Joanna’s Gifts – The Third Birthday

Tomorrow is Joanna’s third birthday… It’s incredible how fast the time moves, and how much our love for her grows, even though we aren’t holding her in our arms anymore.

It’s hard to imagine what Christmas could have been like with an almost three-year-old and an almost 18-month-old. Leo loved pulling paper off of his gifts, but didn’t quite connect that the unwrapping meant he was getting a new toy to play with. I know Joanna at nearly three would have had the most magical Christmas. I don’t know what she would be into at three, but maybe unicorns and a Doc McStuffins play set. It’s not hard to see those aspects of the holiday, it’s hard to imagine because it still hurts.

It still hurts that she is not here. It still hurts so much. When I go to get my nails done and there’s a little girl getting her first manicure about Joanna’s age. When we go to weddings and dads give toasts and dance with their daughters and moms help brides into their dresses. When I listen to the radio and hear songs written to daughters, or children in general.

When I think of all the moments I will miss of her life, when I think of the small moment in time when she was here with me, in my belly, in my arms. It all hurts.

Even three years out. I have a feeling the hurt won’t ever go away, even old wounds still ache. And so this will too. Every reminder will bring on a little pain, a little longing for that little girl, my firstborn. Every time I hear her name belonging to another, the hole in my heart will open, raw, all over again.

The truth is that time can heal you in some ways. I wouldn’t say time heals all wounds, no. But, it can make you see how strong you are. It can make you see how much love you are capable of. It can show you how love can even be multiplied and how loss is not the end. Time can’t heal your heart after a child is taken from your life, because that wound will always burn; but time can help you move forward, find purpose, use your pain to help others.

I wish I could say that I see the reasons why Joanna died – you know the “everything happens for a reason” reason. But in three years I have not found one and I don’t think there is one. I don’t think there’s a purpose for babies to die and I don’t see it as “God’s plan.” I don’t think everything happens for a reason. I don’t. But I think through the struggle and through the pain, Joanna’s life and death have helped me to be a better person.

From being able to share my story to help others to having more empathy in almost any situation. I have learned the value of time–how there is never enough to spend with the ones you love and to be more present in those moments. To laugh even in hard times but also to cry when I feel like it and let my feelings out so they can be processed and understood.

I’m still learning to love myself, to not feel guilty about Joanna’s death, to not be angry at myself. These are harder to accept but I am making an effort each day.

Bill gave me a necklace for Christmas that I have been wanting; it says “And if not, He is still good.” And in all things, I still believe He is good. In good times and bad times and in long lives and those cut too short. In my life — even if He doesn’t save me from the fire, He is still good. I know three years ago today when I found out Joanna had died, in that exact moment, God was still good. When I held my beautiful girl in my arms, He was so good! Even leaving the hospital empty-armed — still good. Nothing that can happen in this life can change who He is, which is good.

And when I was pregnant with Leo I had the words “But if not…” written on a post it, stuck to my computer at work where I saw it all day long. It was my motto, my mantra. To remember that God was in this with me and even if I didn’t get to bring Leo home, He would still be good.

Because Joanna was good. Short life. But good life. She will always be the one who made me a mama. That’s good. She will be my firstborn. That’s good. She was perfect. That’s good. She was mine. That’s good. She will always be with me. That’s good.

Happy birthday tomorrow to my girl. We love and miss you so much!

xo

If you’d like to help us celebrate, check out our Facebook event. We are having a random acts of kindness day and would love you to participate and share what you do in J’s honor.

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When She Leaves First

Debbie Reynolds died today.

I enjoy my fair share of celebrity news, but don’t normally comment much, especially on celebrity deaths. My thought process is that they are people, and people live and die. Some people live a lot shorter lives, and die.

Like Joanna. She lived 25 weeks and a few days and then she was gone – 2 years ago tomorrow.

But the reason I am commenting on Debbie Reynolds’ passing is because she died one day after her daughter. You are not supposed to die after your children. They say you can die of a broken heart – and yes, I am hearing Reynolds might have had a stroke – but what if, even though supposedly Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Reynolds was difficult – what if she died because that’s just how stressful and painful and awful it is to know you’re going to bury your baby (even if she was 60)?

Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Joanna’s life, mark another year since she left us. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived, a heart broken, deeply wounded, but still beating. The effect of losing your child is so great, most people don’t realize how hard it really is. How you planned a life together, planned a life where you never had to be apart, a life where your time was only severed by your death, not your baby’s. And then it’s all gone in an instant. And even though you might survive it, and you might even go on to have more children, your life is always marked by “before she died” and “after” – and you aren’t the same.

You see, it doesn’t matter how long of a life was lived, 60 years, or 6 months inside of you – that life had meaning and an impact on yours. You’re forever changed, forever missing a piece of you.

 

Coexisting

Joy and grief. Coexisting. A lot of my writing touches on this interesting phenomenon. A very common topic at our support group and perhaps the most common theme of my every-day life since Joanna’s birth.

I’ve seen it many times in my life, the coexisting. I was so joyful to graduate high school, college. I was excited and happy to be done, to be leaving, to be moving forward in life! Then I thought about leaving all of my dear friends, my safety net, my familiar little world. And suddenly I was also grieving the past few years and I just wanted to hold on and never leave.

Another instance. Someone I love, my Grandpa, was sick. He was dying. I love him so much and was so grateful for each remaining moment with him. There was joy in hearing his voice in my ears. There was joy in the sound of saying his name. There was (and still is) joy in my fantastic memories of growing up with him. Sharing a birthday. His laugh. Love of George Jones. Slammin’ air guitar. There was even joy for him when he took his last breath and entered the gates of Heaven – for there is no more sickness or pain in his body. But the second I’d realized he was really gone, the grief washed in and over me and pulled me under. Happy and sad, all at once.

Of course, there’s also the situation where I’m having a baby, and she dies. What? There is joy in that? I’m going to tell you – yes. Some days it is hard to see the joy, but it’s there! You just have to look. I read this quote recently in a book I just finished making my way through (crying my way through). It captures the situation well.

It was the most anticipated moment of my life, and I knew in an instance, it would forever be the most painful. Having the best and worst moment of your life share the same space within your heart is indescribable… -Three Minus One

My mom asked me a few months after losing Joanna if I thought that 8:07 p.m. on Monday nights would become easier or be happier for me someday. But what I told her was that 8:07 is often less sad than other times. Maybe my baby came quietly into the world at 8:07 p.m. on a Monday night. Maybe I was in a lot of pain and tired and heartbroken at 8:07. But at 8:07 my firstborn child, my daughter, was born. She was perfect aside from the non-beating heart. Perfect and mine. I could not have been more proud and joyful in that moment. But of course, that coexisting grief was right there too, since Sunday morning when the doctor told us those four words no parent should ever have to hear, there is no heartbeat.

This week I was promoted at work – it was joyful! But at the same time, there was such sorrow because had Joanna been born alive, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I would choose her over the promotion.

Tomorrow is my cousin’s wedding – a joyful and happy celebration! But Joanna was supposed to meet her great grandma for the first time while we are there.

A week from Sunday is Father’s Day. We are so happy Bill is a dad, and such a good one. But we are so sad his baby girl is not here to cuddle and love on.

So and it will go for the rest of my life, joy and grief together.


With all my heart I will praise the Lord. I will never forget how kind He’s been.
Psalm 103:2 CEV