grief

On loss

What happens when the worst that you feared, happens?

Last week, that happened. Well, to be honest, I have a lot of fears roaming around in my head, so just one of those fears came to pass. Anxiety and "worst case scenario" thinking are some of my strong suits. (No, I am not proud of that, but hey ... work in progress.) So, this week in particular, as Jon and I walked into the doctor's office, we were once again faced with the words we heard 2 years ago that our pregnancy wasn't progressing and we'd be losing our baby.

Mid-January I took a pregnancy test and couldn't wait to share the news with everyone that Brighton would be a big sister. I was apprehensive because we had been down this road before, but I learned through our last miscarriage that life is meant to be celebrated, so if I only had 6 weeks to celebrate that life, those 6 weeks were still worth celebrating. So we chose to not shy away from sharing the news with our close family and friends. These are the people we do life with, and doing life includes the highs and the lows. 

A few weeks after the pregnancy test confirmed a little brother or sister on the way, I started feeling the same way I did when the first miscarriage happened and I just knew we'd be facing it again. And I knew we'd have to tell all the people who knew the good news, the bad news. Nobody likes sharing bad news, but when I'm the subject of that bad news, I hate it even more. It's extremely humbling to be in a position of allowing the people around you to rally and say, "I'm bringing you dinner", or "Need a night out? We'll watch Brighton." Grief has humbled me and forced me to quit trying to be superwoman and have it all together because sometimes I don't. (Actually, a lot of times, but that's a different story.)

Have you ever had scenarios in your life happen where you just never thought that would be your story? Where it seems like such an out of body experience? For me, the first time I remember this happening was in college when my Nonna was diagnosed with cancer. I remember sitting in a coffee shop with my brother, trying to process what was happening and I just kept thinking, "this doesn't happen in real life", "this happens to other people". Cancer was a far away, distant, unknown scenario that I never fathomed would be a part of my story. 

Miscarriage was the same far away, "not my story" story. Except now, it is my story. Twice. Except this time, I had the sweetest, happiest, most beautiful baby girl leaving the doctor's office with me. While we grieved one life, we had another life in our arms to celebrate. We left in silence, drove home in silence, I went and grabbed a freeze from Pressed Juicery (it's like frozen yogurt, but it's all fruit and veggies, so that's a win) and then I went home and started to make dinner. That's the funny thing about getting bad news: life keeps going. Life didn't stop because of the news we received. Brighton still needed attention and dinner, Jon still needed to go to work. 

As I was trying to get dinner together for Brighton, I slumped over the kitchen sink and the tears came. A few seconds later, Brighton was hugging my leg. I got down on my knees and she looked at me like she understood, and wrapped her little arms around me. Then got up, stroked my face, and then continued to tear apart the kitchen. Kids are incredible. We don't often give them enough credit. We dismiss them for being children, and not "understanding", but when my almost two-year-old saw her mommy crying, she knew something wasn't right and she knew the appropriate response was a hug. So then I got even more emotional because the love that exists between me and that little girl is indescribable. 

Processing grief with a baby like Brighton has been overwhelming. Normally, I'd like to take a day off and lay out the couch with some coffee and Netflix. But you don't get days off when you're a stay at home mom. So through the sadness, I have had to push through and show up for my family. Showing up after grief is one of the most difficult things we can do, but it's also one of the most inspiring and courageous things we can do. My good friend Trish and I had the opportunity to speak at an event together about writing and the power of words, and she was sharing about how the people who live the most inspiring lives are the people who have overcome hardship and taken risks. My hope when I started this blog after my first miscarriage was that my pain would be used to encourage others and that continues to be my hope. My hope continues to be that this mommy blog or whatever you want to label it would be a place where you can come and be encouraged that you are not alone, that God is good, and that we are all just trying to figure life out.  I refuse to let this pain go to waste.

So what happens when the worst you feared, happens? God is still there. God was right there to meet me through the tears in my car. He was there in the hug from my toddler. He was there with me while I showed up for the event I was speaking at even though I wanted to be on my couch. As someone who is constantly fearing the worst, my miscarriage was a reminder that when the worst happens, you'll still be ok because God is there and He is good. 

Be encouraged by these verses below: 

Lamentations 3: 19-33 (The Message)
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst.
Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way

On Grief

Over the past few weeks, three people that I knew have died from cancer. Although I didn't know any of them very closely, I spent time with them or their family in some capacity and the grief is hitting me as though they were my own family. I suppose in a way, they were. The grief from a death by cancer is personal because my Nonna died a few years ago from that same silent killer. So, the people who have passed recently, they are not only family because I worked with them, or call their children friends, but they are my Nonna. I am reminded of her final days and how every moment I spent with Nonna I was trying to soak in everything. I hung on every word that she said trying to remember her accent, trying to record the words so I wouldn't forget them. Trying to take in the details of her hands that had cooked us so many our of our favorite meals and trying to imprint on my memory the special way she would say my name. 

My nonna always told me I was her angel and that I saved her life. During her first round of cancer, she had a surgery to remove the masses that were on her ovaries and diaphragm. I stayed the night with her in the hospital and I woke up to the sound of her not being able to breathe and quickly called the nurses in who were able to help. My nonna was always convinced that if it wasn't for me, she would've died in that hospital room. Maybe that's true, who really knows, but the bond we shared throughout my life was strengthened that night I spent with her and I wished that when the cancer returned I could've done more to help her. 

I recently came across something I wrote just after my Nonna died and I had never shared it because everytime I read it the grief was unbearable, but today I read it and with a tear in my eye I smiled remembering these precious moments

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2014

Today, my husband, my brother, his girlfriend [now wife] and I went to Nonno and Nonna’s house to make her dinner. Nonna was laying in bed when we got there and we slowly helped her out so she could sit in the recliner. I brought my computer so I could show her some home videos of when my brother and I were no more than 5 and 6 years old. I saw her light up again. Color came back in her face and she was laughing and reminiscing about how bossy I was and my brother's shyness.

As my brother helped her out of the chair and into the kitchen, she lost all the color in her face and had to lay back down. She curled up on the couch, breathing slow and deep. Everyone gathered in the kitchen to eat and I sat by the couch. She grabbed my hand, pulled it to her face and just lay there with her eyes closed. She looked at me and said, “I’m sorry you have to see me like this.” Trying to hold back tears I said, “No, Nonna. I love you so much.” And she just pulled me closer to her chest and as I could feel her tears come, I couldn’t hold mine back anymore. She put my face in her hands and looked into my eyes and with tears in hers, she said, “you just remember that in the end, it’s just you two. No matter how many kids you have, in the end, it will just be you and Jon. You love your kids. You do your best to teach them right, but you always take care of Jon. God first. Then Jon. You don’t always have to be right. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes he’s right, but you always have to love. And you remember to not worry about tomorrow. And yesterday is already gone. Today is the most important day you have.” It was as if this avalanche of thoughts and advice were flowing out of her, knowing she didn't have much time to share.

I looked at her and said, “Nonna, I just hope I’ve made you proud.” She said, “You have always made me proud. In everything you have done. Even when I didn’t like it because I knew you would work everything out and you would be ok.” Then, she said, “You are my namesake and I will always be looking for you and after you. I will always be with you, no matter where I am. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to tell you that there has always been a special corner of my heart that was only for you.” 

As much as I wish we didn’t have to have moments like these that are so terrifying and emotional, I feel so blessed that we had the chance to sit next to Nonna and let her tell us everything. And let us tell her everything. So, in the end, there are no regrets. She said she was GLAD God gave her cancer because it has allowed her the opportunity for moments like those. She said she wasn't mad at God. “People get mad at God and that’s stupid. He always knew what would happen. And He has allowed me the chance to do everything I ever wanted in my life. And I have been so blessed.” 

We laughed together as Nonno tried to explain to everyone in the other room that he and Dominic are actually smarter than the people in the room that went to college because they let everyone else go to college FOR them. She reminisced about a time I tried to run away from home. She only lived a few doors down and I showed up at her door and didn’t say anything, but she knew. (Because she always did.) She said, “You were so stubborn. So strong-willed. And you would never take any shit from anyone because you are strong. Always be strong.” She beckoned Jon to sit next to me because it was his turn to receive her wisdom. She spoke of love, and fortresses, and said, "Jon, I love you because she loves you. And because you love her. In the end, because of your love for each other and your love for God, you will be ok. Just remember that.” 

Dominic and I helped her up to go eat in the kitchen. She sat in her chair and leaned on my brother as he fed her dinner. Something about that scene was powerful to me. Both beautiful and heartbreaking. Nonna, who was such a rock and centerpiece to the family, who had once fed us as we sat on her lap, was now receiving the love and sacrifice she had shared for so many years. When she felt too weak to continue at the table, we brought her back to the couch where she grabbed my hand and made me hold it on her chest as she breathed deeply and slowly ate her dinner.

I don't ever want to forget that moment. I never want to forget what she said to me because I know that she intended for me not to. I write and I remember that this is exactly why writers write. For the real moments to be shared and remembered no matter how painful they are. Because people want to know they aren’t alone. 

At the end of the evening, Nonno decided it was time for Nonna to go to bed. He came over to her, leaned over and said, “I wish I could help you up. Well, I never could and I never will.” So Nonna laughed and told me, “I was always too heavy for him. He couldn’t even carry me across the threshold!” I said, “well it’s the thought that counts”. Nonno started dancing and said, “58 years of paradise. Well, you know what they say I guess. All things come to an end.” I said, “They come to an end here Nonno, but you get to keep dancing in heaven. And there, Nonna will be weightless and you’ll be Arnold Schwarzenegger”.

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Not long after that, Nonna would go home to Jesus. My dad, my brother, and I were there, holding her hand and though in that moment we were filled with grief, I was praising God that she wasn't in pain and that she was home. A friend posted this quote upon the recent passing of a friend, wife, and mother of 4. It's from The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”

How beautiful a picture it is. The dichotomy of the grief we feel when we lose someone we love. We mourn the loss of their physical presence, and yet rejoice that they have come home at last. I miss my Nonna. There are days with Brighton where I think of her and know she would've loved her. And like a gentle breeze, the grief comes and goes, and is replaced with peace. 

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest; A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear down, a time to build up; A time to cry, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance; A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up; a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance; A time to search, a time to give up as lost; a time to keep, a time to throw out; A time to tear apart, a time to bind together; a time to be quiet, a time to speak up; A time to love, a time to hate; a time to go to war, a time to make peace.