Incomplete

braceletThe bottom half of my “H” fell off. My “H” – the fifth and last letter on the pearl bracelet that someone gave me when Luca died. The necklace has tiny metal angels and shiny letters that spell “F-A-I-T-H” on it.

I have worn the bracelet a handful of times on special occasions. It’s a beautiful way for me to remember my angel son during important events in our family.

So I put it on last week when we were walking out the door to get our family pictures taken.

We were all in the center of the studio waiting for the photographer to switch cameras when I heard something ping to the floor. My boys and I crawled around looking for what fell.

My 10-year-old found half of my “H.” I snatched it up and tucked it in my husband’s pocket. My poor little bracelet.

Many of you know that I LOVE pictures and photography. I’m always snapping pictures wherever I go. My kids have all been trained from birth to smile for the camera. I love printing pictures. I love seeing what we all looked like in years past. I love beautiful photos hanging on my wall.

But I don’t love one thing about pictures – family pictures to be specific. I don’t love that we will never have a completed picture of our family.

Because our little Luca was stillborn six years ago, long before the last two of our kids were born, we will never have a full picture of our family. For some people that might not be such a big deal. For me, it hurts my heart.

So every time I pick out outfits and stress over what color tights or shoes to wear – thank heavens for my mom and sister who helped me out this time – I get a lump in my throat and a bittersweet excitement. We are going to get pictures taken! But we aren’t ALL going to get pictures taken.

We have a beautiful photo of Luca and a sweet bright green frog that we bring along to represent our baby brother in the pictures. And I have my bracelet that I wear.

The bracelet that is now incomplete. Kind of like our family.

When I heard that little metal piece drop to the floor it reminded me of my angel son. It was a sweet reminder during a crazy get-ready-for-pictures-and-smile-or-I-will-spank-your-butt sort of afternoon.

I’m not certain how it broke or why. I very rarely wear it – it sits in a black velvet bag inside a “Luca” box in my closet. So I know it hasn’t been used and abused.

But I know it helped me think harder about him during our family photo session.

Maybe he popped off the piece and flung it to the floor. Maybe he wanted me to know that he’s still with me.

That he will always be with me. Even if he isn’t pictured.

clemens-natalie-2016-11-09-101

Marriage Matters – Something I Didn’t Expect to Realize in Rome

20160721_181432You think you have your act together. You keep the house fairly picked up. You cook dinner a few times a week. You juggle baseball, scouts, homework and swimming lessons.

You have things semi-under control and do a lot of things on your own.

Then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a hot, foreign street dragging three suitcases behind you while you wander with your entire family searching for the place you will call home for the next few weeks. Your husband’s cell-phone GPS is the only thing that knows where to go.

Suddenly you aren’t Miss independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself-and-my-offspring alone anymore. You have been plucked from hometown suburbia and flicked into the heart of ancient Rome – a busy bustling city full of excitement and anxieties.

And you realize you need your husband more than ever.

Our family lived in Italy for one month this summer. I learned many, many things while over there. I knew it would be an amazing experience, but what I didn’t know is that Rome would make my marriage stronger.

Why? There are many reasons.

We relied on each other for everything.

We helped each other rig a makeshift laundry basket out of a towel to carry all of our clothes down three flights of stairs to pay three Euros to wash and 3 Euros to dry each load of laundry.

20160725_153534

Then we had to figure out how we were going to find enough Euro coins each week to run as many loads as we needed for our family of six.

20160725_154807

When I saw a mouse scurry across our apartment floor, I knew I couldn’t easily call our exterminator company from back home to come and get it. We worked together to trap it in the hallway late one night under a plastic garbage can.

20160801_2347390

We helped each other figure out what food we could find at the store that our kids would eat.

We charted our adventures and then bought train tickets together.

We kept all four of our kids safely by our sides in Italy for an entire month.

I can’t ever remember a time when we worked so closely together for every aspect of our lives. I can’t ever remember a time when I needed his help so much.

20160722_191206I needed him to speak fluent Italian for me. I needed him to show me how to buy a train ticket and pay for my gelato. I needed him to carry and push my little children along when their traveling legs got tired.

But more than needing him for basic survival – eating, staying safe, finding our hotels and apartments – I needed him for company and companionship.

We were on our own in a very far away place.

We were together all day every day.

And it was really good for us.

We laughed together. We stressed together. And we cooked the meals and did the dishes together.

No we probably won’t have an opportunity like this ever again – most people never get to take their family to Italy for four weeks.

But I’m hoping that although we are back in America, that we keep needing each other. I hope we keep consulting with each other on all the minor and major parts of our lives. And I really hope we keep doing the dishes together. (It makes them get done much more quickly.)

I knew we would have an amazing time living in Europe, I just didn’t realize I’d come home with a new appreciation for my spouse and the time we get to spend together.

20160724_145447

The Easter Lesson I Taught To My Angel Baby’s Would-Be Playmates

IMG_20160329_192510There I sat on Easter Sunday in a classroom full of four, five and six year olds. I don’t normally teach in my church’s (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) primary but I was asked to substitute for a friend.

I used cut out pictures to tell a simple version of the Easter story – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Say it with me, “resurrection,” I asked the kids. We said it together three or four times. It’s a hard word to pronounce at that age.

Then the lesson book prompted me to tell a story about my gratitude for the resurrection.

That’s when I pulled out a picture of my baby boy who died nearly six years ago. I told the class how I will be forever grateful for the resurrection because that meant I would see my sweet baby boy again.

That’s when it hit me. Had he lived, my sweet little Luca would have been in that very class. The inquisitive, happy, lovable students I was teaching would have been his playmates. I hadn’t thought about that until then.

Oh the coincidence. My heart dropped for a second.

I listened to the kids tell me about what the Easter bunny brought them and how they colored their eggs. One of them was really nervous that her little brother and sister were going to steal all her candy when she was gone. Another said her dad was really good at finding eggs.

I wondered what my little Luca would have said. Then I wondered if he was somehow there in spirit.

At the end of the lesson I gave each child a small treat bag filled with candy and a plastic Easter egg. Inside each egg I typed up a piece of paper that read, “The Tomb Is Empty.”

I wanted the kids to remember the part in the story when the women went to care for Jesus’s body but it was no longer there. To me that is the most important part.

The tomb was empty.

He had risen.

Later that afternoon we stopped by the cemetery to visit Luca. I made sure to give him his treat bag – the one that he would have got if he were at church in my class.

I may not have been able to teach him about the resurrection that day. But in all actuality I have learned more about the resurrection from Luca’s short life than I could have in any other way. And I can’t wait until it finally happens.

The Tomb Is Empty.

Hallelujah.

Ways to Help a Grieving Child

 

funeral 086

My oldest son reaches in to kiss his baby brother before we close his casket and bury him.

What’s harder than living with a broken heart? Watching one of your children try to live with one.

Earlier this week my son was sobbing before school. He didn’t want to go. He has always hated school. In fact I wrote a few weeks ago about him trying to stay home after a class election didn’t go in his favor.

But this time I couldn’t figure why he wanted to stay home. I asked him if something had happened or if kids were being mean. No.

He couldn’t come up with a reason.

All day long I stewed over what it could be. Is he nervous about his science class? Does he worry about kids sitting by him at lunch? Are they teasing him at recess?

Then it dawned on me. We visited the cemetery Sunday – the cemetery where his baby brother is buried. We took a water bottle and a kitchen knife. We cleaned off his head stone and cut back the overgrown grass from its edges.

My second son wipes away dirt and grass from his little brother's headstone.

My second son wipes away dirt and grass from his little brother’s headstone.

It was a beautiful sunny day. But that trip brought back rain clouds for my 9-year-old son. The flood of emotions resurfaced as we spent time thinking of our lost family member.

This time of year is always hard for our family. Six years ago it was a hopeful, exciting time. We were waiting for our third baby boy to join our family. Then our joy quickly turned to sorrow as we discovered he had died. I delivered him stillborn at 37 weeks.

Since then our family has learned a lot about grief. More than we ever wanted to know.

I sat down with my oldest son Monday afternoon and we had a heart-to-heart talk about missing his brother. He confessed that he was overwhelmingly sad about not having him in our family.

Uggh. I hate that. More than hating the fact that I can’t get over the loss of my baby boy. I wish no one else had to feel the same way. I wish no one felt hurt, anger or sorrow because of his death. I wish I could place a giant happy bubble around the ones I love and cocoon them from sadness.

Regretfully I cannot.

So I gave him a grief journal. I told him he could use it to write to his little brother. Part of our grief (because our child died before he was born) has been mourning the fact that we never got to spend time with our baby boy.

I my son that he could write to his brother about things he wished he could do with him. Tell him what makes him sad, happy, scared or excited. Tell him what he remembers about the day he was born. Tell him how much he can’t wait to spend time with him.

We all know writing is therapeutic for me, why wouldn’t it be for my child?

I’m hoping he can pour his heart into the pages of that colorful notebook. And that it will serve as a positive outlet for his sorrow.

There are a few other things I have found that help my children when they are consumed by sadness.

I am in no way an expert. I have no professional education or training on loss. I acknowledge that every person grieves differently. But the following things have helped my children mourn and internalize the loss of the brother they never got to know.

And since I can’t create that happy bubble cocoon, I thought that the least I could do is pass on some of these ideas in case it may help another mother help her grieving child.

First, speak openly – Right after our son passed away I knew in my heart that I had to be honest with my two living children. One of them was nearly three years old, the other nearly two. They were really young. But I felt like they could handle the truth.

I told them that their baby brother died.

I refused to use phrases like, “he is sleeping,” “he is in a better place,” or “he passed away.”

I didn’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep. I didn’t want them to think that our place wasn’t good enough for their brother and I don’t even know what “passed away” is supposed to mean. If I can’t figure that one out, then how can my two young children?

There are so many phrases associated with death that are meant to lighten the blow. Words like “deceased” or “slipped away” are often used in place of “dead” or “died.”

But nothing could lighten my blow. No matter how you said it my son had died.

Being open and honest with my children allowed me to eliminate confusion for them. I still speak freely and openly about his death. And they can as well. I answer all of their questions no matter how strange they seem.

We have had many, many conversations about what happened. And while I don’t know that this is the right tactic for every family, it has worked wonders for ours. My children feel safe talking about their brother’s death.

Let Them Cry and Let Them See You Cry

IMG_1215p8x10.jpg

Crying is healthy. Crying is natural. Yet sometimes we feel ashamed to show others that we are sad. It’s like there is something wrong with us.

Well there is something wrong. Something terrible sad and terribly difficult happened. We buried one of our family members.

That is huge.

I tell my kids that there’s no reason to pretend that we don’t get down about it sometimes. They have seen me sob over my son. We have all hugged and cried as we have watched his memorial video or the home video we have of his time in the hospital or visited the cemetery.

Letting my kids show emotion about the loss of their brother has allowed them to work through it when it comes. It has minimized them bottling up their sadness.

Give Them Something to Hold on to – My oldest son has a wallet-sized picture of his brother that he keeps in a protective plastic sleeve. He sometimes puts it in his backpack or hoodie pocket and carries it to school.

It reminds him that his brother was real. It keeps him close to his thoughts.

He will put it on his bedpost or inside his wallet. He will show it proudly to others.

I think having a tangible object to hold close to his heart helps with the pain.

Start some traditions – I mentioned earlier that this time of year is difficult for our family. All around us the world is awakening from its slumber. New life is forming as winter melts into spring. While this brings a lot of hope and excitement, it also brings us memories from a darker time. The day that our baby died – April 22 – is particularly rough.

So we have started to do some special traditions to honor his memory – things that we can look forward to when we are feeling sad. (You can read about what we did a couple years ago here)

About one week before his death/birthday I create an online Facebook event for friends and family. I call it “Serve in Luca’s Memory.”

People did so many great things for us after Luca died. It brought us peace and comfort to see the service of others. So, we thought, why not help others? It can be a way to give back and keep his memory alive.

Friends and family members post pictures and comments of things that they do for friends or strangers. From helping a friend move, to donating clothing to others to sending someone flowers. It’s so nice to see what people do for each other in his memory.

We spend Luca’s “angelversary” together as a family. We visit the cemetery and take him small gifts. Sometimes we invite friends and family together to do a service project for Utah Share. Last year we planted a tree together at a local park.

luca's tree 2

DSCF7689Each year we end the night by sending lanterns to our baby boy. We light wish lanterns, watch them fill with hot air and then float off to the heavens.

Those are some of the things we do to celebrate our little Luca’s birthday. They give us something to look forward to on our day of dread.

We do other things throughout the year as well. One thing we have grown to love is donating gifts to a child that would be Luca’s age at Christmas time. We contact a local shelter for a name of a little boy in need. Then we buy him presents and deliver them to the shelter.

There is nothing we can do to bring back our baby boy. But helping and serving helps us feel like we are giving back to others who are having a difficult time. It softens our sad hearts and gives us things to look forward to.

I am sure there are many, many more ways to help children cope with tragic loss. But these are a few things that have worked for us. While I hope no one else has to see their children grieve the loss of a close loved one, I know that it happens to far too many.

If you know of any other great ideas – for children or adults – I’d love to hear them. Because grief is always changing and different things may work better at different times. I am always looking for more ways to work through the sorrows of my heart.

Thank You Morgan

Every once in a while someone will do something to redeem my faith in humankind.

Occasionally people surprise me.

About a month ago an entire city – no county – surprised me.

I wrote a post in the beginning of June mentioning my father in law and his serious health condition. You can read about that here. We almost lost him.

He suffered an aortic valve rupture and several strokes while on a trip to California. After hearing the news, my husband and I packed our three boys into our van and drove to be with him.

We spent a week in California taking turns at his ICU bedside. He made slow, gradual progress. He started out sleeping with a breathing tube and ventilator. By the time we left he was opening his eyes for short periods and nodding “yes” and shaking his head “no.”

After we came home he continued to progress dramatically. He was taken off the breathing machine and moved to a rehab center.

He was working hard to regain his strength and his abilities.
But he wasn’t the only one working hard.

During the month and a half that he was in California the people of his hometown were also working hard. They were preparing for a major fund-raising event.

On July 12 residents from all over the county packed into the Morgan Riverside Park for the Keven Clemens family fundraiser.

It was amazing. It was unlike any fundraiser I have been to.

The park was swarming with people. Many of which had to park blocks away.

fundraiser

There was crazy photo taking, face painting and carnival games for kids. There were pulled-pork dinners, soda pops and treats. There was a silent auction and a magic show. Which, by the way, my boys LOVED. (They have been trying magic tricks ever since.)

People waited in long lines to purchase dinner. Kids waited in long lines to toss a beanbag into a poster or cast their reel into a “fishing” pond. Families spent the entire evening weaving through the park participating in dozens of activities that were geared to raising money for my family.

All the food, prizes and time were donated. All the proceeds went to my father and mother-in-law.

Thousands of people came by to donate to my family – to give back to my father in law. A man who has dedicated his life to serving those around him.

I have no doubt that most of the people who came to the park that night have been impacted by my father-in-law. From various church callings to many, many baseball teams, he has helped his community and given to others.

I couldn’t pull my husband away from all of the people who wanted to express their concern and love for his father.

The night ended with a slideshow tribute to my father-in-law. I left the park late that night filled with more love in my heart than I have had in there in a long time.

I felt peace because I knew that no matter how hard his recovery my father-in-law was in good hands. His friends, neighbors and congregation members were going to take good care of him.

And that is what they have done.

My father-in-law has made a miraculously recovery. He is walking, talking and reading. He and my mother-in-law have worked extremely hard to get him to where he is and each time I see him I am amazed at how “normal” he has become. IMG_20130803_205347

I know he has been buoyed up by those around him.

So I would like to thank anyone involved with helping my family. I know few of your faces and even fewer of your names yet I cherish your sacrifice and selflessness. Thank you for taking the time to make such a horrible thing seem bearable.

Thank you for taking care of the man who, for the past 10 years, has helped take care of me. The man who was there for my wedding and the birth of my babies. The man who wrapped his arm around me after dedicating my baby’s grave. The man who taught my husband to throw a baseball, mow a lawn and respect a woman.

The man my boys call “papa.” The man they love to sit and watch Bugs Bunny cartoons with.

Thank you for reminding me that people are good. That they want to help one another through the bitter, lonely, scared-out-of-your-mind times in life. That we don’t have to go through this journey alone.

Thank you Morgan. Thank you.

Little Things Are Everything

My father in law with my baby Luca.

My father in law with my baby Luca.

Life is what happens when you are waiting for something else to happen.

I have thought a lot about life this past week. My Life. The life of others. The life I want to live. The life I actually am living.

More specifically, I have thought about the life of my father-in-law. Right now he lies in a hospital in southern California where he is fighting to piece back his abilities after suffering a ruptured aortic valve and a couple of major strokes.

He is strong and he is pulling through, but his entire world changed in the blink of an eye. I am so proud of his progress and can’t wait until we can bring him back to Utah.

But ever since I got the 3 a.m. phone call last Wednesday night saying that he was in the emergency room and his odds of survival were slim, I’ve been thinking about things.

Life can change in an instant.

I learned that three years ago when we buried our baby Luca. But I have been reminded about that yet again.

It makes me wonder: Why do I do what I do? What is it all for? Will it all be worth it in the end?

It makes me want to cherish every moment and live in the now.

I’m not saying I don’t believe in dreaming big and setting goals, but I do believe that wishing for the next best thing and wondering when life will be “better” makes this life miserable. It could leave each and every one of us someday with empty, “we were going tos” and “we haven’t had a chance tos.”

Life is about the little things. Don’t wait for the big things to happen while life passes you by.

Hug your babies and kiss your parents. Eat big bowls of ice cream and salty French fries. Leave dirty dishes in the sink and watch Disney movies with your kids.

Say, “I Love You.” Say your prayers. Pay off your credit cards. Take family photos twice a year and send out Christmas cards. Sing in the shower and dance in the car. And set traps for leprechauns each spring.

Because little things like that will someday add up to be everything.

What Boogers Taught Me This Year

It’s been a fun year writing Boogers on the Wall.

Frankly, there have been several times this year that I have wondered what I was going to write about. But it never failed. By the time Thursday rolled around something – my crazy children, a homemaking failure, a motherly stress – would magically occur, inspiring me to write about my adventures in momhood.

Hopefully that continues.

I have learned a lot writing my blog. Here are a few favorite posts/thoughts from 2012.

– I have learned that I don’t need to settle for crappy diapers. After writing about our never-ending blowout situation, I have switched my bum covering tactics. Since changing from the off-brand, store-named diapers, I have tried Costco and Pampers. They both rule! And although they cost a lot more, my coupon and bulk shopping will help offset the cost and we all know that the better diapers will offset my stress.

– I learned that my kids would much rather trap their treats than eat them – especially when it comes to gingerbread men. And although I think I know my children very well, sometimes they truly surprise me.

– I have learned that kids say the darndest things, especially when it comes to politics. And no matter who won, most people I know were energized that young children took interest in this year’s presidential election.

– I learned that I actually don’t like a vast majority of Halloween decorations.  You can keep the creepy crawly, silly skeleton zombie doom and gloom, stuff away from me.

– I learned that the worst part about going on vacation is packing. No matter how well I think I have done I still spend the first 10 minutes of each vacation repacking in my head, going over a mental checklist and deciding if what I forgot is worth turning around for. I have also learned that I am not the only wife/mother out there who has to pack 95 percent of all of our family’s vacation needs.

– I have learned that I can love and honor all four of my baby boys even though right now they don’t all live with me. I have learned that there is hope in dealing with my grief.

– I have learned that even though they sometimes stress me to tears, I love my children more than words can express. They are worth more than anything. Which is why I started my second retirement this past spring. It is also why I chisel away at derby cars and melt beads onto wands. It’s why I rarely sleep more than 3 hours in a row at a time and I regularly wrack my brain for ideas on where they may have misplaced their favorite toys. It’s why I do anything, really.  My family is my life.

– And last, but definitely not least, I learned that sometimes light does come after darkness. After 9 months filled with anxiety, stress and fear, I got to look into the eyes of my fourth beautiful baby boy. He brings me more happiness than I ever thought possible. And as you can see from the picture below, the 6-month, 18-pound bundle of joy is doing quite well.DSC_8230

Here’s to another year filled with kitchen failures and crafting mistakes. Here’s to catching more fish I don’t want to touch and setting up booby traps for more cookies. Here’s to lighting more wish lanterns and placing more headstone decorations.

Here’s to living it up and doing the best I can.

Here’s to wiping more boogers off my walls.

 

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: