Monday, July 30, 2012

MABOP Monday

The most awesome example of what it means to be made in God's image :)

St. Ella, pray for us!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reminders and Anniversaries

When I go for my daily walk, I usually keep my head down.  I do this for a variety of reasons but mostly because of the intense, blinding sunlight during these southern summer months.  I wear a visor – a nasty, sweaty visor from my days as a t-ball mom – but it can only do so much to shield me from the light.  So I keep my head down, looking up every now and again to make sure I’m not going to run into anything or get run over by anyone.  There are enough cars and work trucks going through our neighborhood at all hours of the day to warrant heightened awareness.  A recent encounter with a large, unpleasant dog named Roger also served to remind me that it’s always a good idea to be aware of my surroundings.  But for the most part, I maintain a “head down and carry on” posture.  I value my walks enough to not let some traffic or a scary dog deter me from them, lousy view notwithstanding.

Keeping my head down means that I’ve become well acquainted with our neighborhood streets and sidewalks.  It means that I see (and save!) lots of earthworms that are baking in the heat.  It means that I can avoid stepping in loads and loads of goose poop.  But it also means that I can see the random soda can tab.  I can see it, pick it up to bring home, and be reminded once again that my little girl is no longer here.

There are so many reminders of Ella’s absence in my everyday life.  Heck, every breath in and out, every heart beat is a reminder, and cheap therapy or not, my daily walk is a reminder because I had envisioned strolling the subdivision with her.  So while I’m out walking and finding those soda can tabs – the type that the Ronald McDonald House collects and recycles, the type that the boys and I collected on the PICU all those months Ella was in the hospital – I’m faced with another small reminder of a huge void in my life.  I sometimes wish that I had a more typically lovely and universally beautiful reminder, like a butterfly or a flower or a rainbow, but in the grand scheme of things, a reminder is a reminder, as though I would ever need any reminding in the first place.

This past Sunday was the seven month anniversary of Ella’s death.  It's been seven long months since I last held her in my arms, but at the same time, it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long.  I still think about her last day so often and can recall so many of the details as clearly as if it all happened yesterday.  My older son’s birthday was on Tuesday.  As happy as I was to celebrate his special day and life, I could feel the melancholy creep in - melancholy that comes from knowing my boys will grow up without their baby sister.  Melancholy that Ella will never celebrate a birthday, that she never even got to celebrate her first birthday.  Melancholy that kept both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day so low key as to be off the radar, and melancholy that makes me dread celebrating pretty much anything right now.  Melancholy because days and events that we had looked forward to celebrating with our daughter will never happen, and some of those days – birthdays, gotcha days – are now just passing anniversaries.  I can’t help but wonder if every special occasion, every moment of joy in the future, will have a tinge of sadness and the bittersweet acknowledgement that someone will always be missing.

For so many weeks and months after Ella died, I couldn’t look any babies in the eyes.  I couldn’t stand being near those sweet little reminders of what should have been my daughter – happy, healthy, chubby, cooing little bundles of life.  Babies became the enemy, and the enemy was every-freaking-where.  It seemed like no matter which pew I chose at church, I'd end up surrounded by babies, and not just babies but baby girls.  I’m as staunchly pro-life as they come, but couldn’t that life just sit a little farther away?  And it seemed like no matter where I went, babies and all their accoutrements were there.  They were in stores, restaurants, libraries, everywhere.

One day while running errands, I dropped into our local Target.  I know the store’s layout very well...too well!  So as I neared the baby department, I did the only thing I could.  I averted my eyes.  Ha!  I thought I was so smart.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  Except I forgot to plug my nose.  The smell of baby lotion hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was overwhelming.  Just like that, I was knocked low by something so innocuous and mundane as a scent.  For all of my baby-eye-contact avoiding schemes and plans of baby-item-evasion, I hadn’t accounted for that.  I had foolishly convinced myself that looking in another direction, even if only for a moment, would make the hurt less tangible and the absence less real.  That the truth of what is in my face every moment of every day would go away if I simply turned my face away.  But this is my life now – no sweet Ella but tons of reminders of her.  So many people, places, and things that stir memories, both good and bad.

When the one you loved so intensely and so completely is suddenly gone from your life and lives only in your heart and in your memories, when you count the passing weeks and months not in terms of your own life but in terms of their significance in your loved one’s life…that is when everything becomes a reminder and every day an anniversary.

When every single thing is a reminder, how do you function?  Do you not look, listen, or feel for fear of being reminded of your deep, constant pain?  Or do you just suck it up, move on and stifle your reactions and emotions?  If you could eliminate reminders, would you?  Would you feel relieved with the reminders gone, or would you feel guilty about not wanting to deal with them anymore because your heart can only take so much?

My cell phone was acting wonky this past week, so I took it to the phone store.  When I was told that a hard reset of the phone had to be done, I got a bit twitchy.  I had pictures of Ella on my phone that I hadn’t texted or emailed to anyone, so they were only on my phone.  I was petrified that I would lose them.  Thankfully, the salesman was able to save all of my pictures - praise God!  It just didn’t even dawn on me that I would lose all of my old text messages with the reset.  

My phone still had text messages between my husband and me from before Ella died.  Those texts talked about her last week and her declining health.  They talked about how I was scared out of my freaking gourd, how I didn’t know how much longer she could hold on, and how I couldn’t understand why her miracle was taking so long.  They asked where God was and why Ella had to suffer so damn much.  They told my husband to get to the hospital ASAP.  They asked him to not let the nurse start her final bath without me.

I lost all of those texts.  It breaks my heart to even retype the gist of what the texts contained.  Was it wise to hold onto them for so long?  Was I standing in my own way of healing, recovering, and learning to live again because I didn’t delete them sooner?  They are gone now, and even though it pained me to lose them, in a sense I'm glad that someone else was responsible for deleting them so that I wouldn’t have to be.  For whatever irrational reason, it felt like a betrayal to even consider getting rid of them, even though they were hugely painful reminders of the worst time in my life.

Reminders can be painful.  There are some that I know I’ll eventually be glad I’m rid of, like the text messages, but there are others I choose to keep close.  The pictures and videos of Ella, her wee, cute clothing, her much loved daddy blankie…I choose to keep them close even though they’re just stand ins for who’s missing.  Anniversaries are empty when the person you’re remembering can never celebrate with you, but the alternative – pretending that the day is an insignificant and ordinary one – is simply out of the question.  I choose to remember because anything less is unthinkable.  Anything less would dishonor the awesomeness that was my daughter.

Reminders are everywhere because Ella is not.  She’s not in my arms.  She’s not in her crib.  She’s not at the hospital waiting for a heart, and she’s not in our home.  Reminders are everywhere, and every blasted thing is a reminder.  And until I can escape time, I cannot escape the anniversaries.  She was born on a Friday and came to our family on a Monday.  She died on a Thursday.  She was born on the 15th, came to us on the 18th, died on the 22nd, and is missed every day of every month. 

So if you happen to see me running errands, sitting quietly in a far corner in church, or out walking with my head down, and I greet you with a smile that doesn’t quite reach my eyes, it’s probably because I’ve just found a soda can tab or smelled that unmistakable baby smell.  It’s probably because I’m thinking of my sweet girl.  If I come off as moody, somber, and totally antisocial some days, if I act like I’m all alone even though I’m in a crowd, if I have trouble following conversations, it’s probably because that day is an anniversary.  It’s one more day in a long line of days without Ella.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, July 23, 2012

MABOP Monday

Not only super awesome but incredibly beautiful

I miss those big, gorgeous, brown eyes and that wee, sweet face. 

I miss my baby girl. 

St. Ella, pray for us!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friends in Low Places

Ever since my plebe year in college, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the Garth Brooks’ song “Friends in Low Places”.  I had never heard it before I got to school.  By the time plebe year was over, though, I knew all the words of the chorus, even if I didn’t know every single one of the song’s other lyrics.  I can’t recall precisely who started the practice that put the lyrics in my head or even why.  I just remember that it all began at accountability on a Sunday night early in the school year. [Accountability is the assembly that all plebes (freshman) attend each week to check back in after the weekend.]  A random plebe loudly belted out the first few lines:

Blame it all on my roots,
I showed up in boots
and ruined your black tie affair

And that was all it took for every country fan, good old boy, and wannabe to join in.  It was funny, and it was fun.  More importantly, I think it took the upperclassman in charge by surprise.  A fairly large crowd of singing freshmen in uniform must have been a sight to see and hear!  We certainly produced quite a bit of noise - maybe not the most melodious noise, but very much united, loud, and proud.  From that moment on, it became our tradition to sing “Friends in Low Places” at accountability each week.  That song became a part of who we were as a plebe class.  It sort of became our class anthem.  Sure, it was a rowdy song more suited for a bar than the gym at a federal academy, but it was ours.  During the four (or five or even six) long years we were in school – years spent cramming TONS of information into our brains at breakneck speed; months spent at sea and far away from home; days spent on liberty if we were lucky or on restriction if we weren’t - we came to understand just how valuable friends were, even and especially in low places.

College was a long time ago, and I like to think I’ve matured a bit since then.  Though I still enjoy the occasional beer, I don’t get drunk anymore, and while I do enjoy hanging out with friends, I don’t hang out at bars.  I most certainly don’t sing at any!  But if I ever happened to drink a little too much again while I also happened to be at a karaoke bar, then “Friends in Low Places” would be my go-to song, my lively and raucous ode to both liquid courage and fond collegiate memories.  Until that happens (ha!), then I’m resigned to sing it only in the shower.  Oh, I’ll sing it very loudly and very well, if I do say so myself, but only in the shower.

I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases the blues away
And I’ll be ok

It seems a bit odd that such a specific song with such strong memories from a much more carefree time in my life would come to mind now in my post-Ella world.  It’s not as though I heard the song on the radio because I don’t really listen to secular radio anymore – country, pop, rock or otherwise.  I don’t go out drinking with friends, and though it would be seriously fun to do, I don’t have much of an opportunity to sit and reminisce with Academy classmates about the good old days and that good old song. 

But I have frequented some low places recently.  Some really low places.  The types of places from which I wasn’t sure I’d ever return and the types of places that still threaten to overwhelm with absolutely no warning.  If not for some incredibly awesome, generous, and loving friends, I would still be floundering alone in those low places.

When Ella died….oh Lord, when my Ella died, I didn’t know how I would ever be able to go on.  I didn’t know how I’d ever pick up the shattered pieces of my life and of my heart, and frankly I just couldn’t imagine ever being able to move forward.  I didn’t know how I could be a good wife and mother again when so much of my heart died with my daughter.  I’m still not there yet, not by a long shot.  I’m not back to being fully present here with the living because it’s so freaking hard not to focus on the dead, on my sweet baby girl who may no longer occupy the crib in the corner of my room but who occupies so many of my thoughts.

I have been blessed to be surrounded by friends who didn’t try to push me or drag me through the grieving process at society’s pace, but rather let me move at my own pace.  I have been blessed by friends who are more than willing to stand still and wait for me to move forward if and when I’m ready.  By friends who stand still with me while I face backward and think of my sweet baby, who let me share my memories, both good and bad, and who listen.  I have friends who, with the patience of the saints, endure the shitty moods, the simmering anger, and the sad quiet.  I have friends who come to me with no agenda of their own about how I should heal or grieve or learn to live again.

I have so many friends who have met me and held me and not left me alone at my low place.  Oh, the friends I have in low places…

The friends who cleaned the house so that my family and I wouldn’t have to worry about it when we came home from the hospital that final time;

The friend who left her own family at home on Christmas night to be with me for a few hours because I needed to see her and to cry with her;

The friend who was contacted at the last minute but who willingly spent hours baking and decorating a gorgeous cake for the reception that followed the funeral Mass of the most awesome baby on the planet;

The friend whose family doesn’t eat wheat flour and sugar but who used those ingredients to bake a bunch of goodies for the reception;

The friend who rallied a group to provide tons of food and drink for the reception, and that group of friends who put their own lives and plans on hold to help in any way that they could;

The young friend who postponed celebrating his own birthday so that he and his family could join us in celebrating my daughter’s life and in mourning her death;

The friend who gave up his entire evening to fix my computer – the only computer that had ALL of the videos we had of Ella - because I had a panic attack worrying that we had lost them all;

The friends who made meals, or sent gift cards for meals, for my family - friends who are on tight budgets, who have to cook for lots of their own family members already, friends who don’t live close by but who took time to deliver food, comfort and hugs;

The friend who left her son for a few hours in the hospital so that she could check on me and give me a hug;

The friend who isn’t Catholic but who came with me to a Mass that was said for my sweet daughter;
The little friend who said that the second thing she wants to do when she gets to Heaven – after first hugging Jesus – is to hug Ella;

The friend who, in the midst of her own overwhelming grief, reached out to let me know that she was available if and when I needed her;

The friends who sent cards, texts, emails, and private messages and who still post messages on my FB wall to let me know they are thinking of me, of my family, of sweet Ella; friends who have no expectation of a response because even if they don’t truly understand how hard it is right now….they understand that it is so hard.

I am blessed to have so very many friends who have met me at my lowest place.  So many friends who weren’t afraid to join me in that low place, who held my hand there, who hugged me tight there, who cried with me there, who shared my anger and frustration and dismay there, who prayed with me and over me there, and who haven’t let go of me there because they won’t let go until they knew I’ll be ok. 

My friends know that nothing on this earth or in this lifetime will ever heal my broken heart, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to patch it up with love, kindness, understanding and time. 


A while back during my morning walk, I got a mental image that brought me some comfort and a bit of peace.  It was of a broken heart that was surrounded by lots of people.  Those people were doing all manner of things.  Some were pressed up against the heart, hugging it while also linking their arms to make a bigger, stronger hug, the type of hug that would keep the heart from splitting in two.  Some were using putty to try to patch up all the cracks in the heart, working diligently and doing their best to repair what they knew was irreparable by their own hands.  And some, God love ‘em…some were using silly putty, not necessarily to make repairs but to try to coax a smile out of the broken hearted.  


Contrary to what Garth Brooks' song says, I don’t plan on going anywhere near where the whiskey may drown and the beer may chase these blues away.  I know better.  I know that the silly lyrics in a fun drinking song don’t really translate to wise counsel on healthy living.  I know that drinking is a temporary “fix” for a permanent pain, something that would only mask and never fill that which will always be a huge absence in my life.  Rather, I will continue to turn to my friends when the blues try to drown and chase me.  I’ll remember how much they’ve already done for me, and I’ll remember that they were and still are so willing to lift me when I’m low. 

It’s funny, isn’t it?  Only in this messed up world would a drinking song from the 90s remind me of my blessings.  And that’s what my friends are – blessings.  Each one in his or her own way has reached out to me through the sadness that envelops me and, with open heart and open arms, has willingly and selflessly traveled to meet me where I am. 
I am blessed beyond measure to have so many friends, and I can’t help but thank God for all of my friends in low places.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, July 16, 2012

MABOP Monday

A four letter word that's synonymous with AWESOME?  I'll let you answer that.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Friday, July 13, 2012

In Appreciation of Nurses

She treats your daughter like gold because she truly enjoys caring for her.  She goes out of her way to help with bath time even when your baby isn’t her patient that day.  She gives your daughter a silly nickname because your stinky little girl earned it.  She introduces your baby to Stevie Ray Vaughn music and wagon rides.  She sews a cozy blanket for your baby’s crib.  She knits cute, wee baby booties.  She brings in cute, girly sheets and soft blankets for your baby’s hospital bed because she knows that the hospital room is home for the time being.

He takes time to explain so many foreign medical terms to you and your husband, and then he explains them again and again and again because you just don’t understand.  He becomes instant family because he’s a friend of a friend of yours, a touch of the familiar in such an unfamiliar place.  He checks in on your daughter whenever he gets a short break from his job because he loves seeing her sweet smile.  Before his shift starts, he also comes to hold her and help feed her.    

She takes an interest in your entire family and remembers everyone‘s names.  She chats with your boys and makes them laugh because she knows it’s hard for them to spend another weekend at this hospital with their ailing sister.  She brings you a Mass schedule, a map of the area, a list of weekend activities for the family.  She does the pickle dance for your daughter and the bacon dance with your son.  She talks college football with your husband, and she takes all of your gentle kidding because she knows it’s all in good fun.  She prays over your baby and for you and your family because she knows that it’s been incredibly tough.  She teaches your boys the important life skill of making fart sounds with just a straw and an armpit.  She hugs you because it’s obvious that you NEED a hug, and she accepts a hug from you on a rough day because she understands that sometimes human touch is the best medicine. 

They buy your little girl a sweet Halloween outfit because when they see it, they think of her and just know she’ll be the most adorable lady bug in town.  They bring in clothes, both brand new and hand-me-down, because every little girl should be stylishly dressed and pretty in pink.  They get pit bull fierce while advocating for your child’s care, and they have your baby’s best interests at heart.  They comfort you when you’re scared out of your mind, and they joke around with you when you‘re about to crack from the tension.

They come to the hospital in in the middle of the night on their day off because they’ve heard the horrible, heartbreaking news.  After taking care of your baby for months and months, they can’t help but cry over her with you, anointing her head with their tears and kissing her one last time.  They mourn with you because your sweet daughter stole their hearts in such a short time.  They make a mold of your daughter’s hand and of her foot because they know you’ll need to see them and touch them again one day. 

He helps you bathe your sweet girl for the last agonizing time.  He makes sure you have a lock of her hair, and then he doesn’t leave your daughter’s side when she’s wheeled away for the final time.

She texts you just to see how you’re doing, to make sure you know she’s there if you need her, to say she’s still praying for you.  She helps organize meals for your family during your time of need.  They leave messages on your FB wall and write emails to say they’re thinking of you.  So many of them send cards and private messages.  They visit you on their days off.  They attend your baby’s wake and funeral Mass, and they come from one hour away, two hours away, five states away to be there. 

And though life goes on and there are others to care for, they take time to hang your daughter’s picture in the nurses’ lounge because they miss her sweet smile and will never forget her.

They are nurses. 

They don’t just have a job; they have a vocation, a calling that many of us are unwilling or unable to answer.  Being a nurse isn’t just what they do.  It is who they are.  They don’t leave their work at the office at the end of the day because so many of them carry their work home in their hearts.  They mourn the gut-wrenching losses as deeply as they celebrate the heartwarming triumphs.  They work so hard every day for people they’ve just met, for people who probably don‘t know how hard the work really is, for people they may only see for one 12-hour shift.  They further their educations because they know that there’s more for them to learn.  They want to know all there is to know so that they’ll be better able to help their patients.

My daughter lived for eight months and one week.  She spent a total of five months and three weeks of her life in the PICU, so that meant that I spent five months and three weeks in the PICU.  The nurses we encountered during that time were without a doubt the kindest, most compassionate, most professional people I have ever met.  They were genuine and caring - truly the salt of the earth - and they became my friends and my family.  I knew that if I left for the night to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, my sweet baby girl was in the best hands - hands that loved her, cared for her and did their best for her.  Because of those nurses, my boys will know that, after G-o-d, m-o-m and d-a-d, some of the most important letters in the alphabet are RN.

I can’t speak for all nurses when I say this - heck, I can’t speak for any nurses because I’m not one - but I truly believe that to the best nurses out there, all patients are heart patients, no matter what ails them.  The best nurses, like the ones who cared for my daughter, don’t just mend the booboos you can see or treat the illnesses you can diagnose.  The best nurses truly tend to the hearts and souls of all of their patients and their patients’ families, and they do so with their own open hearts and with their own caring and compassionate souls.  At least, that’s what they did for me, and I know that that’s what they did for my daughter. 

The healing hands and caring hearts of nurses truly do the work of God here on earth.  May God watch over all nurses everywhere, and may He bless them always.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Value at a Thrift Store

I love me a good thrift store shopping trip.  Honestly, what’s not to love?!  There are so many good deals to be had and for so little money.  One man's junk is another man's treasure, right?  We live in such a throwaway society nowadays.  We don’t tend to use things up ‘til they’re good and used up anymore, though maybe that’s no longer true for certain items in today’s economy?  Who among us can afford to give something away just because it’s soooo last season or not exactly top of the line anymore?  But I digress. 

We give away what we consider “junk”, what we need to get rid of to make room for more stuff, or what we’re just plain tired of dealing with.  Why should we bother to truly declutter our lives and reorganize our houses when we can just donate our crap and get more?  We get “new” junk to play with, and by magnanimously donating our old stuff to a charitable organization, we have the added bonus of feeling totally awesome about ourselves.  It’s a win-win!  But so much of that stuff we just got rid of is in good or even great condition, isn‘t it?  But I digress again. 

I am not too proud to get my thrifty on because I have walked away with some seriously ridiculous deals.  I bought a $250+ purse for $2 at one thrift store, and I got a $300+ purse for $4 at another store!  One weekend my husband walked away from a thrift store having paid $5 for a brand new $100 composite hockey stick!  Holy mother of pearl, now those were some excellent deals! 

Those kinds of deals won't just jump up and bite us to get our attention, though.  To get to the deals, we have to be willing to dig a little.  We also have to embrace the unknown a bit - what will I find today?  Will my size be available?  Will I walk away empty handed?  Is there enough hand sanitizer in the world to make me feel clean again after touching so much of other people’s old stuff?

But the thrill of the chase and the hope of finding a phenomenal deal keep me coming back for more.  That, and I’m completely unwilling to spend the arm and the leg that retail stores charge for everyday clothes and items.  So it was with a little bit of surprise on my part that the best thing - the most valuable thing - that I walked away with after one of my thrift store trips was a renewed outlook on life.

It was a happy day when I figured out that my children’s school is situated near both a Salvation Army store and a Goodwill store.  It was a happier day when a friend told me that every Wednesday is “wacky Wednesday” at the Salvation Army.  This means that all clothes, bric-a-brac and books are 50% off and all furniture is 30% off.  The place gets crowded on hump day, that‘s for darn sure.  Why pay full price for used stuff, right?  On a Wednesday a few months ago while I was standing in line waiting to pay for my goodies, I noticed a woman and her daughter as they walked into the store.  The mom headed toward the bric-a-brac section at the front of the store.  The young girl grabbed a shopping cart, but as she did so, she exclaimed, “Mom, we got a shopping cart!  It must be our lucky day!”

So simple.  To be happy for the convenience of a shopping cart in a busy store.  The girl's happy attitude made me smile, and the woman standing in front of me in line got a kick out of it as well.  Sure, it was cute and sweet, and that could have been the end of that.  But what if it were more?

I’ve been so down in the dumps lately and with very good reason, but I’m remembering and relearning that there is still joy to be found in everyday life.  There are still so many reasons to smile, to laugh, to enjoy the little things of life and to be joyful.  Ok…maybe not joyful, but at least not so morose so much of the time.  What have I been missing while I’ve been withdrawing into myself?  What everyday joys have I been blind to while I’ve been blinded by grief?  Have I missed out on the little things that could have helped my broken heart to start healing because I haven’t been willing or able to notice them?

That little girl’s joy over a shopping cart was a fleeting thing, I’m sure.  Something quickly forgotten by her during her shopping trip, her comment possibly not even heard by her mom.  I heard it, though.  I heard it, and I remember it.  That I’ve done that much is, I hope, just the first, small step of many that I’ll have to take to learn to find joy again.

St. Ella, pray for us!

Monday, July 2, 2012

MABOP Monday

Smiling for Daddy :)

Introducing a new weekly feature on I after E!  Each week MABOP Monday will showcase a picture of the Most Awesome Baby on the Planet.  Seeing her beautiful face is a good way to start the week, don’t you think?

I miss that sweet smile so much.  That awesome baby stole a lot of hearts in her short time here.    

Ella didn’t have to steal my heart, though.  I gave it to her willingly, and I would do so again in a heart beat.

St. Ella, pray for us!