Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss


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Shelter-in-place grief

We’ve been under official shelter-in-place orders since March 20th. And we’re weathering this situation pretty well. Yes, we’re stressed and restless, but we’re very fortunate. Our jobs are safe and easy to do from home, we’re all healthy and no one we know has/had COVID-19. I remind myself all the time how fortunate I am right now.

I probably should have expected this, but I’ve been feeling more grief lately. Maybe it’s because the extra time at home allows me more time for my grief. Maybe the fact that I’m limited in what I can do right now means I’m in my head more. Maybe it’s because all the time the three of us are spending together now makes Theo’s absence even more obvious. Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

Probably a little bit of everything.

My anxiety is higher than normal right now. I’m not so anxious about the virus itself, but the impact it is having on the economy, food supply, etc. All the panic buying is making me panicked and I’m trying to ignore that panic when I do go grocery shopping (no hoarding of food or toilet paper in this house). And just more general anxiety, like everything just feels way more tense right now.

Kenny and Artie were FaceTiming with his parents recently and hearing Artie talk to his grandma brought up some grief over my mom too.

I have learned something about myself because of the SIP. I’m usually quite happy doing my thing solo, most of my hobbies are ones I do by myself. Before this pandemic, I was going to the gym about 3 days a week and I rarely talked to anyone there. But I was around other people, and I didn’t realize until I couldn’t be around other people just how important it is for my mental health. And I’ve struggled with only being around Kenny and Artie; though I obviously love them very much, I realized that I really need what the gym provides me: a chance to be around other people while still doing my own thing.

That’s pretty much it. Not a lot to say. We’re doing ok. Grief is still here. Stay home.


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Daycare and family photos

Family photos are always a source of stress and sadness for me, but now I’m even more conflicted about them.

I went back to work full-time in December, so Artie started daycare full-time then as well. He loves his daycare and we are so happy with it (save for the fact that we’ve lost a couple jackets there, but that’s more than outweighed by all the good!).

The daycare is creating a “family wall” in each classroom and have sent out a couple requests to parents to bring in a family photo. They want to use the wall to talk to the kids about their families.

I’ve read and promptly ignored each of these requests (but only these, normally I pay attention to messages from daycare!) because… well you know.

Do I give daycare a photo of just Kenny and I? Do I give them one of the photos of us with Theo’s photo/Theo bear? If the latter, do I really want to explain to them what happened? Do I want Artie to ask daycare about his brother, and risk them saying something I don’t like? I suppose I could tell them what to say if Artie asks…. but not even Kenny and I know exactly what we’re going to say to Artie.

I get why daycare wants to do the family wall, but ugh.

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Capture Your Grief: Days 16-23

I kind of fell behind on this, but here are a few more days of this project. I wish I could be better at balancing time for grief and time for everything else. It feels like something is always getting forgotten.

Day 16: Rest from Grief

A loves looking at our scrapbooks and pictures. He knows almost everyone in the family by name (not just the four of us, but also aunts, uncles, etc.). It’s a lot of fun to sit with him and flip through the pages. When he sees a picture of him having fun (so, like every picture. Lol), he asks to go back and do that again. It’s very cute.

Day 17: Treasured

I think about fires a lot (I mean, I live in Northern California. We all think about fires a lot). The PG&E blackouts have forced us to bump up our emergency supplies and know our evacuation plan. And we’ve talked about what we would grab first if we had to leave due to a fire. We have our box of Theo’s things, which we actually moved into a bigger box as it is now a box of Theo’s and A’s things. Our most beloved keepsakes, that we would probably run into a burning house to rescue. A’s things out number Theo’s, but we love each and every one equally.

Day 18: Grief Lessons

I’ve learned a lot from grief the last almost 4 years, so much that I can’t sum it up in just a few sentences. But my number one lesson is how intertwined joy and pain are. It’s not one or the other, like so many people would like you to believe (“Choose joy!” “Just decide to be happy!”). It’s very possible to feel a great amount of pain and joy at the same time. For joyful situations to be quite painful. To have seemingly conflicting emotions at once. To be crying tears of pain, happiness, anger, resentment, joy, and gratitude all at once. Emotions aren’t black and white.

Day 19: What Heals You

Reading about other parents who have lost a child. (But fake stories about people who have lost a child don’t help. Like the book/movie “The Shack”. I’m sure it’s a great book/movie, but I just don’t find non-true stories helpful.) Helping others in their grief. Taking time for art (pre-Theo me is shocked I said that. Lol.) Exercising. Parenting A. Taking care of the (tiny) garden I’ve started (again, pre-Theo me is shocked).

Thinking about Theo and creating keepsakes of him.

Day 20: Music

I go through a lot of phases with music. There have been times I was able to listen to a very small selection of songs, because anything else hurt too much. Lindsey Sterling usually brings back happy memories, but even her music sometimes hurts if I’m not in the right frame of mind.

Day 21: Creative Heart

I decided to make the Christmas ornament for Theo this year. It’s not done yet, but it will be soon!

Day 22: Love Letter

I wrote a letter to Theo, but I’m keeping this one private.

Day 23: Retreat

There are a few places I can go when I need some space away from triggers/the real world/grief etc. I’m so grateful I have these spaces, as it was really hard to find safe spaces when Theo died. As time goes on I find myself needing these places less, but knowing I still have them brings me a lot of comfort.


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Capture Your Grief 2019: Days 1-4

It’s been forever since I posted. Partly because lack of time, partly because I sound like a broken record and fear that people are sick of hearing about my grief. I know it’s not healthy for me to keep my grief in and that I have something important to say (even if I’ve said it before). My feelings and grief deserve to be heard.

So I’m sitting in my gym’s cafe, writing these posts. I’m at the gym pretty much every day now, and when I don’t work out I use the time to get some work done (Artie loves the gym daycare). Last week I decided to spend some time writing about grief.

Day 1: Sunrise Ritual

I got up before my alarm, which is unusual for me. Kenny and A were still asleep so I snuck outside with a cup of tea and sat on the porch. We rarely use our porch and I realize this needs to change. It’s quite peaceful in the morning before most people leave for work or school.

Day 2: Child of Mine

Theo, born December 8th and died December 9th. He looked just like Kenny and loved to kick in the womb. He was super active and we always said he would be an athlete of some sort. If he had been like his brother, he definitely would have been athletic.

The possibilities of what Theo could be are fun to think about sometimes, but they are also painful. Because that’s all they are possibilities-I’ll never know for sure. And many of my guesses probably are wrong; A is different than I expected (in a good way!), and I wish I had even a small fraction of the knowledge of Theo that I do A.

Day 3: Twilight of Memory

Just after my anatomy scan, we went to Berkeley for the day. We were going to a Lindsey Sterling concert that night. We had yummy food, walked around and checked out some outlet stores. Got lost on the campus, but made it to the concert in time. The opener was some EDM and I haaaaaaated it. It felt like forever and I just hated it. Theo wasn’t very active during the opener, but once Lindsey Sterling started playing he got super active.

During her show, Lindsey opened up about her struggles with depression and I thought that was so brave of her.

This day is probably one of my favorite memories from my pregnancy.

Day 4: Heart Connection

I have to work much harder to connect with Theo than I do A. Parenting a dead child is indescribable and sometimes I question if I can even call it parenting. But I don’t know what other word works. The fact that Theo is almost 4 is mind blowing to me. How has 4 years gone by and I still don’t have my child?

There are many times I don’t feel a connection with Theo. I have such a small amount of memories of him and I don’t get to experience what I want to with him. But there are still many ways and days I feel a connection with Theo, which is comforting.


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Preschool

I mentioned previously we were considering starting A in early preschool this year.

We have since decided against it, for a few reasons. We were about 95% sure (I’m terrible about making up my mind, lol), but I realized something that sealed the deal.

Theo was born on December 8th, just a few days past our school district’s cutoff for the school year. That means the first year he would have been able to start preschool would have been this year.

If Theo were alive, it would have been so cute to have them in the same preschool for a year. But there’s no way I can do that now, knowing Theo should have been in the class with his little brother.

So that’s it. No early preschool for A, he’ll start regular preschool next year.

And now that I know this year would be the year Theo started school, I can’t forget that fact. It’s always painful seeing all the kids go to school, knowing that one day Theo would have joined them. But this year, this year will be extra painful. I’ll see all the kids that would have become his friends, the parents I (and Kenny) would be getting to know. It’s a major milestone, one that I should have been celebrating and looking forward to. I imagine the pictures I would have taken on his first day, the start of another tradition I’ll never get to do with him. Instead of crying over dropping him off on his first day, I’ll be crying that he’s not here and never will be.


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Invisible

This weekend we went to the mall to let A run around. He loves the playground at the mall, there’s things for him to climb and buttons that sound like howler monkeys (the playground is jungle themed). He was the only kid for about 10 minutes, and then a family with two kids joined us. The oldest was 4-5 and the youngest a few months younger than A.

The older kid was super excited to play and run around, but A was feeling pretty shy. So he just watched the older kid play, and the older kid tried to get A to chase him a couple times. It was pretty cute.

Then the mom told her son, “Give the little boy some space. That child is not used to having a big brother crowd him.”

A knife to my heart. She obviously didn’t know about Theo and meant no harm, but it hurt so much to hear. Yes, A is not used to having a big brother. But not for the reason she’s assuming. These reminders that Theo is invisible to 99% of the world just suck so much.


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Trip down memory lane

I was going through my photos of Artie on my iPad and somehow pressed something and ended up in photos from 2015. The year I was pregnant with Theo. The year Theo was born and died.

It’s incredible how differently I felt when looking at pictures of Artie and pictures of me pregnant with Theo. With Artie, I felt a happy nostalgia. I giggled, remembering what happened when I took the photo, a happy longing to go back to that moment. I thought about how tiny he was, and how cute he was (and still is!).

But the pictures of my pregnancy with Theo… there was a heaviness I can’t describe. A hopelessness even. I knew what was coming, and knew it wouldn’t end well, and knew of all the pain and suffering ahead of me. It’s so hard to enjoy those photos. I look happy, but I don’t feel happy when I see those photos. I feel a small bit of happiness, but mostly it’s pain and regret and fear and anger and so much more. A more desperate longing to go back to that time, to either warn us or to give Theo a chance at survival. I wanted to look away from a lot of these photos.

I don’t always feel this way when looking at photos from my “Theo time”. Sometimes, I even enjoy looking at these photos! But I think it was the flipping between photos of Artie and photos of Theo that made it so hard.


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Identity

My old identity died with Theo. In seconds, the things I used to care about mattered no more. I couldn’t watch some of the same shows or movies, listen to a lot of the music I liked, and for a long time I pretty much exclusively read books on child loss and grief and trauma. I had no energy for the hobbies I once loved, or it hurt to do them (like cooking- even though Theo wouldn’t have been eating the same as us for awhile, it just sucked to be cooking for two). I had to put what little energy I had into just surviving, especially when I was pregnant with Artie, so I had no time for hobbies and interests.

When you have a physical illness or injury, you spend a lot of time on getting better. My grief was the same. It became my whole identity. That’s what I needed for a long time, but not anymore. Grief and child loss will always be a part of me, but at least for now, it doesn’t feel like the majority of me.

Becoming a stay at home mom compounded this loss of identity. My last day of work was March 24, 2017. I officially quit my job in August, 2017. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve worked outside the home. Not interacting with the outside world the way I used to was hard. Still is. I’m no longer up to date on all the changes in financial laws at the state and federal levels, and I feel pretty rusty at the analysis I used to do. Honestly, sometimes I feel stupider (SAHMs aren’t stupid, *I* feel stupid) because I’m not constantly in numbers and spreadsheets. Though I’m SO glad I left my job (not only because I got to spend more with artie but also because it ended up being great for my mental health), I didn’t realize how much working was a part of my identity.

And here I am now…trying to figure out what I like, who I am. I’ve been reading more non-loss books, trying new hobbies. I found a mystery series I like, it’s written from the perspective of a dog and is entertaining and lighthearted. I’m reading parenting books which still feels weird. I’m liking crafts a lot more than I used to. I’m still not very good at them, but I’m enjoying the process of creating. I’m planning a special cross stitch project of my pregnancy with Theo. I’m terrible at needle crafts so it probably won’t be pretty. Lol.

I’m also trying to figure out what to do about work. Again. Do I want to stay home with Artie a little longer? Do I want to put him in early preschool/daycare* this year and work part time? And I have ZERO idea what I want to do for work. Do I want to look for a job similar to the one I left? Do I want to something else? I have no idea! Lol.

*i also have no idea what the difference between early preschool (for 2-3 year olds) and daycare is. But I hear other moms talking about starting their 2 year olds in early preschool and I figure I should look into it. Is it bad that right now I think it’s just regular daycare with a fancy name so they can charge more?


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Smoke

California is currently experiencing the worst wildlife in its history. Over 70 have been killed, an entire city has been destroyed, hundreds are unaccounted for…. it’s devastating and heartbreaking. If you’re interested in helping the fire victims, please consider donating money (or gift cards) to organizations instead of supplies. NVCF and GG are great options to consider.

Kenny, Artie and I are very lucky. We know only a couple in the affected areas and they are safe. Our home is safe, and we are not close enough to the fires to have to worry about evacuation (knock on wood).

The smoke is awful. I’m not trying to make light of the situation, things could be so much worse for us. Our air quality has been awful, and our city has advised everyone to stay indoors and wear masks when outside. The three of us are healthy and have no asthma/respiratory issues, and the smoke’s been bothering us a lot. I imagine it’s much worse for people who are sick.

So we’ve been mostly indoors for the last week. I don’t mind it, I’m grateful I have a home to protect us, but Artie is getting a little stir crazy. He wants to go outside and go to his usual things, but isn’t old enough to fully understand why he can’t.

The other day we were running around the house before bed since we couldn’t play outside. He has a lot of energy, and I was trying to wear him out before bedtime. So we’re running through the house, and it hits me like a ton of bricks. Theo should be running with us. Artie’s laughter should be mixed with Theo’s. I should be watching two little boys running after each other. I should be hearing Theo’s footsteps as he runs with Artie.

Suddenly the house felt so empty.


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Again

There should be a stage of grief called “broken record”, because I’m pretty sure I’m in that place. I’m in a weird limbo of where I still need to discuss these feelings, even though they’re the same ones I’ve had for awhile. Still new enough to grief, but also far enough down this path that not everything is new.

So the holidays are approaching. Again. I’m both dreading them and looking forward to them. I’ll always dread them a little. Not just because Theo’s birthday is between thanksgiving and Christmas (though that definitely doesn’t help). But because every year there are more reminders of what I should have. And the longer that passes, the older he should be and the more I know what he’s missing. And what I’m missing.

We went to our church’s Trunk-or-Treat for the first time. We haven’t been to this church lately (we’ve been “church shopping” for a few reasons) and wow there were a lot of people there. That shouldn’t surprise me given the size of the church. There were so many siblings, so many kids who looked to be about 3 years old… every time I looked around there was a mini stab to my heart. Artie had fun, but he was just slightly too young to really enjoy everything. I haven’t done anything for Halloween since my mom died (she died on Halloween, 2008), and it felt weird celebrating Halloween this year. Not just because of my mom, but also Theo.

I’m so undecided about what to do for Christmas. Kenny’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so we either spend it with my family or just us. (On a slightly unrelated note, we’re thinking about taking a long trip to Taiwan in the next year or two, more on that later.) I want to spend it with my family and see Artie enjoy big family Christmases, but at the same time I want something small and quiet for Christmas. I loved Christmas last year, but it was so emotional for me and I just couldn’t get the time I needed to myself to process some things. And there are certain traditions I want to start for just us.

Figuring out how to do holidays after loss sucks.

Theo’s third birthday is approaching. I have no idea what we’re going to do. I’ll be honest, part of me wants to put Artie in daycare for the day so I can just spend the day in bed being useless. Sometimes I don’t know where the strength to parent Artie comes from when I’m dealing with all of this. I hate that part of me dreads Theo’s birthday, and I don’t know what to do to change that.

I’m also overwhelmed, again, at all the newborns and pregnancies around me. Three very close friends, who have been amazing support to me the last few years, are pregnant or just had a newborn and to say it’s been hard would be an understatement. From buying gifts (I still feel like buying baby gifts before the baby is here is jinxing it), to attempting to go to baby showers (spoiler: I broke down in my car and couldn’t attend any of them), to dealing with birthdays hitting a spot. One boy is 17 months younger than Artie, which is the same age difference between Theo and Artie. And another boy is due within days of Theo’s birthdate. This….is hitting me hard.