The Only Lullaby

I was recently watching the movie Philomena, when I felt it. The sadness boiling up again, threatening to spill over and burn every part of me.

In the movie (spoiler alert), Philomena’s 3 year old son is taken away from her, against her will. She watches as he is crying and fighting and driving away with his new family.

I couldn’t stop the tears. Although I have never had to watch my child being adopted out to someone else, I have experienced the raw grief of having a child taken from me against my will. Her child was taken from the monastery where she lived; mine was taken from my womb.

I have recently started going to counseling (highly recommend it). Between the loss of Salem, the shooting an murder of our neighbors, and a couple of other huge things that have happened this past year, it seemed it would be foolish not to seek some outside help. Praise Jesus for professional counselors. Anyway, at one of my recent sessions, we talked about the loss of Salem for the first time. My therapist pointed out how my body was physically responding as we spoke. That I looked like my body was trying to pull itself into fetal position, but I kept fighting it.

A year and a half has passed, and to most of the world he has probably been forgotten. The world, after all, never got the chance to know him. I never got the chance to know him, although I have been changed by him.

Sometimes when I’m holding Copeland, I think of Salem. Copeland has my blue eyes, light hair, and fair skin. What would Salem have looked like? Copeland has my laid back nature and shares my love for sleep. What would Salem be like, as a 4 month old? Would he be a good sleeper or would I be up with him all night? Would he be laid back like his mama and his brother, or more proactive and ambitious like his father and his sister?

And sometimes I feel guilty, thinking of Salem while I’m holding Copeland. After all, if Salem had lived, Copeland would have never been born. It’s such a tricky thing and you just cannot follow all the feelings down their own paths to sort it all out. It’s just messy and mucky and it doesn’t fit together in a tidy way that can be explained. I wish I didn’t lose Salem. I wish he was here with me right now. I also cannot imagine my life without Copeland. And I want him with me right now too. They are both mine and both loved.

But I’ve started to notice that thinking of Salem while I hold Copeland doesn’t take away from the sweetness of the moment. On the contrary, it makes me realize just how much of a gift my little rainbow baby is. My appreciation for Copeland is even richer and deeper, because of his brother who I never got to hold.

In this time in our Western world society, we don’t know what to do with grief. We treat it as something we need to just eventually get over. A hurdle that we are meant to get over. Something that eventually has to move into our past, as a faint memory. That is so sad to me, and so wrong.

No, grief is not an obstacle. It is an end in itself. It is not something we must get over, but a pure and beautiful expression of love.

So I want to embrace the grief that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It may feel different as each year passes, but it is a part of my life from now until eternity. It is my love for my son. The ache and cry of my heart is the song I sing to him. The only lullaby that will exist between us.

This is a painting given to us by dear friends, that made them think of "peace" - the meaning of Salem's name.

This is a painting given to us by dear friends, that made them think of “peace” – the meaning of Salem’s name.

KM.

The Waiting Room

Yesterday I had my 30 week pre-natal OB appointment. As I sat in the waiting room, I watched a couple walk back in from the Ultrasound room. They had the fresh pictures of their little baby folded up and gripped tightly. They both sat down and didn’t say a word to each other. They didn’t look at the pictures. They didn’t move a fraction of an inch for the entire 15 minutes I was there. They looked like they had seen a ghost. Judging by the expression on their faces, something was wrong.

I don’t know anything about this couple. I don’t know what their situation was and I want to be careful not to make assumptions. But watching them, I felt my heart drop. It wasn’t too long ago that I remember sitting in that same waiting room, completely devastated. I remember having to walk back through that waiting room full of happy, pregnant women after our ultrasound on that awful day, and trying to walk as fast as I could, eyes averted. I remember trying (and failing) to hold back the tears, and completely falling apart once we got into the car.

And here I was yesterday only several months later, sitting in the same room with a growing little boy kicking my ribs at 30 weeks into my pregnancy.

It seems like a bit of a cruel irony that the room that women have to sit and wait in for their quick healthy pre-natal visits is the same exact room that others have to wait in after hearing the worst news they could imagine.

As I held my swollen stomach to feel my son’s little feet dancing, I was acutely aware of the fact that I am now the woman that I couldn’t look at before. The woman that is too painful to see, because of the stark visual reminder of what you lost. I am now the woman I once tried to avoid in this very waiting room.

The room that holds both immense joy and deep pain, simultaneously.

I looked around the room and let this sink in. Some come here rejoicing. Some mourning. Some completely unaware of how great the gift is that they have; others painfully aware of the gift they have lost. I felt tears threatening to fall for those in the room that may be a part of the later group. My heart ached for them and I wanted to reach out and hold them. I wanted to tell them that their baby mattered. That it was a sweet life lost too soon. I wanted to cry with them and validate their loss and their pain.

I also felt a deep sense of gratitude, as I held my stomach a little tighter. There is nothing I have done to deserve this little boy. There is no reason that I should be here for a healthy visit. We are guaranteed nothing. I’m not even guaranteed that this pregnancy will end with a healthy baby in my arms, even though I’ve made it to 30 weeks.

Remembering our loss and reflecting on our pain isn’t exactly fun. It hurts. But it makes me alive again. It makes my heart beat for humanity. It makes me love and pray for others. It reminds me of the Kingdom of God and how desperately we need it, and it makes me cry out to our Savior for it to come! Because this world is hard to live in. There are so many people who need to be held. So I prayed to the One who created us all, from the day of conception. I prayed that He would see their hurt, hear their cries, and wipe their tears. I thanked Him for Salem. For the chance to be his mom, if only for a couple of short months of gestation. I have a son waiting for me with Jesus, and that is a gift I can look forward to for the rest of my life. And I prayed that God would not let me lose the soft heart that He had been forming inside of me, because of my loss. It made me more real, more raw, more human and more compassionate. I don’t want to forget that. I don’t want to forget those who are newly hurting. I want to ache with them as we call on Jesus and praise Him that one day every tear will be wiped away.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
-Psalm 139:13-16

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
-Revelation 21:1-4

remembranceday1

KM.

The Communal Dance of Joy and Mourning

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, one second too late. Not soon enough to stop it from happening. Riley excitedly grabbed the “Big Sister” book off the library shelf – the same big sister book that we had bought her in the fall, that we had her open at her birthday party to announce to our families that we were pregnant; the same book that we used in our photography session to take our announcement picture that we were going to post publicly in January.

She ran with the book over to a cozy little reading nook, that just happened to be occupied by one very pregnant lady and two women holding tiny little newborns in their arms.

It was like a knife through my heart.

I happen to have several friends who are pregnant right now, most of them due right around the time that I was. One of my best friends just got married. I have a nephew due to be born in September. All around me there is joy and life, while inside of me is the empty casket that held the death of my second child only a few months ago.

It’s no accident that “rejoice with those who rejoice” is right next to “weep with those who weep,” smack dab in the same exact verse of scripture (Romans 12:15). These two things often happen simultaneously in our communities and in Christian community, we are called to enter into both of them together. Even when they are happening at the same time.

The Greek word for “rejoice” in this passage means to be exceedingly glad; the Greek word for “weep” used here literally means to mourn for the dead; to enter into the pain that is associated with grief.

And that is exactly where I am finding myself.

It’s not an easy thing. Seeing women who are pregnant is a very stark visual reminder of my son’s death. But it is also a stark visual of life and joy.

As crazy as it sounds, rejoicing and weeping are meant to be together. I shouldn’t be afraid of the tears that threaten to fall when I see the joy of a healthy child growing, because those tears show the value of my son’s life. And those who are in the season of rejoicing shouldn’t be afraid of my tears either. The tears don’t mean anything about them personally. And they don’t mean anything about me personally. They mean that death was never supposed to be a part of the equation and people are not designed to handle the sting of it. They mean that the person who was lost was invaluable and there is now a hole in the world and our lives because of his absence.

Nor should I be afraid to smile and rejoice with those who rejoice. Rejoicing does not mean that my son’s loss is forgotten, something that I am very fearful of. If anything, it actually validates the pain of losing him. When we see the picture of joy – what is supposed to be, we are also forced to remember the loss and why it was significant.

When I see a friend who is somewhere around 20 weeks pregnant, I see where Salem should be right now. When I see a mom holding a newborn, I see what Salem is supposed to be this summer. When I am at a wedding, I see what Salem should have the opportunity to experience.

But that is not a bad thing to see. Why do we try to run from pain? Every thing I see that makes me sad and reminds me of Salem, it whispers of his life and significance. It says that he was truly valuable and worth mourning. It says that he was and is deeply loved.

Likewise, those who are in seasons of rejoicing should not be afraid to enter into the mourning of those around them. It doesn’t subtract from their joy, but should actually add to it.

Mourning is made validated when you are reminded of what is actually lost. And rejoicing is made richer when you realize what you have, that could be lost.

This is the sacred dance that we are called into as Christians. Yes, it is painful. But running from the pain is only hurting us more.

If we just indulge in our rejoicing without willingness to weep with those who are mourning, then we aren’t going to experience our rejoicing in as rich of a way as we could. And if we pull away in our mourning without willingness to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, then we will just become bitter and resentful.

I’ve been the one who is in a season of rejoicing before while other friends were mourning. Now it’s my turn to be on the other end of Roman’s 12:15, only to realize that I should have been there (with others who are there) all along. Here is something I’ve learned:

It’s a great disservice to those of us who are mourning when we are treated like we should just get over it and move on, or we are encouraged to find some sort of “good” purpose in all of this. It is an impediment to us being able to enter fully into community and rejoice with those who rejoice when people expect us to be the hero of our own story; to pull ourselves up, move on, and be inspirational with “all of the ways God is working through this!” It makes those of us who are mourning feel like our pain isn’t validated, our loss isn’t significant, and that the life of the one lost wasn’t valuable. Yes, God can and will work good things, even out of tragedies. But my sanctification is certainly NOT more valuable than Salem’s life. How are we supposed to rejoice with others if those things are true?

There are many days when I don’t want to see a single person, other than my family. I don’t want to mourn by myself, but I also don’t want to mourn inwardly while everything else around me seems normal and happy. I am sometimes afraid to talk about anything good that God is doing in my life, for fear that people will grasp onto it as a reason for my son’s death – as if any of it is more valuable then he was.

But when those who are rejoicing are also willing to mourn with us and validate our loss? Oh, it is such a beautiful gift. In the same way that it is a beautiful gift to those who rejoice, when one who is mourning also rejoices with them.

I was surprised by what a gift it was for me to rejoice with two friends this week who are expecting their first child. The reason that it was such a gift was not because it erased my pain; no, in some ways it made my pain more prevalent, brought it front and center. But it was the way that these two incredible women mourned with me while I rejoiced with them. With compassion on their faces and listening ears, they ministered to me by mourning with me even though they are in a time of rejoicing. And hopefully I was able to minister to them by being excited with them and listening to the ways they are changing and things they are contemplating during their pregnancies. To be able to talk about falling into a pile of unfolded laundry in tears of pain over my son in the same conversation as talking about their birthing plans and pregnancy cravings was a rare and beautiful thing.

My situation may bring tears into their smiles, and theirs smiles into my tears; but that is true friendship. That is life in rich community. That is rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

A few weeks ago at my friend’s wedding, I was standing at the back of the room when another friend from our church walked up to me. She is also in a season of loss. Without hesitation, we wrapped our arms around each other. And we wept. We held each other for a long time, and then we turned together and looked at all of our friends – laughing and dancing. And we smiled.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” –Romans 12:15

KM.

20140327-163140.jpg

“My Son is Gone” – My Husband’s Processing of our Loss

Recently, my husband wrote about our miscarriage.  I hope that this will be helpful for men who are also processing such a devastating loss.

Here is what he wrote (you can visit his new blog here):

My Son is Gone

(I wrote this February 25th but it has been hard to muster up the energy to revisit and edit it which is why I am only posting it today)

I am not sure how to go back and adequately explain how I felt 53 days ago when we found out that our second child – our little son Salem – had been miscarried.

Miscarried…I hate that word.  I hate what it means, what it represents, but even just how cold and how devoid of emotion it is.  The prefix “mis” is something we use to characterize small problems or something that was incorrect or wrong.

Mistake. Mistrust. Misuse. Misunderstanding. Misfortune.

There is nothing small about losing a child.  There was nothing wrong with him.  It wasn’t just some small error to be cataloged and anesthetized by medical terminology.  My son is gone.  He is dead.  I never got to meet him or hold him or play with him.

It seems like just one more way our society has found to treat miscarriage as if it is somehow less than death, less than losing a loved one.  There are those who would treat not getting a hoped-for job as more significant than miscarriage – losing a kid.  I don’t understand our world.

We found out we were pregnant right before Thanksgiving and our Thanksgivings (with both our families) were full of joy in letting our families know about this little life we had hoped for and dreamed of – a time to celebrate and imagine what he or she would be like.  A time of joy and hope.

When I got back on campus, I avoided answering any questions about my Christmas and winter break – each of those memories is too intertwined with joyful, excited dreams about our new kid…dreams that are now just pain and sadness.  I don’t want to remember what that felt like; I am not strong enough to confront the tidal wave of disappointment that threatens to newly pull me under with each remembrance.

It was Monday, December 30, my wife’s birthday, when we didn’t hear the heartbeat.  Don’t worry, we were told, it is probably too early; it doesn’t have to mean anything.  But it did mean something.  We had planned her birthday around hearing the heartbeat, going out to lunch or coffee to celebrate, spend the day delighting in this new life, and then going out to a fancy dinner.  Instead I spent most of the day trying to calm her nerves and assuage her worst fears.  “It’s too early to know.”  “If we hadn’t tried to hear the heartbeat, we wouldn’t have any concerns.”  “We can trust and believe that everything is ok.”

I was wrong.

It feels wise and helpful to preach patience and caution.  But fear is not patient and does not proceed with caution when flooding your reason, emotions, and intuition with panic.

Wait, we were told, in a few weeks have an ultrasound and you’ll know more clearly.  But we couldn’t wait.  We knew of too many others who had suffered the terrible and tragic loss of miscarriage and waiting weeks sounded too hard and so my wife scheduled a much earlier ultrasound for that Friday.

Again I tried to help her stay calm and try to trust the Lord.  But somehow between Monday, when I was the calm one, and Wednesday my misgivings had become complete terror.  My tiny little kid was in danger.  His or her life was being threatened (or had already been destroyed).  I am the dad.  I am supposed to protect my family – at the cost of my own life if need be.   I would do anything to protect my wife or our two year old…but how in the world could I protect this child?  I felt helpless.  I also felt clueless – my wife could get inclinations and gut feelings about the health of our baby based on how her body was feeling but I was completely dependent upon her intuition and medical science to tell me what was happening.

I remember laying on our couch on Wednesday weeping and begging the Lord to spare our child.  But, as it turns out, it was already too late.  He was already gone.

It felt very easy to cling to moralism – my wife and I were good people, we served God, we served others, we weren’t materialistic, we were good parents.  Surely, wedeserved to have a healthy baby.  And if we didn’t, then it wasn’t our goodness that had failed, it was God’s.  How could a good God bring such disaster and tragedy upon such obedient people?

Other times during that interminable week I found myself despairing over my great sin and depravity – I wasn’t a good person, I was selfish and lazy and self-centered and uncaring and judgmental.  Maybe if I was a better person than God would not punish me by taking my child away.  If only I had prayed more, then God would have answered those prayers and protected my kid.  If only I had fasted more or served more.  If only…

I knew none of this was true – that my moral depravity did not get the last word; Christ’s perfect righteousness on my behalf did.  I knew that God treated me according to Jesus’ moral purity and would not condemn me/us/my kid because of some inadequacy on my part.  I also knew that God is good and just and loving and wonderful and is redeeming all things and will put an end to death and suffering and tragedy… only He hasn’t yet.  Jesus hasn’t come back.  Bad things still happen.  Awful, horrific, unimaginable suffering still happens.

And I was scared out of my mind.  Some of my fear came from false beliefs that didn’t so much creep in as they kicked the door to my mind wide open and set up shop in the living room.  But some of the fear came from a right understanding that being a Christian absolutely does not mean a perfect, pain free life.  Jesus was our perfect example, the perfect human, had the perfect heart and mind… and His life was one of suffering, betrayal, poverty, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, recrimination, insults, constant demands, torture, horrific pain, and death at the hands of those He came to rescue.  To say that following Him will somehow not include at least a taste of those things is not only unbiblical but completely illogical.

All people on this planet experience pain and suffering to some degree.  Before losing Salem, compared to the rest of the planet, I had an unbelievably easy life.  Yes there was pain.  Yes there was true hardship and conflict.  But I had it good.

Not anymore.

I don’t know if there is any sense or wisdom or fairness in trying to rank who has suffered more – as if we can compare the levels of horror found in rape, murder, losing a loved one, abuse, being trafficked, starvation, terminal illness, etc.

I think our world would say that miscarriage is among the least of those.  After all, you never met the baby so you don’t know what you missed.  Plus, you can always have more kids right?  As if those future kids can replace the one lost.  As if it is somehow a guarantee that you can have more kids.  No one would say that if we lost our two year old.

It also seems like such a disgracefully individualistic way to view death – as if all that matters is how it affects me.  As if my son’s loss is meaningless.  As if he didn’t lose the chance to live and learn and grow and play outside and read books and fall in love.  He lost his whole earthly life.  Imagine if your entire life was erased and you never were born – that’s what he/we lost.

I am not saying I have suffered as much as anyone else.  I’m just saying once you are afflicted with admission into this horrible club, it doesn’t really matter who has it worse.  It’s all awful.

At one point during my praying and sobbing Wednesday morning, I recalled the story of Hannah and Samuel (1 Samuel 1).  Hannah was barren and desperate for a child and vowed that, if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service.

This story isn’t recorded in the Bible to give us some formula for negotiating with God; it’s simply a record of what happened.  And so I don’t know if this was my mind grasping for something or if it was the Lord speaking to me but I wondered if God was asking the same of me.  I got the sense that our kid would be called into some sort of dangerous (it very clearly felt dangerous) service to the Lord.  Through tears and with a lot of fear (I wish I could say faith), I told the Lord that – if this was really from Him – He could have our kid if only he’d/she’d be ok.  I got the sense that this could be significant for God’s Kingdom.

Losing Salem, finding out that he was long gone before I ever prayed that to the Lord, has made me wonder if it was real in the first place.  Was that really the Lord or just all in my head?  It made me question everything I believed I had heard from the Lord about our unborn child – after all, how can he serve God if he is never born?  It felt cruel at first.  I was mad at God.  I (somehow) didn’t believe that God is cruel even in those moments…but I didn’t understand.

I still don’t know if it was God but now I have a different sense.  The things I felt like God revealed to me about our kid – mostly small little feelings, a sense, a hope, that kind of stuff – I am thankful for them.  They are all I have of Salem.  I didn’t carry him in my body (which has strangely been one of the hardest parts because it means I have no physical experience of him).  I have no memories of him.  I don’t know what he looked like.  What I have are these strange, intuitive experiences of him (parents – I think that will make sense to you; if you aren’t a parent, I don’t really know how to explain the sense of connection parents can – but don’t always – have to an unborn child.  These “experiences” for lack of a better word were definitely stronger for Salem than for Riley so who knows how valid they are but I definitely don’t believe they are completely without meaning).

If that connection to Hannah and Samuel’s story was actually real and from God – again, I may never know – then maybe the Lord, knowing that Salem was already gone, graciously and mercifully was trying to tell me that Salem’s life (cut so short though it was) served a purpose on this earth.

No amount of purpose or meaning will ever validate his death.  Nothing will ever make me say, oh it was awful and tragic but now it’s all worth it because of x, y, and z…. Never.  To do so would be to diminish his loss; to act like we can place a value on a human life.  So I am not saying that at all.

What I am saying is – given that he had died, given that we had lost him, believing that there might be some good that comes out of that has nothing to do with balancing the scales (impossible – I would take my son over any amount of good that comes to us or others through his death… call that selfish if you want, it’s honest).  But I believe that God brings meaning into meaningless tragedy, that He can grant to a little baby, lost far too soon, a life of impact that far outlasts his scant few weeks in the womb.

 

I left that couch on Wednesday not sure whether to have hope or despair.  But I was not prepared for Friday.

I think I was in shock when the ultrasound tech (without an empathy whatsoever) told us.  I know I was in shock until we got into the car and both lost it.  When we got home, I went to the bathroom to wash my face and couldn’t stop crying.  My child was gone.  It was final.  Done.  Whatever bit of hope I had held on to was gone.

The weekend was a blur.  We wept.  We (barely) took care of our kid.  We wept more.  We held each other.  We talked and cried.  We let family and friends know… but we couldn’t really let them know.  We could only share the facts, not the agony.  We (somehow) survived.

The next week, mostly because we were in shock and not thinking straight, I went to a work conference from Tuesday-Saturday in St. Louis.  What was I doing there?  I couldn’t think about my job.  I couldn’t think about campus or students.

One of the greatest gifts of this job is the amazing people I work with – at UNC but also around our region and around the country.  But it was nearly impossible to be around even these great people.  I avoided the ones who didn’t know – if they asked me questions, I was going to lie… there was no way I could open up so raw a wound again and again.  Even though these are colleagues I like and respect, I barely had the energy to ask them questions or even care about their answers.

The people who did know – I wanted them to ask, to acknowledge the crushing reality that was staring me in the face every waking moment.  But I didn’t want them to ask because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to start sobbing in public and have all the people who didn’t know suddenly wonder what was going on and ask.

God bless my friends that week.

I got back home that Saturday night – eight days after we found out.  It has been an exhausting and emotional week for both my wife and I.  Being home wasn’t easier but it was better to be together.

I went to work on Monday.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe to feel – in some tiny way –normal?  In control?

That night, this happened.

The following two weeks, as my wife was anemic from blood loss, I shoved the pain down to take care of her and our daughter.  At least one of us had to be physically functional.

It’s now been nearly three months since we found out.  Our baby boy has been lost to us for much longer than we had him.  And I have found that I still have not processed like I need to.

So that’s what this blog is:  an attempt to process; grieve; memorialize; heal.

The most helpful thing anyone has said to me during all of this is that, “If death is really what we think it is… what we say it is, then you should be falling apart.  You should be having a hard time being a good husband, a good wife, a good father, or a good mother.  Your daughter won’t remember this time, but if she did, it is probably good for her to see that you had a hard time caring for her.  Because it shows her that the loss of her sibling is real, and it is painful.  It makes it hard (almost impossible) for life to move on.  Death affects us.  We are not strong enough to handle it.  And if we try to act like we are, we are ignoring what death really is.”

My hope in making this public is that I can help others feel permission to fall apart, to grieve, to hurt, to not just repress and move on, to confront death for what it really is – horrible; tragic; wrong; not just something to power through.

My hope is that in some small way this can be helpful for others – especially fathers – grieving a similarly horrific loss.  If that is you…. I am so, so sorry.

Salem

In my other posts about our recent miscarriage, you may have noticed me talking about my “son.”

Though it was far too early to have known anything about gender before we lost our child, for a few weeks prior to our loss, Jordan and I had both been certain that this was a boy. When I was pregnant with Riley, I knew she was a girl. My intuition on this one had become just as strong, as did Jordan’s. Looking back, I believe that was a gift from the Lord.

When we were pregnant with Riley, we would pray that God would show us what to pray over her. We sensed He was leading us to pray for a sweet spirit. So throughout our pregnancy, we prayed that Riley would be a sweet spirited daughter of the Lord. And what do you know? She totally is. So in this pregnancy also, we asked God what we should pray for this child. The word “peace” kept coming to us, so thus we prayed.

We had a very difficult time thinking of boys names. For some reason, we either just did not agree on them, or the ones we did agree on just didn’t seem right.

The week before we found out about our loss, I turned to Jordan and asked, “What do you think of the name Salem for a boy?” We were driving to Richmond and I had just seen it on a few road signs and started to think that I really liked that as a name. Jordan thought about it for a second and then said, “Salem… I like it. Actually, I love it.” This was the first boy’s name that we both instantly had a strong positive reaction to. As I did every time one of us threw a name out there for discussion, I pulled out my handy iPhone and looked up what the name Salem means.

It means “Peace.”

So after learning about our loss, Jordan and I decided to name our son Salem.

Salem’s life was entirely peace, as he will never know the pain and brokenness of the world. We believe and pray that we will meet him in eternity, and we eagerly look forward to that day.

KM.

20140312-211528.jpg

Me at 8 weeks pregnant. This is the only picture we will ever have of Salem.

The Freedom to Fall Apart

20140303-161501.jpg

I thought I was doing much better. Whatever doing “better” means, after you lose a child. I had a few weeks in the beginning where I was completely in survival mode, but then I did the opposite. I kept filling my schedule. I stayed busy. I cleaned and I cooked and had play dates and activities planned out for Riley. I saw friends and had girl’s nights and laughed. This past week, I filled my schedule so that I had something planned for every single morning before Riley’s nap time, and every single afternoon once she woke up. Jordan and I booked so many of our evenings that when someone asked me if I could hang out one night, the first open date I could give her was March 16th.

It was keeping my mind off things. I never wanted to sit in the quiet or slow down, because as soon as I did, the tears would start and I was afraid they might never end. So I tried to avoid them as much as possible.

I could only keep this up for so long before it backfired on me.

I was hanging out with a friend last week, it was the first time I had seen her since the miscarriage. As we were catching up she said something along the lines of, “I’m surprised you’re even here right now. If I were you, I would probably be curled up in bed. I probably wouldn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. You seem so strong!”

She probably doesn’t know how freeing that was for me to hear, or that it was a turning point for my week.

Because that is actually what I want to do most days. I want to curl up and not see one single person. I’m not really that strong. But I keep trying to move on. I keep saying “yes.” I keep forcing smiles, only to start weeping once I get back into my car and drive away.

It is so refreshing to have a friend point out that she wouldn’t expect me to be doing much else than curling up in bed. I had to realize that people aren’t expecting too much of me right now, and maybe I need to stop expecting too much of myself. If I burn out or just need to stay home and cry, then I need to let myself burn out and stay home and cry.

Another thoughtful friend of mine sent me a link to a book she saw called “I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy” by Angie Smith. In a perfectly timed reading, I highlighted these quotes that spoke exactly to the place that I’m in right now:

“It’s life after loss, and it’s not going anywhere. I have to learn to go easier on myself and back down off my expectations because I am setting myself up for failure.”

“I am daily battling an enemy who would love nothing more than for me to shove all my baggage into the crevices of darkness, slam the doors, and pretend I have it all together while I secretly fall apart.”

“Instead of booking every minute solid so that I can make sure everything was taken care of for everyone else, I have made a point to have time to just sit in my sorrow. That sounds strange to say, but whenever I am in a hard place emotionally, my first instinct is to fill up my calendar and make sure I have another person beside me at all times. There are certainly times when being in community is necessary and beneficial, but for me it became a way to run from being alone with the Lord, and I began to suffer because of it.”

I think Angie must have known that I would be reading that chapter on the day that I did, because I swear she was speaking directly to me. Which I take to mean that The Lord knew exactly how to speak to me and show me what I needed to see.

I have the complete freedom to fall apart right now.

I’ve been busying my schedule trying to avoid the pain, but I’m having bad insomnia, daily headaches, and an eye twitch. When I wake up in the morning or if I pause during the day, my bones feel like they are aching with sadness.

I finally came to terms with the fact that my body is telling me that perhaps I’m not doing as well as I’ve been trying to convince myself I am.

It’s easy for me to come up with quick fix solutions for myself: “I just need to exercise more.” “I just need to stop eating dairy and grains, and I’ll feel better.” “I just need to stay busy.” “I need to come up with more hobbies.” “I just need to get out and get fresh air.” “I just need comfort food.” “I just need _____.”

No, I just need Jesus. And I need to let myself be sad and allow Him to meet me in that.

So this week (and next week, and hopefully I’ll allow myself more time than just that), I’m going to face what I’ve been trying to avoid: the silence. The aching. The “why’s” and the “what if’s” and the longing. I’m going to remove some of the things I’ve been turning to, so that I will have to turn to Jesus. He is no stranger to pain. And He is no quick fix. He is the God of the Universe, familiar with suffering who meets His children in their longing and is present there.

I’m not going to fill Riley’s nap time with things to get done and people to get back to. I’m going to fill it with prayer and tears and the living Word that comforts those who mourn.

I’m going to make sure I have at least a couple of mornings open each week, for the sole purpose of having the option to just lay in bed, if that’s what I need to do.

I’m going to give myself the freedom to say “no” to invitations when I need to, even if they sound wonderful and I love the people who extend them. I’m going to remind myself that my friends understand.

I’m not going to force a smile in the presence of others, if tears are threatening to betray me. I’m going to let them fall instead.

I’m not going to keep worrying myself constantly with what everyone else thinks. Especially when I don’t even know what everyone else thinks. I just assume what they think, and try to live up to that. I’m going to stop doing that.

I’m going to fill our freezer with easy meals, for when I happen upon those evenings where I suddenly don’t feel up for cooking.

I’m going to take people up on their offers for help, instead of insist I can keep holding it all together by myself.

I’m going to hurt some days, and I’m going to feel normal on others. But I’m not going to try and predict when each will happen, nor will I “assign” days to either. I will give each day the freedom to be what it needs to be.

And I am going to praise Him.

Some days, I’m just falling apart. But that’s ok. I know One who can pick up the pieces, and never expected them to stay intact in the first place.

KM.

Marks of my Son

Last weekend, Jordan and I each took turns having a 24 hour personal retreat.  I  went in to the weekend thinking it was going to be rejuvenating.  I had major plans for Chinese takeout, chocolate, binge TV watching, reading, and sleeping in.

Honestly, it didn’t turn out as amazing as it sounds.

It’s ironic: staying in a hotel by myself to do those sorts of things has always been a dream of mine (and every other mom, I’m sure!); but I finally was able to live that dream only because of the tragedy of losing our son.  It  certainly was not the same. When you lose someone you love, colors aren’t as vibrant anymore.  Wine doesn’t taste as sweet.  Fresh air doesn’t feel as good.  And even Chinese food, Egyptian cotton sheets and alone time don’t bring pleasure or rest.  My 24 hour retreat only made me realize just how sad and lonely I felt.  Instead of rejuvenating, it was exhausting.  I was forced to face how this death has cut into the depths of my heart and soul and I shed many tears.

Although I was ready to come back home to my family, there was one helpful reflection from my time away:

I thought about the ways that my son has changed me.

A few weeks ago I told Jordan that it seems my taste buds have changed.  I now prefer regular coffee to flavored coffee (I used to be a daily French Vanilla or Hazelnut coffee gal), I prefer red wine over white, and dark chocolate over milk chocolate.  Those preferences were the opposite, prior to my pregnancy with our son.  Now every time that I eat dark chocolate or drink red wine or when I have my morning coffee, I think about our son and smile.  And I ache for him.

My heart and character have also changed.  My heart is softer and my perspective is clearer.  I am more compassionate than I used to be.  I see people more easily.  I am better able to recognize hurtful and helpful ways of communicating with others.  I have started to see people’s pain and joys in life as an invitation to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, in ways that I did not before.  I am more easily propelled into action.  I want to love people better.

I must say, I would trade all of this in an instant.  No benefit can outweigh the cost of death. Ever.

But it brings comfort to my heart to recognize these changes and to realize that the affect my son has had on my life is visible to the world.  And it is a sweet gift to have things that remind me of him.  Little trademarks of his life.

I have stretch marks on my body to show that I carried Riley, but these things show that I carried our son as well <3.

waveoflight2

KM.