Festival of Trees for Charlie

I have been looking forward to this event for MONTHS and it is finally here! Decorating and donating a tree to Festival of Trees in Charlie’s memory, felt like the perfect way to honor him. Festival of Trees accepts donated and decorated Christmas trees that they auction off and all received proceeds go to benefit Primary Children’s Hospital.

Participating in this event required months of planning. I decided a couple months ago to decorate Charlie’s tree in a Hawaiian theme.  But pulling together a classy Hawaiian themed Christmas tree wasn’t the easiest task. However, with the help of some dear friends who have good decorating skills, we pulled it off really nicely! As Decorating Day approached, friends and family kept asking how they could help with Charlie’s tree. There were more people who offered to help than I found assignments to give out! I felt very loved and supported.

During the week of Thanksgiving, my family members and some friends all helped finalize the decorations for the tree.

And before I knew it, Decorating Day had arrived!

And we immediately set to work putting up Charlie’s tree.

We smiled, we talked, we cried, we pondered, and above all, we remembered Charlie throughout the whole day.

My mom, Melinda, and I all made a day out of decorating day. While we probably could’ve finished the tree in three hours, we really took our time. We just enjoyed the experience. After all, this was our moment to honor sweet Charlie.

And at the end of the day, this was our final product:

I named Charlie’s tree, “A Hui Hou Kakou,” which is the Hawaiian translation of, “Until we meet again.”

This experience was very bitter sweet. On decorating day, I felt so many emotions. I felt joy that I could do this for Charlie. I felt love for him and those who helped make this experience possible.  I felt connected to the bigger community all around me paying tribute to their loved ones with their own trees. I also felt a deep ache for Charlie.

Throughout the day I kept wondering and hoping that Charlie could see us. That he was there with us. I hoped he would be proud of us and know how much we love him. In brief moments of quiet, I felt a sense of comfort and peace. And there was a moment when baby Gabe started giggling and babbling with an invisible figure in the room. I’d like to think that invisible figure was Charlie.

Tonight my mom and I went to the opening night to wander around and partake of the spirit of the Festival. Opening night occurs after the auction has taken place, so when you walk around, you can see what trees are still for sale or not. We discovered as we walked back to Charlie’s tree, that no one bid on his tree and so it is still for sale. I feel so vulnerable waiting and hoping for someone to buy Charlie’s tree! If any of you know anyone who doesn’t want to decorate their own tree this year, I know a great tree located at C-08 in the Festival of Trees eagerly waiting to be brought home! (Shameless plug, I know).

I am grateful I got to do this for Charlie. December is going to be a rough month as we celebrate Charlie’s birthday and Christmas. I feel glad that I could start the Christmas season out doing something this meaningful for him.

I love you so much Mister Mister!!!

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Thanksgiving

I feel like I should post today. I feel like I should have something meaningful to say. That somehow, our national holiday of gratitude and gluttony will have inspired something beautiful for me. I hoped it would. While I have words to express, I’m not convinced they’re very inspiring.

Now let me begin with saying, today wasn’t bad. In fact it went better than I expected. I think starting the morning out running a 5k Turkey Trot was a great way to get the endorphins pumping. Even though I participated in this event with my family and dear friends,  I ran the 3.1 miles mostly by myself. I listened to my music and looked out over the beautiful snow capped mountains that surrounded me. The morning was bright, beautiful, and cold. I really enjoyed the run. I enjoyed feeling the cold air on my face and my heart pumping in my chest. I felt alive…and for the first time in what feels like forever, that alive didn’t feel painful.

The rest of the day was very busy so I didn’t have much time to sit and evaluate what I was or wasn’t feeling. I was grateful for the distractions and always grateful to be surrounded by loving, caring family, including my brother and his family who flew all the way from Florida to be with us.

And of course, how can one’s mood not be uplifted when we are coerced to wear such entertaining “hats”? (Thanks mom!)

When the time came to eat Thanksgiving dinner together, dinner was a chaotic experience of shoveling food and trying to have meaningful conversation, while pacifying overly tired, whiny, distracted children.

I don’t know if it was intentional or not but we did not do our annual Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and each saying what we are grateful for that year. I assume it was the chaos that caused the tradition to slip people’s minds. But it didn’t slip mine. I had been both dreading and anticipating sharing something at dinner. I was anticipating it because I have much to be Thankful for this year, including and especially the love from our family. I was also anticipating being able to take a moment and talk about my love for Charlie. But I was also dreading it because I also feel so ungrateful. While I have much to be grateful for, so often my heart still feels dark and angry and inhibits my ability to connect meaningfully with the gratitude. Today was the same. While I didn’t feel angry, my heart felt heavy with Charlie’s absence. I kept remembering this time last year when I was almost ready to give birth to Charlie and how happy I was in anticipation for his arrival. We had just set up his pack and play in our bedroom and made all the final preparations. The contrast between his physical presence in our lives last year and his absence this year was naturally pretty painful. So I didn’t mind that we skipped our annual tradition this year as we were distracted and caught up in the moment of just being together as a family.

In spite of the packed schedule and inherent chaos Thanksgiving brings, Charlie was not forgotten by my family members today.My sister-in-law Ruth lovingly caressed a photo of Charlie and talked about him. And my mother, without prompting, included a place-setting for Charlie at the Thanksgiving feast.

While my mom neglected to put any candy in Charlie’s boat, I highly doubt Charlie minded the omission and I was incredibly grateful to see his name included among all the family members present.

Before I conclude this entry, I do want to share a few genuine words of gratitude. I have been reflecting on the ceaseless outpouring of love and support from family and friends. I know I’ve said this before but that support has made all the difference. Thank you.

I am also grateful for the other angel moms out there with whom I have connected. The shared understanding, immediate love and compassion has been so crucial so many times. Thank you.

I am grateful for faith. Without it I would truly be hopeless. Because of my faith, hopelessness is only a visitor, not a permanent resident.

Simultaneously I am grateful for God’s patience and complete understanding with my doubts and anger.

I am daily so grateful for Hailee and Chad. They are my sustaining life force. My everything. I couldn’t journey this without them.

Finally, I’m grateful for magical moments like this one last night, where I am reminded the world is a beautiful place. I looked at this scene and felt peace and increased faith in something so much bigger and grander than me.

7 month angelversary

Charlie’s six month angelversary felt like a milestone. Well, it was a milestone-half a year. Seven months seemed, in theory, like a NON-milestone angelversary. Nothing about the number seven resonates with importance in terms of angelversaries. However, shortly after awakening I realized I was naive. I actually think commemorating seven months hurts even more than six months…for the very reason that it seems like it shouldn’t be as hard. I immediately realized seven months is anything but insignificant. EVERY SINGLE DAY is an unforgettable day I continue to live without Charlie in my arms. Right now I should be putting my 11 month old son down to sleep (for the whole night) and feel grateful for a few moments to myself. Instead I am sobbing because I have moments to myself! I want to be disrupted by my 11 month old! I want to be frustrated if he isn’t following a schedule! I want to be sleep deprived again! I HATE the complete, absolute, and LOUD silence that comes from his room. I HATE that instead of rocking him to sleep right now, I am posting a blog entry about how I survived this day, commemorating seven months since he died.

But here I am. Today was definitely a day lived in moments. I had to take each hour (sometimes minutes) at a time.

When we woke up this morning, we were greeted by this:

Now, usually I like snow. But today the snow made me feel trapped. I have learned some things in this grief journey and one of those things is, for me to survive angelversaries…I need to be able to be busy. But the snow today was so deep, I had to wait for Chad to get gas for the snowblower and snowblow our driveway along with the snowplows to clear the roads. And the snow kept dumping ALL morning. So I felt stir crazy, caged, and on the verge of a meltdown all morning. I coped, adaptively, by exercising and cleaning the house. Finally, in the early afternoon, the sun popped out.

It seemed my day had turned a corner and it was going to get better from here. And for a bit, it did.

For this angelversary service project, I delivered my first finished throw quilt to a local angel mom, Dani.

Unfortunately, Chad couldn’t accompany me on this angelversary errand, as one of us needed to stay home with Hailee. However, he contributed a fresh loaf of his delicious homemade bread. (Chad spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen today channeling his grief).

After meeting Dani and her husband, Nick, and giving them the quilt and bread, I spent another hour sitting with them, learning about their story, and commiserating about how horrible it is to lose a baby.

Dani was pregnant with triplets four months ago. At 31 weeks gestation, they found out that one of the triplets, Reese, no longer had a heartbeat. The triplets were delivered shortly afterwards. The other two babies of the trio, survived. I can’t imagine the complexity of their grief as Reese was the identical twin to Taylor, who is now thriving. Further, how complicated to engage in the dual task of grieving Reese while embracing parenthood of two other newborns! I really feel for this couple and their journey. I truly enjoyed the time we shared talking about our experiences. It’s nice, as angel parents, to have the liberty to cut through the crap and get straight to the heart of everything. So even though I had just met Dani and Nick for the first time, we disclosed very personal experiences related to our angels and the journey with empty arms. This meeting was definitely a highlight of my day.

But back home again, the grief, WHAM, overpowered me. Each minute that passed made me slowly realize I was losing a battle against my emotions. And finally I gave in and just SOBBED. I was grateful I had sent Chad and Hailee to the movies so I could feel my emotions unedited, and in solitude. And those emotions were definitely unedited. I haven’t sobbed like I did tonight in a long time. We’re talking loud, breath gasping, body heaving, SOBS. In my gasping tears, I offered a very honest, desperate, confused, angry, and pleading prayer. I haven’t talked to God like that…maybe ever? It felt nice to let it all out. I didn’t get any powerful revelation, or any answers to my burning questions, BUT I did feel a distinct impression that He was listening. And I think that’s what I needed most. Even though I believe God understands me and my experience perfectly, I needed him to hear it, from me. And after I said everything that’s been building up in me for the last 7 months, I felt more calm and settled.

I was grateful when I checked my phone later to learn that one of my closest friends invited me to meet her for dessert. So I went. And in her company, I didn’t feel alone. She tried to understand me and my experience, related where she could, and offered me the love I needed today.

Chad and I ended today in a long hug.

So yes, I survived yet another angelversary. In moments of today, I honestly felt like I couldn’t survive. It hurt so much it felt like I literally couldn’t go on. And didn’t want to. But then there were other moments. Moments when the clouds parted and the sun filtered in (literally and figuratively). Moments long enough to offer me the solace I needed to reclaim courage to continue carrying on. Thank you to everyone who were part of those sunny moments today.

Infinite moments

I’ve been reading The Fault in our stars by John Green. It’s a really good book about life and death and meaning all told from the perspective of a teenager girl with terminal cancer. I know, heavy subject. But John Green does a great way of addressing this subject and drawing you in, without depressing you. And I’ve really enjoyed reading it. Yesterday I read this excerpt (emphases added) from the book and immediately thought of my experience as Charlie’s mom.

“…I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities…I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. [Charlie], you gave me forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

Every minute, hour, day, and month that I spent growing Charlie, giving birth to Charlie, and holding him in my arms are infinities in my life that do and will forever take up more space for me than other minutes, hours, days, and months. Each memory means so much to me.  I wrote in my journal on November 25 of last year, 8 months pregnant with Charlie, “I am grateful when the little guy moves, almost as if he is saying hi. :)” I treasure every memory and moment from conception until the day he died that are ours together, forever.

Mister mister, you gave me forever within the numbered days and I am SO GRATEFUL. I wouldn’t trade our little infinity together for the world.

Halloween

Dear Charlie,

The anticipated and also dreaded holiday came and passed this week. We missed you this Halloween…so much. As the sun moved further into the western sky, my heart felt heavier and heavier. But I think you’d be happy to know that Hailee infected me with her excitement and I couldn’t help but grin at how Chad “charmed” his little “Cinderella.”

I thought your dad was so handsome as prince charming, I couldn’t resist, as Cinderella’s fairy godmother, to steal a scandalous kiss with him.

Hailee pranced around that night shouting,”Woo hoo!” over and over again. She was so thrilled to go trick-o-treating as Cinderella with her fairy godmother and prince charming. She was so sweet to us that night, telling us at various moments, “I love you fairy godmother.” “I love you prince charming.” Your sister felt so pretty and it was fun to join in her enthusiasm for such a magical night.

It also helped to be surrounded by friends. We went trick-o-treating with two of Hailee’s best friends and their parents, who are also good friends of ours. Being surrounded by them helped us live in the moment and just enjoy the night.

So sweet mister mister of mine, I want you to know that while it felt wrong that you weren’t with us this Halloween, I think you’d be happy to know that we, your parents, are learning how to be both simultaneously sad AND happy. We are learning, over and over again, that we can hold opposing emotions. That experiences can be both painful AND sweet. I think you would be happy to know that we are continuing to make new and fun memories as a family. That we are carrying you with us in our hearts through all these events and that you are never far from our minds. And at the same time, I know you want us to do our best to live our lives. I think we succeeded with those tasks this Halloween and I reflect on that night with a smile on my face.

I hope we made you smile too with our antics. I love you so much mister-mister. Missing you always and sending so many kisses your way.