Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Letter to my Baby

My precious girl,

Today you would be two years old.  I imagine you toddling around, attempting to chase your brother and sisters.  I imagine the cute little dresses, hairbows, and boots.  I pretend to know what your hair would be like.  I like to think it would be like Caroline's when she was two - brown with little curls in the back.  We would probably have had your birthday party today and you would have opened one present and not cared about the rest...because that's what 2 year olds do.  I can picture you now, me tucking you in tonight, telling you that tomorrow would be your birthday.  We'd have pancakes with a candle for you to blow out in the morning while we sang to you.

I see so many little girls close to your age, and I imagine they're you.  I imagine you doing what they're doing.  Running, playing, saying "mama" or "daddy" or "care-wine" like all your other siblings have said "Caroline." It feels so unfair sometimes.  Well, it doesn't just feel unfair, it is unfair.  It's unfair that instead of living out this year of your life with us, you had to leave us.  And yet....

I know you wouldn't come back if you could.  You wouldn't want to.  Why would you?  You're in a place with no pain.  A place where you have no reason to ever shed a tear.  You're surrounded by love and peace.  That's certainly not how you would feel here.  You're with someone who loves you more than I ever could - which, to me, is unfathomable.  How?  How can He love you more than I do?  It still feels so unreal sometimes.  I see pictures of you scattered across our home, and I think to myself, "I still can't believe we are those people.  We are the people who lost a baby." But it's true.  You are gone.  You're gone to a place where I can't get you back, as much as I've tried.

The first few months after you  died I begged and pleaded.  I tried everything I could think of to bargain with God.  I hoped I was in some weird coma and would wake up and realize this had all been some nightmare.  (The truth is, I still sometimes wish that were true.) your death, I learned so much about myself.  I used to read blogs of people who had lost a child.  I would sob as I read their posts.  I would try, for just a minute, to put myself in their position.  The pain was too much to even imagine, and I vividly remember thinking to myself, "I couldn't handle it.  I just don't think I'd make it." Here I am.  Eighteen months I've made it.  I've put one foot in front of the other and kept going.  I'm so much stronger than I thought I would be.  I don't say that in a gloating way - my strength is not my own.  I am so weak when I try to make it on my own.  I don't know how people make it through tragedies in their lives without Jesus.  How do they do it?  How do they manage these feelings without Him?  He's my peace.  If I truly thought your life ended and I would never see you again, I think the pain would be unbearable.  I am so thankful that I know that's not true.

You changed my life.  I had a relationship with Jesus before you died, but your death made our relationship into a personal relationship.  An individual relationship.  Not something that barely skims the surface anymore.  I understand now.  I understand His sacrifice so much more clearly.  I understand how awful it must've been for God to allow His only Son to die for me...for all of us.  I understand hope.  Hope never quite made sense to me...until you.  The hope that I have is beyond something I can comprehend.  Because of His sacrifice, you are in His arms.  And if you cannot be in my arms, you're exactly where I'd want you to be.  Because of His sacrifice, I can hold you again one day.  I can kiss your sweet face, hug you, and never let you go again.  I can feel your precious little hands touching my face like you always did.  I can't wait. 

Two years old.  I can't believe you'd be two years old.  I'm so sorry that you won't experience life with all of us, but I am so overjoyed that you'll never know all the sadness of this life.  I hope you can look at us and know how loved you are.  You are still so, so loved here.  You're in my thoughts at least every minute.  I've tried to be happy and joyful in the days that I have left.  I've never wanted your siblings to look back on the day we lost you as the day they also lost their mother.  I'm thankful for them.  They all still pray for you, ask about you, remember you.  Whalen didn't get to know you, but I will make sure when he sees your picture, he knows exactly who you are...his sister.  You are so loved, so missed, so cherished.  I cherish my memories of you.  I covet them - hold them so close, because I'm always afraid to forget those details.  Just a month or so before you died, I remember rocking you one night after church.  Daddy was putting the other 3 to bed, and I was in our room rocking.  I fed you and you fell asleep in my arms.  I remember staring at you.  I looked at your fingers, because you had them wrapped around mine.  I remember looking at your eyelashes and thinking what pretty lashes you had! Daddy came in and I remember telling him, "I don't want to put her down - she's so cute." So I kept rocking for a while longer, just because I could.  I'm so glad I did that.  So many other things I probably needed to do that night, but I rocked you instead.  Honestly, I'm not normally great at in the moment.  Maybe that's why I remember it so vividly.

Today, my heart aches for you.  My arms want to hold you and smother you in kisses.  I would give anything to snuggle with you...smell you...just hold you for a while longer.  Since I can't do that, I pray that Jesus will snuggle you today.  I imagine you putting your head on His shoulder and snuggling Him in a big hug.  I pray you always know how much we love you.  No matter how many years are in between us, you will always be my baby.  You will always be a missing piece of my heart.  I love you more than I know how to put into words.  Daddy loves you too.  Caroline, Amelia, Walker, and even Whalen love you so much. You are missed....not ever forgotten.  Rest in Jesus' arms today on your birthday.  My precious baby.

 I can't believe you'd be two.  


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kate's Anniversary

Most of the people reading this already know our situation, so I won't completely rehash it.  But in case you've been a follower of my blog and are suddenly receiving the first update in 3 years, I'm going to explain why.

On October 2, 2014, we welcomed our 4th baby, a sweet baby girl into our family.  It was a day filled with joy and anticipation - we didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl!  We added our 3rd little girl and we named her Audrey Katherine. We all called her Kate.  A couple of months later, Judd and I decided we felt like our family was "complete" and we wanted to move into the next phase of our lives.  


On April 19, 2015, we lost our sweet Kate to SIDS.  She was 6.5mo old, healthy, thriving, growing.  Our entire world fell apart. 

I am updating my blog today because I feel like I have a lot to say, and to make a FB status this long might annoy some of my friends or cause FB to implode, so I am updating here instead.  

An entire year.  A year filled with lots of firsts, lots of tears.  Tons of change.  Immeasurable growth.  Grief. Sadness.  Even some joy.  I am sharing my feelings here because after Kate died, I longed for someone else.  Anyone else who knew what it was like to put a perfectly healthy baby to sleep and never see her alive again.  Someone else who understood the pain, the trauma, the heartache and helplessness.  I've never in my life felt so helpless and defeated.  My life got turned upside down that night.  It was 2am, and the pitch black darkness outside echoed how my heart felt that night.  Like a giant hole right in my heart...and my gut.  I found her that night when I went to check on her.  I kept thinking to myself, "how am I ever going to forget that?" and the best answer I have so far is that I won't.  But somehow, I'm learning to live with it.  

In the year since she's been gone, I have gone through the entire grief spectrum...multiple times.  You always hear people say you go through the stages of grief until you reach the last stage - acceptance. I'm here to tell you, after you reach acceptance, you can easily start back at the beginning and go through them all over again.  It's a never-ending cycle.  If you are searching around the internet looking for someone else who has gone through this, know you're not alone.  I am going to tell you some things that helped ME.  Please realize that everyone is different, and everyone handles grief differently.  These were just the things that helped me get through my darkest days.  If this doesn't describe you, feel free to skip down to the end.

  • We moved houses.  This was probably our most drastic change.  I heard from several people that it helped them, and several more who said it didn't make a difference, and a few more who said they couldn't bring themselves to leave.  No matter which category you fall into, that's okay.  I realized that it was making it harder because we would leave for a weekend to visit family and have such a great weekend.  But the moment I opened our door and stepped my foot back into the house, it was like a flood of grief washed back over me.  To this day, I can still walk into that house and feel the grief all over again.  Don't get me wrong, I loved that house.  We made some amazing memories there.  I brought 3 of my 5 babies home to that house.  But when I walk in there, I see the day we came home from our family's house the morning she died.  I see all the people visiting.  Her empty crib.  The playmat lying unused on the floor.  I feel the grief all over again.  I'm thankful that moving had the effect that we hoped for.  I think it helped for numerous reasons.  It gave me something to focus on - a new house to decorate and make "ours" again.  We had some projects we wanted to do, and those took a lot of time and kept my mind occupied.  If you feel like this is something you can feasibly do, and you think it will help you, do it.  I couldn't bring myself to open her closet door one more time in that house.  I had someone else pack it for me.  Do that, too, if you need to.  Someone would love to do that for you.  Let them.

  • I made small goals for every day.  My brother-in-law, Aaron, gave me this strategy.  I still find myself using it when I start feeling down or defeated again.  When I catch myself beginning the stages of grief again, I revert back to this.  Make little goals for yourself.  The first week is a freebie.  Do whatever you want.  If you want to lie in bed all day, do that.  If you want to get out and go shopping, do that.  Don't let anyone tell you how you should be grieving.  Everyone grieves differently, so you have to do what works for you.  As an example, some days my goal was simply to do the bedtime routine with the kids.  We stayed at my mother-in-law's house for a week or so after Kate died, and for a while, I let other people bathe, dress, feed, and put my other kids to bed.  Eventually, I knew I needed my routine back for myself and for my children.  They needed THEIR home and THEIR mama to do the things she'd always done.  Make goals. One day my goal was to call a grief counselor.  One day my goal was to cook dinner.  Eventually I began to make 2 or 3 small goals.  Sometimes I'd add one bigger "weekly" goal.  If you ever miss a goal, don't fret.  Try again tomorrow.  Give yourself some grace and wiggle room.

  • I had family go take down her things.  At first, in the first 2 or 3 days, I wouldn't let anyone do that.  Then I realized that every time I walked into my bedroom, I was throwing myself for a loop by seeing her empty crib.  I asked a few close family members to go over and take down her crib and some of the bigger items and put them in our shed.  For me, seeing them empty was a harsher reminder of our loss than not seeing them at all.  If you can't stand them being gone, put them back up.  You have to do what feels best for you.

  • Go talk to a counselor.  I really, really, didn't want to do this.  I'll tell you why.  I was terrified I would have to rehash the traumatic experience of "finding" her that night.  I was afraid (unnecessarily, I might add) he would want me to walk him through everything.  In actuality, he didn't need me to do that at all.  In my mind, I was terrified that I would remember something that my brain had forgotten - and I didn't want any extra memories of that night.  I talked to him with what felt comfortable to say.  For two hours, Judd and I sat and talked to this man we'd never met.  We asked him questions.  We listened to him talk a lot, too.  He explained some stages of grief a little more in depth, but the most helpful things that he explained to me were about how the brain processes grief.  He told me when I felt like I needed to cry, that I needed to go find somewhere to do that and let it out.  Otherwise, that adrenaline continues to build up until I eventually explode and have a huge meltdown that could've otherwise been avoided.  I took this advice to heart and I can say it worked for me.  If I allowed myself to have little cries every day, it definitely lessened the amount of times I would lie in the floor and sob uncontrollably.  (Please note I didn't say that it did away with the uncontrollable sobs all together, but it definitely helped.)  We only went to our counselor once, but if you feel like you need to keep talking things out, keep going.

  • I put everything I had into my prayer life.  If you are not a religious person, I hope you won't skip past this part.  In my opinion, this is the most important one.  I wouldn't be where I am today if were not for the prayers offered up on my behalf or the prayers I prayed every second that I had.  I prayed constantly.  I begged others to pray for me.  I asked them to pray for me in front of me...I wanted (needed) to hear what they were praying for.  I needed to know that people were praying with me.  Our family was so broken.  We needed comfort, strength, and peace.  The peace.  The peace that came with those prayers was everything we needed.  I cannot imagine how we would have gotten through those days without the peace that came from our loved ones interceding for us.  

  • If you have other kids, ask someone to take them every now and then.  I'm still not great at this part, but most of the time, when I have some time to myself, I use it to grieve.  A lot of days, I feel so busy with school and extracurricular activities, homework, dinner, bedtime routine, etc. that I find myself too tired to stop and grieve.  But when I'm alone, I almost always take the time.  Remember needing to let out the adrenaline?  That's where this comes into play.  I don't like to really let my feelings out when my kids are around.  They know I cry, and they know I'm sad.  But I never want to scare them or worry them. My oldest worries a lot, and I hate when she worries.  I do let them see me cry, and I tell them it's because I miss Kate.  But I always try to follow it up with something like, "But she's so happy where she is, in Heaven.  I just miss her down here.  But we will all be together again one day and that will be so wonderful!" I want them to know that Heaven is real, and she's there.  I want them to know that's our aim.  

  • Talk to your spouse, if you have one.  That's the ONLY person who understands exactly how you're feeling.  He lost a child, too.  His daughter died, too.  Men want to be strong for their wives and sometimes they'll hold everything in.  But talk to each other and make sure he knows that you won't think he's weak when he cries.  I needed to see Judd cry.  I needed him to cry with me...not us cry in separate rooms.  He helped bring me out of this.  I can't imagine going through this without him.  I'm so thankful we have each other to share this burden with.  

  I will never forget the night Judd and I were walking opposite directions down the long hallway at his parent's house.  It was days after she died.  He hugged me and I admitted the truth to him...I wouldn't be able to go through life without having another baby.  I needed that baby to care for.  I needed my "baby days" to end on a happy note, not a sad one.  We were fortunate, and the Lord blessed us with another baby.  On March 21, 2016, we welcomed our fifth baby, Whalen Grey into our family.  He has been such a blessing and a joy that we desperately needed.  So here on April 19, 2016, one exact year since we said goodbye to my precious baby girl, I sit here nursing the baby I never knew I would need.  The baby who is bringing joy back into our family.  The Lord is so faithful to his children.  

Kate is up there waiting for me.   I can't wait to get to her.  Whether I die tomorrow or 50 years from now, do not doubt my joy.  When I get to scoop her into my arms again, you all might be able to feel the joy down here on earth.  I have never been more thankful for my relationship with Christ.  He alone has carried me through these dark days.  When everything else around me failed and faltered, He was always there...nudging me on.  The hope that we have in His promise is a powerful one.  If you've never sat and pondered the hope that He offers you, please do.  It is a hope of seeing Kate.  A hope of a life with zero pain, zero death, zero grief.  It's all the good things and lovely things that you love about this life with none of the bad, ugly things.  It's so worth it.  He offers you comfort, peace, strength on your darkest days.  Unfortunately, we all will experience struggles at one point or another.  If you're sitting here reading this thinking about how nothing bad has ever happened to you (thank God, first) be sure to prepare yourself.  Eventually, it will come.  Trials come to all of us - but there's good news!

Romans 8:18 says, "For I consider the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us."  

Make sure you're there to witness that glory.  Glory so amazing that things of this magnitude don't even matter anymore.