Pursuit of Happiness

What a rough week last week. 6 months. 26 weeks. Aching heart.

Faced with a 3-day weekend, I was thinking I’d spend my time alone, in the basement, binge-watching Food Network or HGTV.

This is typically what happens. Bill might do some work around the house. I might do some laundry or vacuum. But mainly, we stay home, quiet. Then, Bill will go to bed, since he works overnights. It’s a lot of time to myself, to be alone with my thoughts. To ponder what life might be like if Joanna had not died. To wonder if I could have done anything differently. To read our “Dear Joanna” tags. To sit in my grief and feel all the feelings that come with it, especially anger last week.

But I had a thought. If I am striving to reach happy, to find that place where we honor Joanna but we are happy more than we are sad, how am I helping myself by sitting alone in the basement? I decided on Thursday that Bill and I would #dosomethingfun (per my Instagram account) every day of the long weekend. We would try to get out and to be happy and to celebrate life – because though Joanna’s life with us was cut very, very short, we can still live for her, for us. We can still pursue happy.

And what a perfect weekend to do so – Independence Day.

Thursday we had dinner together, at the kitchen table. We had real conversation and good food. Together. Then, we went bowling and I won 3 of 5 games. Bill had the highest score of the night on our final game though.

Friday I met up with a friend from our support group for breakfast. It was nice to have the chance to get out of the house and talk to a friend who knows how I feel, but to be able to be together and talk about other topics too. Friday also brought sad news of a friend’s 17-week loss. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, to have your heart break so hard and so fresh in one moment of devastating news, and then to have it soothed by a friend who relates. By Friday night , I was ready for our #dosomethingfun – we went to the movies and saw Jurassic World. Ironically (?), our trip to the movies was free, as I remembered to use an unused gift card from my co-workers that they had given me after J died – something to get Bill and I out of the house together.

Saturday morning I got up and ready to go and as soon as Bill got home we headed out to Occoquan for kayaking. This is an activity we have enjoyed in the past and on vacations and have been meaning to do for a while now. We spent two hours on Occoquan River, listening to birds chirp and waters flow, admiring boats at the marinas we passed, taking selfies and, unbeknownst to us, getting sunburn on a very cloudy day. Afterward, we went home, ate some Smith’s hot dogs from home and had ice cream sandwiches. After Bill went to bed I spent the evening watching Call the Midwife (still not sure how I watch this show after what has happened to us, but it’s almost therapeutic) and comforting the dog because he is terrified of fireworks.

Finally on Sunday our #dosomethingfun was fishing! We have been talking about fishing for so long but haven’t gone. Saturday after kayaking we stopped at Dick’s for our licenses (and a Calia by Carrie Underwood workout headband that I have been eying since March). So Sunday we drove up to Manassas Battlefield Park and hiked down a trail to one of the small lakes. I caught the first fish (after Bill put a worm on the hook for me…) and he caught the second, which was about three times the size of mine. We didn’t stay long because the bugs were bad, but we had a good time just being out in the woods together. Peace. Quiet. Worms. Bluegill. And lots of love.

To some, I suppose this just sounds like a nice holiday weekend. To me, it was a huge success, a big step forward. And regardless of whether I end up taking a step or two back, because I am sure I will…I feel like this weekend was a win. We got out of the house. I didn’t hide…I flew! Bill and I spent time together doing things we love, things we haven’t done in a long time, things that are a part of who we are. I don’t think Joanna would want us to forget that we are a happy couple – competitive, fun-loving, adventurous. We can still be J’s parents, we can still grieve, but we can still pursue happy and have fun. That doesn’t detract from how much we miss her, it adds to the ways we honor her.

By living.



Joanna’s Playlist

First – sorry for the ultra-long post, but I hope you’ll read it all.

It’s not surprising that music is important to me. I think I get my love for it, and my skill for recognizing songs quickly and artists’ voices easily, from my dad. Not a bad gift to have given, thanks! I can’t do much without music – I have to have either iTunes going or the radio when I am in my car. I listen to various playlists at work on Spotify each day. Silence is hard for me (especially since Joanna died), so I also listen to music when I am falling asleep.

Music has also played a role in mourning the loss of Joanna. From her lullaby to the song playing in the car on the way to the hospital, songs have a way of meeting me where I am, and helping me feel the emotions I need to at the moment.

I recently created a playlist – “Joanna.” The songs are ones that remind me of my pregnancy, the help me express my pain, that help me mourn and that have started to help me heal. I wanted to share the songs with you. For some, I wrote out stories or a specific reason for the song’s inclusion, for others, I just quoted lyrics.

Part One: The Joys and Memories of Pregnancy

Safe & Sound – Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars

Before Bill and I got pregnant, I had a small list of songs picked out for our future children. My plan was (and still is) to pick one special song each time I get pregnant to be that child’s lullaby. For Joanna, I chose Safe & Sound. I would play this song in the car and sing it to her in bed as I fell asleep each night. The hope was that she would recognize it when she arrived. I sang this song to her when she was born as I cuddled her little body close to mine. I know she couldn’t hear me on this earth, but I believe she heard me from Heaven. While it was meant to tell her that I would keep her safe, it still applies – she is safe in Heaven and will never know the pain and heartache that this world can bring.

Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.

Leave the Night On – Sam Hunt

This song made the playlist simply because it was my favorite new song on the radio while I was pregnant. It’s a happy song and I loved to sing it on my commute to work, which was often a time I felt Joanna moving around in the mornings. I guess she liked it too! (Or maybe my singing was awful…)

Layin’ down would be in vain. I can’t sleep with you on my brain.

Perfect Storm – Brad Paisley

Have you ever come across a song that makes you cry every time you hear it? Well, that’s what Perfect Storm does to me. It reminds me of Bill and how he loves me. While I was pregnant, my hormones tended to make me cry over every song ever recorded. Now, this song still makes me cry as I think about what it means and remember hearing it often while I was pregnant. Plus, Joanna’s second concert was Brad Paisley and he performed this song.

She destroys me in that t-shirt. And I love her so much it hurts.

Something in the Water and See You Again – Carrie Underwood

As anyone who knows me knows, Carrie Underwood is my absolute favorite artist ever. My friends joke that she is my best friend, but that she just doesn’t know it. These songs makes the playlist for a number of reasons, but the first is that, even in my loss, I know that Joanna and I shared one of the best moments as mom and daughter – I took her to a Carrie Underwood concert (The Concert for Valor). She got to hear Carrie sing these songs live from inside the bump! It was one of the best days of my life. Even though we were far away from the stage and I could only see Carrie via the big screens nearby, we were there and Joanna and I were together. When Joanna died, I couldn’t listen to Something in the Water for a while. But as I am healing, I am cherishing this special memory. See You Again is special in its own right because, for me, it is about seeing Joanna again someday in Heaven.

(Not to mention being pregnant at the same time as Carrie was a dream come true… and she just had her baby last week!)

You are my tomorrow. Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking. But I stay strong and I hold on, ‘cause I know… I will see you again. This is not where it ends. I will carry you with me till I see you again.

Part Two: The Pain of Loss

Cry – Kelly Clarkson

Whenever I feel your memory is breaking my heart, I’ll pretend I’m ok with it all. Act like there’s nothing wrong. Is it over yet? Can I open my eyes? Is this as hard as it gets? Is this what it feels like to really cry? I’m talking in circles. I’m lying, they know it. Why won’t this just all go away?

Over You – Miranda Lambert

This song was chosen because the lyrics of the chorus sum up perfectly how I felt more than once in the last few months. Besides the deepest sorrows a mom can feel when her baby is stillborn, I have been angry. The lyrics here say, “You went away. How dare you? I miss you.” I still feel those words coming up to the surface sometimes. How dare you? How dare you? (This song also reminds me of my grandfather, and we left the hospital after Joanna was born on the 7th anniversary of my grandfather’s death.) Also, Miranda Lambert was Joanna’s first concert.

But you went away. How dare you? I miss you. They say I’ll be ok but I’m not going to ever get over you.

Glory Baby – Watermark

A song that has meant so much to me… Seeing Watermark in concert as a young teen was a fantastic experience. And to hear their story of loss, and now they have three beautiful children, it’s an inspiration. Glory Baby has been a song that has helped me cry the tears I’ve needed to, but also to remember that Heaven is the only home both my miscarried baby and Joanna will ever know.

Sweet little babies, it’s hard to understand it ‘cause we’re hurting, we are hurting. But I will rest in knowing Heaven is your home and it’s all you’ll ever know.

If I Die Young – The Band Perry

I think the song title speaks for itself. However, when we were trying to get pregnant over the past 2+ years, I loved to see rainbows. They were there reminding me of God’s promise to take care of us. I saw many rainbows in the summer when we got pregnant with Joanna and I hope, as the song says, when I see rainbows from here on out, I’ll be reminded of Joanna and that she is safe in Heaven. Plus, babies born after loss are called “rainbow babies” – and we do hope to have one someday.

Lord, make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother. She’ll know I’m safe with You when she stands under my colors. Oh, life ain’t always what you think it ought to be; aint’ even grey but she buries her baby.

Held – Natalie Grant

This song says it all. God didn’t promise us an easy life or everything we ever wanted. He promised to never leave us, no matter what.

Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares? We’re asking why this happens to us who have died to live? It’s unfair. This is what it means to be held. How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.

Part Three: Mourning and Healing

I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe

I’ll let my Facebook post from a month ago sum up why I chose this song for my playlist.

“This song, that I have loved for a while now, has become so much more meaningful to me in the last four weeks. It was four weeks ago today Joanna was born. Four weeks ago on the way to the hospital this song played. And it played the next day as we left the hospital. And it played on the way to the funeral home the day we brought Joanna home. And every word of the song is true and it has helped remind me day after day… I am not alone. God went before us in all of this and He hasn’t left.”

When I walk through deep waters, I know that you will be with me. Through the valley of the shadows, I will not fear. I am not alone. You will go before me. You will never leave me. In the midst of deep sorrow, I see Your light is breaking through. Through these trials, You’ve always been faithful. You bring healing to my soul.

Not for a Moment – Meredith Andrews

After all You are constant. After all You are only good. After all You are sovereign. Not for a moment will You forsake me. Not for a moment will You forsake me

You were singing in the dark, whispering Your promise, even when I could not hear. I was held in Your arms, carried for a thousand miles to show not for a moment did You forsake me.

You’re Not Alone – Meredith Andrews

You cry yourself to sleep ‘cause the hurt is real and the pain cuts deep. All hope seems lost with heartache your closest friend.

You’re not alone for I am here. Let me wipe away your every tear. My love, I’ve never left your side. I have seen you through the darkest night and I’m the One who’s loved you all your life.

What We Ain’t Got – Jake Owen

We all wish it didn’t hurt. When you try your best and it doesn’t work. Goodbye is such a painful word. We all wish it didn’t hurt.

Part Four: Hoping for the Future

Wonderful – Christy Nockels

A song of praise and worship to my God who has been with me through it all. Even on the days when I didn’t think could praise Him.

And my life will burn for You. ‘Cause Your light shined in the darkness. I was hopeless and You lifted up my head to sing for joy with a song that broke the silence of my worship. Now I’m singing all the day. And forevermore, You will be adored, ‘cause You are wonderful.

I Am – Nichole Nordeman

This song reminds me that God is here, no matter what stage of life I’m going through. He is holding my hand and holding my heart. He is healing me and keeping me afloat each day. He is I Am.

When I am weak, unable to speak, still I will call You by name. Oh Shepherd, Savior, Pasture Maker, hold on to my hand. You say, “I am.”

Creator, Maker, Life Sustainer. Comforter, Healer, my Redeemer. Lord and King, Beginning and the End. I AM.

In Your Sight – Kerrie Roberts

There is so much about this song that I love. I love that it talks about wishing to know the wisdom of a broken heart without the pain. Yes, please! If only I could know what this is like and have the experience without hurting so badly. But it also says that God saw EVERY MOMENT before I was even born. While I believe that He could have chosen to save Joanna, I do not think He chose for her to die. I believe that the sin in the world, the Devil, he chooses that. Our free will allowed sin to enter the world and God knows what those choices lead to – and He can prepare us and make a way for us to survive those trials that sin will cause. But think about that. EVERY MOMENT. He knows what will happen and He knows how to use us and lead us in these moments.

This song says that I can rest because God is holding me, holding these moments. It’s about closing our eyes and trusting that we are going the right way, wherever God is taking us. This is important for me because I’m completely terrified of having another baby. I fully believe that Joanna needs at least one sibling, that Bill and I need at least one baby on earth to raise and love on. But getting to a place mentally and emotionally where that is something I can do is hard. This song says that because we are in God’s sight in EVERY MOMENT we can be unafraid. I want to be unafraid. I want to trust. This is part of my healing process and I am grateful for this song.

I wish I never really had to fall this far, could have the wisdom of a broken heart without all the pain. But Lord you saw these moments before I began to breathe. And You see how to use them and where they’re going to lead. And I will rest knowing you are holding me. I believe You will never say goodbye. I close my eyes, unafraid of what I cannot see ‘cause I am always in Your sight.

Thanks for reading to the end. What are your songs for joy, grief and healing?