No First Day of School

I can’t stop thinking about what tomorrow would have been like. It would have been Addy’s first day of preschool with her bff, Emma. So many pictures would have been taken. She would be wearing the perfect outfit and bow, ready to meet her new teacher and friends. I was looking forward to this day before she died; her teacher already knew all about her and was looking forward to her being in her class (her bff told her all about Addy). But now, tomorrow is just another day that I miss my baby girl so incredibly much.

Once you make it through the first year after your child’s death you begin to think you’ve at least made it through all the firsts…but there’s always more. And why do we think that if we just make it through the firsts it will be alright? I suppose at some point we will just get used to her not being here, but I can’t imagine that ever happening. Every holiday or event just reminds me of what it could have been like if she was still here. I wish we could be getting her ready for her first day of school tomorrow, and stay up late talking and laughing about it, in true Addy fashion. Instead I will probably struggle to sleep and go to my second week back to school, teaching. I’ll put on a smile and try my best to be joyful while I grieve not getting a first day of school with my big girl.

Grief Changes Everything

Some things that change because of grief are obvious, things like always missing your child, holidays not feeling complete, and feeling a sadness that’s always there even through the laughter.

Things you don’t expect to change are things like feeling completely alone when surrounded by people, people disappearing from your life, being avoided by those who know but don’t know what to say, and feeling like no one else understands what you’re going through. Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand how someone can feel so alone when surrounded by friends and family. While I have lots of people who offer encouragement and prayers on social media, I don’t have many who actually show up and want to be around me anymore. Invitations to events or to just hang out have pretty much gone away. Nobody really wants the people with a dead child at their party…talk about a downer. People avoid me like the plague fairly often. Very few people know what it’s like to burry a child and those who do know still don’t know what I’m going through because every situation is different. I’m starting to understand why people say the second year is the hardest. Any support that once existed goes away. You have to figure out how to keep going; it’s expected. People will let you down over and over again. It sounds great to be able to rely on others in a time of need, but just like me they’re human and they will make mistakes. We hurt those around us and say stupid things. The only one I can count on no matter what is my Creator. Satan loves it when we have all these feelings of being let down by others. He wants us to feel alone and isolated. He wants us to feel defeated and just give up on life. If there ever was a reason to give up on life, the death of your child is definitely a good one. But I don’t want to just give up. I don’t want the actions (or inactions) of others to effect who I am meant to be.

I don’t believe God took Addalyn for a reason, but I know He can use her death for a greater purpose. I have found those who have experienced the death of a child or close loved one (I don’t mean grand parents-we expect them to die before us, it’s not unnatural) are the best support and tend to stick around. I hope that one day people can say that about me. I know I’m not there yet, but I’m trying to get there. It takes more time than you could imagine to get to a point where you feel like you can actually do something to help others after the death of your child. It’s also really easy to use that pain as an excuse for not doing anything for others. One day I hope to look back and see how God was able to grow me into a better person, rather than a bitter angry person.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” -2 Corinthians 1:4

I’ll love you forever

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

It’s hard to understand just how true that statement is until you’ve outlived your child. Sure, I would have always considered Addy my baby even if she had lived to be 20, but when your child dies at 2 all you have are memories of your baby. You don’t have childhood memories, you don’t have teenage memories, you don’t have all the memories that you’re supposed to when you outlive your child. She’s forever my baby.

Some nights I stay up all night trying to remember things. I’ll get stuck on a detail like “what bow did she wear when we were at the zoo?” or “how much did she weigh at her last checkup?” When your baby is gone all you have are the memories and you cling to every detail in them. That’s also what often brings on the panic attacks, when I can’t remember something about her. I want so badly to hold on to every moment we had together but as the days pass by the vividness of the memories fade. My husband and I were talking about Addy last night and how her smell is the first thing that has gone from our memory. I can’t tell you what she smelled like anymore. It was most likely vomit (she vomited pretty much every day) and her body wash/shampoo, but I don’t know that I could pick it out if I smelled it again.

It’s hard to accept that memories fade. I found the little bag with the locket of hair they cut off right after she died at the hospital. I was so happy I came across it and thought “I get to smell my baby again!” But when I opened it there was no smell, not even the slightest scent of anything. That ended my productivity for the day. I can’t even tell you how many times she fell asleep on my chest or right beside me in bed and I would just breathe in her smell; but now it’s gone. It makes me wonder what will go next. Will I forget how she would make it so difficult to hold her on your hip by leaning backwards, will I forget her snorting that she mastered by making her cleft uvula flap together, will it be her laugh, the way her kisses felt, or her soft yet bumpy skin? I know more things will fade. “Grief brain” is a real thing. It takes more effort than ever before to get my words in the correct order when I speak and sometimes after I’ve said something I have to think through whether I said it correctly or not. My baby took a piece of my heart with her when she left, but I think as one last joke she took a piece of my brain too. She always loved teasing us so I wouldn’t expect any less (not really…I don’t actually believe she has any supernatural powers).

When certain details of a memory fades away I try to think about what she’s doing right now instead. So many things come to mind. She’s walking and running! She’s dancing and singing! She’s swinging on the tallest swing set ever! She’s praising God and doesn’t feel any pain or have to struggle to do what comes easy for most. The most recent one that popped in my mind…maybe she’s up there naked. I always picture her clothed but who’s to say she’s wearing clothes? She would actually prefer to be naked, and that’s how God brought people into the world, so maybe they are in their completely natural state in heaven. I don’t know for sure what she’s doing in heaven and my imagination most likely doesn’t even come close to touching the magnificence she’s experiencing. I do know she got to touch the nail pierced hands that gave me a reason to hope. While my pain and grief will last until I see her again I won’t allow it to consume me. I’ve learned to live with it; I now know how to breathe with a piece of me missing. I have found joy in my sorrow, which I never thought would be possible.

There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning.

A Year Later

May 21 will always be one of my least favorite days to think about. That’s the day my baby girl danced into heaven. I wouldn’t want to take her away from what she’s experiencing in heaven, but it hurts so much to miss her so badly every day. It’s now been over a year since I held her in my arms, since I got to feel that crazy curly hair and her silly giggles, and since she looked me in the eyes with a love she didn’t have to verbalize.

I continue to learn from my baby girl and I continue to cling to God to make it through. Over the past year I’ve learned how physical the pain from grief is. The week Addy died I literally couldn’t walk and had to have help because my legs and knees were so weak they couldn’t support me; it felt like I had run a full marathon and that recovery from it wasn’t coming (I could walk better in the days after a marathon than I could after Addy left me). My vocal cords have also taken a hit. I continue to have paralysis in my right vocal cord, but thankfully can still speak (just more scratchy sounding than normal-but I think it is my new normal). I live with a pretty constant lump in my throat, that feeling you get when you try to not cry. I’ve also found that frequent crying can lead to tear duct inflammation; I have inflamed and sore tear ducts about once a month, and it takes about a week for it to go away again. I’ve also found the human body can actually live on very limited sleep. Night time is still the hardest time, I struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Many days I’m functioning on 3-4 hours of sleep, it’s like having an infant but no baby to hold. The last thing that I ever thought grief would effect is my ability to have more children. Maybe it was happening anyway, but I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is I’m getting to enjoy some of the early symptoms of premature menopause, with my least favorite being night sweats (as if sleep wasn’t hard enough to come by as it is). I don’t share all these things for attention or pity. I Share them so that others will know how much it effects you on not just an emotional level, but it’s also a very physical level as well. Not that everyone will experience the same things I have, but regardless of what they experience, it isn’t just an emotional pain. The pain is also physical when your child dies. I’ve learned to navigate the emotional over the past year (to some degree it’s easier than managing the physical). I’ve had to harden myself so that I don’t cry at the drop of a hat, and I’ve also learned that I have to say “no” to a lot of things. It doesn’t take much for me to feel extremely overwhelmed by simple tasks, and start having panic attacks. The panic attacks are probably the hardest to navigate still. My heart starts racing and I just know in my gut that there’s something extremely important that I’m forgetting to do. It feels like it’s a life-altering thing that must be done and I must remember what it is. Once I finally convince myself there isn’t something life-altering that I’m forgetting, I can get control again. It’s pretty hard to convince myself sometimes, other times I can recognize what is happening and get through it quicker. With all the things that have changed in me over the past year, and all the daily struggles, I know it sounds like a pretty miserable life, but it’s not. Through all the pain and heartache that follows me everyday, and always will, there is also immense joy and laughter. My joy doesn’t come from anything this world can offer. My joy comes from the Lord and knowing that He understands my suffering, He has never left my side, even when I refused to talk to Him right after Addy died. He continued to pursue me and put people in my life that could help me navigate this new normal. He has restored my laughter and has given my life purpose outside of caring for Addy.

I was dreading the one year mark coming. I had two of my nephews spend the night the night before and I cleaned the house as the younger one followed me around leaving trails of food on my clean floors. Lol. We finished out the night with multiple games of Mouse Trap…which isn’t super fun when you have a 6 year old that’s an incredibly sore loser (but it’s not a game you can rig to make him win!!!!). We also talked about what Addy might be doing in heaven right now…we decided she’s not wearing a headband-her hair is wild and free, she might be flying around, she’s definitely running, she might be able to see us (or she might be so busy up there playing and praising God that she doesn’t, after all time is different in heaven) and she’s the same size she was when she left us. I think that was my favorite conversation with my youngest nephew ever. The next day I painted the shutters on our house (super random, but I needed our house to have a splash of color), we made chocolate chip muffins for breakfast, and my sister came over with the other nephew and niece. The plan was to give them the photo books I made for them (they have photos of just them and Addy), and then go do 18 acts of kindness for Trisomy 18. After we gave them the photo books things didn’t go as smoothly. It’s harder for kids to navigate their emotions and to know what to do with them. The youngest had made some paintings of Addy while I painted the shutters and was trying to finish them and tore a page. You would have thought it was the end of the world. He was so heartbroken over it and fixing the page didn’t make it better. Once he calmed down again we went out with the goal of 3 acts instead (for Addy’s age). We put a card with her picture (that was also the youngest’s idea) with $5 on a menu at Sonic and ordered some drinks, of course. After that we were driving to find our next spot and found in a neighborhood a “prayer post” in someone’s yard, so we put a Starbucks gift card with Addy’s card on it. Our last stop was the park where the kids played for a while and when we left we put another Starbucks gift card with Addy’s card on a park bench. What I loved about the final one was that it was a park that had been made for everyone, including those in a wheelchair. We finished out our day with dinner with the family and then a trip down the road to the cemetery. We put fresh flowers on Addalyn’s grave and had a balloon release for her. What was most surprising to me is that I only cried twice the whole day. I was expecting to be more emotional, but my focus was more on helping the kids get through the day. If I had spent it at home alone, which is what I wanted to do, I would have stayed in bed eating and watching Friends, and I’m sure there would have been a lot more tears. However, I was instructed that I must have a plan that didn’t involve lying around by myself. When I put the focus on helping others it makes it easier to navigate my way through my own grief. So, here I am on the other side of a year. We are now in the process of adopting and I can find joy and laughter in the small things again. I didn’t think I would ever be able to be joyful again. I was so angry with God, but through reminding myself of His promises and what I know about His character, I’ve grown closer to Him than ever before, and while I will never think any reason for Addy dying is a good one, I do know He is a good father. He is with me, He understands my pain, and He does have a plan for my life. While I’m here on earth I will continue to seek after His will for me until He calls me Home.

Mother’s Day with Empty Arms

I had every intention to stay home for my first Mother’s Day without Addy. I was going to stay in bed all day and pretend it wasn’t happening. That’s my go-to: avoidance. If I pretend it’s not happening, just maybe I can make it through the day without falling apart. The only problem with that is the holiday will roll around again, and will I avoid it forever or let the next one be when I finally face it and fall apart? There’s no good answer on how to get through a holiday when your child has died. No matter what you do, it’s going to hurt like hell, and you will keep breathing, because that’s about all you can do. I’ve already been an emotional wreck this month, with the one year of Addy dying approaching next week.

I have learned to avoid certain triggers so that I’m not out in public with a full-on meltdown, and I don’t know exactly why I changed my mind and decided on going to church, but I did. I’ve also learned to avoid eye contact with people, so they won’t say anything to me and I can pretend like it’s just another day, which it is, but another day that is a painful reminder that my arms are empty. Our church does a great job addressing Mother’s Day for those who are hurting, they’ve always been great about it. I was doing ok, until they asked for moms to stand so they could bring us a charm for our bracelets (they give out a charm each year to go with the sermon), I honestly didn’t want to stand, but I did. I don’t even know why. My charm bracelet is still in its little bag that it’s been in since I got my charm last year about a week before Addy died. That was when it hit me and I couldn’t stand anymore. I did exactly what I hate doing in public. I was crying, and not just a tear or two rolling down my cheek. I was full on sobbing and couldn’t catch my breath. They asked the moms who are hurting this year to come to the front so they could pray over us, another thing I wasn’t planning to do. But my friend who is having her first Mother’s Day without her mom came to get me to go with her. We cried together and made it through. It was all a blur after the sobbing started, but what I do know is I felt better after other women who care about me put their hands on me with a prayer and offered a hug. That doesn’t mean I don’t completely miss my girl every single day, but I find comfort in knowing where she is. I don’t have to worry about her, I don’t have to worry about whether she will accept Christ as her savior, I don’t have to worry about what would happen with her if something effected me being able to care for her, I don’t have any of the worries so many moms have (that I long to still have).

I was asking God again recently (I ask him every time I’m missing her really bad) why he took her from me, why she couldn’t stay longer, why it had to be the result of a surgery we took her in for, and why I have to live with a broken heart the rest of my life. Like always, I didn’t get an answer, but He did ask me if I would want her back now if I could have her back. I tried to ignore the question, because it’s pointless, since I can’t have her back anyway. But I couldn’t ignore it for long…it needed an answer. The answer is, I don’t want her back now. I don’t want to take her away from heaven where she is running, playing, praising our savior, and free from any pain or heartache this world can bring. The hardest thing in the world is to admit while my arms are empty and I miss my baby girl so much, I want her to stay where she is. I will endure the pain and heartache of missing her for now while she enjoys the joy and freedom of heaven.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Still a mom?

I’ve been looking forward to this month coming, because it means school will be out and summer begins in a couple weeks. I’ve also dreaded this month coming. May is the month that Addy left this world and it’s also the month of Mother’s Day.

It’s hard to believe I’ve managed to keep living and going on without my baby girl. I miss her more every day. I miss feeling her put her little arm around my neck, I miss listening to her laugh herself to sleep every night, I miss snuggling with her and reading her books, I miss watching her roll around the living room, I miss blending her food in bulk and freezing it so she could have real food, I miss singing with her and acting silly, and most of all I just miss being her mom. She made everything about life better, she reminded me to lean on Christ at all times and she taught me to slow down and appreciate every moment with those you love.

As Mother’s Day approaches I’m reminded again that I’m not really a mom anymore. I don’t have a child to care for or love on every day. I will forever be Addy’s mom, but saying your a mom without a child sounds silly. I wanted to be a mom for so long, and once it finally happened, it slipped away as quickly as it happened and took a piece of my heart with it. As everyone celebrates Mother’s Day this year, don’t forget the grieving moms, those who don’t have their moms, and those who desperately want to be a mom. Mother’s Day is hard for so many people. It’s just another reminder of the heartache you carry with you every single day.

I remember my first Mother’s Day so vividly. We shared our Addy Grace with our church by telling our story and having her dedicated. I got 3 Mother’s Days with her here, which is more than we ever thought we would get, but it doesn’t make it any easier to face this one without her. I pray this is the only Mother’s Day that I have to get through without a child, even though no child can ever replace Addy, I look forward to the day when I can hold a child in my arms and be called a mom again.

This picture was from my first Mother’s Day with my perfect baby girl.

Why I Cry

Besides the super obvious reason of missing my Addy Grace, there are other reasons why I cry. I cry every day and I never know what is going to trigger it. Sometimes it’s walking past Addalyn’s room, coming across something of hers in an unexpected place, hearing a toddler laugh or cry, taking a family picture, seeing my niece and nephew hurting, not seeing her in the backseat mirror while driving, seeing an outfit that I would have bought her if she was here, but the one thing that gets me almost every time without fail is when I’m singing praise songs. Yes, I miss my baby girl so incredibly much, but that’s not why I cry when I’m praising my Savior.

I cry when singing praise because certain songs remind me of what has been done for me, despite what I really deserve. Grace isn’t just God giving me a gift I don’t deserve, it’s Him giving me a gift when I deserve to be punished. He died for me, He accepted suffering for me, God gave His only son as a sacrifice for me, and most importantly, He conquered the grave. It’s hard to understand a willingness to suffer for those who aren’t worthy of it because I would forgo suffering in a heartbeat, if I could. I know that if I had to give Addy up to save others, I wouldn’t have done it. To see your child suffer and die is the most excruciating pain, even when you know what will happen in the end. When I’m praising I cry because God knows the pain of watching his only child die, I cry because I’m not alone- Jesus knows what true suffering is, I cry because I am loved more than I could ever love, and I cry because this pain will end and the image of the joy that is to come brings tears to my eyes.

They say misery loves company and it’s true, I find comfort in those who understand this pain. Often it’s connections online, but through it all my biggest comfort is Jesus. That doesn’t mean I’ve been okay with Him allowing Addy to die or that I’ve stayed in the word and prayer nonstop. I had a couple months when I couldn’t read His word or talk to Him, other than telling Him he owes me something good (in case you’re wondering, that doesn’t work). I know it might sound cliché, but when you’ve experienced deep pain, you connect on a deeper level to others who know sorrow and suffering. “He was despised and rejected-a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…(Isaiah 53:3). I know He didn’t take joy in allowing Addy to die. He doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer, He is near the broken-hearted. He does allow suffering though, because of the sin in this world. We live in a fallen, broken world and we were never promised a life without suffering. In fact, He told us we would experience suffering and trials in this world until we are called home. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10). Suffering in this world is meant to stop us and God’s plans for us, by Satan. But, I refuse to allow Satan to stop what God has in store. I want my suffering to produce perseverance and strengthen my faith. I want to persevere in this life and continue on the path God has in store for me.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

As we approach the one year mark since Addalyn went to be with Jesus we are also getting back on track to grow our family. Addy will be a big sister, just not the way we had planned (just one more way God reminds us we aren’t in control). We’ve had a baby room ready for over a year and look forward to the day when it’s no longer another empty room. We could use lots of prayers as we continue this journey. Prayers for our hearts, raising the funds we need for adopting, perseverance to follow the path God leads us on (it could take a while for anything to happen for us), and prayers for the child that will be joining our family.