Gardens, Good Grief and Tattoos

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This single post should probably be three… Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Instead, I’ll just sort of split it up into three sections in one, with groups of photos to go with each set of thoughts.

A Rose Garden…

I’ve finally removed the vase of flowers {now dried, beautifully, but not intentionally} that has been in my bathroom for a month. They were dark pink roses… which look even darker now that they’ve dried. They were in my bathroom, because that is the only room in the house that has pink in it. Yes, ours is a 60s mid-century modern ranch… the era when pink fixtures in bathrooms were in and so “it” and anyone who was anyone had them. We decided to embrace the pink until we are in a position to make them something less… pink. So pink it is. Which made a nice home for the lovely vase of roses that was brought to Anysia’s room the day she was born.

I’m not a pink person. And come to think of it, I’m not really even a rose person. But my sweet friend Mary, who brought the roses, did not necessarily even bring them for me anyway. They were for Anysia. But they were specifically brought because my friend had a vision or prompting in the middle of the night before that urged her to buy and bring twenty-one roses to Anysia’s delivery room. She was not sure what led her to do this… a prompting of God or something stirring in her own heart, but she just listened to the prompt and went with it. I’m glad. They made my room pretty sitting there among all the sterile furniture, machines and bright lights. Her intent was that every person who came to meet Anysia that day would take home a rose. Some did. But not everyone knew about them, and others forgot to grab theirs amidst of the shuffle of the day. Quite a few people were in the room with us for a while, there.

I believe there were twenty-one roses to begin with, but we had only eleven visitors that day. Perhaps the other ten roses were for unseen angels who were there to watch us all. That is what I like to think. Any rose that did not get taken home by a visitor {or an angel}, I was able to take home with us. And gladly. They brought me a lot of comfort in the days that followed our hospital stay.

Anyway, I thought I would get my camera out and preserve the petals forever {before tucking them away} as a keepsake through photographs, as I am not really a shadow box kind of person… though it seems like a lovely idea for keeping them, which my friend, Heather, suggested. I’m more apt to appreciate the dried flowers in photographic form than I am hanging on a wall in a box. Plus, not only does it give me a chance to practice shooting settings and lighting and styling, but it also gives creativity an opportunity to flow {which is therapeutic for me}, the way I would want it to flow if Anysia had stayed with us and grown up here.

I would have loved to teach her the things I know about anything at all, but especially in areas of creative outlets and various mediums of art… flower gardening {which I would be a novice at right along with her}, photography, drawing, graphic design, card-making, music… anything, really. I expect that I will be doing a lot of artistic things with Izzy over the years. But there is something about the thought of doing {like-minded} types of art with my daughter  that would have brought me a lot of joy. I do get joy out of creating with Izzy, too. But right now he’s all about mighty machines {bulldozers and the like} or things that chomp, like alligators and monsters… or monster trucks. I’ve never known him to ask if I’ll play “flowers” with him. It’s usually trains, or cars, or something rough and tough. Even if it’s something more neutral, like blocks, tents or climbing all over each other, he still wants to get all knock-’em-down and boyish on me. Boys.

So, in honor and memory of Anysia, I created our little garden for her, hoping she can see it where she is. I made it for her, so I hope she can. I like to think that this space here on my blog… one of many extensions of our lives… will be a garden of words and images for her, of sorts… a place where she can watch us grow as a family, living on without her while we fully remember her at the core of all we do and while we look forward to all being reunited. I hope that even the grief felt and expressed here can be a beautiful, living thing that grows up into something spectacular for her to see. Surely, there have been enough tears these many months for this garden’s ground to soak up like water.

I’m a people photographer… that’s what I enjoy most. I never really saw myself enjoying taking pictures of objects like delicate flower petals the way I enjoy photographing a person. But, oh, how I did enjoy it… photographing these flowers that were the only ones she ever got to see and smell. Not all flowers dry nicely. These did, though. I was even able a include the human element in the shoot… when Izzy curiously walked over to dismantle my little set. That’s his arm in the blurry shot below. I should have run with it and intentionally put him in the pictures. But then again, maybe not, since vacuuming up tiny broken pieces of reddish pedals everywhere is not my thing.

Totally Random and About-Our-Day Things…

Speaking of Izzy, the poor little man has been throwing up all day. I’ve been sick as well, but I managed to keep that manifestation of the bug away from me. I lived that scene for seven months while I was pregnant, and don’t need anymore of it for a good.long.time.

I would have cleaned and done other work around here today, and had every intention. I even had a burst of energy for working. But our plans were thwarted by this virus, so we just watched cartoons and created enchanted flower gardens instead.

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Concerning What I Wrote Here Yesterday…

It was nice to see some good feedback rolling in on what I posted here yesterday. One of the comments I received came in the form of an e-mail from a friend… the one I met during my pregnancy who served on the board of the national Trisomy 18 Foundation. I always very much appreciate her feedback on these matters {how we grieve the loss of our infant and how it’s affecting our lives}, because she has lived it herself. She is the voice of experience that I truly rely on for perspective. She wrote that she thinks our words {I say our because I wrote on behalf of Mr. B. too} were eloquent and well-written, which I was happy to read, because I really hoped our most sincere thoughts would be conveyed, as well as understood.

Later in the day, though, she sent me a link to an article that was just published yesterday, only one day after I published my post. It states virtually the same thing I had written, only much more eloquently so. The piece is titled The Art of Presence, and I’m actually somewhat amazed at how closely it makes the same points that I did in my post. And how, at the essence of it, the message is… well, the art of presence. That was very much at the heart of my post, too… though I did not think to use such an eloquent phrase or title.

I won’t go much into that article, because I would much rather that others read it for themselves, since it is so much more concise and succinct than mine. But I will mention the main points that it touched on…
Do be there,
don’t compare ever,
do bring soup,
do not say ‘you’ll get over it’,
do be a builder, 
don’t say it’s all for the best or try to make sense out of what has happened.
Anyone who read my post yesterday will think those points sound familiar. I don’t aim to repeat them all or drive them into the ground. I only bring it up to say that seeing the article about this grieving mom who lost her child and reading her hopes {and even suggestions} for those who are not sure how to be around someone grieving such a loss really affirms that it is okay to struggle with and hope for what we have  struggled with and hoped for in our grief… the very same needs/hopes she expressed.

We are all relational, as this mom and the article about her would suggest… more than suggest. Being present is an art, I’m finding out. One that I am certain I did not have nailed down before our pregnancy with Anysia, and one that I too have had to learn in the most heart-breaking way possible. I wish I would have learned it earlier by reading an article like The Art of Presence, as opposed to learning it by experiencing that kind of loss myself. I wish I had been in a position to practice on someone else grieving the things we have learned about our needs and surviving as a result of our own grief. From here on out I’ll have that opportunity. And I’ll know far too well.

The one thing I was not able to express in my post that this article did {through the mother’s own quoted words, which I will also quote} was this…

Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Let them define meaning. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.”

Wow, I love how that is worded. I can honestly say, this is what we covet. It’s no short order, we know. But it feels like it’s exactly what we would need to get through this the best that one can… especially the “sit simply through” part, which would indicate a presence there. I’m so grateful for that mom expressing her ideas about it all, because she said things that I could not even find or form words for, and I suspect that many others in the middle of suffering or grieving can not as well.

Conveying how we grieve and what we need during certain seasons of grief is proving to be just as difficult, at times, as the grieving itself. I’m grateful for others who offer their experience and insight into that part.

PLEASE read it if you hope to be more aware of what others might need as they grieve. Prior to last July, I was not fully aware, but I know others around me were grieving, so I wish I had been. Please, also… read it if you are suffering and grieving as well, and want something to show your family and friends as a means of communicating your needs. It’s just that good and helpful.

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On Being Strong…

The article I linked to above is actually a piece that was written about the person {and her thoughts} who wrote an article of her own… in her own words… here. It is basically the same as the article I linked to above, but more in-depth. So what I’m saying is, if there could have been anything written better on the subject than what is in the first piece, it’s her perspective offered in her own words. I bring her article up additionally because, in it, she touches on a couple of aspects that were not included in the first one I linked to. One of those aspects is something I have thought a lot about since we were first given a diagnosis for Anysia, early in our pregnancy.

First… using analogy, she writes about “firefighters” and “builders”… two types of people who will {hopefully} come alongside you after trauma or loss. She writes that you’ll need two types of people for survival of your trauma or grief… “the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side, and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world.” I am fortunate to have had many who jumped in and came to our aid, especially in the days leading up to Anysia’s birth and the immediate days that followed… the fray days. And I have been even more fortunate to have a handful of very faithful friends who walked with us since day one, and still walk with us now. One is the friend I mentioned above… who sent me the link to these articles and who very often corresponds with me, offering loads of insight and advice, having been through what we have.

The other significant “builder” I have in my life right now is my mentor/friend who has been counseling me. {A lot of people ask me about my counselor when I mention her. She is actually a lay counselor from my church that I talk to and seek support from in the form of helpful or additional perspective. She was a church choir-mate of mine, so she was already a friend when I had Isaac. But given her experience with counseling and our connection as friends, she felt led in her heart to help me {us} get through this… and has, with more support than I ever imagined I would need. As with the mom of a little one diagnosed with Trisomy 18 whose friendship I came into after finding out that Anysia had the same disorder, my counselor has been the most tremendous help, giving crucial and invaluable support.

She e-mailed me today about something I wrote in my post yesterday… that something I alluded to above when I said there’s something I have thought a lot about since being told by doctors what was wrong with Anysia. She had a response to one of the points I made in that post… the one I made when I wrote “We aren’t strong.”

Before I share what she wrote to me about that point, I will first explain why I wrote it. There have been many times—as recently as last Sunday when I was visiting friends who wanted to take Izzy sledding—that we have had said to us {or I have been told individually}, “You are so strong.”

I always had a difficult time hearing those words, because it made me think two things… Gosh, you don’t see me behind closed doors, when I’m falling very much apart… and …I don’t want you or anyone to think that of us so much that you stop supporting us, thinking we are doing well. Because we’re not always doing well. And when we are, it’s largely because of people like you. So, please don’t think that of us.

Well, here is what my counselor wrote to me today regarding my “we aren’t strong” statement…

Strong isn’t feeling you are in control, or have everything in hand. Strong isn’t stoic, it isn’t dry-eyed, it isn’t about not feeling pain or grief or passing those things off as nothing. Strong isn’t pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and soldiering on as if Anysia didn’t matter, or that all is rosy because you know the truth about where she is. Strong isn’t performance on demand. It isn’t a level you have to keep up or you’ve failed. Strong isn’t an obligation. Strong isn’t even measurable.

Strong is admitting you have pain, deep, unrelenting pain, even in the face of others who would like you to pretend you don’t. Strong is getting out that door to Olive Garden, hanging in there when it would have been easier to slink away and hide your tears. Strong is going to that waitress and bearing a piece of your soul, and hanging in there to complete what you set out to do. {She really meant it when she told me she’s reading my blog!} Strong is accepting you are broken. Strong is reaching out, even after people have turned their backs. Strong is expressing your heart, even when there is pain that is difficult to look on. Strong is telling others what you need—that you need—instead of just sitting there bitterly bemoaning unrequited emptiness.

From your perspective you don’t feel strong. I get that. It is like when someone bravely runs forward to rescue someone from a burning building. I don’t think most of them feel courageous or heroic at the time. They only feel their fear and their intense call to action. Even after it is done so many will say they don’t feel brave or heroic. They just did what they needed to survive, or help someone else survive. There are days when you will feel strong, and days you won’t. There are days when maybe you won’t be strong by any definition—and that is ok, too. Because it is the totality of the days that is what makes the difference. And from the outside, from those who watch carefully, closely, caringly–those people will discern it far more clearly than you. Let us affirm you in it, even when you don’t see it. Let us tell you that you can be as weak as you need to be and never lose strength.”

This really hit me. And it made me think of the verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9… But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power {strength} is made perfect in weakness.”

But mostly, it helped me. Sometimes, when you are weak, you need to sense that you are strong. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I do not. Often, lately, it’s the latter. I guess writing that we are not strong was something I was expressing in response to when my friend told me that some people would crumble under what we’ve gone through. I told her, We did. We have. But then we got up, like anyone would, and we rebuilt. Rebuilding. I guess that is why the “firefighter / builder” concept is so comforting… and why I am so grateful for the builders in our lives right now. My husband put it to me another way recently. He was telling me it’s okay to expect and want support. He said, “Picture a bridge. If you took away those beams and arches and all that is underneath as support, the road above would crumble.

I guess I’m okay with people thinking I am strong, as long as they see that it comes from two other sources besides my own strength… God and those who are supporting us. I was glad to read her words, because it touched on something I have often thought about… how some people view us as strong, and how in the past, that has not always settled well with me. Now, I think it is starting to settle easily, especially since I realize it does not mean that being strong means I must have it all together. Oh, good. That is such a relief to this not-so-put-together-right-now soul.

More Totally Random and About-Our-Day Things…

The last couple days have been far less weepy, even when thinking about her. Thank you balancing hormones! But I am finding a new wave of emotions I need to weed through. It feels like, in grief, everything is ten times more… ten times more frustrating than it would be not in grief. Ten times more hurtful or offensive than it would be. Ten times more funny. {Oh, I have some hilarious stories to tell about my husband’s uncontrollable laughter over the weirdest, un-funniest {{I made that word up}} things these past couple weeks.} Ten times more painful. Ten times more tiring. Ten times more sad. Ten times more difficult to cope with. More heart-breaking. More intolerable. More exhausting. {I’m sure I’ve given enough examples to prove my point.} Well, with the recent stomach bug epidemic sweeping through our home today, there have been a lot of intense or impatient moments bubbling up and over.

I’m not proud of my lack of grace in these frantically-cleaning-up-vomit moments of mine… especially because my innocent little guy is sick and just needs a loving mama right now, and my helpful husband was only trying to do just that… help… but I took out my frustrations on them both. Now I am the one in need of grace… today… these days. This is just a new section in this maze of surviving infant loss that I was not prepared for… coping with the they-were-gonna-happen-anyway, tough parts of life that come because these things {like stomach viruses and erroneous medical or tax bills and leaking pipes} don’t stop for anyone or anything… not even grief. So I am learning adjustment and grace in these areas, too, lest I fall back on the excuse of “chalk it up to the anger phase in grieving for a loved one.”

But it hasn’t been all bad grief around here today… not all “yelling and screaming” or total downers. Nope. We had a good laugh or two in there, as well.

Mine came after I approached Mr. B. {who very much does not like tattoos, vowing never to get one, and who very much does not like the thought of me having one} and asked what he would think of me getting a tattoo somewhere on my belly that says Anysia Noel and/or a tattoo of her little footprints. I think I started out something like, “Would you ever let me…?”

With a disapproving laugh, he turned around and gave me a look and then said,

“Are you serious?…

YOU need some sleep.”

I got a pretty hefty laugh out of that. Hmmmm… he is right, I do need sleep. But I still want a tattoo! I really thought that would be sort of endearing. Oh, well. I’ve been overruled.

See that, Isaac? Don’t even bother asking dad for a tattoo when you’re a teenager and still living under our roof. That will be the answer you get, too. So if, at the ripe old age of sixteen-ish, you’re here reading up on your baby sister and family life as we knew it after losing her… and you’ve been wanting a tattoo, but not sure how to ask for permission… there is your answer.