Four years ago today we attended a small funeral for our tiny son. It is such a surreal experience. A week before I was washing clothes for Koen and organizing the closet in his nursery, and just days later Kevin was carrying his body in a casket. In one week, I gave birth to my stillborn son, left the maternity floor with no baby in hand, met with a funeral director, chose clothes for Koen to be buried in, picked cemetery plots - not only for Koen - but for Kevin and myself, met with a pastor to officiate our son's funeral, and strangely told the series of events surrounding Koen's death while maintaining composure to those I came in contact with. In my alone times sat in Koen's nursery, rocking in the chair, squeezing stuffed animals fiercely - I needed to hug something because my arms physically felt empty - while staring at an empty crib, and at times feeling such a heavy weight on my chest that I found it difficult to speak or even breathe. That grief, that week, and the weeks following are so sacredly cherished for me, as crazy as it sounds, I long for that feeling. That extreme grief is so closely tied to Koen in my memories, if I can feel that grief again, then I can almost feel his tiny body in my arms and see his face that I covered in kisses. I think I also long for that feeling, because mixed in to that grief, was Jesus's hand holding me. I have never felt so close to death, so close to Christ. That time was sacred for me.
I miss Koen. And will every day while I remain on this earth. But four years later, I can say - on most days, it is well with my soul. In the last month I have learned the history of that beloved classic hymn. It was written by Horatio G. Spafford. He was a lawyer and businessman in Chicago and a father of five, four girls and one boy, in 1871, but that year lost his son to pneumonia. In 1871, his business also experienced loss in the Chicago fire. His business recovered, and in an attempt to bring some joy back to his family he planned a trip across the Atlantic for a holiday in Europe. Business delayed him, but he sent his four small girls and wife ahead. Four days into their voyage, their ship, the Ville du Harve, crashed in to another large ship. Within 12 minutes the ship sank. Spafford's wife, Anna, was found floating and was rescued by a small row boat. All four of their daughters, were all lost at sea. Within two years this couple lost five small children. I cannot fathom. Anna traveled alone on another vessel for 9 days to Wales. No cell phones or email to communicate the horror to her husband. When she arrived in Wales she sent a wire to her husband that began "Saved alone, what shall I do?". Spafford journeyed across the Atlantic and while on that journey he wrote the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul". He and his wife started over and had three more children, losing yet another to pneumonia. They buried six of their eight babies. I cannot fathom the holes in their hearts, yet their faith remained.
I remember singing this song from the hymnals at Novesta Church of Christ as a child. The words always spoke to my anxious heart, but never cut me to the core like they have this month. Spafford was in agony, in pain that I cannot comprehend, but my guess is he was feeling that same extreme grief, mixed in with Jesus holding him that I also experienced. I believe Jesus must have been calming him, reminding him that he could nail his pain and heartache to the cross, begging Stafford to allow Him to carry his suffering. Telling him that he saw him in his helpless estate. Jesus suffered for us, so that He could carry our suffering. That kind of love descends down and wraps us up when we are hurting the most.
While I lay in the hospital on bedrest fearful that Tobin's life would also be lost, I clung to this scripture:
"From the end of the earth I will cry to you, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Psalm 61:2
Much like Stafford, I was reminding myself, to cling to Jesus, for Him to take away the fear, the heartache. He is there for you to call out and cling to, too. He is the one who can calm your hurt, settle your soul, and give you the peace that is only found through him.
So on this day of reminders of heartache, it is well with my soul.
Late last night, I walked to the mailbox, feeling the perfect air, listening to the birds, and just smiled at the peace of it all. Then in my mailbox I found the most amazing gift, these angel wings with Koen's name. No sweeter gift then remembering and honoring Koen's life.
Life is so hard, isn't it? Some roads seem to hold more heartache than others, but no one has a life free of struggle and pain. Today is May 24th, and I anticipate death arriving in 3 days. I can feel the cloud this week. I have a knot in my throat, a pit in my stomach, and tears on the edge at all times. This Saturday it will be four years since the birth and death of Koen. This is a week filled with much guilt for me. I felt weird all week, had noticed things, felt kicks less frequently. Why wasn't I more adamant? Why did I push through? What if I had noticed? What if he was taken out before death? Why did my body fail and cause the death of my own son? Why didn't God protect him, why didn't he push me to ask more questions? How long was he dead inside my body? The only question I think I can answer, is the last one. I wasn't aware at the time. But I could tell you the moment even that Koen died. My eyes closed as I rode in the car with Kevin and Hackett on our way to dinner on May 25th. I was overcome in that moment, felt awful, and couldn't shake the weird emotional and physical feeling. I think I felt his spirit leave his body and mine. We went to Loon's Baseball game after, and I didn't speak or move the entire game. It's haunting.
Hackett has been struggling at school, life is hard, and relationships aren't easy. He seems settled in our new home and life, but then things occur that make his heartache, and he pines for what was. It is so hard to watch. We want to save our kids heartache and pain, but life doesn't allow us that luxury. I debated sharing this image of Hackett from our Mother's Day with Koen. But he is not shy about his feelings with us, and I know so many of you that follow my story have experienced loss too. So I share to help you see how profoundly impacted our (mine and your) kids are. The loss of Koen devastated Hackett. He is not impacted daily, but when he is reminded of what he lost - not what Kevin and I lost - but what he lost. His brother, his playmate, his hopes and dreams for a sibling - it hurts his heart. I know he flashes back too. He was old enough to remember the turmoil and pain. Old enough to remember his dad carrying his brothers casket to his grave. Old enough to recall his mom being in a fog of grief. It pains me to see. Hurts me to know that his road at young age already has bumps and sharp turns. He made me this book on Mother's Day all on his own. Moving is his narrative in life, but so is feeling supported and loved. It both broke my heart and made it explode with gratitude at the same time.
Life's road is so hard, but when we feel loved and supported by those who walk alongside us it makes it so much easier to bear. I listened to a sermon that had a profound impact on me around Easter, and plan to listen and study more, and share soon. It centers around the scriptures in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus. Jesus had been crucified, and had just been resurrected. I mean, what a huge moment for Jesus, right? But do you know what he did? He found a sad couple, who were experiencing heartache at the death of Jesus himself, and were walking from Jerusalem down the road to Emmaus back to their home. Jesus showed up on their sad road. He saw sadness on their faces and he walked with them all the way home. This couple saw Jesus as a man during this walk and did not recognize him until he revealed himself to them at the end of the road. Jesus showed up on my road to Emmaus too. Sometimes I don't understand, and don't see him on the walk, but he is there walking right with me during my sadness. And when his preseence is revealed to me I often have a moment where I fall to my knees in gratitude. He was there all along. He is with Hackett walking along side him too. How I wish I could spare Hackett the heartache, but the ability to show him at age 10, that he is never alone on his road, especially when it is filled with sadness, is the best give I could ever give him. You are alone on your road either, my friends. Jesus is walking right alongside you in your sadness too, even if you can't recognize him.
It's Mother's Day. I will never get to spend Mother's Day with Koen, in the real sense of the word. I only had one Mother's Day with him while his heart was beating. The Mother's Days since his death, a storm cloud has hovered. I found it difficult to be fully present, guilt sets in. It has been hard for me to accept our story, this is not how I mapped out my life. But today was perfect. We found ourselves in Midland, which is now 2 hours from our home and Midland is where we left Koen.
My perfect Mother's Day was spent at a soccer tournament in the cold wind of the morning, watching my Hackett, a bit in over his head, but given an amazing opportunity to play at a more competitive level. I was able to watch him overcome his anxiety and play, and that filled my heart with pride. We grabbed a late breakfast from Panera and took it to Koen. I had brunch with all my boys. Picnicking at the cemetery is my new perfect. And that's okay. If given the choice, I would have written our story different, but my story version may not have included Tobin. My version, wouldn't have grown me as a person, wouldn't have exploded my level of empathy, wouldn't have changed my perspective on life, wouldn't have grown my faith, wouldn't have made me slow down to breathe and appreciate the smallest things. I think I have reached an acceptance phase of my grief, although that doesn't mean I stay in that space every day. But today, as we walked through our day together as a family, I was reminded that my day was perfect because I allowed it to be. I didn't fight it, feel guilt, or wish for something else. My boys showered me with love. Completely rained down love over my soul, and its hard to feel sad when given so much love. We hiked at the Nature Center near our old house, and drove through our old neighborhood, but then came home. And home felt like home. We have fully accepted that change too. And that felt perfect too. Your wish, Your will, Your way, Jesus.
Kev made a book for me from Tobin, complete with hand drawn images - which make me laugh and cry. Hackett made me his own book too. Here are both their last pages. Life even in its imperfections, it so amazingly beuatiful. I pray you found beauty today, even in a small way.
My Facebook memories continue to haunt me, while simultaneously helping me heal. Today it was a picture of my first grade Hackett at a class at the hospital for older siblings, as he excitedly was preparing for Koen to arrive. The picture is blurry, but his smile speaks volumes. He had been missing the opportunity of having a sibling, and was over the moon with excitement to not be alone to laugh and play. Overnight that joy was stolen May 27th. It's May now. May is hard. I don't like May. It brings my allergies, and with that reminders of all events leading to Koen's death, even my allergies play a role in the reminders. It the tiniest things that trigger the hurt. May makes my sinuses and my heart hurt.
A blog post of mine from two years ago popped up today too, maybe I can figure out how to link it here. I wrote about missing Hackett's entire baseball season in 2014 (I always hesitate when remembering the year Tobin was born, trying to make sure I don't confuse it with Koen's birth year, even that can be a trigger) as I laid in a hospital bedding fighting for Tobin. Not only did I miss games in 2014, but in 2013 I went to some games pregnant and then showed to to others with no baby and no belly. I was there, but I wasn't there. For an entire year I was physically there at times, but still not present. I was chatting with friend this week about mom guilt and the struggle we have when we can't be all things to our kids and other commitments. I missed an entire year of Hackett's life in so many ways, and it was such a great year. Is there anything cuter than a first grader? Its kind of the perfect age and stage, and I was either counting the minutes until bedtime so I could cry or laying in a hospital bed. There were beautiful moments in between, but that mommy guilt seems to trump that, and instead I often feel the ache of not being present. I struggle missing school events, games, special moments with Hackett. It tears at my heart. I think that is why the grief with Koen, and the loss of a child is so extreme. You take that normal typical mommy guilt, and its amplified by a number that is inconceivable. I missed it all. All of it. Every single moment with Koen is missed. There are no games, no school events, no belly laugh moments. I didn't get any of them. I only got to wash his clothes once. Just one time. No grass stains even. I have missed it all. And in my missing and my ache, I sometimes wonder, am I missing more. In my grief am I missing these two little lives that are in my house right now? I know the answer is mostly no, but it is so hard for me to watch time pass so quickly. No matter how I try these sweet boys of mine just keep growing. I just can't handle the thought of missing more.
My blog post from two years ago:
I am Jackie.