Hope for the days ahead

Hope for the days ahead

The day after Maddie died, I remember specifically asking “Will we ever be OK again?” In those first hours, and days, and even weeks, there were so many moments when I didn’t understand how that could ever be possible. I kept asking. 

I remember talking to a few parents in those early days, who had also lost children. That was my question for them: “Are you OK?” I was desperately searching for the tiniest glimmer of light – something that would signal that someday, somewhere, our family could heal and be OK. I knew the journey would be endless, but we had Greyson – who was 5 at the time – and we had to be OK for Greyson. 

I realized that the perspectives varied greatly across bereaved parents. Some described themselves as “OK” – it was a different OK, but they found some form of joy again. I remember one mom telling me that while they would always be sad, they were also happy. Those two emotions coexisted – and that was OK. I remember others telling me that they were not OK and that they never would be again. I spoke to parents who had spiraled in the wake of their grief, and in those moments, I could understand that. I understood it, but I deeply, fiercely wanted something different for our family. We had to be OK. We had to go on – and so I began to search.

Throughout that first year, I wondered why some of us could get through and be “OK” and some of us couldn’t. At one point, I ended up reading about prisoners of war and survivors of concentration camps – and how one of the biggest things that made the difference in their survival was hope.

While grief is an entirely different experience than being physically tortured, I believe the theme of hope applies here. When you lose a child (or a parent, a friend, a grandparent – anyone meaningful in your life), especially in a sudden and traumatic way, you can easily lose touch with reality. You are initially in shock, and you feel empty – as one of the most treasured pieces of your life has been taken. It is an earth shattering experience. In the beginning, you’re not sure how you’ll make it through. But each day, there are little pieces of hope that surface – if you search for them. There are signs from your loved one. There are sunny days. There are hugs from parents or your babies or your spouse. There is human connection. There are beaches and birds and butterflies and so many beautiful things in this world. There are hot showers and candles that smell like heaven. None of these compare to the joy you felt when your loved one was here with you on Earth, but you also have hope that you will see them again in some other universe, somewhere on the other side. And then there are dark days, but once you have hope, you can get through them – even if it’s just one moment at a time. 

I remember focusing my energy on Greyson, on what I would do to keep Maddie’s spirit alive. I remember praying and visualizing who our family would become – how we would manage to find joy again. 

I almost hate to share this advice, because it’s so hard to tell a parent who has lost a child to simply have hope. Hope? How could you even think about having hope in such a time? When your heart has been ripped from your body and you’re on your knees screaming and asking why? It is not easy to find hope in the early days. The world feels like a pretty hopeless place, at least initially. Even in the years after, there will still be days where it continues to feel that way. You don’t understand how you could ever go on some days. But you get up every day. You get out of bed. You wash your face. You get dressed. You try, and you fight like hell for hope.

Almost two years later, here we are. We are OK. We are incomplete without Maddie on Earth with us, but we were gifted a beautiful boy, Ford, last year. He is not a replacement for Maddie. He is here, however, because of her. He is full of sunshine and light and I can’t imagine a world without him. We are happy. We are happy and we still miss Maddie every second of every day. Those feelings coexist – and that’s OK.

There is light ahead, I promise you – you just have to keep looking for it.

"If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. … Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering."

Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

The day before

The day before

One year ago, today, was the last day before. Before I endured the trauma of losing my daughter. Before I became a bereaved mom and my husband and I entered the “club nobody wants to be a part of”. Before I had to make previously unthinkable decisions. Before I knew what true, deep, soul-crushing grief felt like. Before I had ever known what it felt like to scream from the weight of so much emotional pain. Before I had ever felt a numbness that kept me from feeling anything. 

Before. I was a different person. I am forever changed and now it’s hard to imagine the person I was before.

I’ve been trying to find all the joy I can throughout the past month. The month that Maddie was here. That month was so bright last year, and full of sunshine. 

The days that followed after her death were so dark. I don’t want to go back.

Many have asked if I’m doing OK, leading up to this “anniversary” tomorrow. I think all things considered, I am OK. We celebrated Maddie’s birthday on March 28, as we always will. That day, while sad, brought me peace. It makes me feel like we are honoring her memory and I feel connected. I know some find connection in their child’s “angelversary”, but I’m not there. I don’t know if I ever will be. To me, it’s just a reminder that she got her wings before I did. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Mamas aren’t supposed to outlive their babies. 

I’ve tried to stay busy. I’ve checked off house projects, worked, homeschooled, have gone to my prenatal visits, put together the nursery for our sweet boy who will be here in just over a month, read books, watched mindless television, watched meaningful television, tried to cross stitch – the list goes on. I’ve sat in my grief. I’ve cried anticipatory tears, dreading these next 24 hours. I’ve prayed. I’ve talked through the hard days and attended therapy. I’ve done my part, and I’ve done the best I can. 

I’ve tried to avoid being sad tonight, because I don’t want to go back to those dark days. I think I’m scared. I’m scared that I won’t be able to sleep and that I’ll have to lie awake all night and relive the worst night of my life. I’m scared that I’ll cry all night and that I won’t stop crying. At the same time, the other side of me is OK with that, because it’s just my love for my baby girl, with nowhere to go but through tears. 

I don’t want tomorrow to mean that every day that follows will be like it was a year ago. However, I think I just need to be – however I am, whatever that looks like. I think this night and day will always be painful in some way. It will always hurt, and it will always remind me of the depth of the loss that we endured. It will always feel like salt on the wound of the hole in my heart. However, I do know that it won’t always be so raw. It isn’t as raw as it was a year ago, and it won’t be so shocking. I’ll be able to anticipate it a little better, and feel it, and it will become more dull as time goes. But it will never go away, as my love for her never will.

We will get through tonight. We will get through the days that follow. We bought flowers and plants for tomorrow and we will plant new life and be together, knowing that – as Greyson says – Maddie is everywhere and in all of us. 

My heart hurts, and I suppose it always will. Time doesn’t heal wounds. It just changes them.

I miss you, Maddie.

Extended Grief

Extended Grief

Perspective on celebrity death as a bereaved Mom

Throughout my grief journey, I’ve made a promise to myself to be transparent. In the early days, it became so shockingly apparent to me how few people understood grief and loss and one of my goals has been to change that, even if only in the smallest of ways. Transparency isn’t always pretty, but I owe it to myself and to those reading to share those raw moments, even when they’re ugly.

With the death of Kobe Bryant yesterday, I found myself internally questioning those who were seemingly affected by it and expressed extreme emotions. I thought to myself: “My pain is SO much deeper than theirs! I lost my daughter – this is a celebrity! How can someone be so affected by someone they don’t even know?” While of course his untimely passing is shocking and awful, I felt this resentment toward those around me who were grieving the loss of a celebrity, as I was quick to think that they didn’t truly understand how painful “real” grief is.

These thoughts continued to eat at me. It’s been cycling in the back of my mind, and when I woke up this morning the message became clear: I’m being a hypocrite. 

We can still know and connect with celebrities, even if it is different from how we know our friends and neighbors.

I’ve had these judgmental thoughts about people grieving someone they didn’t know personally, but who I am I to judge who a celebrity is to a person? Famous athletes, movie stars, musicians, authors, artists can be heroes and even idols to us. They can be a connection to our past, the reason we persevere or make certain choices – good or bad. They can provide a guiding light to children who otherwise don’t have anyone to look up to. They can provide goals and dreams for us to aspire to. The point is, they have the potential to make a profound impact on us, and can be very influential parts of our lives – even if we don’t personally interact with them.

I appreciate when strangers are empathetic to our grief, so why should I feel any different about the families of celebrities who have passed receiving that same level of empathy and connection?

As I continued to work through this, I thought, how can I share my daughter’s story and feel this deep sense of connection and gratitude for strangers who have read our story, prayed for us, connected to our loss, and then not wish the same upon others – regardless of their societal status?

My daughter was not famous, but she was still a living, breathing person. Kobe Bryant is eternally famous, but he was still a living, breathing person. He has a family. His daughter has a family. Every single person on that helicopter has a family. Imagine the deep connection and love that the surviving members of their families will feel in the days, months and years to come, knowing how many strangers loved and cared for them?

Your grief journey is your own. 

For months, I’ve preached that everyone’s grief journey is their own, that everyone’s experience is their own and that it is all relative. Whether you’ve lost a child, a parent, a teacher, a coach, a friend, an idol – it is your experience. It is your grief journey. You deserve to grieve in your own way, and your experience is real and valid. It’s time that I shift my perspective, and practice what I preach.

It’s easy to judge. It’s harder to see a perspective beyond our own. I’m trying to keep doing the hard things.

Thank you for remembering and caring about my daughter, Madeleine, even those of you who never had the chance to meet her or anyone in our family. It means everything to me, as her mom. A friend, Sandy Hahn, shared these profound words today, and I can’t think of a better way to express this, so I’d like to close by sharing her quote:

“To feel affected by the death of someone you don’t know is to realize that our reach, our impact, our energy extends beyond the circle we perceive to be our own.

A reminder to be careful with words, to love and accept deeply. Share, inspire, and live an authentic life. Our time on this Earth is fleeting, and you are powerful.

The 28th.

The 28th.

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I’ve written. Life is seemingly going by faster and faster and each month sort of just flies right now. Today is the 28th and as you know, Maddie was born on the 28th of March. This is the hardest day of the month for me.

Every month, this day never fails to hurt, it never fails to throw me off guard. The days before the 28th I typically turn into a wreck. I have my hard days and I cry and I can’t understand why I’m not moving forward and why it feels like I’m right back in the early days. Then, it hits me. It’s the 28th. She’d be a month older.

Today is the 28th. I was a mess all yesterday and essentially did nothing but stay in my PJs and cry. The weather isn’t helping either. My Maddie girl would be 7 months. She’d be babbling and crawling and laughing. She’d be wearing the 6-9 month clothing I had organized in a bin, ready for her. I have so many unanswered questions. Would she still have her stork bite? Would her hair have gotten darker, would it be longer? Then I wonder, what is she like in Heaven? Is she growing and changing? When I meet her one day, will she be older?

I prepared for these days with things like her clothes, a high chair, etc. because I was so sure they would come. We’re all so sure there will be a tomorrow, a next week, a next month. Now that the days are here and Maddie is not, it’s another blow. Every time. Every stage. Every month.

They said the first year is the hardest when you lose a baby. All the milestones. Every month is a milestone. You get to set them up on the cute mat and take a picture with whatever month it is. You don’t ever think that you’ll be folding that blanket up in a box in your basement after just 5 weeks because your baby has died. You take the pictures and you can’t wait to see how your baby will change and grow over the following months.

I don’t get to take the pictures. I don’t get to experience the milestones. I have angel wings and ashes and 1,001 photos that there will never be more of. It feels so unfair.

Today, I am sad. Today, I miss my baby, I hold her as close as I possibly can in my heart and I wonder who she’d be today. I know I will be OK and I know my family will be OK. I know the sun will come out again and there is so much hope, and so much good in our future. But on the 28th, at least for right now, I am allowed to be sad.

I will always wonder who you’d be today.

A perfect life

A perfect life

Maddie,

I think about you every minute of every single day. You’re my first thought when I wake up, and I dream of who you would be today in my sleep. You’re always perfect in my dreams.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on your life lately, short as it was, and what that means. One thing I am truly grateful for is that your life was perfect.

You never experienced any pain.

You never fought with anyone.

Nobody ever yelled at you.

You never had your heart broken.

You never had to worry or stress about school or money or a job.

You were never teased or made fun of.

You never had to lose anyone or experience grief.

All you knew was love.

All you knew were people who loved you surrounding you, holding you, caring for you, snuggling you. Every minute of every one of your 38 days Earthside.

While it breaks my heart that you won’t experience life and its trials, as painful as they can be, I find a small amount of comfort in knowing that you are at peace and you only ever felt love. That you never had to suffer or go through any of the painful experiences in life that hurt me to think about as a parent. I don’t want your brother to go through these experiences, ever. I want to keep him in a bubble and shelter him as much as I can. But I know he will experience pain in some way, just as you would have if you were to grow older.

And still, at the same time, I wish you were here. I wish you were here so that I could go through these trials with you, right by your side. I wish I had the opportunity to protect you and teach you.

Instead, I’m just trying to find meaning and all the beauty I can in your short life. I’m trying to be grateful for at least this one thing, amidst all the pain of losing you. I’m trying to be your mom, and be the best one I can, even though you’re not with me physically.

I miss you all the time.

Love,

Mom

When the world keeps spinning

When the world keeps spinning

I haven’t been able to bring myself to write in a few weeks. To be honest, I’ve just been sad. I can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong, other than that I’m so deeply, deeply sad because I miss my daughter. I keep seeing a quote that says something along the lines of “If I could love you back to life, you’d still be here.” I feel this so much. I love her so beyond words, so beyond my own understanding — that I know she would be here if love could bring her back.

I was very fearful of this period, when Maddie first died. When the dust settles. When the Earth would keep spinning, even though my world was shattered.

It seems that life keeps moving, faster and faster. Time doesn’t stop. Responsibilities don’t stop. We still have to work. We still have to go to Costco and the gym and get the mail and get the oil changed and pay bills. People still get pregnant and have babies and most of their babies will grow up.

I’m scared that people will forget Maddie, even though I try to keep her alive in any way that I can. I’m scared I’ll forget pieces of her, even though I’ve written them all down. I don’t want to forget anything about her. I don’t want her smell to wear off of her blanket, or to forget exactly what she sounded like when she cried or cooed. This feels like losing her all over, when I think about these fears.

The parts that hurt most right now are the empty ones. My empty arms on the airplane this weekend, when she would have been in my lap. The emptiness where a beach tent would have sat to keep her out of the sun at the beach. Our silent room at night, without white noise or her cries. I feel this deep, endless emptiness and I miss my baby girl so much. Why can’t she be here to fill those spaces?

It will have been four months on Thursday. It feels like a lifetime. I hate that time goes on, and my daughter doesn’t. We’re growing and changing and she never will. I find myself daydreaming every day, in almost every situation of what it would be like if she were here. What she would be doing, how she would be interacting with us and Greyson, what outfits she’d be fitting into now. I clicked on an ad for Halloween baby outfits the other day, pretending — for just a second — she would be here for me to buy one for her (and a matching bow, of course).

In truth, I’ve been compartmentalizing quite a bit these past few weeks. I read a book, play a game, bury myself in email if it gets too heavy. I’m scared to break down, scared to cry because I don’t know if the tears will stop. I know they will, and I know they will come again. It’s just too much to feel it all sometimes, I guess.

I’m sorry that this post is sad. I don’t want to make anyone sad by posting it, but I just need to get it out. I do still have so many moments of happiness and all things considered, I know I’m so lucky and have a beautiful life that I’m thankful for. I just wish my daughter was here to experience it with us, physically.

Thanks for reading, as always, and thanks for walking with me and my boys on our journey. It means the world.

Missing you, Maddie. Always.

First day of school blues.

First day of school blues.

I didn’t expect today’s wave. It’s Greyson’s first day of school — kindergarten. I have been so excited for this day all summer, anticipating how he will grow and change and what he will accomplish. I remembered riding the bus as a kid, and the magic of a new school year. I’ve truly felt OK the last few days, not knowing how today would hit me and what I would feel when he got on the bus and went off to school. I’ve felt sad, but in a joyful way (if that makes any sense at all), thinking about him growing up.

I wanted today and this milestone to be all about him, but I feel the pain of missing Maddie so deeply that it’s impossible for me to do that — internally, at least.

Maddie would have been here with us today, at the bus stop. I would have held her and waved her arm “bye bye” to big brother this morning. I can picture it perfectly, as if in an alternate universe. She wasn’t there, and I felt the gap. As soon as Greyson got on the bus, I ugly cried. I was hit with so many conflicting emotions at one time it was overwhelming. My baby is really growing up. My other baby isn’t here, and will never grow up. My little Greyson isn’t so little anymore. My little Madeleine will always be little.

[Greyson, ~6 months to 5 years]

How do I feel excitement and joy for one child, while at the same time feeling desperately sad for the loss of the other? I am always worried that I am failing as a parent — what if I’m focusing too much on my child that is no longer living, and as a result I won’t focus enough on my child that is living? I love them both with my entire heart, and I want them both to feel that, every minute of every day — no matter where they are.

I spent the morning bargaining with myself to not email Greyson’s teacher and ask if he got off the bus OK. I did it anyways. I get to be a helicopter parent right now. So far, he’s having a great day. I’m happy for him and relieved.

In all truth, I’m a wreck today. I’m up and down, all over the place. I’m watching for butterflies and signs that our angel is watching over her brother today, and I know she’s there. I’ll smile and hug Greyson tight when he gets off the bus today. I won’t show my tears — not today.

I want to send all my love to all the mamas and dads who are not sending a child off to school today, because they aren’t here to go to school. We should be able to experience these days without pain. We should just be able to be sad about our babies growing up, and not grieve the children that aren’t here with us. But that isn’t the reality. All we can do is keep going, and lift each other up along the way.

Unexpected waves.

Unexpected waves.

There’s a quote about the waves of grief that a friend sent to me in the first few days after Maddie died. The idea is that some waves you expect, and others hit you out of seemingly nowhere.

The last few days, I’ve been hit with what feels like unexpected wave after wave. I’m struggling to come out on the other side. I know deep down that I will, but these past few days have been so painful.

Earlier this week I drove by a Mexican restaurant. A memory rushed back to me about trying that restaurant while I was pregnant, at the very end of pregnancy. I don’t know why this upset me, but I think it was knowing that I had such hope and excitement at that time, so close to meeting our baby girl. It’s so difficult to think of those times — because I was a different person. I will never be that person again. Seeing the Mexican restaurant made me angry, to be honest. Why did this stupid restaurant, that I didn’t even like, upset me so much? Why are there triggers everywhere, that I can’t anticipate or prepare myself for. Why this one? Why right now?

Later on in the week, I realized that July 31, 2018 was the day I found out I was pregnant. It’s been a year. It feels like an uphill battle from here. It feels like I will have to be on constant high alert for the painful moments ahead. It feels like I just found some light, only to plunge back into darkness for the next year. Because the next year will be full of reminders. Full of “on this day” memories on Facebook, and “one year ago today” in my cloud photo albums. The next year will be filled with feelings of “this time last year…”, of being pregnant in the fall, at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, at the New Year. I will remember the hope, the anticipation, the joy, the excitement. And then I will remember that my daughter is no longer here.

While I’m afraid for what’s ahead, I will keep going. I will keep swimming through the waves. I will keep coming out on the other side. I will get a break in the waves, and I will catch my breath. It’s hard right now. I need a lifejacket that isn’t there.

There is too much beyond the waves that awaits me to let myself sink. There is too much of this life left to give up now. I will be OK. It will be different, but it will be OK. It will not be what I expected this year to be, but it will be alright. Eventually. One day at a time.

Missing Maddie is so hard. It hurts so much, every single moment of every day. But missing her keeps her alive. Remembering her keeps her spirit with me. I will never stop missing her.

I would never stop the waves, even I had the power to.

Hard things.

Hard things.

This week has been hard. There was no way around it but through. I returned to work this week, a month earlier than my original planned maternity leave.

As I drove to work, I remembered the last time I was there. I remembered the excitement and anticipation of heading out on maternity leave, so close to meeting my daughter that I had been waiting for. I remembered the struggle of the stairs every day at 36 weeks pregnant. I remembered leaving my desk with photos of Greyson displayed and imagining coming back to work and putting a picture of my new baby up for all to see. I remembered parking in the Expectant Mom spot.

These memories left me feeling hopelessly empty upon my return to work. I was returning to work without leaving my baby with a caregiver, because my baby is not here. I was returning to work without signing up to use the Mother’s Rooms, because I am no longer nursing my baby. I was returning to work, knowing that coworkers that didn’t know might ask about how my baby is doing. I felt broken and anxious beyond words.

I repeated over and over to myself: I can do hard things.

I pushed through.

I waited for the dreaded conversation for the first few days, and it finally came. I had to tell a colleague that my baby had died, and held back tears as best I could. I ripped off the bandaid, and got through the first few of these conversations, stronger and more prepared each time. By the end of the week, I set up a picture of Maddie on my desk next to Greyson. She is still my daughter, and I still get to show off her beauty to my coworkers, and have her picture on my desk to look at daily.

I was vulnerable.

I was able to openly talk about Maddie this week, even though a few tears were shed. I said her name out loud. I was welcomed back to work with grace, kindness and empathy by my friends and coworkers. I connected with people I work with on a deeper, human level.

I was brave.

I went to yoga, and dedicated my practice to Maddie. I wore her ashes in my necklace and felt her with me in my heart all week. I watched the butterflies outside my window at my desk and knew she was watching over me.

This week was harder than I expected in so many ways; yet so freeing at the same time. It was a step forward. It was a reminder that I can do this.

These days are hard. This period of life is hard. But I can do hard things. We can all do hard things.

Breaking Open

Breaking Open

I’ve recently read that if you let your heart break fully open, it can heal in such a way that you are open to more love than ever before. You have to let it split completely,  instead of letting it slowly crack here and there, filling the cracks only to let them burst open again. You have to feel the loss entirely, without any story attached to it. You must let your heart be so vulnerably exposed, open to that deep pain in order to heal. 

I’ve been trying this lately, and as painful as it is to do, I feel myself healing more and more with each burst of pain. I find myself experiencing peace and even joy.

Yesterday I let myself do this. I looked at pictures of Maddie and let myself feel the pain of the loss completely. I let myself feel the pure, unimaginable and horrific pain of losing my daughter. I felt the deep void, the inexplicable and irreplaceable hole that will never be refilled. I felt the excruciating, chest tightening grief, knowing that I can’t have her back on Earth with me. 

I let myself feel. I gave myself time to cry and time to be upset. Afterward, I jumped in the pool, swam a little, floated a little, read my book and relaxed in the sunshine. 

About an hour or so later, I was looking up dinner spots for my husband and I and felt this random burst of joy. It’s one of the first times I’ve felt actual, pure joy since losing Maddie and I want to document it. I want to remember that even here, I can feel joy. God wants me to be joyful. 

I feel joy that I had Maddie, even for a short time.

I feel joy for my wonderful son, Greyson, and for his incredible soul.

I feel joy for my husband, and his unwavering strength and support.

I have so much, and we are not done with this life yet. We are missing our baby girl, but she will always have a place with us — even if it’s not her physical presence.

I feel so much hope in knowing that my work here is not done, that I have so much to do and that so much of that will be in honor of Maddie. I have so much to learn, so much to teach and so many people to help. I feel so much strength for myself and my family in this moment. While it hurts so much to let my heart break open and to feel this devastating loss, it allows me to be open to a deeper love, that I never thought possible before.

I will continue to do this because my daughter matters. I will feel the pain of losing her over and over again if it gives me even an ounce of strength and joy for my family going forward.

I don’t know that any of this makes sense to others, but it feels good to write and to share. Thank you for reading, for remembering my beautiful daughter, and walking with our family as we miss Maddie.


Some Say You’re Lucky
by Gregory Orr

Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs …