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.

Ears of the Forest 

These tiny white tendrils

perched like innocent ears atop a mossy log

listening to the secrets of the forest…

What stories could they tell us, if they had mouths?

For they have heard the early morning trilling of birds

when everything else was silent

save for dew drops dripping from tall trees

bearded with curly mosses.


They have listened to the lapping of water

at the lake’s edge,

the liquid murmurs flowing over submerged logs 

soaked with sunken memories

–mine, too–

ones I dare not extract from their watery repose

lest I tumble in and get absorbed by their somnolence. 


These little glowing ears…

they could tell of green and growing things,

of red and rotting things,

and of the perfect patience of trees

which live and die and even in death

keep giving life. 

“Open Wide Your Hearts”

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of emotional connection in marriage. Now I’d like to discuss how deep friendships and a wider support network are also an essential element to personal growth and spiritual wellness.

I feel extremely blessed to have many friends who help me grow in various ways. People who are willing to share their passions and talents and help me expand my horizons in so many areas….from fashion to faith, homeschool, writing, healing from grief, forming better habits and growing in virtue, self-care, intellectual openness and more. All of these people help provide the “atmosphere of growth” author Gretchen Rubin claims is an essential part of happiness. They encourage and support me to become a better me, in ways I certainly couldn’t become alone. And I think it’s meant to be this way…that the company of kindred spirits helps one’s unique talents and beauty shine.

In their insightful book, “How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth,” authors of the popular “Boundaries” series, Drs Cloud and Townsend, strongly emphasize the need for vulnerable, authentic connection with others. Rather than promoting an individualistic faith that is between God and the person alone, they present the love of other people as the lifeline between our hearts and God’s. Thus healing from deep wounds requires not only intellectual knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness, but real experiences of the heart. We need to feel His love, and the way we can is through the support and love of other people.

To connect with God’s love, however, we need not only people, but also need our hearts to be available to those people. We have to be open and vulnerable for the grace and acceptance to do any good. Many people “fellowship” with others, but they share so little as they fellowship that nothing happens at the heart level. As Paul told the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding your affection from us. As a fair exchange–I speak to you as my children–open wide your hearts to us also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13). So for growth to occur, it must include experiences where hearts are open with each other. Otherwise, it is just known in someone’s head and never experienced at the levels God has designed. (How People Grow, p.128)

I think we can all relate to the power of a really good “heart to heart” chat with a close friend. Such closeness and sharing can make the unbearable seem possible and restore hope. The loving mercy of a friend who encourages us gives us the strength to not give up and the inspiration to try better, while knowing we are already loved exactly as we are. Receiving this kind of grace requires vulnerability and courage, and can’t be had by hiding and pretending we have it all together.

The point here is that grace can be available to us, but we might not be available to grace. We can be around a lot of acceptance and grace, but until the hurt and guilty places of our heart are exposed, we do not experience grace, and the gap between our head and heart continues.

To confess one’s greatest failures and sins, and then still be embraced with love and encouragement, is to experience the unconditional nature of God’s love. This kind of mercy has the power to be transformative. Deep suffering can break one’s heart open, but if we allow it be be exposed it to the healing love of trustworthy people who will comfort us, it can enable us to grow.

When we lost our baby Josephine, we were immensely supported. We could feel ourselves being held up by the prayers of friends, loved ones, and even strangers who heard our story. We experienced the emotional equivalent of a train wreck, but we got up and kept walking. This is not because of our strength, but because of our acceptance of our weakness…we weren’t afraid to lean hard on others so they could help us up again. To me this was a kind of miracle–a sign of God’s love–lavished on us by so many of His children, all participating in one way or another in the communion of the saints. By this I mean not a club for the ‘saintly’ but a vast family of imperfect people struggling to live with hope and love even in the midst of tragedy.

We experienced this all grace because we were open to it…when in pain my natural tendency is to reach out. Some people shut down and hide. It is hard for the warmth of affection to reach them. Recovery can be much slower, and on top of that, hidden wounds are very lonely.

A dear friend told me once she thought I was brave to be so vulnerable at Josephine’s funeral, letting tears fall as we carried her tiny coffin out of the packed church. Honestly, though, I simply couldn’t help it, but exposing my raw grief enabled others to reach out and comfort me. I could receive their love, and my heart could start to be healed, even as it lay broken and shattered.

I hadn’t really meant to go into all this, but I guess my point is, whatever your suffering, don’t try to do it alone. Let God love you by letting others wrap their arms around you so you can feel His nearness. Stop hiding your face under a protective veneer of pretense, as if huddling under a dark umbrella. Throw it aside and let the rain of grace pour over you and wash away your tears. And with your hands now free, reach out and hold the hands reaching towards you.

The night before

Tonight
is the night before I lost you, dearest,
two years ago
when you burst from my womb
and were launched straight into Heaven.

Two years ago tonight,
it was Michealmas
and perhaps your passing the next day
was accompanied by him–
this warrior angel
this strong protector—
to carry you on high
in arms safe and loving as your daddy’s.

Great angel,
protect my spirit now
and give me the courage to face the night,
knowing what tomorrow brings.

Help me be brave enough
to feel the pain of loss
yet again,
ever still,
but also to live with the simplicity of my children
who know how to rejoice in each moment
and sing Christmas carols with gusto
no matter what the season.
Sufficient for the day
is the joy thereof.

Holy Saturday

  
Day of silence

Of exhausted aftermath

Of unbelief

Can it really have happened??

The strangeness of life continuing 

Just as it had before

Yet—on the inside— 

Earth-shatteringly different 

Every mother who has lost a child 

Knows this feeling

In the core of her soul

In her hollowed-out heart

In her empty aching arms

The day after death

For most of us

The long wait for reunion

For resurrection

Lasts a lifetime

One long Holy Saturday 

Until death breaks the silence

And we hear our babies laugh

To endure this day

Stay close to the mother of the one they pierced

No sorrow deeper

No love stronger

No patience more graceful

Than that of the one who spent that Holy Saturday

Weeping tears of hope

Good Friday

Today I want to tell you about my sorrow
But words catch like thorns in my throat.

    
Today we mourn the loss of someone we love deeply. Today there are no words. Only tears. And so for all who have lost someone they love deeply..heart of their own heart, flesh of their own flesh, I offer you my silent company. I mourn with you. I weep with you. And I hope with you. The hope of one who has been broken-hearted and again seen the dawn. 

  

Into Eternity

For you I would enter the dark waters 

Extinguish myself

For you

Give all

So said the Voice to the tiny speck

Floating the the vastness of the universe

And the little speck

Overcome with sheer joy

Burst into flame

And lit up the entire universe 

With a flash of love

Uncontainable

Entering by this exchange of love

The realm of eternity 

Wounded Heart

God’s heart broke open 
when we chose to leave it,
bursting through walls of warmth
meant to nurture,
but misperceived as barriers to freedom. 

Out here in the windswept world
where many wander alone,
each their own god
confusedly crashing into each other,
our hearts are often wounded 
—and burst open— 
red mouths gaping with sorrow.

Who can understand our pain?
Who can heal our shattered souls?
Is there one who has suffered like us,
and survived? Yet more…has triumphed?

Go to Him.

His heart is open still
yearning with the vulnerable expectation of love…
Will you have the humble courage 
to enter? 

  

Stardust

If it’s true that we are dust

and that from the moment of birth

we are heading towards death,

then are not all our words

like a dying breath—

an exhalation of hope

that our voices will be heard

after we’re gone?

Like the light of stars

shining for years,

sending light across the universe

long after the star has burnt out.

Are we perhaps,

though weak and frail

yet destined for eternity,

little flurries of stardust?

A Quiet Remebrance Day

  

This year we had a quiet day at home and missed the parade as our newest recruit is only 9 days old, and I wasn’t up to marching anywhere yet. Instead we read some articles about Remembrance Day, such a the D-day memories of a 90 year old veteran, who joined up at age 15. We also read the fictional journal entries of a young British WW1 soldier as he joined up and experienced his first months in the trenches, followed by losing his leg and his close friend, Private Harry, and travelling back home to share the news to Harry’s mother. 

In both things we read, there was the contrast between the young idealistic hopes of a short, heroic experience of war, and the reality of a long, painful and ugly struggle.  The kids felt sad for these young soldiers, and my five year old declared quite a few times that she did not want to go to war, and that we would never let our new baby boy do so!

 

We talked about the generosity of these men who were willing to give up their lives to protect others, and how grateful we should be to them. In the past we have visited the war monuments in the graveyard, and taken time to discuss the sadness of war and to pray for the soldiers and their families. I remember being very moved by the tombstone of a very young soldier who died serving in the bicycle brigade. Imagine…so vulnerable! 

 

366 days ago I wrote a draft of a post entitled “We Lost the Littlest Soldier.” Remebrance Day last year was only 42 days after I lost Josephine in labour, so my pain was very raw, and I was still bumping into neighbourhood acquaintances who innocently asked me that horrible question, “Where’s the new baby?” Tears came easily at the Remebrance Day Ceremonies that year.  

 

No matter how old our children are when we lose them, they are still our babies. My heart goes out to all parents who have lost their children to war. My you be strengthened by the memory of their courage, and by the sure hope of seeing them again, in the land beyond pain, beyond suffering, beyond anything but peace and the knowledge that we are all, no matter where we come from, precious children of God.