“Baby girl is not going to die.”

Hailee is getting very excited about her little sister growing in my belly. She draws baby sister pictures and shows them to her (my belly). She talks to her. She kisses her. She tries to tickle her. She tells anyone who will listen that she is having a baby and “it’s a girl!”

Then tonight, as we were driving back from dinner, Hailee said, completely out of the blue, “Baby girl is not going to die.” Chad, my mom and I were all slightly stunned by this comment. Hailee then repeated herself, “Baby girl is not going to die.” The way she said it was almost as if Hailee was making a request or asking for reassurance. All of us got quiet. How are you supposed to respond to a comment like that?

Inside, my heart broke for Hailee. I wanted to tell her, “Yes, that’s right Hailee. Baby girl isn’t going to die! She will live and grow and you and she will have a lifetime of memories together!” But I can’t say that. Because we just don’t know! There are no certainties in life anymore.

And what makes this situation sadder is realizing that my little three year old also knows that life is tenuous. What other three year old would ever make a comment like that? Unless that child has experienced loss and death in their life? My heart aches for her. I wanted to protect her from all the pain and hurt in the world, but before she was even completely potty trained, the deepest pain in the world came into our home, into our family, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Hailee seems to have more understanding that Charlie’s death means he’s not coming back. She used to say, quite frequently, “Charlie come back ok?” Now, instead of telling us he’s coming back or asking us if he is coming back, she’ll say, “I want Charlie to come back.” To which I will respond, “I wish he could come back too.”

She may tell me, “Charlie died. He’s at Jesus house.” And I’ll nod and say, “that’s right.” Then Hailee might say, “I’m going to go to Jesus’ house too!” And then I’ll tell her she’s not going anywhere! And then she’ll whine and say she wants to go to Jesus house with Charlie and I’ll tell her, “someday. But not for a long time.” Then I hug her tightly to me.

Overall Hailee seems to have adjusted well. She IS happy. She IS thriving. But she’s also trying to wrap her brain and heart around the experience of losing her little brother. And that’s not easy for a three year old to do!

I also think about whether or not this little baby girl in my belly will survive or not. I think about it more frequently than I’d like. I’ve told Chad I don’t think I could handle losing another child. But what causes me the most anxiety around that thought is wondering how losing another child would affect Hailee. Hailee deserves another sibling! She deserves to be three and carefree. She deserves to live a childhood free of the fear of death!

As I continue in this journey, I’ve come closer to reconciling myself to the fact that Life Is Not Fair. But when I see how it affects my daughter, it becomes a much harder pill to swallow. I pray and hope this baby will work out. I pray she will come home in our arms and grow and live. We could all use the healing a rainbow baby would bring in our life. I especially want this for Hailee. I want to make the world a safe, hopeful place for her. I want Hailee to have a happy ending!IMG_0894

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Charlie’s angelversary “celebration”

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Click here for more details.

The ball is rolling. People are RSVPing. Volunteers are offering to help. I have most of the fabric we need. The kits are close to being assembled. I think it’s going to be a successful day! At least I hope it is. It feels very vulnerable to set all this up. I’m enthusiastic about it and feel the project is a worthy cause. Chad and I talked quite a bit about what we think our needs will be on that the anniversary of that day. And in truth, we can’t know for sure. But both of us agree it’d be helpful to be engaged in something that will keep us busy and occupied, otherwise we are likely to get swallowed up in our grief. And maybe that’ll happen anyway…but it’ll be nice to be surrounded by people who want to remember Charlie and serve others. It’s so wonderful to feel the outpouring of love from friends and acquaintances who want to help! And it’ll be nice to do something that feels like a beautiful tribute to Charlie and can bring comfort to other grieving parents.

This celebration/service project is open to anyone who wants to come and contribute. If you’re local, feel free to contact me because we’d love to have your help!

 

Beyond Closure

My sister-in-law sent me a link to this amazing TED talk by Nancy Berns on grief and “closure.” She articulates so well my experience and my hope in this grief journey. She discusses the myth of closure, or “end” of grief. But she explores how carrying our grief with us also allows us to feel joy. It’s not about joy in spite of grief. It’s joy because of grief. And how we can hold the duality of this experience: grief AND joy.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Beyond-Closure-Nancy-Berns-at-T

If you have 17 minutes to spare, I highly recommend spending it watching this TED talk! I know I will listen to it again…and again!

Hawaiian lament and reprise

First, I want to say how grateful I am that Charlie didn’t die at home. I know I am truly lucky in this regards as most SIDS babies die in their own cribs. I am so grateful I can walk into Charlie’s nursery and not have it associated with the painful memories of his death. I know of families that move because the daily reminders of losing their baby are just too painful. I am so grateful I don’t have to confront that.

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That said, I also want to lament that Charlie died in Hawaii. Hawaii is probably the number one vacation spot for Americans seeking a beach respite. I mean, of course it is! It’s Hawaii! No explanation needed! As we are entering vacation season, I hear about people’s Hawaiian vacation plans weekly (I’m not exaggerating). This topic is also coming up more frequently because the American Psychological Association (APA) is hosting their annual convention in Honolulu this July and many of my colleagues are planning on attending. It has happened several times when these conversations arise, my colleagues will turn to me and ask, “Are you coming to APA this year?!” to which I’ll respond (more snippy than I intend) “I’m not doing Hawaii for awhile.” Then they will remember and get awkward and the topic will change and I’ll feel bad for being bratty about it.

It’s hard for me to hear people’s enthusiasm for their Hawaiian vacations. I don’t want to hear about them. I don’t want to see pictures of their trips. I envy that they can feel that enthusiasm for Hawaii. I remember I used to feel that way too! I loved Hawaii before we lost Charlie. I’m someone who hates returning to vacation spots because I always crave new adventures. But Hawaii, especially Kuaui, was the only exception for me. We honeymooned on Kauai and returned about every other year since. Kauai is full of beautiful memories with family and awesome adventures.  Now, I hate that instead of Kauai being associated with memories of great times, it is associated with the greatest pain and deepest sorrow of my existence.

I was shocked that both my parents and Chad parents returned to the island of Kauai just last month. I didn’t understand how they could do that when it hasn’t even been a year since Charlie died!

I can’t imagine myself going to Kauai again without being flooded with the memories and pain of losing Charlie. I will physically shudder to think about it. When I imagine myself traveling there, I just anticipate feeling our loss so acutely all over again. No, I am not ready to face that. Not for awhile.

But we will go back to Kauai. One day. When we are ready, I believe it will be very healing for us as a family. One day, I want to take our children back to Poipu Charlie’s beach and tell them about their brother. I want to greet the Hawaiian sunrise again and feel it’s warmth on my face and tell Charlie hello. I want to tell him how far I’ve come and how I’ve allowed this experience to transform me in powerful and beautiful ways. I want to go back and create new memories as a family. New memories that will be both painful and so joyful. I want to put flowers into the ocean again for him. I want to be able to have fun with our family and know that in my smile and laughter, I am honoring Charlie. I feel like when we go back to Kauai, it will be the closest we can come to a true family vacation. I have hope that when we do take that big step, Charlie will accompany us on our journey.

So even though I hate that Hawaii holds my deepest sorrow, I also appreciate how much Hawaii means to me now. It isn’t just a vacation spot full of good memories. Kauai is sacred to me. My memories of those days after losing Charlie are so painful but also full of so much beauty and love. The people who loved us while we were there are forever my earthly angels. The sunrises, sunsets, breezes, sea turtles, sand under my toes, the waves crashing around my ankles, were all gifts that anchored us in our darkest hour.

I promised Charlie and myself we would return one day. And we will. But not yet.

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Baby steps

Well, we have officially passed 11 months since we lost Charlie. We are quickly rounding on his one year angelversary next month.

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I’ve been particularly dreading Charlie’s one year angelversary for many reasons. But one reason is the feeling that I can’t pass that milestone when I still feel so griefstricken! I have heard from other grievers that one year doesn’t necessarily mean a sudden rebound and return to life. But I guess I expected to feel more healed than I do. I still hurt so much.

However, as we approach that milestone, I am becoming increasingly aware of some significant progress I have made. They are small and little things but meaningful and evidence that I am on my way back to life.

One of the most prominent baby steps is how much I have been cooking! And not just cooking, trying out new recipes (thank you pintrest!).

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Like these mouthwatering sweet potato and black bean burritos.

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Or these homemade granola bars

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Just to name a couple new favs. I am really loving this new hobby and the challenge of feeding my little family new food they will ask for again!

I’m not the only one who seems to be rekindling a passion for trying new recipes:

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Chad’s latest obsession is making delicious bread in a dutch oven. I love the smile on his face in this photo!

I’ve also been sewing more. I finished the quilt top to a baby quilt for my friend. I am very proud of it but can’t post a photo because she hasn’t had her baby yet and the quilt is going to be a surprise after she has her baby.

But I am also gathering fabric and assembling kits for the big service project we have planned for Charlie’s 1 year angelversary. We are planning to make 12 quilt tops that will be donated to newly grieving parents. I’m really enthusiastic about this project!

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Yesterday my friend Liz and I spent over 4 hours cutting fabric and assembling kits.

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(Thanks Liz!)

Beyond cooking and sewing, I am also doing more digital scrapbooking. I usually make an annual album each year for our family. While I don’t feel I can emotionally handle scrapbooking 2012 yet, I have begun the 2013 album and am pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. I am also reading more books and have noticed my nightstand piling up with half-read and to-read books; just like old times.

I am also finding more energy to play with Hailee. While I still don’t feel my creative juices turned on, I am finding that I want to be creative with her and create more fun memories with her. I have been pulling out this book for quick, easy, fun, and creative ideas for us to do together. Right now I am looking forward to helping Hailee paint a life size self-portrait when she wakes up from a nap soon!

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While my energy level for parenting still isn’t near what it used to be (grief+pregnancy=fatigue) I am glad that at least more spark and desire is there!

Beyond these happenings, this is incredibly significant:

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I finally got my lost passport replaced! This is a big deal because since Charlie died while we were on vacation, Chad and I both now associate vacation with tragedy. This is sad because traveling has always been a big part of Chad and my relationship. Before Charlie died, we had been planning a trip to Eastern Europe at the end of last summer to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. After Charlie died, we have both felt no desire to be adventurous. Going to Glacier National Park last August was as adventurous as we could muster. And it was a great trip. But I am hopeful that sometime not-too-distant-future, Chad and I will be able to reconnect with our adventurous side and journey outside the country again. Getting my passport replaced feels like the first step in this direction; even if we have no trips planned in the foreseeable future.

All these things may be little but they are significant. And taken together they make me realize that I am continuing to progress and am on my way to living again. While this is certainly the slowest re-birth process ever, it’s nice to see markers of progress. I hope I can keep this progress conscious as I predict this next month will be really hard emotionally. In the meantime, I’m going to try to live in the moment and cook another new recipe while I wait for Hailee to wake up!

Wherever I go…there I am

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I spent the last week in New Orleans at the American Group Psychotherapy Association conference. I had been looking forward to this conference for months and had high expectations for my experience. This is my fourth time attending AGPA (each time in a different US city) and it’s always a therapeutic experience for me. There is such an energy about AGPA. There is such an enthusiasm, passion, quirkiness, and connection that I crave each time I go. Because the conference is about group psychotherapy, it is run in a largely experiential format, and as therapists we naturally gravitate toward some pretty intense relating and connecting with each other. Historically for me, these conferences have been so enlivening.

Lately, I have been feeling so tired of my own grief. I’ve been so tired of my own pseudo-living reality. I’ve been so tired of the weight I constantly pack around with me wherever I go. I thought maybe I could go to AGPA and for a week be totally free. But I quickly realized a couple days into the conference that this plan wasn’t going to work out.

The reality is: Wherever I go, there I am. My grief came with me. My history came with me. I, as I currently am, came with me.

I fought this for a few days. I noticed myself taking on roles I don’t usually take in group settings in attempts to eviscerate my hanging black cloud and feel something different. I took on adversarial roles in various workshops in attempts to feel passionate and increase the emotional intensity in the room. I also really tried to delve into other people’s stories to feel their passion and connect with their experiences. And it worked a little. But I continually fell short of feeling that aliveness I desperately craved. In fact, I almost felt my grief more acutely because I knew what I used to feel in this circumstance before I lost Charlie, and the contrast to my experience now, was painful.

On the third day into the conference, I began to really sit with that reality. I subsequently lowered my personal expectations. And in so doing, I became more loving toward myself. I became more compassionate toward my experience and accepted that this is me right now in my life. And that’s FINE. Great even. Necessary, painful, and beautiful.

And I did have a wonderful time, even if passionate, enthusiastic, alive Anna didn’t fully come out to play. I re-connected with a good friend from grad school and we had many wonderful late night (sometimes tearful and always honest) talks.

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I re-connected with people I had met at AGPA in previous years and enjoyed some meaningful conversations with them as well. I met new friends through the workshops and had some meaningful experiences where I gained important insights into myself personally as well as a therapist. I hung out with some of my current colleagues and other grad school friends and shared some good laughs and ate some yummy, albeit bowel stopping, Louisiana food.

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And of course, we tried to experience some of what New Orleans had to offer from wandering Bourbon Street, exploring shops and artisans’ works in the French Quarter, and of course, listening to some good jazz.

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I am very happy with the resulting outcome of this AGPA experience. While I didn’t get what I had anticipated out of the conference, I got exactly what I needed. This experience taught me I can’t artificially rush my soul to somewhere it’s not ready to be.

And I continue to learn over and over again that I can live in my grief. While my spirit aches for some sort of caffiene shot, some sort of revival, my life and my experiences are meaningful and rich as they are now. And some of the best connections I have had with others have resulted from this pain, not in spite of it. This week and some of the conversations I had with others are further proof of this.

So instead of feeling frustrated and critical with myself, I feel increased patience. I feel increased acceptance. And I even feel increased self-compassion. I have to say, that’s a nice place to be with myself. So in conclusion, I will continue to sigh, breathe, and walk this incredibly slow journey of grief and transformation.