Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stop with the Reasoning!

One thing that I wish people knew about grief was that it isn't reasonable. It's not linear, not nice and neat like steps up a ladder. It is dark, confusing, scary, and cloudy. What grieving people need most when they are grieving is a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen to them.

Before experiencing grief I would have just thought it was a feeling. Probably lots of sadness with maybe some depression if things got really bad.  Now having experienced grief I can say it is more like a sickness than a feeling. I have been surprised at how physical it is. There are days when I have absolutely no energy or feel physically sick to my stomach.  This is the hard part about grief because even though grieving people may look fine on the outside, really they are like sick people. No one would expect someone who is in the ICU unit to come to a family gathering, but they expect a grieving person to show up and act normal.

I feel that people's misunderstanding of how grief really is leads them to try and reason with the grieving person. I have been given this reason in a number of ways by a number of people. It seems when I am honest with people on how life is (hard) or how I am doing (still sad) they seem to want to "reason" with me. To tell me how having two stillbirths hardly ever happens. They tell me to count all the blessings I do have . They tell me that worry will have bad side effects on Abigail. It seems that people want to try to "fix" things by reasoning and the truth is, nothing can be fixed.

And on and on the reasoning goes. It leaves me feeling like I owe them an explanation of my feelings and thoughts. It leaves me feeling like something is wrong with me because I am not doing "reasonable" things like shopping for Abigail or decorating in pink or counting down the days until I get to hold her. Reason just does not work on a grieving person. There is no amount of reason that can convince me that I will bring home a live baby until I actually bring home a live baby. No amount of reason that will make the tears less, the pain stop, or the memories fade.

Would you reason with someone who was sick with a bad infection? No, you would greet them with compassion and understanding. My husband and I often say it feels like we have been on the cross since April 14th. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, people did not come to reason with him. Mary, John, and the Mother of God followed Him to the cross to comfort him and give him empathy and compassion. There were no remarks such as "Don't worry Jesus, it will all be worth it in the end," or "Just a few more hours then we can put this all behind us." He was on the cross and the only answer was to be with him in the sorrow and misery, not to reason with Him, not to "fix" Him.

Instead of reasoning with grieving people, just let them be. I promise it will not be forever! From what I understand and have read about grief, over time it becomes more of a peripheral vision kind of thing instead of right in front of your face thing. The "sickness" become less and less but still has moments of intense flare ups.  I am still in the right in front of your face stage. Typically when a person loses a baby it takes 18-24 months before they feel and act "normal" again. It hasn't even been 9 months, so according to the average I still have a ways to go. Be gentle with grieving friends, especially grieving mothers. Listen to them, don't try to "fix" things, and just simply be that shoulder to cry on.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The best remedy for grief I have found

This is Siena. We got her one month to the day after Caleb died. I had always wanted a puppy and while we were in the hospital delivering Caleb I asked my husband if we could get one. He said after everything we had been through we could get 2 puppies if I wanted! Needless to say, one was enough and we decided on a Welsh Terrier.

I have spent so much time with this puppy the last 8 months. She has cried with me, made me laugh, and cuddled with me. She gets me out of the house to go for walks. I truly never knew how therapeutic pets could be. Siena stays by my side and loves me through everything. She is always happy to see me when I come in the door and give me lots of love and affection.

Siena continues to be a light in our darkness. She is a living memorial to Caleb (we call her Caleb's puppy).  Last January we picked new saints to pray to for the following year out of a saint box our friends had. We drew one for Caleb and he got St. Catherine of Siena. We thought it was fitting to name his puppy after his saint. So far, Siena lives up to her name sake. Very fiery but compassionate and not a mean bone in her body just like Saint Catherine of Siena.

I would recommend getting a pet for any grieving person (if they are able to). My schedule worked out nicely in order for us to bring home a puppy.  Perhaps if you know someone who is grieving and you have a pet, you could bring the pet over for a visit. There is nothing like unconditional love from a furry friend.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Baby's Birthday

This was written on Christmas, posted today! Sorry for confusion!

Today is Christmas. It turned out to not be as hard as I thought it would be. That seems to be typical of grief- the things I think will be hard are not and the things I think will be easy are hard.

While at mass this morning I really felt God's abundant love and grace moving.  I cried through the entire thing and it all started with one word in the opening song "adore." It hit me like a ton of bricks. Today is the Christ child's birthday- and so many people forget it or ignore it or don't even care. There are so many people who do not "adore" Him.

I cried for Mother Mary. After burying Caleb, I began to relate to Mary in a way I never could have before. Today my heart ached for her. I know how terrible it feels to have your child ignored. The child you loved and carried within you for nine months, your own flesh and blood. For me one of the hardest things about having a stillbirth is the silence. Few people bring it up and the majority act like nothing ever happened. It pains me when people don't recognize my child.

But here is the thing- Caleb was just human. In a way, its easy to understand why people ignore him because he isn't all that important to others. But Jesus, Mary's son, was also the son of God! He took on our sins and by His blood we are saved. And today was his birthday and people forgot. I went to Mary in prayer and told her I will always adore her son, even if everyone else forgets him. I used to think that Mary wanted people to know about Jesus because, well, he was Jesus. But now I realize it was also because he was her son. Just how I always want to talk about Caleb when someone asks, because he is my son and I am proud of him. I only knew Caleb for 38 weeks and 4 days and I have so much to say. Can you imagine what Mary can tell us about her son whom she spent 33 years with???

The Catholic Church is incredible with her devotion to Mary. It is not in a "worship Mary" sense, but more in a "go to her and she will tell you about Him," sense. Today I grieved with Mary, for Mary. It was her baby's birthday and so many people don't care.

For all of you mothers out there who have lost a child, please remember that you can go to Mary. She too held her dead son. She knows what its like to have people forget your baby. May we never stop asking Mary to tell us about her little boy, the Christ child born in a manger.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2011

Right where I am- 8 months

I was inspired to write this post by another mother's blog. Her idea was to write about your grief wherever you are in the grieving process. So here goes:

8 months. 8 months since I gave birth to Caleb and then three hours later handed him over to a nurse and watched her walk out of the room with him, never to hold him again. 8 months since we said our goodbyes this side of Heaven.

I am a completely different person than I was 8 months ago. I am exhausted all the time and getting plenty of sleep doesn't help it. I feel like time has stopped, even though I know it hasn't. To me it feels like April 14th all the time. It feels like I am stuck watching everyone else's life go on around me and I can't figure out a way to make mine start moving again.

 I still cannot be around babies. When I see one in a store I immediately go the other way. This makes me feel strange, not normal, like a crazy women. I spend ALOT and I mean ALOT of time prepping for situations that used to take no thought. Every time I leave my house I usually have to go through a list of "painful" things that I could encounter or see and talk myself through how I would handle them. Simple questions like "Do you have any children?" require me to have a handful of pre-planned answers for various situations so that I don't break down crying at the check out counter.

I am constantly worried that everyone around me will die. When my husband leaves for work each morning I wonder if its the last time I will ever see him. When friends and family tell me they are pregnant I immediately get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I start thinking about all the things that could go wrong with their pregnancy and how their babies could also die. I never say anything out loud, instead I smile and say "congratulations!" The motto "fake it til you make it," rings constantly in my head during most social situations.

I am not social like I used to be. Large groups and crowds give me anxiety. I feel the weight of possibly having to explain myself, my life and then I just get overwhelmed with.... what? I don't know, just overwhelmed in general. I feel isolated, handicapped in a way that only I can feel, but no one can see. Having a full nursery stocked with everything and no baby makes me feel like I am living in the twilight zone. I keep wondering- what happened? How did it go from so perfect to so empty?

I don't cry as much or as often as I used to. The grief attacks are less now. One place that is constantly hard for me is Church. I manage to cry there almost every Sunday. Its where my arms feel the emptiness the most, where the reminders of how it should have been seem to stick out the most. I wrestle with God. But I am closer to Him than ever before. I feel a pressure from holy people who want me to grieve a certain way. I don't feel that pressure from God. I love the crucifix. I love that our church has one and that it never comes down. Jesus nailed to a cross stays up though all the happy times in the Church, kinda like my grief. I  have had good times in the last 8 months, but the grief is always there. The crucifix has more meaning for me than it ever had before. That was Mary's son on that cross and I often cry with her as only mothers who have had to bury their children can. Mother Mary is a constant companion to me. I feel most understood by her.

I appreciate life much more. The simple things- hot chocolate and a game of scrabble are enough to get me through a week. I see a beauty in the seasons that I never noticed before. Even now when the trees are bare, the sky is grey, and the ground is cold- it all speaks to me. Its like God is showing me through nature what my heart feels like in this season of my life. My marriage is stronger. My husband has been through it all with me and I feel a oneness with him that I don't think we could have had otherwise.

I am learning a "new normal" each and every day. The parts of my life that used to work don't anymore. I have had to stop teaching because it was too much. I have taken up sewing and get a lot of accomplishment from finishing a simple project. I feel like my whole life is one big session of rehab therapy right now. Learning how to function all over again. My short term memory is frazzled. Its as if I cannot unlock certain parts of my brain that used to be wide open. Take for instance the pumpkin pie situation a week ago. I went to the store to buy a pie crust and could not for the life of me remember where they were. Like, not even a clue. All I could remember were the graham cracker and oreo pie crust, so I went with those (those are no-bake in case you are wondering and ruined our pumpkin pie). Its like I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't tap into the right answer. This happens for a lot of little things. All of which make me feel even crazier.....

I am also pregnant with Caleb's little sister. Most of the time I feel like this pregnancy is an episode of the twilight zone. I get mentally confused from time to time and wonder which child I am carrying. I know its Abigail, but some mornings I wake up and touch my stomach and think "maybe you will come today, Caleb." Then like a huge wave it all come crashing down on me- he's gone, dead, never coming back.

 I have all blue stuff for a girl that is supposed to be arriving in March. I cannot prepare for her. I feel a deep need to do the opposite of whatever I did in my pregnancy with Caleb. I love Abigail so much, but I miss him so much too. Grieving one child and anticipating another leaves me emotionally drained. I tend to have short stretches of days where I grieve Caleb intensely, then like a light switch I will forget about him and start worrying about her. Then I get myself so exhausted that I try to put both children out of my mind until my strength come back. Then the cycle starts all over again. Its like a constant dance between joy and sorrow and it leaves me spent.

My friendships have suffered. I feel guilty for not calling people back, not making an effort to see them. But then I am honest with myself and know that I cannot be the person I was and that some of those friendships are forever changed, possibly gone. I try not to dwell on this too much. I just try to look forward more than backward because there is nothing I can do to change the past.

The temptation to play the "victim" card is heavy. I have to draw myself out of the "poor me" attitude often. It helps me right now to be around others who are suffering. I feel like I can relate to them and its less of a temptation for me to let jealousy slip in. My heart seems to go through other people's tragedies when I hear them. Before when I heard about bad things happening I would think "that is sad, I will pray for them," and move on. Now, I feel this emotional attachment to them. I have to physically stop myself from going to their homes and crying with them. I have so much empathy for people who suffer, which is a good gift to have. It also leaves me drained and I have to be careful not to take on other people's suffering because I will end up back in the pit myself. "Weep with those who weep" means so much to me now.

Overall, I am moving forward. It just doesn't feel like it on most days. I was never prepared for a dead child. There are no books for "how to grieve your child week by week the first year." Its like we planned a trip to Hawaii and ended up in Alaska with nothing we need. Losing Caleb has shaped me forever in a way that I can only begin to see now.  My hope that I cling to is Jesus and eternal life. I also know that I promised Jesus I would serve Him in whatever way He needed me to. Apparently, this is it. It is a rare gift and some days I can see it that way. Few people are capable of entering into others sorrow and this is a gift I feel He has given me. He is faithful and that I can say with a loud Amen.

That is where I am 8 months later. Caleb, I love you and miss you!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You're Missing

I heard this song on another blog and love it. I can't stop listening to it, expecially these past few weeks. The holidays just seem to highlight that Caleb is missing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grieving during the Holidays part 1

I labeled this entry "part 1" because I am pretty sure there will be more. This being my first holiday as a grieving parent I am experiencing everything as a new, raw emotion. My hope is that by sharing my feelings of the holidays, those readers out there who encounter other grieving people will know what to say during this hard season or at least have an idea of what a grieving person might be going through.

So, yes, this is a HARD season. That is the first struggle. I have always LOVED the holidays. Thanksgiving all the way through new years has typically been some of the best times of my life. I even have a birthday the day after Christmas, so that adds to the fun festivities. All of that is gone this year. A "secondary loss" of huge proportion. And as much as I try to  "be in the holiday spirit" I just cannot.
Grief has taken away my happy. This is not bad, and I hope it will return, but right now there is no happy. Thus being around happy people during the holidays stresses me out. I just cannot relate to them. I go to the mall and see all of the toys on display. All of the toys I won't be buying for Caleb. Then I go further and see all the children on Santa's lap or the "baby's first Christmas" things. All reminders of what I am missing this year. It seems like leaving my house this season requires me to sift through one land mine after another.

I had so many "hopes" for this Christmas with Caleb. All of my "hopes" of having an 8 month in our home this Christmas are gone. His Christmas sweater is still here, but he is not.  I have a whole closet full of clothes for someone who isn't here, and who isn't coming. I have a daughter growing inside of me this year, but no son on my lap. These are just a few of the things that are still confusing to wrap my head around and the holidays just seem to intensify these emotions.

So there is the grieving of Caleb this season, the grieving of my hopes that I had planned for him, the grieving of buying him toys, seeing him in his Christmas Church outfit, snuggling with him on Christmas Eve, sending out Christmas cards with his bright smile. And the list goes on and on. I can bet any grieving person is similar to me this holiday season. The hard part is that grieving of all these losses is like a perpetual loop in my head. That is why doing things that are considered "normal" just make me want to run and hide. Maybe some are thinking "alright, but you need to make yourself do normal or else you will never get back on your feet." To them I would say -wrong. There is nothing "normal" about our life right now. We have a full nursery decked out in blue with boy clothes  and a baby girl on the way= not normal.  We are trying to navigate what the "new" normal looks like, and I think that makes people uncomfortable. I think it would be easier on everyone else if we just went along ho-hum with all the holiday traditions and acted like nothing was wrong. But I cannot do that, because something is wrong, my baby is not here.

Please give grieving people in your life extra space this holiday season. Some may want to do the normal things, others may not. It might be hard on your because you will "loose" them in a sense as well. The person you always used to bake cookies with every year may not want cookies at all this year. This is hard for you, but trust me its a 1000 times harder for them. And they have to live with it all the time (remember the perpetual loop).

Our new normal this year for Thanksgiving includes going to the monastery for mass, decorating Caleb's grave with new Christmas things, and then coming home and eating a frozen pizza. This will not be our "new" normal for the next 25 years. This Thanksgiving will look different than next Thanksgiving and so on, so don't worry, we may get back to the turkey eventually. But this year, we just need to be removed from "celebrating." That does not mean we aren't thankful. I am thankful for many things, especial for Caleb's little sister that is kicking inside of me right now. But I am also still very sick and wounded and to go about business as normal would not help heal me.

Talk with your grieving friends or relatives before the holidays and make a plan. If they cannot commit, do not get angry. They have no idea how they might be feeling sometimes until the day of. Be patient with them and flexible and if they want to be left alone, please respect that. Do not feel sorry for them. Truly if we wanted turkey this year, we could get it, but we don't. If we wanted to be around large groups and sing carols we could, but we don't. The things that make you happy about the holidays DO NOT make a grieving person happy. To me, eating a frozen pizza brings me comfort and that is where I am at this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Good Video

I found this video on another mom's blog and thought it was great. It seemed to capture a lot of what life has been like after losing a child.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Obsessed with death, or not?

Recently I was chatting with one of my best friends and telling her about all the new books I have read recently which are about women who have had a pregnancy loss. At one point she said, "don't you think you would feel better if you just stopped surrounding yourself with those stories?" My immediate response was "no," though I couldn't give words to why.

After she left the thought stayed with me the rest of the day. Was I just some sick twisted person that loved reading about death and dying babies? Was it becoming an obsession for me? I reflected on it more and I think that I can now give voice to why reading stories of other babies who have died is so comforting to me.

1. They make me feel not alone. Having Caleb die inside of me left me feeling like some sort of side show freak. I had never met anyone who had this happen to them, heck I had never even heard of it! Reading other stories of women who have been through a similar situation help me feel "normal" in a strange way. Like maybe I am not the only one this could ever happen to.

2. They give me hope. Let me use this analogy. If I was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly started reading books about cancer survivors, no one would think twice, in fact they might even encourage me. It's not that I would be surrounding myself with cancer, because well I already would have cancer. Instead I would be surrounding myself with hope. This is what the stories I read do for me. They show me the survivors of pregnancy loss. I get to see that there is life after the unthinkable happens and often these women use their pain and make it into something beautiful. They go on to start charities to help other women or counseling centers. Reading their stories gives me a lifeline to believe that just maybe I can come out of this alive and use it to help others.

So while it might seem a bit morbid to the average person, surrounding myself right now with stories of others losses is actually helping me. If you know someone out there who is grieving any type of loss do not be surprised if they dive into it by learning more about it and others who have had a similar loss. Once you come face to face with death, you are no longer scared of it. It doesn't seem morbid to me to read about death because I have peace with it. Holding my dead son made me come face to face with my own mortality. I no longer can be the carefree 27 year old who puts off thinking about death until later on in life. For goodness sakes my last name is already on a gravestone. It doesn't get more real than that.

Please be patient with your friends who are grieving and know that they too are wrestling with their own mortality. Death and stories of death might sound frightening to you, but to them its their new normal. You entering into that awkwardness of death, even if its been months since their loss, will mean a lot to them.  Reading stories of others in trying situations gives us hope that God can indeed turn the worse thing into the best thing and use our pain and brokenness to make something beautiful.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Letting things Go- Effects of Grief

Today was my last day of work. Strange because I am a teacher and most teachers do not leave their jobs at the beginning of November. The decision to leave my job was a hard one to make. Like so many things after Caleb died, I thought I could just go back to "normal." There is no normal after you lose a child, just a new kind of normal. Once I began teaching again in August I could feel the weight of it all. After much prayer my husband and I decided it was best for me to step down.

My initial reaction was to be mad and angry. After all, I never asked for my son to die 10 days before he was born. I get so angry at everything that has happened and the grief it has brought me. Truly I feel like grief has taken so much away from me. But, this is only if I choose to see it this way. I can also look at it as a new opportunity. I fully believe that anyone who is grieving will have to let go of  ALOT of their old selves, but maybe that is not all bad? No, I am not capable of teaching anymore. Physically and emotionally I am in no position to be in front of children all day and hold everything together. But, there are other things I am equipped for because of what has happened. I am starting a pregnancy loss ministry and trying to reach out to other mothers living without their children. I have faith that God will use my wounds to make something beautiful.

If you are going through the grieving process I challenge you to see the new possibilities that God is calling you to because of your situation, often the situation you did not ask for or want. If you are watching someone you love grieve, give them freedom to let go of their "old selves." I cannot tell you how much it meant to me the day I came home in tears and my husband said, "you can quit teaching right now, you don't just have to stick it out and get through it." He gave me permission to let go of the old me, even when I didn't want to.  It is so hard to leave behind teaching, so much of it was who I was. I know that God will lead me though to new things and if I choose to see it that way my load gets a little lighter.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A night out-the new way

Last weekend my husband and I attended a neighborhood fish fry. We have only lived in our house for a little over a year, so we are still getting to know most of the people on our street. I knew that our direct neighbors would be there, and my initial thoughts were that the party would be a small gathering.
As we were getting ready to leave I began to cry putting on my make up. No reason, just felt sad that our house is still so empty when it should have a 6 month old in it. Nathan suggested maybe we skip the party, but I was determined to pull it together and have a night of fun. A few tissues later and we were on our way.
As we crossed the street and approached the house (everyone was gathered in the garage) I immediately saw a stroller. My heart started racing and I started to assess the situation. I hadn't planned on babies being there so I was caught off guard ( I truly thought we lived on a street with mostly retired people!). This reaction seems to happen every time I see something that would belong to a baby. The feeling I get is like seeing your ex-boyfriend with another girl for the first time after you have broken up. Baby items have the ability to make me go running. Anyways, I see the stroller, start to panic, and then immediately assess that there is no infant carrier, thus confirming that the child must be older (at this point, I cannot see the child, just the stroller). Thank goodness, I think to myself, since older children aren't as hard for me. We walk further and see that the stroller belongs to a little girl around the age of 1. This is another plus- its a girl. Since loosing Caleb, I can handle girls better than boys. They don't send me into the thoughts of what he would have been doing, or looked like, etc.

I compose myself and go around and greet people. Turns out there were a lot more people there than I anticipated. The whole time I am dreading the question "do you have any children?" I don't like to leave Caleb out, but who wants to talk about a horror story like ours at a nice neighborhood fish fry? I just feel so caught between telling the truth and bringing the whole room down with it. Luckily, no one asked.

We stayed for about 2 hours and right before we left one of the ladies passed around her phone with a picture of her niece who looked about 9 months old. She said that her niece had been born weighing only 2lbs at 26 weeks gestation. The baby made it and is now doing great. And this is where it is the worse sometimes. Your natural instinct is to be so excited when you hear this, to Praise the Lord for this child's incredible ability to survive and the technology that enabled it. But, after losing Caleb, I don't have that natural instinct. All I could do was put on a fake smile, and try to push out the thoughts that stated to bombard me. Caleb weighed 7 lbs, he was full term, no problems during pregnancy at all and yet he came out dead, but a baby born weighing 2 lbs lives? How is this possible? How can someone who looks so healthy die and someone who looks so sick live? So I spent the rest of the party trying to fight those thoughts, reminding myself over and over that I am not the Lord of life and death, but God is. He makes the calls and His ways are not our ways.

By the time we came home from the party I was exhausted. And this is the part about grief that is hard. Every time I step out of the door I feel like land mines are everywhere. Just going across the street to a gathering takes so much energy. What used to be "fun"to me now just takes a lot of prepping and actually willing myself to be engaged in the party, and then a debriefing when I come home just to process everything.  This is why when people ask me to do things, I can't give them a definite yes anymore. I have to almost wait until the day of, see how I am feeling and then decide if I have the energy. It's like I am still so sick, but no one can see it.  I have to move at such a slower pace now than before. One unseen land mine can send me home bound for days.

Overall, the party was good, just took a lot of energy to get there and back. Please remember this if someone you know is grieving. Give them space and allow them to move slower or cancel plans last minute. It may not make sense to you, but to a person dealing with grief, life is a moment by moment thing to get through and you just don't know where it will take you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It's official-I'm a blogger

I have secretly been stalking the word of blogs for about 3 years now. When we first got married I thought I might start one in order to keep out of town family members up to date with our lives. Then I realized we were boring and most updates could be covered in a phone call.

After giving birth to our first child, Caleb, who was stillborn at 38 weeks, my world literally flipped upside down. I had never encountered grief before in such a powerful way. It has been 6 months since my son died and there have been so many twists and turns along this grief journey. I want to chronicle my grief for 1)myself, to reflect back on 2) others who are in my shoes - Since loosing Caleb, life has been so isolating and the one refuge I have found are other bloggers who have experienced the same thing. If I can help someone with my story of grief and healing like they have helped me, it will be worth it. 3) My friends- Death has put a divide between many of my friends and myself  and in an effort to let them into a little  corner of my world, I want to share this blog with them.

Its strange, having been a devoted Catholic to the New Evangelization, I was accustomed to bringing Christ to people through my faith journey. God can use all things and I have a prompting from the Holy Spirit that now I might have the chance to bring people to Christ through my grief journey. Enjoy the ride!