Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss


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Faith and joy in hard times

There’s been something I’ve been struggling related to my faith, and this article explains it very well. Specifically these paragraphs:

Feeling guilty about admitting struggles or asking for help is not from God. That guilt comes from our own sin. It’s prideful to think we can do life alone, handling all our problems without the help of others. We need community to walk alongside us in tough times, but more importantly, we need a Savior. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Rather than pretending to have it together, sometimes the best way to show how God is working in us is to be transparent about our desperate dependence on Him. Doing so puts our inadequacies on display, which can be terribly humbling. But it also shows that we’re human, and that our power to persevere doesn’t come from us, but Christ in us.

This is why it drives me absolutely nuts when Christians say things like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. Or when they brush aside what you are going through and just tell you to “have joy!”.

I am not strong enough to handle my son’s death. No one is. Burying your own child is horrific, and it takes more than anyone can handle. I’m not a big sports person, but my favorite metaphor for God is baseball related. God is not the pitcher in life, He is not determining what trials and joys you experience. God is the coach, there to guide us through life and help us get through it. There is so much about life that is out of our control and more than we can handle. Good and bad things happen, to both good and bad people. It isn’t fair, it is life. And God is there to help us deal with it all.

I still believe in God, and I always will. But Theo’s death impacted every part of my life and shook my faith to the core. The anger and bitterness toward God has come and gone in waves. My anger toward God is less now than it used to be, but it is still there. I’ve gone back and forth on questioning God “why did Theo have to die?”–sometimes I want an answer, sometimes I don’t. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, so I don’t believe there was a purpose to Theo’s death, but I find myself still wanting to know why he had to die sometimes. I believe God had the power to save Theo but didn’t, and that has brought forth a lot of complicated emotions.

This wrestling with God has brought me closer to Him though. He’s the only one who listened to me unconditionally, and loved me despite all of the names I’ve called Him. He’s been there for every moment, in a way no one else can be. And most importantly, despite the fact that I’m angry with Him for not saving Theo, I take comfort in knowing Theo is in Heaven being watched over by God. I picture God playing with Theo until Kenny or myself is able to play with him. My trust in God, while not perfect, has grown as I’ve turned to Him for help and with everything I am feeling.

Will I ever be at peace with God over Theo’s death? I have no idea, I really don’t. Maybe a few months or years from now I will, maybe it will come and go and it will be something I always have to work on. One is not better than the other, and I’m open to wherever my heart and faith lead me.

Our church talked a few months ago on the importance of joy. The idea is happiness is based on our circumstances (such as a promotion, etc.), but joy is based in our faith in God. You can be going through a difficult time, but still have joy. I guess joy can be described as your overall attitude, but it’s not quite the same. I am trying to figure out what it means to have joy in times of hardship because admitting your problems/struggles is not the same as not having joy. While it seems impossible to feel contradicting emotions at once, it’s not. I have peace in the knowledge that Theo is in Heaven, but the fact that Theo is in Heaven also brings me a lot of heartache. I see the joy and the good in our lives, but I still feel the deep sadness every day too. I think figuring this out is especially difficult considering I will be grieving Theo for the rest of my life.

It’s easy to say that having joy while you are struggling is important, but so much harder to live out. If you are honest about the “bad” emotions you are feeling, you are being too negative. If you keep it to yourself, you’re just pretending to be ok. It’s like you can’t win. Though the comments that I’m still too sad, etc. still sting, I’m learning to tune them out more and more. I’m being authentic in my faith and grief, and figuring this all out the best I can. And the moments (however long or brief they are) of sadness/anger/etc. are not my whole journey: they are one messy part. I realize that currently, this part is what I talk about most so I don’t fault people for not being able to read my mind, but it’s something to remember no matter who you are dealing with. Just because I’m talking a lot about these aspects doesn’t mean it’s all I feel. And there is still so much that is too raw and personal for me to talk about with anyone except Kenny or my therapist.

Like the article touched on, when Christians say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” they are minimizing who God is and overestimating our own abilities. No one is perfect, we all have strengths and weaknesses. But none of us are God, and admitting our shortcomings is ok. Saying you are struggling is to see yourself as you are: an imperfect person who, while doing the best they can, needs God. God is greater than us, He can handle everything and when we aren’t honest about what we are going through we are minimizing God. I believe God will take care of me if I turn to Him for help. I wish so, so much that Kenny and I weren’t going through this, but we are, so I’m trying to lean on God more than I ever have.


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Countdown?

I feel like I’m in this weird countdown as Theo’s first birthday approaches.

It feels like when Theo’s first birthday and the first anniversary of his death pass, a switch will flip automatically. Like at 12 am on Dec. 10th, something “magical” will happen and it will all be different.

I don’t expect it to feel that way, and yet I do? This is such a weird state of something.

I don’t expect my grief to suddenly change at 1 year. I don’t expect everything to be sunshine and flowers again, nor do I expect it to suddenly get worse. I expect it to keep doing what it’s been doing: slowly changing as time continues, neither in a good nor bad way, just different than before.

And yet… it feels like once the one-year anniversaries pass, something should be different. That there should be a quantifiable change in myself, Kenny, the world? That I’ll wake up on Dec. 10th, take a breath, and notice what changed.

If there was a slogan to child loss, it would be “Welcome to a state of constant contradiction!”.


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Random Memories

Have you ever suddenly remembered something you thought you forgot?

Yesterday I remembered a conversation I had while pregnant with Theo.

It was sometime in early third trimester. During an appointment, my doctor brought up the need for us to decide what to do if the birth goes wrong. If the doctors can only save me or the baby, what would we like them to do?

End of life conversations aren’t fun, and this was not a fun conversation for Kenny and I to have. We’ve discussed our wills, life insurance, whether or not we want to be resuscitated, etc. before. But this was a much different and harder conversation to have. He (understandably) had trouble making a decision.

A couple days after Kenny and I came to a decision, this type of conversation came up with some coworkers. One recently had a baby, and we talked about having to make this decision.

I remember the conversation so well. She said her husband wanted to save the baby, and she responded with “And leave our daughter [their oldest] without her mother? We can always have another baby, but she only gets one mother.”

I remember a second coworker saying “You say that now, but I think if you were actually in that moment, you would be making a different decision.”

And the thing is…. I kind of saw the first coworker’s point. Because at that point, I hadn’t lost Theo. And I didn’t get it. I mean, I knew it would be devastating to experience your baby dying, but I didn’t know. And yeah, while Kenny and I were deciding what to do, the point of being able to have more children came up. It is something we considered.

It’s a weird conversation to remember.


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C.S. Lewis

For the most part, I am an open book. There’s little you can ask me that I won’t answer honestly.

Yes, in the past I’ve answered “How are you?” with “Fine” when I wasn’t really fine. But that is changing. A lot. Now you ask me how I am, and I’m going to really tell you.

But there are some days that I REALLY don’t want to talk. It’s nothing to do with you, I am just thinking. Emotions and thoughts are complicated, and some take longer to put together than others. I may answer “fine” when I’m really not because I really don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling or even, I don’t know what I’m feeling. I’ll talk about it when I figure it out, but that day is not now.

Today was one of those.

It was just a weird, indescribable day. At least by me, C.S. Lewis does a good job.

“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. Not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with, exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench. But it isn’t. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.” –C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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First Birthday

I know it’s only the end of July, but I’ve been thinking a lot of Theo’s first birthday.

I would really like to do a party of some kind.

Probably a fundraiser party. I don’t know what specific cause yet. I keep bouncing between local causes (local elementary school or children’s hospital) or larger causes (American Lung Association or World Wildlife Fund). Maybe I could do a local and global cause, and just split the money between the two?

The idea of having a big party for Theo means a lot, as I know we would have had a birthday party for him if he had lived. And I want his memory to make the world a better place, hence the fundraiser.

My biggest hesitancy is I don’t know how I’m going to feel in 4 months and some change. And even if I’m in a different place in my grief, will I be up for having a party on/near Theo’s first birthday? Will I want to see people? I trust the people we would invite to be understanding of how I’m feeling, so I’m not worried about that.

Kenny is pretty neutral on this right now, but I know if I really want to do one he will go a long with it.

Anyone do a party (fundraiser or not) for the child you lost? What are your thoughts, and are you glad you did it? If you were thinking of having a party, and decided against it, what made you decide not to?


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Angry Rant

I feel like I’ve been so negative lately. I don’t like feeling like I’m negative most of the time, but I guess that’s just where I am right now. This is something I’ve been biting my tongue on for a little bit, but I don’t think it’s healthy to keep holding in. So bring on a rant…

My company has always called itself a family. When someone gets sick or injured, or suffers a loss, the company claims to look after its own. Bake sales or other fundraisers have been done to raise money for employees who were diagnosed with cancer or had heart attacks, for example.

About a year and a half ago, a coworker had a heart attack. He was out of work for a few weeks, and our company held 3 (yes, 3!) fundraisers to help him with the medical bills. A few months later, another coworker was in a really bad accident and was in the hospital even longer. No company fundraiser for her.

My son dies, and all I get is a thing of flowers. One bouquet. No one asked me if I wanted/needed a fundraiser, no one offered help or asked if we were facing medical and funeral expenses. A few people reached out to me from my company while I was gone, the rest said or did nothing. And worse, when I came back to work, a couple said really hurtful things: one told me she was uncomfortable being around me because of my loss, and another said it was probably for the best because I wasn’t ready to be a mom.

Now, 2 more fundraisers were recently held for the guy who had the heart attack because his niece’s husband died. 2 more fundraisers. And the real knife in the heart? An email went out to everyone in the office saying what a family we are, how we support each other through the bad times, and applauding everyone who donated money. That this money will help relieve some financial stress during her time of need.

I’m not saying her loss isn’t tragic (it truly does break my heart), but she doesn’t even work for our company! We’re enough of a family to help a coworker’s relative in a time of need, but not enough of family to help me? Where was this supposed family when my son died? Where was the support for me? Why didn’t more reach out to me?

It’s not about the money, but the fact that I was overlooked (whether intentionally or not). It feels like Theo and our loss isn’t worth being acknowledged beyond a bouquet of flowers. We acknowledge that the death of a spouse is worthy of the company banding together, but not my newborn son? What if he had been 5 years old, instead of 30 hours? Would he have been “worthy” enough of a fundraiser if he was older when he died?

One coworker tried to justify the lack of support with “well, some people just can’t handle deep and painful subjects like the loss of your child”. I really rolled my eyes at that one. One, there’s obviously someone in the company who can handle “deep and painful subjects” because someone is organizing the fundraisers (they don’t organize themselves!). Two, do you think I like having to deal with my son’s death? I too would prefer for everything to be sunshine, unicorns and roses.

As they say, it’s the thought that counts.

I’m even more grateful for our family and friends after this. We truly have an amazing support system, between friends before our loss and friends we’ve made since. I’m eternally grateful for all of you, and I don’t think I have said that enough. ❤


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Between Two Worlds

There are times when I really need to be with others who get this. Who know without me saying what I am talking about. Who unfortunately understand every thought and feeling that I’m facing. People who I know won’t judge me and will accept what I am feeling without any conditions. There are a lot of times when I can only be around this group, when I can’t stand the thought of being with people who haven’t lost a child.

But there are times when this gets overwhelming. Sometimes all I can think about is all the different ways my baby can die, and that leads to a bad place. I have found a truly amazing group of women who have given me invaluable support. And I sincerely can’t thank you enough for that.

But sometimes I feel like all around me there is child death, and I wonder what the point of even having a child is. And in those moments, I know I need to live in my alternate universe, where children don’t die, for a little bit. And so I withdraw from my reality, from my support, temporarily.

It’s a delicate balance, living in the reality of child death. I don’t want to give up hope on this world, I want to believe so much in the good; and more importantly, I want to have a lasting, positive impact on this world. And I can’t do this if I succumb to those fears and thoughts, and live too much in the darkness. And yet, you can’t truly appreciate the beauty there is in the world and all of the good, if you don’t accept the bad and recognize it’s impact.


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My Heart

My support group did an art activity. You were given a few prompts to choose from, and you draw in response to one of them. The prompt I chose was “Draw a profile of your heart”.

So this is my heart.  20160606_183548

The blue is my faith. Which most days is the only reason I am standing. Knowing that some day I will be with my baby in Heaven is everything to me. And, more than anything else, that is the only reason I am living on those really bad days. Knowing that God is getting me through this, that I can tell Him how angry, alone, sad, confused, overwhelmed, etc., I am and He won’t judge my feelings.

The red is love. The black locket symbolizes a love that I didn’t know was possible being unlocked. I was never sure I wanted kids because I wasn’t sure I could be that selfless and be a mother. There is a difference between having biological children and being a mother. But when Theo was born, the second he came out, I felt a love I didn’t know was possible. Something switched in me and I knew I needed to have living children.

Yellow is happiness/joy.

Brown is fear. A baby dying truly shows how frail life is, and I feel like everything I knew about life was ripped out from under me and there will always be this fear that it will happen again.

The green is hard to explain. Jealousy is not the best word, but it’s close. Longing? It represents that heartache when I see other pregnant women or babies, that pain that happens when I think of the life I should be living. There is some jealousy to it, but a mixture of longing and heartache as well.

The black shape is darkness. People always say that there is a silver lining to every cloud. And the black represents the opposite. Every moment in life now, no matter how joyous, will have a sadness/darkness to it because Theo won’t be there.

The scribbles of several colors represents feeling every possible emotion all at once. I no longer feel just one emotion–everything causes me to feel about fifty bajillion emotions at the same time. I can’t make sense of most of these emotions; I don’t think they have names honestly.

The white space is the innocence that was stolen from me when Theo died. There is a cruelty to a baby dying you don’t recover from.


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Death Lens

Our neighborhood is set up a little differently. Everyone’s garages sit behind their house, and you pull into your garage by driving in an alley between the streets. This alley is just barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, but I really emphasize just barely.

If someone’s trash can is on the curb, you won’t be able to fit both cars side by side as well. Someone will have to wait while the other passes.

So anyway, our neighbor whose garage is directly across from ours recently left his truck parked in the middle of the alley. Not off to the side, so I could pass it (which wouldn’t bother me), but smack dab in the middle of it. Which, ok, I could have squeezed through but I would have to go up on someone’s grass to pass, and I didn’t want to do that (that just seems rude, driving on someone else’s lawn).

I had pulled down my street, and didn’t notice he wasn’t moving until I was almost right behind him. I waited for several seconds, and then tapped my horn, and he came out of the garage. He said that he didn’t have his key on him so he would have to go get it to move his truck. I said (and these are my exact words), “Maybe you shouldn’t park there if you don’t have your keys on you”.

I’ve been obsessing about this moment ever since.

Was I rude? Was I being unreasonable? Was I being a jerk by pointing this out to him?

But the biggest thought that’s been running through my mind since that moment is: what if he dies soon and that is my only interaction with him? I mean, I’ve waved at him a couple of times, but theses are the only words we’ve exchanged. How will I feel if I don’t ever say anything else to him?

What if I die soon and that’s his only memory of me? Not that he’ll be speaking at my funeral, but what will he say to my husband? “I’m so sorry for your loss. This one time she got irritated because I parked in the middle of the street and she told me not to.”

I equate almost everything now to death. If this is my last interaction with someone/something, how will I feel about that? In some ways, this has made me a better person. Sometimes I’m able to catch myself before I get irritated and remind myself that if this moment is my only exchange with this person, I better be nice and make it count. Most of the time though, I’m reminded of this too late and then I just obsess about my exchange.

I’ve been giving my cats more treats lately because what if I die soon? That probably seems illogical to most, but it makes perfect sense to me. I (or they) may die soon, so I should give them a treat. And another one. (And then a third.)

It’s pretty morbid how I now view everything through my “death lens”.