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
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.
Relationships remind me of this critter car in my image. We are all different and unique in our experiences and yet, we have found a way to journey together. Each has a strength they can share and each has a weakness they are seeking help with. It is that support system that this griever sought.
One thing I didn’t expect was the number of new relationships I would find through my grief. I have met so many wonderful people, many that I still talk to often. These relationships were much needed as some of my previous connections changed. I have come to understand that friendships come and go with the seasons of life. It is a rarity that friendships end, they simply change. Some of my best relationships and friendships took a back seat in my time of need. I had to remind myself that they would be there when this season of grief changed. As the years have passed, those relationships did come back. Some were the same, others were different. Today I am thankful to have so many people to reach out to when I need. I also have a fond appreciation for those who reach out to me at random and become the connection I have been secretly needing.
This topic has been weighing heavily on me. Gratitude is hard sometimes. Life has twists and turns and sometimes we are left in places where there is no perfect outcome, no happiness in either road.
I started off my grief journey expressing gratitude. That fateful day I was thankful that our doctor came in a said, “I am sorry. There is nothing else we can do.” followed by nothing else. Weird, right!?! We weren’t left with the choice to remove life support. That decision was already made for us. That guilt card was removed from our hand. I have never had to hear, “you didn’t pray hard enough” or that “you didn’t wait long enough for your miracle”. I never have to wonder what if. For that, I am grateful.
Gratitude often comes with an expectation of happiness. In the first weeks and months of grief, gratitude doesn’t equate happiness. It is merely finding something to hang your hat of hope on. I found it to be little things like a hug, a smile, remembering a good memory. I spent the first days and weeks taking time each day to find something to be thankful for. It was my way of coping and fighting the sadness.
As I have grown, I have found gratitude in many other things. Today gratitude is usually rolled with happiness but not always. We continue to do “thankful for” with the kids each night. We don’t try to see the good in each bad thing but rather a good thing in our day. Some situations have no silver lining. You can’t make one. What I can do is find a silver lining in my day. Sometimes I make it that hug the nurse gave me or the smile a stranger had. Other times I see it the connection I made with someone new or the soft bed I head home to. Gratitude isn’t alway easy and it isn’t always about happiness. Some days it helps me focus on something good when all I can see is the terrible, awful situation in front of me.
Today’s image is one of my youngest daughter Haleigh. She is wearing a very special dress. It is special because it was a gift from a friend who had no idea what she was giving me. This dress is the exact dress Clara wore when we laid her to rest. The only difference is the size. Haleigh has found this dress to be one of her favs. It is too small for her and yet she likes to play dress up with it. This is a picture from the day Haleigh surprised me by wearing it. Judging by the smile, you can tell she has not a clue how hard it was for me. She was PROUD to wear it! There is no silver lining here. It was sad and a punch in the gut to see her wearing it. The gratitude I found… that I found the courage to hug this lovely lady while she was wearing it.
Things have really changed since our first year. We no longer use blue Christmas lights on our tree. We still try to find a girl and boy Clara’s age to go Christmas toy shopping for. Our first year we didn’t really know what to do for Clara’s birthday. We wrote messages on balloons and let them go. Of course, Mason’s got stuck in the tree. We explained that Clara couldn’t read them all at once (and hoped the balloon moved by morning). Thank goodness it made the move overnight!
It was on Clara’s second birthday that we thought a cake might be different and yet normal. I wanted to create something that didn’t need a candle. It wasn’t like we could add one anyway. So it was decided that the doll cake was it. Each year her dress changes and we find new ways to capture who she might be. Three years ago we began adding a white butterfly to the cake. It is a quiet reminder of the baby we miscarried. A pregnancy that was detected mid-May with a due date of January 23, 2013. (crazy close to Clara’s birthday & passing dates).
Recognizing her birthday brings comfort, smiles, tears, and love. For us, the cake celebrates the time we held Clara. It reminds us of the good memories and some sad ones. It helps our kids to know that she was born and lived. It helps Chris and me to remember the journey to her birth. It is just one of the ways we celebrate all 111 days of memories on earth and remember each one of her Heavenly Birthdays. <3
Today I think the quote I placed on my image captures things better than my own words. My healing has almost aways come in some for of expression. Through the past few years, I have felt my healing therapies change. I think that is partially due to moving to another state. I do a little less with connecting with grieving families and more sharing with all. Today feel as though a lot of me healing things are found in this project and cakes.
With each blog post, there is a need to be open and honest. Honest with myself and with others who read. Each time I write, I am opening some of these wounds I have kept sealed all year. There are often topics I have never or would never talk about and yet I find the courage to share them. For me, it helps to be able to sit down and really dig into my heart for the message I want to share. Somedays the words just pour out, other days it is a struggle but each year I look forward to 31 days dedicated to sharing a piece of me that would otherwise just be buried.
The second part of my healing happens in creating cakes. Cakes remind me of something I have missed or will miss in Clara’s life. Sometimes that pill is easier to swallow than others. I often feel like the are super healing because I can celebrate another life moving forward. The most healing for me is to meet these families and share in the delight when they see their cake. That part will forever make my heart smile.
Today I took some time to look back through my previous years of this project. My sacred space as evolved and changed as my grief has. We have a special area in our home and pictures on the wall. We have trees and plants and a cemetery space. We have this lovely bench that we take pictures near each year. It made me realize that my sacred space is really our home.
When I say home, I don’t mean the structure. We have moved a couple of times since Clara passed. When referred to as a structure I find that “home” isn’t sacred. Her empty room was never sacred. It was something that caused strife between myself and other family members. It was a place where another baby took over. When I refer to “home” I really mean this group of people that live together, love together, grieve together.
Our home has always been a safe place to talk about Clara. It is a place to share reminders and celebrate birthdays. One where we sometimes cry together. We ask and answer questions about this baby girl. Our home is where we don’t have to explain why we take our back-to-school pictures near this bench each year, we just know. We grow together in our loss and change. Our home is always growing.
Our home reminds me that we will always grow and change but nothing makes Clara’s life lost. She is part of this sacred space in our hearts and home.
It is easy to be the sun that brightens someone’s day but sometimes what a griever really needs is a moon in their darkest hour. It is easy to get lost in the sea of darkness. Trusting you will make it through feels impossible. As the moon grows, so does our ability to see the path. It isn’t easy to trudge through what is in front of us but the moon reminds you that know you are not alone in your journey. Eventually the sun begins to shine in the horizon and the moon begins to fade. It doesn’t mean the moon is gone forever. Once in a while it hangs in the horizon. A simple reminder that even though you have made it through the hardest part, it is still there whenever the darkness returns.
Tonight we are remembering all those babies and children got too soon. To those who continue to share the life and spirit of that special one, we are thinking of you.
Tonight I am reminded of the families who have received a diagnosis and may already know that this candle will be in their future. I am hoping for your miracle.
One cannot experience a life changing event without some shaking of your belief system. Sometimes the rattle is large, sometimes small. I have found that no matter the change, one must find their own way back to their belief system, whatever it may be.
One can shout from the rooftops their beliefs but it is in their actions that it is revealed. Today I have opted to share only that I struggled with my beliefs in religion. I am a believer of God but not the “religion” aspect. I think the biggest reason for that is the pastor of the very conservative church we attended at Clara’s passing. “You are so fortunate. Had you not baptized Clara we would have been begging for her entry into Heaven rather than celebrating her life.” I imagine how differently her funeral would have been if that were the case. No life deserves to be mourned in that way. It was in those words and the pastor’s actions over the next year that were what caused me to walk away from religion.
Don’t get me wrong, we still attend church just not one that has a ton of “requirements” or “rituals”. We attend one that allows us to believe that the todays image is how Clara met Heaven. It is one that doesn’t require me to use my words convince a griever that they must follow a certain belief. Rather one that reminds me it is just as powerful to allow my actions to share my testimony. Love everyone, treat them with respect, smile, and share your heart. You never know when that will be the step that leads someone out of the darkness.