Happy 1st Birthday in Heaven, Josephine!

  
Yesterday, September 30th, we celebrated the one year anniversary of my baby girl’s entrance into Heaven, on the day she was born. I thought it would be better to face the day in a spirit of celebration, as much as possible, rather than letting it pass by us acknowledged, quietly and painfully. 

The kids were totally excited, because a birthday is a birthday, and there will be cake. We had a potluck lunch, after gathering in the graveyard to pray and bring flowers, and my awesome friend Kate made the cake. And Thai Chicken Soup for dinner (so I wouldn’t have to cook), which my kids declared the best soup ever!

My husband James took the morning off so we could go to Mass together…and had the sweet idea of bringing along Josephine’s photo…Daddy’s affectionate heart…I entrusted the day to Our Lady, as I had entrusted her with Josephine, that she could cover her with kisses until I arrive to take over the job. 


A few days before the birthday, my 7 year old daughter was walking home holding hands with her toddler brother when I overheard this:

It’s almost Josephine’s birthday! And you’re invited!

Oh, birthday!

And there will be cake!

Mm, take!

And later, when we all get to Heaven, we will play with Josephine! She’s your little sister, and we will be all together. 

My five year old piped up, “And it’s ok if she is still small, and I’m bigger, because then I’ll be able to hold her better.” 

 

Just as at her funeral Mass and burial, we had many people come, and I think this meant a lot to the kids, to have their little sister honoured like this, and celebrated by people who only ever knew her while she was still kicking in my belly. A few kids made her cards, to go in her memory folder, and one gave a special rock. Never underestimate the value of a special smooth rock, given by a child. Such things are treasures. 

  

Once everyone arrived for lunch, we counted 24 kids at her birthday, not including babies, so it was likely closer to 30. Happily it was a gorgeous fall day, perfect for a picnic lunch outside. My friend Tajsha made the kids’ day by bringing hot chocolate mix and mini-marshmallows. Celebrating in style!

We moms enjoyed coffee and sitting chatting outside by the garden while the kids played. I was very happy for all the company and support of my dear and thoughtful friends in this day. I was surrounded by love, food and prayers, and all these things cushioned my heart so I can honestly say it was a beautiful day. Thank you to everyone who made it special. I’m sure Josephine is happy her family has so many good friends, and will sparkle a little stardust your way, if you ask her. 

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.