A Christmas Eve gift

Tomorrow will be our 6th Christmas knowing Jude, yet not being able to celebrate with him. There have been so many moments in these years of grace and peace, even in the midst of the sadness, grief, and longing. But we experienced something today that can only be seen as a true Christmas gift.

For the last couple of weeks, we have been So. Busy. I know it’s cliche to say that, especially during the holiday season, but we have not had many moments of true rest. While I have been checking many things off of my “To Do” list regularly, the one thing that has remained at the top, but never quite gotten done, is going to Jude’s place to set up his Christmas tree and spend a few precious moments with his memory.

But we finally made time today. Christmas Eve. I was feeling both relieved to have finally been able to continue this tradition we started, but I was also feeling the lingering mom-guilt that I can never seem to shake, wishing I had been able to do this weeks ago. It never sits well with me when looking at our holiday-decorated home if Jude’s place isn’t also “decorated.” It’s a way I can share life with his memory and continue to keep his name and place in our home alive. Many won’t understand the importance of this, but many do – those who are also living life, sharing your experiences with those gone before us.

As we pulled up to his spot today, we noticed a lone lady off to the left, obviously spending her own precious moments remembering someone whom she still loves, and mourning that she can’t spend this Christmas with them. I felt bad, because as is our custom at Jude’s place, my kids run and play amok, and generally be LOUD, which isn’t the norm for most people visiting a cemetery. So, I hoped for a peaceful, meaningful visit where we wouldn’t be disturbing her.

And it was a sweet time, as it always is, at his spot. Again, I know and am so thankful that Jude isn’t really there. How gloriously thankful I am that he is spending Christmas face to face with the One whom we are really celebrating this Christmas. But his spot is also sacred to us, for us. In laying him in the ground, we truly released him to the Father and embraced the promises of eternity and the coming resurrection. We held hands, prayed together, and blew kisses to our boy.

At the end of our visit, we were drawing close together around his name plaque and Christmas tree, trying to squeeze in a selfie of all of us. That is when the lady that had been standing off to the side of us, walked over and asked if she could take the picture for us. We were so grateful – what a sweet gift for our day. And then she starting sharing her story of Jude.

Yes, HER story.

She couldn’t believe that she finally got to meet Jude’s family.  She said she comes here often to visit her mother’s spot who passed away years ago, and she brings her 2 young sons with her. As they explored the area around their own precious “spot”, they discovered Jude, and she said her boys absolutely delight in visiting Jude’s spot – especially the windmills that we often put out in the springtime. She went on to tell us how she has often wondered about Jude and his story – and his family – and she said, with tears in her eyes, that she couldn’t believe it when we walked up today. She was nervous to approach us initially, but when she saw us taking the awkward selfie – she thought that was a good chance to help and to share with us how Jude has impacted their lives.

How Jude has impacted their lives.

I was wrecked. God allowed us a glimpse into the truth that we already held in our hearts, but is so hard to believe day in and day out after 6 years.  That Jude’s brief life matters. That he can still make an impact on this world. She shared about how much joy Jude has brought her sons in a potentially sad and depressing situation.  How uplifting it is for them to visit him.  She gave me a hug as we both were in tears, and I got to share with her that our faith gives us the hope of one day seeing him again. That we know this isn’t the final goodbye. That we find joy and hope in decorating his spot for different seasons and holidays, because he is part of us and always will be.

After saying goodbye and promising that visiting her Mom’s spot is now going to be part of our trips to visit Jude, we walked back to the car, and Sean and and I looked at each other in wonder. This was the best gift we could’ve gotten this year. We got to see how our son was bringing joy into people’s lives, how he is still making an impact outside of our small circle. What else could God be doing in our midst that we know nothing about? And then it hit me, this is why I never found the time to put his Christmas tree out before now. God was waiting for His perfect timing even in this. He was waiting to show us His faithfulness, His comfort, His mighty hand working in ways we cannot see. Praise be to God. It was a true thrill of hope! Merry Christmas!

Jude’s 5th birthday

September 20. I’ve found that on some of his birthdays, I’ve been more hopeful/joyful of the promise of seeing him again. Others I’ve been angry – not so much at God – but at having to spend his birthday at a cemetery and all that entails.

This 5th birthday I’ve been dreading. With a knot in my stomach kind of a feeling. It’s because the more time that goes by, the farther away it is that he was here with us. And him feeling so far away is so hard. Today and the days leading up to them, I’m just sad. I miss him. I want to see my little 5 year old boy that looks like his brothers and sister running around, anticipating all the magic that a birthday brings at that age. I wonder what he would want as his birthday theme. Thomas the train like Ezra? Batman like Silas? But he would have his own personality, his own interests and loves, so he would probably choose something different. I want so badly to know what he would’ve wanted. I want to picture him just as he would be. I want to know the color of his eyes. But I can’t. And some days I embrace the knowledge that our Father is in control and has provided us with what we need to endure. But other days, like today, I am freshly stricken with his loss and stumbling along as if I’m missing a piece of my body.

So today is different than it’s ever been. We are mourning a 5 year old for the first time, and while the promise of eternity is still the only hope that gives us a joy unexplainable, we just miss him in our arms. Achingly.

The death of a beloved is an amputation.

~ C. S. Lewis

Autumn 

Autumn is just beginning to make an appearance at Jude’s place. I remember that it was just beginning to feel like autumn when I came home from the hospital with empty arms 3 years ago. This season holds so much emotion for me. So much to celebrate, but so much to mourn. 

Mommy’s birthday

Here I am last year on my birthday when I was 5 days away from welcoming our sweet Clara into the world. And I was a complete wreck. I’d spent the entire pregnancy in mostly panic mode, always worrying that I wasn’t feeling her move. I lost track of how many special trips I took to my doctor’s office or hospital triage to have an NST (non-stress test: where they hook you up to a machine that monitors the babies heartbeat and oxygen levels). These NSTs were the best times for me of the whole pregnancy. I liked them even better than the ultrasounds. For a glorious 20+ minutes, I could lie there listening and watching her heartbeat, knowing that she was ok. It was kind of like my drug. The first few times I had them done, it helped the panic and worry to stay at bay for a few days, but the longer into the pregnancy I got, and the closer I got to the 38 week point, the shorter the times that listening to her heartbeat helped me once I left the office. I was going daily by this week last year. The plan I made, with my doctor’s encouragement, was to try to have her at 37 weeks in order to avoid having to live through the 38 week point. It was at 38 weeks that Jude passed away. But through amnios we knew that her lungs weren’t ready for life outside the womb. And so the weeks from 37 – 39 weeks were excruciatingly long and difficult. It was in this last week before she was born that I celebrated my birthday. She was 5 days away from making her appearance. But I remember that even those 5 days seemed to last an eternity. But on August 7, all those worries dissolved into thin air when I heard her beautiful cry. 

I could say here that I can see now how God was so good to us to bless us with our Clara. But then I have to acknowledge that it is the same God who kept Clara healthy and safe for 39 weeks of pregnancy that also took our precious Jude to heaven at 38 weeks. Working through this dichotomy has taken a lion’s share of my thoughts for the past year. But then I realized, it’s not a dichotomy. Those 2 things are not opposites. They don’t cancel each other out. I came to the grueling but ultimately satisfying belief that God is good no matter what.  I trust Him. He loves me. And I just don’t/can’t understand everything that happens. So while the lingering effect of such loss is a doubt of “special blessings” bestowed upon those who: pray/serve/trust/have enough faith, I don’t know that that is such a bad thing. Because my faith in my God is based on a knowledge that His love for me is undeserved and full of grace. 

And so while I miss my sweet, beautiful Jude every single day, I also hold dear every moment with Clara now, because I know life is fleeting, and we are promised only this moment with those we love. This year with our girl has been an extraordinary gift with a beautiful love. 

Fast forward 6 months

Looking back on my last entry brings back all those gut wrenching days, weeks, and months of my pregnancy. If I could’ve looked forward to 6 months ahead, I could’ve told my bruised and wounded heart that everything was going to be ok. That I would give birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl who would enter our lives as a peacemaker and bring us all a measure of happiness we’d never experienced before now.   Even if I could’ve told myself, I wouldn’t have believed it anyway. No one can ever give me the false hope again that “everything will be fine.” I know what can go wrong. 

But I couldn’t do that. There’s no way to see or know the future – not even with all the faith in the world. I had to live out those days blindly, taking each day, each hour, as it came. Hoping and praying earnestly for the best, but too often fearing the worst. Fearing what I knew was both rare and completely possible. There was no test, no reassurance, no doctor that could rule out my fears. And I looked. What happened to Jude was not a sickness. Not a  disease. Not reasonably preventable. So worrying that it could/would happen again was unavoidable. 

Clara Loren entered the world with a cry. That was the moment I was both longing for and dreading. It was the cry that I never got to hear after giving birth to Jude that haunts me. I can feel it like it just happened. The room was so quiet – too quiet. I could hear every metallic clank of surgical instruments. No voices. I do remember hearing a quiet moan from someone when he came out. But no cries.

I looked over at his still, lifeless, beautiful little body, and I had a moment where it felt like only a bad dream. He would gasp in his first breath and surprise everyone. It had only been a terrible misunderstanding. I willed it to happen. That moment feels like it lasted an eternity. But I know it must’ve been only few seconds. But it wouldn’t be until the next day until the reality starting sinking in. That night had been filled with tears. But the next morning – a few seconds after I first woke up and realized I didn’t have my baby anymore, that is when the waves and torrents of grief began. Wales. Moans. So many tears. 

And even though the tears are fewer and our days have many, many happy moments, we still live in our grief. It’s a part of us now. Clara entered our family as a blessing, but not as a bandaid. She will know about her big brother waiting for her in heaven, just as her other brothers do. She will one day hear about our grief, and I hope that she understands that while her life was part of the healing that happened in our hearts, she was not intended to be a replacement. 

And so we continue with the cycle of mending and breaking. Mending and breaking. 

38 weeks

I’m sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, waiting for my 38 week check-up of this our 5th baby. We are the mommy and daddy of a miscarriage at 8 weeks, 2 healthy baby boys, our sweet Jude stillborn at 38 weeks, and now this gift. 

As I sit here, I can’t believe I’m living through the same week with this baby that we did when we lost Jude. We did our best to avoid it. Planned c-sections for the past 2 weeks were thwarted when the amnios showed that the lungs weren’t ready for life outside my body just yet. I can’t be surprised, as I know it is best for babies to stay inside as long as possible. Yet, I can’t help but worry, knowing it was inside my body where Jude died almost 2 years ago. 

Sitting in this same waiting room has been a challenge these past 9 months. So many memories, both beautiful and nightmarish, occurred here. And   I know I’m a different person because of it. Living with this kind of grief has been excruciating, but it’s also been eye-opening. I know I appreciate so much more. Not the least of which is my faith and my God. I’m so much more ready for heaven, for eternity, I can almost taste it sometimes. But I’m also so much more in love with my family here, knowing that every day is truly a gift. 

They are about to call my name. I know this one is ok today. I feel the baby moving, and these moments of feeling life in me are never taken for granted. I relish each one. And that is what I want to carry with me as a life lesson for the rest of my days, no matter how many I have left here. To not take the gifts we have for granted – salvation, family, or every day. 

  
22 months. Silas lovingly and rather insistingly picked out the best, biggest, bluest flower for Jude this time. He was so excited to make sure Jude was going to love his flower. I love his love for his brother. 

And only days before his new sibling is expected to arrive. Its been a hard thing to talk about – this new pregnancy has been an answer to many prayers, yet it’s been an incredibly hard process to go through too. Especially now, as I creep closer to that milestone of 38 weeks, which was when our Jude left this earth for his eternal home. My days are blissfully busy, keeping my mind off of the “worst possible scenario” most days, able to take several times a day to count kicks. But the nights are rough. I wake up wondering what is going on in my body, worrying and fearing and panicking. And missing Jude. That loss seems heavier and more present now than it has in months. These 22 months feel more like 22 days. How could it be that he would almost be a rambunctious little 2 year old, running around the house, probably doing a pretty good job of keeping up with his brothers. To know that we are thisclose again to welcoming a baby into our home, peeking into the nursery as I pass it many times a day, seeing the pure joy in my boys’ eyes again of planning life with a new member of the family, yet cringing every time someone talks about how great it’s going to be to have the baby here. Yes, it’s going to be glorious, but I haven’t been able to let that wellspring of joy out just yet. I know what can happen. I know how much it hurts. I can’t fathom having to do it again. But I know I can trust Him. He’s all I have. So we trust God for these next few days, knowing that no matter what happens then, or in a week, or a month, or ten years from now, we can trust Him. It is well with our souls. 

New Meaning for October

October means baseball playoffs.  This month welcomes the entrance of the crisp, fall evenings and allows for the leaves to transform into colors that bring joy to the eyes.  This has been my favorite month of the year for a while now.  For the second year in row, I am now more mindful of October than ever. And it has become a more meaningful month.

October is SIDS, Pregnancy, and Infant Loss Awareness Month.   This month, we remember all of those still longing for those they lost too soon, and in so doing, are reminded of the following:

  • Life is fragile, and we do not know when it will end as we know it.  We are not God.  We are the creation.  Our bodies are not perfect, life is not perfect.  It will not always go as we plan.
  • We are made for community and bond in community.  We find hope and meaning in community.  Most grievers meet hope in the presence of others—that is, they are strengthened when they are relating with others who have undergone a similar loss.  If you are a person of prayer, please pray that those you know who are grieving will meet fellow grievers on their journey.
  • Love never dies. God’s love never dies.  Our love for those we’ve lost never dies.  In love, through hope, and by faith, we are assured that God’s love will one day bring about a glorious resurrection.

– Sean

Grief and learning

Grievers can’t hit the reset button.  We can’t redo the day, the moment, when the tragedy–the loss– occurred.  We wrestle with the what-ifs, the “why did this have to happen to – my son, my spouse, my family” thought patterns.  This is normal in the life cycle of grief.  We desire to close our eyes and reopen them to the time when our loved ones’ hearts were still beating, still alive before our eyes and living.

The truth: this is not how it works.  There is no reset button, no time machine allowing us to return there.

The truth: our loved ones we knew in the past, whether the knowing was as recent as last week or as distant as 30 years ago, can have a positive influence on our thought patterns.  In a joyful sort of way.  And in a way we need in order to keep going and remain as fully alive as possible to the lives God has given us.

The truth:  to practice this way of life is a choice.  We must be intentional or we will over-obsess with dreams for a reset button and/or stay in the darkness.  This way, choice, is to allow our deceased loved ones to give us gifts.  Now.  In the present moment.  If we allow it to happen, the lives and remembrance of our loved ones can equip us to be purposeful, wise, compassionate, wide-awake people.

Since Jude’s death, my wife and I make a choice—not every day—but we do choose to allow the experience of our loss to mold the way we see and relate with the world and others.  We fail miserably at this some days, some weeks. But we are in spiritual formation.  This loss has not just happened to us, but is happening through us.  Our hope, prayer, and choice is to believe Jude’s life, though shorter than we wanted, was and is a gift to the world.

His life taught and teaches us important lessons each and every day.  Because of our experience with him, the individual moments of life carry more meaning.  The Saturday morning breakfasts with the boys are deeply cherished.  I am more passionate about the work I do every day.  We are focused on not wasting time and being a discerning people, a people that does only what truly matters and what God has given us to do with our lives.

Because of Jude, and the gifts his legacy shares, this is how some of our sadness is being transformed into joy. We can’t go back in time, but we can go into today and tomorrow with our hearts and minds wide open to becoming ambassadors of mercy, peace, and truths.

The truths:  we can’t go back.  The ability to make choices is still available to us.  The legacy of our loved ones has much to teach us, if we choose to listen for it.

Learning to surf

I have been dealing with this unimaginable thing called grief for over a year now.  To what do I compare it?  It reflects the experience of surfing.  Surfers float on their boards, in the open water, waiting for the right time, the right wave, the right ride.  Surfers can’t ride every wave.  Waves are coming and coming while they wait for the right one, other waves are crashing on the shoreline while they surf their ride of choice.

Surfing is a process.  Grieving is a process.  Like surfers, grievers practice waiting and the riding of something similar to the power of a wave.  Floating in the ocean of life, we grievers can’t ride every wave of grief that comes our way.  We have to float, wait, and live in our life-ocean.  We have to get out of bed, do the things everybody else is doing, go to our jobs, check the mail, and rake the leaves.  We can’t ride every wave of grief or we would stop living, and those we have lost would not want that for us.  We still have a purpose, a mission, in the here and now.  That may seem untrue, especially without the ones we love no longer on the mission with us.  Yet, we are still called.  Grievers are still beckoned to a life of faith, hope, and love.

Grieving is now part of our purpose, too.  We get on our boards, paddle to where we know the waves begin.  And we wait.  And wait.  And then we paddle, and the wave with its surging power lifts us and our boards, and we ride.  We grieve.  We cry.  We long for those we miss and we want back.  This is an intense moment of grief.  The wave continues its march to the shore.  We stay on it.  Our sadness is breathtaking.  The ride ends.  The wave crashes and we re-enter the water, and get back doing what everybody else is doing.  We go to work, check the mail, and rake the leaves.

Our purpose is faith, hope, love, and grief.  We are grievers.   We did not ask for this purpose.   But we now have these surf boards, and we need to learn to use them; we need to learn how to wait and live again, and we need to learn how to ride the right wave when it comes.