Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #31

Sunset

Halloween is always such a busy night in our home.  I often miss the sunset or opt to take a picture the day before.  This year I decided that I would finish the month with an image of the very same plant I started it with.  If you remember, day 1 was Clara’s last remaining funeral plant with it’s very first bloom in almost two years. As the month has progressed I have watched in awe as that bloom has grown and another has grown too.

I feel like it is so symbolic of this month’s journey and writings.  So much growth can happen in the right conditions.  Thank you to everyone who helped create those right conditions for my growth. Thank you for allowing me to share my wounds with you. Thank you for all the words of encouragement each day. This project always allows me to search my soul and find comfort.  Tonight I close this book and enjoy the pink sweetheart-shaped flowers that have experienced as much growth in this month as I have.  I will smile, sigh, and know that sometimes things like this are the best reminders that Clara’s spirit is still touching us when we need it most. <3

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #30

My Promise to You

I promise to lovingly remind the world that, while you aren’t here, your fairy tale cape still hangs here.  We promise to remind each other of your life and our memories. We promise to remember your birthday and your passing day.  We promise to remember how very special you are and how much you still belong to our family.

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #29

Give Away Your Love

Random acts of kindness.  I talked earlier this week about how important I find it to be to serve others and to reach out.  On day 29 the prompt for this project was to do a random act of kindness in honor of Clara.  Sadly we were mostly homebodies yesterday, only leaving to get a gallon of milk for today’s breakfast.  It was thought that trip that I was inspired to write my day 29 words.

Last night I ran into a young woman who works at Walgreens.  She is super friendly and I always look forward to seeing her in the pharmacy on my many trips throughout the month.  Lately, I haven’t seen her and sadly wondered if she had decided on a new opportunity. So when I saw her last night I had to go through her register.

She asked which kiddo was with me and asked how the kids were.  She didn’t recognize Damon’s name and I reminded her that I do have a few healthy kids.  She giggled and asked to remind her of how many kids I had.  I shared with her everyone including Clara.  I then asked why she hadn’t been at work much.  Turns out she is going to school to be a Physicians Assistant.  She said, “Missy, someday I want to be able to see your kiddos in the office not just through the window at the pharmacy. The things you deal with and the smile you always have, inspire me to want to help more people.”.

Sometimes our random acts of kindness are unknown even to ourselves.  We plant seeds that bloom at later times.  Seeds that positively impact someone we barely know.   I find that kindness, smiles, and service to others goes a long way to touching lives in a way that, sometimes, money can’t. I often share the ways in which we give in Clara’s memory but I feel like there are more things we give that go unnoticed, like kindness.  I have always been a firm believer that you never know what someone is dealing with. No matter how frustrated you are, you should always treat someone with kindness and respect. Last night I didn’t “give” anything but I was reminded that kindness and sharing touched someone’s heart in a way that moved her to help others.  We can’t change people, but we can plant the seeds that may one day bloom in them.

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #28

Self-Compassion

Looking at this mess of wires reminds me of those times in grief when you are just a mess.  It is easy to look at yourself and be your worst critic.  Other people’s comments will make you question whether you loved your child enough.  You will wonder if you were a good enough parent.  You will see this jumbled mess of emotions and wonder, am I ready for the world again?

I often hear people remind me to take time for myself.  I even have to remind myself once-in-a-while to stop and reorganize the tangled mess of my heart. It is easy to overlook the mess or to push it away because, let’s be real, who wants to untangle those cords?  To untangle means to struggle and possibly be angry, upset, or sad.  It is only through the time being mindful of our own struggles, that we can feel a more peaceful heart.

For me, some of my self-compassion time comes through this project.  For 31 days I have to set aside time to untangle the mess I pretend not to see. Writing forces me to be mindful and understanding that my feelings do change each year.  It makes me stop and recognize that my struggles are part of our human existence on this earth.  It knocks self-criticism to the curb by showing me that each of our struggles is different and it is okay to feel different.  Each year I am reminded that I still have things I want to work on. Reading other’s journeys often sparks things that remind me of something I hadn’t thought of or gives me a different way to look at things.

Each year I use this project to create a book.  It is the best feeling in the world to close the back cover and feel a sense of relief.  Relief not because I had a month long pity party but because I feel a new sense of calmness.  A calmness that can only come from accepting yourself and your feelings.  One that comes from seeing your own emotional resilience, learned wisdom, and even a little bit of happiness again.  So thank you to my husband and kids who let me use this month to take the time to do what is good for me.  In just a few days I will close this year’s book, breath a sigh of relief, and see the nicely organized words that were written from my heart.

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #27

Family is Forever

Nothing can change the fact that our family will always feel incomplete.  We will always have a school picture that won’t change when everyone else’s does.  People will always notice our large age gap between the big boys and the little boys.  What we can change is how we acknowledge our gap.

For our family, our favorite way to acknowledge Clara’s place in our family is by taking our yearly family picture at the Walk, Run, Race for Their Live’s event. Although we started creating a team in Clara’s memory in 2009, we didn’t take our first family photo with her banner until 2010.  It has been both healing and a way to make new, meaningful memories together.  This year a professional photographer shared her talent to help all the families take a picture with their little one’s image.

With each picture, these images remind us of the good times we dedicate to making new memories with Clara.  It isn’t the way I ever imagined it to be but I am thankful for the opportunity to create new traditions with the kids.  The time the kids spend talking to family and friends and hearing stories of their sister make it a meaningful way to knit our family a little tighter.
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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #26

#WhatHealsYou

As we grow I think the things that heal us change. I have touched on how cakes and writing have helped heal my heart but there is something else that heals me too. Giving. It is one thing we can do by ourselves or as a family.

In the beginning giving felt a bit more out of selfishness than anything. Shortly after Clara passed we donated our very large diaper & wipe stash to the local women’s shelter. We couldn’t bear to see them in the closet anymore. We needed them out and the shelter seemed like a good solution.

A month after Clara passed I knew I was going to have to do something with the breastmilk I had stored in the freezer. The thought of having to pour it down the drain made me sick. After a few calls to the local hospitals, I was directed to the Rocky Mountain Mother’s Milk Bank . They were so welcoming and comforting in explaining the process of how to donate. In all Clara and I donated 352 oz. It was comforting to know that there were babies who were going to benefit a great deal from Clara’s life.

Today I also want to highlight that grief doesn’t just come from the death of a child. Some of my grief is found in the loss of dreams for my Lincoln. It is a different grief but one that gets glossed over sometimes as “you are so lucky he is alive”. While I agree we are fortunate, there is grief and guilt to work through. In 2010, after Lincoln’s medical issues and allergies prevented him from using breastmilk, he and I donated 2222 oz to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa. Again it helped us make the best of the hand we were dealt.

After talking to so many NICU families, I know that this kind of giving touches them deeply. It brings them a small comfort in the stress of watching their tiny baby fight for each day. If it helped just one baby have a better chance to reach their first birthday, that brings me comfort.

As grief changes so does our giving. What was once to make me feel better, now I do it to help others. For me, it reminds me of the best things others did for me when I was hurting. Sometimes just a simple “I am thinking of you” can touch a person in a very much needed way. A little note to say I thought of your loved one today or I am thinking of your medically needy kiddo. A few cupcakes to a teacher having a rough week or a Christmas gift for a little girl who is the same age Clara would be. These are all ways that can touch other lives and bring me comfort.

I have had a few people tell me it is unhealthy to give so much. They have said I only do it for the attention. I should seek some counseling. I am not looking for the rewards. I know how it touches my heart when someone shares they visited Clara’s grave and shared a story about her with their little ones. It is comforting when someone remembers her birthday or her passing day. It is comforting when families share they keep a safe sleep environment for their baby. It is healing to do the same for others, to offer comfort with a heart gift. No matter how big or small you feel your gesture is, remember this… you absolutely never know when it will turn out to be the pick-me-up that only God knew that person needed.

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #25


I Am…

I wish …

I would have woken Clara up the morning she passed instead of “taking advantage” of her sleeping in.  I have always regretted that decision.

I remember …

All the kindness that was offered.  I still can’t believe the amount of love and support we got then and still receive now.

I could not believe…

The things people said.  People will say some cruel things.  Do me a favor and if you hear it, don’t repeat it.  Not to someone else and not to me.  It is okay to be a filter. If you think the comment was terrible, I definitely don’t need to know what Janny said about me at the community center during bingo.

If only …

I had wondered why she was so sleepy.  If only we had waited a while longer to switch her formula.  If only we had dressed her in lighter clothes. If only she had been sleeping on her back.  These are the things that I try not to dwell on.  I can’t change these.  I do know that letting go of these regrets has helped me move forward.

I am …

 forever changed.  I am growing.  I am not sad all the time anymore.  I am able to talk to about Clara without always sharing tears.  I am a different me.

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #24

Consciously Becoming

No one can deny when you bury a child your life will forever be split.  There will always be a “before loss” you and an “after loss” you.  I often hear others talk about their old life and their “new normal”.  While that is true, I prefer not to call my after loss life a “new normal”.

There is no normal path in grief. We each take steps differently. We find some paths better than others.  When you are in your deepest grief, the words “new normal” seem to imply this terrible state you are currently in.  I found myself trying to find a better way to describe the very harsh divide.  We simply call our split the “before Clara died” and “after Clara died”.  Both contain good and bad but they are just plain different.

I must admit, I sometimes struggle to remember the “before Clara” me.  It feels so far in the past and today I am nowhere near the woman I was then.  I know there was a beautiful, strong woman that blazed a path through the world before Clara. Today I still have some of those same traits but I am changed.  I see much beauty in that change.  I think that was the hardest part of the “after Clara died” timeframe.  It can be hard to accept that there were good things that came out of the loss of Clara.  My soul has been made more beautiful.

Today I chose an image of these two lovely pieces of china from our wedding.  Here is the deal.  I was so busy with life that I didn’t open our boxes of china until early this summer.  When I opened the package I got quite a shock.  One box had 2 different styles.  I called to request an exchange only to find out that they won’t do that 8 years later.  It took me some time to realized that this just goes right along with our story. Gone is the plan of having at least one set of matching dishes.  Today I look forward to a treasured wedding story we will share with the kids.

Life situations can’t always be let go as easily as my dish problem. Some days I wish I could go back to things I loved about the old me.  It was a much more simple life.  Instead, I try to focus on the future and see the beauty that is ahead.  I want to embrace the new things I have found in my grief to help others.  I enjoy the writing and cakes and the special heart skills I didn’t know were hidden in me before Clara died.  It is in letting go of the life we planned (and the anger of losing it), that we can embrace the future and see the good changes in ourselves.

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #23

Sounds, Season, Scents

It is no surprise that my favorite season is spring.  It is the season of rebirth and beauty.  It is the season that Clara saw in her short life.  Spring reminds me of pink and everything we love about her.  Spring isn’t always perfect.  It can be unpredictable but one thing that is always true is that spring means new growth.  It means I will be seeing my favorite flowers and making a trip to South Dakota.  The years that these lovely flowers have been blown off by the wind way too early remind me of the little life we lost too soon.

As the birds begin to chirp it reminds me of the dove in the cemetery the day of the funeral. One of our favorite parts of spring is the return of the ducks to the river.  The kids and I enjoy visiting and feeding them.  We visit the Statue of Hope at City Park in Iowa City.  We walk the area and watch as the river rises.  A reminder that not everything will go according to plan.  We will have unexpected losses but there is always rebuilding afterward.  With rebuilding comes so many new friendships and new doors to open.  Life isn’t the same but we return and continue to grow.

The smell of the warmer air and lovely smell of light rain are always welcome.  Winter is bare and empty.  No sounds but the howling wind. Nothing to look at but bare trees and frozen ground. Spring means the beginning of warmth. It reminds me of the warmth I felt when Clara arrived.  Spring reminds me of her smiles and the love she radiated. The rain softly falls reminding me of the days we stayed in our pj’s all day, cuddling by the window.  Spring just reminds me of all the best things of Clara. It is absolutely my favorite and no other season will ever compare. <3

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Capture Your Grief – 2016 – Day #22

Pearls of Wisdom

I was surprised and humbled by the number of friends who changed sleep habits after Clara’s death. Some told me it was her passing that made the difference, others said it was in reading posts I had made to Facebook. If I could share just one piece of advice it would be this: Not everyone will listen or change.

I liken this to be similar to the lesson we teach our kids about touching breakables. We tell them don’t touch because it might break. In our loss, we share with the world that safe sleep is really important. It reduces the risk of SIDS and it does save lives. It will be your closest family and friends who ignore you that will hurt the most. It will hurt because it makes you feel like they don’t care or remember your baby. It feels like they are saying, “it can’t happen to me”. They will post pictures of their “beautiful” baby room and you will feel the sting of tears and the searing anger when you see their crib decked out with the latest puffy crib bumper. You will worry about the ones who sleep in the latest trendy “rock & play sleepers”. You will cry when you see an image on Facebook of a new baby sleeping on their tummy on top of blankets or bedsharing. You will pray for every baby.

 

Your first reaction will be to tell them that is dangerous. It is okay to do remind them once, or maybe twice, but please be gentle and remember this one thing: YOU CAN’T FORCE THEM TO CHANGE. Quite the opposite can happen. You will cause them to dig their heels in and shut you out. You absolutely should be sharing safe sleep habits but please, please don’t shove it down your friend’s throat (even though you really want to). Kindness goes a long way and is far more effective in reaching people.

 

Sadly, even seven years later, I still have friends and family that continue to use unsafe sleep environments. Every day I pray that they won’t have to live through the pain that I have. Each October I hope that my daily posts reach them. I pray Clara’s life and passing will somehow touch them in a way that causes them to change their habits. I pray for the day when no more families are surprised by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Finally, I pray for the day when no family has to deal with the pain and guilt of losing a baby to a sleep-accident unrelated to SIDS.

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