The Sun Shines through the Trees

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t been writing in my blog because I haven’t been feeling like I had anything important or wise to say in my grief.  In fact, my father’s death hit me like a ton of bricks, as the cliche goes and I haven’t felt quite the same since.

There was a day this past summer when I was riding in the car with my mom on the way to Lancaster when I noticed something was different.  I looked out the window at the beautiful scenery and I didn’t feel sad.

We were on our way to Green Dragon – a huge flea market – and were going to spend the day with many of my extended family members.  I brought all four kids, including the newbie that was just weeks old.

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Taking a break from the flea market shopping to take a picture with my children.  You can’t see it, but I’m wearing Finn too.

The last time I had gone to Green Dragon had been with BOTH of my parents, and I was already preparing for moments where my eyes would fill with tears and I’d have to hold it back.  Memories of laughing with my dad and eating with him and walking with him. Wishing he was still with us to buy big jugs of beet red pickled eggs and munch on sausages and pretzels.

But they didn’t come.

Well, the memories did, but the tears didn’t.  Not that I wasn’t sad that he wasn’t there to form NEW memories, but I wasn’t sad about the old memories.  I was actually happy about the old memories.  Happy to have them.  Joyful to share them with others.  Glad to remember him and those moments with  him.

My dad had been dead for over a year at that point and that was the first time I could feel like I was peeking over the mountain that is my grief. It’s almost like every time someone I loved died, the grief was piled higher and higher and it became more and more difficult to pull myself up to the summit so I could see the sun shining on the other side.

And for the past year, I think I’ve been stuck clinging to the edge of my grief by my very fingertips, getting more and more exhausted trying to hold on.

I’ve struggled with anxiety and insomnia.  I’ve worried and cried and worried some more about who was going to die next and what I would do if I lost someone else. What if the house catches on fire?  What if I drop this baby down the stairs?  What if that ache in my stomach is actually cancer?  As though being hyper-aware of every possible catastrophe would allow me to be better prepared.

I’ve struggled with depression.  I’ve carved a seat in the cushions of my couch that held me for days, wearing the same sweatpants and t-shirt the whole time. I’ve told myself that it doesn’t matter.  That I shouldn’t worry because as time goes on, more people are going to die. That’s just a fact of life.  People die.  I’ve chanted in my head a quote I heard when I was very young:  “From the moment we are born, we begin to die.”  As though being fatalistic would prevent me from having any hope and therefore keep me from feeling disappointed when someone died.

I was clutching my grief to my heart with all my strength.  Holding on so tightly that I couldn’t function in normal life.

But that day in Lancaster, I was lying on a picnic blanket staring up into the sky through the dark green leaves of a summer tree, listening to the tones of the voices of my family around me – not the words.  Just the tones. The bright tenor of my Uncle Joe and the warm altos of my aunts Chrissy, T and Mecky.  The sharp squeals of small children laughing and playing. The whispered sigh of a Nana holding a new baby while he sleeps.

And I realized my grief was beneath me.

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This is the exact view from that morning.  

It’s still there.  Ever present. Inescapable.  I am constantly standing on top of a mountain of grief.  But it’s not the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night.

Standing on the summit, I can see the sun.  The Son.

And feel hope.

Hope in knowing that life – no matter how hard or sad or complicated – is not about our brief time on this Earth.  And that hard times will keep coming, but I have hope that God will refine my heart through them.

That his purpose is greater than what I can see.  Maybe even greater than I will ever see.  Definitely greater than I am capable of seeing.

So, today, on the third anniversary of Luna’s stillborn delivery – the day we celebrate as her birthday, I ask you to have hope. To remember that God is calling us to lives of difficulty and trial.  But to lives that glorify Him.  To have hope that life is not actually about this time here.  Or about the death that ends this life here.

I went back and read some of the blog posts I wrote when I lost Luna and I wonder who the heck that woman was.  I want to meet her. Her words filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.  My grandmother quoted one of my blog posts recently, and I didn’t recognize those words as my own words.  Like I had lost a bit of myself in my struggle with grief.

But I slowly feel it coming back.

I just have to look up to see the Son through the trees.

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End of First Trimester Blues

Please tell me I’m not alone here, but at the end of my first trimester, I get this obnoxious case of anxiety.  Sometimes I feel like everyone else is celebrating because they can finally keep down food and they feel somewhat normal again.  But not me.

This has happened with every pregnancy to some extent, but definitely in the last two pregnancies after losing Luna.  I hate leaving the first trimester.

When all those awful first trimester symptoms disappear – the nausea, the fatigue, the intense moodiness and the constant need to pee – I don’t find myself feeling better.  I find myself worried that since I no longer FEEL pregnant, I must not BE pregnant anymore.

And maybe I don’t need to pee constantly anymore, but I still go to the bathroom as often as I can to make sure I don’t have any spotting or bleeding.  To check and make sure that nothing is happening.  It’s too early for me to feel the baby moving so I have no way to know unless something happens.

I very nervously wonder if I could somehow change my next OB appointment to a little sooner so I can hear a heartbeat.  I count down the days until that doc takes that little box, squirts some goo on my belly and attempts to find the swish-swish-swish of a tiny heart.  And I am practically in tears waiting for them to find it.  I seriously consider buying myself my own doppler to check myself…weekly…daily…maybe three times a day…alright…whenever I can.

That moment when they find the heartbeat is the first time I’ve really breathed since the end of my first trimester.  It’s like that tiny swish swish is the air being let out of a giant balloon in my chest and I can finally breathe.

So if you see me between now and my next appointment in two weeks, please know that my puffed up chest is not pride or snobbiness or anything.  It really is just a case of anxiety and if I seem a little distracted, please know that I’m just praying.  Constantly asking God to calm my heart and to help me trust Him more.  Fervently asking for His protection over my tiny baby and praying for that tiny swish swish in two weeks.

Luna Turns 2

This Sunday (November 23) marks the two year anniversary of the day we delivered our Luna Eugenia.  She was delivered stillborn after being diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome.  We still celebrate this day as her birthday.

In the hospital on Luna's birthday.

In the hospital on Luna’s birthday.

I also had the privilege of starting a new chapter in Biology class this week – Genetics.  I hadn’t anticipated really getting to talk about Luna so close to her birthday, but it just so happened that today we looked at karyotypes and I got to show them hers.

Luna's karyotype, showing the missing X chromosome in the bottom right.

Luna’s karyotype, showing the missing X chromosome in the bottom right.

We looked at the missing space where an X chromosome should have been, and I told them about how grateful I was for the technology to allow us to know what was going on with our baby girl.  I asked them to imagine being pregnant and thinking that everything was going well until one day you go in to the OB and they can’t find a heartbeat.  That would have been more difficult to bear than what we had. I am grateful for the six weeks between diagnosis and death that I had to value and savor every single moment with Luna.

There was also a rare chance where I got to speak to my students about why we named her Luna.  I explained that the moon has no light of its own and only reflects the light of the sun.  In the same way, as a Christian, I know that I have no light of my own and I only reflect the light of Christ to the world.  Luna’s name and Luna’s story remind me to shine brightly for Christ no matter what the circumstances are.

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I anticipated these holidays being difficult without my dad, Jen, Luna and Jake, but I have found that my mood has been better recently.  Perhaps the constant reminders of those I’ve lost have actually served to keep my focus in the right place.  Maybe I’m just happy that I get to see the rest of my family more during the holidays.  Regardless, I’m thankful that I get a little break from the grumpiness and anxiety of my grief.

I came up the stairs in MACA to go to my lab and there was a slanted rectangle of light on the floor where the sun was streaming in a glass door.  You know the kind.  The kind where the light hits all the particles in the air and it looks like a snow globe and the whole world seems to glow.  I stood in that doorway and felt the warmth of that sun and it really felt like a hug.  I don’t usually say cheesy things like that, but it really did feel like a warm hug. And it made me think about what I have to be thankful for.

1)  I am thankful for Luna.  For the experience of having her.  For the reminder of how to live because of her.  For the warmth of knowing her. For my children who still talk about her and make things for her.

The ornaments I made this week at MOPS.  My children reminded me to include Luna on everything.

The ornaments I made this week at MOPS. My children reminded me to include Luna on everything.

2)  I am thankful for losing Luna.  Without losing Luna when I did, I would not have been able to be in the hospital when Jen died.  She died two days after my due date with Luna and I would have had a hard time being there with a newborn (or being so enormously pregnant).  Also, if I had not lost Luna, I would not have Joe.  And Joe lights up my world. He hugs like my dad, bosses me around like Jen and makes goofy smiles like Jake.

My Joe and the smile that makes me smile.

My Joe and the smile that makes me smile.

3)  I am thankful for my family.  Both living and dead.  I have learned so much from all of them and I value each and every one of them.  They shape me.  They support me.  They make me who I am.  They are funny and smart and attractive.  They are kind and generous and patient.  They are everything I am not and everything that I am.  They fill all my gaps and make me into someone whole.

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Even though my struggle through grief hasn’t been easy and I have so much to work on, I am thankful for the life that God has given me.  It has given me a platform that I wouldn’t otherwise have. It has taught me to rely on Christ when I have nothing left.  It had made me compassionate and patient.  It has created in me a grateful, joyful heart.

My parents with us on Luna's birthday.  I am so thankful my dad could be there to hold my hand.

My parents with us on Luna’s birthday. I am so thankful my dad could be there to hold my hand.

That God really knows what he’s doing, doesn’t he?

So when Sunday rolls around, we encourage you to think for a moment about the light you are reflecting and we hope that Luna reminds you to reflect the Son as brightly as a full moon.

The Stages of Grief

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I like to fancy myself an amateur expert on grief. (Is that an oxymoron? I know others who have had it worse than me so I can’t possibly be an expert expert.) My brother Jacob died in December of 2010 from a heart attack. Then my daughter Luna was diagnosed with Turner Syndrome and was delivered stillborn in November of 2012. Less than four months later, my sister Jen died from leukemia in March of 2013. Then just a couple weeks ago, my daddy died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

When you lose someone you love, you go through so many different feelings that you don’t know which way is up anymore. I don’t know anything about the stages of grief (including how many there are or what they are) but I do know that there is no rhyme or reason to how you are feeling from one day to the next. One moment to the next. They don’t happen in any order. They don’t stop once you’ve worked your way through them. You will keep feeling those things in one form or another for your whole life.

I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that my dad is dead. In fact, I confess that sometimes I think Jen is really just at the hospital and she’ll be home soon. And on Sunday nights, I wait sometimes to hear Jake come up the basement stairs, his bags rubbing against the wall. That smells like denial to me. Some days it is very real to me and other days are easier to get through if I lie to myself a little.

It is impossible not to feel sad about the loss of a loved one. I get the most sad when I think about how my kids are going to miss out on these awesome people in their lives. Just last week, I was uncontrollably weepy because it was grandparents day at school and I knew Papa wouldn’t be there next year to visit Bo in kindergarten. (Not that he would – he was the type of guy who would rather take Bo on an adventure outside of school instead.) I get sad thinking about the friendship I know Jake would have had with Bo and the girly bond Jen would have had with my “I love pink and purple” two-year-old. Some days I just cry. A lot.

I think it is equally difficult not to feel guilty. I should have visited Jen in the hospital more. I should have checked on Jacob earlier the morning he died. I should have encouraged my dad to go to the doctor sooner. I should have told them all how much I love and admire them before they were gone. I shouldn’t have copped such a nasty attitude when my dad held my hand to pray before dinner the last time I saw him. How I wish I could feel his giant paw wrap around my hand again. I honestly never stop feeling guilty for every moment I thought of myself instead of thinking of them.

But my default emotion in life is anger. I am always angry at something. Angry that I didn’t see it coming. Angry that my time with them was so short. Angry at people who say the absolute wrong things in an attempt to comfort you. (Just so you know, losing your brother/baby/sister/father is NOT like losing your cat/dog/hamster/fish – no matter how close you guys are.) Angry that all this had to happen in so short a time. Angry at myself for being angry. Angry at other people for not being angry or not being angry enough. I could go on, but I think I would just be embarrassing myself.

Of course I have accepted what has happened to me. I am reminded that they are no longer alive every time I have to call everyone in the family. Or buy everyone a present at Christmas. Or save people seats. Or when I want to talk to someone and get advice. Or when I am sitting at a family gathering. Like for Easter this year, I will be sitting there thinking that the crowd is too small. The list is too short. And I accept it because it has changed my very soul to lose these people I love so much.

Like I said, I don’t know what the stages of grief even are, but these are things I feel on a daily basis. Sadness. Guilt. Anger. Denial. I should also mention that I feel afraid. Afraid of losing someone else. Afraid that I am next.

But you might be surprised to hear I also feel thankful. Jen and I memorized 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 with our Bible study girls years ago and it is the only verse that I still have memorized all this time later. “Rejoice always. Pray continually. In all things, give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself, I stop myself and think about how blessed I am. Yes, how BLESSED I am. I would have nothing to mourn if I were not blessed in the first place. I have loved and lost more family than some people will ever have. Praise God that I had the privilege of having such an incredible, loving, faithful daddy and such brilliant, funny, talented siblings like Jen and Jake. If they weren’t so amazing, I would not be so sad. My sadness is a measure of their awesomeness. Praise God that I could carry my Luna those five months even if I never got to meet her.

And reflecting on the ones I have lost also makes me reflect on those I still have. My humble, strong, gracious mother. My beautiful, smart and funny children. My gorgeous genius of a husband. My loving, creative and sensitive sister Jes. My brothers. Jimbo – the teddy bear at heart who would prefer for everyone to think he’s heartless. Joe – the honorable, hard-working leader. Rico – the soft hearted one who is fiercely proud of his family. Jack – the selfless, giving and honest one. My nephews Alex (the deep, thoughtful, big-hearted one) and William (the fearless goofball). Chris who taught me how to serve the ones I love. Eeen who showed me how to take myself less seriously. Erica who loves others so completely and openly. Em-E who is the epitome of patience and loyalty. Bean and Jeff who make Christ such a focus in their family. Gene and Mer who give so much of themselves to others. Mama and Pop Korn who are hands down the most generous people I know. I really wish I could go on and list everyone, but I would never be able to stop. The rest of my extended family. My coworkers. My friends. My students. My Bible study girls and church family. Seriously, how can I not feel blessed?! And I am thankful.

Even when I am sad, I am thankful. Angry? Thankful. Guilty and thankful. In denial, but thankful. In all things I am thankful. When Jake died, I would try to pray, but the only thing that I could say was “Thank you, God, for everything. I don’t deserve anything.” That gets me through even my hardest days.

But today is Easter. Easter is the day I celebrate the ultimate “thank you for everything – I don’t deserve anything.” Not only does Christ save me from a lifetime of sin, but He makes it possible for me to see Jake, Luna, Jen and my daddy again. As if heaven couldn’t get any better! Today I celebrate Christ’s triumph over death and I celebrate it extra because His triumph over death has already given me hope for the future.

We asked Bo what Easter means for our loved ones who are already dead and he said, “It means they get to rise from the dead. And me too.” Two minutes later, he came back distraught because he wanted us to understand that he knew he had to die first before he could rise from the dead. How I wish everyone had that perspective of death. As a stepping stone to resurrection. So today I remember that. In order to rise, we must first die.