I breathed a sigh of relief today as I drove home from receiving my vaccination. Anxiety has ebbed and flowed my entire life. When it is triggered the mental exhaustion of it is so heavy. Health issues have become my kryptonite since Koen's death. This year, the weight of my fears has been heavy. My body has failed our family in the cruelest way. Koen's cause of death was not because his body was imperfect, but because mine was. After some digging in therapy I was able to pinpoint that any small issue makes me fear that my body will fail again, with only little warning. So I am hyperaware of every imperfection and internal feeling trying to cut death off at the pass, for fear of leaving my boys. I was given the gift of relief today. Such relief.
This week, these past few months, this last year, it's been a lot. It seems with every turn it has been constant waves of emotions that we have all had to process, sort through, understand, and grieve, all while attempting to survive and press forward. Our lives seemed to slow down, while simultaneously speeding up in other ways depending on your situation, with new or increased demands. We were forced out of our predictable routines that provide many of us with comfort. The rug was pulled out from under us, and a deck of cards tossed in to the air. We found ourselves lying on the floor trying to make sense of these shuffled cards we have been dealt. Just when we thought we could get the deck in order, more cards were tossed in our face. Over and over. Again and again.
While thinking and praying this week, these thoughts keep being brought to my mind. Sharing for myself, as I need these reminders, and with the hope of sharing these lessons with my boys when the time is right.
We don't deal well with feeling uncomfortable in our society. We don't deal well with disarray. We don't allow our minds the quiet space they need to sort through our thoughts. We seem to be so uneasy with our own feelings that we fill the quiet with noise, and drown our thoughts in any distraction we can find. We avoid the tears, swallow them down, and stop the necessary process of allowing our minds to work through, to learn, to grow, to get a handle on what we are feeling. We just keep swallowing and pressing onward, but eventually that pile buried in our stomachs turns to anger and frustration. This year I have witnessed the displacement of sadness and ache and fear, as it twists and morphs to the spewing of anger. Rage is tossed like confetti in online forems. Violence from those who feel that is their last resort and only answer.
You have to sit with the grief, sadness, and fear - and there is so much of all those things this year. You have to feel it, experience it, cry it out, journal it, civilly talk through it with those close, and process it. Escaping it is only temporary.
Differences of opinions and experiences is beautiful. Differences is what our country has been shaped by, the balance of it needs to be embraced. We have to be grounded in our own deep feelings to not feel enraged by someone else having a differing opinion or belief. That unstable footing at our core is what so quickly tosses so many in to fight or flight.
I am intimately accainted with grief, it cannot be escaped, it will continue to pop up until you slowly work your way through it. To process it, you need to sit with it. Feel it wash over you. It doesn't even have to be a long period of time all at once, that is exhausting and why we tend to run from it altogether, but allow yourself to make time for it.
I am reminded this week that I am called to love God, and to love people. I don't know what the answers are for this year, but feel like healing can only begin to come when we chose to invite God in and to love people. If we all did that in our homes and communities imagine the restoration we would see. And that healing starts within our own hearts, our own lives.
This passage is a letter from Paul to new Christians who were facing dissension and disagreements within the church.
2 Corinthians 3:2-5
The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.
We need to be like Daniel and continue to trust God and stay the course, even in the fire, and he will be with us. As I was sitting with my grief this morning, I walked down to water and saw this freighter. The enormous ship in the distance was staying the course even in the cold and waves and wind.
I have been a mom for fourteen years now. You made me a mom. You opened parts of my heart that I didn't even realize existed. I fell in love with you with every ounce of my being. I remember putting you in a shopping cart as a baby barely able to sit up in the seat. I would walk around the store with you in awe that you were mine and that I was a mom to such an incredible little human being. You continued to be my shopping buddy, almost every day in California you and I would venture out to all the different stores that we had right out our back door. I remember at the time thinking that moment would last forever. That I would forever walk through parking lots with you holding my hand. Then I blinked and your 13th year of life happened all during a global pandemic. I watched the world shift and change while watching the same happen with you in my house. Your voice shifted, you grew taller, your humor developed, your confidence flourished, and you grew even taller. You don't put your hand in my hand any more, now you come up beside me while I am making dinner and rest your head on my shoulder. You verbalize your gratitude for each small thing I do for you. You are happy to help with chores, quick to swoop in and do the heavy lifting. You ask about my day and intentional questions about me. You have grown in so many ways, but this year I see what kind of man you will be and I have never been more proud. If you love your mom this well, how well will you love your wife some day? I know my days will soon be numbered as your number one girl, so I will savor it as long as I can. I am celebrating the sadness of you growing up far faster than I thought possible.
Today, October 15th, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. A day to remember those precious babes that were lost far too soon, and the hole and ache in so many parents hearts. Also a day to help end the stigma, and the suffering that so many do in silence, alone. One of the sweet gifts of my own healing in this space was hearing from others, many who ache alone. You are not alone, your loss every bit as significant, and heartbreaking. And I am so incredibly sorry.
Thinking about Koen even more today, and my rainbow that is Tobin. Sometimes guilt mixes in, knowing that without the loss of Koen, there would be no Tobin. And I cannot fathom life without my ray of sunshine rainbow. I opened my bible this morning to Genesis 9, reading the story of God's promise: "When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds" (Gen 9:14). How often I look to the clouds and see a heart and remember Koen. How often my heart is wrapped in the love and joy of my rainbow, my Tobin. As I continued to read, verse 20, made me stop and pause and Jesus revealed a new meaning to me. It states: "After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard." In the middle of grief, in the middle of the storm - the flood, you feel as if life cannot go on. But then it does, and with that comes guilt. And not all of us are given a rainbow baby after the loss of a child. How do you heal your broken heart? How do you continue? After the storm of grief and flood of tears, you bravely step of the boat of grief and you begin to live. You cultivate the ground. You plant a vineyard. And slowly the sun starts to shine, and your vines begin to produce fruit. It doesn't happen overnight. It takes a season, sometimes many for plants to bear fruit. You have to cultivate, and work the ground, and let the sun shine upon you.
"The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace."
May you feel that peace today. All my love.
My rainbow shouting from the top of his lungs the rainbows beauty.
My constant sun, even in the middle of the storm.
May the Lord make his face shine upon you.
Time has helped to heal, writing has helped get my emotions out of my spinning head, Jesus has brought me peace, but my heart will forever ache, and my brain has been impacted. I think I will always feel broken, different, changed. To those that have followed my journey, I have been very transparent about my broken heart, but I am not sure if I have fully expressed in the recent years the impact of the tragedy of loss of a child has had on facets of my life that you may not think about.
I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as I imagine most of my fellow mommas and daddies in loss do, and I am sure it impacts us all in our own unique ways. It haunted me hourly at first, and has slowly over time lessened. I thought with the lessening, the haunting and impacts on my brain would eventually go away. It has not. When it comes in a wave, the water rushes over me, I panic. I try hard to get to the surface, and as soon as I do, I run from the water, wanting to leave it quickly. The sensation of that feeling is so unsettling. For me, it is not just sadness, but often irrational fear. In just the past few weeks I am learning I need to sit with it, grab a floatie, and calmly ride the waves. I need to understand it. I need to process the panic and fear for what it is, instead of retreating. Running from it has not helped to heal my brain patterns. I started counseling again to help me process much of this, and I haven't even dove deep in to these issues yet there, but just the act of getting help has made me more introspective about my feelings.
The week before Koen's death, I didn't feel quite right. I made multiple calls to the on-call doctors that week, and it was just believed that what I was experiencing was typical. But it was not typical for pregnancy, what I was feeling was Koen dying inside of me. The guilt of that. The weight of that. The what if's. If I don't feel well now in my normal life, I panic, and become knowingly irrational. God bless Kevin and my care provider, both of whom are incredibly patient with me. I sat with that panic this month, instead of escaping it as quick as possible. I have finally put together some of the pieces of my brain wiring. My PTSD has me needing to immediately determine the cause of my ailments, delaying that determination, for me, means death. And because my body is no longer a home for a baby, in my brain it means my death. Leaving my boys motherless is more than my panicked brain can bear and it leaves me spiraling.
This feels incredibly raw to share, I think I am more comfortable sharing my broken heart, than my mental broken-ness. But tragic loss not only breaks your heart, but parts of your brain as well. My prayer is that facing this fear head on and having a greater understanding will help me to rewire the paths my brain takes when those waves come roaring at me. I want to stop fighting the waves, and self-talk my way on to a floatie, ride them until they calm and the hope filled rainbow appears.
(Thanks to my dear friend, B, for sharing this "Waves" meme this week and giving me the visual I needed).
Seven years ago we rushed to the hospital with little 6-year-old Hackett in tow on the morning of Memorial Day. He waited alone in the waiting room as Kevin held my hand and we watched our doctor search for Koen's heartbeat. I labored the rest of the day and delivered my little curly topped Koen that night. We haven't touched or held him in seven years, and my arms still ache for him, my heart still misses him, my eyes miss watching him grow, my ears wonder what his giggle would sound like, and my lips miss kissing his curly topped sunshine smelling head.
I awoke longing for him today, and spent a lot of the day in my own head reliving the day, as I do often. Koen's brief life brought mine into perspective. When I think about him, I am a better mom, a better person. Watching my earthly boys today through my Koen lens made me even more acutely aware of how fast the time goes. Hackett was just a little older than Tobin is now when I had Koen, and in a seven year blink his voice is deep, his face more man chiseled, while standing he can look me right in the eyes, and his arms are on top when we hug. As Hackett and I talked today about our summer plans that we will postpone until next summer, he said "I'll be heading to high school next year". I was trying to keep a lid on my emotions today, but the thought of him being that grown up, and today even more aware of how fast time flashes, a tear rolled down my cheek. I had to say goodbye to one of my babies before even bringing him home, and the thought of watching another bird fly out of my nest, just feels like too much, especially today. But just as Koen's life brought me clarity in to so many aspects of my life, preparing for Hackett's launch gives me pause and reminds me to embrace, savor, and keep doing the work of raising him to be a kind and strong man. In another seven years he will be in college and Tobin will be 13. I will miss them saying "mom, watch this" at least a thousands times a day, because right now, in this precious moment of time, I am the girl they both want to impress. I will miss having them both in my home every night, I will even miss having them quarantined with me for months. And I will forever miss having all these little moments with Koen, because life with him went even faster. No matter the amount, it’s never enough, it’s always too fast.
This week has been heavy, hasn't it? Mentally, I think we are all collectively, as a nation, just treading water, trying to keep our heads afloat. And all the while attempting to keep a calm exterior, while kicking with all our might to hold our kids above the water too, as they have been with us every second of every day (or for many the worry of how they are doing at home without you while you continue to work and go on). It's a lot. It's so much. It's exhausting. And it's okay to not be perfect, to not knock it out of the park every day. It's okay to to just hang on the best you can and make survival the goal for each day.
Fear is an awful beast, one that can creep in with every news story, scroll of your feed, or new statistic released. It can pull you down in to that dark hole of despair and anxiety so fast. It is evil. This week, I find myself grateful that Jesus was sent to overcome evil, to overcome fear.
"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. For every break of the day, God will protect it. The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble! God's voice thunders, and the earth melts." Psalm 46:1-6
He is our safe place, especially in times of turbulence, when it seems like the earth is crumbling around us. When we feel like we may drown, He is there to reach down and hold us, hold our kids so we don't have to.
And that holding of us, and protecting of us, may not include warding off COVID-19 in our country, state, city, or even our household. We live in a fallen world, it is not perfect. Hardships and heartaches exist here, and having faith in Jesus does not grant us immunity to that. What it does give us is peace. A peace we need to seek throughout the day, sometimes throughout the hour.
"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for what he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. " Philippians 4:6-7
I have not been above the scared and sad this week, it is very present, but I keep choosing to seek Jesus, and seek that peace, that comfort, that rest. This up and down ride of emotions and constant minute by minute reliance on God, has brought me back to the scariest and most sacred year of my life. The months following our son Koen's death, the world felt like it was crumbling around me. Being with others was hard, so I did my own social distancing, because at that time it was essential for my survival too. Most days that summer it was just Hackett, our oldest son, and I, just quietly navigating life together. I couldn't come up with lesson plans or crafts, my main focus was on getting out of bed and making sure we were fed. My patience wasn't perfect, and tears streamed down my face doing ordinary things. It was survival for us that summer, much like it is for us all right now. And you know what? It is probably one of my favorite summers. There is beauty in the hard, because it is like being fit for glasses you didn't know you needed. Suddenly, you see the world in a new light. Your priorities fall in to perfect alignment without even thinking, you now know what is important and valued. In solitude you are able to take a step back and savor and enjoy the small moments. During the ache of uncertainty you get the gift of see the purity in others hearts and spirits. This week, and the weeks ahead may be hard, but in a year you may find yourself wishing you could go back to the simple. To the place where you knew what was important and you clung on tight to it. You will see the beauty.
Shortly after we lost our son, Koen, I was pregnant again. This time with our third son, Tobin. His pregnancy was difficult, I was taken off work at 16 weeks, and admitted to the hospital at 21 weeks. They prepared us for his very early arrival, my specialist telling me that if we made it to 31 weeks it would be a miracle. My job? Lay down and stay calm. If I could do those things I had a greater chance of keeping him growing and safe. Every morning I woke alone at the hospital early as the nurses and doctors made their rounds, and from the moment my eyes opened I started praying. I sought Jesus peace, and in the moments where I was still experiencing eminence heartache over my loss of Koen, all while fearing the potential of losing Tobin, God gave me peace. Peace beyond my understanding. I laid there, most days very alone, I was about as socially distanced as possible those 3 weeks, and I was given peace. It was just the Lord and I in that hospital room, I needed Him, relied on him to walk through every minute of the day, and He was there. It was such a sacred and beautiful time, when by all accounts it shouldn't have been. This time in all of our lives can be filled with peace, if we invite the sacred arms of God to wrap around us. And we can look back on this time in the years to come with the strange dichotomy of turmoil that was overshadowed by peace and beauty, because we slowed down and embraced the quiet with our family and with our Lord.
I have had these songs on repeat this week and wanted to share:
Tobin, our daily God is good reminder.
It's been 5 months since my last blog. Life seems to sail by so quickly these days, but writing fuels and heals my soul, and is something I want to re-embrace in this season. I woke up at 3 in the morning, unable to sleep, and that, for me, is the indicator that much is heavy on my heart, so today I need this outlet. I need to let myself cry.
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Ache hurts more in silence, so it has always been important to me to shine a light on the darkness of loss and pain. I am not alone, and neither are so many of you. Your loss is real. Your grief is real. Its valid. Its okay to acknowledge it, experience it, and let your tears flow too. Its okay to sit in your car a bit longer tonight, linger in the shower, light a candle, curl up in your bed, go for a walk, or do whatever you need to allow yourself a chance to honor your baby and grieve that deep down missing piece of your heart.
Kevin and I grieve so different. Our relationship is beautiful, I often step back and watch how seamlessly we handle things together without words. Its like a dance for us now after 15 years of marriage, and over 22 years together, we just twirl side by side to accomplish whatever is ahead of us. Our humor and how we see the world is so perfectly matched. But, we also differ, and so often those differences complement each together. In grief, we differ. Kevin's heart was shattered - as I watched him dance and sing carrying Koen in the hospital, as I walked next to him when he carried his casket to the grave - he was broken. His jovial spirit took a hit, his ever present immaturity (and I mean that as a compliment, because he is so fun) seemed to grow up over night. Life was no longer as funny and lighthearted as it once was for him. He is still Kevin, still so fun, but it shifted. And then we had Tobin. Tobin picked the pieces of his daddy's heart off the ground and put them back together. Tobin arrived, and Kevin's smile returned. He has still been forever changed, and he still aches, but after that emotional year, he moved on, pushed forward. He carries so much stress on his shoulders on a daily basis, and he does it with ease most days. I think he was predispositioned to that, but I also think this was a gift from Koen to Kev. He knows what matters now, his perspective on life is ever present. And in his Kevin way, which makes him the perfect partner for me, he is consistently constant every day.
My grief has been different. I still remain constant on the outside, or at least I try, in an effort to keep our house stable and safe and consistent for my two boys here on earth. But internally I can be a roller coaster. Fine for weeks, months even, and then something will send me plunging down a big hill, or send me on a wild twist. This seems to be the only place I have shared my roller coaster ride. I'll let Kevin know I am having a sad day, or hard moment, but I often don't expand, not wanting to pile more on his already heavy shoulders. And it often feels so personal, so hard to relate or explain, just this ache, often flashes of visions - from that day or months after - or from what would have been. And its sacred, and beautiful, because my ache is what I have from Koen. Some days I want to swallow down my hurt, and other days I want to wrap up in it and snuggle in it with Koen for awhile.
Kevin and I are often in our own corners of grief. But last week we had a simple, sweet, no tears, conversation about Koen. Our Tobin is a wild man, his mission in life is to be a goofball, and he is very successful. He is like Kevin, but not entirely, he is enormously creative - much like me at his age. He has a carefree spirit like Kevin, but when coupled with his creativity from me, he often lives in the clouds. Unaware of so much, and often unaware of his appropriateness. Kevin was a funny kid, but it sounds as if his appropriateness meter was far more fine tuned than Tobin's. Kevin was funny, but chill. Tobin is not chill, he is chill in that doesn't stress about anything, but he has never been described as low key. Kevin and I were laying in bed after a long day and Tobin, our little Tazz came wildly spinning in. We glanced at each other and laughed, and I said, maybe Koen would have had your chill like you. Koen was calm in utero, so calm, that I didn't notice his decrease in activity until it was too late. He had his dad's tight curly hair, maybe he would have had the personality to match too. For a second, with smiles, together we dreamed what Koen would have been like. Something we will forever wonder. It was a precious moment that I will treasure.
Tobin talks about Koen all the time. He talks about heaven a lot too. I wonder if they know each other? Tobin gave us multiple scares while I was pregnant, at times it seemed like the possibility of burying two babies in one year was likely for us. I wonder if Koen was with Tobin in womb keeping him safe? Today I am going to give myself permission to cry and wonder, and snuggle in my sadness with Koen for bit. And I am giving you permission to snuggle with your lost baby too. All my love.
I went down to the lake this week to see the sunrise, and there was Koen, saying “Good morning momma, I colored you a blue heart in the sky.” See that little reflection above the waves? I like to think that's my 6 year old angel visiting me in one of the places I find the most peace.
I am not normally a crier, but the last few weeks have found me in a place where tears are easily falling from my face. I am staring at the clouds, the leaves blowing on trees, relishing each snuggle with my boys in a way that is more intentional and true. I am grieving. This Memorial Day marks 6 years since the birth and death of our son, Koen. May 27th fell on Memorial Day 6 years ago too. Six seems so grown up, so big, I try to picture what he may look like, but his face seems distant, hard to see. I never got to experience six-year-old Koen, and for that I grieve.
A few weeks ago, a woman who holds the most special place in my heart, was met with the news that her daughter, was killed in a car accident. This young woman was days from celebrating her first Mother's Day with her infant daughter. I am grieving Koen, but I am also grieving the loss of this beautiful soul who loved Jesus with every ounce of her being. My heart shatters for this family. This family who serve and love our creator, and have experienced more loss than most of us can imagine. My friend lost her husband suddenly 14 years ago, and she arrived in to my life shortly after she experienced this loss when we moved to California. Her faith, her wisdom, and her service, all while raising her children as a single parent who was grieving impacted me so that it pulled me back in close to Jesus. I was experiencing heartache at that time, which made me question Jesus, but watching her life was the reminder that Jesus was not the cause of my hurt and pain, the world was. I began to grow and trust that Jesus was there to hold me during my ache, and He did. I began seeking Him and relying on Him in my daily life.
We moved away from California and shortly after we arrived in Michigan I became pregnant with Koen. And as soon as we heard the news that Koen was dead inside of me, I sought God's face. There was no other way to endure my heart being ripped from my chest while my precious baby boy was simultaneously being ripped from my womb. Via social media this special woman spoke wisdom and truth to my grief and loss 6 years ago.
I have been wrestling with God these last few weeks. Wondering how He can allow tragedy to strike twice to those who love him so immensely. I think I have tricked my mind, probably because I needed to believe it, that I had lost one child, surely I would not face another tragic loss of that magnitude during my life. But this world, this fallen broken world, does not work according to Jackie's plans. Heartache and loss and bad news can face us at any time. During the funeral of her daughter, my friend shared Proverbs 3:5-6:
"Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."
We may never understand, but we can continue to acknowledge Him, seek Him, hope in Him, and He will be there to hold us while we ache and grieve.
Grief of this magnitude cannot be fully understood until you have experienced it. Have you watched the movie "Inside Out" where they talk about your core memories and the impact those memories have on your entire life, how you see things and approach life? Loss of someone who makes up your heart at your very core impacts you in that way. It shifts your perspective, changes how you interact, how you approach things, your faith, your empathy. In so many ways my grief has made me who I am. So yes, I continue to cry six years later, and empathize greatly with a fellow mom who is burying their child. My heart will forever ache, miss, and long to be with Koen. But every single day I will acknowledge my loving God, hang on to His mighty hand, and watch him straighten my paths as I make the choice to walk forward with Him each day.
Five years ago today, less than 11 months after burying Koen, I was admitted to the hospital at 24 weeks pregnant with Tobin. We were told to prepare ourselves, that he was coming early. "It will be a miracle if you make it to 32 weeks", but if I could make it until then the pressure on my cervix would switch to my pelvic bones. Tobin was born at 37 weeks, and only then, because my body had proven to not be a safe haven. He needed to reside in me just long enough. Tobin arrived safe and healthy and full term, a miracle.
Koen has shaped me, my beliefs, my stance on different things. But my pregnancy with Tobin, and the miracle of his safe arrival, and the trial of each day praying he would stay safe, has also impacted me. I get to live with a miracle, a testament to faith, and living proof that "God is good" (just as his name suggests). And I also battle the anxiety, caused by the darkness I experienced with both those pregnancies. Such a juxtaposition. Holding death in my arms and fearing that I would again, both brought me closer to God and made our frailty on this earth so real, at the same time.
So I worry, even when I know I should trust, about myself, Kevin, my boys. In those moments I have to make a choice to turn to Jesus, and to get up, when I feel the weight of it all pulling me down. Some days that is easier than others. Some days that weight is so heavy, and it is difficult ti battle back. Yesterday was one of those days. I know its April that I spent in the hospital, but try not to hang on to the dates, but I think at my core I can feel the season of grief and anxiety approaching. It was no surprise when I saw in my memories that today was one of the scariest days I have ever experienced. Five years later, and there is still so much I have buried, unable to process.
And then Kevin walks in a reminds me that I can get up, and am strong. And Tobin's feisty spirit and cute smile remind me that he faced adversity before he even took his first breath, and won. And Hackett delivers me sunshine with his sensitive heart and love for his mom - walking by my side in a night time stroll, dribbling his basketball the whole way.
They help remind me to trust, to face the scary and deal with it, even when its hard and heavy. This is my reminder to you today too. We can do hard things and reach the other side, there may be bumps and bruises, but with God holding your hand, you can get there. The sun may set, but it always rises again in the morning.
I am Jackie.