Expect the Unexpected

Dear Ruby,

Grief is a funny thing. Most days, I’m able to smile, hold a conversation, run errands, have a meal with friends, and so on. Any random person I encounter on the street would never know that six weeks ago I lost the most precious thing in my life. Perhaps they’d think: “That girl could use a nap and some mascara,” but surely they would never expect to hear the reality of our situation.

The reality being: we have only scratched the surface of our grief. And while I’m able to smile, hold a conversation, run errands, and have a meal, I want you to know that it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about you every second. It doesn’t make me any less sad.

photo 1I went out for the first time last weekend to celebrate a close friend’s bachelorette party. Truthfully, I had a fabulous time and it was probably something I really needed. I hung out with amazing friends I haven’t seen in weeks, got dressed up, wore makeup, had a few cocktails, laughed genuinely, and danced. It was my first taste of “normal” in what seemed like an eternity. I was so thankful for the opportunity.

Then, I woke up the next morning and sobbed inconsolably in the shower. The rest of the weekend and majority of this week, I’ve spent in a strange fog of sadness. A relapse, of sorts, back to the way I felt days after leaving the hospital. Only this time, instead of not being able to stay awake, it feels like sleep will never come.

Recent insomnia and sadness are a product of two things: 1) my tremendous guilt for having fun when you’re not here and 2) an unrealistic expectation that I was ready to be “myself” again. I don’t even know who “myself” is anymore. After spending nine months envisioning my life headed in one direction, that vision was abruptly and unfairly ripped out from underneath me. I am trapped somewhere in the middle of what was and what could have been.

Today I don’t feel like being strong. Today, I just feel like being sad. I’m making my way out of denial and while that reality is truly painful, there’s no future in denial.

That’s what makes grief funny. You expect someone who is grieving to look the part: swollen eyes, sunken cheeks, pale skin, and pajamas. In reality, grief looks a lot like me and your Dad. We LOOK “normal” and we feel anything but.

As I sat at brunch with your Daddy on Sunday, looking around at a room full of strangers, I thought about how none of them had any idea how sad I am. The cliche Plato quote that I’ve heard a million times kept popping into my head: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” If grief really looks normal, it makes his plea for compassion all the more necessary.

And yet again, Ruby Mae, you’ve given me a gift.

I love you,
Mom

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Wake Up!!

Dear Ruby,

You would be one month old today. I can’t believe how the time has passed. The days go by so slowly, but the weeks are flying. We should be saying, “She’s getting so big!” Instead, today we approved the rendering of your grave marker. Unbelievable.

Oddly, the further we get from your birthday, the scarier things become. I worry about forgetting the way you looked, the way you felt. I’ve been studying your pictures a lot lately, etching your face into my memory. Before I know it, an hour or more has passed. I guess you’re just THAT cute.

photoIt’s safe to say that this month has been the hardest of my life. I have endured more physical, mental and emotional pain than I care to relive. Some days the tears come just for a fleeting moment when something catches me off guard. Others, it feels like I’ll have no tears left to cry. Mostly though, I just feel so heavy. The weight of my grief is wearing me down and I feel exhausted by it.

But, I’m not a quitter. Just because I’m tired and sad and feel cheated beyond words, doesn’t mean I accept this as my fate. What people don’t know when they look at me with those eyes full of pity is that for all I have lost, I have also gained. Your Daddy and I now have a perspective that only people who have stared death in the face or suffered a great loss like ours can understand. This makes it both a blessing and a burden.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything for a little less perspective and a lot more of you, but this is the card we’ve been dealt so I choose to appreciate this window into what’s really important.

In Tuesday’s With Morrie, he talks about this perspective.

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“Most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”

And facing death changes all that?

“Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you’re doing to die, you see everything much differently.

He sighed. “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live…”

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In my darkest moments, I think about what stupid, meaningless thing I was doing when your heart stopped. Was I answering an email for work? Was I on Facebook? Was I hitting the snooze button…again? What was I thinking about? What if my attention had been on something much more important? Could I have saved you? In my head, I know the answer is “no”, but try telling my heart that.

When I catch my mind going “there”, I refocus on my newfound perspective and scream inwardly:

“WAKE UP! THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS THIS MOMENT. YOU WILL NEVER GET THIS MOMENT BACK SO DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL!”

In one of those meaningful moments last week, your Daddy and I signed up for the Celebration Run. On the half marathon registration form, it asked us what we were celebrating. Our answer?

Heartbeats.

Heartbeats are worth celebrating every moment of everyday. Heartbeats are more meaningful than anything else in this world. On November 16th, a week after my 31st birthday, we’ll celebrate how your heart beat for 38 weeks. Each step of that 13.1 mile run, I’ll think about how my heart is still beating and how special it is that you are the only one who knows what it sounds like from the inside.

Thank you for reminding me what’s important.

I love you,
Mom

“She is Perfect”

Dear Ruby,

I’m sure this isn’t the last hard day we’ll have throughout our grieving process, but it’s one for the record books.

The doctor called with the results of the autopsy. This was a phone call we have been anticipating for nearly a month. It was supposed to explain why you were born an angel. Was it an infection? A chromosomal abnormality? Deficient placenta? No. Their answer:

“Ruby is perfect. We don’t know what happened.”

I didn’t even know what to say. The phone call that was supposed to provide us our answers left us with only a lifetime of unanswered questions. Perfect? This situation is a lot of things, but perfect isn’t one of them. How could it be – you’re not here.

Later, I went out to get the mail and came back with two things that I truly believe arrived on the same day for a reason.

The first was your death certificate. When I opened it and saw your name as the “deceased fetus”, it dawned on me – we have a death certificate for you, but no birth certificate. To the state, it appears, you are a statistic. One of 26,000 “fetuses” that isn’t given a chance to take your first breath. The state doesn’t care that you moved inside of me for 38 weeks. They don’t care that you were 6 pounds 5 ounces. They don’t care that you did, in fact, have a heart beat. If nothing else, I guess I can thank both the state and inferior medical research for showing me the way towards the “anger” stage of mourning.

Thankfully, the other piece of mail was a letter from an old friend. It was written on scratch paper and I have to share it with you because what she said was just so perfect and exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

She describes a book she read a few years back:

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…one of the characters (who has been living in India for years) tries to write to her father after learning of his death. It says that she recorded his loss “with an almost inarticulate sorrow.” Finally all she writes to him is, “John, my father, in the land where I live they say we are born again and again to make good our debts; if it be true, I pray that I be born your daughter again.”

And when I have lied awake feeling only a fraction of a fraction of what you’re feeling now, I tell myself that in some universe – or some version of this one – Ruby is born your daughter again and again. And you watch her grow and live her own long, complicated and beautiful life, like the one you’re living now.

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In the midst of my despair (and anger), when I don’t know how much more I can take, I will come back and read this letter over and over.

I would be so lucky to have you born my daughter again and again. I pray we’ll meet once more, if only in my dreams.

I love you,
Mom

‘Giving Birth to Life’

Dear Ruby,

Your Daddy found an amazing article today in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. It is written by a woman who recounts the day she successfully gave birth to a living baby girl 15 months after her first daughter was stillborn. pnmag

These are the stories we NEED to hear. If it could happen for her, it could happen for us! After reading the article a dozen times, I noticed the date it was published: May 12, 2014. On “the worst day” for your Daddy and I, someone else put out this story of hope.

Is this an eerie coincidence or another one of your little signs?

Either way – I love you,
Mom

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Giving Birth to Life
By Lindsey Henke

As soon as the weight of her little bundled body touched my breast, a piece of my heart forever melted and the hole in my soul that was missing my first daughter deepened a little, while at the same time was filled in with this new found love. Looking at Zoe, my mind initially searched for her sister and a part of me hoped it was her, but this baby was a whole new and different life form with her own legacy of love to fulfill in our hearts and the world.

“We did it!” I said to Nick as I turned to him and kissed my beautiful husband as he brushed the hair on my brow and I held our warm, living baby Zoe in our arms. “We did it!”

“Yes we did.” Nick smiled through tears of joy as he replied. “And she is beautiful, just like her sister.”

Full story here: http://www.pnmag.com/h-s/giving-birth-life-birth-zoe-nicole/

Is Heaven for Real?

Dear Ruby,

A few days ago, we received a gift at our front door. Inside was a book, an angel pin, a poem and a note.

“I am a stranger,” the note began.

Those first few words were enough to make our jaws drop. We had been on the receiving end of so much love from family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues near and far, but now complete strangers were reaching out to offer their prayers and words of encouragement.

This stranger, unfortunately, had experienced a loss similar to ours. Heaven_Is_for_Real_(Burpo_book)_coverShe shared a poem that she had written for her son and gave us the book, “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.

The book is a true story about Colton Burpo, the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor, who emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven. Your Daddy and I had never heard of it, but it’s been on the NY Times best seller list for 185 weeks.

We started reading the book aloud together the next day. Since it is written from the point of view of a pastor, a heavy emphasis was placed on Christianity, the Bible and Jesus. As far as faith goes, your Daddy was raised in a Jewish home and I was raised in a Catholic home. While we both appreciate the teachings and traditions from both religions, I would call our household a spiritual one. For this reason, it wasn’t until Chapter 17: Two Sisters that we felt truly connected to the story.

The chapter recounts an afternoon when Colton tells his mom and dad that he met his ‘other’ sister in heaven. Colton’s mom had suffered a miscarriage 2 months into her second pregnancy, before Colton was born. No one had ever told him about the miscarriage, but he’s able to go into detail about how she hugged him, how she didn’t have a name because they hadn’t named her, and how she looked like his sister with different colored hair.
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Then Colton said something that still rings in my ears: “Yeah, she said she just can’t wait for you and Daddy to get to heaven.”

From the kitchen table, I could see that Sonja was barely holding is together. She gave Colton a kiss and told him he could go play. And when he left the room, tears spilled over her cheeks.

“Our baby is okay,” she whispered. “Our baby is okay.”

From that moment on, the wound from one of the most painful episodes in our lives, losing a child we had wanted very much, began to heal. For me, losing the baby was a terrible blow. But Sonja had told me that to her, the miscarriage not only seared her heart with grief, but it also felt like a personal failure.

“You do all the right things, eat all the right things and you pray for the baby’s health, but still this tiny baby dies inside you,” she once told me. “I feel guilty. I know in my mind that it wasn’t my fault, but there’s still this guilt.”

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I understand Sonja’s guilt. I feel it too. Ever since we left you at the hospital, I have prayed that you are ok. I so badly want to believe that your spirit is waiting for your Daddy and I in heaven, another universe, anywhere.

I don’t know whether or not Colton actually went to heaven or if he actually met his sister, but I also don’t really think it matters. He experienced something unexplainable and his story offers hope.

I so badly NEED to believe we will see you again. Colton’s story gives me hope that I just might and that’s good enough for me.

I love you,
Mom

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks

Dear Ruby,

Your crib and glider were delivered this morning. photo 4The delivery men put everything in your room. Weeks ago, I washed all your clothes and hung them in your closet. I had put your tiny diapers in baskets underneath the changing pad for easy-access. Your blankets and towels are folded neatly in the hallway cabinet. I had framed pictures of butterflies for the wall and ordered a butterfly mobile. Neither were hung up yet because I was waiting to see exactly where the crib and chair would go.

photo 2Now that everything is here, part of me still wants to put the room together…but I won’t. The nursery was supposed to be full of life: bright colors, butterflies, a new baby smell, toys, lullabies and most importantly, you. Instead, it feels dark, bland, empty and so, so quiet.

I spent a lot of time today sitting in your room. I’ve decided that the glider was worth every penny. It’s so comfortable. I can’t wait to spend long nights there when your brothers or sisters won’t go back to sleep. photo

There have been too many moments over the last couple of weeks when words were insignificant. Thoughtful notes have poured in from friends and family all over the country, most of them beginning with the words, “I don’t know what to say…”

In truth, neither do we. And so, many times, we don’t. Instead, we let lyrics do the talking. After all, “when words fail, music speaks.”

I’m sure it was no surprise to your Dad when he found me weeping in your room today with my laptop blaring “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison. It’s always been one of my favorite songs, but it’s taken on new meaning since “the worst day.”

Daddy and I were sitting in the hospital, lost in our own thoughts, until he decided that the silence was deafening. He had kept it together for hours, but when he turned on Into the Mystic, he finally let himself go.

Music has a way of doing that, opening us up. Ever since, we’ve used music everyday to help us cope. For all those times when words are insignificant, melodies make it impossible for us not to feel and lyrics give meaning to the melodies.

I created a playlist that I listen to every time I write to you. Here are just a few of the songs:

1. “Into the Mystic” – Van Morrison
2. “She Lit a Fire” – Lord Huron
3. “Bluebird” – Sara Bareilles
4. “Lullaby” – Billy Joel
5. “Tomorrow is Gonna Be Better” – Joshua Radin
6. “Heartbeats” – Jose Gonzalez
7. “For Good” – Wicked
8. “Ruby” – Ray Charles
9. “Home Again” – Michael Kiwanuka
10.”Hold You in My Arms” – Ray Lamontagne

I won’t finish decorating your room, but I will continue to listen to music in there, letting my mind wonder where you are and what you’re doing.

‘Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic’, my love.

I love you,
Mom

One Day at a Time

Dear Ruby,

It’s impossible to predict how one will react when the unthinkable happens. Simply getting out of bed after being blindsided by this kind of tragedy feels like an accomplishment.

People keep telling your Daddy and I that we’re so strong. They say our strength is admirable and that we are inspiring. It got me thinking about whether or not we deserve such a compliment and questioning the source of said strength.

The truth is, our strength comes from YOU.

After receiving the news that your heart wasn’t beating, the fury of emotions went as follows:

1) Devastation
2) Sadness & heartbreak
3) Overwhelming desire to live

We could have crumbled in our devastation (sometimes we want to). We could have immersed ourselves in our sadness and heartbreak (sometimes we do). But the moment your heart stopped beating, your Dad and I were given choices…

We could let all the dreams we had for you die along with you OR we could go out and live a full life to honor you everyday.

We could shy away from having a family OR we could make it our mission to give you siblings who would experience everything you weren’t able to.

We could drown in self-pity OR we could forage-for-joy.

When we broke it down that way, our choices were really so obvious. Out of this horrible loss emerged an obligation responsibility opportunity to ensure your death was not in vain.

With all that said, we still allow ourselves to be sad. Some mornings, I wake up fully expecting to be pregnant. The moment that I put my hand on my belly and realize it wasn’t all a bad dream, my heart breaks all over again. Strength doesn’t mean pretending that our nightmare isn’t real. Choosing to forage for joy, doesn’t mean we suppress our sadness. In fact, the majority of our healing happens when we confront our pain head on.

We had no control over your loss, but we do have control over how we react to it. Getting out of bed is a conscious choice we make every morning. We choose to face each day together. When your Dad is having a bad day, I help him through it. When I’m having a bad day, he helps me. We are a team.

I don’t know if this the “right” way to go about grieving and it’s certainly not the easy way, but there’s nothing easy about being a parent. Parents are faced with obstacles and challenges everyday as they navigate their way through raising a child. As your parents, we are taking one moment, one hour, one day at a time on our journey forward.

Robert Byrne once wrote, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” You have given our lives such purpose. We will forever take advantage of our hearts beating. If not for ourselves, then certainly for you.

I love you,
Mom