Ever since losing Olivia I have struggled with what to do about stockings on the mantle. The first Christmas since losing her, it just didn’t feel right to hang a stocking. It wasn’t about her not being a part of our family, but more the constant reminder staring me in the face everyday that she is not here with us. To be honest, after that first year it really never became a thought again. Emma came, then Ava and we went about Christmas and decorating as any family would. Plus, the realistic side of me always nudged its opinion in and its not like there will be presents left them in them. Then, welcome 2022 and a very strong and independent little girl named Emma who through her current religion classes at school has taken a strong stance about Olivia being her older sister and certain part of our family. Decorating this year, we started puling out all of our decorations and we got to the mantle. The girls helped hang the stockings and without missing a beat once all 4 were hung, Emma looks at me and asks where is Olivia’s? Words weren’t flowing from my brain to my mouth. I was stumped for a moment, speechless. As I sat there searching for the right and realistic approach to take with her, I was consumed and all I could answer was, “you are right, Olivia is a part of our family and should have one as well.” Thankful to online ordering and finding the perfect little angel lighting a tree on a stocking…. Order placed. When it arrived, Emma was given honors to rearrange the stockings and make Christmas décor in our home right. I have been grateful for my “realistic” approach to matters in life as it has helped me trenched through some really crappy situations, but I was kindly reminded by a 6 year old, that we don’t always have to take the “realistic” road, or the tough love road. We can allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and complete! The holidays are always a tricky time full of ups and downs for loss families. This is just a gentle reminder to be easy on yourself! Allow your feelings and emotions to be felt, and be selfish in your needs and your grief. Happy holidays to all of our loss families, may you be able to find some comfort and peace this season.
Little Snowdrop by Peter Newell
“The world may never notice
If a Snowdrop doesn’t bloom,
Or even pause to wonder
If the petals fall too soon.
But every life that ever forms,
Or ever comes to be,
Touches the world in some small way
For all eternity.
The little one we longed for
Was swiftly here and gone.
But the love that was then planted
Is a light that still shines on.
And though our arms are empty,
Our hearts know what to do.
For every beating of our hearts
Says that we love you.”
It doesn’t matter what trimester you were in when your baby was called home. Your baby’s life will always have a place in history because of the outpouring of love you gave and continue to give each and every day. Your baby’s life was real, significant, and unique. The vast significance these babies play in our lives should be celebrated.
However, there is nothing I, nor anyone else can say to take the pain away. The yearning you feel in your heart and in your arms to hold your babies will always remain because as you may have heard grief is just love with no place to go.
But what I can tell is there is purpose in your pain. Will that purpose be revealed to you in a grand, obvious way or will it be revealed in more a subtle, unseen way. Just like the life cycle of a butterfly we must trust our journey will unfold just as it should.
The next two days for me each year are the hardest days to push through. The days leading up to today are filled with random flashbacks of these next 48 hours. Its almost as if I watch myself in some sort of drama movie, where the scenes flash quickly and sharply into a subconscious sub script. That becomes real life. Like driving down the road on my way to dance and out of no where while sitting at a red light my mind instantly replays the moment, we gave Olivia her last kiss goodbye. Why? What even could have possibly triggered this? The mind is a powerful tool but can also be a weapon. In most of my encounters with moms they all want to know and ask the same thing…. Does this pain ever get better? I cannot count how many times I have been asked this. My answer typically stays the same. Yes and No. Laugh, because that is not an answer, right? Yes, and no. Yes, it does get better, on most days, but no, because it will NEVER go away. It will be six years tonight at 9:22pm that my life forever changed. Six years since the person I was, left. There is a lot I know for certain from these six years. Most of which starts from that night. I know that we cannot ever move past trauma and loss such as this, if we do not accept it. Let me tell you how incredibly hard it is to accept something like that. For me, it has taken quite a while to accept Olivia’s loss, to accept hers, mine and our fate; and truth be told, there are still times where I truly question if I have fully accepted it or not. I have learned that the pain will never go away. It becomes dampened as you travel through your grieving process and become closer to acceptance, BUT even when you least expect it, like at a random red light, it will come back. I have learned to be a kinder, gentler person. I have learned that everyone grieves and deals differently with loss. This is important. As humans we want to project our feelings and learnings onto others, mostly in an effort to help them heal. I have watched it time and time again and personally experienced it myself where you are told how to ‘deal with it’ or ‘move on from it’, “don’t do this”, “you should really do that”. I have learned that this is your (my) journey. Only you know what’s inside of you and what may or may not work best for you. Sometimes, we need help. Help is ok to seek out. I have learned that you need to talk about your baby and your experience. Do not hold it back. Talking and sharing our story helps us process which ultimately helps us accept.
So what does all of this mean? Well, I think that everything above talks about us being vulnerable. Allowing our most sensitive and vulnerable parts of who we are to be exposed. I used to think this makes one weak. Nope, I was totally wrong. This makes us courageous. This gives us the courage to accept, to grow and to make something so awful into something beautiful. I have witnessed so much courage in these last five years watching this organization grow. Courage from the moms pressing through such an unimaginable time, nurses courageously caring for these moms and dads, random courageous strangers stepping up and becoming volunteer photographers. I am a complete type A, so I can read something, research something, oh and a little stubborn as well, so I usually must experience something for myself to fully buy in or believe it. I say this, because, six years ago I would totally debate the whole vulnerable and courage belief thing and say its being weak to some degree. However, life came in and showed my type A who is boss. Six years ago I was terrified of death. I struggled to even have to go to a wake or funeral. It completely numbed me from the inside out. If someone told me six years ago I would be holding, photographing and caring for a lifeless baby, my stubbornness would kick in and I would fight to the high heavens that there would be absolutely no way. Again, life came knocking on my door. And in my most vulnerable of moments, somewhere, somehow, I found courage that I truly had no idea existed in me. That courage to do the unthinkable for me, to do it in Olivia’s name; that has truly unfolded my life tenfold. It is certain proof that being vulnerable makes us courageous and gives us a whole new perspective on life. I know that as my life continues on, so will my courage, and courage is what will help me keep my head up high these next 48 hours. I also know that anyone reading this, whether you have had a loss yourself or not, can grow from any traumatic experience you may have had in life. I cannot guarantee that it will be easy. In fact, I think I can guarantee that it may be one of the hardest things in life you will do, but it will also be the most rewarding. That is when I am certain you will see that life truly does unfold in direct proportion to your courage! Much love today and always……… ~Olivia’s Mommy.
Who Needed Who?
It’s been a rough year for all of us. 2020 has brought twists and turns for me and our family almost every few weeks. To say this year has been challenging is an understatement. I am finding myself reminding my own self daily that everyone has their obstacles, their fights and their 2020 dumpster fires, yet it’s been tough to dig myself out of my own hardships. I haven’t been myself lately. Maybe pressures at work and learning to deal with a level a negativity I am just not used to. I have been drowning in my own self pity at times and fighting to gain back my self worth and self acceptance- then yesterday happened. No different than any other Friday, except for the call. The missed call on my locked screen “St Elizabeth’s L&D”. I know what this means and now that it’s happened nearly 200 times the sinking of my heart deep into my stomach never changes. Again, no different than any other one, I send out the dispatch text. It’s the holidays and everyone is busy and even though several have a schedule jammed packed they find a way to make it work, but I have a feeling. Something inside of me saying, this is you, Andrea. So without anymore thought, off I go. Every baby I have photographed has etched a memory in my soul that I will NEVER forget but this was different. This momma was by herself because of the impacts and life circumstances that COVID has created. And let me tell you, she was brave, courageous and a pillar of strength. We shared our experiences, our tears and stories of our babies. I cried. I cried hard. I try to never do that for these moms but I couldn’t hold it in. She loved this angel hard. She was accepting of this horrid fate of her baby and was so strong. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact she was doing this by herself. How I needed every soul I could get those first few hours after my loss, yet in her moment of heart ache she was asking me about my Olivia. I was in awe of her. And just as she needed me last night, I needed her. God knew I needed her, and I needed to see her strength and her ability to see past pure awfulness and spread love, kindness and love. It was just what my heart needed to know that no matter how crappy of a year, set a circumstances, or work can be at times, there is something far more important and far more uplifting- LOVE and the importance of being surrounded by the ones we love and their support. That is what truly matters in this world. So today, I ask that you first say a prayer for this amazing mother and help to take some of the burdens of life that was just handed to her off her shoulders, but to also lean on the ones you love today and be grateful and appreciative to have them and their love in your life. Wishing all of our families and supporters a comforted holiday season however you may be spending it.
Grief is Love & Love is Nala…
I have often heard people say that grief is universal. It knows no boundaries, no race, no gender or language. This is true. I also learned last week that grief knows no species. That grief truly knows LOVE. We lost our family dog, Nala last week and it was grueling. Our dogs (babies) were our first children. We love(d) them hard. Animals in our home are simply an extension of our family. They live where we live, sleep where we sleep and are loved just as our human family is loved. The grieving process albeit different for Nala than maybe that of our children, hurts the same. Its loss. It finds the inner crevices of our soul and sits there, heavy and hard. It takes our breath away at times and begins a cycle, not a perfect circle cycle, but that crazy scribble of a cycle – emotions that come and go, memories that come and go. In that crazy cycle, I learned that grief also NEVER goes away. Emotions and feelings that had been tucked away for almost five years now suddenly emerged. It was odd. I found myself back in that room, LD1. That damn yellow flower picture on the wall; that feeling of nothing but numb. You think you have moved past the depths of emotions of one loss, just to come to find out that loss is universal. I mean this in several ways. Universal in that we all feel it, see it and hurt from it in the same way, but universal also in the fact that its ALWAYS there. We get busy, we live life and find ways to dampen that grief from day to day, but once that wound is cut back open, its not easy to put right back. I guess at the end of the day, we must realize that losing someone we love (especially a child) no matter when or how we lose them we will always carry that grief with us. And, we must also realize and accept that, that universal grief will always be there tucked away ready to resurface with any subsequent loss. It’s ok. It’s ok to sink back into those dark deep feelings. The quiet and still of complete grief. The numbness of your inside voice quiet, the feeling of the world being still again and the only thought capable of being processed is that vision of the dumb yellow flower picture hanging on the wall.
Be patient and be kind to yourself. We will all travel down this loss road again. Resurfacing emotions will come but the important thing to note, is that we (and you) WILL be ok.
In loving memory of Nala, 2007-2020
It’s OK to skip Christmas
In 2007 when my husband and I were struggling to get and stay pregnant we skipped Christmas. At that point it has been over two years of since we started trying to start a family. We recently went through a plethora of tests at our Reproductive Endocrinologist office. It was the start of the small fortune we spent trying to have a family and we also suffered a miscarriage earlier that year after trying various methods of ART (artificial reproductive technology) like clomid/IUI, injectables/IUI. We weren’t in the mood to be social, exchange what felt like meaningless gifts, act fake happy in public only to break down when we returned home. We especially didn’t want to be around babies or kids. It was reminder of our unanswered prayers and what our hearts ached for. So, we told our family we wouldn’t be attending any Christmas gatherings. Some understood more than others. But in our minds, we thought if they truly love us, they will understand and support us. So, we booked a cozy one room cabin in the woods and packed up the two dogs and spent Christmas by ourselves. It was one most memorable Christmas my husband and I have ever had! Even though the guilt of “skipping” Christmas was hard to carry I don’t regret making that decision- even all these years later. One of the best gifts you can give yourself is self-care no matter who or what you are grieving.Change your scenery and get out of the same brain routine if only for one day or night. We did and it was exactly what we needed. Sending love to all the loss moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandmas, and grandpas this holiday season.
Leslie, Olivia’s Grace VP
What We Carry…..
I typically do not contribute as a blogger on our site, but this morning I came across a line from a Mitch Albom book, “Finding Chicka”, and it resonated. It reads:
“What we carry defines who we are. And the effort we make is our legacy.”
As loss parents (loss moms) we carry a child so heavy it is unbearable. Yet, we do it invisibly. The outside world doesn’t see our pain, our struggles or the way we battle our internal feelings when we least expect a trigger that surfaces. This morning, I was in a hurry, and saw Olivia’s wreath setting in its spot in our basement waiting to go to her grave site. A piercing pain shot through me as guilt rushed to every nerve in my body. How can I be so late in taking this to her grave site. How did I let life get so busy, I have forgotten to make her holiday special. Instantly my mind went into planning and control mode, and calculating every second of free time I would have after work into this weekend – so that the wreath would find its place. Got it, I have a plan. Did I feel better, nope not one bit. But I have to be at work and I have two toddlers that will need 120% of my attention until bedtime tonight. I’ll find sometime later today to process more of the guilt I thought as I ran out the door. Then a few hours later, I stumble across the quote above. Is it a sign, a coincidence? Who knows. It was enough to help settle my internal war waging against my mounting maternal guilt. I stopped and processed those words…. Again..
“What we carry defines who we are. And the effort we make is our legacy.”
I carry a lot. I carry Olivia daily. I carry being a mom, being a grieving mom at times. I carry being a wife. I carry being a full time working mom in a demanding field with a constant tug of war – work vs. home. I carry Olivia’s legacy. I carry a household. I carry me. I then concluded that my effort in all of it is a legacy I’m proud of. A legacy I would think Olivia is proud of, wreath or no wreath yet on her stone. So in the end. When the grief and guilt and life becomes too much. Remember to stop. Stop and think about what all you do carry, and how amazing those things are. We can let grief define us two ways… Choose the positive. May not always be the easy option, but I can promise you at the end the day choosing the positive will define a legacy for you and your angel to be proud of! Hugs and love to all of you this holiday season. For those parents battling through your first loss holiday season, be patient with yourself and be selfish with your emotions. If you need time to yourself, take the time. If you need space, make the space. Let this be about you, your feelings and your needs!
Much Love – Olivia’s Mommy
In addition to the wonderful church I belong to- Greenford Christian. Who was there in my hospital room after Nathan died praying over me and who was there in the waiting room with me when my newborn was being operated on. Here are some books and music that helped/continue to help me tremendously with my grief.
You’ll Get Through This- Max Lucado
An anonymous person from my church sent this book to me and I have since passed it on and bought another copy for someone else. I would suggest it to anyone who has had “knees hit the floor” life moments.
Another good read is Through The Eyes of a Lion- Levi Lusko
In addition to my church and books, music is very healing to me. KLove is my go to station for comfort. Here are four songs that I really connect with. I included some lyrics to each song but I would highly recommend listening to each one in its entirety.
Thy Will Be Done- Hillary Scott https://youtu.be/Dp4WC_YZAuw
“I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words
Thy will be done”
God Only Knows- For King & Country https://youtu.be/Q5cPQg3oq-o
“God only knows what you’ve been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it’s killing you
But there’s a kind of love that God only knows”
God’s Not Done with You- Tauren Wells https://youtu.be/cVHrkYBEgFM
“Right now all you see are ashes
Where there was a flame
The truth is that you’re not forgotten
‘Cause Grace knows your name
God’s not done with you
Even with your broken heart and your wounds and your scars
God’s not done with you
Even when you’re lost and it’s hard and you’re falling apart
God’s not done with you
It’s not over, it’s only begun
So don’t hide, don’t run
‘Cause God’s not done with You”
Scars- I Am They https://youtu.be/OqjGT9BSyJA
“’Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll use
So I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars”
Symphony- Switch https://youtu.be/QNhGnUoPZ_0
“And even in the madness, there is peace
Drowning out the voices all around me
Through all of this chaos
You were writing a symphony, a symphony”
Labels and Linings
There are three labels I feel on my forehead. One is no longer applicable but I still feel it because I lived it for ten years of my life. Infertile. From 2005 to 2015 I endured 3 rounds of clomid/IUI, 6 total rounds of injectables/IUI and 1 round of in vitro fertilization. The second label is Stillborn Mom. That one burns the brightest on my forehead. That one that punches me in the gut at least once every day even 4 years later. The last one is NICU Mom. This label gives me the most post-traumatic stress. The roller coaster of the NICU coupled with a newborn who is given a 50% survival rate will do that to you. The question that remains is why do we put these labels on our forehead everyday just like we do our clothes, shoes and handbag? Why is it so easy to let your labels define you? Infertile. Stillborn. NICU. We are so much more than the burning labels on our foreheads! So easy to say but so hard to believe some days.
On the flip side, in my opinion there can be “silver linings” to these labels. Personally for me one lining is a deeper compassion for other human beings. You see the world differently, through a new lens. After this 12-year season of my life I got a lot better at the practice of “not sweating the small stuff”. Trivial circumstances were just that. No more stressing over normal life crap. I also feel like I can connect with people easier and the shyness that I once felt meeting new people is gone. Another lining is the amplified need and drive to help others. Not even just those who were dealt a similar hand as you- just people in general. Lastly, I am no longer afraid to go into the “ugly” with people. I do not find it difficult to go into uncomfortable situations because that is when people need you the most. When it is uncomfortable, when there is a HUGE elephant in the room, when death and despair are looming in the air.
Maybe you feel labels burning on your forehead too. You may not feel it right away but those labels will eventually turn into linings. I promise.
– Leslie J.
VP of Olivia’s Grace
Triggers happen frequently. Some are intense, some are subtle, some are manageable, others are not. Sometime when I get an intense trigger and traumatic memories and thoughts start flooding my brain I get an urge, a yearning to go to the grave site and dig the dirt. Dig the dirt with my hands, see the dirt under my fingernails until I reach the white box and hold my babies again. I feel like it is a primal, motherly instinct that takes me to this place. I made it to the cemetery one time. I sat there on the ground bawled and cried out in agony. I didn’t start digging because deep down I know what remains in the white box is not want I want to see. It won’t satisfy the yearning. It would probably add more traumatizing images to my brain. I called my Dad for help that night and Lord did I need it. I didn’t call my husband because he was at home with our – at the time – grieving 6-year-old. Like a good Dad he drove right to me and sat on the cold ground and cried right beside me. I thankfully haven’t made it that far again but the urge still happens.
Speaking of cemeteries and grave sites- here’s my expectation when I go to the grave site. A beam of sunlight suddenly and magically appears from the clouds and shines down on the headstone. There is a light breeze and doves are gently circling above me. I get an overwhelming sense of peace in my heart knowing Nathan and Liam are always with me in spirit. I walk away feeling like I had a heavenly conversation with my boys. Here’s what really happens- I.feel.nothing. I go there and decorate for the season, say a short prayer and then drive away. I have felt my boys speak to me in many different ways just never at the cemetery. I used to feel guilty for this- like I wasn’t praying genuinely enough when I was there or didn’t visit often enough. I now know that is a crock of crap. My boys are so proud I am their Mama. They tell me in their own ways – perfectly designed for me.
– Leslie Johnson