Saturday, January 28, 2012

Still Would Have Chosen You By Terri Banish

If before you were born, I could have gone to heaven and saw all the beautiful souls
I still would have chosen you
If God had told me, "This soul would one day need extra care and needs"
I still would have chosen you
If He would have told me, "This soul may make your heart bleed"
I still would have chosen you
If He had told me, "This soul would make you question the depth of your faith"
I still would have chosen you
If He had told me, "This soul would make tears flow from your eyes that could fill a river"
I still would have chosen you
If He had told me, "This soul may one day make you witness overbearing suffering"
I still would have chosen you
If He had told me, "All that you know to be normal would drastically change"
I still would have chosen you
Of course, even though I would have chosen you, I know it was God who chose me for you

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Grieving as a Couple

"We are not getting a divorce, no matter what," this is one of the things I remember saying to Nathan as we rode home from that awful doctors visit on April 14th after being told our son had died just 10 days before his due date. I felt compelled to fight for our marriage right away, not knowing what that would even look like.

Since that day I have come to learn that the divorce rate for couples who lose a child is 80%. And the thing is- I totally get it. Marriage is hard enough, now pile on the unnatural death of your child and it becomes nearly impossible. On the upside- it seems that the 20% of people who do not get divorced after their child dies have a bond that is unshakable. I would like to say this is the case with Nathan and I. We are stronger now than we ever have been and I can't imagine going through this with anyone else.

 I'd like to share some of the things that have helped us during this journey.

1. Make your needs known. We are not mind readers. As soon as we got home from delivering Caleb, we sat down and had a talk. We both agreed that if one of us was upset and crying then we would leave that person alone, unless they verbally said "I need you to come comfort me." This helped because I was such a wreck that I was crying all the time. I didn't necessarily need Nathan right there next to me all the time. It took the pressure off of him to know when I needed what.

We also made our needs known in other ways. Nathan is an introvert, I am an extrovert. Once he went back to work after Caleb died, when the weekends came, he was spent. However, I had been inside all week mourning our son and trying to just survive that when the weekend came, I needed to get out. So, again we made our needs known. We often say things like "what do you want this weekend or night to look like?" That way we get a feel for what the other is thinking the day will look like. It really is a delicate balance of learning the other's needs then deciding who's need comes first. This sounds easy, but during grief when you feel like you are bleeding to death on a battle field, taking care of someone else's needs is hard to do.

2. Don't compare yourselves, your grief, or your abilities. I struggled so much with thinking there was something wrong with me because I wasn't reacting the way Nathan was. About a month after Caleb died, Nathan's family came back in town to stay with us and help put up a fence in the back yard. I was totally unprepared for how hard having people in the house for the weekend would be. I made it through breakfast Saturday morning and had to go back to the bedroom. I barley emerged all weekend and I felt terrible about it. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't act "normal" and host and help with yard work and act like things were fine. I felt so guilty that Nathan was able to. It was humbling for sure.

Men and women are so different and the grief affects us all differently. Mine has been intense and sudden. Nathan's comes in waves and is spread out over time. I heard somewhere that it takes men about a year after the initial loss of a child to even really start grieving. This makes sense. Right away it would have been bad for us to both be acting like I was. I could not function, but he could. I had to let go of my pride and be humble about letting him take care of me.

Nathan says he feels like we are both in a battle and right now even though we are both wounded, he has to make sure to get me to safety before he can take care of his wounds. So, he does. This summer and into the fall he was the one working, cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, paying bills. I basically just tried to stay alive and live through the fog that had become life.

If you are  a grieving wife, I would say let your husband take care of you. It is an opportunity for him to serve you and it won't last forever. Realize that you both were made different. He will be able to go to work and function while you might not be able to. We call this the waffle vs. spaghetti effect. Men are like waffles, they can take something and "waffle it" or file it away in their brains until they need it or have time to deal with it. Women are like spaghetti, the things in their life touch everything else just like spaghetti on a plate- its very messy. Do not think you husband did not love your child as much as you just because he is not crying like you are or doesn't bring them up all the time. Men are not emotional and they deal with things differently. I have seen most of Nathan's grief come out in other ways like little annoyances around the house and dealing with cars and things like that. Little things that need to be fixed seem to throw him over the edge and I know that it is the grief speaking a lot of the time.

We even went away for our anniversary in June and somehow managed to have fun.

I would recommend this for couples grieving. The truth is you cannot talk about your loss all the time- it will make you crazy. You need some "fluff" to get through life. So we tried new things and were able to have something to talk about other than how bad life seemed to be. We both took up new hobbies and tried to continue to drink deeply from life even though all we wanted to do was sleep and stop living. We treated ourselves. During the summer I think we had drinks on our porch almost 2-3 times a week. We just needed to pamper ourselves in a way that we hadn't before. So try new things and be nice to yourselves.

3. Find ways to properly memorialize your child. This is a work in progress and when I say "properly" I don't really even know what that means. All I know is that it's been good for us to memorialize Caleb. We tend to his grave and change the decorations with each season. We set up a memorial table for him this Christmas. We also had a memorial tree of ornaments remembering all the babies we have known who have died since Caleb. This helped us direct our energy and was a good way to still parent Caleb. We got a dog and call her Caleb's puppy. We are currently working on a wall in our bedroom with some mementos of the funeral and pictures to make it a memorial wall. We planted a garden out back in his honor. All of these are little things, but they help. They give us something positive to talk about in regards to Caleb. We can only re-tell the sad story to each other so many times. These memorials give us a way to make his memory live on.

4. Women- find others to talk to. Naturally women are more talkative. While my husband is great and will talk about Caleb any time, I know that my need to bring it up far outweighs his. Especially in those first months, I felt the need to tell and retell and then retell his story over and over again. It was so healing to just be able to say his name. You spend your whole pregnancy talking about your baby and plan to do so the rest of your life. Then after a loss, people are silent and everyone acts like nothing happened. I couldn't handle not talking. Finding good support groups or grief counseling helped so much. Currently I attend a weekly grief support group, a monthly pregnancy loss group, lead a monthly pregnancy loss group myself, and go to bi-weekly counseling. And it all helps-  so much. It gives me air to breath and an outlet. Otherwise I think I might suffocate my husband with my need to talk it out. I have had to battle the feeling of weakness because I need all of this and Nathan doesn't. But again, we are different and by me getting the help I need, it makes me a better wife and allows me to serve and love Nathan more.

5. This is another one for the wives. Learn to say no. I have noticed in the 9 months of grieving that it is important to say no ( and as my counselor says- no is a complete sentence). There have been many times when I have been invited to a certain place or situation that I know will be hard for me and painful. At first, I would just go and grit my teeth. What then followed was awful. I would come home, cry, and be down in the pit for 2-3 days. It took a lot of effort on Nathan's part to help get me out of these dark times. Then I began to realize that this wasn't fair to him. Yes, I know there are times that I will breakdown and have whole days where I don't get out of bed. But, if I can try to control or manage those then it is less taxing on him.

So, this has required a lot of giving up things on my part (even those things that would appear "good"). I know certain situations, people, or events that will leave me spent and drag me into the dark pit. I now try to avoid those in order to give Nathan some rest. His time off to rest each week is limited and I don't want him to spend those precious hours tending to a hysterical wife. Now, this doesn't mean it will be that way forever. But for now, I have to stay away from others with babies, avoid situations that I know will be hurtful to me.

It is actually a lot harder than it sounds because me having to say "no" tends to make me look pathetic (at least I feel like it does). Sometimes I feel that people really don't understand why something as simple as bringing a new mom a meal (when I have nothing to do all day) or going to a baby shower is out of the question for me right now. I know if I tried to enter into that it would leave me crying on the bathroom floor for at least a day or two and that's not fair to my husband. When I took my vows I vowed to love him first and get him to Heaven, so really he is my main concern. Putting your husband first by saying no to certain "land minds" can feel weak and be hard, but again it is the greatest thing you could do for your marriage.

6. Put God first. Wow, this is a big one and I left it until the end! Jesus has to be your number one. I believe Nathan and I have been able to heal so much because we don't look to each other to do the healing. Only God can heal us. We both have very different relationships with God and we need Him in different ways. I cannot look to Nathan to give me the answers I need as to why Caleb is gone. I have had to take so many of my questions and heart ache to God. And God can handle it! He can handle my anger, my hurt, my bitterness, jealousy, sadness, all of those emotions. Nathan would collapse if I put that pressure on him to "fix" all of me. Making time to pray (or really just cry to God) is important. I try to give Nathan one night during the week where he can come home and I am gone. This way there is no pressure for him to be "on," as a husband that night. He is free to pray and have alone time which he desperately needs (remember-introvert). He feels refreshed from this and I am happy that I was able to do something productive for him. I also have to make sure to carve out time for prayer. I journal, listen to music, anything to keep coming back to the source of life. I can't say I always want to go to God, but its important for our marriage that I don't lay all of my burdens over the death of our son on my husband.

7.Last but not least- Just try to stay alive. I read this phrase in a grief book shortly after Caleb died and we clung to it! It has been out motto for the past 9 months. It sounds easy, but after a loss living is really the last thing you want to do. "Just trying to stay alive" has meant us lowering the bar on our standards of how our home is run. In the beginning we simply could not keep up with the housework. So, we decided to have only 2 nights a week we would do the dishes, instead of feeling pressured to clean them every night. I must say some days we looked like a frat house, but who cares? We certainly weren't entertaining anyone.

We give each other a lot of grace in regards to the old "normal." We try not  to get upset when the grass isn't cut on time or the garbage is missed for the week. We didn't even put up a Christmas tree this year because we both felt we lacked the energy or motivation. Overall, everything is little when you are just trying to stay alive. So don't be afraid to lower your standards for the time being. It won't last forever and in the present moment you need to direct your energy to just trying to stay alive.

These are all just a few things that have helped us as a grieving couple. There is such a temptation to withdraw into yourself during times of grief. Putting work and effort into your marriage during the hard times seems next to impossible, but it is worth it and will make you stronger in the end.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prince of Peace

This is for my dear friend Rachel who also shares my love of Rich Mullins. He was a great Christian song writer and singer who died in 1997 in a tragic car accident. Right before he died he had gone through RCIA to become Catholic. Our chaplain that Rachel and I used to work for would tell us all about Rich Mullins and how great of a guy he was. I have been listening to this song over and over again each day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Follow up to last post

So I realized after I wrote the last post that I gave everyone the info on what is going on, but not the practical coping mechanisms that are helping me.

Self care is a big one. I am trying to get plenty of rest and pamper myself as much as possible.Sometimes this means longs showers or listening to praise and worship music over and over again. I make sure to have at least one comfort food in our cabinets for stressful times (pop tarts right now!) I try to make simple meals that don't require a lot of ingredients or steps. Usually I make a double batch so that we can freeze it and have it later. Anything I can do to make things easier on us is helpful. Remember- decision making is not our strength right now, so the less we have to make the better.

We made a "not to do" list. This has taken huge pressure off of us as far as maintaing the house goes. So far things like fixing our garage door, making the bed, and other minor things are on this list. I highly recommend this for couples in our position. It takes away the burden of guilt from you over things that really can wait just 5 more weeks.

Distractions! We try to distract ourselves as much as possible. It is hard with a pregnancy after a loss because you are not doing the "usual" things getting a nursery ready or washing clothes or making endless runs to babies R us. So, some days the best way to get through it all is to try to forget it is happening. My husband and I have both bought computer games to play (diner dash for me!). I know it sounds childish, but the relief that comes with just forgetting the stress even for an hour or so can help so much. We have  a few shows online that we watch each week. Right now we decided to re-arrange our basement and set up a work bench for him and a craft corner for me. This new project helps distract us on the weekends and gives us something to do. I am also sewing like crazy which is a good distraction. I have found that using my hands helps gets my mind off of things.

Change of scenery- Lately it has been tortuous to try and sleep. Since I know Caleb died sometime while I was sleeping, that time of night becomes such an agony for me. I was really at my wits end and felt like I was going crazy because it was getting to the point of me crying and breaking down at night about how I don't want to go to bed. I would wake up in a panic all through the night and overall just live in terror.  I knew I could not do that for the next 5 weeks, so I got the idea to switch things around. Our humanity is so linked with our surroundings and senses. So I got a new nightgown, new pillows and sometimes sleep on the couch. I would really recommend this to women even though it sounds silly. Changing things up makes my humanity realize that this pregnancy is different.

Prayer- this one has been hard and like any time in life when things change, your prayer life has to change as well. I can no longer sit in silence before our Lord for an hour like I used to. I get to anxious and the enemy starts to plant too many seeds of doubt in my mind. I find reading spiritual books hard now because my mind simply cannot take in and process things. So, the rosary is what I have turned to. Again, it uses my hands, requires little to no memory or effort. I like the repetitive nature of it- it seems to soothe me to say the same thing over and over again.

Also, making sure to stay in a state of grace is important. We try to go to mass 6 out of 7 days a week. I have to be honest and say that most days its all I can do to get there. I show up but  have no energy to actually participate in the mass. I lean on the community to say the words for me as I follow along in my heart. I usually cry during the whole thing. I beg God for his grace through the Eucharist. I trust that by me just showing up His grace is abundant and will overcome this hard time. Also, going to confession often allows more grace to flow in our lives and gives me the clarity I need right now.

Listening to inspiring talks. I have the radio in our kitchen on a lot to drown out the silence. I have a new found love of 88.5 moody radio. It is a Christian station that has very inspiring preachers during the day and has lots of scripture quoted. Their messages always help me to stay on track. In the first few weeks after Caleb died, I decided to "medicate" myself with God's word one way or another every 4 hours. It could be listening to talks, reading scripture, anything to help me re-focus. I thought every 4 hours was good because that is usually when medicine starts to wear off. It really helped get me through the days until Nate came home and I have found that now I am back to that same old routine. It is so important for me to stay on track with the truth.

Scripture- I have really clung to scripture during this pregnancy. These last few weeks opening up the Bible and trying to find somewhere to start reading seems overwhelming.  I find myself constantly going to the psalms for comfort. My favorite one right now is psalm 31(especially verses 9-16).  I also read daily psalm 126. I plan on having Abigail's footprint stamped over this verse at the hospital after she is born. It is such a great psalm of hope.

When I can't have the Bible with me, I have a few verses I've memorized to help me get through things. These can help when we are in appointments or when I get anxious. Right now my favorite verses are "The One who gives the call is faithful and He will accomplish it," 1 Thessalonians 5:24. I also like "Very well, see I am on the watch to fulfill my word." Jeremiah 1:12. This last one I just found the other day. God asks Jeremiah what he sees and he says "the watching tree." My footnotes tell me that the almond tree in the Hebrew times was known as the watching tree because it was the first to bloom in Spring as if it hadn't slept and been on watch. I love this imagery because I feel constantly on watch to make sure Abigail is alright and the thought that God is on the watch to fulfill His promises fills me with hope.

Another thing we are doing to try to cope is playing things safe. After 9 months of grief, we have gotten pretty good and knowing how to avoid land mines, not always, but most of the time. Things and events that would drain us or cause us to have to navigate through, we just say no to right now. We need all the energy we have to get through these next few weeks, so keeping things simple is important. We also try to have things to look forward to each week. A simple meal out or a date night can really help make the weeks go by.

Playing with the dog- we just love our Siena! She is such a good distraction because we can take her on walks or to the dog park.

So there is my list of hopefully helpful tips on how to endure the last few weeks of a pregnancy after a loss. Right now my main prayer is that God speed up time! Until February 24th (induction day) though, these things will have to get us through.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Grief woven through the lens of a subsequent pregnancy

 My, my, how grief is deceptive. As an outsider to the grieving process I would have always thought that a person in my shoes would be doing "so much better," as she nears the finish line of her subsequent pregnancy. I mean, they are almost there-right? Now she can finally have her baby and be back to "normal." She must be so happy that things are finally turning around and settling down.

This has been anything but the truth of the matter. Both my husband and I have noticed how much worse we have gotten in the past few weeks. To us, it honestly might as well be the first few weeks after Caleb died. Things like cooking, cleaning, showering, making the bed, and paying the bills are all becoming impossibly hard again. My mind is on such an overload with this pregnancy that I feel I have no room in there to focus on anything else. My abilities to make decisions are almost nonexistent right now. I cannot process things and everything, even a simple phone call, feels like it might take me all day to accomplish it. My initiative and motivation are at an all time low. Nothing seems worthwhile or important other than Abigail surviving.

I also have noticed my battle with anxiety is at its worst right now.  I can handle being around others in a one on one ratio, any more than that I start to panic on the inside. My counselor compares the anxiety that comes with grief to a sense of everything being out of control. When you have such a sudden loss, your whole world feels out of control and there is nothing you can do about it. So, in order to battle this anxiety, it's important for me to try to regain control of things. Not in a control freak sort of way, more in a "you have to have control of your car if you want it to work properly." So, when there tends to be more than one or two people with me, I get anxious. The conversation could go somewhere I cannot, they could decide against my will to change plans. Grieving people are not flexible. I need plans that are solid and do not fluctuate. This is a far cry from where I was a few months ago when I was finally able to start being a little social again.

Another example of the weirdness of anxiety happened last weekend when Nate and I went to see a movie. As the show began I started to get nervous. I felt "trapped." because I had made a commitment for two hours that required me to be in the same seat. The thoughts started coming "what if Abigial stops moving during this show? How will I tell my husband, I don't want to ruin it for him, but we might need to go to the hospital and wouldn't that ruin everything?" None of these are rational  because you can leave the movie at your own free will. Nonetheless, I had to really concentrate on breathing and not having a panic attack just because I had this unsafe, trapped feeling. Weird, I know but it happens when things feel out of my control and the movie felt "out of control," not on my timeline.

One reason I think the grief is so heavy now, is the fact that everything seems to be Deja vu. The times I remember most vividly with Caleb are from weeks 30-38. That is when I had 5 baby showers given for him, had the most appointments, got the nursery ready, washed his clothes, bottles, blankets. Right now it feels like everything is a flashback. I took out a shirt to wear the other day and its one of those"really big only third trimester shirts." I lost my breathe as I remembered the exact last time I had worn it-the day before he died. It's all these little things that makes grief hard right now. In a sense I feel like I am on the set of a horror movie and I know the ending (stillborn baby) but I cannot get out. I feel like I am headed down the train tracks towards emminit doom again. Like I am the lead in a role I never wanted to play and we are doing round two.

I have learned that grief is closely related to your senses. So it makes sense why the seasons being the same as they were with Caleb are hard. It's basically the same timeline as my pregnancy with him and it threatens to mess with my head so much. Everything seems so much the same. When I tell people when we are due they say things like "oh spring is a great time to have a baby, with the weather getting nicer and they days lighter." And all I can think is "you said the exact same thing when I was pregnant with Caleb." Right now to me, anytime you can have a live baby is a good time. Also, everything is going great with Abigail is terms of the pregnancy, which isn't really reassuring at all. I see random aquantinces out and about and they ask "So, things going well?" And I say yes, but really all I can think is "they went well the last time too until the last 9 hours. Abigail has all the "symptoms," that Caleb had- passes every test and sonogram with flying colors, moves enough for perfect kick counts, measuring right on target for growth. So, yes, things are going well, but that is of no consolation for me. Somehow in our world "well" led to us up planning a funeral instead of bringing our baby boy home. "Well" and "perfectly healthy" left us with no answers as to why our first child died, so who's to say that this time it will be different?

Another thing that has been happening lately is my refusal to do or go certain places. I remember exactly all the events leading up to Caleb's death. I remember what we had for dinner that night, the way I did my hair that morning, what I wore, etc. And all of those things are ruined for me now. So, in my mind as a defense mechanism I don't want to do anything for fear tragedy might strike again and ruin things. For example, I am hesitant to go to my favorite restaurants right now because I really like them and if Abigail should die unexpectantly after going there then that restaurant will be ruined forever. Same with seeing movies, going to social events. I just want to stay inside my home where it is safe. We need a coat hanger for our living room and I don't want to buy one right now because if we do and she dies, then I will forever see that coat hanger and think "we bought that just before she died." So many memories are attached to Caleb's death and they have become land minds for us to navigate through once he was gone. I guess in a way I am trying to avoid having so many should the unthinkable happen again.

The point of this post I suppose is really to let others know that people in a  subsequent pregnancy need lots of extra care. Especially during the part of their pregnancy when their loss occurred. Ask your friend "how are you doing?" and really listen to the answer. It will probably not be a happy one like normal pregnant women, but try to endure that for her sake. Bring the couple a meal, offer to watch their other children (if they have any), send a card to let them know you are praying for them. Do not assume that they are "doing better" just because they are nearing the end of their pregnancy. Like I said, it has been my experience that during this time, the grief is the heaviest. I don't have the luxury of the numbing power I had after he died to keep me from feeling everything. The anxiety of it all is enough to swallow me whole.

Be gentle with your friends during this period, don't push them to do anything outside of their comfort zone. Invite them to things but realize they probably won't come. Nathan and I are so focused on trying to survive one day at a time right now that things like social obligations or get togethers seems unimportant and trivial. Nothing is carefree right now, and every day it seems like a battle for life and death. Sounds dramatic but the reality is I feel like we are waiting to see if Abigail lives or dies. We will know in 5 weeks and 4 days (who's counting right?) what the outcome will be, but for now we have to sit tight. Similar to those parents who are waiting with their sick children in the NICU wondering if they will live or die. Except, ours looks perfectly normal on the outside, like we are just one happy couple awaiting the biggest blessings of our lives.

Please keep praying for us and any others who are in this situation. Also, pray for those who are not pregnant right now but who would give their right arm to have the kind of anxiety and problems we have. I know many women who have had terrible losses of multiple children who are currently waiting to conceive again or adopt. I am so thankful for Abigail and never want to appear like I am not, just wanting people to know how hard this is.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My companions on this journey

One thing I have come to appreciate so much about the Catholic Church is her teaching on the saints, especially during grief. The universal Church with her saints has come through  many times. Allow me to introduce you to the women who have helped me on this journey, women whom I have never met but because of the communion of saints I have come to know. I  feel closer to these women most days than I do most of my friends and family here on Earth.

Mother Mary. Ok, obvious one, but truly she has helped me so much. I never had a strong devotion to Mary and growing up always felt like I just didn't "get" her. After burying Caleb I found such comfort in the statue of the pieta where Mary is holding her dead son. Mary and I could now relate on a whole new level and it has been immensely healing. One of the things I struggle with constantly is guilt. I ask myself over and over again "What kind of mother stands by and does nothing while her child dies?" Because even though the doctors and friends and family say it wasn't my fault, it sure feels like it. It feels like I stood by and let Caleb die without trying to intervene in some way. When I brought this question to Mary in prayer, she answered "I am that kind of mother." She stood by and did not intervene while her son died. She knew it was the Father's will and therefore let it be. This helped me so much and I was finally able to let some of the guilt go, knowing she had done the same thing.

Hannah from the Old Testament. Hannah longed for a child of her own after years of infertility. I prayed to her often when we were trying to conceive Caleb. Hannah pours her heart out to the Lord and begs Him for a child. God hears her prayers and she gives birth to a baby boy named Samuel. Hannah's famous line is "For this child I prayed." I loved that quote so much that we ordered a decal of it and put it as the center piece in our nursery. After finding out Caleb had died and waiting for him to be born, I re-read Hannah's story while in the hospital. I almost shut the book when I re-read my favorite verse. The whole verse states " For this child I prayed, and now I in turn give him back to the Lord." She gave him back! Literally she took him to the temple after she had weened him and left him there to become a priest. My heart ached for my son, but I knew like Hannah that I had to give him back to the Lord. I found consolation knowing that scripture tells us the Lord favored Hannah so much that he blessed her with more children.

The divine part of all of this just keeps going on. So, I feel like Hannah because we cant get pregnant and I relate to her on that level. Then we both have sons whom we have to give back to the Lord. Then we go on to have more children. We chose Abigail for the name of our little girl because of Abigail in the old testament. You can find her story in 1 Samuel 25. Almost the whole chapter is dedicated to this heroic woman. The crazy part is that one tiny paragraph at the beginning is dedicated to someone else- Samuel! Hannah's son! The first part of the chapter speaks on Samuel's death. Again when I re-read this the other day I almost threw my Bible down. Samuel dies, then Abigail comes into the picture. Caleb dies then Abigail comes into the picture. I know it might just sound like I am trying to put these thoughts together but truly I feel Hannah is with me, showing me the story of her son and letting me relate it to the story of my family.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton- She was the first American born saint. She was a mother and then a widow and then started a religious order and founded many Catholic schools. What I love about this woman is that she became a saint even through her fear. The story goes that St. Elizabeth lost a few of her children to disease. After losing them it was known that she could not say the "Our Father" because the part where it says "your will be done," was too hard for her. She couldn't say it because she was terrified of loosing another child. WOW! And she still became a saint. This helps me so much on days where the fear is too big for me and the idea of doing God's will sends me into panic thinking about burying another child.

Blessed Zelie Martin- This women is not canonized a saint yet but is on her way. She was the mother of one of the greatest saints of our Church, St. Therese. I am not lying when I say that Zelie came to live with me this summer. I felt her presence so much and I devoured every book I could about her.

Zelie gave birth to 9 children. Her heart longed to have a son so she could raise him to become a priest and offer that back to our Lord. Her first little boy came, Joseph, and only lived 3 months. This was the first child she would have to bury. Then, miracle of all miracles, she gave birth to another boy. This son, also named Joseph, only lived a few months as well. So here she is, this long awaited prayer finally being answered in two sons, only to lay them in the grave. Zelie said that the grief of losing Helene was enough to kill her. But, on she went and she was faithful. She said over and over again that we cannot expect happiness here on Earth, only in Heaven.

Her 8th child, Therese, was a beautiful baby girl. However, Zelie had gotten breast cancer at this point in her life and could not breast feed the baby girl. There were no wet nurses in the town and Zelie held Therese in her arms as she watched her child die of starvation. Ok- seriously! By this point I would have given up faith altogether. But she didn't and in fact she kept her courage. While others thought her and her husband were CRAZY to have another child, they did. After burying 4 children (it is said that Zelie made sure she laid each child in the coffin herself), Zelie gave birth to her 9th child, Therese. This was to be her crowning jewel. This child was to become St. Therese of the child Jesus, doctor of the Church. Through St. Therese's intercession countless men have been led to the priesthood, more than Zelie could have ever dreamed of! God had such a bigger vision for Zelie's life than she even knew.

Zelie has helped me so much, not only with losing Caleb, but also with having Abigail. She writes a lot of the agonies of having a child after a loss. How the anxiety of it all is enough to kill you. I find comfort being able to relate to her. We chose Abigail's middle name after St. Therese, but also after Zelie's 8th child, Therese, who died of starvation. The child no one knows about and who is mostly forgotten but through her death gave way for her sister, St. Therese, to be born. I promised Zelie I would always remember her children, especially the ones who died so young.

Lastly, there is good ol' St. Monica. This was a mother who knew suffering. Her son, Augustine, was a terrible sinner. She prayed day and night that her son who was lost would come back to God. The thing that I love most about St. Monica is the fact that really she didn't do anything special, except pray and cry. She was known to shed so many tears over her son that the priests and bishops she went to for advice would see and hear her coming because of her obsessive tears and wailing.

Today, whenever there is a statue of St. Monica she is always holding a handkerchief because that is her symbol. How beautiful that she was so messy! I have cried so much and most days, especially in church, I just cannot seem to get it together. I always think of good ol' Monica and her crying with her handkerchief. All those tears and prayers to God eventually changed her son's heart. Augustine had a radical conversion back to our Lord and became one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church.

The extra cool thing about St. Monica and St. Augustine just happened to me recently. Each January my husband and I pick saints out of a box filled with saints names, to pray to for the following year. Well I went first and got St. Monica. "Perfect," I thought because I knew how much I would need her through my tears. Well then Nathan went next and picked for Caleb (so that he could have a buddy in Heaven). And guess what- he drew St. Augustine! This made me cry! I could not believe it and felt so held by the saints. I mean I know we believe in Heaven and the communion of Saints and all that, but sometimes it is hard to see the realness of it all. That night I saw it. St. Monica and St. Augustine, me and Caleb. I am not calling myself a saint by any means, but the mother/son relationship these two had was incredible and it gave me comfort to know my little boy loves me that way, like he hasn't forgotten about me. Nathan picked St. Joseph, which fits him completely, and Abigail got St. Phillip Neri. Not too sure what will come of that one, but we will wait and see.

So, these have been my companions. So many times I have not been able to run to God in all of this. I am scared of Him, I doubt Him, I do not trust Him the way I used to. We have a rough relationship right now but are working on it. However, during these times I have leaned on the saints to show me their examples of choosing hope even through suffering. I have felt so close to these women and know that they are walking right along side me, even if I cannot physically see them. I will be forever grateful to be Catholic and to have the communion of Saints. I long for Heaven when I will see these women face to face and we can all catch up and share our  stories of serving the Lord.

St.Monica, Hannah, St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton, Blessed Zelie Martin, and Mother Mary- Pray for us!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Secondary Losses

One term that I learned very early on in grief counseling is "secondary losses." These are losses that are secondary to your main loss, but still occur because of your loss. For example, when a person loses their spouse, they don't just lose their husband- they also lose the person who took care of the yard, paid the bills, wrapped the Christmas presents, did the cooking, etc....

I remember the first time they spoke about secondary losses at group counseling and I felt this huge relief wash over me. I had been feeling so many losses but thought it was just me! Truly, for me the secondary losses have been just as hard as losing Caleb. They have turned my whole world upside down and are the reason I have the wind knocked out of me much. The secondary losses also need to be grieved right along with your main loss. It has been good for me to identify these losses when I see them and to grieve each one as they happen.

Some of the secondary losses that I have been grieving at the almost 9 month mark are:

Sunday Church. We decided about a month ago that we needed to go to a new parish on Sundays because mentally and emotionally it was too hard to see all the people we knew with their babies who are around the same age as Caleb. We needed the freedom to be able to worship God without the heaviness of all the obstacles. We will go back to our church some day, but for now we are like sojourners traveling to a different parish each week, trying to avoid the "family" masses, be able to sneak in and out without being noticed. It's very different from before when we looked forward to Sunday mass and seeing all of our friends in the pews next to us.

Our social life. It is non existent right now. We are dealing with so much emotionally with grieving Caleb and getting ready to have another baby in just 8 weeks, that hanging out just isn't something we can do right now. After Caleb died we kind of fell off the face of the Earth when it came to socializing. Most of the people we used to hang out with all have young kids and it was just too hard. So now I sit around on the weekends and try not to get angry that I sometimes feel like a prisoner in my own home. I know its necessary and I also know it won't be forever, but it still stinks.

The innocence of pregnancy. This is a big one. I cannot believe how naive I was about pregnancy before. Now I see it as something to "get through." I cannot do the normal pregnancy things. When people ask me in public about Abigail and her due date and all that, I try to change the subject as quickly as possible. Pregnancy for me brings up the worst wounds and I feel so vulnerable. For me, pregnancy has caused me more pain than I ever imagined and so when people want to act happy about it, I just have to cringe inside. It makes me sad that the innocence is lost. Sad that I cannot buy tons of pink onsies right now and prepare the nursery. All of that was taken from me after Caleb died inside of me. Even something as simple as installing the car seat, which would make most couples excited, brings on a panic attack for me. I remember the car seat being installed and I also remember it being taken out, empty. So, no preparing, no extended conversations about this pregnancy with strangers. Our "birth plan" for Abigail includes talking to our doctors and nurses about post traumatic stress and how to handle it if it should come up in the delivery room. Other than that we really don't care what happens except that she comes out alive.  All of this is such a big loss from a normal person's pregnancy.

Our dream for a big family. We always wanted to have a larger family but now after losing one child, we have our hesitations. We now feel like the decision to try to achieve a pregnancy will carry with it so much weight. For us, getting pregnant also means the reality of burying another child and that is a heavy decision that we will have to take to prayer in the rest of our marriage.  Because pregnancy for us is now so traumatic and demanding (tons more appointments, tons more sonograms, tons more stress and anxiety), each child we would bring into this world now has a new level of discernment. Are we capable of going through another 9 months of constant vigilance, the 2 a.m. wake up calls when I make Nathan get out of bed and check for the baby's heartbeat with the doppler, the 2-3 times a week doctor appointments, the uncertainty of it all?  The emotional and psychological cost of pregnancy is heavy now, not light and carefree as it once was. So maybe a big family is still in store for us, but the decision and discernment that will go into it will be a lot more.

Facebook- a small loss, but still a loss. I deleted my account about 3 weeks after Caleb died. I simply could not see all of the pregnancy pictures, baby pictures, and overall happy comments.  I was so excited to post pictures of Caleb at all his different stages for the world to see and when I couldn't, it was simply too much to watch everyone else still be able to. Sometimes I miss Facebook, but truth be told it actually gives me a lot more free time and decrees the temptation to sins of jealousy, gossip, and envy.

My job- another somewhat small thing in the big picture of life, but still significant. I thought I would be able to go back to teaching after taking about 4 months off. How wrong I was! The emotional toll of grief was just too much. I began having more flashbacks, grief attacks, and anxiety. I simply could not be "on" and in front of a classroom for 8 hours every day like I used to be. It was humbling to finally realize and accept that I could not do my job anymore, but there was no way around it.

My intuition as a mother- I just don't trust my intuition anymore. When your child dies inside of you 10 days before their due date and your body gives you no warning after a perfectly healthy pregnancy, you start to doubt your abilities. I just am constantly checking, double, and triple checking things with this new pregnancy. I can't rely on myself to signal when or if something is wrong. Good thing there are remedies for this- we now have a heart doppler that I listen to about once a day.We are planning on buying a monitor with a video if Abigail arrives alive, and we want to get a SIDS detector thing to put on the baby's mattress to alert you if they stop breathing. Gotta love technology.

Extra Curriculars- Most of the "groups" that I belonged to I can no longer go to. Too many moms, babies, breastfeeding, and that sort of thing. My husband and I also led a Bible Study which we have had to step down from because we couldn't lead it anymore. Every year we have gone on an engagement encounter retreat and given talks to engaged couples. We have had to stop doing that as well. I know some of these might come back, but for now they are gone and that is hard.

The "normal" feeling. I struggle a lot with feeling so abnormal after Caleb's death. We have a nursery all ready to go and have to keep the door shut. Its a weird feeling to walk by a door everyday and know that that room is off limits. Sure we go in there from time to time, but right now its too hard on our hearts to have it open. So, we keep it closed and that just makes me feel weird. We also go to the cemetery like its the grocery store. Decorations for Caleb's grave are always changing and while I love "mothering" him this way (one of the few ways I can) it still feels strange. Other things like my new found love of reading the obituaries and praying for all the families, especially those with an infant loss or looking up Caleb's obituary (its still there- they keep it on record for up to a year- the thought of having both of my children in the paper in 11 months, one because of his obituary and one hopefully to announce her birth is so surreal) just to see his name officially written somewhere- all of these are strange, well strange for someone who hasn't lost a baby  I suppose.  So overall just a loss of any resemblance of "normal" in our lives. Although our grief counselor does always remind us that normal is just a setting on your dryer...

The last one I am struggling with right now is hard. I have lost the ability to enter into other people's pregnancies. I just cannot go there. I don't go to baby showers anymore. I don't send gifts until after the baby comes out alive. Even then its usually a simple target gift card because I can't bring myself to actually step foot back into the baby section and pick a gift out for the baby. If I get birth announcements in the mail I have to throw them away because they cause me too much pain. Its terribly agonizing for me to have to hear other people's labor and delivery stories. I just feel so robbed of the whole thing that hearing others' stories brings back so many hard memories. The loss of being able to celebrate with friends their new gift of life has been VERY humbling, especially because I have always claimed to be a pro-life Catholic who truly believes each life is a gift from our Lord. I still believe that, but just can't enter into it right now.

Overall these are just a FEW of the secondary losses I have experienced and in particular a few that I am dealing with and grieving right now, almost 9 months later.  The beauty in all these losses is it really makes you turn to God in a whole new way. I have hardly any distractions from our Lord. He has really cleared away any underbrush that was in my life.

When I joined FOCUS and became a missionary I feel like God really stripped me of material things. After loosing Caleb, I feel like He is showing me how attached I was to the "RyAnne

Secondary losses are hard and most people don't even know they exist. If you know someone who is grieving, talk to them about these losses. Have compassion on them and understand that losing someone you love is just part of the whole picture of loss. Don't try to understand their secondary losses or why they effect the person so much. Each person's grief is as unique as their fingerprint. Just listen,listen, and listen and be that shoulder for them to cry on.