Answering the hard questions…

“Mama, why did Emmy die?”

The question came completely unprompted and entirely unexpected. We were on our way school last week, having the kind of conversation you have while driving with a toddler. I think just before that, we were talking about her “babies” at home, when she matter-of-factly mentioned that I had three babies. Then…that.

I caught my breath as the first tear fell down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away and told her… “Emmy’s body was really sick baby.”

And that was the end of it. It was over as quickly as it had begun. As if she totally understood my answer, and there was no need for further explanation.

This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation.

In fact, quite often our little girl is inquisitive about death or has incredible insight about heaven or shares the sweetest sentiment about her sister that completely blows us away.

Here’s another exchange that happened while we were talking about baby sister a week or so before she was born…

L: Is my other sister in heaven?

M: You mean Emmy, baby?

L: Yeah…

M: Yes sweetie, Emmy is in heaven.

L: Can I give her lots of hugs when I get there, because I miss her?

M: Silence…dying inside.

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. In light of that, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about these conversations and why they happen so freely in our family. Our daughter is not quite three-and-a-half years old. And while I do truly believe that she has a implicit and eternal connection to her twin sister, I am also certain that she would not recognize or express those feelings if we had not made the conscious decision to make Emmy a very real and normal part of our lives. We don’t limit our conversations about infant loss to one month of the year. It is engrained in who we are as a family.

We openly acknowledge that death is painful. We honestly believe that heaven is real. And we truly think it is ok to talk about it. Even when…especially when…it hurts. With tears rolling down our cheeks, we answer the hard questions.

I know “our way” is not the only way. I know not every family who has experienced this type of loss wants to talk about it the way we do. But the number one thing I hear from my brothers and sisters in bereavement – whether their loss was suffered during the pregnancy or after birth – is that they want to feel seen. They want their loss to be acknowledged. They want their baby to be recognized – called by name. They want to hear from you. Not just during the first year. Not just on special occasions. And not just during a month that is set aside for this purpose. But always.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, there might be some tears. But those tears, the ones you see when you ask a bereaved parent about their baby…those aren’t tears of sadness. At least in part, they are tears of respite. Tears of joy. Tears of appreciation for your courage in speaking about what many treat as unspeakable.

If you know a family who has suffered the loss of a child, don’t look away…see them. Ask the hard question. I promise, through the tears they will appreciatively answer.

 

 

Dear Emmy…

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in full nesting mode. At least, to the extent my “almost due” body has allowed (someone actually used that phrase to describe my ever-impressive physique recently…I just thought to myself…you should have seen 36 weeks with twins!)

In the midst of cleaning out bathroom cabinets, sorting through no-longer-worn clothes and organizing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g I could get my hands on, I allowed myself to slow down for a couple of hours to sort through one tub in particular. Yours.

It’s hard to wrap my brain around, even now. How can your beautiful, precious, meaningful life be summed up by the contents of one large plastic tub?

It hadn’t been opened it since we moved to Kansas…almost three years ago. Everything kind of got stuffed in there to “deal with later” because the loss was still too fresh. Now, with some time and distance between my heart and that day, I was able look at things from a new perspective.

There were some things I actually took out – realizing their irrelevance. Things from who exactly I couldn’t remember and that you never actually used. Inanimate objects that once held great value had lost their power over my heart. And that felt good.

Other things, however, still made my soul ache. Like the pair of boots that matched your sisters that we used in our pregnancy announcement photos. And the little outfit your daddy and I picked out in Chicago that you didn’t get to come home in. And the book we read to you and Lexi after all the tubes and monitors had been unhooked, and we we free to just be a family of four for a brief moment.

The hardest thing to look through, though, was a box. I didn’t even remember what was in it at first, and when I took the top off, I didn’t realize the floodgates I was opening. Cards and letters from friends and family and some people I didn’t even know. Words of sorrow and grief and hope and love. Prayers that poured in over us. I read each and every one, sobbing at such raw reminders of our loss.

I needed that time, though. Time alone with you. Time before our next baby girl comes into this world to remember my baby girl in heaven. Time to re-grieve the immense hole your death has left in my heart that will never be filled, no matter how many babies fill our home.

What I realized through this time – through my lack of connection to much of the physical “stuff” but deep emotional ties to the words written by those who love us – is that your memory isn’t defined by a tub full of things at all. It lives on in how you changed our lives. In how you changed the lives of so many who never even met you. You changed lives, Emmy girl, and your memory lives on through that. 

Each night before I lay down, I go into the room you should be sharing with Lexi. The room she will soon share with her baby sister. And I tell each of you goodnight and that I love you. Because just like the little girl who is sleeping in the bed and the baby who is growing inside of me – you, my angel, very much still live here. In us, you live.

Miss you most baby girl,

Mama

Broken Body, Brave Soul

At the very moment I am writing this, three years ago, my baby’s heart stopped beating. I had the great privilege of holding her in my arms as she was set free from her broken body – leaving me with a piece of her brave soul.

This day is hard. It will never pass without a recognition of her absence in our lives. The ache in my heart for that girl will be a part of me until the day I hold her in heaven. Like my brown eyes and my stubborn spirit, it is now just a part of who I am.

But Emmy’s story is made up of so much more than sadness and pain. Woven into even the most difficult moments are feelings of hope and joy and peace. The death of a child will change you forever. But it is up to you how.

There have absolutely been moments of emotional turmoil and relational tensions and heartache that seemed to heavy to carry. But we have learned how to cope. How to dig deeper into our faith than I ever thought possible. How to lean in to the discomfort and look in to realize what we do have right in front of us.

It has lead to the sweetest family traditions. And an astonishing understanding of life and loss and heaven in a little girl who truly knows and deeply loves a sister she cannot see. The things about her sister and about heaven that come out of that girl’s mouth are inconceivable for a three-year-old. Some day, when I’m brave enough, I will share.

For now, I’ll just share these. Our day celebrating Emmy…

Helping dad dig the hole for Emmy’s new tree!

“Stamping” the bottom of the hole with dad before the tree went in.

Emmy’s original tree, a Spring Snow Crabapple, is on the right. It was planted with our extended family at her 1 year memorial ceremony. The tree on the left is the one we planted today. Lexi wanted a tree for her sister that would get purple blooms in the spring, so we went with the Oklahoma Redbud. Can’t wait to see them both blooming next year!

Talks about sissy. They happen on a regular basis, but especially on the day we celebrate her going to heaven.

Sending sissy messages to heaven on balloons. This year Lexi also decided to send her a sucker (it took three balloons to make sure it would actually float!)

SaveSave

Why We *Heart* Chicago

This time last week, we were en route to the city that will always hold a piece of our hearts. For me – if Emmy “is” anywhere this side of heaven – it’s Chicago. And of all the things that little girl brought into our family, the tradition of this trip has to be one of my favorites.

For me, Chicago feels strangely like home. It’s where we spent weeks planning for and protecting the two little lives God had entrusted us with. It’s where we watched those two little lives come into this world, one of them only for a day . It’s the only place on earth we were ever physically a family of four.  For us, it’s a place that holds the very best and the very worst life has to offer – but each year that we make this trip, we’re adding to the “very best” category. And that feels so good.

I’m not sure why I’ve never written about these trips before – if for nothing else at least as a way to look back. So now, I’m packaging three years into one.

On each trip we try to do something new, with our adventures based loosely off the book Max Explores Chicago that we bought (and started) while we were “living” there. But, we also have our traditions within the tradition…our mainstay stops…the ones that are gut wrenching and soul shaking, but also peace providing. The people and the places and the things that take us back to the way we were before we were broken in this way – before we knew life as bereaved parents.

We always visit the hospital where the girls were born and Lurie Children’s Hospital where Emmy lived the duration of her short life under the most incredible medical care we could have hoped for. There is something about just being in that place that makes me feel so close to her. It could just be the memories. It could be my imagination. Or it could be a God thing. Whatever it is…she’s there.

Lurie Children's Hospital 2016

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2016

Lurie Children's Hospital 2017

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2017

Lurie Children's Hospital 2018

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2018

Lurie Children's Hospital - Aquarium 2017

Lurie Children’s Hospital – Aquarium 2017

Lurie Children's Hospital - Aquarium 2018

Lurie Children’s Hospital – Aquarium 2018

And of course, right around the corner from the hospital is our favorite donut shop, Stan’s (Chicago was really into the donut thing when we were there)

Stan's Donuts 2016

Stan’s Donuts 2016

Stan's Donuts 2017

Stan’s Donuts 2017

Stan's Donuts 2018

Stan’s Donuts 2018

Nom, Nom, Nom

Nom, Nom, Nom

We typically try to hit a Cubs game, because that’s something we did with the girls (and it may be the only thing that keeps daddy tagging along)

Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2018 (BOB)

Cubs Game 2018 (Oh hey there, BOB!)

And there is always, always time set aside for a visit with our favorite neonatologist on earth, Dr. Meghan. My attachment to her my seem unusual, as she was the first doctor too look me in the eyes and tell me the likelihood of “Baby A” surviving was slim to none. Up to that point, it was like no one had been brave enough to say it out loud. It broke me. But in some ways, I needed to be broken. She encouraged us to start thinking about the best thing for “Baby B” as not to jeopardize her wellbeing. But then she learned their names. And she heard our story. And as the days turned into weeks and we made it further into the pregnancy than anyone thought we would, she and her team began fighting for both of our girls. They provided options and information and most of all – hope. And in the end, she carried the devastation of loosing Emmy right along with us. To this day, she shows love and compassion to both of our girls and has become so much more than just a doctor.

Visiting Dr. Meghan 2016

Starbucks with Dr. Meghan 2016

Playing with Dr. Meghan 2018

Playing in the park with Dr. Meghan 2018

A daddy/daughter snapshot always makes the “best of” list. On these trips I do tend to make some space for myself to just be alone and breathe. It’s what I need, but it also gives these two some unique opportunities to bond in ways they might not otherwise. It’s truly a win-win for us.

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Post-Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Post-Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Do-Rite Donuts 2017

Lexi & Daddy Do-Rite Donuts 2017

Lexi & Daddy Navy Pier 2017

Lexi & Daddy Navy Pier 2017

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2018

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2018

And of course, there is lots of family bonding time and some prime opportunities for family selfies, too…

Family at Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2016

Family at the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel 2017

Navy Pier Centennial Wheel 2017 (clearly Lexi is impressed…)

Family at Gino's East (favorite Pizza in Chicago) 2018

Gino’s East 2018 (Favorite Pizza in Chicago!)

And our trip always ends in the same same way (in the best way) with everyone exhausted, but our family cup overflowing until we can do it all again in the next year…

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2016

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2016

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2017

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2017

(You will just have to trust me that this was her exact position on the way to the airport this year as well…I am literally kicking myself for not snapping that shot!)

So, as they say…This Is Us. It’s us allowing ourselves to experience and re-experience the best and worst parts of our story. It’s us allowing ourselves the grace and the space away from everyday life to remember. It’s just…us.

Thanks for continuing to give me grace in sharing our story, as I continue learning how to give that grace back…

Jen

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Grief Share Week 13 – Community in Christ

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

We did not have a funeral for Emmy, so on the one year anniversary of her passing we had a small family ceremony. It. Was. Perfect. We placed a memorial bench on the farm Inscribed with a portion of Psalm 139, planted a tree in her memory and started the tradition of a balloon release where we write messages on balloons to send to her in heaven.

We’ve reached the end of GriefShare. I’ve spent 13 weeks looking back all so I can look forward again. To rise up, we have to dig in. Even when it hurts.

In the book of Isaiah, God promises “beauty for ashes” and over the last 3 months, that’s exactly what I’ve seen. I have watched God transform a room full of broken, hurting, even angry women into a beautiful testament of His grace and love.

We’ve learned new ways to think, new ways to cope and new ways to move forward in the wake of immense grief. We’ve learned that while our personal stories of loss are unique, they do not have to be isolating. We’ve learned that we are not alone.

Each week, we’ve carried each other through hard conversations and difficult realities. We’ve passed the tissues when the well of tears threatened to break the dam. And we’ve laughed — freely — knowing there was no judgement or preconception or implication linked to that laugh. A community of broken humans came together as strangers, and left as sisters in Christ.

And friends, isn’t that exactly what Jesus calls us to do?

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

I am grateful for each of the women who was brave enough to walk through the door and take a seat at the table. I am grateful for the loss and heartache that wove the fabric of our lives together. And I am grateful, so grateful that Christ redeems the brokenhearted.

Thank you to each of you who have walked through this experience with me. Today — hug your babies, hug your husbands, hug your mamas and daddies. Because we never know how many hugs we have left with the people we love.

Want to find a GriefShare group near you? Click HERE!

SaveSave