Saturday, December 20, 2014

Unshared Grief and a Little Hope

"We are called to live with integrity, to express the truth as we perceive it,
and to trust God's ability to use what we offer."
-Elizabeth J. Canham

For the last year I have had this white knuckle grip on life....waiting for a call to tell me my husband has been in an accident, anticipating a tree will fall on our house during a normal rain storm or receiving a text that a friend is sick in the hospital. I've been living in this ugly anticipation of the worst of what could happen because I now know what can happen. 

Grief moves at this ugly, sluggish pace and some days it feels as if it will never end and other days are peppered with minutes of deep belly laughs with the thought that maybe you're over it and the darkness has finally passed. 
I have often felt that I am doing better. That the season of grief is over. Then, like a heavy sledgehammer, it will hit me. I realize in the midst of hanging Christmas lights and planning for my son's 6th birthday party--things that typically bring me great joy--that Everly will not get to experience it with us and I am crying as if I just lost her yesterday.

Unlike grief over the loss of a spouse, parent, friend or older child, my grief is unshared. 
When a sibling or parent has passed away, one can share in that grief and unload with other family members and friends. At special gatherings, a story can come to mind and be shared and provide a light lift from the sadness. 

Because I am the only one who carried Everly inside, no one knows her like I do. My husband and two of my closest friends were able to hold her but she never saw them. She never even saw me.
When others offer advice or ask the frequent question of "are you guys trying again?", I feel the solo target of what really translates to me as, "let me tell you how to do it better" or "are you and your husband having sex right now?" And, although I can laugh it off or cry to my husband or close friend, I am alone in the deep pain that is brought on by well meaning people. 

"Everyone can master a grief but he that has it."
-William Shakespeare

Losing a loved one alongside someone else means having another person to lean on who understands, someone who can offer a kind word when you're in pain knowing you will do the same for them. 

When you lose at child at birth or miscarriage, you are alone in your sadness. Your husband and good friends can support you but no one will feel the longing or loss like you will. This also means that, in order to keep healing, you have to reach out and ask for what you need since no one will know how you are feeling. 
We are all limited based on our experiences. Since Everly's death I have reached out to family and friends to apologize for offering advice I knew nothing about at the time of their loss or for my lack of being there after their loss. I felt, as many people do, that after a couple of months, I had moved on so they probably did too. It was not a lack of love in my heart but the limit of my knowledge. Now, I know better. Amid all of this pain I am grateful that it has sensitized me to the grief of others. 

My way of connecting with someone is to look into their eyes. I always have Dave and my kids look me in the eye before I tell them I love them. I never got to do that with Everly. She never saw me and I never saw her. I only saw her physical body and nothing beyond. When this revelation came to me during a meditation two weeks ago, I realized why I felt so short-sided. I knew Everly was going to die. Whether it was in my womb, the minute she arrived into the world, or two years later, I knew she was going to live a very short life. But, what I was really most upset about was not getting to make that loving connection of looking into my daughter's eyes so we could connect before she left this world.

I yearn to talk about Everly but my stories are repetitive. I have no memories of the first time she walked or talked, or said something embarrassingly cute. My memories are when she turned vigorously in my belly after I fed her my special ham sandwich, being witness to her overcoming great odds at my ultrasound appointments, her responding to her big sister kissing my belly and singing to her and when she began losing strength just before her birth. My arsenal of stories is small and I know friends and family will soon tire of them if I share them so I choose to keep them to myself. 

"He did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, 
you will not be disquieted; but He said: You will not be overcome."
-Julian of Norwich

Yet there were stories that have been shared with me that are nothing short of heaven-breathed and when I am reminded of these, my heart begins healing itself and I pass through another period of feeling fulfilled and at ease. 

Friends gave out pink glittered candles at my baby shower that were lit once I went into labor with Everly coinciding with good thoughts and prayers being said. 
Everly was born on December 20, 2013 at 8:07 p.m. and when my friend Deeana called to tell my brother Josh, he said he knew because his candle extinguished on its own at 8:08 p.m. 

As I just typed the last sentence my friend Sara texted me a photo of her lit candle with the words, "Psalms 147 says He heals the brokenhearted and to put our hope in His unfailing love. Reading and praying and never giving up hope. Don't give up. He won't fail. Grieve and heal and never give up. Love you, dear friend." 
At Everly's funeral I was talking to our nurse, Kate, who had been an angel to me during my stay there. She was reluctant about telling me that she had continually had dreams about Everly in the few weeks after her birth. Kate said she recently had a dream in which she saw an older Everly joyfully playing with a lot of children. Kate knew it was Everly because the other children were calling her by name and she also looked a lot like Emerson and especially Cash. I immediately got the chills because I had told Dave over and over how much Everly looked like Cash. 
Kate said that Everly was laughing and playing and she knew she was in a good place. And then she said, "Oh and she was eating a sandwich." My entire body felt numb and because I had to be sure it was not a coincidence I asked, "did you know I have a blog?" She answered, "No but a few people here have mentioned it and said I need to see it so I definitely will take a look at it." Knowing there was no way she read my post, I asked her, "Do you know what kind of a sandwich it was?" to which she answered, "Yes. It was a meat sandwich...a ham sandwich." 

As I type this story and relive it again I am ashamed that I even doubt a loving God. I have hated this pain that I have been carrying but, for it to go away would minimize my love of my beautiful daughter and the difference her little life has made to so many others. 
Along with the pain, loneliness and discomfort I've felt, there has also been hope. The beauty and wonder of the world are revealed to me in much smaller ways than ever before. A blue jay flying outside our kitchen window while I wash dishes quietly lost in my sadness. A bus driver who gives me a huge grin and says my son is a pleasure to have on his route. A dog that gives me a lovingly long stare. And a stranger that smiles and has no idea that he's brought me back to the reality of a life that has so much to offer. 
Paulina from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale offers a message that I've heard many times: "Cheer up. It's over. You can't do anything to change it. Just accept it and go ahead with your life."

Many well-meaning acquaintances and friends have relayed this same message to me and I know they do not want me to feel guilty but, yet I do. In watching another woman in my support group who has verbalized her anger, I know that its a route I wish I would have taken sooner. I tried too soon to put a lid on my anger, disappointment and grief. But, in order to deal with grief honestly, it means experiencing its deep pain, sorrow and agony for as long as we need to; and the time frame for every individual is different. Only then will we eventually be able to move ahead. Never away but ahead.

The day that Everly left this world she was standing on the threshold of a great adventure: a place full of laughter, love, peace and no pain. Golden streets, four-footed animals that fly, ice cream to her heart's content and every toy she could imagine--my children have continually laid out for me this spectacular world called heaven in which she now lives. 

A number of weeks ago Hunter finished saying his nighttime prayers and said, "Mommy, I can't wait to go to heaven!"
Although he doesn't know what lies on the other side of this life, he has clues. Stories I have told him from other people about near-death experiences, sweet books we have read and scriptures from the Bible. 

There is a big, beautiful heaven waiting for me with a daughter and answers to my questions but, until then and for now, things other than my grief are happening in this world. I am vowing to do my best to allow myself to freely grieve but also pay attention so I don't miss the wonderful gifts of this world that will help me to heal. 

It will take time but I will feel good again. One day I'll be able to share in another mother's unshared grief. We will never be strangers. We will know at once the pain each has endured and will be mutually strengthened and uplifted in our new friendship. To help even one person is worth all the pain I've endured and for that I am grateful.

I will close with some words that I wrote the night after Everly was born:
"She was so delicate and beautiful. I loved touching her sweet little body. Carol diapered her for us and we put her in the pink smocked gown and bonnet that Robin gave her. We added the booties Megin gave her and her cross bracelet from Sari. She was a vision of perfection and I couldn't get over how gorgeous she was and also how much she looked like Cash. I took her out and caressed every part of her legs, feet, arms, hands and face. I didn't want to forget any of them. The very parts of Trisomy 18 that were imperfect were actually the parts I loved most and what I found to be so beautiful about her. The small divot in her nose, her tiny and low ears and her beautiful club foot that looks just like Mema's polio foot. I found her to be the most beautiful creation I had ever seen. Her hair felt like soft down and I kept taking her cap off during the day to just caress it. I kissed her imperfect parts that were so perfect over and over."

Happy 1st Birthday sweet Everly Hope. 
I will always love you with the heart of a mother and wait in joyful anticipation until we can be together again. You will be honored in our home as part of our family this year and always.
"Her love is everywhere. It follows me as I go about the house,
meets me in the garden, sends swans into my dreams. In a strange,
underwater or above earth way I am very nearly happy."
-Sylvia Townsend Warner

All of the gorgeous photos in this post were taken by my beautiful friend Brooke who continues to fill my heart with her friendship daily.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Frozen Fun Inspired Art & Sensory Camp

"Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle but put me in summer and I'll be....
a happy snowman!"

My kids fell in love with this movie the first time they watched it and I can't deny that I did too. I don't know if I'll ever tire of hearing Idina Mendez sing Let It Go (I'm a huge fan since seeing Wicked on Broadway) and my daughter's version just makes my heart melt. 

Emerson asked me if I would do a camp day themed to her new favorite movie and I couldn't say no.....
Olaf Bean Bag Toss
1 & 4) Do You Want to Build a Snowman? We did two different versions using toilet paper and marshmallows. 
2) Snowball Fizz Melt using baking soda mixed with water left to harden overnight. The kids used vinegar dyed with various shades of blue to spray on the snowball. They loved watching the snowballs fizz down to beautifully colored gems. 
3) Snow Slime using glue, Borax and silver glitter. The mushy/moldable/drippy texture feels amazing and the kids LOVED it!
Knox gelatin left clear and colored with shades of blue and glitter to explore using characters from the movie and a large mirror to reflect the shimmer and their imaginative play.
1) Elsa's Castle Bowling using recycled boxes spray painted white and a big ball.
2) The favorite activity of the day: Gelatin castle molds made from sand castle buckets and Knox gelatin. The kids were given droppers and blue colored water to inject color into the castles. They loved the marble effect it had and were also able to exercise their fine motor skills. 
3) We made our living room cozy with big blankets and pillows and served the kids lemonade and pizza--the perfect recipe for watching their favorite movie.
4) Homemade glittered playdoh with shapes and tools for exploring.
1 & 4) We froze beads and clear gems into various shaped ice structures we made using recyclable bottles and loaf pans. We gave the children salt we colored with powdered tempera and warm water as we discussed how ice melts. 
2 & 3) Snowball Fizz Melt
(Hunter paid homage to one of his favorite characters Marshmallow.)
Digging gems out of the glittered Snow Slime.
The afternoon proved to be lots of fun and I think my kids may love the movie even more!
Just like Olaf, Emerson and her bestie love warm hugs!
 (The dress she begged me to buy her for camp and then claimed it was too itchy to wear....
until she heard Elsa singing Let It Go.)

"The sky's awake, so I'm awake, so we have to play."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Art & Sensory Summer Camp - Reading & Rainbows

"Play energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities."
-Stuart Brown, MD, Contemporary American Psychiatrist
Our first day of camp this summer was themed around reading and rainbows. Because we know that children (and adults) learn best when they engage all the senses, we developed activities where the children had the opportunity to fully use all five of their senses in order to explore and learn about ways we use color in the world. 

Activities included; rainbow spaghetti exploration,
rainbow watercoloring with spray bottles, 
and rainbow manipulatives so we could discuss similarities and differences, problem solving (when building structures), and decision making. 
This particular table was good for cooperation and collaboration which the older kids loved teaching the younger ones about!
We also had a rainbow science station. The kids loved experimenting with mixing various colored dye, glitter and flour. We supplied a lot of different tools for investigation, many of which also exercised fine motor skills. 
The messier the activity, the more fun the kids had! I loved listening to observations the children made while exploring and how they taught each other what they had learned.
We took time to read lots and lots of books and sang some new songs (thank you Chelsea!).
One of the favorite activities of the day was the rainbow obstacle course. The object of the game was to climb through the maze without touching any of the streamers.
We finished off the day with rainbow painting using our feet first...
...and then the kids ventured on to painting with their hands, elbows and knees. 

Watching the kids reiterated what I love most about sensory play--the delight children show when they are learning to love learning! 
Looking forward to sharing more photos soon! 

In the meantime, you can check out other camp days by clicking on the following:
Art & Sensory Summer Camp - Candyland

"I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things...
I play with leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind."
-Leo F. Buscaglia