Four Years but Love is Forever

I have footprints on my heart. Don’t think that because they were left there four years ago they have faded. The impact of those tiny feet on my heart is irrevocable. I will be forever changed by losing a baby at birth. Besides a tiny curl of dark hair, all I physically have of her is a little plaster cast of her feet. Of course it is unspeakably precious to me. I have it nestled in a piece of the same fleecy soft blanket she is buried in. This is much more than many poor women who lose babies through miscarriage get.

Those of you who are close to me or have been following my blog for some time will know that I lost my baby Josephine just before she was born, due to a cord accident. She was my sixth and I was so ready for her to come…the bassinet set up, newborn diapers on the shelf, the house stocked with groceries…I even had her Christmas present already: a wind-up musical swan with her baby on her back.

She was fine at our last checkup, and then, that night in the hospital…no heartbeat. Just silence. Of course it broke my heart. My family and friends, sweet husband and kids helped hold it together.

She would have been four years old this Sunday, September 30th.

Four years and two healthy babies later, I am much more ok than I was at her first anniversary, or even her second, but sometimes things catch me off guard. I was trying to plan her birthday…maybe lots of us could go to the graveyard and bring tons of flowers…and then I thought, four year olds don’t want flowers! They want toys, and cake and balloons…music and mess and the chaos of 20 kids running through the house dressed as fairies and princesses. It hurts that I can’t give her those things, even though she doesn’t need them. Even though she’s up with the stars and her heart is brimming with love, utterly safe, totally loved, in the peaceful presence of God. I still want to do these simple, silly things for her.

So, we do what we can. The kids and I have made it a birthday week. The other day when we ordered groceries from Save-On, we got chocolate cake. We put on candles and sang. We celebrate her because we love her. We are proud she’s part of our family.

We ordered ice-cream, too and had it the next day. Ben and Jerry’s “If I had a Million Flavours.” We made blueberry crisp, too. We will have mini-cereal boxes on her birthday, as we do for the other kids on their birthdays, because they need her to be just another one of them. She’s in Heaven, but she’s still their sister.

On Sunday after Mass and pancakes we will go to the graveyard and bring flowers. We will spend a little time near her praying, and the little ones will likely run about on the grass and read the names of the people who’ve gone before us: young soldiers from the bicycle squad, grandmas and grandpas from the old country, mothers, fathers, babies who never took a breath outside the womb. All the people who await us in Heaven.

Then, because it’s nice to not be alone on this bittersweet day, we will pick up some of our favourite Indian take-out and go to have dinner at a friend’s place. Surrounded by love, just like our daughter Josephine.

Next week we will plant fall flower bulbs to bloom next spring, just like we did last year: Josephine’s flowers. Hiding under the earth and snow, but secretly full of life. Like the promise of eternal life…always making this life more beautiful.

We want her to be remembered. We are proud to be her family. Sharing her story helps us to honour her and to heal, and to know we are not alone.

Do you have footprints on your heart?

Share your story with #IHaveFootprintsOnMyHeart.

Babysteps into eternity: no one is too small to do good

 

Some people might doubt the impact on the world of a person who never saw the sun. Or even took a breath. What could such a person possibly have to say? What could a baby who died in early labour have to teach the world? 

Love. Unconditional, perfect, unending love. The kind that doesn’t have to be earned. The kind of love which created us all. Rather the Love Who created us all, and to whom we return. Losing my baby Josephine three years ago today has ripped open my heart and exposed it to this kind of love. I have been honoured to share it with many other beautiful people who have lost little ones as well. 


Through my daughter’s silence, I found my voice. I had the courage to speak words of sorrow, of brokenness, of hope and of consolation. I wrote book of poetry spanning the first year after her loss, and in this past year have been able to send almost 250 copies of it out into the world. Less than a handful are left and I’m planning to order more copies of unexpected blossoming: a journey of grief and hope this coming week. If you know someone who has suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, and who could use some words of encouragement and solidarity, please let me know. 

Every now and then I get an amazing email from someone who has found an echo of their heart’s sorrow in my book. It’s a consoling reminder of the beauty that can come from shared suffering. I hope those ladies won’t mind if I share a few of their sweet words… One friend who suffered a mid-pregnancy stillbirth told me “Your poems express what I felt but couldn’t describe…they made me feel less crazy about my grief.” Here are a few more responses:

Your book – your words- have been so therapeutic and healing. I really enjoyed it and I am so thankful for you for sharing it with me.

For many weeks I worked very hard at working through and processing my feelings and my grief. It is difficult to face pain head on, but so necessary. 

M.S.

I really wanted to take a moment and let you know how truly touched I was (and am!) by your vulnerability to share your story through your creativity. I cried like mad as I read the book from cover-to-cover in I hid under my blankets while the baby was sleeping and the 2 eldest were watching a video! I treasure your words, and please know how profoundly they have touched my heart and surely helped me along the road of healing. ❤
E.D.

 I’m sharing these with you not to applaud myself but to rejoice in the impact my little daughter has had…the powerful healing she helped bring about by uniting me with other babyloss mamas and affirming that the depth of their grief comes from the profound depth of their maternal love. 

So Little Jo, on your third birthday, know how incredibly proud I am of you and all the good you do from Heaven. May it be the icing on your cake of heavenly joy!

Why Ignoring Anniversaries of Loss Doesn’t Work

Nearly three weeks ago, on March 30th, it was the six month anniversary of my  baby daughter Josephine’s stillbirth. I approached the day with a bit of dread, worried it would send me back and undo my recent period of emotional improvement. I tried to decide what to do…plan a trip with the kids to Science World to distract myself, or invite fellow babyloss moms over to honour the day. In the end, because of a tummy bug, we did neither.

I tried to truck through the day, homeschooling the kids, keeping them fed and occupied, and not allowing my emotional guard down too far. Around 4 pm my sweet friend Kate stopped by with a little pot of bright yellow flowers and homemade chocolate chip cookies. “It’s a day for chocolate,” she told me.

This little visit and chat outside her car (which was full of her own 5 kids who were sick), meant so much. Her kindness in acknowledging my grief gave me the freedom to release it a little. It often takes the hug of a good friend to bring out those hidden tears that are lurking inside like saturated storm clouds, waiting to fall and wash your heart clean again.

The kids, always happy for any birthday, ate Josephine’s half-birthday cookies with gusto as we walked over to the graveyard accross the street where she is buried. We brought her the yellow chrysanthemums, and the kids gathered sticks to make a little enclosure around them.

After this, we took some anniversary pictures, and the kids talked about how big and beautiful baby Josephine is now in Heaven.

  

Their assurance that she is safe and happy shines through their smiling faces. For them, Heaven is very real, and very close. Once my oldest said,

“Mummy, it’s kind of good Josephine died and went to Heaven.”

“Really, why?” I asked.

“Because then she’s right with us all the time, just like Aslan, and never even as far away as if she was sleeping on the couch when we are in the kitchen.”

Kids really get it that love breaks down all barriers, even that of death, and keeps us together.

It is true, but I am little Jo’s mummy, and want to have her in my arms, so while the other kids played happily in the graveyard, I sat by her grave and cried. It was around 5 pm, the time I had been in early labour, when she had quietly passed away from the tight cord around her neck.

The kids hunted for dandelions and blossoms and went about placing them on graves with no flowers, “so they’d have some.” After this we went to the dollar store and everyone was allowed to chose a new colouring book in honour of Josephine’s special day.

Perhaps it seems that we did a fair bit…we at least did something, but it wasn’t enough really. Except for a call from Laura, one of my best friends, who remembered, the day was spent very much alone. I had asked a few friends for extra prayers that day, but that was all. It is a lonely feeling to be living the anniversary of a tragedy when for almost everyone else it is just another day. The very cars driving by so blissfully unaware seem rude. You unreasonably want them to stop, or a least drive slowly, as in a funeral procession.

For me, the next day was not March 31st, it was November 1st, the day after her birth, and the day I came home from the hospital without her. The awful quiet of no newborn cries or coos.

I wanted to write all about it then, to reach out for sympathy and support, but it can be hard to keep talking about loss. Sometimes you feel bad to burden others with your pain, but when you keep it inside it grows claws and shreds it’s way out…so it’s much better to come out in tears.

But like I said, sometimes only the loving acknowledgment of your suffering by others releases them….enables you to drop your stern guard and be vulnerable. This involves telling others what you are going through, so they can walk you through it, or sit with you in it, or whatever it may be.

So I encourage everyone who is suffering some kind of loss, to reach out to others who love them and ask for support, to acknowledge what is happening inside and not try to bury it inside to fester. Put your anniversary of loss on the calendar, own it, do something special on it. And if possible, don’t do it alone.

I’ve been told we can only get through grief by going through it, and anniversaries, as hard as they are, are an opportunity to move through it…rather than remaining stuck in grief by denying it…so don’t skip them. No one gets better by saying “La, la la!” and pretending nothing happened. Sadness grows in darkness and isolation, so let the light of love, that of family and friends, shine upon your soul.

Light a candle, release balloons, have a prayer circle with close friends, make a fancy dinner and toast your loved one lost, or whatever it is that honours the day, and lets you know it’s ok that your grief is still raw, whether it has been 6 months or 10 years.

 

Recipe for a Happy Birthday

Start with cookies made by a sweet friend:

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Add people you love:

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And a living room dance party with kids:

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Have your cake, and eat it, too:

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Open sweet and thoughtful gifts from people who know you well:

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Go say a little prayer to give thanks for the year:

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And take the kids out for sushi:

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Walk home by the light of the moon, under the watch of angels:

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Thank you to all my beautiful family and friends who made such an effort to cheer me up on my special day. I really did enjoy it! Love you all!

Birthday Blessings

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Today is my mother-in-law Janet’s birthday. She is funny, sweet, generous and strong, and defies all stereotypes of evil in-laws. She is one of my best friends.

I remember taking the ferry to meet her the first time. I was so nervous I thought I’d throw up overboard. But from the first warm hug in the ferry terminal parking lot, I knew I had been wrong to worry.

I am amazingly blessed by my relationship with her. She knows me better than almost anyone, and can make me laugh over the phone when things are rough…for example during the pre-bedtime circus with small children or when I wake up after a rough night looking like a porcupine and ready to cry because I can’t even remember to make the coffee. She knows how to put it all in perspective, and loves me despite knowing my worst faults.

So to an amazing person, a super-grandma who is so loved, and one of the most loyal, supportive friends I’ve ever had, happy birthday, and thank you for everything.

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Opa the Coffee King

How do you know you’re a coffee wimp (like me) instead of an afficionado? When you drink it for various reasons other than enjoyment of the coffee taste. And perhaps can’t stand it black.

As a teenager I thought it smelled so gross I made a bet with a true afficianado, my Dutch step-dad Rob, that I wouldn’t drink any coffee until after graduation. Coffee is a sacred morning ritual for him…perfect preparation of the perfect cup…and the ongoing quest for the best bean..despite all this I held out and won my $100!

But now I drink coffee for three reasons: cream, sugar and caffeine. And kids! Helps me keep up with the little monkeys…my kids have told me in the past, “Mom, maybe you need a coffee to feel better.” You said it honey!

One of my daughters likes to share a sip of my afternoon coffee, with plenty of milk of course.

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I like to call it “cheerfulness in a cup.” That little boost to get your day started when you feel like you’re wading through the morning fog in your head, or to pick you up after the afternoon slump, when you have fallen asleep reading the kids stories on the couch, or on some days, when you need your caffeinated buddy to cook dinner with you and make it to bed time. For many parents, as my dear friends say, “Coffee is purely medicinal.”

Because of this, I’m willing to drink it pretty much any way, except black, which makes for interesting experiences when I’ve run out of milk. I’ve had coffee:

With strawberry soy milk (barf!)
With Reece Pieces ice cream (yum, in a strange, ice cream float way…)
With powdered milk (meh!)
With canned coconut milk (ick!)

And all this for someone who used to be a barista!! I can see your heads shaking in dismay…

Although I admit I have found one coffee I like for it’s taste, Starbucks medium Kenya blend. And any coffee that Rob makes tastes good, because he has that magic touch.

The thing is, that the way my step-dad makes coffee–heating the thick cups so they’ll keep the coffee warm, measuring carefully, pouring slowly, lovingly cleaning his espresso machine every day–reflect the artistry and patience of a true craftsman, and the sincere belief that if you’re going to do something, you should do it right.

This attitude imbues his whole life, and as a result he has done many things very, very well, and created a lot of beauty. The same hands that make the perfect cup of coffee have made beautiful houses, films, clothing and most remarkably, miniature steam trains that really work.

I admire him a lot, and as today is his birthday, want to wish him, my children’s wonderful Opa, “Haartelijk Gefelicteerd!” And may you make many more beautiful cups of coffee before you run out of steam! 🙂

Birthday Soup

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This is my handsome husband. It’s his birthday today, but here are some pictures from when he recently took me out for mine. He’s grinning rather mischievously because he has taken me out to a Malaysian restaurant and has ordered among many yummy things, clam soup. Like in-the-shell-steaming-bucket-of-beach-water-and-assorted-refuse clam soup. For wimpy, picky me.
Ugh.

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Of course the romantic has to share everything, so no escape for me. “Drink the broth out of the shell,” says my gourmand, “It’s delicious that way.”

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He gives me a demonstration and beams. I wrinkle my nose, screw up my courage and slurp. Salty….

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It’s actually not that bad. Except in my head. But then my mouth is in my head, so hard to tell the difference sometimes. The little clams taste like button mushrooms, instead of squishy aliens, so that’s good. Daddy and baby are proud of me.

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My sweet other half just likes to make sure life stays a bit of an adventure, like on our first big date, when we went for Ethiopian food and ate with our hands.

So have any siblings?

Slurp. Lick. Lick.

A sister, and yourself?

Stuffing spongy injera bread sopping with curries in his mouth.

Three brothers, actually.

Dip. Stuff. Lick.

You get the idea. Delicious, though. Who knew?

Anyway, I love how he likes to try new things, how he gets excited and passionate about stuff, how he has 50 rants I know by heart, how he likes to share everything (except maybe his Starbucks drink), how he’s totally honest but also affectionate and sweet. He’s helped me grow so much, and at the same time, to remain young at heart.

Here’s a little selfie of us from Christmas:

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So to my husband, a very happy birthday, and to all of you,
I wish you all as much joy and fun in your marriages as I have in mine!