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.

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A Flame of Hope

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-6-57-33-pmI have always been afraid of the dark. When I was a little girl I was terrified of the basement. I got a pit in my stomach every time my mom sent me downstairs to fetch something. It wasn’t necessarily the going down that scared me. It was the coming back up – in the dark.

I’d gallop up the stairs like a racehorse; screaming by before anything could capture me.

For a while I would make my younger brother go down with me. I figured that he couldn’t run as fast as me so if anything came chasing after us, it would get him first.

But then my mom clued in to that and made me go all by myself. Sometimes I would sing really loud. I thought that the creepy, scary things would hear how good I was at singing and they wouldn’t hurt me. They’d ask me to keep singing. Hahaha.

I still don’t like going downstairs. I still don’t like the dark.

I’ve been thinking a lot about darkness and my fears this week as I get ready for the Wave of Light this weekend.

On Saturday, Oct. 15 – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – I will set out a special candle and light it. I will let it burn for one hour in memory of my stillborn baby boy Luca.

The idea is that if someone from each time zone all over the world lights a candle at 7 p.m., and keeps it burning for an hour, there will be a continuous wave of light over the entire world, honoring all of the babies who have gone too soon.

I don’t know why or how this tradition started but I’ve been thinking all about why I will light a candle in memory of my angel son.

Why is light so important to me? When I was little the light gave me strength. As I said earlier, I was always scared of the basement because I hated coming back up. Why? Because I had to turn off the light and walk (or run like a crazy person) for a few steps in the darkness before I made it upstairs.

When I had the light on it showed me where I was going and it illuminated where I had been. It shined on all of the shadows and dark spots around me and made things seem less grim. It warmed my heart and gave me hope.

I think that’s what light does. It sparks hope.

When I lost Luca my light went out. I was scared. I felt alone. Things seemed very grim. I couldn’t see my future – where I was going – and I was heartbroken by where I had been.

Time, amazing loved ones and many, many special events have led me back to the light.

I had to walk for a few steps in the darkness and there are still cloudy, dim days, but my light is growing. And so I think about my path as I find my candle and prepare to light it in a couple of days.

I light a candle to remind myself of how far I have come. I light a candle to help me remember that the dark spots and shadows can be flung aside. I light a candle to foster hope.

Hope that I will live with my baby boy again.

Hope that every other mother who has felt the loss of her child will hold on until the sliver of light appears.

Hope that someday no more mothers’ lights will be extinguished by the death of a child.

Hope that my light will blaze on.

Hope that I can share it with others.

Another Angel Tree for my Angel Son

It’s dead. Again.

Luca’s tree has died.

We went to the library to take back some books and noticed that his tree had absolutely no leaves.

Oh man. Not again!

I have no words. No analogies. No explanations. No blessing-in-disguise feelings. I am numb about this.

Earlier this year I was terribly sad that the tree we planted in our son’s memory on his fifth birthday was dying. This time I think I’m shocked. Numb.

What was such an amazing experience in the spring of 2015 has turned sour, twice.

The city employee in charge of the trees is going to try to plant another Eastern Redbud this fall. But it won’t be the one we picked out as a family.

The one we dug the hard, clay-filled ground for. The one we planted on Earth day in his honor.

It won’t even be the one we picked out this year on his birthday – the one that the city planted this spring to replace the first one.

No, if they plant another tree this fall it will be the third one.

Maybe the third time’s the charm. But I can’t let myself get my hopes up. Not again.

What I would Tell My Grieving Self

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Tomorrow we will pay respects to my tiny little angel niece who died shortly after birth last week. My heart has been heavy as I have thought about her. She was one of three triplets born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks. Her sisters are doing well in the NICU getting stronger, eating more. But she didn’t get to stay on this earth, not physically anyway.

Yet she was so beautiful, so perfect.

No one will ever be able to explain to me why things like this happen. Why parents have to bury their babies. No explanation would suffice.

I think about Luca often, but this week I have had flashback after flashback to when we found out he died, I gave birth to him, we planned his funeral and then buried him.

Those were some of the most trying times of my life.

And yet here I am better now – not perfect, not completely healed – just better.

I’ve been thinking about all the raw emotion that came when we lost our third child. There were moments I didn’t know if I was going to make it; moments I didn’t want to. But hindsight is 20/20 and when it comes to grief I think it may even be 20/10.

If I could go back six years ago there is one thing I would tell myself.

Before I said, “I’m so sorry,” or “This whole thing just stinks,” I would wrap my arms around my grieving, sobbing self and whisper, “You will be all right.”

Because I really am all right. 

“There will be times you will want to scream and punch the wall,” I’d continue. “Times when you want so sit and cry your eyes out – even after six years. But there will also be times when you will smile and laugh again. Times when you will think you are the luckiest person on Earth. And it will all be okay.

No it’s not all right that you had to bury a baby. No it’s not all right that he can’t be with you and your family.

But YOU are all right.

You experienced one of life’s greatest injustices – losing a child – and you lived.”

Shortly after Luca died I remember being so angry that someone had said time heals all wounds. I thought that whoever came up with that stupid saying had never lost a child.

While my wound isn’t completely healed – it is scabbed over and scarred – it is no longer raw and oozing.

I really am all right.

Last month we went to the nursery to pick out another tree for the city to plant in Luca’s memory. While we were there one of my boys noticed that there was an open wound with a tiny nub on one of the Eastern Redbud trees we were looking at buying.

Our friend from the nursery explained to us that when trees are pruned the correct way the arborist will carefully cut the limb just at its base where it starts to bend, leaving a tiny piece of the limb on its trunk.

If he or she cuts too much, leaves it too short, then the wound won’t seal completely. The tree will be left with a large scar.

I feel like Luca’s limb was cut too short. His branch in our family tree was ripped out before it really began to grow. Before it could even leave a nub. And so its wound won’t seal completely.

Our family tree is left with a big scar.

But despite that scar we still live on. We grow and develop. We shoot out new branches. We reach our limbs to the sky and gain warmth and strength from its light.

And we are all right.

And although I never want to re-experience the raw pain I felt on the bitter-sweet day I delivered Luca, I would go back to it all if it meant that I got the chance to show myself that I made it. That I survived that hell. That I am continuing to survive it.

That I love our little angel baby just as much as I did the day I told him hello and goodbye.

But I am all right without him.

 

An Angel Tree For My Angel Baby

It’s official. Luca’s tree is dead. Or dying. Either way you look at it it’s not good.

A handful of tiny blossoms popped out on top during the past couple of weeks. But nearly every branch is cold and bare.

Last year the tree was beautiful. This year it’s gone.

The more I think about it the more the tree and its short life hauntingly parallels my experience with Luca.

In the fall everything looked beautiful.

In the spring it all was gone.

I remember praying that everything would be all right with Luca.

 

I prayed all evening on April 21, 2010.

I prayed that he would move, kick, twist, punch – anything!

I prayed until 2 a.m. when I could no longer lie in my bed and wait.

I prayed as we headed to the hospital.

I prayed when we saw the still ultrasound image of our baby’s non-beating heart.

I prayed while in labor.

I prayed that entire time that Luca would live. That everything would be all right.

 

But it wasn’t.

 

We have prayed for Luca’s tree dozens of times lately.

We have prayed that it would blossom.

We have prayed that it would grow.

We have prayed that it would live.

 

But is hasn’t.

 

How could something so beautiful die? How could it be just fine one moment, then perishing the next?

I now have an angel tree for my angel baby. How ironic.

It has reminded me of how much I learned with Luca. I learned that sometimes things are not meant to be. Sometimes prayers aren’t answered – at least not in the way we want them to be. Sometimes you have to say goodbye.

The city is in the process of planting a new tree to replace the one that died. Our family went to the local nursery and picked out a new one.

This is where the story of the tree’s death no longer parallels that of my baby Luca’s.

Because no matter how many babies I could have, I would never be able to replace him. I can’t go pick out a new Luca.

He is rooted in my heart forever.

While I am terribly sad that Luca’s tree died, I am trying to look for the positive.

Planting that tree last year was a great experience for our family. It was a great way to celebrate our little baby’s fifth angelversary. It gave us something to look forward to during that milestone birthday – something to plan for.

I don’t know why the tree died, but I know it has reminded me that I should not take anything for granted. Boy how I need to be reminded of that over and over. It’s a lesson I just can’t seem to learn.

As I sit under the shade of that tree I’ll think of these experiences and remember how much of a sacrifice it was to get it there. I’ll remember our family’s trip to the nursery to pick out the two separate trees. I’ll remember how hard and clay-like the ground was when we planted the original one. I’ll remember how beautiful it stood that first year.

I’ll remember my little Luca. How hard it was to get him here. How brief his life was. But how beautiful he was in my arms.

He and his tree will be forever implanted in my memory.

Most people who play at the park probably won’t think twice about the new Eastern Redbud in the corner near the bench and lamppost. To them it might be just part of the landscaping. To me it has become much, much more.

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

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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