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Current Events Ink Slingers Loss Marriage Martina Parenting Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Respect Life Month Testimonials Vocations

The Rainbow after the Storm

The Rainbow after the Storm

I always told myself I’d be satisfied with the family size we had, whether that was one child or many. And so it came to be that five more children would follow the first – and in an order that proved God has a sense of humor, girl boy girl boy girl boy. What we didn’t expect was the storm that was brewing unbeknownst to us. It would be years before the rainbow finally showed its face.

When we got pregnant after #6 was born, we started to brace ourselves for what was to come. We had recently downsized from a rather large home into a much smaller one to be close to our home parish. Multiple daily trips there and back for Mass, youth ministry, RE, volunteer meetings, parent meetings, children’s choir, altar boy trainings, weddings and funerals, and spiritual direction, it just seemed like the right move. We wanted the neighborhood – or so we thought – until we realized that our size 10 shoe of a family was being squashed into a size 5 shoe of a house.

But it wouldn’t matter.

That was November 2014 – almost four years ago when our entire family experienced our first and most devastating miscarriage. It was the most devastating only because we didn’t see it coming. It was my grief, my husband’s grief, our grief together as a couple…then there was our children’s grief, both individually and collectively. And lastly, it was our family’s grief. It was almost too much to bear, but we muddled through it. We gave her a name right away, following our birth order, of course – Felicity Gertrude, or baby Gertie. We asked her in our nightly prayers to pray for our family and the practice of normalizing her place in the family began with such mixed emotions.

My due date came and almost went. I realized it on the actual day as I lay in bed, ready to go to sleep. Sad thoughts crept into my head, but I brushed them aside. I made it a priority to focus on the fact that God is good all the time. I had spent a considerable amount of time in grief after the loss of our little one and allowed myself to experience all those emotions.

Our oldest was 18 at the time and always went to her own favorite Mass time, while the rest of our family went to our usual 9:30 a.m. Mass time. Going all together as a family was a rare treat, usually only enjoyed on Thanksgiving. And so it happened that the first Mass we went together after our loss on November 15, 2014 was ON Thanksgiving. The woman leading the rosary before Mass prayed the St. Gertrude prayer at the close of the rosary – and that’s when I lost it. Ugly cry, don’t care WHO sees me, this crying is happening NOW kinda cry. We were all together – our whole family – because during Mass, heaven and earth meet and our lost little was with us.

TWO MORE LOSSES

Little did we know losing Gertie would be the beginning of multiple losses. Soon after her burial on Our Blessed Mother’s solemnity, the Immaculate Conception, we would find ourselves pregnant again in January – Michael Christopher. It was cautious optimism followed by almost instant grief. A week passed from learning of our next baby to his death. It was over almost as soon as it had started.

The numbness sets in.

Loss three would be the following January 2016 – Sarah Olivia, whom my daughter named. My due date was to be our anniversary, on the actual date. I found solace in this connection, but it was stacked alongside inevitable grief. God was done with our family here on earth, I was sure of it.

Remember when I said I had always worked hard to be happy with our family size? Six children appears to many as a very large family and sometimes the outside perception is that it’s too many or pangs of sadness aren’t necessary seeing as we already have “too many children” by society.

And yet both mine and my husband’s heart desired to continue to be open in the face of what felt like a continued string of miscarriages – lost babies.

It wasn’t until I saw the look of sadness on my sweet Josie’s face when we became pregnant for a 10th time that I realized the depth of the grief and impact of those losses on our family. However, my hcg numbers were strong, everything looked good, the doc (and personal friend) had me on progesterone (again). It was more hope than we’d seen since my pregnancy with #6 in 2011. I did my best to assure my sweet five year old girl that it seemed like we might get to meet this little one.

And so we did. In January 2017, we welcomed our sweet Emmaleine Rose (Emmie to friends and family). When I was pregnant with her, I did a lot of soul searching, talking to God, and putting in petty requests like, I want her to have green eyes and curly red hair. He, however, did NOT give me a red headed green eyed girl like I wanted, lol, but she has the MOST FABULOUS brown curls and STUNNING blue eyes that may turn green, as most of our kiddos have some shade of green or hazel eyes.

My pregnancy with Emmie was by far one of my most physically difficult, ending up with SPD, which made it practically impossible to walk, and affecting my ability to walk even months after her birth. And yet my pregnancy with her carried with it some of my best memories. I cherished each moment we had together. I talked to her, played with her when she rolled around like a barrel and tried to break my ribs with her feet – fun times! 

I wrestled quite a bit with coming to terms that these beautiful children first belong to God and that ultimately I shouldn’t dwell on despair of their losses. That’s easier to type and read than it is to really take in and make my own. I credit our priests who lifted our family in those hard times and availed themselves to us when we needed them most, showing up late at night to talk to us and help us out after they had no doubt invested 12+ hours into their work day already, or just sending a text to see how I was doing. Pastoral didn’t even begin to cover how they made our family feel in those troubling times.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t only the hope and desire of a baby after three losses that brought that catharsis full circle. Instead, it was a combination of Emmie, our priests, and the complete surrender to God’s will that brought a final sense of peace.

God is in control.

And God is good, all the time.

 

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary S. Parenting Special Needs Connection Vocations

Grieving for my special needs child

For a while, it has bugged me when a pregnant woman, when asked if she wanted a boy or girl, responded “I don’t care, as long as it’s healthy.” Because I had seen couples welcome babies who were definitely not “healthy”, but of course they still loved their child with all their hearts. So in my self-righteousness, I looked down on those who answered “as long as it’s healthy”. Until I had been a mother myself for several years. My first two children had both been born healthy and “perfect”, and were even relatively easy babies. But then as my son grew, we saw signs of problems. He had a speech delay, which we found was due to a hearing issue (later corrected with ear tubes), but there were other issues which seemed to point towards something more. Over time, it became clear that he is on the Autism spectrum. He’s pretty high-functioning, so while it is sometimes difficult, our lives are still pretty normal. And for a while, this actually increased my self-righteousness, since I had a child who while physically healthy, was not your typically “perfect, healthy child,” yet of course I loved him! I must be so much better than those people who replied that they only wanted a healthy child.

But then I realized that I was not all sunshine and happiness when thinking about my son. I frequently felt sad, stressed, guilty, worried, frustrated, overwhelmed, and so much more. And somehow humility struck me, because I found myself grieving for the loss of some of what I had imagined for my child. I realized I was sad that he was already having great difficulty learning to read and having trouble with his classmates because of his difficulty in social interactions. And I was sad because I knew those difficulties would continue, and others would come. And I realized without even being aware of it that I had imagined my children would be healthy, normal kids and grow into healthy, normal adults. While I was feeling superior to those who voiced the hope for a healthy child, without realizing it I had simply assumed that my own children would be healthy. And it hurt to give up that assumption, to change my image of what my kids would be as teens and young adults and parents themselves. I had to realize that not only would they all face the typical challenges of life, but my son would also face special challenges. And my husband and I would face special challenges in raising him.

And that kinda sucks.

I don’t want to spend time searching for ways to help him navigate a world that sometimes doesn’t make sense to him. I don’t want to deal with Special Ed providers at his school, or with the additional parent-teacher meetings needed to keep track of where he needs extra help, or with the extra time at home helping him. I don’t like having conversations with him where I have to explain basic social reactions when he just doesn’t understand why his classmates react a certain way. I don’t want to be a “special needs mom,” but I am. I wouldn’t choose any of those things, but I do them because I know he needs them, and I’m his mother. I have friends who deal with much greater issues with their children, and I’m willing to bet they don’t want to be a “special needs mom” either. I think any mother would prefer that her child not have to face the big or small challenges that come with having special needs. A mother naturally wants to make the road smooth and easy for her children, to watch them grow and succeed rather than stumble and struggle.

So I’m sad sometimes. I grieve the loss of the image of a normal, healthy life for my son, and I grieve the fact that his extra needs make my job harder. While I certainly love him no less, part of my mind says “I wish he were healthy,” “I wish we didn’t have to fight to get closer to normal,” “this stuff is a pain in the….uh….rear.” And that’s okay. While I still don’t like it, I don’t judge them so harshly when new parents say “as long as the baby is healthy.” And I don’t come down so hard on myself when I am sad that we have to deal with this. It is a loss. A loss of some of my hopes for my child and myself, a loss of our time and effort and energy, a loss of the ability to share my time and attention more evenly among my children. I’m allowed to grieve for the difficulties my son will face. And so are you.

I’d love to hear how having a child with special needs has impacted your family. Have you grieved the loss it includes, as I have found myself doing? Have you felt guilty about that sadness, as I frequently do? Share your stories in the comments section.

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Ink Slingers Loss Michelle Pro-Life Issues Resources Respect Life Respect Life Month

What to Say When a Friend Miscarries

what to say when a friend miscarries

The loss of a child during pregnancy can be one of the most devastating events in a person’s life. Not only do you lose your child but you lose all the hopes and dreams that you had for that child. Your life never feels the same. Things that brought you joy now bring you pain. Things you loved to do now seem trivial. Your heart feels empty as there is now piece of your heart gone forever. It can be one of the loneliest and heart-wrenching experiences you will ever have.

Perhaps you have never lost a child but you have a friend who has recently experienced a loss. As a friend it can be difficult to know what to say and what to do to help her through this traumatic event. Sometimes even those who have suffered a miscarriage or experienced a stillbirth will find it difficult to know just the right thing to say. For those who have never lost a child it may feel like you are wading through a mine field knowing that if you say the wrong things you might cause more harm than good. It feels like everything you say is not enough and nothing you do will help heal her pain.

However, there are things you can say and do that when she looks back on them, she will remember them with love and appreciation. Likewise, there are things that you should avoid saying or doing so that you don’t contribute to the pain she already feels so deeply. But how do you know what to say or what to do?

I thought it would be helpful if I gave a short list of several things to avoid saying and several things that I found to be helpful and comforting during my many miscarriages. I hope that they will help you to provide love and comfort to your friend as she experiences one of the worst pains imaginable.

What NOT to say…

  • This happened for a reason
  • The baby probably had something wrong with him/her
  • You can always try again
  • You are so young, you have lots of time to have babies
  • At least you have other children at home
  • At least you don’t have other children at home to console
  • You should be thankful for what you have
  • At least it was an early loss
  • The next one will be fine
  • You are so old, this must be a sign for you to stop having kids
  • You already have enough children, this is God’s way of telling you to stop
  • You need to stop grieving and get on with your life, you are missing so much out there

Things TO say…

  • I am so sorry
  • Is there anything I can do
  • I am praying for you
  • Can I take the kids sometime so you can have some time to be alone to grieve
  • Can I bring you dinner
  • My heart hurts for you, I am here to listen if you need me
  • How are you feeling
  • I know nothing I say or do can take away your pain, please know that I am here for you
  • I don’t know what to say
  • Would you like a hug
  • How is your husband doing
  • How are your kids doing
  • I know how much you wanted and loved this baby
  • I can cry with you if you need someone to cry with
  • I would love to hear about your baby
  • I love you

Helping a friend through a loss can be difficult. Your friend may not want you to do anything. She might need you to do everything. She may want to talk incessantly about her baby, her loss, and her experience or she may not want to share anything about it with you. She may need to go out and occupy herself with activities that don’t remind her of what she is going through or she may want to stay at home and away from everyone else.

Each person grieves differently. As a friend it is most important that you open your heart to her. Speak with gentleness and kindness even if she lashes out in pain. While you may have difficulty putting yourself in her shoes to know that she is going through, remember that right now she needs empathy and compassion.

Reach out to her not only in the first few days and weeks of her loss but in the months that follow. Important dates like her due date, holidays, and other events are sure to bring a new wave of tears and sadness. It will likely be hard on her to see others having babies. Be there for her as she is jealous and angry and sad. Tell her that her feelings are all right and they are good… she needs to work through them to help her heal.

More than anything, remind her that you are there for her. Don’t be scared of her pain. It will hurt you to see her cry, but allow your shoulders to be damp with her tears. While she may not be able to say thank you now, your acts of love and charity to her during the worst time of her life will be a part of the light that saw her through the darkness.

tears

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Current Events End of life Ink Slingers Michelle Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Respect Life Month Spiritual Growth

Faith in Suffering; Kristi’s Gift to All of Us

I crawled into the bed with Kristi and we lay together all afternoon talking and laughing. We talked about everything under the sun- our childhoods, our hopes and dreams, our disappointments, homeschooling, our faith, our husbands, our children, and her cancer. It’s been a year ago already and I can remember everything about that day.

I felt awkward at first climbing into the bed with my dear friend. It’s not what most adult friends do. We weren’t childhood friends so we didn’t grow up having slumber parties where sat huddled in a bed together talking about which boys we thought were cute at school. But, she insisted I sit in the bed and talk as I stayed with her for the day before she left for a few days for her chemo treatments.

kristi and me 2While we were not childhood friends, we had a very special relationship. We became friends years ago as Kristi was entering the Catholic Church and I was helping in the RCIA classes. That year we became fast friends; and as she and her husband stood before the Church and became new Catholics, she asked that I hold their newborn son John Paul in my arms. I was so honored! I would be honored again to hold him as his Godmother when he was baptized shortly thereafter. She would later become my son Jake’s Godmother as well.

Our friendship grew as we found we had many things common. We both homeschooled our kids and we were both open to life. We shared a love of our Catholic faith and could talk for hours about the beauty and responsibility that being a Catholic Christian brought to our lives. We shared secret hopes and dreams with one another. We shared the ups and downs of raising children and she was one of the few I knew I could trust with the heartaches or disappointments I might have been going through. She was also there for me as I faced many losses. It was my privilege to be there when she sadly faced her own. Our hearts cried together and together we healed.

We sat for hours in her bed just talking. The awkwardness that I felt when I first climbed into the bed quickly faded away as I focused on sharing time with my friend. Cancer was ravaging her body and yet she remained hopeful and joyful. We laughed and smiled and I came away that day feeling blessed that God had brought this woman into my life so many years ago.

Many months later I would climb into the bed again with Kristi. This time it was not her own bed but one at her parents’ home as they were helping to take care of her while her husband worked two hours away. The room was small and Kristi looked tiny in the big bed that filled the room. She was wearing a pretty pink nightgown. She had previously lost all her hair with her chemo treatments but it was beginning to grow back. However, instead of her thick dark hair, beautiful silver curls had grown in its place.

I sat on the side of the bed, worried that I might hurt her if I lay beside her. She smiled at me and asked me if I would get in the bed with her instead. I did. We lay beside one another talking in hushed voices. We talked about everything under the sun, but mostly we talked about what she hoped for her family. She said she wasn’t scared of dying but that she was scared of leaving her family. What would happen to her five children? What would happen to Russ? What would happen to her parents? I asked her what she wanted me to do for her- for her family. “Pray,” she said.

KristiShe was so tired. She began to fall asleep. I watched her as her eyes finally closed and she fell into a peaceful sleep. For the moment, she didn’t feel any pain. She was simply beautiful. I wanted to take a picture of her as she slept so I could remember her this way, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Instead, I memorized the lines of her face, the curling of her hair, the way her eyelashes intertwined with one another, and the way her skin glowed as the sun shone on her through the lone window. I held her hand and I prayed.

It wouldn’t be long until she was in hospice care. She would eventually be transferred to a hospice facility where they could take care of her in her final days. As I sat beside her there, Russ and I would talk about just how amazing she was. Her heart, her strength, her gentle nature, and her faith were something to aspire to.

I didn’t want to leave her side. I would feel guilty for sitting beside her so long. I worried that I was taking from Russ’s time with her and yet he encouraged me to be with her as much as I needed to. It was comforting to hold her hand even when she could no longer speak to me. Still, she knew we were there and she did her best to move her fingers and her lips when I prayed the rosary with her.

I was blessed to be visiting her the day she died. I was able to be with her in those very last hours and I am so grateful for that gift. I lost one of the best friends I have ever known the day Kristi died. My heart felt shattered. It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that she was no longer here but instead headed to our Father. While I was overjoyed that her suffering and pain were gone and that she was healed, I was devastated for her family and for myself. The finality of it all was just too much.

However, even in my pain I could see the gift that Kristi gave to all of us.

We hear so much about the right to die and how advocates for this movement want to allow people the right to kill themselves or be euthanized when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness or have other reasons for not wanting to live. Kristi’s journey reinforced to me why this is wrong and it showed me the beauty that comes with living out our lives until the very end.

Kristi taught us that even in the face of adversity we must continue to fight. We can’t give up! She had stage 4 cancer and yet she fought until the very last day. She showed her children, and all of us, what strength and fortitude really meant. They can always look to her example when they feel like giving up.

kristi and russShe reminded us that we shouldn’t take the small things for granted. I remember when she was at the hospital and wanting to go home; she told me that she longed to stand at her kitchen sink and do the dishes. She smiled a sad smile and said, “I miss the little things. I miss the ordinary things.” She reminded us all that there is comfort in doing the ordinary and that each task we are set to do is an important one, so we should put our heart into everything we do.

Kristi showed us how to suffer gracefully. She was in so much pain for such a long time, but especially in those last months. Still, she smiled through it all. She never complained and was always so thankful for anything anyone did for her. She viewed suffering as a way to draw closer to our Lord. She placed herself in His hands and asked that He would purify her through her suffering. She showed us each that we can take our own sufferings and bear them with quiet strength and love.

Kristi also gave us the gift of taking care of her when her body began to fail her. It takes great humility to allow others the opportunity to see you and care for you at your most vulnerable and weakest points. Kristi gave many of us this gift. We knew we were being blessed to get to participate in her care and comfort, but we could never imagine to what extent that would be. Oh the blessings of bringing her Communion or of helping her eat or drink! My heart rejoices that I could do this for her in her last days.

My dear friend showed each of us what it means to truly walk with the Lord. She modeled her faith while she was alive and as she was dying. She prayed and trusted in God’s plan for her at all times. She spoke of His goodness up to the very last time she could speak. His name was on her lips and she praised Him even in her weakness. Her witness to faith touched all our hearts.

There are some who may say that there is no dignity in a death that strips you of the life you had or that causes you so much suffering. Kristi showed us differently. She longed to live the life God blessed her with up until her very last breath. She taught us all that even in suffering there can be hope and peace.

October is Respect Life month. We often think of only babies during this time as the month also coincides with Pregnancy and Infant Loss day. However, we have to remember that all life needs to be respected from the moment of conception all the way to the moment of natural death. Kristi’s life and death was dignified, graceful, and beautiful even amid the suffering she encountered. It was not only through her life, but also her death, that we learned so much.

I am forever thankful that Kristi chose to allow us each to walk with her on her journey home. Her selflessness allowed us each to experience God’s love in a new way. I can never thank her enough for that gift.

kristi's family

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Ink Slingers Loss Michelle Motherhood Respect Life Spiritual Growth Vocations

Snow Angel

Georgia snowIt always makes me laugh to think of my fellow Southerners panicking at this time of year when the forecast is for snow. It is very typical for us to get a small dusting (or perhaps even more than a dusting!) right about now. But it seems that everyone forgets that tidbit of information and instead thinks the world is coming to an end because the “S” word has been mentioned.  I used to be one of those people too. It used to irritate me that we were so close to spring and yet winter wanted one last laugh and one last hurrah before leaving us to better, warmer weather. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore.

Something happened that would change my outlook forever.

snow baby 1On March 2, 2010 Joseph Isaiah was born at home. He was perfect and tiny and so still. We knew he would be as I had watched the last beats of his heart on an ultrasound the week prior. But knowing that he was already gone didn’t make it any easier to deliver him that day. I have written here about that journey and how it affected me. I tied my experiences in to Lent and the crosses that we bear and the metamorphosis that we can make when we embrace our crosses and continue to strive towards that perfection in Christ.  That message still holds true and still gets me through the rough times. But today, I write to remember Joseph’s passing not in the context of Lent or as my cross to bear, but instead, I write about the need for us to keep his memory alive and how the snow at this time of year helps me do that.

There is a common misconception that it is better to not bring up someone’s loss so that you won’t hurt their feelings and bring them more pain. But truly, most parents who have miscarried, delivered a stillborn child, or who has experienced infant loss will tell you that the opposite is true. Having someone remember your child can hurt (because you still long to hold them) but more than anything it brings you an overwhelming feeling of love simply because someone remembered.

Losing a child, no matter what the age, in my opinion is the hardest loss a person can endure. It goes against what we believe should happen and what we expect to happen. Our children are supposed to bury us, not the other way around. And yet, so many of us have buried a child (or in my case, many children) and our hearts don’t know what to make of the pain. And while the pain is almost unbearable when we are surrounded with people who care, the pain is tenfold when we feel alone. At the beginning there can be many people to comfort you, but soon people move on with their lives. While your life has stopped, the rest of the world keeps on going.

Unfortunately, while life moves forward often our hearts stay at the same place for quite a while. It can be a lonely and dark place. People believe that enough time has passed and that you must be healed and “all better”. Many times that’s just not true. You may hide the pain and not talk about it, but more often than not you don’t talk about it because no one is asking anymore. But there are still triggers and there are reminders and suddenly your heart is ripped wide open again.

snowflakesTo help me through some of those times, I have tried to associate certain good memories with my babies who have died. Joseph has become my Snow Angel. The near blizzard that blew into town and almost kept us from being able to get to the doctor’s office turned into a reminder of him. Instead of thinking of a blizzard, I think of each individual snowflake falling quietly and softly and gently landing on my face. I picture them as kisses from Joseph and my other children in heaven. It brings me great comfort to think of my children kissing me with the beautiful snowflakes that will inevitably fall at this time of year.  Instead of being upset about the snow that delays spring, I cherish it knowing that it is a reminder of the day God allowed me to hold a little piece of perfection in my arms.

I have tried with all my might to turn something tragic into something heartwarming. I choose to make a memory that will see me through the difficult and lonely times. I can’t tell you that it always takes away the pain because it doesn’t. But I can tell you that it brings me comfort and brings me peace the majority of the time. It helps me remember him when it feels like everyone else has forgotten. It helps me to know that my son lived and he was here. It is a tangible reminder of his life and his importance. I cherish the snow that falls late in the season as I know it is a precious gift of heavenly kisses from my very own Snow Angel.

What do you do to remember your own sweet angels?