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This blog has been lovingly created in honor of our precious Brady Benjamin, who was born and died on August 6, 2010. He was not ready for life in this world, but will forever live in our hearts. We love you Brady.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What do you say in a moment like this?

We have all been in that moment when someone we love is struggling with news of a devastating loss, and we stare at a blank card or pick up the phone just to put it down again because we have no idea what to say.  What can you say?  Will anything really help?  Everything that comes to mind seems so trite because you've heard it said a million times already.

My goal with this post is to offer some advice from my perspective, based on my own experiences.  It won't suit everyone in every situation, but hopefully it will give you a little more confidence as you stare at the next blank card.  I also hope to not offend anyone who may be guilty of any of the following, because I am guilty myself.  We all have good, loving intentions and want to say something special in an effort to be helpful.  Having been on the receiving end though has drastically altered my idea of what is actually helpful.

First off, I apologize to Reba for stealing her song title, but I love that song and it's appropriately suited for this post.

Second, I know it's ridiculously early... but Brett woke up hungry and while feeding him I logged onto Facebook to stay awake (sad, I know) and read something that inspired this so I wanted to get it down while the words are flowing.

1.  When you say "I know this doesn't even compare to what you're going through, but...." and you basically go ahead and compare it anyway, not helpful.  This is number 1 because it is actually what inspired this entire post.  I read on Facebook where a friend of a friend (someone I don't know) offered the "non-comparison" of losing her beloved dog to someone who had recently lost her 15-year old daughter.  Well-intended? Yes.  Helpful? No.  Yes, pets are sometimes like family but attempting to make that comparison (even while denying you are doing so) could be destructive.

2.   On the flipside, an affirmative comparison of "I know exactly how you feel" honestly just made me want to punch people in the face.  When you are in the very early, ugly stages of grief you almost want to feel isolated with it.  It consumes you.  To think that someone else has been exactly where you are somehow minimizes what you are feeling, almost as if they had said "oh no big deal, I have been there, done that".  Of course that is not what they meant, but another side effect of the early stages of grief is the inability to think rationally.  Save this one for a little later.

3.  Gestures are very much appreciated, but only if they are effortless to accept.  Don't offer to bake a casserole, just bake one.  If I don't want it I won't eat it, but will still appreciate the effort.  Don't call me and offer up 10 different choices of what you can cook, then 10 different ways you can get it to me.  I don't want to make any decisions that don't directly relate to the person I just lost that is consuming my mind every minute of the day.  Other decisions, even simple ones, are next to impossible to make right now.  One of the nicest gestures I received was a friend who made us dinner then took it to my mom to deliver to me.  She could have arranged to bring it directly to me, but she understood... that would not have helped.

4.  When you are staring at the dreaded blank card, remember all those phrases that you initially tossed out because everyone says them all the time.  You know the ones, "sorry for your loss" and "in our thoughts and prayers".  They are repeated often for a reason.  Although you desperately want to offer something original, even profound, it will likely be lost on the reader.  Everything else is just fluff, another distraction from what they are trying to focus on right now, the person they just lost.  A simple heart-felt "I'm so sorry" can speak volumes.  Nothing else needs to be said.

5.  If you really can empathize with how they're feeling because you really have "been there", let them know... just not now.  The ability to rationally relate to someone else comes in the later stages of grief. Give them your "I'm so sorry" and a good hug for right now, then give them some time... they will let you know when they are ready for more.  They will also get the most benefit out of it later when they are thinking a little more clearly.

6.  Lastly, don't forget them.  Time will go by and life gets busy, but their world is still in slow motion.  They don't understand how everyone else can just move on like nothing has happened.  I will never forget a card I received about a month after Brady died.  It had a beautiful picture on front and the inside was blank with a simple handwritten note, "thinking of you".  She remembered me because she had been there too.  I knew it, and she knew I knew it.  She didn't have to tell me all about her experience.  With those 3 little words she immediately let me know that even a month later, when the rest of the world had seemingly moved on, she still remembered him... and me.  That was priceless.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The 2 Doors

This is a very special and emotional time for me right now.  Just last month we welcomed our fourth child, a beautiful baby boy, into our lives.  As with every child, he has brought us so much joy and I absolutely love spending my days at home with him.

But also, in just over 2 weeks is the 2nd anniversary of the loss of our Brady.  In the week after he died, I wrote this to him in my grief journal:

"Right now I have no desire to run or fast forward past this point in my life.  Quite the opposite; I want to slow it down, to live every minute of it doing something for you.  I write in this journal, we talk about what to do with your remains... anything to keep the subject focused on you.  I am afraid when we stop doing that life will start to move on, to move away from here and the world around us will forget that we are parents grieving the loss of our only son."

In the 2 years since I wrote that, time has moved on and our grief has changed.  But I don't think it's accurate to say that time has allowed us to "move on", we (or I at least) have simply "moved forward."  Feelings are a strange animal.  We don't get to choose how we feel, only how we react to our feelings.  At this point in time it seems as if there are 2 doors in my heart, one labeled "Grief" and the other labeled "Joy."  I don't get to choose which one is opened on any given day, or sometimes even from one hour to the next.  At times I still feel almost consumed with thoughts of Brady and those feelings of loss.  Other times, and thankfully more often, I am overwhelmed with the joy of Brett and feel so blessed that he is now a part of our lives.

I knew from the beginning that having another child, even a boy, would not "replace" Brady.  But I thought it would help those feelings of loss at least diminish, if not disappear altogether.  I was wrong.  Just like the addition of a second daughter did not replace the love I had for our first daughter, the addition of a second son did not affect my feelings of loss over our first son.  My heart simply grew to accomodate the addition.

When I dwell on my feelings for Brady, I feel almost guilty for not appreciating the gift of Brett more.  On the flipside, when I dwell on my feelings for Brett, I feel guilty for not respecting Brady's memory more.  I know guilt itself comes in the job description of motherhood for all of us, so I needn't focus on it.  I know I can't help feeling it, but no reaction to those feelings is warranted; they will pass.

Instead, I know that I can continue moving forward and each day celebrate the life of Brett, while also being grateful for the blessing of Brady, no matter how brief the time he spent in my arms.  All of our children hold their own special and unique places in our hearts and I just pray that amid the daily crying, fighting, sleeplessness and chaos, we never forget to stop and appreciate the beauty of each of their lives.  Today, on my 31st birthday, I am most thankful for the gift of my children.  Mommy loves you now and always Rayley, Karley, Brady and Brett. <3


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Is Heaven a Pipe Dream?

By nature, I am a very analytical person.  It suits me well in my job... as an auditor, I take the work that someone else has done and test it every which way I can to make sure it was done correctly.  Not only am I looking for simple errors, but also making sure that any assumptions relied on in preparing the work are valid, and perhaps more importantly, reliable.  I realize I often unconciously apply this "testing" to other parts of my life.  As I type this my first year English professor's words pop into my head, he always said "question everything!".  I guess that about sums it up.

Anyway, my point is... this habit has proven very difficult lately.  When I was young (early teens) I was very involved in youth groups, etc and it was easy to go to church camp for a week and come back feeling energized and satisfied with what I knew about God.  I didn't really dig deeper and "question everything" like I do now.  My life over the last 15 years has not revolved much around God.  I went from student, to wife, to mother before I had any real self-confrontation with my beliefs. 

In getting older, I noticed how most of the truly "religious" people I knew were either old (by my standards anyway) or had suffered some sort of tragedy that drove them into the arms of God.  As to the former, I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't merely because the elderly were afraid to die, and thus bought into this pipe dream of eternal life.  After all, what could it hurt?  If they believed they were saved, and they were right, they got their reward.  If they were wrong, and dying really meant the end of every part of their being... then they would never know or care anyway because they would be gone!

This was my thinking, back and forth, back and forth, until my tragedy came.  All of a sudden I was part of that group.  I found myself turning to and leaning on someone that I hadn't acknowledged daily in years.  Was I just a coward?  Was I trying to make myself feel better by buying into the same pipe dream of Heaven, believing that I would see my son again one day?  I started going to church again regularly and it seemed like this time around, everything I learned... I questioned.  I didn't want to, I wanted to get back to that childlike faith that we are supposed to have, that I used to have.  But it simply wasn't there.  Was it because as an adult I was not as susceptible to the teachings of a cult's way of thinking? (It hurts me now to even use that word, but that is honestly how at odds with myself I was).  This tiny little voice kept telling me that as much as I wanted to believe in my faith, it was much more logical to believe that it was just some fantastic story that gives hope to the hopeless.

It was literally months of bible studies, Sunday schools and sermons before another tiny voice whispered "seek and you shall find".  It was as simple as that.  I turned it over and over in my head.  It wasn't the tragedy itself that fueled my faith, it was the fact that the tragedy had caused me to seek God again.  No wonder I had gone 15 years without a daily acknowledgement of Him... to all of a sudden praying and studying his word... I actually LOOKED for Him.  I am ashamed that I hadn't done it in so long, but it makes perfect sense to me now.  True believers are not just running scared into a sea of false hope, they are realizing the blessings and comforts He has to offer... because they sought after them.

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." - Matthew 7:7-8

So to anyone who has ever felt the way I felt, or that simply has trouble buying into God's word, the fact that Jesus died for our sins, or that Heaven is a real place, I would simply say... have you asked God if it's real?  Have you ever really, truly tried to seek His presence?  It shouldn't have taken me so long to figure it out.  I am being guided and filled by his love again, and believing in His promises again... simply because I looked for Him again.     



Friday, August 5, 2011

One year ago today...

One year ago today our lives changed forever.  Cody and I met our baby boy for the first and last time here on earth, and Rayley and Karley lost a baby brother that they never got to meet.  This past year has had its ups and downs, but not an hour has gone by that I haven't thought of Brady and what it would be like if he were here watching Rayley's tee ball games with us or snuggled up with us on the couch watching the corny America's Funniest Home videos that we like so much.

Rayley thinks and speaks of him often, the embodiment of that "childlike faith"... thinking Heaven is a place like California and not understanding why we haven't been there to visit him yet, or why God wouldn't let him come down for Karley's birthday party a few months ago.  I hope my smiles and nods are assuring enough for her because they are not for me.

I can't believe it has already been a year.  If I have learned anything it is how to have a closer walk with the Lord, even when your most pressing questions cannot be answered.  Pray anyway.

When we held him in the hospital my mom wanted to take a picture of his hands in mine.  I wouldn't let her.  Why in the world they allow a woman in that time of the most extraordinary physical and emotional pain to make ANY kind of decision I still do not understand.  I wish I had let her do it.  I am sorry for that.

On this day, his first birthday, we will write messages on our white balloons and tell Rayley we are sending them up to Heaven for him.  We will remember him, just like we do every other day, and hope the coming year brings just a little more comfort than the one before.  We will appreciate the precious time we have together and the wonderful family that joins us in our love for our children... all three of them.  We love you Brady Benjamin.  Happy Birthday <3   

    

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Question

Cody is working late tonight, girls are both in bed, so I sit down in my quiet bedroom to work on my bible study chapter.  I begin with a prayer, then dutifully look up and write down my study verses for this week.  I review the chart of "The Stages of Grief" and mark the date on the point where I feel like I am now, just like the chart instructed.  My mark falls somewhere between guilt and anger.  I didn't even know grief was a 9-step process.

I was feeling pretty good with 5 pages down and only 3 more to go.  Then I dwelled for a bit on a quote from C.S. Lewis, made after the death of his wife: "I live each day thinking about living each day in grief".  Very deep, depressing stuff.

Then I move on to the next question and it hits me like a ton of bricks.  Up until now, I have blamed this unrelenting guilty feeling on the wavering doubts I had early on in the pregnancy, but now, here is this question jumping from the page like a big, fat finger pointed right in my face. 

"When did you first sense that something was wrong with your pregnancy?"

It catches me completely off guard.  I had no idea anything was wrong with my pregnancy.  We had just seen Brady on the sonogram 2 weeks earlier and he was perfect.  Why in the world would anything be wrong?  Then I remember Dr. Green's confused face shortly after the last sonogram as he asked, "did you not feel the baby stop moving?"

I had already had this discussion with the nurse on several visits (during this pregnancy and the one before it).  When you work all day long and come home to a toddler that needs attention almost 24/7 you don't have the luxury of being able to lay down in a calm, peaceful house... patiently awaiting your little one's fluttering movements.  I remember being able to do that when I was pregnant with Rayley and I loved it.  With Karley, it seemed like the only time life slowed down enough for me to really focus on her moving was when I was towards the end of the pregnancy... and who can ignore a knee or an elbow protruding out of your stomach?!

With Brady though, no... I never really felt much "kicking".  I felt the fluttering early on, but it was still a little too early to be worried about not feeling any real dramatic movements.  I wasn't worried at all.

When we did our introductions for our bible study class, the other women recalled experiencing sudden bleeding or a feeling that something just wasn't right.  They immediately called their doctor or went to the emergency room only to hear the tragic news.  Their insticts were right... something was wrong with their baby.  Where were my instincts?  Was I really that busy and concerned with the stresses of life to not notice that something was wrong?  Would it have even made a difference?  Probably not.

I remember being amazed when I was pregnant with Rayley and read that even though the scientific world has documented almost every single step in the fetal growth process, no one knew exactly what action inside the womb caused a baby's heart to start beating.  When you are pregnant, no doctor can tell you with certainty that on X day or after X happens your baby's heart will begin beating... they simply don't know.  Unfortunately, I now know that the opposite is also true.  They cannot tell you exactly when it stops beating either.  Was it the morning of my 5-month check-up as I got dressed for work... or the minute after we found out we were having a baby boy and the sonogram machine was turned off?  I don't know, they don't know.

So why in the world would this seemingly inncoent question, "when did you first sense that something was wrong with your pregnancy" cause my mind and heart so much turmoil?  I am asking the question, but don't really expect an answer.  Then I remember another quote from C.S. Lewis that we studied in Chapter 2:

"When I lay these questions before God I get no answer.  But a rather special sort of 'no answer'.  It is not the locked door.  It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze.  As though He shook His head not in refusal but in waiving the question.  Like, 'Peace, Child; you don't understand."      

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tonight

Had a fun night tonight out with the girls.  Fun... am I allowed to have fun yet?  Seems a little strange, but I almost feel guilty for it.  I guess it's sort of like when someone loses a spouse and then starts dating again and wonders... is it too soon?  What will people think?  Most of the concern is probably in our own heads but it is still there nonetheless.

On the way home from town today Cody and I began talking about Brady.  Somewhere in the conversation he casually mentioned that for some reason his death hasn't really affected his day-to-day life as much as he thought it would.  Instantly I felt like I was stranded on a desserted island.  He wasn't being insincere or anything, he just meant that he has been able to see things in a very "life moves on" sort of way and he is dealing with it better than he anticipated.

For some reason the thought of him being able to feel that way made me feel even more alone.  I know (based on my own common sense... and reinforced by the books I have recently read on the subject) that men and women grieve very differently.  They tell me not to expect him to have the same emotions that I have at the same time I have them.  For the past month though I have felt like we were on the same wavelength... until today.  I love Cody to pieces and I know he loves our kids more than anything in this world, but I think for the first time today I actually realized that he will never be able to comprehend my grief, just like I may never fully understand his.

I have several friends (who I won't mention by name) that have gone through miscarriage in the past.  Especially after I became a mom, every time I heard of this happening to someone I cared about I truly felt sadness in my heart.  I thought about them often in the days following the tragic news, but it lingered with me for a relatively short time.  After all, statistics say that miscarriages happen to most women at some point in their lives, many times before they even know they are pregnant.  That is simply a fact of life.  I think that is where Cody's mind is now and that's why he is able to get on with his life easier than I can. 

When it happens to you though, statistics go out the window.  I don't care if every woman I know has had a miscarriage in their past, this time it was me.  I lost MY son.  He died while he was supposed to be safe inside of me.  I am not trying to say that all of a sudden I understand what these other women have gone through, but I honestly do have a newfound respect for them.  It is tough.  Tougher than I could have ever imagined.  And I don't think it really matters how old your child was or how far along in your pregnancy you were.  Before my loss, I would have said that a loss in early pregnancy would be much easier to "get over" than a loss later on.  But now I am not so sure.  Early on, your baby is probably nameless... you haven't felt them flutter or kicking inside you.  But afterwards, that just means that the child you lost doesn't even have a name to be remembered by... and probably not even a sonogram picture to reflect on.  I think the greatest pain there would come from knowing that the world may not even remember him or her. 

Later losses, like mine, are no doubt hard... but they are recognized and acknowledged by the world.  Brady was taken care of by a funeral home and people made condolences for us to cherish.  We brought him home in an urn that we can see and touch every day.  His existence is thereby validated.  The thought that others loved him, not just us, gives us some measure of comfort.

I feel like I am rambling tonight (probably a few too many glasses of wine to blame for that), but I guess I am just trying to say that today was somewhat of a turning point for me.  I see now that Cody and I are not grieving in the same way.  I know that I and my friends who have suffered losses have not grieved in the same way.  But we have all felt the pain that no one else in this world can even begin to comprehend unless they have felt it too.  My prayer tonight is for all of us to continually receive some measure of comfort each day... in our own way...  as we remember the ones we have lost.   I love you all.         

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Our Story

Our story begins 22 years ago, where Cody and I met in Mrs. McKinney's 2nd grade class.  Fast forward through many years of grade school puppy love, high school sweethearts and engaged college years to a happily newlywed couple. 

Cody and I had been married for about a year and a half when we decided to start trying for our first baby.  After several unsuccessful months I made a trip to the doctor and was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).  Nope... we had never heard of it before either.  Turns out it is a leading cause of infertility in women.  We were devastated.  We had picked out names for our kids when we were 16, how could it be possible that we may never have any?

Luckily, after a year of trying and several months of fertility drugs we found out we were pregnant with our first baby girl, Rayley.  I had a "perfect" pregnancy (as Dr. Green constantly reminded me) and Rayley was born on March 19, 2006.  She was truly our little miracle.

After Rayley turned 2 we started throwing around the idea of trying for another baby.  We both wanted more kids and agreed 3 years was a good "spacing".  Determined not to have to take on fertility drugs again, we halfheartedly started trying to conceive on our own.  This time we were pregnant within 2 months!  We were amazed, and in shock... how in the world could it have been so easy this time?!

After another perfect pregnancy, our second precious baby girl, Karley, was born on June 17, 2009.  Although neither of us were dead set against having any more kids, we were definitely content with our lives and our beautiful little girls.  Our family.

When Karley was just 1 month shy of her first birthday, we found out we were pregnant again.  Shock can't even begin to describe what I felt.  Being the analytical person I am, I immediately put pen to paper and determined it was physically impossible.  I immediately made an appointment to figure out what in the heck was going on with my crazy body. 

Dr. Green did an ultrasound that very first visit and said we were in fact very pregnant, almost 8 weeks along!  Instead of the overwhelming joy and excitment I had felt with the first two, I was overwhelmed by anxiety and fear.  How in the world could we afford another child so soon?  Karley was still supposed to be the baby, how could I steal that away from her?  These and many other mostly negative feelings filled the first few weeks that followed.   By about the 12th week though, those feelings were being replaced with anticipation and excitement.  Yes it would be hard, but we were solid.  We would figure out how to make it work.

At 18 weeks our little family watched a bouncing, wiggling baby on the monitor in the doctor's office.  When she told us it was a boy it was like it was just meant to be.  Our family was complete.  I don't think I have ever seen Cody and Rayley so excited.  Now the shopping for clothes and decorating could officially begin!

Just 2 weeks later our world stopped.  At my routine 20 week check-up there was no heartbeat.  It was impossible.  It seemed like just yesterday we had watched him on the screen bouncing around like crazy.  When the ultrasound image came up this time though, I immediately knew there was no mistake.  It was still.  It was silent.  There was our perfect, precious baby... sleeping.

I was checking into the hospital later that afternoon and after 14 hours of induced labor Brady was delivered at 5:05 am on August 6th.  In the middle of a painful contraction straight into the bedsheets, with no doctor or nurse in sight.  They had warned me that was likely to happen, but nothing can prepare you for that feeling.  A baby is supposed to enter this world red-faced and screaming into the hands of a smiling doctor... not lifeless and cold laying against my thighs under the sheets.  That was the worst moment of my life.

Although the memories of the physical delivery are something I pray one day I will forget, I feel blessed to have been able to touch and hold my baby boy, even for a short while.  He was so tiny, only half a pound and nine inches long... but he was perfect.  His little arms and legs were so fragile.  His peaceful face looked just like his daddy's, no mistake.  I didnt't want to let him go.

I thought being able to bring home his ashes would give me some sort of peace, but I have yet to feel it.  Even the necklace I wear every day around my neck, which holds a small portion of his ashes inside, doesn't provide nearly the comfort I was expecting it to.  When you have carried your baby inside you and felt him moving inside you, no outside tangible token can replace the hole that is left when they are gone. 

So that is where we are now, one month and ten days later.  Still trying to fill the void and move on with some semblance of a normal life.  We have to, we have two little girls who don't yet understand the pain of death.  To Rayley heaven is a temporary place that Brady stopped to visit.  She gets upset when I cry and she cries too, but it's an innocent cry.  She knows something is wrong but she doesn't really understand it... and five minutes later she is playing again and asking for a snack.  Resilience.  What I wouldn't give for resilience in place of anger, guilt and pain.  I was ambivalent about my pregnancy early on.  Is this punishment?  God thinks I didn't want my child bad enough so he took him away from me?  Absolutely not, logic says.  There is nothing I could have done.  Still, some things simply cannot be rationalized away.  I know they are not true, but they still haunt me every day.

"Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

Please Lord, help me find it.