Untainted Joy

Butterfly girls

We had been planning this day for the past 10 months, actually, if I were honest I would say I had been dreaming about it for 23 years—but the wedding that Olivia had in mind was her own. She had a vision, she had a plan and I was thrilled that she asked me to be a part of making it happen.
We began by touring the wedding venues across the state, sat down with a florist, chose the perfect wedding dress and accessories; made the guest list and hand cut pieces of the invitations. We made the centerpieces, the escort cards and grew grass in tiny terracotta pots that would hold them. Every tiny detail was attended to with care, and when it was all done the final result surpassed my expectations. It was perfect. The day of the rehearsal came and the butterfly’s in my stomach began; I was so truly excited for my daughter, who was beginning her new life with the man of her dreams, that it didn’t even occur to me to be sad, which is why the next morning threw me for a loop.

My husband and I faced different directions in our bed, but we both could tell the other was awake by the heaviness our moods brought into the air. It had been 2 years since we had experienced this feeling—and this time it was so very unexpected.
When you wake up the morning of your child’s funeral, it is presumed that you will feel a sense of dread, loss, finality; but when you wake up on the morning of your daughter’s wedding you would hope for nothing of the sort.
Obviously I am comparing two totally different experiences; but there were shared characteristics. We were closing the book on her childhood and “giving her away” to begin a new life. We would miss out on waking up to the smell of her coffee, and hearing her shout that she loved us as she ran off to work. Her chair at the dinner table would be empty, and her bedroom would be deafeningly quiet when we walked past it.
I obviously recognize the differences, but there were enough similarities to bring back the memories of saying goodbye to Naomi.

The photographer was at the house to capture every precious moment as the bride and our family prepared for the ceremony. The dresses lined up, the bridesmaids helping Olivia with her hair, her fathers first glimpse of his little girl in her dress. I was watching, as if from afar, but was shocked back to the present when she commented “Lorna, can you smile?”. I thought I was smiling.

To be fair, I was in an inconceivable position. How is it possible to process so many different emotions at once? I had no idea which emotion was being displayed on my face at any given moment. One minute I was looking at my daughter adorned in the most elegant lace dress, her hair swept back and her eyes sparkling with excitement, and I thought to myself: “wasn’t it just yesterday that she was 5 years old heading off to her first day of Kindergarten?“ It was surreal, beautiful, exciting, happy. Five minutes later I was standing having our family portrait taken and I looked down the line and noticed quickly that Naomi should be standing there among us. It was empty, deficient, full of longing and sad. That rollercoaster of emotions was overwhelming,
It would have been so much easier to just feel the sadness and leave it at that; trying to push through the layers of emotions was exhausting, but this day would only come once for Olivia and I wanted to be present there with her, I wanted to soak in what she was experiencing, see all the plans we made together come to fruition, I wanted to be ALL there.

watching her dance and laugh and be happy truly filled my heart with a joy that I can look back on now and call “untainted”.
I have spoken before about choosing to live and allowing myself to be happy, but there are some times that are more difficult than others. There are times when your grief is so “in your face” that making the choice to push through the pain to find the joy is as difficult as sprinting up hill on a hot muggy day. This was one of those days for my husband and I. We accomplished it, there were hours of dancing and laughing when my grief was carefully layed aside, and I was able to think of nothing but the happiness that was in the room at that very moment. Oh, I would pick it up later, before I went home, but those gift; and I am so glad I decided to chase after it.

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Love offerings

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My love language has always been giving gifts,  I especially like to craft and make things by hand.  When it came time to design Naomi’s headstone it had to be original,  it had to be representative of “her”; it had a pink tint with butterflies on it, a picture of her smiling brightly and a depiction of the eternity knot that all 3 of her sisters still wear around their necks.    I wanted people who saw her stone to practically feel our love for her simply by the care we took in it’s presentation.  After the stone was in place it became very important to me to have it landscaped in a way that would convey the same sentiment.

Every season I change the flowers and “decor” at Naomi’s grave.  I try to make it youthful, bright and as original as I can;  it’s my love offering to the child I can no longer give gifts to.

As the time approaches to change the setting,  I start pouring through craft stores, nurseries,  and even websites looking for creative ideas of what I can put together for her.   I recently went to “pinterest” looking to see if other moms had “pinned” pictures of things they have done in memory of their child,  and surprise, surprise,  there was nothing there.

So,  here is my idea.  I’d like to start a pinterest board,  and start pinning not just my idea’s,  but others as well.   My hope is to share each others inspirations and creativity as a way of making these places of memorial for our children (and other loved ones) that much more beautiful.    I am going to start with mine– but if you would like to contribute a photo of something special you have done,  please message me and I’ll add it to my board.  gravesite naomi's display 270 064 072 20140920_115304 20140920_115123 20140920_115055

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Independence Day 2012

Naomi's picture sat on the window sill of her hospital room to make sure the doctors and nurses had the full picture of who she was.

Naomi’s picture sat on the window sill of her hospital room to make sure the doctors and nurses had the full picture of who she was.


In a distance we could just make out the colorful fireworks display. As a matter of fact, the vantage point was ideal because we were on the 6th floor of the children’s hospital with a panoramic view of all surrounding towns. Booms and cracks were heard all around us, but they were drown out by the beeps and whooshes of the multiple machines that cluttered the room.
A nurse came in to tell us that there was an even better view from “The Healing Garden“, just down the hall and out on the roof. The three older girls decided to take a walk down there and check it out, leaving us alone with our youngest daughter for the first time all day.

The doctors had told us early that morning that there was nothing else that could be done to save Naomi, that we should call our family and prepare them, and prepare ourselves. A blind was put over the window of her hospital room door, so that we could have privacy, and a cart of food and drinks was wheeled in. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The nurse asked. I had no idea how to answer that very simple question; “I don’t think so” was all I could come up with.

Our family filed in one at a time, all with the same look on their face. Devastation, mixed with concern, and confusion– confusion as to what to say to the parents and sisters of a 9 year old who is not expected to live for more than a few more hours. We had a photographer come in– I know that sounds strange, but she was a very dear friend of mine, and I knew I wasn’t absorbing all of what was happening and that there would come a time when I would need to draw it all in. I asked her to photograph everything: us saying goodbye, the room she stayed in, her fingers curled around mine, her hair ribbon attached to her pony tail, the little scar above her eyebrow, her pink pouty lips– everything. I didn’t want to miss one thing. I have since looked at those pictures several times, and although they break me all over again, I am so glad I have them.
Before our family left, chairs were brought in and we began to sing to Naomi. Naomi loved music– when she was younger and sitting in church with us she would brighten up at certain songs. She would say “amen” very loudly after the congregation finished a hymn. Some people would turn and look for who made the outburst, but would then be filled with awe at the sight of a little girl in a wheel chair worshiping her creator.
We sang hymns, we sang children’s songs, and then my sister in law suggested that we sing Naomi’s favorite song: it was a bold request, but I appreciated it so much, because it showed the love she had for Naomi. We all started singing: “Happy Birthday to you…Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Naomi, Happy Birthday to you ..” Tears ran down my face as the irony of the words sunk in.

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Today marks the 2 year anniversary of that day in the hospital and the pain is as acute today as it was then. It is so difficult to make any move without forcing myself to put aside the memories of that day. My mind will not stop reliving it, my heart will not stop longing for just one more day spent with my family as a whole unit, my body will not stop reminding me just how tired I am of grief.

Grief is a funny thing; at times you feel you can’t bear it one more minute, but if you find yourself not feeling it for a moment, you become guilt ridden and embrace it fully once again.

If there is one thing I would want people to know about my grief is that I don’t want you to wish it away for me. I think the feeling is that if someone reminds me of all the blessings I have it will make me “snap out of it”. Or if I am reminded that Naomi is in a “better place” I will be glad for her. The fact is that I am already mindful of my many blessings, but it doesn’t take away the agony of missing my daughter, and although I know she’s in a better place, that place is not here with me, so no, that doesn’t really help either. Just love me, and let me cry without feeling the need to dry my tears. Know that there is no greater honor that you could offer to my family than to remember Naomi and to grieve with us.

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Time Marches On

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“Am I going to meet Auntie Na today, Grandma?” The innocent little voice was full of hope as he asked me this question on the way to the cemetery. Nathan is 2 ½ and has been hearing about Auntie Na since he can remember. He has picked books off of the shelf in her room, he has inherited her over-sized stuffed puppy, he has even padded around in her pink fuzzy slippers, but he has never met her. Nathan can pick Naomi out of family pictures; it doesn’t matter how old she is in the photo’s, whether a new-born or 9 year old, he will point at her and proudly state: “this is auntie Na”, but he has no recollection of her holding him as a baby. This little boy soaks up everything he can about the mysterious little girl he knows we all hold dear, but he cannot quite grasp who she is, or more importantly, where she is.

The tension has been building for weeks now, all of us have felt it, but none of us had pin pointed what the root of our angst had been until this weekend, when I came out of my bedroom and stated that I just couldn’t endure one more night of dreaming about Naomi. One by one, the light bulbs went on in the minds of everyone else in the room. “Oooh, that explains it” Mary sighed, I wondered why I have been so on edge. Bekah chimed in that she too had been having a hard time. It seems ridiculous that none of us had been taking note of the calendar; but our senses knew full well that this time 2 years ago our whole world came down around us.
Day by day we have learned to live with what we cannot change; hour by hour we find ways to experience joy amongst our sorrow, and minute by minute we figure out how to move forward without losing sight of what’s behind us. This is the life of anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one.

Time marches on and the next generation is here, and though Nathan will never remember Naomi, he is surrounded by her in our home and in our hearts.

“No, Nathan, you will not meet Auntie Na today” I tell him. He looks a little confused for a second because he has just picked out a little bouquet of flowers to give to her. I try to explain: “Auntie Na is in heaven with Jesus, but we have a special place that we like to go to when we want to think about her– it has a big stone, and a picture of her; it’s very quiet and beautiful, and that’s where we can leave the flowers that you picked out for her”.
We finally arrive at the grave and Nathan finds the stone with Auntie Na’s picture on it. He puts the flowers into a vase full of water and continues to process my words: “Auntie Na is in heaven?” “That’s right” I answer. There is silence. “I think she’s catching frogs now” he tells me, and the funny thing is, he just might be right.

Time will go on whether we want it to or not, but nothing will ever diminish how wholly we love her.

I miss you Naomi Grace

I miss your fingers curled around mine
I miss the sound of your voice sighing contentedly as I sing you to sleep
I miss feeling your silky hair draped over the crook of my arm as I snuggle you in the rocking chair
I miss feeling your breath on my neck
.I miss kissing the bridge of your nose
I miss walking by your room and seeing you sleeping soundly in your bed
I miss seeing your eyes light up when I walked in the room
I miss hearing your sisters reading to you
I miss singing silly songs with you and watching daddy drum your hands on his
I miss the joy in your smile, I miss the constant of your love
I miss the way that you made our family complete.

I miss your perfect imperfections
And selfishly I would wish you back with every single one of them if I could.

There will never be a time when I don’t miss you, but each day brings me closer to when I won’t have to.

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Choosing To Live

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I pulled the shower curtain open and quickly put the towel over my face and held it there. “I’m alive”, I whispered to no one. This is my new mantra; I’ve been saying it out loud when things get especially difficult and it gives me the push I need to put my next foot forward and keep moving.

18 months earlier I knelt next to my daughters bed and with my head on her pillow, and the top of my nose pressed against her cheek I gave her permission to let go of her life. She had been struggling with a terminal illness for almost the full 9 years that she had lived; winning one battle just to have another one creep up and take hold of her again. She fought bravely every time, no matter how hard or long the war went on, she fought it with more strength and grace than I have seen in someone three times her age.

This time was different. This time I knew her body had had enough– for 5 weeks we sat in the hospital and prayed that she would make it through; she would take two steps forward then three steps back. The doctors came to me and asked what we wanted to do. “As long as she wants to live, I will push you to do whatever it takes to help her do that” I told him. He looked down at his shoes, nodded his head and turned to leave our room. After a few steps he turned back to me and said, “Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for your child is to let them go.” No. No. No. That is not what a mother does. Not any mother I have ever met, not any mother I would ever want to be… I will not give up on my child.

So, we waited. We watched. And our hearts broke as the realization set in that this was not going to end well. We knew Naomi would fight to be with us for as long as she could, but at what cost to her?

We made the decision to bring her home. Hospice was not a word I liked, every time I heard it I would cringe at the implications that came along with it. But hospice was the route we would have to go in order for us to take our baby home.
As the paramedics arrived with their stretcher to retrieve us–many of the nurses that had cared for Naomi came to say goodbye. A few that actually had the day off came in just to hug us and tell us how special Naomi was to them. One of the nurses told us that she had been given permission to ride in the ambulance home to make sure we had no incidents on the ride.

Leon walked to the elevator with the paramedics, nurse and Naomi and I– it was a very somber walk. Everyone we walked past had a sad look, some whispered “good luck”, some diverted their eyes. When the elevator door opened and we were about to part ways, Leon kissed Naomi goodbye and leaned in to me with last minute instructions: “If something happens on the ride home, do not let them bring her back here. She is going home, no matter what”. I nodded and watched him walk away. How long that ride home must have been for him alone in the car, wondering what was happening in the ambulance.

Naomi had slept most of the 5 weeks that she was in the hospital. She was exhausted in every possible way, but for some reason, once she heard that we were going home, she perked up and was wide awake. I kneeled next to the gurney in the ambulance and held her hand explaining everything that was happening as we drove. “We’re passing daddy’s shop now” I told her as we exited Rt. 34 and moved onto the back roads. “ Now we’re coming up to the green, we’re about 3 minutes from home, Na” “almost there”. Her eyes tracked with mine the whole time, and I actually thought she looked excited.

I cannot even begin to describe the scene for you when we arrived home. The bittersweet feeling of pulling into our driveway and seeing everything that was once so familiar to us should have been comforting, but knowing the circumstances of our arrival it left us swimming in anxiety.

Naomi lived for 6 hours in our home that night; she listened to each of us take turns reminiscing about fun memories, and a few times she responded to our question of “do you remember that?” There was laughter from all of us as we sat on the edge of her bed and enjoyed being home as a family for the first time in ages- and last time for ages.
Finally I told her it was okay. “If you are too tired to fight anymore, you can go to heaven, We‘ll be okay“. And within a few minutes she left us.

That day I felt a part of myself die too. There was the desire to give up and stay in bed, but I couldn’t do it without damaging my other children who were grieving with me. When she left me, it became my turn to fight daily battles, taking two steps forward and three steps backward. I felt trapped in a body that had lost it’s will to live. Almost as if I was being held captive inside a shell, not quite sure of who I was, or what I was supposed to be feeling, or doing, or saying. I hated it.

A few months ago my older daughters joined the gym and started encouraging me to go with them. Olivia will be getting married in a few months and I realized that it was a great opportunity to spend time with her and Bekah before they’re out of the house so I finally said yes.

The first few times on the tread mill I thought I was going to die, but I pushed myself and as I did, I heard the words in my head: “I’m alive”. I didn’t know where they came from, but I knew they were meant to remind me that I have an opportunity that not everyone gets. I can choose to live. It may not always be easy, but it’s a choice I can consciously make.

I write this blog today, on Easter. A day where we who believe, celebrate the resurrections of Jesus. As a child I looked forward to Easter because it was fun to dress up, to hunt for Easter baskets, to eat dinner with my hugely extensive family. But as an adult, things changed. It became more stressful and I will admit that I no longer enjoyed the day like I had.
Today the symbolism struck so close to home and it took on something it never had before. When Jesus rose from the grave He not only defeated death, but He made a way for it to be defeated for us too. When Naomi died, she was immediately absent from her body, but present with the Lord.

We sang He is risen this morning: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death, come awake come awake, come and rise up from the grave”. While we sang this, I could not only picture Jesus miraculously coming out of the tomb to the wonder of all who followed Him, but I could picture my Naomi walking from my arms into the arms of Jesus. From there I could picture myself laying at the grave site of my 9 year old daughter, curled up in a ball refusing to go on without her– I could hear Jesus saying to me “Lorna, come awake, come awake, come and rise up from her grave”. I hear Him telling me that He has defeated death that Naomi is alive in heaven, and I hear Him telling me it’s okay for me to live too. I will make this choice daily, and for today: I. Am. Alive.

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Baby Steps

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The lyrics rang out all around me: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”; but the words refused to penetrate into my heart. I walked hurriedly through the mall trying to pick out presents for each of my children in the short amount of time I had allotted myself, but I was unprepared for the window display at H&M. A lovely pair of glittery ballet slippers with swans adorning the toes sat on a wrapped Christmas box behind the glass. Suddenly my hurried pace was halted, and all I could do was stare at the shoes. They were exactly what I would have bought for my little girl. I stood for quite some time, silently, feeling my cheeks warm and my eyes pool with tears; “not here, not now” I told myself, and pressed on.

No, missing my daughter has not gotten easier– but I am learning to live in a way that makes those around me more comfortable. (Granted, I’m not terribly good at it yet, but I imagine through the years I will become quite the pro. )

Just like my friends who have also lost their children, I am a new person and I am just learning how to be this woman that I never asked to or wanted to be. I have to adjust to these new emotions that I am feeling ALL the time, I am relearning how to be a wife who is grieving, a mother to 3 children instead of 4, a daughter who is very different from the one my parents raised.
I think differently, I reason differently, I have different values, and a lot less patience. I use all of my energy on what’s important and quickly dismiss the things that are not. My time is spent differently, usually it is spent in constant motion so that I don’t have to think (and feel) for too long. My prayers are less about what I want, and more about begging for wisdom from the one who gives life and takes it.
I am trying to be who people expect me to be, but I am failing miserably. This new life is exhausting and painful, but I have chosen to continue in it and I remake that decision every morning when I rise.

I recently went to see my grandmother while she was in a rehab facility recovering from a fall. She sat in a wheel chair while a therapist took hold of her hand and helped her up to a standing position. The look of concentration and pain on her face told most of the story; the story that was not being told was stoically locked in her mind and her heart. I sat by helplessly and watched as she struggled to take one step. Each movement needed to be thought out and intentional as if she was learning to do this for the first time. She collapsed back into her wheel chair completely drained. I think that’s so much of how we as grieving parents feel– there are people watching us, who want to help, who ask HOW they can help, but we are doing something that only we can do. We are relearning how to live, and it is not easy.

As I handed the ballet slippers to the cashier I wondered if she could see the look of confusion on my face. This was the perfect gift for a little girl who loved shoes and whose personality sparkled, but she didn’t need them in heaven, so who was the gift really for? It was an attempt to put a salve on an open wound that would not heal. I left the store with my bag in hand and wondered to myself: “now what?”. I’m not really sure what’s next in this uncharted territory; all I can do is take one step at a time.

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Touched By An Angel

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Leon and I have always felt drastically differently about Naomi’s grave. Very quickly after her funeral he told me that he knew that she is not there; she is in heaven. But it’s not that simple for me.
I tried explaining that to Naomi yesterday while I stood in the cold staring at her picture on the stone. “Hi Na; I’m sorry I haven’t been here for a few days; dad and I have been pretty sick.” I told her. “I know you don’t really mind, but I do”. Dad says you aren’t really here, but the thing is, I know your body is. I can still see the outline of the new grass, reminding me of that day that they lowered you into the ground. It’s not that daddy doesn’t care as much as I do, you know he does. It’s just that for a mom it’s different. It’s not just about your soul for me, it’s also about the body that I carried underneath my heart for 9 months; the one that I rocked for hours at a time when you were sick. I stand here in this place, knowing that just a few feet below me are those little fingers that curled around mine, and the eyelashes that would give me butterfly kisses every night before bed. I wish so desperately that I could kiss the bridge of your nose again or braid your hair. Of course I know daddy is right, that your soul is happy and healthy in heaven running with the other children whose parents are also missing them. But that doesn’t make me miss you less. I want you here.”

I didn’t even realize how long I had been talking, trying to explain to my daughter how much I need to be near her and why. I knelt down and picked a few of the leaves off the pumpkin display I had created for her, and just as a began to stand, a tiny yellow leaf blew across the lawn and landed on my jacket. I looked down and smiled; “yellow: your favorite color, thanks Na, it’s like a little hug from you”.
The words were barely out of my mouth when a much larger wind gust came out of no where; it was so strong that it caused the lapel of my jacket to thump against my chest as if someone had just run into me. I closed my eyes and opened my mind to the tricks that it was playing on me. I wrapped my arms around myself and squeezed. “I can almost feel you hugging me”. “But is it possible? Could God allow it? Would God allow it? Why not, I had just read the verse: The whole earth is the Lords, and all that is in it. Whose to say, but God Himself?”
I opened my eyes for a second, and realized that I didn’t care if it was real, I was willing to be a fool and pretend that I could feel the impression of my 9 year old daughters body pressed against mine, that for the first time I was able to feel her height, getting close to matching mine, that I could feel her arms around my back and her head under my chin. So I closed them again, and allowed myself to stay in the celestial place where a mothers longing translates into her passionate reality, and for the first time in 15 months our bodies were connected at the heart.

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