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#66: Muted

Baby Alex turns 4 years old tomorrow. There is a part of me that wants to take the whole day, check into a hotel room and just lay in bed and cry. There is a part of me that wants to take the whole day, bundle up all three of my kids on earth, and make them cuddle me all day. And there is the rational, everyday part of me that has no idea what to do.

As much as I never thought that time would heal the wound of losing Alex, that wound isn’t a gaping hole anymore. It is God’s grace that has healed me. It is God’s will that has given me two beautiful girls after taking away my beautiful boy. I’m not sure how the algebra of my life is supposed to work. One mommy + two sons – one son + two daughters= ?

Overall, four years later, life is good. I don’t dread getting out of bed in the morning. I don’t cringe when I hear Alex’s name. I remember Alex with a fondness that brings a smile to my face, despite a little heaviness in my chest. I feel his absence more than I remember his presence, but that feels normal. I don’t forget that he is gone. His absence feels normal. I don’t remember the time that he was here. Most of my memories of Alex all circle on his departure.

I remember his funeral. I remember his little body in my arms at the hospital. I remember using his nursery as a dumping ground for all the baby stuff until I could finally compose myself enough to see everything again. I remember giving away every “little brother” shirt, bib and trinket I owned. I remember the silence of the house and the useless wishing that there was a baby crying for me in the middle of the night.

Four years later, instead of vivid pictures of a broken mommy wandering around an empty house, I have subtle reminders of the boy who used to be here. I have dusty pictures frames scattered throughout the house. I have Christmas ornaments that stay up year round. I have the memory of “baby Alex” who is mentioned at every prayer time. Four years later, I have this gray cloud hovering above me that doesn’t break through with thunderstorms, but it doesn’t let in all the sunshine either. I’m left with this muted feeling that seems to numb me from the extremes of life.

Muted grief is better. It is less crying, less pain and less sadness. It enables you to explain what happened to “baby Alex” when the 6 year old big brother mentions him to a stranger. It helps you face holidays and birthdays and other events without him, knowing that even the sad times will pass. More than anything, muted grief helps keep your life and your emotions under control. You don’t worry about the messiness of grief that shows up unexpectedly and makes things awkward and uncomfortable.

That muted feeling applies to all the happy things in life too. It prevents you from feeling that simple heart bursting feeling every time you see one of your children nestled in bed, cozy and asleep. It subdues the happiness you feel when you see your kids holding hands, or hugging each other without prompting. It doesn’t eliminate the joy, but it takes the edge off. It turns down the volume and blurs the colors of life. Instead of a world made of 64 colors with the sharpener in the back, the world around you seems drawn in sepia hues. Pretty, but dull.

The muted reality of my life is bearable. I accept the continuous days with little variance. There are ups and downs, but not as up, and not as down as it should be. It feels like this coping mechanism shouldn’t be necessary anymore though. I feel like I have worn this security blanket for too long, and it is time to take off some of the armor. To open up my eyes to the colors of life, and push away the cloud that holds back the sun.

Even after all this time, I will admit I am scared about what is left. I had this box of grief that I unwrapped, examined and then put away. I assumed that there wasn’t anything left to do once the box was empty, so I haven’t really thought much about it. The problem is that sometimes it isn’t just about emptying the box of all the sad parts. I think you’re supposed to replace that grief with something else. I think you’re supposed to fill up that box with acceptance. Hope. Love. You’re supposed to replace that box with warmer emotions, otherwise that empty box takes on more meaning in your life than it should. You can tackle grief and accept loss. But if you never start to experience happiness and joy in the same way, you’re missing out on the more profound emotions of life.

I thought that not crying every day meant that I was “okay.” I thought that being “okay” meant that I could handle my life and move on. I now realize that being “okay” isn’t enough for me. This mommy wants more than muted grief. She wants loud joy, even if it comes with noisy sadness. Messy love and disorderly emotion.

Alex’s birthday reminds me of what we have lost, and it serves as a warning to embrace what is left.

Birthday cakes, balloons, skinned knees, first loves, lost teeth, broken hearts, winning games, report cards, vacations, illnesses, celebrations. There is a lot of life left in the household and I am ready to open myself to all of it.

There are parts of me that are forever changed. I can no longer just look at our children sleeping peacefully with a heart full of innocent joy. I face a moment of panic where I need to jostle them just a bit. Enough to see some movement or hear some sounds to assure me that they will wake up in the morning. The panic I feel in that moment gives me some hope though. Instead of a detached resignation that something terrible might have happened again, I can still muster up the love and the fear that drives every moment of our lives as parents. That moment isn’t foggy and the moments of relief afterwards are sharp and vivid and real.

I take comfort in knowing that even if my reactions to life seem muted, the love I have for these bears is not.

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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

#65: Beautiful

I was trying to pick out some Holiday cards for this year, and I came across a design that said simply, “Life is Beautiful.” What a perfect sentiment. Life is beautiful. Not just the actual birth of new life into the world, but also the whole enchilada… the ups and downs and everything. The whole package of life is beautiful. The birthing, the grieving, the everything is all worthwhile.

I know we will never be done thinking about Alex. I know that he will always be a part of our family, permanently embedded in our hearts and in our minds. As more time as passed since his death though, I have stopped fixating on a few questions that used to plague me day and night.

“WHY?”

I don’t ask “Why” anymore. Not because I know the answer, but because it really doesn’t matter. God has chosen to call Alex home and that is all. It doesn’t matter “Why” because there is still a lot of other stuff going on here in our lives. We have Alex’s brother and sisters to raise. Their presence has become bigger than his absence. We still miss him, but we accept that we don’t need to understand “Why” he’s gone.

“WHAT IF?”

I don’t ask “What If” anymore. I don’t ask “What If” Alex were still here. I don’t do the mental math to calculate how old he would be, or fixate on what life would be like if he were still at the dinner table. The family that we have been blessed with is the family that we were meant to have and that is enough for me.

A year is a long time. It doesn’t seem like it when you are caught up in the details, but a lot can change in those 12 short months. For us, I think back to the miscarriage we had around Thanksgiving 2013. The sadness, the frustration, the feeling of utter defeat… I wanted this baby so badly, and it wasn’t going to happen. While I was thankful for all of our blessings, I guess I was still greedy as I mourned for the blessing we had lost. Flash forward one year, and we had one more flesh and blood blessing at the table. At only 3 months, Emily didn’t eat much turkey, but she was a visual reminder of how much we had to be thankful for.

When I look at our beautiful family, I am instantly humbled by how fortunate we are to have these crazy kids in our lives. From our smart, strong Benjamin, to our spirited and strong-willed Molly. They have brought so much love and hope into our lives. Benjamin was our rock as we mourned Alex. Molly was our light as we laid his memory to rest. Emily is our final blessing. Our icing on the cake, our bonus, our gift with purchase! She was so delightfully unexpected, yet so wanted. So urgently and fervently prayed for… she was everything I thought that I wanted. When she got here, I realized that she was even more than that.

Last night, I gathered all the kids up in my arms to watch a movie. I don’t normally find the time to sit and watch a show with them, and I never have time for a whole movie. But as a special birthday treat for Benjamin, I fluffed up all the pillows and watched a movie with him as I fed the baby. Molly woke up from her nap and bounded into bed too. I had all three of my perfect children simultaneously sitting on my lap. It was awkward and overwhelming, yes. But I what I remember most was the indescribable feeling of completeness. The feeling like that moment was always pre-destined for me as a mother. That as we went through loss and disappointment, this moment was always going to be in our future. We had to trust God. We had to have faith. We had to keep going.

I still think about the future, but not in that foreboding/ anxious way I used to. I think about those moments that are pre-destined for us as a family. I think about the first Thanksgiving when all three of my kids willingly come home from wherever they normally live. I think about all of the times I have to be completely overwhelmed with their presence. They don’t have to do anything special, because they are the absolute pinnacle of everything I had ever dared to dream of as a parent.

I was so lonely for Benjamin when Alex died. I was worried Benjamin would have to grow up as an only child and I was sad that he would miss out on the fun and love a sibling can bring. As I hear the loud laughter of him wrestling with Molly, my heart starts to hurt because it is such a beautiful sound. It takes my breath away. While I scold Molly for waking up the baby, I secretly cherish the fact that Molly is so excited to see her baby sister Emily that she Just. Can’t. Wait.

Life is full of good and bad and surprises and all of those things in between. What I believe now more than ever though, is that Life is Beautiful.

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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

#64: The Other Side

If I have learned anything, I now understand that not everything goes according to plan. Instead of delivering Emily on 8/25 as planned, she was born on 8/15. We are grateful that she was born healthy, despite her early arrival. At 37 weeks, she was a mere 5 lb, 13 oz.

We never expected to have such a tiny blessing. At 38 weeks, Molly was 8 lbs, so we were shocked to deliver a baby that was less than 6 lbs! In a drug induced, confused state, I believe I asked for a re-count when they announced the weight.

Fast forward three and a half weeks. Life has been a blur of diaper changes,

Baby Emily

Baby Emily

overnight feedings and the general chaos of juggling three kids. Life has never been richer, sweeter or more fulfilling. I look at these three crazy bears of mine, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude and frequently caught off-guard by how blessed I feel.

Benjamin is still the consummate big brother. At 5, he has started 5K in a new school and is adapting well. He takes pride in being the oldest and is eternally adaptable and easy going. He is indulgent of both his sisters and doesn’t resent having to share attention. I am so proud of the big boy he has grown into.

Molly is extraordinarily spirited. At 2, she has a distinct personality and isn’t afraid to express her opinions and perspective. She is not hindered by her limited vocabulary. She is adept at letting you know how she feels. As experience has

Benjamin and Molly

Benjamin and Molly

shown, when you reach a certain volume, sometimes words are extraneous. Molly enjoys the celebrity of being an older sister. She is happy to help retrieve things for the baby. In addition, she is content to stand by the bassinet chanting, “Baby, Baby. Baby” like it is a Justin Bieber remix dedicated to her sister.

Finally, we have Emily. She is so little she is practically pocket-sized. In fact, I call her my pocket peanut. She is mild-mannered and well-behaved. I am grateful to have yet another content and sweet child. Emily doesn’t cry and fuss. She eats, gazes around and doses at leisure. She doesn’t enjoy diaper changes or bath time, but she’s otherwise easy going and happy. I can lose a whole afternoon just snuggling her sweet little body. She falls asleep on my chest and I pat her little bottom that sticks straight up in the air. She exhales a squeaky noise to express her satisfaction and I swoon. #love

For now, I am completely reveling in the fact that I have three kids at distinctively different stages in life. I have a baby, a toddler and a school boy. Looking at all of them, I can appreciate how special each phase is. Even when dealing with a two-year old tantrum is hard, I can look at the school boy to recall how fleeting those times are. When I feel overwhelmed by lack of sleep, I can look at my big, independent toddler to remember how fast the baby stage passes. I have so many variations and iterations of mommyhood to compare and contrast… I am swimming in data points. I love it.

And even when we have rough days I am not amused with the whiny, bargaining of a school-aged child, and I am physically tired from picking a toddler up and putting her in timeout for the 90th time, I can cuddle my little pocket peanut. I can breathe in her sweet smell remember to cherish even the trying times.

In the wake of losing Alex, not all things are perfect. I still wonder at times what it might be like if I were just raising my two boys as I thought I would. I would never have to learn how to French braid hair. And I would probably not have memorized the movie Frozen. Most pronounced though, is that I would probably be able to complete all tasks of parenthood without the shadow of fear that comes from surviving a tragedy.

When I check on Emily, there is always the fleeting question of whether or not she is still breathing. I have no reason to doubt that she’s breathing, but there’s always the possibility in my mind that something could have gone inexplicably wrong. Again. I don’t live in permanent fear, but I have a constant nagging reminder of all the things that could go wrong. I hope that this concern makes me a more vigilant parent, and not just crazy. Time will tell. 😉

More than anything, losing Alex has reminded me of how wonderful it is to raise children. What a privilege and honor it is to hold a child. To comfort him; to hold her; to love her.

I remember this as I go through the less glamorous aspects of motherhood. Diaper changing, bottle washing, endless bedtime negotiations, mealtime. The single biggest thing I remember about losing Alex was the quiet, emptiness of life after he left us. No bottles to wash, no diapers to change. The freedom to nap and rest and do whatever I wanted. And how overwhelmingly painful that silence was.

So, I am in the thick of it now. Juggling three active and spirited kiddos. I am sleepy. Frequently unshowered, and trying to soak up every minute of it. With the delivery of Emily, we surgically closed the Jonas baby factory. Emily represents the final chapter in our story of parenthood. As we look at our journey, from the other side, I think less about what we are leaving behind, and more about what is up ahead. That’s a road worth traveling.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

#63: Babymoon

Today I am 36 weeks pregnant with baby Emily Caroline. In just 2 short weeks, we will bring her into the world, to the excitement of her older brother Benjamin (5.5) and the chagrin of her older sister Molly (2). As I try to wrap my mind around the complexity of that simple statement, my heart fills with joy.

We will be a family with three children here on Earth. 2 girls…sisters! The prospect of two little girls in the house is so foreign from what I had imagined for our family. Not bad, just different. When we had Benjamin and Alex, my mind understood that we would be a family of boys. A family of stinky socks, urinals, dirty fingernails and fart jokes. When Alex died, I was so worried that we would be a lonely, quiet only child family that I prayed fervently that God had more in store for us.

I understood that maybe having an identical Alex baby would have been too hard… and I wasn’t surprised to find out that baby Molly was going to be a girl. When we tried to have one last baby and had a miscarriage instead, I again tried to rationalize that maybe our family was complete. That God had given us all that we needed… then came another baby bump. In my heart and soul, I believed that this baby would be a boy. A gray-eyed wonder just like the sweet Alex that we lost. To learn that we were having another girl was a shock. Not bad, just different.

Benjamin will be the only child using going into the men’s restroom. He’ll be the only one suffering through the boy phases of adolescence… he’s my only boy here on Earth. Knowledge of that makes me… unsure.

Not that I expect life to turn out exactly as I had planned, but I didn’t expect such a big change in events. I never expected to lose Alex and I never expected two girls.

Sisters. What an interesting concept. As an only child, I never really understood the bonds that siblings have, and I still look in amazement at my two kiddos as they spontaneously hug, hold hands or share. Even though they are 3.5 years apart, and different genders, they have found their own special relationship.

Molly will now have a little sister, just 2 years younger. Wow. She will have someone to play dress up with, someone to braid her hair, someone to do funny little girl things with. A built in best friend. The vision of these two little girls finding their own relationship just like Benjamin and Molly have fills me with a sense of wonderment. It’s something on the horizon that I can’t quite see, but I can sense the warmth of how special they will be to each other.

The delightful thing about having three kids is that it is an excuse to just surrender to the chaos. No matter the state of your house, attire, etc. you can shrug sheepishly and shake your head, “those crazy kids…” No explanation necessary. The kids outnumber the adults and that’s reason to just let things run wild. I dig that. I could use a little more wild in my life.

I had a fetal heart scan at Children’s hospital today. To check to ensure that Emily doesn’t have the same congenital heart defect that Alex had. This won’t be the only test that we have, but it is the first to reassure us that our little girl will be fine.

Children’s hospital is such a bright, sunny place. It doesn’t quite fit the dark memories we have of being there. Alex died there. Benjamin and Molly have both had heart scans there. Each visit serves as a reminder of what we have lost, or represents the fear of something new we might lose. It’s not my favorite place in the world, but today’s visit just serves as a reminder that things are okay.

When we lost Alex, I didn’t know if I would be able to do anything ever again… go to work, laugh, hold a baby, have a baby, nurse a baby. Three years later… things are okay. We haven’t forgotten what we have lost, but we are so showered in blessings and all that we have gained. It’s all okay.

So, I am taking myself on a babymoon these last two weeks. I am relishing and savoring the very last time we will experience the wonders of birth. The feeling of a baby with hiccups inside. The feeling of sheer enormousness as I try to squeeze into the car. The weepy feeling of pride and excitement as I think about this little lady growing inside me.

I know that it’s all the baby hormones coursing through my body that leave me sentimental, nostalgic and giddy. And I also know it’s my last time through this parade.

Alex has taught me several simple lessons:

Give fully because you can’t plan what’s next. Your plan and God’s plan don’t have to match. Time passes and everything will be okay.

 

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

#62: Again

There continues to be life and joy in the Jonas household! This August we will welcome the final addition to the family. Molly will become a big sister and Benjamin will become an even bigger brother. It is so amazing, it takes my breath away.

We had a miscarriage in November 2013. It was about 8 weeks into the pregnancy and I was genuinely shocked that bad things could still happen. After everything we went through with losing Alex, I thought we would be impervious to any sort of tragedy with our kids. I thought we had paid our penance early, and that Alex’s death had ensured that our kids would have a happy and charmed childhood forever.

The miscarriage changed all that. I prayed for peace. I prayed for acceptance. Most of all, I started to abandon the idea of having any more kids. I had gotten a glimpse of what life with three kids on earth would be like. I had started to imagine bunk beds and mini vans and a bassinet, and then we lost the baby. I didn’t think I could open myself up to that type of disappointment again.

Enter God and another one of his special miracles meant just for us. We conceived this baby the week of December 8th. Just 2 weeks after our miscarriage. Shock. Faith. Awe.

Is that medically possible?!?

It doesn’t matter. God is good. So good to bless us with another child here on earth. I am humbled and amazed and completely dumbfounded by his grace and the blessings he heaps upon our family. As we mourned the loss of a child we never met, we were already growing a new life. Silently. Secretly.

I didn’t realize I was pregnant until I was 9 or 10 weeks along. I was already farther along with the new pregnancy than I had gotten with the previous pregnancy that we lost. Amazing. Not only did He give us a very special life to protect, but he took away the fear and anxiety we would have had if we had realized we were pregnant just 4 or 5 weeks along.

I know that every child is a miracle. I am just so amazed by this baby we didn’t think we could have. I thought about how long we would wait to have a baby… how long we would “try” for, and how long until we just gave up. God had other plans for us.

It is so humbling and gratifying to have a miracle given to you. I know there will be hard times raising three young kids, but I am so over the top grateful to be given these blessings.

To all the parents out there, I know life is hard. There are sippy cups to fill, mittens to find and there is never enough time for a bath. Just remember that things can always be worse. In the hours, weeks, months that piled up after Alex died, I remember the quiet that fell over the house. No noise from a baby. No bottles to wash, no diapers to change. I had plenty of time to myself and I had never been more miserable in my entire life.

I try to celebrate and remember that every task that comes with raising these crazy kids. I am humbled and excited to do it all over again.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

#61: Beyond

I had a conversation with an old friend this week. Someone who lives out of state. We run into each other once every couple of years at a conference, or other event for work. We were chatting, catching up, and he remarked at how “good” things seemed to be going for us. As he elaborated, I realized that the last time I saw him, it was over dinner after Alex died.

This friend had made some special plans to be in town so we could chat and mourn together. In just a few short years, it feels like we are so far on the other side of all that pain. What a miracle.

The cloud of grief that followed me, enveloped me, defined me was very real. Just because I’m not living that now doesn’t make it any less real. Our sadness was profound… pronounced…palpable. The lack of that sadness is reason enough to rejoice. We are in a different place though. A place of love, faith and joy. We have a sincere happiness that radiates through our house and our children. It is a beautiful thing.

I don’t take it for granted. There is hard work involved to manage your grief, but not let it consume you. With faith and hope, I choose joy.

Not a long message today, just a note to remark how grateful we are for all of God’s gifts. All of his blessings. And the greatest of these is love.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

#60: Two

We took a car trip over the weekend to visit my parents in Minnesota. On the way there, the kids were antsy, but manageable. Benjamin, at age 5 is happy to watch movies, or play on his iPod. He’ll ask for snacks along the way, and invariably he has to pee at least once. Other than that, he’s pretty low key.

Molly, at 20 months, is a little more of a wild card. She’s too young to really get into any shows we might put on the DVD player, and she tends to break any headphones she has in about 90 minutes. Coupled with the fact that the throws any snack or nuk you give her onto the floor, crying in frustration that she doesn’t have it anymore, travel with Molly is more time consuming and stressful. On the upside, she’s still in diapers, so we don’t need to make any special potty trips for her yet. 😉

The car ride up to Minnesota was fine, the way back home just a short 36 hours later was a little less fun. Maybe the kids were overtired from the weekend. Maybe getting home isn’t as fun as getting to grandma and grandpa’s house. Whatever the reason, the trip home was a little less fun.

When I say less fun, I mean more whining, more tears and frequent requests to “just get home right now.” And the kids were worse.
I’m not proud of those times when I feel “fed up” with the kids. I’m not. I think about the long journey we had to become parents. I think about the detour we had to becoming a 4 person family again with Alex’s death, and I feel like I don’t have the right to get frustrated, angry, annoyed with these beautiful kids I spent so many days and nights praying for.

When I do get aggravated, I think about how blessed we are, and the feeling passes. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and love for my kids and I get a whole new wave of patience. I’m sure it is God’s way of reminding me of all the blessings he has given us. In these moments, I feel like our family is the way it was meant to be. Perfectly fitted for our lives. Not bigger or smaller than was intended to be. God does not make mistakes. Benjamin and Molly are meant to be here on earth. Alex is meant to be in heaven. Everyone is where s/he belongs.

It is a big step for me to find feelings of comfort and equilibrium with our family. I’ve really wanted a third and final baby on earth here for awhile. We were pregnant a few months ago and had a miscarriage.

About 7.5 weeks along, I went to be one night and I was bleeding heavily. It’s like I went to bed pregnant and woke up not pregnant. I remember crying and feeling so sad. Empty and lonely. Those feelings felt so familiar and strong, I remember sobbing and praying to God. How could we be in this place again?

After what happened with Alex, I honestly thought that all that sadness was behind us. It honestly never occurred to me that something as sad as the loss of a child could happen to us again.

When you work in retail, the one week you can’t miss is the week of Black Friday. So, I had a miscarriage over the weekend and made it to work on-time on Monday. I never even told my boss.

I had this feeling of completeness and closure in life when I was pregnant. I had grand plans to surprise our families over the thanksgiving holiday, and to surprise our friends when we saw them.

Now, it feels like this empty void that we have learned to accept and not talk about. Our final baby was supposed to be born on July 10, 2014. A perfect and healthy boy or girl to round out our family and make Molly a middle child. Destined to be a Jan Brady. Lol
As that date looms closer, I’m not sure what to think.

I have moments of sadness where I cry… For Alex, for this unnamed baby we’ll never meet, for both.

But there are moments of sheer joy and gratitude. When I hold two little hands and usher them into the bathroom at the halfway point between Wisconsin and Minnesota. When I squeeze them both into one stall and try to keep them occupied so no one climbs out underneath the door, crawling on the dirty floor. Those moments I cherish.

When I order two chocolate milks. When I pick up two packs of goldfish crackers, when I get to to two of anything, my heart is full. I remember a time when doing just “one” of anything was sad, and left me feeling broken. Doing things in “twos” makes me feel complete.
I think about the babies we have lost. I think about how our family would be different if we had never lost those babies. But then I think about how fulfilling parenthood is right now. There are still two jackets to zip up, two pairs of boots to fasten and two pairs of mittens to put on. There are two sets of arms fastened firmly around my mommy body anytime I want, and there are two little voices yelling, “mama mama mama mama mama mama” when I walk in the door. Thinking about that, dulls the pain. Two is still good.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2014 in Uncategorized