Sunday, August 17, 2014

Birthday, Grief, Love, and His Presence

Yesterday was Joshua's birthday.

It's a day that we are supposed to look forward to and enjoy. It's a day that is supposed to be filled with family, cake, laughter and joy.

It's a day, that so many tell me, that I need to celebrate his life instead of mourn his death.

But how can I celebrate a life that isn't here? To sit around a birthday cake made for a son that is dead is one of the most depressing things on the face of the earth.

August 16th is a day that I dread every year. It's a day that all the memories come flooding back to me. It's a day that I remember how much hope I had for my son's life. It's a day that began the last 51 days of my son's life. It's a day of sadness, not because I didn't appreciate or value his life, but because it's a day that signifies his absence in our lives and in our family.

Over the past 3 weeks, I've done a great job of keeping busy. Two weeks of vacation, summer camp, and the beginning of school have kept my mind preoccupied. But I knew it it was coming. My heart knew that there was really no true way to avoid it.

Yesterday came. The day my son should have turned 4.

There were tears. Lots of tears. Tears from me. Tears from Shane. Tears from Caleb.

Oh, the tears from Caleb. Those are the most heart breaking tears of all. Have you ever watched your 8 year old son process what it means to be "celebrating" his dead brother's birthday? It's awful and heart wrenching. It leaves you crying out for Jesus to give you the strength to make it through; to give you the wisdom and grace to put aside your grief to comfort your grieving child. It's like a sick and horrible punch to the gut that leaves you breathless.

But amid the grief and the tears, there was a Still Small Voice whispering peace. God's goodness was shown again through the kind gestures and words of others. His provision poured forth through cards in the mail, a bouquet of flowers, a cake delivered to our door, kind words on my Facebook timeline, supportive texts to both me and Shane, friends who visited just to see how we were, a family member who came and provided company when loneliness threatened to consume, a card sent to our children reminding them that their brother is loved and remembered. God knew what our needs were and provided for every tiny little detail throughout the day.

My heart is still shattered from losing Joshua. It doesn't consume me daily like it used to. In fact, if I'm not blogging here, that is usually an indicator of having a good day. My bad grief days are few and far between. But when they come, they COME. It will likely always be that way, and it's ok. It's ok because it shows how much I love my son. My tears are my way of letting my love and fierce devotion to Joshua show. It's my way of letting my heart cry out to God, begging him for peace and assurance. It's through those tears that Jesus draws me closer to him and breathes healing into my broken heart.

Happy Birthday, Joshua. Your Mommy, Daddy, brothers and sister love you so much. We miss you, sweet boy.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Don't Forget The Daddies

It's no secret that, between Shane and I, I am the one that is more active on social media. Shane has never loved the internet. It wasn't until we got iPhones a year ago that he finally got his own email address.

He has never minded me using social media, or my blog, he just prefers not to use them himself.

Since he doesn't use social media, he doesn't have the contacts that I do. He's not as verbal (both written and spoken) about his life and his struggle with losing Joshua. I always have been.

It seems that every anniversary and birthday that comes, our friends have been very good about telling ME that they remember Joshua. They do a good job of passing on their sentiments and love, and for that I am grateful.

However, Shane is often times left in the dark.

I think that is probably true of most fathers who have lost a child. The daddies don't show as much emotion or aren't as verbal, and when they struggle, they struggle internally or to a few trusted friends. They don't blog about it (typically) or post on Facebook that they are feeling sad. They just don't.

But, they grieve. Oh, how those daddies grieve.

I have seen it for myself. In very quiet and personal moments, I've seen Shane wipe away a tear. I have witnessed him looking at the picture of him holding Joshua that hangs on our fridge, his eyes lingering a little longer than normal, often accompanied by a big sigh. Or, sometimes he gives one of our living children a hug that lasts just a little longer than usual, simply because he needs an outlet for his loss. Sometimes, out of the blue, he sits down next to me on the couch and puts his head on my lap and lets out a deep sigh. It's a sigh that, I have come to learn, is a sigh expressing his loss and his grief.

As each year comes and goes, my grief is usually more "public." People know when I am having a hard time and, graciously, those closest to me usually offer support, prayers, and encouragement. What they don't realize is that Shane is, often times, feeling the same and even though he doesn't express it, he needs the emotional support as well.

As we come closer to Joshua's birthday, or if you know a daddy that has lost a precious child, please don't forget them. Tell these men that you remember their child. Tell them that you are praying for them. Offer encouragement and support or just simply a listening ear.

These daddies struggle just as much as the mamas do. They just do it differently.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Silent Tears, Quiet Grief, and Sacred Friendships

This week has been a week full of silent tears and quiet grief.

One week from today, my baby should be celebrating his 4th birthday.

Instead, it's just another year gone by that I am left to wonder who he would be.

Over the past few weeks, I have done a lot of traveling.

 Two weeks ago, my husband and I took a week long camping trip, just the two of us. July is our anniversary month and this year we celebrated 10 years of wedded bliss survival growth companionship love. As I try to think about the words to describe our marriage, I just can't place one word on it. We have had our highs, but we have had equally as many lows. And the lows have been LOW. It seems that the past 10 years have been marked with sadness, struggle, grief, anxiety, stress, and exhaustion.

I guess that is normal when you are married at 20 years old and don't really know who you are. Add four children, jobs, college, death, and houses into the mix, and you learn who you are and who your spouse is. We have spent the past 10 years growing up together and it's been exhaustingly wonderful.

As Shane stated last night, our love is deeper and more firmly planted than it was 10 years ago. We have survived and thrived. We have loved and lost and stayed together through it all. I've cried silent tears of thanks that our love and our marriage has remained. I can't imagine losing him after everything else.

Last week, the kids and I went on a small road trip to Maryland to visit my friend Marina. Marina and her husband lost their son, Charlie, to HLHS 4 years ago also. They are now raising Charlie's surviving twin brother and also his rainbow baby sister. Marina and I met shortly after her sons were born and she was quick to offer encouragement and wisdom before Joshua was born. Our friendship has grown over the years and we have found sacred space in the deep crevices of our friendship.

The kids and I spent a week with Marina and her family last week. Even though it was chaotic with 5 kids under the age of 8, it was so comforting to be with someone who understands. She knows the pain and heartache of saying goodbye to her baby. She knows the pain of having to learn to live without him. She knows the joy of a rainbow baby, but also the struggles that accompany new life. She knows the struggle to balance grief with joy, anxiety with letting go, and raising children while in the thick of grief.

I am safe with her. I can cry without having to explain myself. She, the same. We don't have to speak about the pain. We can just sit in silence and share each others pain. We don't have to explain why we do the things we do, especially when it comes to raising our children. We understand the anxiety and the overwhelming need to keep our children close. We just get it.

One day, when I stepped out of the shower, she could tell I had been crying and she knew why. She simply followed me into my bedroom and offered a hug and shoulder to cry on. That is sacred. She understands and supports and loves because she, herself, knows.

But now, I'm home. The tears have been falling, often silently. I don't want to share them any more. I hide them. I don't talk about them. I just let them come and conceal them from others.

After four years, I've found that I'm tired of explaining them. I'm not overwhelmed with grief and sadness like I once was. But the tears are there. My mama heart hurts for a baby that isn't. Small things remind me of the loss. Big things remind me of the life that won't be. And the ache in my heart works its way out through my tears. I'm not necessarily looking for comfort from others, or searching for answers to life's big questions. My tears are simply signs of a mother missing her child.

Four years have passed. My grief has changed. Joshua's birthday is a painful reminder of what is gone- a birthday without the birthday boy; another school year beginning without my child.

My heart aches. My soul cries out. My arms yearn to hold the child that he would be. But it just isn't, and tears are all I have left.

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