Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012


It's amazing the difference a year can make - the difference that a year has made.

At this time last year, I'd barely begun to grieve. The new year loomed, and I hated it. I hated the idea of leaving the only year in all of past and future history that my daughter would ever be alive on this earth for. Leaving the year that I've come to think of as her year felt wrong.

But of course all my kicking and screaming could not stop the calendar from rolling over to 2012. And while I dreaded the passing of days that brought me farther and farther from Eve's life, this year has proven to be a blessing.

2012 brought me so much. It brought me our son, our rainbow baby whose sweet, silly smiles I cannot get enough of. It brought the beginning of healing from losing Eve, although not the end of it. It brought challenges that will, in the long term, I think, prove to have grown my husband and I stronger and closer together. It has brought new, precious friends into my life, introduced by our children in Heaven or by a mutual love of art-making. It has brought an awareness of courage and strength and patience that I never imagined I had. It brought more art, and more words.

2012, in spite of all my trepidation, has been a gift.

Even better, on this last day of the year looking forward to 2013, I have hope, and I have peace - things I did not have on December 31, 2011.

So what about the new year?

I've thought about choosing one word as a focus for growth in 2013, but I can't find just one that fills the part. Instead, I have discovered a phrase - "be here now." I am excited to see where it takes me.

Keeping that phrase in mind, I am looking forward to watching my son grow, and feeling my marriage grow stronger. I am hoping for a deepening of faith. I am planning new art adventures. I am wanting to let go of the anxiety that invaded my life on the day Eve died, anxiety that has at times been crippling. I am praying for further entering in of the freedom God so recklessly offers.

Thank you for joining me in the incredible, insane, terrifying, wonderful journey that 2012 has been, blog friends. Your words encourage me more than you know. Here's to another year of being brave together.

My love to you all.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

In Which I Get Angry at the Ones Who Judge the Grieving

Does grief make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Because death is uncomfortable. Death is strange and unpredictable and scary and inconvenient. And because death is these things, so is the way we deal with death. Grief is not comfortable for anyone, including the griever - but it is necessary.

Want to know who it helps when you tell a griever to get over it? Exactly one person - yourself. It leaves you feeling helpful and self-righteous, but at best it is useless to the one who has lost, and at worst it harms them and stifles the healthy process of grieving.

You think that grief that has gone on longer than makes you comfortable is complicated grief (a mental health diagnosis that I think is unrealistic and unfair)? I say that complicated grief is the grief that has been suppressed, often at the advice of people like you, and is forced to come out later in very unhealthy ways - like alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, anger, and a variety of other addictive behaviors.

So your suggestion to "get over it"? It is essentially a suggestion to halt the healthy, natural, and needed process of grieving - which may take years, and may never be fully completed - and so force the sadness to turn inward and become septic instead of being outwardly expressed in a healing manner.

Grief exists for a reason. You don't like how I allow my grief to run its natural course? You get over it - or at least keep your mouth shut. If you can't muster up a bit of sympathy or manage a polite "I'm sorry," then both you and your grieving friend or family member would be better off if you said nothing at all. Your guilt trips are not wanted here.

Do you think you'd grieve "better" (which is really your code word for faster and more conveniently), or that you have dealt with your own hardships "better"? If you feel healed, then good for you. But grief is not a competition. Stop trying to turn it into one. There is no one right way to do it, so quit heaping guilt onto other grievers about their feelings. I'm tired of hearing of these hurtful things being said to my grieving friends, and of having them said to me (much more occasionally, thank goodness). Comparison is useless, so cut it out.

Nobody wants to feel grief. But for those of us who have lost and have the courage to grieve healthily - we do this because we have to, not because we want to. Certainly not to put you out, so quit acting like that's what's going on. This is a matter of survival.

Want to be actually helpful? Here's what to do - shut your mouth and open your heart. If a griever has trusted you with the intimate vulnerabilities of their loss, listen and acknowledge. No matter what you think they "should" be feeling, this is what they are feeling. So pay attention, and keep the judgements to yourself. How can you be sure you know what's best for them anyway?

Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Good. Like I said, that's normal. Death sucks for everyone, and so does grief. Deal with it.

"But Jesus doesn’t turn away the grievers. 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.' I am called blessed. And I’m promised His comfort. This is blessed assurance. It’s like a great big sign at the foot of the Cross that says: 'You Belong Here.'" - Molly Piper

october 15th candle

When Christmas Feels Like Too Much

UntitledI was dreading this holiday season.  If you're reading this, then by now I'm sure you know why -- because last year, just days before Thanksgiving, my daughter died.  To have to face the holiday cheer so soon after her death felt harsh and cruel.

So this year, I expected the first anniversary of her death and birth to somber the Christmas season.

But it hasn't.  And, and the same time, it has.

Here's what I mean:

In spite of my grief, I find myself looking forward to Christmas.  Maybe it's because death has touched me so intimately that I can cherish every opportunity to celebrate.  And maybe it's for our newly born son that I want to start creating meaningful, enjoyable holiday traditions.  Whatever the reason, I am looking forward to Christmas Eve service, to singing carols there, and to gifting presents on Christmas Day and wearing Christmas-y colors and spending time with my family.

And yet . . . her absence is everywhere.  The gap in our family becomes ever more obvious the closer we draw to Christmas.  Some of the worst of it happens out shopping.  I can't resist swinging by the baby section of stores to see what cuteness might be gotten for our little guy.  But no matter how sweet the boy clothes are, the girl clothes are always sweeter.  And worse, the stores are now carrying baby-sized holiday gowns for girls.  Every time I see them, every time I see the tutus and ruffles and sparkles, my heart breaks a little more.

Oh, those dresses.  I can picture her wearing them too clearly, and it hurts.  It hurts.

Christmas shouldn't hurt.

UntitledAnd yet, for so many of us, it does.  It hurts because our babies are dead.  Because children were gunned down by a broken young man in their elementary school.  Because our parents or kids or spouses or friends or grandparents or other much-loved ones are missing.  Because we are tired.  Because the season, for whatever reason, is just too much sometimes.

So, while I am still looking forward to my son's first Christmas, I can't wait for it to be past.  Because, if she had been born alive around her January due date, this would have been my sweet girl's first Christmas, too.  I should have been buying her one of those very dresses, should have been wrapping presents that her little nearly one year old self would have torn at with unabashed glee.

What is it about Christmas that highlights the should-have-beens?

Today that knowledge of what should be and isn't is just too much.  As much as I will enjoy this second Christmas without her because her absence has helped me appreciate me these opportunities for celebration so much more, I will enjoy the post-holiday calm even more.

And really, that's okay.  It's okay for Christmas to feel hard, and okay to enjoy it in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- grief and sadness.  And it's okay to forgo Christmas dinner and take a nap instead.

But still . . . I don't know if this will ever get any easier. It feels like I miss her more all the time.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pictures of Before

From the very beginning of this new life in which loss and grief are major players, I’ve had difficulty with photographs.  I love taking pictures, especially self-portraits, and I take them almost constantly.  So when our daughter died abruptly and without known cause, it hurt to return from the hospital without our daughter and see the photographs from Before.  I felt like they had betrayed me.  Shouldn’t I have known that something so horrible was about to happen?  Shouldn’t there have been a warning hidden within those photographs?

I combed through them, looking for some sort of sign of the horror that had come upon us so suddenly.  I had taken pictures up until the day she died . . . but of course there were no warning signs in them when I searched them from my new life in After. . . .
Today I am writing over at Still Standing Magazine!  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Connecticut in My Heart

“I am learning to see. I don't know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn't stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of... What's the use of telling someone that I am changing? If I'm changing, I am no longer who I was; and if I am something else, it's obvious that I have no acquaintances. And I can't possibly write to strangers.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

So, Connecticut.

When I was putting my son down in his bassinet yesterday morning after feeding him, hoping to steal a couple more hours of sleep, a young man was murdering twenty children and several more adults at the elementary school that has now earned the kind of fame that no one wants.

Nearly thirty dead, twenty of them children, suddenly, senselessly.

How are we supposed to live in a world where things like this happen, and happen often?

As a person who has experienced the sudden and senseless death of her own child (although not at the hands of another, thank God), this tragedy has hit me hard. It has entered me deeply, as Rilke wrote. Because I know too well at least some of what those children's parents are feeling, will feel forever, and the knowing makes me feel physically ill. December 14, 2012 is a date now seared into those families' brains, the day that their lives were brutally delineated into Before and After.

I wish I didn't know this.

It hurts my heart. It hurts to know what kind of battle those Connecticut families have been forced to fight. It hurts to know how the rage and fear that grief brings will now mark their every hard-drawn breath. How the person each of them once was is gone forever, gunned down alongside their children. And it hurts to understand that because my own daughter's death was relatively merciful, I don't know the half of it.

There is nothing that can be said, no comfort to offer these parents that words can spell. All I can say is - I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry, you Newtown families. It is not right, that you are going through what no one should ever have to.

I grieve with you and for you. I am praying that God will meet you here, in the midst of this terrible, unfair trial. My hope is that you can bind together in the face of your mutual losses, that you can become a community of grievers and find some measure of healing in that, and in Him.

This world is a horror sometimes.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Not Christmas Without You: 8 Holiday Gifts for Grieivng Parents

It's Not Chrismtas Without You

In my experience, the holidays can be a difficult time.  Between the pressure to buy the perfect gifts, to cook the perfect meal, and have the perfect celebration filled with perfect feelings, expectations and emotions are running high.  And that's for those whose holiday table isn't missing a place.  Factor in the absence of a much-loved and much-wanted child . . . and, well, the holidays can feel downright dismal.

Last year, Christmas fell about a month after Eve died.  Suffice it to say -- I was not looking forward to the holiday.  I did everything I could do avoid any and all Christmas cheer, but my husband and I did visit family.  When the time came to open presents, I got the best gift ever.  My six year old niece, under her own power and with her own money, had donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Eve's memory.  And let me tell you -- that recognition of Eve's absence, not to mention the beautiful and extravagant generosity of my niece, meant everything

So I got to thinking about what other gifts might help fellow grieving parents enjoy the holidays.  And here's the result -- a list of beautiful gifts for bereaved parents that will uplift and, more importantly, offer that precious recognition of the little ones lost.

1Personalized Sand Drawings

Eve's Peace Dove

Carly Marie offers comfort to fellow babylost parents by drawing their names in the sands of Australia's beaches at The Seashore of Remembrance.  Her exquisite sand drawings cost between $6.00 and $20.00 AUD.  Carly Marie has a variety of different types of drawings to choose from -- from names in the sand to Christmas butterflies to peace doves like the one pictured above.  I love collecting the different types of sand drawings for Eve.

2Personalized Jewelry


Personalized jewelry is a great way to remember babies gone too soon.  I purchased this particular necklace from PatriciaAnn Jewelry Designs, and it has been very comforting to wear.  I have since received other pieces of jewelry that recognize both of my children, and I cherish every one.  Held Your Whole Life also provides free remembrance jewelry for bereaved mothers.

3.  Artwork


While as an artist I may be biased, I think that artwork makes a great gift.  Some of the bereaved mothers that have purchased prints of my work have described it as soothing, healing, and calming -- all of which are so important to the grieving, especially around the holidays.  I offer pieces that are specifically about loss and grief as well as many other uplifting originals, prints, and cards like the image above.  You can check out my artwork on Etsy hereBeyond Words Designs is another great artist to purchase loss, pregnancy, and family pieces from, as well as handmade baby books designed for miscarriage and stillbirth mothers. 

4.  Custom Remembrance Items

on Eve's first birthday

Any custom remembrance items, either handmade by you (as this little quilt was, given by a friend on Eve's first birthday) or purchased, are always a huge blessing.  Some of my favorite online shops that provide such items are Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Baby Boards.

5.  Books and Music

books for Eve's birthday

There are many wonderful books written on loss and grief, and some specifically on the loss of a child.  I know that such books have provided me with much needed comfort and support and ideas on ways to cope.  Some of my favorite loss books are A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, I Will Carry You by Angie Smith, and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.  You can find more book ideas on my Goodreads page.

Music has similarly been a huge gift to me.  It has helped me to cry when I needed to and couldn't, to worship when I wanted to but didn't have the words, and to be joyful when it was time to be joyful but I couldn't muster up the courage.  My two favorite albums that convey the reality of living simultaneously in hope and sadness are You Deliver Me by Selah and Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman.

6.  Calendars


I always feel like a calendar is a can't-miss gift.  Beautiful and useful, how can you go wrong?  My 2013 calendar featuring twelve frame-able fine art replications of my artwork, Beauty For Ashes, is currently for sale here.  The Lost For Words calendars from Carly Marie and Franchesca Cox are also a beautiful option, filled with amazing photography and quotes from bereaved parents.

7.  A Special Ornament


Last year a friend gave me a special angel ornament in memory of Eve.  It was small, simple, very beautiful -- and meant the world to me.  A bereaved mother's greatest fear is that her child will be forgotten, and a special little ornament or decoration in memory of the one that is lost is such a great gift.

8.  Donations in Their Name


There are so many wonderful non-profits out there working for babyloss awareness, support, and prevention.  I think that a donation ton one such charity in the name of a baby gone too soon would make a very sweet present for a bereaved parent.  Some of my personal favorite organizations are Sufficient Grace Ministries, the Sweet Pea Project, Molly Bears, and Cora's Story.

There you have it!  So now it's your turn -- what are your top gift ideas for grieving parents?  Also, be sure to visit Small Bird Studio today, where I'm giving away a copy of my favorite book on grieving. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Shopping

from CarlyMarie

The plan was to collect a new Christmas ornament for each of our children every year.  It seemed like a fun tradition to celebrate both our living child and our dead one.  And really, I thought that I was doing well with my daughter being gone from me for the second Christmas.  After all, this year I'd get to celebrate with a living baby in my arms.  And while that does not in any way "fix" the absence of Eve, that is something very, very good.  Something worth celebrating. 

But when I stood at the mall kiosk that sells personalized ornaments yesterday, that now-familiar heaviness lay itself across my skin.  Because it really can't be called fun, to try to shop for a memorial ornament for your daughter when you can picture too clearly the adventurous one year old she would have -- should have -- been.

It reminded me too clearly of the time I tried shopping at a craft store for supplies with which to make a scrapbook for Eve.  All the miniature pink strollers and baby bibs and stickers that said "Welcome to the world" rubbed rough against my raw heart.  Nothing seemed right for a stillborn baby.

And so it was with the ornaments.  All of the baby ornaments were too pastel, too sweet, and all the rest of the ornaments too silly.  They had no weight to them, and I want anything associated with her to have weight, because she did.  

I happened upon an ornament at Target while running errands -- a single porcelain feather, dangling from a piece of twine.  I bought it because I was afraid that I'd forget to go searching for one in the busyness of life with a newborn, and because really the search wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable as I'd expected.

Here's what I had imagined -- that, with Jacob in tow, I'd go to the specialty Christmas shop that opens up at one of the plant nurseries here every year, resplendent with every kind of holiday decoration imaginable.  I'd wander among the decked trees and find that one magical ornament that would connect me to my daughter, that would make it feel like she wasn't dead at all.

Except that she is dead.  Nothing, nothing in all the world can make that not so.

So I bought the porcelain feather, and really, it's kind of perfect.  It could be an angel wing's feather, or have fallen from a bird, and both birds and angels make me think of her.  And it has weight

I believe that my daughter -- the part of her that counts, that part that makes her her -- is alive with God.  That gives me great comfort.  I like to picture her as a girl of perhaps ten years old or so, dancing and singing and playing games with Jesus and all the other gone-too-soon children, laughing through eternity.  It is my hope that I will see her again. 

But I miss her.  Oh, how I miss her.