May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
-Irish Blessing

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cemetery Woes & Unexpected Healing

Recently our cemetery announced proposed rules.  But not just any rules.  These are rules.  Because the last set of rules prohibited horses in the cemetery.  The new rules were requested by the current cemetery caretaker who is a nice young man overwhelmed by the amount of decorations and plantings around gravesites at our cemetery.  The sheer number of items and decorations on and around the graves make it difficult for him to keep the graves neat looking and properly trimmed.

At first, I was outraged.  The rules proposed banning all artificial flowers, all grave decorations, all solar lights, shepherd's hooks, wreaths, benches, etc.  All that would have been allowed were fresh flowers and artificial flowers for a two week period around major recognized holidays.  Well, you better bet I did my duty as a citizen and showed up at the city commission meeting (who oversees the cemetery) and voiced my opposition to these rules.  Why?  Because we have a bench, a wreath, a shepherd's hook, solar lights, a rock border, artificial flowers and tons of little birthday and Christmas gifts scattered along the lip and rocks bordering our headstone where Wyatt rests.  Eli rests at our feet and has a flat stone so we are unable to put anything at his stone.  You know what happened?  The commission decided to form a committee of people both for and against the proposed rules to hash it out.

I volunteered to serve on that committee because I felt so strongly about my opinion that I wanted to be part of the change, whether for good or bad.  So through the course of about six hours over two meetings, which included a walk through of the cemetery to see and listen to the caretaker show us why he believed the policy was needed, we came up with a new proposed set of rules.  There were tears and disagreement during our meetings.  Three of us opposed the rules and three supported them.  We were different ages and tended many different kinds of graves.  We listened carefully to the opinion of the caretaker and he listened to us.

The end result was a set of rules which is respectful to those who choose to remember their deceased with flowers and items but respectful of the caretaker and those who were seeking a neater looking cemetery by limiting the kind and scale of these items.  We have taken our bench, shepherd's hook, solar lights and many small tokens home.  We cleaned up most of our rock border but left the marigolds we planted this summer.  We'll plant more again next summer along with some moss rose and we'll leave fresh flowers for the boys' birthdays which can then be mowed over later.

I was forced to look at the cemetery and my own displays of grief from a different perspective.  Did my boys need all of those things I put out there for them?  No, they were for me.  But did they really do anything real for my grief?  Probably not.  It was therapeutic to remove many of the items which were faded but my own grief had prevented me from removing them.  I just couldn't take anything else from the boys who were taken from me.  I also was able to see that I searched for items that were being marketed to me as a grieving person and I don't really like that there is such a large market aimed at grieving people.   It already takes a lot of money to lose a loved one.

I am excited for the spring when all of the graves are cleaned up and our gravestone can finally be neatly trimmed more often than not by the mower, rather than having to rely on a hand trimmer because our bench and rock border were in the mower's way and of course with four young kids at home we don't get to tend to the grave as often as we would like to.  I want it to look neat and respectful.  I told the caretaker that he has a special job, he is caring for our loved ones' resting places in our absence and that is a labor of love.

I was able to present the new set of rules to the commission, tell my story and explain why I supported the rules even though I would give up so much to abide by them.  I think it was a powerful position to take and one I hope that eased other's pain a little as they approach their own loved ones' graves this fall.

Change is change.  It is not always bad and more often than not an opportunity to find good or start anew.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Hidden Grief

I was saddened to see Vice President Biden's son has passed away from cancer but surprised and appreciative of comments that our Vice President recently made about grieving were highlighted as a result.  Biden has long lived under the shadow of grief though you would often never guess from all of the public appearances where he is flashing that huge smile.  Same goes here.  I've thought and said it a million times I think.  Sometimes I just wish I could have something that signifies - "Lost two infant sons at birth" so people around me might just understand or give me a break when I don't have that big smile plastered across my face.  I do find joy and I do have peace in my life.  Time has eased the most painful memories farther back into my consciousness which allows me to recognize happiness and feel happiness in a way that I couldn't for some time after each of my sons' passing.

But there are still those moments.  Our youngest daughter recently turned three, just a little over a month after we celebrated Eli's fourth birthday.  After Eli died I made our older three daughters each a little photo album with photos of Eli and our family and Eli (some that the girls took with their own cameras that day).  Well, the little one had been sneaking her roommate's album and began asking for her own.  It was something that until then I hadn't really given a thought.  Of course she should have her own.  She talks about when Eli was in her belly and what a cute and tiny baby he is.

Then something else I hadn't given much thought to was brought to my attention.  Wyatt.  She should also have pictures of Wyatt.  Why I didn't just do that when I put the other one together I don't know.  I guess because Eli was more real to the girls because they touched and held him and Wyatt was born before all of them were even a speck in our eyes.  I don't quite know for sure what he is to them other than a treasured name and birthday.  So I gave the little one pictures of Wyatt too and now she talks about when he was in her belly and she held him.

I know these are fleeting moments, but I wish they could last forever.  It is a bittersweet experience to hear their names and really look at their photos so often, but it is such a blessing that she says them aloud and cherishes their images as much as I do.

Yet all of this is hidden just under the surface.  It's not something I can freely share with many people.  Grief just isn't a topic of conversation much beyond the funeral.  I've mentioned before that our parents don't always even say something on the boys' birthdays, but our siblings never do. But it's still there.  We still think of them and miss them and catch glimpses of what could have been.  The loss of a child is a profound sadness that you can never outrun.  It's something that will drag you down into the depths of a seemingly endless dark pit and it will hold onto you.  It is easy to understand feelings of desperation and no way out when you're towards the bottom in complete blackness.  It is easy to feel like the sun will never shine again when it has been so long since you've felt it on your face.  It is hard to feel like there is anything else out there but the blackness that surrounds you.

When I was putting the pictures of Wyatt and Eli together I noticed something I had not before.  I wasn't looking for it but it just jumped out of the photos.  In the photos where it was my husband and I with Wyatt we looked so very sad.  It was painful to look at those photos.  It was painful to remember those moments.  I thought "of course we did".  Wyatt was our first child.  We had no idea how he would die or how quick it would happen.  We were in the blackness not knowing what would happen next or how we would weather the next storm.  We were fully submerged in our grief.  In almost all of the photos I'm crying, even the ones where I'm smiling.  My face is puffy and just sad.  But in the photos of us with Eli we look truly happy.  My smile doesn't feel so sad.  I wonder if the difference is because I knew with Eli that we would be okay.  I knew the pit wasn't bottomless and I knew that even though I couldn't see it, the sun was still shining and eventually I would again bathe in its light and warmth.  Both of us just looked -- happier.  Even though we were given less time with Eli and he was the second son we had lost on the day of his birth to the same frustrating medical condition.

Grief is ever present, ever changing and more often than not, ever hidden.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Who is it for?

Frequently I drive by a house in town which has a large wooden cutout angel in front with a beautiful lattice border around it.  On the angel is a female's name.  It is not clear whether this name is a daughter, sister, friend, wife or mother but what is clear is she is a very special person to someone or many someones in that house.

That got me wondering.  Why is the angel displayed so publicly?  Is it in remembrance of that person  or is it to remind others that this family is still suffering her loss?

Ever think about these public displays of grief and grieving?  I think in some ways we all do it.  I have photographs of Eli & Wyatt displayed proudly in my living room.  We hang their stockings at Christmas.  Their names are included on our family signs hung in the house.  I have their names engraved on a ring along with my daughters' names and I wear that constantly.  I don't hide them to make others more comfortable nor do I parade them out to display my losses.  I have simply woven them into my life.  But on some level I think some of it comes from a desire to have others recognize that I am not who I used to be and that the grief of those losses has profoundly changed me.  I need for them to remember, not necessarily for my sons', but for me.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holidaze & The Christmas Box

It's that time of year again.  Really, it's always "that time of year".  Either I'm anticipating one of the boys' birthdays, just celebrated one of their birthdays or I'm facing another holiday season without watching them search for their Easter baskets, carrying their Halloween bags stuffed with candy bars, setting them a place at our Thanksgiving table or ignoring the two empty stockings on Christmas morning.  That's life after loss, right?

This particular time of year is especially hard for me, even though it's been 11 years since Wyatt was born and 3 since Eli was born.  It's still hard and I know it will always be.  There's just something about Christmas for me.

A few years back I wrote this post about what our family does to celebrate and remember our boys each year.  Not much has changed.  We still try to find a local group where we can choose a child that would be each boys' age to buy a gift for and we still try to donate toys when possible as well.  Even in the deepest snows we trek out to their grave site to clear the snow and stand by their Christmas tree for a moment.

Each year on December 6th at 7pm, our family attends a Candle Lit Remembrance Service where we hang ornaments with our sons' names on them on a special Christmas tree alongside many other little ones' ornaments who are no longer with their families.  It is a special time for us to focus just on our boys in the busyness of the holiday season.  We also have an Angel of Hope statue which is derived from the Richard Paul Evan's story "The Christmas Box".  You can read more about the angel and the story here.

Whatever you do this season and wherever you are in your grief, I encourage you to listen to your heart.  If you need a break, take one.  If you need to say no, do it.  The holidays are stressful and busy enough without the added burden of grief and longing.  We find that at Christmastime more than ever we just need time by ourselves.  Create traditions that honor your family and your memories.  It's okay to break old ones and start new ones.  In my opinion, a tradition is only as good as it makes you feel.  If it doesn't make you feel good and able to share warmth and happiness with your family, then what is your family going to remember by honoring that tradition?

My husband and I have made some significant changes to how we celebrate Christmas with our children.  Over the years, how we view Christmas has changed.  What we see and feel has changed and how we celebrate has needed to change as well.  Our families may not understand, but it has been important for us to hold true to ourselves and it is an ongoing process each year.  The year I was pregnant with Eli we found out about his Potter's not too long before Christmas and I spent many an evening sitting in the dark of our living room with only the light of our twinkling Christmas tree rubbing my belly and sorting through the depths of my emotions.  Years later staring at that same tree in the dark as it twinkles the same way it did then is oddly comforting.

May you find something comforting this holiday season and hold fast to it.  Blessings.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

It's That Time of Year Again - Sharing

School has started which means for my girls, new teachers and new students who may know that they have three sisters but do not know about the girls' two brothers.  I leave it up to my girls as to whether they want to share that information.  At different times it has made each of the girls uncomfortable to answer their classmates' questions about who their brothers are and probably more importantly, where they are.  Having never had to tell anyone that I had a brother but that he died, I don't know exactly how that feels.  For that reason I really give them leeway about how they handle the situation.  Sometimes they've shared it at the beginning of the year and then let it go the rest of the year.  It hurts to hear the ways they've shared their brothers because it's just not the way they share their sisters.  None of them even met Wyatt so they have little to say about him and Eli lived so briefly that while they remember him they have little to share about their time with him.  He never took their toys or puked on their shoulders or called them names.  He never kissed their cheeks or grabbed their fingers with his own wrinkly little hand.  I feel for them.  My heart swells a little when they share and sinks a little when they don't but I respect that decision.  I mean, really, it's one similar to decisions that I've made 100 times when I meet new people who only see or know about my four daughters.  It's a split second decision based on a gut feeling and even those gut feelings can lead me wrong sometimes.

So far, two out of the three oldest girls have had a chance to share their brothers.  There's bitter with the sweet.  We'll see if the last one has a chance and what her choice ends up being.

Monday, August 25, 2014


School for my three oldest girls is right around the corner and is just one of the things that will break me out of this rut that I'm stuck in.  I need to rearrange (metaphorically) and that is hard to do with four girls buzzing and sometimes screaming in and out of the house all day long.  Me and the little one will figure things out soon.

I've spent my summer running, running and running some more.  I kicked it off with a 10k amidst beautiful scenery and ever since I have been amping up my mileage to tackle a 10 mile race in a few weeks which is going to be followed (fingers crossed) by a half marathon two weeks after that.  These are kind of bucket list things for me.  When I find myself doing the same thing over and over I get bored.  I'm sure that's a good bit of human nature.  While I have eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches almost every Wednesday at lunch for the past six years or more and I'm okay with that, I can't stick with the same hairstyle for long, the same furniture arrangement, etc.  Some things are easier to change than others.  Nothing I do will bring Wyatt and Eli back and nothing I do will make me truly okay with the fact that they're gone.  That's a tough one.

But running I can do.  I've now pushed myself to distances that I never dreamed I could do.  I have running on my bucket list and I'm just ticking those items off like wildfire.  Every time I accomplish a new distance or speed it feels good.  I feel strong.  Even at my weakest after a hard run or race, I bask in that sense of accomplishment.  It helps that I can remind myself at the most trying moments that nothing compares to the pain of watching my child die or putting him in the ground and it makes things a little easier.

Moral of the story: grow and challenge, seek and embrace change.  Cultivate and build strength within yourself.  I find it's so easy to play the victim and expect someone else to help me change or fix me but that true healing is better achieved within because I know myself better than anyone and those things I think I can't do are just things that I'm scared to do.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Happy Birthday Sweet Wyatt, 11 years

Tonight our 5 year old was discussing Wyatt with my husband.  When he told her that Wyatt is now 11 years old I paused for a minute.  I was smack in the middle of the 5:20 throwing together of lemon poppy seed blueberry pancakes and time stopped for the briefest of seconds.  Eleven years just didn't sound right but a quick deduction confirmed that number.  Everything after a year seems farther away, but eleven years seems an eternity.  Eleven years ago I couldn't even begin to visualize this self.  I could barely see through my own tears.  My heart was so broken I feared it would never heal and I would never know happiness again.  I believed sadness would always hang over me like a dark cloud blocking out the sun.  Because dark clouds were all I saw for a long time after Wyatt was born.  Dark clouds, pregnant bellies and newborn babes.

Eleven years later I find myself smiling in the sunshine, holding my sweet son's memory close to my heart.  He has a special broken place inside that will never fully heal.  Wyatt's cupcakes are ready for tomorrow, the weather is promising to be quite the opposite from the day of his birth - sunny and warm.  The picnic is planned and as I learn every year, whether or not I'm ready for it, it will happen.  We will take Wyatt a handful of purple irises from the shadow of his new little willow tree and maybe a few daffodils from the shadow of Eli's tree.  It's my one day to let down all those defenses that I keep up almost every other day of the year.  Tomorrow is Wyatt's.

Happy 11th Birthday, my son.  Each year you grow farther away from my memory and farther away from my experience.  I wouldn't have the slightest clue what to do with an eleven year old boy, but I'd give just about anything to figure it out.  We miss you so.


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