Remember when?

Dear Charlie,

Remember when I used to put you down for your naps? I can still see your imprint in your crib.

Remember when I would lay you down, you would look at me with those pleading eyes of yours and start whining and kicking your feet? Remember how I would smile at you and tell you, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back. I promise.”

I had no idea the entire time, I should’ve been making you promise me that you would be there when I came back.

 

I miss you with such intensity Charlie, I can’t express it in words. My soul aches for you and my arms yearn to hold you again.

Were you watching me when I opened your drawers, pulled out your outfits one by one and tried to see if I could still capture any of your smell? Were you watching me when I grabbed hold of one of my favorite outfits for you, curled up in a ball on your nursery floor and sobbed? If you were watching, I’m sorry if I made you sad. Do you miss me like I miss you? Do you wish I could hold you as much as I do?

Yeah, it’s been a hard day. It’s been a hard month, to be honest. The hardest yet.

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New trajectory

I discussed awhile ago in this post that I was exploring a new direction in my life. I decided to do this when I came to the painful realization that staying home full time with Hailee was no longer adaptive for me, emotionally.For the first few months after losing Charlie, I couldn’t even consider returning to work. Grieving takes so much energy. I honestly have no idea how Chad has been able to work the last three and a half months?! Initially, I felt like all my resources were being directed toward trying to absorb the intense shock and pain of it all and still function as a mother and wife. But as I slowly absorbed this reality, and began to carry on, I have known that I have needed to find a way to re-engage in life. What I needed to determine was how and what my engagement in life would look like? And what could I commit to that will allow me to contribute in a meaningful way but also give me space and support to continue my grief work?

In many ways I have loved being at home with Hailee. I have never been at home full time with her since she was 10 weeks old. I have loved how our relationship has blossomed the last few months and I have many new beautiful memories with her. However, being at home is also a constant reminder that Charlie isn’t here and it’s too easy for me to land in a bitter place the longer I’m home. So I decided I needed to return to work.

For a long time, I’ve wrestled with the anxiety of returning to work in the capacity as a psychologist. How could I commit to helping others when there are days when I can barely help myself? Especially as those grief waves are still so unpredictable? How can I help clients get their needs met as well as continue to meet my own needs, especially when my needs are so needy right now? Where do I find the emotional reserves necessary for work as a therapist when my reserves are dry?

But perhaps even more importantly, how am I going to integrate grief into my work as a therapist? I am allowing grief to be my companion in life…but the professional world is a different place. How will the transformations taking place within me be reflected in my work? With colleagues? With clients?

As I wrestled with these questions, I came to a very very difficult decision. I decided I needed to change my job. Prior to Charlie’s birth, I worked full time as a therapist in an inpatient eating disorder center. I worked in this capacity since graduating with my PhD in 2010. I love the work I had the opportunity to do. It felt so meaningful to help women strive to recover from this life threatening mental illness. But this work was also incredibly difficult, and required a lot of emotional reserves. It has been humbling to admit that I don’t feel up to the task to return to work with this population right now. It was very hard for me to tell my boss, who I also consider a very good friend, that I won’t be coming back to work at the center…at least for awhile. But she was very understanding and supportive of this decision.

What am I doing instead? I am going to work at Brigham Young University. This is where I completed my graduate work so it is an environment I know and will be easy for me to transition back into. I am going to teach an undergraduate class this fall (Intro to Clinical Psychology) as well as work part time in the Counseling Center seeing clients. I feel confident this will be a good fit for me emotionally right now. I think it will provide the environment I need to feel like I am contributing, and I’ll also be able to protect my emotional reserves.

So tomorrow I start the latest phase in my journey back to life. I teach my first class tomorrow afternoon and start seeing clients later this week. I’m nervous but also looking forward to this change. The answers to most of the questions I’ve wrestled with won’t be answered until I actually start working. I don’t know how I will help clients when I still feel so helpless myself. I don’t know how or when my grief will present itself or how it will play out in my relationships with colleagues, students, and clients. But I’m ready to find out…I think.

Wish me luck!

Moving on?

Notions that I can/should “move on,” “get over” “move past” my loss offend me. While I may still be relatively raw in my grief, I do not believe I will ever, “get over” or “move past” losing Charlie. It’s not possible for me to get over the death of my baby!

But is it possible to move on? I don’t think it’s possible to move on in the traditional sense of the phrase. To me, “moving on” is synonymous with “moving away from.” I am not walking away from my grief. I am not walking away from Charlie. Exactly the opposite. I am taking Charlie with me. I am taking our relationship, our memories together, our love, all with me. And because that love was so real and intense, I am subsequently also taking the heartache and pain with me as well. In that light, I think “moving on” would be better termed, “carrying on.” As I move forward, I am carrying all the love I have for Charlie in my soul as well as the immense burden of his loss on my shoulders. So I am literally carrying onnot moving on.

But it’s more than carrying on as well. This process, for it become meaningful, entails transformation. I am becoming someone new, someone different. Someone people will still recognize, but the Anna before losing Charlie is gone and I’m in the process of discovering and creating a new Anna. I am in the process of figuring out how to live meaningfully with a permanent, deep, penetrating hole in my heart that can only be filled by this little man:

Hopefully I’m on my way to becoming an Anna who can love deeper, trust more, HOPE more, believe more, appreciate more, and LIVE more. But bitterness, anger, disappointment, and self-pity are also visitors angling for internal residence as well. I’m actively working on figuring out how to keep these latter attributes at bay so they don’t suffocate all the progress I have made so far, but it isn’t easy. But I’ll figure it out somehow, eventually, because it would be a sad tribute to all that Charlie is and all he gave me, if I ended up bitter and disillusioned with life. He deserves much more than that and I know he wants much more than that for his Momma.

 

Tears of laughter

The last four months, I have shed many types of tears. Tears of heartache, tears of loss, tears of anguish, tears of despair, tears of desperation, tears of anger, and the list goes on. But last night I shed tears of a completely different kind: tears of laughter. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard I cried. Do you know how good that felt? I mean, we all know how wonderful it is to laugh that hard. But after experiencing such heartbreaking loss and in the midst of continuing intense pain, to feel that kind of happiness? To know that I am capable of bellyrolling, breath gasping, eyes watering, LAUGHTER?! It was like the clouds parted and I felt the sunshine pour directly into my soul.

I am one of the youth leaders in our church. Yesterday, six of us leaders took our young women on a retreat to a cabin in the Wasatch wilderness. The retreat was a great success. The young women all bonded with each other and us with them. And all of us leaders also bonded with each other.

Throughout the day and evening, there was plenty of time to talk and really get to know each other. I loved some of the really meaningful conversations we shared. As the young women goofed around with each other late into the night and early morning hours, we leaders all sat on the floor of our room and just laughed. I can’t even really recall less than 12 hours later what we were all laughing about. I can just recall how awesome it felt to feel so connected, so accepted, and so happy! And how amazing it felt to hunch over, grasp my belly, wipe tears from my face and struggle for air from laughing so hard.

I hope these women know how therapeutic this retreat was for me. I haven’t felt this good functioning on five hours of sleep in years! I hope the bonds created from all the talking and laughter last night continue to build into lifelong friendships, because the leaders I am blessed to work with are amazing women.

Angelvesary #4

Well, the day came and went. Time promised that awful milestone would come, and as promised, it did. The day of Charlie’s four month angelversary was a gut wrenching, painful day for me. Being in the majestic surroundings of Glacier National Park actually seemed to confound my grief as I felt guilty for being sad in such a beautiful place. And I felt trapped. I know, ironic right? Feel trapped in 1.4 million acres of amazing wilderness!?! It was an odd feeling to have but I wanted to escape, run, do anything but experience that pain. But I couldn’t run or escape it. (Funny how I keep trying huh? I’ve written at least two times about the futility of avoidance and yet it still tempts me).

Well, after trying to suppress the pain throughout the morning and early afternoon, the late afternoon hit and I bubbled over. Tears pricked my eyes constantly. I wore my sunglasses to try to hide the tears and I didn’t say much as I didn’t want to be a “Debby Downer.” But it was pretty obvious to Chad and my mother-in-law that I was having a hard time. Even Hailee picked up on my mood.

We headed to a local restaurant for dinner and I held Hailee in my arms. As we were being seated, Hailee turned to me and said, “I miss baby brother.” That DID it. I went to the restaurant bathroom and balled. I sat on the toilet for awhile just letting my grief for Charlie wash over me. My mother-in-law came in to check how I was doing and I struggled to pull myself together. Instead of returning to the restaurant, I walked outside, beyond the parking lot, to a river bank. I stood on the river bank, watching the sun set over the amazing mountains through tear filled eyes and I told God, “I’m DONE. I can’t do this. I can’t handle this. I GIVE up.”

I just felt so defeated. I try SO HARD to keep going, to grow, to HOPE, to LIVE and when the pain comes so sharply and so deeply as it did on his angelversary day, I just felt, well, as I said, defeated.

And then a wonderful thing happened. Something I have been missing for awhile now. I felt tangible, divine help. Suddenly I felt calm. Not peace exactly, but I’ll take calm. It was so subtle it would have been easy to dismiss it. You know when you’ve been crying for a long time and you exhaust yourself and feel better? It felt like that. I know it wasn’t self-generated because I did not get the opportunity to emotionally vent to the degree necessary to produce such a calmness. Just the opposite, my torrent of emotions was just beginning. And then I felt calm. I felt very grateful for that calm. It lasted the rest of the evening and the next day I was able to once again, get up. I was also able to enjoy the rest of the trip with my family.

Because we were in Glacier National Park for Charlie’s angelversary, I did his service project early. With the help of my awesome mom who was in town,

We sewed and quilted this baby quilt:

For some special boy at Primary Children’s hospital. This quilt meant a lot to me because this is the type of quilt I would’ve made for Charlie, had I gotten around to making him a quilt. I remember looking at this specific fabric right around when he was born and I had it on my “to do” list to make him a baby quilt…but I kept putting it off. Since I can’t wrap Charlie up in this quilt, it makes me happy to know that some deserving family will get to put their special baby boy on it for hours of play, tummy time, picnics, naps, etc.

Gratitude

The week I have dreaded for so long has arrived. I am kicking and screaming internally, trying to stop time so this week won’t pass. This week will mark the time our sweet baby Charlie has been buried in the ground longer than he was in our arms.

It’s an awful milestone to pass and I’m trying to be gentle with my heart as it feels particularly heavy this week.

It’s hard to imagine anything good that can come from such a tragedy. And it seems wrong that good things do come from this horrible event. I hate admitting that there have been amazing blessings in the aftermath of losing Charlie, as if admitting them justifies his death. However, I was inspired by this blog entry, written by a fellow grieving mom, and I decided to give voice to the beautiful things that resulted from losing Charlie, and express my gratitude. I should warn you, writing this list is painful for me, especially writing about the blessings that happened surrounding his death. But they deserve to be recognized, especially the blessings that came in the form of people. So here goes…

I am grateful for:

  1. Elizabeth, my sister-in-law, who wrapped me in her arms and let me wail into her shoulders, when the EMTs finally arrived and took over doing CPR on Charlie, before we got into the ambulance. Her arms were the literal arms of an angel as my entire world shattered into a million pieces.
  2. The EMTs and ER staff who tried so hard to bring our Charlie back to us. I am grateful for the heart they put into their efforts. I will forever remember one EMT’s tear filled eyes as he told me he was “so sorry.”
  3. Colleen, the social worker who greeted us shortly after we lost Charlie in the hospital. She is a mortal angel. I am grateful for how patiently yet diligently she repeatedly suggested I go back into the room and hold my Charlie after they had removed all the needles and tubes. The first couple times she asked I kept shaking my head and said, “I don’t know.” Then Colleen said to me, “It is totally your choice but seeing him peaceful will help re-write the tape playing in your head right now.” I am so grateful she kept asking me because holding Charlie and snuggling with him at the hospital is perhaps one of the most sacred experiences of my life. I got to sing to him one last time. I’m convinced his spirit was there in the room and heard my last lullaby to him.
  4. The tender tears of my mother-in-law as she rocked my Charlie one last time.
  5. Sharon, another social worker who showed up and kept bringing Chad and I warm hospital blankets to wrap around ourselves. She just sat with us and that was exactly what we needed.
  6. The detectives who had to do their jobs and investigate Charlie’s death but who didn’t treat us like villans, tried to make the process as painless as possible, and told us over and over again to “not blame [ourselves].”
  7. Elizabeth and Don who immediately adopted Hailee the rest of the week in Hawaii. This allowed us to absorb the horrible blow and not worry about Hailee as we knew she was having a wonderful time with her cousins. I know that was so hard for Elizabeth and Don to maintain the facade of normalcy for Hailee’s sake as they felt the blow sharply themselves.
  8. Chad’s arms around me all night, each sleepless night in Hawaii.
  9. The heavenly angels that accompanied us each day in Hawaii and let us know that heaven was close.
  10. My parents who flew out as as soon as they heard we lost Charlie.
  11. The Marriott on Poipu Beach, who immediately accommodated my parents, free of charge.
  12. My Dad’s willingness to go on long walks on the sand to talk with me, comfort me and connect with me (He hates feeling sand between his toes)
  13. My mom’s presence and willingness to just sit with me and let me process everything.
  14. My mother-in-law Ann and Elizabeth who kept me company as I pumped my painfully full breasts and sobbed.
  15. The social workers who held our hands, literally and figuratively as we went through the whole process of getting Charlie to the mortuary and getting him home to Utah. For also coming in the evenings to our hotel to talk with us about our experience, answer questions, and normalize our reactions. And for the amazing hugs that Sharon gave me. All completely free of charge and from the goodness of their hearts.
  16. The mortician in Hawaii who held Charlie like he was her own baby. Who brought him in and handed him to me again with such tenderness and care and let me hold him for as long as I wanted.
  17. The beautiful Hawaiian traditions that let us begin to say goodbye to Charlie in a personal and meaningful way.
  18. The local Hawaiian members of our church who heard of our loss and came and brought us food, hugs, words of comfort, and love.
  19. My father-in-law’s unshaken faith and willingness to gently express his spiritual experiences with me.
  20. The sun that rose each morning in Hawaii.
  21. Melinda, our caregiver, who came to our house while we were in Hawaii and helped put all of Charlie’s things in his room so when we came home, we could see them if and when we wanted to. This must have been so hard for her as she was a significant part of Charlie’s life, working part-time for us when I went on maternity leave. She spent many hours holding Charlie, rocking Charlie, and getting him to grin at her.  To go through his things alone must have taken such courage.
  22. Good friends who were waiting at our door when we got back from Hawaii to wrap us in their arms and cry.
  23. Meghan MacAskill who, unprompted, put together an amazing photo album of Charlie for the funeral. Who, free of charge, also took photos of the funeral, that are painful to look at, but are treasures for us to have.
  24. The MacAskills who rush ordered and shipped large blown up and framed prints of us as a family, taken just four days before Charlie died.
  25. Brothers and sister-in-laws who dropped everything to come be by our side.
  26. The local mortician here in Utah who treated Charlie’s body with such respect and shared tears with us.
  27. The sacred experience of dressing Charlie for burial with my mom.
  28. Saying goodbye to Charlie’s body one final time with my brothers, sister-in-law Ruth, mom and Chad. The love we shared in the room was tangible.
  29. Friends who came from far and wide to attend the funeral and show their love and support for us.
  30. The intense outpouring of love from acquaintances and strangers.
  31. The service of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.
  32. The spiritual experiences that confirmed to me that there is an after-life and Charlie is happy and in good hands.
  33. Faith that I will see and hold Charlie again one day.
  34. The best therapy in the world:
  35. Followed by the second best therapy in the world:
  36. The grieving moms I have met in person and through the internet, who understand the pain and open their arms and hearts so we can journey this together.
  37. The friends that hike with me, walk with me, talk with me.
  38. The realization that each day as I get up, I am proving to myself that I am stronger than I think I am.
  39. For the people who read this blog and care about us, Charlie, and our journey.
  40. The ceaseless love that comes to us, that convinces me over and over again that despite living in a world gone completely wrong, it is still a world worth living in, full of goodness and good people.
  41. And finally, I am grateful that I am the mother of this angel:

Though I have gone through the greatest pain of my life the last four months, and I know a lifetime of pain awaits me, I gladly accept it, because a lifetime of pain is worth every second I had Charlie in my arms.

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Update

We met with the endocrinologist Monday and while we still don’t have answers, he was very reassuring. He expressed that he doesn’t believe it is cancer and that my presentation is a typical one for a thyroid cyst and nothing more. However, if it is cancer, he said it’s not an urgent matter because thyroid cancer (typically) grows very slowly, stays in the thyroid, and is easily treated.

He is going to do a repeat ultrasound and possible biopsy in 6 months. He said to let him know if I notice any drastic changes or develop any symptoms from the cyst (like difficulty swallowing or soreness in my neck). In the meantime, he told us to go on with our lives and not worry about it.

So that’s what we are going to do. We have enough on our plates, in our minds and and in our hearts to worry about. Having this enter in made everything else spill over. So putting this “cancer scare” on the back burner is something we are MORE THAN HAPPY TO DO.

Dealing with the stress of this scare on top of continuing to grieve the loss of Charlie, made Chad and I realize we desperately need a vacation. So tomorrow morning we are going as a family to Glacier National Park. We are excited for this adventure and hope the beauty of the mountains, lakes, wildflowers and wildlife will bring us the healing and respite we are looking for. (And hopefully we’ll be able to endure a 12 hour car ride with a 3 year old!)