short-tempered with my family.

The everyday demands of life with four young children have been overwhelming me.  I know it’s a hard job, but suddenly it feels impossible.  Like I can’t possibly survive another day of arguing and getting cups of juice and changing diapers and picking up toys.  I just can’t do it.  I want to get in a car and drive away from here.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this came over me suddenly, and I’m surprised to realize that I think it’s because of my grief.

In the days following Brigid’s funeral, I checked out, mentally.  I remember feeling my mind slipping away during the service.  My body was there, going through the motions, but I couldn’t focus on anything.  I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked like a deer in headlights.  My eyes were wide and the face that looked back was not my own.  I didn’t look like me.  I needed to go somewhere other than our home afterward.  For whatever reason, I really wanted to get to the ocean, sit by the edge and just stare out at it.  I knew the sound of the waves and the time to think would be comforting.  Patrick and I stayed in a hotel that night because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to care for my three boys.  I remember waking up and feeling like my head was not attached to my body.  Like I literally did not know how much effort to use to raise my arm.  I learned later that this was a form of post traumatic stress disorder.  Apparently, watching a team of emergency personnel gather around your preemie baby’s three-pound body and perform CPR while she is dying is a little too much for the brain to process.

I remember fearing that I was going insane.  That people would say, “Gee, she was fine until the babies died, but then she just was never right after that.”

I did end up getting my head and body back together, though it took a few days of doing nothing.  I had to sit and stare in silence and just keep thinking about what happened over and over again.  I had to say the words, “She’s dead” out loud.  A hundred times.  Scream them.  Cry them.  I’d drive around in the car aimlessly by myself and just say it over and over.  It was as if my mind wouldn’t accept it unless I did that.

After one or two nights away from the house after the funeral, it was back to reality with three young boys, and my grieving got pushed aside.  I had to focus on these small children who needed juice and help with the potty and baths and meals and I didn’t have time to just sit and cry or think. I did a lot of that in the evening, after they were in bed.  Or in the shower.  But the demands of the day meant that I could not do it when they were awake.  So some of my grieving didn’t happen then.  There were days when I recognized that it would probably be harder to grieve the loss of a baby if I didn’t have any other children, and days when I imagined it could be easier.  If there is ever an “easier” way to deal with that.  Sometimes, throwing myself into life with the boys was a welcome distraction.  Other times, they were just a distraction from the quiet and tears in which I wanted to lose myself.

And so now, two years later, is it any wonder that I still need to process it?  That the anniversary of Brigid’s death just brings all of that back to mind and I need to grieve it all over again?  And yet, here is my little family, the boys having moved on from the sadness of losing their sister – which is as it should be – and still needing me to be present with them, making chocolate milk and paper airplanes and hearing about the features of their latest Lego creation. And our new little “rainbow” daughter who brings us so much joy being a typical seven month old, in need of care and cuddles.  But my brain still wants to just sit and think for a bit.  About the daughter that I had and now I don’t.  About the times that I held her and sang to her.  About her warmth and her smell.  About the way she would smile, even behind the ventilator tube taped to her lip, when I came into her hospital room and started talking to her.  About the ten or fifteen things that I can think of that might have possibly prevented her death, wishing I’d been more pushy about them, and wondering if that would even have made a difference.

I need to think.  I need to process it and heal from it.   And the reality is, there just isn’t time for thinking right now.  There’s groceries, and diapers, and “Mommy, Mommy Mommy,” and laundry, and juice, and meal planning, and organizing, and diapers, and nursing, and bedtime, and dishes, and cleaning (and did I mention diapers?), but there’s not a lot of thinking.  There’s not a lot of alone time.   And I think that makes me feel a little grumpy.  More than a little, actually – I’ve been snapping at everyone and feeling like I can’t do it anymore.

Funny to me that the very thing I had in abundance when I was single, not ten years ago – the thing I hated the most about being single – is the one thing I would give almost anything for right now.

Grief has been described as a cycle or a spiral, and anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and lots of different things can put you right back into that spin.

Grief_Wheel

Right now, I feel somewhere down at the bottom.

But this is where the Lord has me right now. He knew that I’d have three little ones to take care of when our twins died.  He knew that there would be another baby in our family, too.  This is my vocation, caring for these little ones.  I can’t begrudge them their neediness – they’re little.  They’re just being kids.  It is hard work, even without the grieving factor added in.  But He can give me the strength and wisdom to do it.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  And they are some of the most amazingly wonderful kids in the world.

I’m surprised by my grief this year, and the unexpected emotions that have come with it.  I had to figure it out for the sake of my family.   They need me to be consistent.  They need to know where they stand and not be walking on eggshells around me.  And I know that these few weeks of feeling out of control and overwhelmed is not going to ruin them, but it might be best for me to carve out some solo time to work through some of the feelings I’ve been having and to think about my baby and miss her.  And actually, just recognizing that and verbalizing it has helped me feel more able to handle all the other things that I have to do each day, especially since I’ve spent much of the past few weeks wondering what was wrong with me.

Nothing is wrong with me.  I just need to grieve.

Have you ever felt surprised by the way grief made you feel?

Two years

Today makes two years since we lost our little Brigid.  I am surprised at how painful it still is.

I feel very alone in the grief of it because it seems everyone else has moved on.  But I can live that night in the NICU, watching her die, like it just happened yesterday.   All the emotions of it are still right here with me, and I feel like I’d give anything for one more chance to hold her.

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Someone shared this beautiful poem on facebook today and I felt like it was exactly what I was feeling.  I asked its author if I might share it here.   Can you relate to these words?

I lost my child today
People came to weep and cry
as I just sat and stared, dry eyed.
They struggled to find words to say
And to try and make the pain go away
I walked the floor in disbelief.
I lost my child today…

I lost my child last month.
Most of the people went away.
some still call and some still stay
I wait to wake up from this dream
This can’t be real, I want to scream
Yet everything is locked inside
God help me, I want to die
I lost my child last month.

I lost my child last year.
Now people who had came, have gone
I sit and struggle all day long
to bear the pain so deep inside.
And now my friends just question.
Why? Why does this mother not move on?
Just sits and sings the same old song.
Good heavens, it has been so long
I lost my child last year.

Time has not moved on for me.
The numbness it has disappeared.
My eyes have now cried many tears.
I see the look upon your face
“You must move on and leave this place ”
Yet I am trapped right here in time,
the songs the same, as is the rhyme.
I lost my child … TODAY….

-by Sophia Kotzamanis

Beauty Will Rise

When our Brigid died, I had a hard time understanding God’s plan.

I wondered how a good and loving Father could have chosen not to heal our baby, but to take her instead.  Especially when we’d already lost her twin sister.  I tried hard not to ask, “Why?” and to just trust that He is good, that He still loves us, and that somehow, He was in control of our situation.  I could feel His presence with me, comforting me even as I spent days and days in tears.  But I still did not understand.

The album, Beauty Will Rise, by Stephen Curtis Chapman, was one that I played over and over again.   He wrote the songs after the tragic death of his three-year-old daughter, and he wrestled with the same questions.  The songs were relevant, hopeful, and helpful to me as I tried to balance my faith and my grief.  I loved that he was so real in expressing his feelings and giving a voice to my own.  In one song, he talks about heaven being the face of his little girl.  “God, I know it’s all of this and so much more,” he sings.  “But God, you know that this is what I’m longing for.”  He knew that God understood that even though heaven is about being with Him for eternity, for those of us who have lost a loved one, the most important thing about heaven is being reunited with that person.

71NdU4ksOIL

We used one of the songs from the album in a slideshow we played at Brigid’s viewing.  You can view the slideshow and listen to the song here.

Was there any song or poem that you found to be helpful to you in your grief?

A butterfly

A butterfly lights beside us, like a sunbeam

and for a brief moment, its glory

and beauty belong to our world.

But then it flies on again,

and although we wish it could have stayed,

we are so thankful to have seen it at all.