Dear Joanna (10.19.15)

Dear Joanna,

I know you’ve heard this so many times, but only because it’s so, so true: I miss you.

These last few weeks have been feeling much harder, yet for some reason I thought maybe time would eventually make it easier.

Instead, as the weather gets colder, I’m reminded of how you were growing so steadily in my belly a year ago at this time. I had started to pop, was impatiently waiting for your 20 week ultrasound and still hoping the morning sickness (nighttime sickness) would go away soon.

Actually, a year ago this past weekend your Uncle Greg and Aunt Trish came to visit with cousin Shay. He was so little. I carried him around the zoo most of the day. I was so tired, being sick still, but we had a good time. Today I looked at the pictures of Shay from that weekend and realized…had you come along in April, around your due date, a year after Shay was born, you would be the same age right now as Shay was last year. Was that confusing? I hope it made sense.

Every time I see a picture of Shay from last year, it’s the same thing. I think of you and how old you should be right now. For the rest of my life I will look at pictures of him from “last year” and see you. In 2019 he will be off to kindergarten. I will look at that picture in 2020 and think how you should be headed to kindergarten. And so it will go. 

I don’t think time heals wounds. I think we grow used to the pain. Sometimes it aches as a fresh wound and causes great agony, and at other moments we feel it there, but we can focus on living and getting through the day. 

I wish you were here. I wish I didn’t have to know this pain. I wish I didn’t have to learn to live with it. I wish I could see you grow up. I wish I could hold your hand. I wish we were preparing for your first big holiday season with you in our arms instead of only in our hearts.

Joanna. Gracious gift from God. Can’t wait for the day we will hold you again.

xo,

Mom

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Cuts Like A Knife

If you’ve been following my grief journey here on [Still]Gracious, you probably came across my post Someone Said Her Name. This was the first time that I heard someone say “Joanna” referring to a child who was not mine.

It’s not often I hear her name, and since that first time, I can’t even remember hearing it out and about, other than when Bill and I oh-so-happily binge on Fixer Upper.

But last night, at our support group of all places, my heart broke, over and over again. A grand total of six times. Yes, I was counting.

A new loss family came to our meeting, their son recently passed at six months old. This family also has three living children. One of their daughters, Johanna.

I realize the name is not quite the same. But oh, how is rolls of the tongue just as beautifully, sounding so similar, cutting my soul like a knife.

Every time she said her name, my heart dropped. Every time she said her name, my stomach churned.

The fifth time, I got up and left. I had this unrealistic idea that if I stepped out, by the time I came back she wouldn’t mention her living daughter again. Of course, I was wrong, but I knew my limit at that moment and I did what I had to do.

This was a very new experience, because the group is a safe place where you expect to go and heal. To talk to people who fully understand you. To grieve with other loss families and to support each other.

I’m still struggling today, wishing I could talk about my Joanna as that mom spoke of her Johanna: happy, healthy, alive.

40 Weeks

Today marks 40 weeks since Joanna’s birthday. 40 weeks since we said, “see you in a little while.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that she has been gone a full 40 weeks–for as long as it takes to grow a little human. In the time she has been gone, people have gotten pregnant and already had those little ones. Those pregnancy announcements on Facebook in the first few weeks after our loss, the ones that cut like a knife, those babies are here.

Waiting for Joanna to come seemed like such a long, drawn out period. But somehow these 40 weeks since she left have gone by so fast, I almost lost count. And even so, J’s birthday still feels like yesterday, the memories raw.

I just wanted to share that…how time marches on whether or not we want it to. How it pulls us forward when we don’t have the drive to push ourselves.

Thanks for following our story for these 40 weeks, and for loving and supporting us through it all.

I wanted to share with you that I have written a new article for Still Mothers, one that has not been posted on my blog before. Please check it out – it’s about the silence of these last 40 weeks.

Read my article here: Silence

A Year Ago Yesterday

A year ago yesterday, we saw a baby – swimming around. Heart beating. Perfectly healthy. Measuring right on track.

A year ago yesterday, we saw Joanna – the first time we could tell she had a cute, little nose. The first time I suspected she was indeed, a she.

A year ago yesterday, we told the world. Our Facebook announcement went live and the “likes” and comments started rolling in.

We were on top of the world.

I see a lot of people on social media posting pictures of their children, who are 1 or 2 or 3 or more. They compare a picture taken today, to a picture taken a year ago yesterday. And they say, “what a difference a year can make.”

True. This year made us parents. Made us loss parents. Gave us a daughter. Took her away. This year was the best we’d ever had, and the worst.

What a difference a year can make.

Dear Joanna (9.17.15)

Dear Joanna:

I feel like I haven’t told you enough lately how much I miss you.

I miss you when I wake up in the mornings and only have myself and the dog to take care of. I miss you while I’m at work because I should be at home with you. I miss you when I drink Diet Coke because I wouldn’t dare to drink it while you were with me. I miss you when I get dressed and all of my old clothes fit and my maternity clothes sit in the back of the closet. I miss you while I’m driving, the back row missing an occupied car seat. I miss you when I walk down the hallway and stand in an empty nursery. I miss you when I go to the store and see the foods I used to buy that you liked. I miss you when I’m sleeping, but sometimes I see you in my dreams.

I miss you when I’m breathing.

Every. Second.

Your dad and I are going to Disney World on Sunday. I know your absence will be intensified. Last year you were with us. Not too many people knew yet. We bought you your own pair of Mickey ear and had them embroidered with “Baby J” on the back. We used them to create an announcement to tell THE WORLD you were on your way.

I know when we go to Beast’s castle for dinner your dad is going to be very sad. He was so happy to have the Beast wear your Mickey ears and point to my belly and take a picture with us. But, even in the sad, there will be sweetness. The sweet memory that you were here. We will be back in a place where you were with us. Even in your short life, we made memories and you got to go to Disney.

I’m not sure what the most bittersweet part of our trip will be for me. Riding the rides I couldn’t last year because I was keeping you safe? In all honesty, I feel guilty about how excited I am to ride those rides this year. I would rather have you all over again. I hope you know that.

We love you and miss you so much.

And, hey. J, you will always be our dream come true.

All my love.

Hugs and kisses, little one.

Mom

On Birthdays and Grief

Today is my birthday.

I’ve spent the last two days focusing on my grandpa. We shared this day as our birthday and I celebrated my first 21 birthdays with him. He even went to the casino with me on my 21st (his 70th) for drinks and to play slots. So many special memories come to mind surrounding our birthday, from blowing out the candles together, to Labor Day picnics, to a motorcycle ride to Eat ‘n Park for a birthday breakfast.

My grandfather’s death was my first experience with grief. I remember crying on the floor in my grandparent’s bathroom after saying goodbye to my grandpa for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. I remember telling my cousin at the funeral that I didn’t want them to close the casket because as soon as they did, it would be real. There were tears over songs that made me think of him. There were tears when I looked at other grandpas with their grandchildren. Eventually the tears came less often. The heart healed, though it would never be the same.

Now, eight years later, my heart still hurts on days like today. It hurt on my wedding day when Grampa was not there. It hurts on Christmas morning when he doesn’t call first thing to wish us “Merry Christmas”! It hurts when a commercial comes on TV and the song in the background is George Jones.

It is true that we move through grief. It changes us. It makes us stronger. It enables us to be more compassionate. Over time, though the loss is always present, the pain lessens. Now, when we think of Gramps, we remember happy times. We enjoy some of the things he enjoyed as a way to remember him. We tell stories and laugh together. Share pictures and songs.

This birthday I’ve come to realize, between my lessening grief for my grandpa and my unbroken grief for my baby, that life really is precious. What a gift. It was such a gift to have Gramps for as long as we did. When a life is long and full, you can celebrate amid your grief.

And when life is taken from this earth far too soon, you grieve that which you knew, those kicks and punches and rolls and the sound of Joanna’s heartbeat, and you grieve the future you’d dreamed for your child.

I didn’t really want to celebrate my birthday this year, but I realize now that each year, each day, is a gift. Even if I’ve had to go through the hardest thing in my life during my last year, it was also my best year. I had a daughter and she was beautiful. I got to hold her. Then, I was forced to change, to grow, to become stronger, to break down, to rise again. Joanna’s life, however short, was the greatest gift. She made me a mom and she taught me that life is fragile, unpredictable and beautiful.

Somewhere between my griefs today, I celebrated the gift of my life, and I celebrated life, for those who cannot.

Here’s to my life and yours, may we always remember how blessed we are to be here [still].

Dear Joanna (8.21.15)

Dear Joanna:

Wow. The last few days have been so rough. Nothing has changed or suddenly become worse. Yet something has shifted. I feel like my heart and mind are elsewhere. They are not with me, not on my work, not with the person I am talking to, not with the TV show I am watching, the meal I am eating.

I just think lately I’ve been with you.

I think of you. I dream of you. Not that I hadn’t been doing these things before. But recently my mind is filled with you, overtaken by our physical absence and overwhelmed with your spiritual presence.

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of you. It’s been a while, but there you were .In the middle the storm. Yes, the middle – a rainbow. You surprised me as I peeked out the window to look for funnel clouds. Instead, black clouds to my right and my left, and you, brightly shining down on my front porch. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a rainbow shine so bright. Often they are light, and hard to decipher against the sky. But last night, you were aglow. And not long after I spotted you, the rain began to fall again and you quietly slipped away. Again.

And so here I am. In a fog. Missing you. Distracted by that which won’t ever be. But loving all that you are, even still. Because though you are not in my arms, you are all around. In my heart.

You were here. So you’ll never truly be gone.

“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always”
-The Velveteen Rabbit

For always, dear one.

All my love,

Mom

What Sleep Won’t Solve

I’m tired a lot.

For a long time after Joanna died I didn’t sleep well. Some nights I would lay in bed, awake for hours. I would not be able to calm my thoughts and I would stare at the ceiling asking the what-ifs and play the blame game. Other nights I would sleep, but I would toss and turn and feel like I hadn’t slept at all when I got out of bed the next morning.

Of course those nights would lead to tired days. Days where I would wish for my bed. But when I would get to bed that night, sleep wouldn’t come.

Thankfully, most nights I sleep better now. I don’t miss Joanna any less; I tuck her carefully into the bed that is my heart, and we sleep in peace. There are still nights, like last night, that I don’t sleep well, or when the nightmares come, but generally, I am well rested.

However, I have been surprised to find that I am still tired. I am tired in other ways.

I’m tired from worrying. I worry over other pregnancies. I’m tired of doubt and of begging in my prayers that no one else would lose a baby. I’m tired from reading Facebook posts that talk about being in the “safe zone” or “past the scary point” and thinking to myself, “if only you knew.”

I’m tired of my heart racing and my stomach dropping when pregnant friends text me and I fear I will open the text and get bad news. I’m tired of phone calls from friends and asking them, “what’s up?” and then holding my breath when they reply “well…,” hoping they aren’t about to tell me they are pregnant, yet hoping so hard they will know the joy of motherhood.

My soul is tired. My heart is tired. Worn. Wrecked. The weight of grief is still making me weary, though I am not crying every day. Though I am not angry as often. Though I smile most of day again. I am simply tired.

I am tired of feeling this way…where I can’t just be “me” because “me” is someone new now.

When Days Are Harder

I think as a loss mom, I expect every day to be hard. Getting out of bed without a baby to take care of is hard. Coming home to a quiet house where your baby should be a happy, giggling 4.5-month-old is hard. Seeing your friends go through pregnancy and have healthy babies when your baby died is hard.

But what I don’t expect are days when things really should be only routinely difficult, yet they turn out to be extremely, surprisingly hard. Miserably, in fact.

On Friday I went to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up. I figured I should go, since the appointment would be fully covered by my insurance as preventive care and I would need the testing completed if we decide to re-visit the reproductive endocrinologist (where the exam would not be covered).

I knew it would be hard visiting the office, it always is. But of course on this particular day, there was a waiting room full of moms-to-be. All of those pregnant bellies, probably most unsuspecting of what could happen, happy to be there and getting to hear their babies’ heartbeats. Not only was the room full, but my doctor was running 20 minutes late. So there I was…sitting for a half hour wishing I were there to hear my baby’s heartbeat too.

When the nurse finally called me back, she recognized me from all of my prenatal appointments.

“Oh, hi! How are you? How’s the baby?” she asked me.

Ummm. The baby? Isn’t that the purpose of a chart? So that you can see before you meet with a patient what is going on with them? This was my third visit to the office since Joanna passed and certainly my file had that note in it.

I wanted to respond kindly to the nurse, but I was so immediately angered by her question that I said, “I guess you didn’t look at my chart – she was stillborn in December.”

She apologized and then I said, “To answer your question, I suppose she is doing much better than either of us.” I mean, Heaven is a better place to be, even if I wish she were here with me instead.

That was maybe a bit snarky, and I might have felt a little bad. But seriously. We shouldn’t have to go through things like this… Haven’t we been through enough?

To top off the harder-than-usual day, one of the lullabies I sang for J was playing as I waited for the doctor in the exam room. I don’t know how I had the strength to get through the experience and the rest of the day without crying, but I did.

When days are harder than I expect them to be, I usually want to close myself up in my room and cry or sleep or at least just be alone. When days are harder than usual, I often find myself wishing I could go back in time – that I could figure out the moment things started to go wrong and change them. When days are harder than I’ve planned for, I try to round up the strength to push through, to tell my story, to live for Joanna, to go on even when it feels impossible.

I’m thankful that those harder days come less often.


Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength. -Napoleon Bonaparte

On Growing Up

As most of you know, I love country music. A current favorite of mine is Maddie & Tae (see: Fly). They have another song, that generally the lyrics don’t mean as much to me as some songs, but one line says “that’s the downside of growing up.”

That’s alright, that’s okay
It’s just the way you find your way
It’s the road you gotta take to get where you’re going
You’re gonna twist, you’re gonna turn
But it’s how you’re gonna learn
A lot about life, a lot about love
On the downside of growing up

Gosh, isn’t it true? Life is hard. Some people have it worse than others, but everyone has their own struggles. Our biggest struggle, our deepest loss, losing Joanna and learning to live without her, is rough.

As we grow up we have these hopes and dreams and a vision of what our lives will be. We don’t realize what we are in for…working so hard and never feeling like we are getting ahead. Health issues. Losing grandparents. Financial struggles. Job changes. Friendships fade. Moving away from home. Losing children… So many things for which we’d hoped that didn’t come true or don’t turn out the way we planned.

We spend so much of our childhood wanting to grow up only to realize there are some pretty awful downsides to adult life.

But as I think of that: the downside of being an adult, I am quickly brought back to the reality that I get to be an adult. Joanna will never grow up. She will never be an adult.

Even with all the rough and tough stuff that happens to us as adults, oh, how I wish Joanna were here to grow up and discover so much good in the journey.

Working hard and being proud of what you do. Falling in love and marrying your one and only. Becoming best friends with your mom and always holding the title of daddy’s little girl, though you’re almost 30. Friendships that last 10 years, or 21 and that only grow stronger even when heartache happens. Adopting a pet who steals your heart forever. Becoming a parent and loving someone more than you ever thought possible.

The downside of growing up is that not everyone gets to do it — but they should.

If only they could.


One of the oddest things about being grown-up was looking back at something you thought you knew and finding out the truth of it was completely different from what you had once believed. –Patricia Briggs