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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Holding Us Now

Wow, y’all. December is here again. How did this happen?

In just 28 days we will mark the birth/death of Joanna Rose – her second birthday.

Our second year without Joanna was filled with anticipation of bringing home her little brother, and he came, full of life and health and sweetness. But having a “rainbow baby” does not make things “better.” He is not a replacement and not a fix for the broken. He doesn’t fill the hole left by Joanna. But he does fill my arms with love and happiness and so much joy, and he is a missing piece of our family now put in place. But she will always be missing. She will always be elsewhere.

But that elsewhere is Heaven. Though I miss her still, every day, I know I will see her again. I rejoice in the fact that I can live my life here, without her, with the confidence that we will meet again. That I will hold her again.

I was listening to a newly purchased Christmas album today and there is a song that combines Silent Night with another called Holding Us Now. As I was listening, it really spoke to me.

On a starlit wonder of a night
You came so all would be made right
And the baby that all beheld
The same baby Mary held, is the same God
Who is holding us now

As I was listening I began to cry, thinking of these lyrics. Jesus came to make things right, to make a way for us to go to Heaven. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the way for me and Joanna to be together again. But I also cried knowing what it’s like to hold a child who is dead, wondering if Mary realized in that moment that she would feel as I do, the broken, painful agony of burying a child, YOUR child.

The rest of the lyrics are just as powerful. The baby that everyone came to see, the one Mary held in her arms, is THE SAME God who is holding me now, holding me together through the hard days, the sad moments, the times when I miss J so much it hurts (which is still most days). He is ALSO the same God holding Joanna now. The same.

The same God He was in the joy of learning Joanna was coming. The same God He was in the devastation of finding out Joanna had died. The same God who was with us as we held Joanna and said our hellos and goodbyes all on one day. The same God–walking in pregnant, walking out parents empty arms. From a manger in Bethlehem, to a Savior on the cross, to the God in Heaven who holds our hearts through all things. He holds both me and Joanna, and someday He will hold us both, reunited.

 

The Quietest Easter

Last Easter we were 3.5 months out from having said “see you later” to Joanna. We went to Pennsylvania to be with family, rather than be alone in the house. It was a nice weekend away, with good food and wonderful family to visit. There was noise to drown out the sad, empty cries of our hearts.

This year, we were home. Our first Easter, just to two of us, without Joanna. I couldn’t help thinking of how different it should be as I hashtagged a photo with “dinner for two” – when it should have been three. We should have a nearly one year old. Maybe she would be walking. Maybe she would be enjoying all sorts of new foods, or maybe she would be a picky eater. Maybe we’d be out “searching” for Easter eggs in the backyard instead of looking at Joanna’s winterberry tree and wishing she were here. We’d be surrounded by little girl screams and giggles and hugs and kisses. The delightful sounds of childhood filling our home and our yard. Filling our hearts.

Instead we were home. Quiet. I made a little Easter dinner, Bill took a long nap in the afternoon since he has worked the night before.

I found myself reflecting more deeply this year on Easter itself. Thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice and how He made a way for us all to go to Heaven. In the quiet of Sunday, I realized how much more grateful I am for this sacrifice now. To know that Joanna has only known Heaven, that she will not know what heartbreak is, that Jesus made a way for her little soul to go straight to Him. That because of His sacrifice, I know I’ll be seeing J again someday.

Though quiet represents a lot of pain and sadness for me, for Joanna, quiet means peace and joy and praise and walks down golden streets and being held by her Creator, while we are not there to hold her.

Maybe this will be our last quiet Easter, but I’m grateful for the time I spent thinking of Joanna and for the peace that covers my heart when I think of seeing her again someday.

Dear Joanna (7.27.15)

Dear Joanna,

I miss you. Always.

It’s been a while since I have written to you, but I know you’ve been busy playing on the clouds and singing old country tunes with your great grandpa. I often find myself looking up at those clouds, trying to see past them, to see you.

A year ago yesterday we learned you were on your way. Though we didn’t know pregnancy would happen so quickly the second time around, we knew you’d be coming someday and had just purchased a house with the perfect room for a nursery. I remember a week of negative pregnancy tests so I figured I wasn’t…but something said, “take one more test.” Those two pink lines popped up and I was pretty surprised and scared too, hoping you’d be the baby we would keep. The baby we would bring home.

Well, little one, we keep you in our hearts while Jesus holds you close. Some day we will hold you again, but you know what? We feel Jesus holding us too, and in that we are confident that we are together.

Yesterday I went to a concert and saw Kari Jobe perform “I Am Not Alone.” You probably know it well. We listened to it on the radio while you were here, and it played on the way to the hospital to have you, and on the way home. Maybe you had something to do with that. It made your playlist and it’s been very near and dear to me ever since your birthday. It felt right that I was there last night, that I could be in a place of worship and healing and come full circle – finding a few pieces of my heart are glued back together with the love I have for you. Finding God’s healing in the midst of these trials. All on the anniversary of the day you told us you were coming!

Joanna, most days are still hard, even when we don’t show it. Most days have triggers and some things set us off. Today, at 30 weeks postpartum, I think that you really should be only coming up on four months old. I think about what you would have looked like. I think about how it would feel to hold you, all warm and soft. And I wish you were here.

But I heard a little voice yesterday at the concert…a little voice that said, “You’re going to be a mom again. There will be another little one. Joanna is not an only child.” And I wonder, have you already met your little brother or sister? Surely God knows who he is sending next. I hope you are together. I hope you’re telling your sibling[s] to grow strong and to be brave. And to, pretty please, kick and punch and roll and hiccup as often and as much as he or she likes.

We love you, J. We are homesick to be with you and hold you again. But we’ll see you in a little while.

In the meantime, I’ll keep peeking past the clouds to catch a glimpse of you.

Love you, sweet girl.

xo,

Mom

Dear Joanna (4.3.15)

Dear Joanna,

I want to tell you something. Just know it is not your fault. It’s not mine either. Though it’s always hard to believe that. 

I am feeling left behind. 

Sometimes I feel bad feeling that way. I know I have friends who wish they were married and feel left behind. And I have friends who wish they could buy a house and feel left behind. Of course I have friends who don’t have children yet and probably feel left behind as well.

Still, I feel left behind because I don’t have you. All of your dad’s siblings have children. My brother has a son. Many of my friends who married after me, or are not married at all, are having children. Or even just friends who are younger than me. I thought it was my turn – our turn. Your dad and me.

We thought we were going to join the new parent club when you were born. While we did join a parent club, it’s not quite the same. Being part of the bereaved parent club…it’s one no one wants to join.

We thought you would be our Rainbow Baby, the baby who is born after a loss. But now, you’re another Glory Baby. Another precious life not living here with us, but in Heaven. 

But speaking of rainbows, your dad and I saw a rainbow today on our way home to Pennsylvania. We saw a few rainbows the summer we found out we were pregnant with you! This was the first I’ve seen since you left us and I want to believe it was sent our way to remind us you’re with Jesus on this weekend where we celebrate Him and His resurrection and our salvation.

Maybe, it’s even a sign to remind me, on the weekend before your due date, that there is hope of another baby – a sibling for you. Our Rainbow Baby. 

This weekend will soon be over. Your due date will soon pass. But I will still feel left behind… Behind you, already in Heaven. Someday, we will meet again. 

I love you, sweet girl!

Love,

Mom