Sunday, December 28, 2008

Three Kids

I visited some friends today that I have not seen in quite a while. Whenever I visit my parents I also like to visit friends that still live in my home town. These friends have three adorable little boys. Their oldest is just a few months older than my son and the second boy is almost two and the third is six months. And they are all adorable. I enjoyed so much visiting them and my son enjoyed having some boys to play with. It was a fun afternoon.

Observing how quickly life happens I couldn't believe that they have three kids already. Three kids in three years! One of my best girlfriends from high school also has three kids. It seems like everyone has three kids. And then it hit me.

I have three kids too.

It tore me up inside. I could feel tears well up in my eyes. I fought them as best I could but I think a few slipped out. I decided that it was time to go and I gave my hugs and left. As my husband and I drove home I sat quietly. I find these kinds of days so bittersweet. The days when I am genuinely enjoying myself with friends or family, watching my son enjoy being a little boy, feeling the pain lift for a moment, when suddenly my grief blindsides me and before I know it I am crying and hurting again. I just can't seem to escape my pain. It really is always there. I am afraid it always will be.

I don't know why such a revelation is even a part of my life. Why does it seem like everyone gets to keep their babies but me? I am happy that my friends have all their healthy, beautiful children. That is my hope for everyone. I would not wish such pain on anyone. I just wish that I could have all my children too. I simply don't understand why this had to happen. I don't think I ever will. In the meantime I am trying my best to cope. I may never get over losing my girls, but I hope that someday I can visit my friends and not burst into tears at the sight of their family.

Right now I can't help it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Eve Visit

I visited my girls in the cemetery for the first time on Christmas Eve. I have tried to visit them before but was unable to bring myself to go. I just was not ready. But with Christmas the following day I felt compelled to see them. I had to let them know that they were included in our lives and in our holiday celebrations. That I thought about them day and night and still cried for them. And I just wanted to spend some time with them. I have missed them so much during this holiday season. The night before I visited them I wrote them a letter:

Dear Aubrey and Ellie,

I am sorry that this is the first time I have visited you since your funeral. I have not been able to muster up the courage until now. It is Christmas Eve and I needed to come and visit, to bring flowers, and spend some time with both of you. I don’t want you to feel left out. You are still a part of my life. You are a part of everything I do. You always will be forever.

There is so much I want to tell you that I don’t even know where to start. First I want to say that I miss you both so much. There is not a second that goes by that I don’t think of you. I have tea with you every morning, I look at your pictures daily, and I cry, a lot. It is still hard for me to get out of bed in the morning and you are the last thought on my mind when I go to sleep at night. Living without you has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The only peace I have is knowing that you are both together, whole and restored, in the presence of the Lord, waiting for me. I can only go on because I know I will see you again.

I am so thankful that God gave you to me. I wish He would have let me keep you longer, but I don’t regret one second of being your mom. You two have changed my life more profoundly than any person or experience in my life. I was thrilled to death when I found out about both of you. I always felt privileged and special to be blessed with identical daughters. I was completely in love with both of you from the very beginning and my love for you has only grown, even after your death. You will always have a place in my heart and a place in our family. I will never pretend like you didn’t exist or keep you a secret. I am as proud of both of you as I am your brother and it is an honor to tell your story.

I am sorry that I didn’t know how to pray for you. I only ever wanted what was best for you both but I didn’t know what that was. I felt so helpless while you were alive. But I never gave up hope or lost faith, and I never stopped loving you. Forgive me for not dressing you before you were buried. I should have put clothes on you and looked at you and held you one last time. It was hard for me to think clearly at the time. I hope you understand.

Aubrey Elizabeth- I am so sorry for not visiting you in the hospital the Sunday before you died. Please forgive me for taking our time together for granted. It is one of my greatest regrets. I would give anything for one more day with you now. Also forgive me for not pumping my milk while sitting by your incubator looking at your tiny little face. I intended to do that and am not really sure why I didn’t. I regret it. Thank you for giving me so many special memories of you. You were so feisty and strong. I know you would have made a great big sister to Ellie. I loved the day I got to change your diaper and touch your skinny little legs. I treasure most how you opened your eyes a few days before you died. I know you could see me with those smoky gray eyes. It is my favorite memory of you. Whenever I picture you in my mind I see you looking back at me and it comforts me. And it was my privilege to hold you before you went to heaven. I wanted to hold you the entire time you were alive but was not allowed until then. It was my dream to hold you and it came true. I remember your cheek against my cheek. You were so tiny. I miss you everyday.

Ellie Alexandra- I am sorry for not giving you a bible verse until after you died. That was not my intention. I am so thankful that in the short time you were alive I got to make so many special memories with you. I was so worried about you. I was worried about you and your sister both but you got so sick so soon that I couldn’t help but be concerned. I love how you waved you left hand at me when you heard my voice. And I loved the day I got to lift you up while your dad changed your bedding. I loved sitting next to you while I pumped my milk imagining nursing you someday. I am so thankful that I got to hold you before you left us. I loved petting your hair and kissing you. You were so sweet. I think you would have been my easy baby. I miss you everyday.

There are feelings in my heart that I cannot put into words. My deepest pain seems to come only in the form of tears. Something happened to me when you died. You each took a part of my heart with you to heaven. I will never be the same. But I promise to heal. I promise to honor your lives with how I live my life. I will never stop missing you. I will never stop wondering what you would have sounded like or what color hair you would have had. I will always feel sad that you are not a part of my daily life or a part of my future. And you will never be forgotten or replaced. You are my precious baby girls. I will love you forever.

I will see you soon. Wait for me.

Love,
Your mom.

When my husband and I arrived at the cemetery it was cold and rainy. We put purple and pink lisianthus flowers at their grave. I intended to read the letter I wrote to them but could not bring myself to do it. So I folded it up and put it under the flowers. We stood there a while holding each other and cried. I watched my tears fall into the grass. I felt so sad. It was hard to read their headstone and accept that I buried my two babies. I never imagined such a tragedy in my life. But I was glad I went. I needed to see them. I needed them to know that I was thinking of them. I plan to visit them again soon. I hope to feel more and more comfortable each time. I don't think I will ever feel good about visiting their grave, but I do think I will have peace about it someday. At least that is what I hope for.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Cookies

We have a tradition in my family. Every year we get together and decorate Christmas cookies. My mom makes the dough and cuts out every shape of cookie imaginable. She also makes homemade butter cream frosting and my sisters and I color the frosting and put it in piping bags with different icing tips. Then my aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, nieces, nephews, and friends get together and spend hours, I mean hours, decorating cookies. We visit and create and genuinely enjoy ourselves. It has been one of my favorite holiday traditions for as long as I can remember. I look forward to it every year, even as an adult, and I look forward to making it a tradition with my own children someday.

This year was different for me though. When I was pregnant with Aubrey and Ellie I told my husband that I didn't think cookie decorating would be possible for me this year. That I just didn't think I would find time to decorate cookies with two newborns to nurse and an almost three year old running around. This year I would just have to miss out. I was not disappointed, it was just the reality of having twins so close to Christmas. There was always next year. I simply accepted that I would not be able to participate this year.

A few months after Aubrey and Ellie died I told my husband that I still was not going to decorate cookies. Even though I love it and now had the time, I could not bring myself to do it. It seemed like a poor consolation under the circumstances. My ability to participate would be a symbol of their absence instead of a celebration. I just didn't feel right about it. I could not imagine participating.

As the day approached I became very emotional. I was dreading cookie decorating day. I told myself that it was ok to help, to mix the frosting colors, to fill the bags, to help my son decorate his first cookies, but that is as far as I would take it. I would not decorate. I would not dishonor my girls.

But something happened.

While I helped my son frost and sprinkle his cookies the dread in my heart disappeared and was replaced by peace. I wanted to decorate cookies for my girls. I no longer felt that enjoying myself would dishonor them. I wanted to do it for them, and I guess in a way, for myself too. So I sat down and spent hours thinking of my girls while I frosted cookie after cookie. When my sister walked in and saw me she said, "So you are decorating cookies!" As if to show her approval. It was ok for me to join in after all.

That night I felt sad. I didn't regret decorating cookies, but I did miss my girls. I never thought that one day I would sit down to participate in one of my favorite holiday traditions in memory of my babies in heaven. I am constantly reminded that nothing was left untouched by Aubrey and Ellie's death. And nothing ever will be. Their death is a part of my life. But I promised them I would not let their death ruin me, that I would do my best to find healing so that they could be proud of me. Now I have a new tradition. From now on I will sit down and decorate cookies with my children on earth and for my children in heaven. And that will just have to be how I think of it. Cookie decorating will never be the same. But then again, nothing will be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Perspective

I feel like I am gaining a new perspective on the loss of my daughters as my grief changes. I don't feel less grief yet, but I do feel my grief differently. My pain used to be so raw and intense, and often hit without warning. Sometimes it still does, but not nearly as much. Now my pain is quieter. It is always there, but instead of being right on top of me all the time it shadows me almost. I always sense it, but there is a little more distance between it and me. And that little distance allows me a deeper understanding I think. At the very least it leaves some room for a deeper sense of peace.

I often struggle to accept that my perfectly healthy and properly developing babies got thrown into the world too soon and became profoundly sick and injured as a result, and eventually died. They were not born early because they were sick, they became sick because they were born early. And it was simply too much for them to overcome. Why I went into labor so early remains a mystery, which bothers me greatly. I have this sneaking suspicion that my body simply failed. I have forgiven myself for failing my girls. I know in my heart it was not intentional, just something that happened. But it still gets to me. They did not deserve what happened to them. They really didn't.

I don't understand why they were born early, but that does not change the fact that they were. And I don't understand why they became so sick, but they did. And the fear that I felt when I learned of their permanent brain damage was beyond explanation. I would stay awake at night wondering what kind of life was in store for them, what kind of pain and suffering might be in their future, both physically and emotionally. Wondering why them? Why did this happen to them?

To be honest I did not even know how to pray for them. I wanted them to live so badly. The thought of losing them was unimaginable. But with their quality of life so uncertain I had no idea what kind of life they would have. One doctor softly commented to us that some fates are worse than death. I was confused and scared. I didn't know what was best for them. I wanted them to live. But I didn't want them so suffer. I just wanted them to be ok. I was unimaginably conflicted. Either outcome was my worse fear realized. Why won't you heal them God? I would silently pray. Please, I beg you, make them well. Do something! Anything!

At their funeral I remember telling God that this was not what I meant at all. I wanted a miracle. I wanted my girls with me. I was so sad to say goodbye to them. As time passes my perspective is changing though. I can't help but wonder if my prayers for them were answered after all, just not in the way I had hoped. God did do something. He healed them. He just chose to restore them in heaven instead of on earth. I admit that I would have preferred to have them restored on earth. I just miss them so much. But I trust that God spared my girls from a life of pain and suffering. He knew how much losing my girls would hurt me. But maybe He also knew that living would hurt them more. As much as losing Aubrey and Ellie has broken my heart, I am beginning to truly recognize God's mercy in it. I no longer see only what was taken from me, but what was given to them. God saved my baby girls. And for that I am truly thankful.

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Babies to Dress Up

The holidays are keeping me busy. Yet I still manage to find time to cry every single day. Grief always seems to find its way into my day. As Christmas is getting closer I feel myself growing more and more sad. I am coming to accept that there will be no babies for Christmas this year. Accepting that has revealed so many broken dreams and unmet expectations. And each one is like another cut on my already bleeding heart.

When I was pregnant with Aubrey and Ellie I had this vision of Christmas being the day of their big reveal. I would bring my precious little identical twin daughters home for Christmas and the whole family would be there to meet them. I envisioned having them dressed in identical outfits but with different colored headbands on their heads so everyone could tell them apart. They would have been so little still, probably not even three months old yet. I imagined nursing them while I sat in front of the fire in my parent's living room the same way I nursed my son when he was tiny. I had a dream of what having my girls for Christmas would be like, and I have had to let it all go. Every little detail is gone. And with it so is a part of my heart.

I was in the mall with a girlfriend the other day and I found two little infant outfits that would have been exactly what I would have bought for my girls to wear for Christmas this year. And to tell the truth I almost bought them anyway. I grew very attached to them as I imagined my little girls wearing them. But I thought about it and I made myself put both outfits back. Your girls are in heaven now I told myself. There are no babies to dress up for Christmas this year. It is a sad time for me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Held

When I was pregnant with my son over three years ago I heard a song on Christian radio by Natalie Grant called Held. I remembered it because when it would play I would cry. The first verse is about losing a baby, and with my unborn baby boy kicking in my belly the thought of losing him was too much to bare. I honestly thought losing a baby would be the worst imaginable pain. I didn't know that three years later I would no longer think, but know, exactly what losing not one but two babies feels like. And the pain is worse than I ever imagined.

This song is powerful. I can't listen to it without breaking down. And I mean breaking down. It stirs up in my heart the deep grief that seems to settle on the bottom. The grief I don't want to touch because the pain of it might cut me clean through. I am still so raw. I battle daily accepting that God allowed this. That the God I love and loves me took them anyway. I guess I am supposed to find comfort in being held through this. But I don't. I don't want to be held, I want to be doing the holding. I want my babies in my arms.

Held

Two months is too little.
They let him go.
They had no sudden healing.
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Is appalling.

Who told us we’d be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We’re asking why this happens
To us who have died to live?
It’s unfair.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred NUMB our sorrow.
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

I feel the arms of Jesus reaching for me even though I push them away. I am just so angry. It IS appalling to take two children from their mother while she prays. And I prayed! I begged! This IS what it feels like when the sacred is torn from my life and I survive. It is devastating. And jumping into God's arms like it is all ok with me is just not possible for me right now. None of this is ok with me. I know God is patient with me though. He is waiting with open arms while I inch closer to Him. I just need to know I don't have to pretend I am ok with what happened to be held. And I don't. God will hold me even when I am mad, when I feel confused, when I express my disappointment, when I am completely broken. God will hold me while I kick and scream. I just need to let him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Someone Elses' Words

I don't know about you, but sometimes, no matter how hard I try to put my emotions into words, it does not translate. And it is frustrating. Without the words to express myself the pain stays locked inside. When I struggle to give my pain a voice I read. Reading helps me think and sometimes I stumble across the words I was looking for. Today a friend of mine forwarded me a post from stillsearching.wordpress.com, the blog of a fellow Wheaton alum, who wrote a beautiful piece on Advent. I read it and was blown away. It was clear as I read his words that he was able to say what I could not. Sometimes others just say it better I guess. I included the post below. I added italics to the sentences that resonated most with me for emphasis. The words are beautiful.

Advent: A Beautiful and Sad Time of Year
December 2, 2008 · 8 Comments

"Though Thanksgiving is not a part of the liturgical season of Advent, I think it fits perfectly as segue or entry point into this period of the church calendar.

Advent, after all, is about anticipating and reflecting upon the mystery that is the Incarnation: the nearly incomprehensible moment when God entered human history by becoming a baby on earth. Thanksgiving is an appropriate predecessor, as a day that we set aside to take stock of what we have, what God has done for us, the bounties and blessings and loves he’s bestowed us. Thanksgiving gets us in the mode of self-effacing gratitude, but it doesn’t end there.
It prepares our hearts and minds for the bigger, more solemn, more awesome experience of meditating upon God’s greatest and most mind-blowing gift ever: himself.

It puts everything into perspective. On Thanksgiving, I was amazed and shamed at all the things I have. I was thankful for all the usual stuff (family, friends, a house, my health) as well as some unusual stuff (walnuts, synthesizers, Japanese people, aging), but mostly I was just overwhelmed by the fact that I was even alive: that I existed when I just as well might not have existed, and that God orchestrated it for some spectacularly unfathomable reason.


It made me reflect on the preciousness of life, and how newborn babies often make us say things like “isn’t life a miracle” or some variation of “that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Which is weird, because babies are really not all that beautiful, in the way we typically conceive of beauty. They are actually a bit deformed and unseemly, what with their frog-like appendages flailing around and their crinkly, crying faces, etc. But we nevertheless are floored by the miracle and beauty of them. And I think it is our response to the very idea of life: of an existence that starts at a defined point, a someone that holds the promise of the world and an unknowing affirmation of everything in its gradually opening eyes. Above all, it’s a sense of wonder. How and where does this little person come into being? Why do we love it and it us? What is its purpose? It’s the supreme mystery of existence.

It’s fitting, then, that God chose to enter our human world as a newborn baby. He could have appeared out of thin air as a 21 year old, or as a 30-year-old prophet ready for some serious ministry. But he chose to start where everyone else starts: in the womb. His incarnation was always about working through—not outside of—creation to reveal himself to us in ways we could understand. And a baby who is born and grows up and dies is something we can understand. It was God coming down to our level to bless our unfortunate little existence by becoming part of it. And his name was Emmanuel—“God With Us.”

Speaking of that, I highly recommend the advent devotional book, God With Us, featuring essays and meditations by the likes of Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, and Luci Shaw. In the introduction to the book, which I read last night (Day 1 of Advent), Eugene Peterson captures so much of what I have been feeling about Advent. He writes:

There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. We catch our breath at the sight of a plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lavish existence in which we feel a deep sense of kinship—we belong here; we say thanks with our lives to Life. And not just “Thanks” or “Thank It,” but “Thank You.” Most of the people who have lived on this planet Earth have identified this You with God or gods. This is not just a matter of learning our manners, the way children are taught to say thank you as a social grace. It is the cultivation of adequateness within ourselves to the nature of reality, developing the capacity to sustain an adequate response to the overwhelming gift and goodness of life.
Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring this fullness, this wholeness, of human life. Once a year, each Christmas, for a few days at least, we and millions of our neighbors turn aside from our preoccupations with life reduced to biology or economics or psychology and join together in a community of wonder. The wonder keeps us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, that is always beyond anything we can make.

I love that Advent simultaneously forces us away from ourselves and our petty problems while also, in a way, affirming them. It’s a season of denying our self and our possibility in the face of the wholly Other that is the mysterious, Incarnate Emmanuel. But it’s also a chance for us to focus, to synthesize our various desires, issues, concerns, and identities into a cohesive oneness with the bewildering fact that we are here, and so is God. There’s a reason why we sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” We share a planet—the dirt, air, water, DNA—with the creator of the universe. This is the most empowering and humbling fact of history, and the weight of it is immense. It is the reason Advent is historically a very solemn season: because the Incarnation cannot be taken lightly.

As I enter into Advent this year, I’m burdened by just as many hopes and fears as the next guy. There is pain and regret in my heart, love and confusion, physical and emotional imperfection, and immense exhaustion. I sometimes just want to drink eggnog or mulled wine and listen to Over the Rhine’s Darkest Night of the Year (for the record, probably the best Christmas album of all time) while languishing in self-pity and world weariness as stocks and bombs carry the torch of history’s tumultuous march.

And Advent accepts all that. It thrives on unsettledness, uncertainty, and despair. Which is kind of bleak for a holiday season that is typically thought of as the merriest season of all. Until we recognize that our pain makes Advent all the more meaningful—to look forward, expectantly, longingly, to the moment when all the pieces (of our lives, of history, of heaven and earth) come together in a monstrous cymbal crash that reverberates in every corner and cranny of the concert hall."


I hope that you found his writing as meaningful as I did. It helped me find more peace in the midst of the holidays. Losing Aubrey and Ellie is still fresh and painful, and the holiday season seems to reopen barely closed wounds. The more I fall apart however, the tighter I cling to Jesus. This time of year makes obvious what I lost. But it also reminds me of the hope I have, the comfort in the midst of my suffering, that only Jesus can provide. As was so eloquently stated above, my pain makes Advent all the more meaningful. I too have "pain and regret in my heart, love and confusion, physical and emotional imperfection, and immense exhaustion." The death of my daughters has left me broken in so many ways. I walk wearily to the arms of my Father for healing and "to look forward, expectantly, longingly, to the moment when all the pieces (of our lives, of history, of heaven and earth) come together." I will see my girls again. Advent makes that possible.
 
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