Thursday, July 30, 2015

Happy 9th Birthday Nora [a letter]

Happy Birthday Nora!
Today you are nine years old!  
Every year on this day I write you a letter to tell you just how special you are and how incredibly loved by me you are.  This year is no different.  
Only it also is very different.

First of all, at the cost that you may be reading this when you are 30 years old with your very own 9 year old at home, I want to start by telling you a few very honest truths.

#1:  I love you and me?  Yeah, we don't always get along.  
Especially not in the way that I thought we would 9 years ago, as I anticipated holding you for the very first time.  All I could think of and dream about then was what your soft skin would feel like, what your beautiful hair would look like (mine), what your big eyes would look like (mine), what your plumped up lips would look like (Aunt Jeni's).  All I could imagine was being your mom, holding your hand; you looking up at me with adoration and me looking down at you in total, majestic awe.  

There have been many times that you have looked at me in those ways and many more that I have looked at you from across the room and felt exactly like I knew I would.  But there have been many, many times where it also hasn't been that way.

#2:  I'm learning that you and I are very alike and yet so incredibly different...
[and that's ok].
You are a very smart, articulate, determined little girl.  You have an answer for everything and you know how to get what you want.  You don't apologize often, are hard headed and get angry quickly.  You are less affectionate now than I dreamed you would be.  Sadly, I think life has made that so and not your actual self.  But when you need me, you call my name and as I always dreamed I would be, I am here to come running. 

#3:  Life now isn't quite like I pictured it would be for you 9 years ago.  
[and that's also ok].
When I was about to deliver you I would never have imagined that I would no longer be married to your daddy.  I want you to know, baby, that you are here on this earth because I wanted so badly to be a mommy but also because I very much loved your daddy.  We were very young, lived very far away and we really did the best we could.  Even now I think I can speak for both of us when I say that you truly were our dream come true.  You have always been and will always be my greatest gift.  
You are the little girl who made me a mom!  

  You are a really lucky little girl in the way that you now have 'extra' people in your life who love you really well.  Kendall and Chris have both played and will continue to play really important roles in your life.  Please continue to let them do that, baby.  They love you in ways that only they can and I think it's very special that you get to experience that kind of expansion in your heart.  My one true hope is that in twenty years you will be able to look back and feel grateful for the childhood that you had; that you will feel nothing but enriched because of all the love that was shown to you. 

#4:  At almost nine years old you like to be alone a lot.  
You have learned to cope and grieve through many of life's changes in the last several years but I can truly say that on this exact day, you are the happiest I have seen you in a very long time.  I am most proud of how you have learned what you need from yourself and others around you and how you've been able to show us.  Although I wish that life would have been much different for you, I see the character of a young woman that most adults never achieve.  I see you becoming someone who will be both intellectual and empathetic.  I sit back and I watch you in all situations and I am amazed at how you handle yourself.  You are poised and wise beyond your years and that is a true gift, Nora.  

 You are about to go into the 4th grade in public school, which was not part of my life plan for you either.  But you get straight A's, you work really hard, you have loved your teachers, you have several good friends and I am just so proud of you!

You enjoy riding horses, playing minecraft, NOT playing with your brother, spying on adult conversations, kittens, driving the mower out on the farm, reading and doing art.  

Two months ago your baby sister went to Heaven.  You have been sad but you have also felt so much relief.  You've both expressed it and shown it.  I have felt grateful and proud that you are able to express that emotion and I continue to pray that you never feel guilty for it.  I am thankful for the sister that you were to Mabel but I'm also so grateful for the mom that I get to be for you in the coming years.  We did a really great job together taking care of your sister here on earth, baby, and I believe that one day God will honor us for that in Heaven.  I can see that you believe that too.  

The last few years have been really hard years in your life.  There have been so many changes and so many heartbreaks.  You have been angry and sad and quiet and loud and aggressive and gentle.  You have been to talk therapy and art therapy and then suddenly the horses became therapy.  
And then, even before I knew it, after so much worrying about you, life itself has settled inside of your being and you are ok.  
And finally, knowing that you are, I am too.  

I want you to know how very much I love you.  I want you to know that I will always be at your side in this life.  I want you to know that in me, you have an unconditional source of strength and support; encouragement and compassion.  I want you to know that I am now capable of being the mom that I was destined and created to be all along (I just needed your sister's help to truly be me).  I want you to know that I will give you the best of me, and all of me in everything you need me for.  I want you to know that you will not have to walk one day alone in your life, as long as I am living.  And I want you to know, baby, that I am so proud of who you are.  

You love God and people really well, and I pray that of everything you have had to learn in the last several years, these would be the key things that stick with you.  
God & People.  
That's what matters here, Nora.  
And you matter so much to me and to so many people, baby.  

I want to tell you one last thing on this 9th birthday, on the off chance that you're sitting in your room googling my blog right now and reading:
As I've told you every birthday since you were born, your name means 'light.'
I gave you the name Nora for a very specific purpose; because I already knew when you were growing inside of me that you would be a light in this world for many, and especially for me.  
And you so are, Nora!  You so are.  
The Bible tells us that when a light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot understand it.  I pray that you would leave this world perplexed by the amount of light you shine, little girl!

Happiest Birthday baby.  
You are beautiful, funny, smart, and perfect in every way.  I love thinking about who you are becoming and what life has in store for you.  God's plan has always been and continues to be remarkable over your life.  I am the luckiest mom in the world to be yours. 

I love you--


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

2 months.

"If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together, there is something you must always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is, even if we're apart, I'll always be with you."
--Winnie the Pooh [A.A. Milne]
Time hasn't made any sense to me since the moment your heart stopped beating and mine continued. 
Two months ago today.
I suppose, at least. 
I'm at a weird mental place where, just like when you have a new baby and do not know when to start telling people they are 5 months old versus 19 weeks, I'm not really sure if now is the time by months.  But to think of months as in plural even catches vomit in my throat. 
Today you have been gone 8 weeks and 5 days.
But 2 months on the 29th. 
Either way, two months without you and it feels like an entire lifetime. 
This week has been my worst.  The missing you is horrific.  The other grief things--they haven't come and I'm not sure that they will.  After all, I grieved so hard and so long for you before now. 
I want to rest as I know you are resting. 
But my actual soul is in desperate pain.
I went to the Dr. this week, trying to take care of myself.  That feels foreign and strange and selfish.  My back has been hurting so bad for weeks and other very hormonal things were happening. 
All in all, there is nothing to be found.  Nothing except shoulders that are used to bearing your weight and a body that is shifting from the lack thereof.  Nothing but empty arms with an ache so big nothing could fill it.  Nothing but an actual hole through my heart where your physical-ness used to fit. 
It feels as if I'm weaning a newborn baby from nursing or dare I compare this to what a mother may feel like when she leaves the hospital after delivering a stillborn babe; womb and heart and arms empty.  Though you were outside of my body for five years, you never left me.  And your vacancy has consumed my entire physical being. 
My back throbs out like a heartbeat, pulsing low and deep. 
I long for yours next to mine.  It's sickening.
Each night I lay and feel it and I can't help but curse the grief that has overtaken me.  And there's nothing I can do to stop it.  As always, a person must make way for grief. 
It's an ocean of turmoil and turbulence with triggers that are both inevitable and unpredictable.  And it's also back pain that comes from nowhere in the dead of night; a vivid and dark reminder of your absence in the very next room.  What the world sees as a mom who is 'coping' really well, my own body tells me otherwise.  Grief reminds me that he'll show up wherever he can get his hands on me. 
I went to the cemetery alone last night.  That's not something I usually do because quite honestly, I feel you with me; close-- so close, all the time.  But last night I screamed and cried and groaned with such force that my body was wracked with agony afterwards.
None of this feels real.  And yet it so is.
Some days it feels like none of it happened at all.  And it so did.
This is a horrible nightmare to have to wake up to every single day.
Every single day for the rest of my life...without you. 
But as always, the confliction is my joy FOR you.  My love and hope and selflessness FOR you, my baby.  For the race you ran.  And the reward you received.
Well done, my girl.  Well done, indeed.
I miss so much our morning routine; your bright eyes, and dried-spit mouth.
I miss so much your soft feet and I miss pausing throughout my day just to unzip your jammies to  free them so I could smell and you could giggle.
I miss the pauses in general; the hour it took to feed you 6 ounces just to turn around and do it again another hour later.  The quiet moments with you that were ours alone.  I miss it so much.
I miss talking baby talk and watching you close your eyes and smile with your big tongue out.
I miss your grunting.
And though it's sad and was so unfair, I miss your jerking limbs.  Your arms that tapped strong since you were a new baby and your legs that were bendy and long, draped across me and kicking. 
I miss you with Nora and I miss you with Braden. (Oh how they miss you too.)
I miss Heidi laying beside you in your bouncer on your bad days where seizures were unending and she knew.  I miss the cat batting at your kicking, jerking feet, thinking that you were playing [and you laughing because I think you maybe were.]
I miss your car seat and miss having to adjust the rearview mirror to check to see that your head hasn't fallen forward. 
I very much miss our routine. 
Doing your meds, calling your nurses, hospice visits, tube changes. 
Oh I miss it all.
I miss standing outside of the French doors to your bedroom and watching you sleep under your perfect weighted blanket. 
I miss you with your 'da.' 
I miss you with Maggie and on Nanny's bed. 
I miss Aunt Jeni walking in and saying "Hi bebeeee." or Uncle Jake saying, "Hi Mabes," in only the ways that they can. 
Sometimes I miss you so terribly I think I might die myself. 
But I don't die baby.
I am very much alive here without you. 
Nora's birthday is coming in a few days.  My heart breaks for hers that she is turning 9 without you.  Just how can it be?  My mind cannot make sense of it. 
We are leaving to go on vacation next week.  I am so looking
 forward to taking Nora and Braden to the places that we took you last year.  That was the very best week the three of us ever shared together!  I hope to make new memories too; the kind that will enrich and grow our family in ways that will make us strong together.
  But learning to go forward in life; learning how to go out into a world that you are no longer living in and do those things-oh, that is so hard. 
As I knew I would, I am hearing so many cliche' sayings about life and death and time and healing and just about everything in the world that people think they should say to make a grieving person feel better.  And as a mom who is truly living with grief and mourning while also feeling true joy, all I can say on this two month anniversary of Heaven is this:
Time does not heal all wounds and in my opinion, it should not. 
Time is nothing in comparison to the love I have for you or the love we share[d] while you were alive with me.  Time means absolutely nothing now and it meant very little even then.  I learned to outlive time by my excessive love for you.  I learned to squeeze a lifetime of joy and abundance into a very 'short' amount of time by the world's standard of measurement.  Time now just means that I got to wake up today and feel sad that so much of it has passed since holding, or smelling you.  It means that I now get to count down to the next hard day that will make me incredibly sad to be without you again.  But it doesn't take away from the joy I have from mothering you, knowing you, loving you, having you. 
Time is not a thief of those very critical things. 
The more time that passes, the more I miss you-for sure. 
The more time that passes the harder this is-absolutely.
But that's because I shared my entire life; my every detail with you ALL THE TIME when you were alive. 
And I long so deeply for the day when time is nothing more than a blink because forever will be our true reality.  Right now, eternity feels like an eternity away and that seems scary and hard and unfair. 
Today, I feel like I want to spend a lot of time in bed, giving in to the deep need to just let myself ache for you.  Which I do.  I ache and I long and when I need to, I really do give in.
The sorrow is so unbearable at times, it just honestly overtakes me.  All of us, actually. 
My entire being literally breaks and reemerges differently at the memories that flood my mind without permission.  Because truly, if I had my way, I would throw up a wall and not dive into them deeper than I feel I can handle.  But that isn't how this works.  I still have no control
The God of this journey has always been and will always be in the lead. 
In your life, in your death, in the morning, in the night, in the hurt, in the joy. 
It's both the most intimate and most irritating thing I've ever encountered.
Oh baby, I sure miss you.
I'm a jumbled mess of unrest and unthinking. 
You are sure everywhere...and yet you are not. 
My heart yearns for you, my girl. 
I love you, baby. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mabel's Birthday Tree Plant

This year her birthday fell just 6 weeks after the day she died; the day when I felt like I re-birthed her in a sense. 
July 16 2010, God handed me the most precious girl and fully trusted me with her life.
May 29, 2015, I handed God back His girl, fully trusting that her life on earth was complete and that it is being lived out eternally with Him.
Never has a more spiritual encounter been exchanged between the living God and a human, of this I am sure.
I thought long and hard about Mabel's birthday this year. 
I, of course, want it to always be a day that we remember, acknowledge and celebrate the life that our girl lived.  For almost 5 years she was alive here with us!  She laughed and cried and loved in ways that none of us will ever do; not purely. 
But I also knew that I wanted this particular day to be something special. 
I kept saying that I want there to be one thing that, if we choose to carry it on, we will always be able to, especially for the kids who loved her and have to continue their childhoods without her. 
For that purpose, yellow balloons will likely always be part of our celebration surrounding Mabel's birthday.  But beyond that I also know deep down that I will want to put much more emphasis on her Heavenly birthdays, celebrating that day when she was set free from this earth and her disease to live forever with Jesus. 
In my life, I have always felt the most peace when I am focused on the earth. 
 Usually I'm knee deep in a flower or vegetable garden or in the middle of a back country road running fast in the summer heat.  I am most tuned into myself, my children, God, life, the world, and others when I can feel the presence of everything holy around me that is simply 'being.' 
 So when my mom sent the text a week prior to Mabel's birthday suggesting we plant a tree in her honor, my heart literally jumped.
Of course!  How fitting. 
Do you know how many trees I have walked this child by in all the days of her life?  Do you know how many quilts have laid out in the damp grass under large trees with her long, tired, jerking body draped across them?  Do you know how many trees have propped my own tired body up when I have leaned against them or pounded my fist upon them in the middle of an agonizing run in a fit or a plea bargain session with God over her life?  Do you know how many trees have been planted in the honor of someone I love? 
A couple actually. 
So this seemed just perfect. 

 So I sent out the group text and told our village that on Mabel's birthday, late in the evening, at my parent's home; the home where I was born and raised, deep in the country and deep in the hurt-
we would dig deep in the earth and plant roots for our girl. 
Every single reply was draped in "how perfect!", "this is amazing", "I love this!"
Every single one of my lifetime friends who sat with and walked beside me in the hardest days of my life would join our family to do the most humbling thing we could think to do for Mabel. 
We would plant new life. 
 So we picked a tree, a beautiful "Autumn Brilliance Maple," that will turn a stunning shade of red in the fall.  My brother and Chris went together to pick it up. 
In preparation for Mabel's birthday, I had special gifts made for my parents, Jeni and Jake.  This would be the night that I would share with them what I had made uniquely for each of them. 

I had a rosary made for each of my parents out of the flowers from Mabel's funeral. 
My dad's is green and white and my mom's is yellow and white.  They each have a special bead at the bottom that is used in grief and healing. 
These gifts are priceless and these photos of my dad are as well.  His hands, so dirty, bring back such vivid childhood memories of the kind of father he was and still, to this day, is.  He has worked hard for this family every day of his life.  He raised girls, and later in life a boy but he did so by being good to people and working hard with his hands. 
He would come in from work each night, stand at the kitchen sink and scrub his fingernails raw but never did the sign of his day truly fade.  These are the hands that held my girl when she was born, on the really hard days when I needed a break, every day that he could in between, and on the day that she died. 
These are the hands that make me feel safe.  That remind me I'm loved.
That dug deep in the ground in his own yard to plant a tree for our girl on her birthday.   
Other gifts were exchanged this night as well.  I gave Jake a keychain made of Mabel's flowers for his truck and my sister, a rearview mirror piece and also a special bouquet bead that she can clip to her flowers for her upcoming wedding. 
 My mom gave me a special broach that she made herself with locks of Mabel's hair tucked inside.  It knocked the literal air out of my body when I saw it.  On my really bad days I curl up tight in my bed and weep at the longing for her messy curls.  It's a tiny, beautiful, priceless gift. 
So after gifts were given and everyone had gathered, even at the hands of amazing technology...

We were ready to begin.
Nora started by reading a beautiful, articulate speech about her sister and this special day.  Her words flowed eloquently and perfectly.  It was the bravest moment I've ever encountered.   

And then it was time to start. 
Nora had made it very clear that if everyone was going to be with us on Mabel's birthday to plant a tree that she and her brother were at least going to do the "first dig."

 But soon I watched as all the kids around us started to jump in for their turn.  I watched them dig and dig, sweat, and toil hard for what felt like forever.  They took such pride in what they were doing and why they were doing it.  But even in these moments I'm not quite sure they know...

 Harper, Shawn, Weston, Kyleigh, Cole, Chloe, William, Mikey, Collin, Millie, Kaleb, Kait, Ryan, Nora & Braden:
If you never remember anything else about this life I want you to remember this. 
God loves you and Mabel loved you.
She loved each and every one of you.  You were each special to her in your own ways.  Every single one of you could make her smile.  Every single one of you could make her feel safe.  Every single one of you helped me take such good care of our girl!  You should feel incredibly proud of yourselves for that.  What you did on this night, her birthday, was work together for something that mattered to you.  You worked together to plant a tree in Mabel's honor but more importantly in her memory. 

 Kids, I want you to know that this tree will always stand, just like God's love for you and just like His word. 
When you are having a bad day and you miss Mabel hard, this will be a place of refuge where you can come and weep--anytime. 
When you are a teenager and you do not want to be with us, your parents, this will be a safe place where you can park your car and feel angry--anytime. 
When you fall in love for the first time and Nora, when you decide to get married, this is a place where you can vow to love a man who will know your sister because we will be sure he does. 
When you are grown adults about to have children of your own and you feel afraid of what the future will hold, this will be a place where you can come, see the growth, and know that it all truly is ok.
When you are old and gray and your own kids are grown with kids of their own, I pray this is a place that you will bring them to tell them of the little girl that changed your life, altered your heart, and led you to the cross time and time again. 

 A tree is not just a tree, kids. 
A tree is one great promise of life. 
Just one. 

 To see the people that I love surrounding us in these moments is, of course, what keeps me going.  They love deeply, powerfully, endlessly.  They give up so much to give back to others. 
These people know God and know Him in all the right ways.  They are the kind of people that you want at your side when your child is no longer with you because they uplift you when there's a lot of heavy lifting. 
They stay up late when her hours are numbered and your sleep must come.
They walk up steep driveways in really high heels just to wrap their arms around you and tell you they're near. 
They find babysitters for their own so that they can babysit yours for you.
They make protein bites out of peanut butter, oats and butterscotch that literally sustain your life.
They fly across the country in the middle of the night in the nick of time.  In the nick of time. 
They baptize your dying daughter in your arms, saying 'Our Fathers' and 'Hail Mary's,' shaking and weeping with love for her.  And for you.
They pick out funeral flowers, pick up funeral balloons and somehow manage to keep you very tightly wrapped up in the privacy you so deeply need and deserve. 
All of this, after they love her very much like you do.
But they put aside their missing and their pain and their sadness because seeing you through is all that matters in these life-changing moments. 

 Little Village, how I love you.
Oh how I wish that your lives weren't wrecked with loss already.  I look at you, each with your tiny little faces and precious, wondering eyes and I long to take it all away.
But I believe if I asked you, you would never want me to-because that would mean not ever having her and not ever loving her.  
And you DID have her and you DID love her.
I am so proud of you all.  Each one of you.
Your hearts are better, stronger, more capable, more empathetic, more intuitive and graceful than most adults.  Your minds comprehend things that are eternal and lasting and that is a profound gift that God chose to give each of you!
Oh how I know you miss her.  I watch your faces and I hear your questions and I ache to the bone for your desperate hearts.  But I know that you know of a place where you will meet her again one day.  And to me, that is incredibly worth it all.  Oh what a place that will be! 

"For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace...

...What do people really get for all their hard work?  I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.  So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.  And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God...
...And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him.  What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again." 
 Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
 We added nothing to and took nothing from Mabel's life.
She was just herself. 
Mabel Audrine, prettiest thing we'd ever seen.   
 We ate her up and drank her in and oh we were happy.
We obeyed and honored God in her every day.
So on the day of her birth we celebrated her big, in all the ways we always have. 
She was our perfect gift. 
 Oh how we miss our girl. 
We miss her with an unquenchable, undeniable, protruding and endless ache. 
But we thank God for Heaven.
For Promise.
For hope.
And I thank God for the gift of one another.  That I've never had to walk it alone and that in her life journey she gave so much of herself to everyone; so much that we were all filled up to overflowing with love for her. 
  She lived 4 years and 10 months on this earth.
She will live on every single day in our hearts.
She is alive and well in Heaven and we are grateful.
Oh Lord, let us shine bright the love that she did and continue to honor You in all we do.