Five Years. It honestly feels like a lifetime ago. While there are some things I can remember "like it was yesterday," carrying and birthing and meeting my sweet River feels like it took place in an alternate reality most days. Today, in the reality that I live in, I have two beautiful children that I get to raise and I can't imagine my life without them. I believe that I would not have the children I have today without having had River and for that alone, I am grateful.
I wish I could say that in the last five years I've always succeeded at honoring River's existence. Sure, I've spoken her name often and have helped spread awareness for child loss but the truth is, there have been times that I know I have done the exact opposite of honoring her; there have been times that I have taken River and her story for granted. I've been in some dark valleys, some of which I arrived at long after losing her. To be honest, that took me by surprise. I expected that the beginning waves of grief would be the worst; that they would leave me feeling the most raw and wounded. It wasn't until birthing my other two children that I felt those wounds open up in ways I never imagined they would. The anxiety of losing another child was enough to send me spiraling into severe depression and even PTSD. I know those are serious, heavy issues and I do not toss those words out lightly. I say it to be real with you and to tell you that the last five years have been a huge challenge for me. This grief has stretched me beyond what I thought my limits were. I've seen parts of myself that are downright ugly and I've wanted to give up on more than one occasion because I didn't feel like I'd ever be in a place to heal the broken parts of me. It scared me and it scared those closest to me and I don't want to ever find myself in that place again. I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't feeding my soul. I cannot stress enough how important those things are and believe me, I'm still learning. I'd love to be able to say that I've figured all that out in the last five years but I haven't. I know I'm moving forward though and that is what matters most.
Most of you know that I sing and for the longest time, I felt like I had no song. Nothing I sang or listened to made me happy or eased the burden of my grief or guilt. Distancing myself from music in times of trial is a pattern I've developed since I was young. I know that sounds totally counter-intuitive and weird because most people will use music and art to reach the deepest parts of them. Not me. I believe music is a powerful tool in which we can process emotion and that was exactly the problem: I wasn't wanting to truly and deeply process my feelings. I still have issues with it amidst my self-awareness. I've always tried to remain strong and level-headed when discussing my emotions; I've felt the need to not "break" or appear weak. It's a tremendous pressure to put on oneself and I wasn't even succeeding. My husband and children can tell you firsthand that I was indeed breaking and not gracefully... Finally, I just said "enough is enough" and decided to sit with my feelings. I listened to some songs here and there. Some moved me to tears. It was a strange feeling for me or rather, it made me feel vulnerable, something I typically don't like to feel. But instead of completely heading for the hills, I decided to find a therapist and commit to working through my issues. That was a year ago. Not long after I did that, I felt a strong pull to really get back into music. For the first time in a long time, I was not going to stand idly by and allow the valley I was in to swallow me up. It was an empowering feeling. Also scary. But we all know change isn't exactly comfortable...
I believe God intentionally gave me a passion for music and to feel genuinely convicted of not using that gift was a sobering thing. I've always been taught about using your gifts to serve God but I hadn't ever really realized how much I was simply hurting my own spiritual growth by remaining silent. I've struggled for a long time with the concept of obedience (for a variety of reasons) but I think I understand now why it is so important to remain obedient in the use of our gifts: Loving and serving others is the cornerstone of life itself. And when we are obedient in using our passions and gifts to love and serve others, lives really are changed. And you know what? It's usually the giver's life who's changed first.
At the end of last summer, my family and I began attending a new church, something we thought we'd never do simply because we really loved our church home even though it was quite a ways away (this ties into River, I promise). The Lord began working on my heart and I finally just said "yes" to taking a leap of faith and planted roots in Oregon City by attending church somewhere local. It was so much easier than I anticipated! Seriously. Major relief. Vivi started thriving right away and eventually word got around that I was a musician...
The shortened version of this story is that I simply just kept saying "yes" to God and have found myself thriving now as well, both musically and spiritually. It's been an incredible experience. When we lost River, I swore to myself that I would never stop making music and would never stop being inspired by the things she has taught me. I mad those goal when I was on a mountain, not realizing how lofty those goals would feel once I was in a valley. It's been a painful road, excruciating at times, but I have learned more in these five years than I feel like I ever have in my life.
I miss River. Deeply. I know that if I would have been able to keep her that she would be imparting her old-soul wisdom on me as the little teacher I always felt she would be. I'm done playing the "what-if" game though. But I do still hurt. My heart and literal body hurts when this time of year approaches. It's something I feel will forever be ingrained into my being. At the end of the day though, I write these words knowing that my daughter is safe; That she is loved and that she is whole.
I still pray sometimes that God would bring me dreams of her, showing me what she would be like. I know He knows all of that and it just makes me all the more eager for the day our family is reunited. Until that day though, I will press on. I can't say that I will be entirely devoid of fear of what life will continue to look like without my precious girl but I can say that even if I do falter, that I will get back up and try again. I will fight for hope and I will not let darkness consume me.
Thank you all for standing alongside me on this journey. I could never adequately articulate my appreciation for you and the love you have shown me... <3
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
A short poem I wrote this morning while thinking of my darling River. I miss you, baby girl.
I wanted to say "I love you" today
But today you are not here
I wanted to kiss your plump little cheeks
And whisper in your ear
I wanted to tell you how fun it will be
To hear the Christmas cheer
When we sing "Joy to the World" "The angels sing"
"Christ the Lord is here!"
But I cannot say "I love you" today
Because you are far away
You have much more important things to do
Than bake cookies with me today
I know, I know, you would if you could
So please don't fret and say
"I wish I were there to hold you tight"
Soon there will come a day
So today I will say "I love you, my dear
I'll miss you for Christmas this year
I promise to shed only a few small tears
While you celebrate Christmas with Jesus this year"
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. It’s not that I haven’t written. Some things are just better left to privacy…
These last months have been surprising—surprising in how good I feel but also surprising in what has been difficult. September seemed to drag on. That was the month we got pregnant with her last year. It was unexpectedly difficult. So many emotions floated by…at times it was overwhelming.
I miss her. So much. One of the hardest things for me to deal with right now is what could have been—how old she would be today, how big she would have gotten over the last 5 months…I can hardly believe she would have just turned 5 months old. The Lord, however, always looks to the future. He was looking to the future when His son died for us on the cross and He knew all of my days before one of them came to be. He has a solid plan, in that I am confident. I’m sure many people know what I’m talking about when I say God always has this way of revealing something to me right when I need it. A few weeks ago, a friend showed me a song. It described me. It IS me. The song starts out with the parent speaking. It so perfectly depicts the way I think and feel. Then, at the end, something amazing happens. The lyrics transition and the Lord begins to speak. It was almost as though He held me in His arms and rocked me gently the first time I heard the words. What a loving God who is willing to carry me in His arms…
I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) by Selah
There were photographs I wanted to take
Things I wanted to show you
Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes
Who could love you like this?
People say that I am brave but I'm not
Truth is I'm barely hanging on
But there's a greater story
Written long before me
Because He loves you like this
I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All my life
And I will praise the One who's chosen me
To carry you
Such a short time
Such a long road
All this madness
But I know
That the silence
Has brought me to His voice
And He says...
I've shown her photographs of time beginning
Walked her through the parted seas
Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes
Who could love her like this?
I will carry you
While your heart beats here
Long beyond the empty cradle
Through the coming years
I will carry you
All your life
And I will praise the One who's chosen Me
To carry you
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Buckle up. This is a LONG one.
It’s been hard to write lately. I feel as though so many things are going on that I don’t know where to begin—not where to begin in the re-telling. I’m great at remembering details. It’s where to begin with the dismantling of my emotions.
I love to write, I really do. The problem with writing, however, is that it forces one to process. Lately, I have not been interested in processing. It’s been easier to leave things, to set them aside. Some things I don’t think I can handle processing, others I feel I’m ready to. So, I guess if I had to break down the current struggles I’m willing to process, it would look something like this: New Pregnancies, New Births, Holidays, and Forgetting & Remembering.
Note**: Since this is my blog, I will share openly with how I feel. Lately, I’ve been hesitant to put things down in writing because I know people read this thing. Originally, I thought I would just write and keep it private but since so many have told me they appreciate my blogs, I figure I should keep posting…even if it’s hard. In writing about the following things, I will trust that those of you who may be sensitive to this subject matter will respect and value my opinions and feelings. After all, this is my safe space.
While I am thrilled for the new babies coming into this world, I can’t help but feel frustration when I see how many parents are not excited to meet their children. By that I mean that I have seen many people becoming pregnant on “accident” and having to deal with the repercussions of their actions. It truly saddens me to see people classify their pregnancies like this...as an “oops,” if you will. Don’t misunderstand me when I say this. Know that I believe there is a difference in getting pregnant by surprise and enjoying it—River was a wonderful surprise! What I mean is that it saddens me to see people surprised who weren’t ready and open to having a child and thus regretting the events leading up to the pregnancy, if you catch my drift. Spencer and I weren’t “trying” per se, but we were open to a family and wanted the Lord to decide when He would bless us with a child. We still feel that way.
When I see people regretting pregnancy, my selfish nature kicks in. I think things like: “It’s not fair. They weren’t even trying to have a baby. They didn’t desire to start a family. I did. So why didn’t I get to have my chance?” I remind myself that I believe in a good God—that I believe in His ultimate plan. His plan. His timing. Sometimes I feel very impatient so I look to God’s Word:
Isaiah 40:3131 But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
Similar to the pregnancy issue, I have been struggling with seeing all of the newborn babies I am surrounded by. I have always been a baby-lover. I still am. I cannot help but feel such emptiness though when I hold a newborn baby and know it isn’t mine. I still find my arms restless. I long for snuggles and the feeling of a baby’s warmth on my chest. I am fortunate to have a dear friend with a newborn in that I can do those physical things now. I have chances to hold the baby, kiss the baby, sing and snuggle. It’s painful but wonderful. It gives me the chance to experience the physicality of it but also reminds me of what I could have had…what I’ve never had. It’s hard not to get discouraged when I see new parents showing off their pride and joy. It’s so hard.
Now, I know this will be a touchy subject but I’m going to be brave and say it anyway: It’s hard for me when I hear of new moms taking trips and going out without their newborns. Because I know what it feels like to lose my child, I don’t think I could ever do that…at least not in the newborn phase. I don’t know (if I have another child) when I’ll be okay being away from him or her. I don’t know…There. I said it.
I’ve been very aggravated with holidays this year. You may remember my 4th of July post—I felt a lot of sadness and anger. Well, it’s happening again. I started choosing Christmas repertoire for my church choir and I’m just not “feelin’ it.” You might say, “Well, it’s only September!” but you don’t know me and Christmas. I love Christmas year-round. I’m still singing those tunes in July, most years. I keep finding myself frustrated with what the holidays will look like…or should I say, won’t look like. I find myself wanting to hit fast forward and I know that’s not a good thing. I know I should be cherishing each moment, each day. Then, the child in me lets loose—“But I don’t wanna!”
Let’s be real here. We all have those temper tantrum moments with Life. It’s no excuse but it's reality. When will I be able to grow up and ditch this mentality? I keep asking the Lord to change my heart and I feel like the more I ask, the more I have opportunities to fight it. I could use some serious prayer in this area.
Forgetting & Remembering:
Oh boy. This is a tough one. This category is so closely tied to the others but I felt there were some things that could stand on their own. Alright, deep breath. Here goes.
I feel like crawling into a hole when I’ve discovered that someone has forgotten about River or what we’ve been through. You may think people don’t forget—that they’re just too uncomfortable to bring it up. I’ll say yes, there are some people who fit into this category BUT—there are some that just forget. Wanna know how I know? They’ve told me so.
I think the first time this happened to me I was shocked but still understanding. I think I was too consumed with grief at the time to really think about what it meant for them to forget. Now when someone confesses they have forgotten, I feel like they’ve taken a dagger and pushed it right through my chest, winding down and getting some of my guts on the way too. It hurts because I don’t have the option of forgetting.
It’s really painful when someone starts a conversation about something that would obviously upset a person in my situation and I have to be the one to ask them to stop. Only then do they say, “Oh, sorry. I forgot.”
How does one forget my being pregnant just 14 weeks ago? Especially if they were a part of my life throughout the entire process?
Then, the situations arise that are muddy. The ones where someone will say something inappropriate (by my standards) in relation to death, birth or pregnancy and I just don’t know what to say. Those are the times I am forced to remember what has happened. I don’t think people realize that. I don’t think they realize that when they make a comment about my weight or talk non-stop about someone else’s pregnancy/newborn that they’ve pushed me into a corner of remembrance…and not the good kind. It’s not entirely their fault. I get that. I know that because of what I’ve been through I am more sensitive to these things. I know that I’m also in the minority when it comes to losing a child. I just felt like I needed write it down and get out the fact that it just sucks sometimes.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
“When are you due?”
The familiar words rang in my ears, silencing the crashing waves at high tide. Only this time, my heart did not leap at the opportunity to answer. This time, my mind spoke in its place, taking on the persona of reason and composure. I found myself at the ready to guard the hearts of the two strangers who stood before me on this overcast Manzanita Saturday; strangers who were not braced for the reality of my world.
“I’m not actually……”
The first woman who asked the question shied away. The other woman’s eyes bounced back and forth in anticipation, wondering who would speak next.
“I did just have a baby though, so I can understand why you may have thought that.”
The mood lightened. My reality lifted and it was as though, for that one brief moment, River had not died—that I was about to tell these wary strangers that she was simply napping at the house with Grandma while Mommy and Daddy enjoyed some beach time together.
No sooner could I imagine that longed-for reality did I come back to earth at a screeching halt. If I wanted to spare myself of hearing the questions that follow, I needed to act fast.
“We had a daughter but, unfortunately, she passed away.”
Sadness. Confusion. Regret.
“This would have been her first beach trip…..we were very excited to—“
The conversation then shifted directions. These women were frightened, unable to hear any more details. They asked how long we had been coming to this beach, where we were staying, where we were from. It turned out these women also lived in SE Portland, one of which was a teacher at Gilbert Heights Elementary School. An air of disguise then began to float over us like a bubble filled with the waters of our masquerade. It was as though the further away from my baby we got, the higher the covering rose, growing stronger and less likely to collapse. These women became frantic, desperate to talk of anything but the horror of the truth. They feared the mere mention of my sweet River would burst our comfort bubble, bringing the waters of reality crashing down on our heads….soaking us to our core.
I understood. I understood why they couldn’t talk about it, why they needed to escape. If I had the chance, I’d run too…far away, where no sorrow could touch even the tips of my toes. As I write those words, I realize that this is not an imagined place I seek. A place like this does exist. It is a place where I no longer need to retreat to the ashes of my once-lived child, for she will be before my very eyes, whole and perfect. It is a place that exists without tears and pain; with me forever in the arms of Love, sheltered by the wonders of such a beautiful Place. It’s an Everlasting Place.
Do you know this Place?
Will I meet you there someday, too?
The choice is yours.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
This is an entry I wrote in my pregnancy journal that I thought I would share. Above are some photos I have been taking at the beach this week while our family is on vacation.
By now I know you were born a precious baby girl and by now we have been missing you for some time. It’s hard to believe it has been 2 months—10 weeks and 2 days to be exact. Here I was preparing for your arrival when I was really preparing for your departure. Such a big hole you have left. Such a big hole.
I know that by writing to you it is more for myself than for anything else. You cannot hear me or read these words. Your home is no longer of this earth. Sometimes it makes me happy to know that your home is in Heaven. For now though, it makes me sad. Only sad for me. I know you are in Glory and would honestly never want to live here but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like. As I sit here on the beach with the sun to my back and the ocean waves to my face, I wonder what I would have been doing with you today. I wonder if we would be sitting on the sand together, enjoying the warmth or if we would be down by the water, walking along the shore. Or would we be walking the town, finding little mementos to take home with us to remind you of your very first trip to the beach?
Your little turtle jacket and beautiful ashes sit next to me, keeping me company. How I wish they would come alive.
I’d like to think there’s a beach in Heaven—that maybe you are running on the sands of Heaven’s shore, giggling and smiling…waiting for me. It’s hard to keep my mind in this world sometimes. I find that I often dream of the day when I will meet your spirited soul, wishing it could be today…that I didn’t have to wait a lifetime. But then I remember your Daddy. Oh, how I love your Daddy. And I think about the life we’ve made together. I have to say, it is quite remarkable. In the distance, along the cliffs of the northern shore of gorgeous Manzanita, I see Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain. And on that mountain sits The Getaway—the place your Father and I retreated to on the first days of our wedded union. I think of where we were three years ago and what our hopes and dreams were. We dreamed of you, sweet River. Even then we knew we wanted you and still now we miss you. Holding you on this beach was the first of many dreams to be fulfilled. Or so I thought. Now is the time for re-evaluation, I guess—time to consider more closely what the Lord has in mind since He is the one who now holds you and kisses you each day.
Deep down, I know that you will be so happy someday to meet your brothers and sisters in Heaven but right now, my heart is so heavy with you gone. It is difficult to free myself of the guilt I feel—guilt for considering another child to bring to the beach, to hold, to love. But my arms are so empty…and you will never fill them…here anyway. Oh, but how sweet Heaven will be when our family is complete and whole. What a day that will be. And what a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see. And I look upon His face…and He hands you to me. How glorious. And He takes me by the hand and leads me to the Promised Land where we can live together and Death will never separate us again.
Am I at the point of no improvement?
I try to excel but I feel no movement.
I throw up my hands,
Oh, the impossibilities.
Frustrated and tired, where do I go from here?
Now I’m searching for the confidence I’ve lost…
Overcoming these obstacles is overcoming my fear.
For the moments I feel faint I am trying to find my peace in the Lord. For the moments I feel faint I try to take a deep breath……….and choose to think of the beautiful existence my River now has. I miss her so. Each day brings new challenges. I have yet to feel true joy again but I know it will come with time. Mostly I just battle my fears and convince myself of their minimalism.
Not having consistent internet access for the last few weeks has given me ample time to think and reflect. I have been able to spend more time just being and not worrying about what everyone else is up to. It’s given me more time to feel my grief. I have to admit, it is a little scary. Typically I do not have time to feel all of the effects of the grief process but as of late I have been feeling them in full swing. Numbness is a new one. It is the one I tried to avoid feeling, if that makes any sense. While attempting to feel every little thing, my survival mechanism kicks in after a while and I find myself numb, unable to dig into my grief any longer. It is likely because I am so exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Gaining energy back is no small feat. At the end of the day, my body and mind are so run down, I simply cannot muster up enough energy to feel my pain. So I am numb.
Spencer and I have moved into a house. It’s been a huge process but I believe it has been worth it. At first I did not want move. In fact, I was angry that the process was so easy. I didn’t want to leave the home where I carried my baby girl for nine precious months. I didn’t want to leave the nursery we so lovingly painted…I didn’t want to ever forget her and the times we shared…the only times we will ever share. But, after much prayer, the Lord said “move.” So here we are. Waiting for the next step. Spencer and Kara (our new roommate and past comrade) have a “film studio” in which to work on projects and I have a sunroom. A sunroom! This is where I will be starting my very first voice studio. I am actually quite thrilled. It’s something I’ve always imagined myself doing and I am finally getting the opportunity to do it. Not just because my baby died (because, to my surprise, that’s what a lot of people think) but because my daughter lived. River’s life has been an inspiration to me in so many ways. I feel that the moment I saw her, I truly saw a glimpse of God. I feel that Spencer and I both also saw our potential. He and I had a very moving discussion about this shortly after she was born. We both felt we were able to see for the first time who we were meant to be. Now, it wasn’t like looking into some sort of crystal ball that showed our future (what we looked like, where we worked, how much money we had) but rather a feeling of intense purpose. We were assured by God that He still had a specific purpose for our lives, both individually and together. We have always known of God’s love and have always understood the concept of His plan but this was a much different experience. It was an awakening of sorts. And it now continues to revive us every-now-and-again, reminding us that the Lord still has His hand on us—that He’s not letting go.
Below are so pictures from the memorial we made of painting back River’s nursery before the move. I hope you find them a comfort.