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.

 

Dear Joanna (3.23.15)

Dear Joanna,

I went home to PA to visit family and friends this weekend. You would have liked it there. The weather was pretty mild, though of course it snowed on the first day of spring. It would have been fun to take you there in the winter to go sled riding. And in the spring to celebrate Easter and your cousin Shay’s birthday. Summer would have been fun, going to Waterford Days and stopping for a nice visit at your Pap’s camp so your daddy could show you off to his family. The fall is great too – cool temperatures and beautiful leaves. You would have grown up looking forward to those visits up north, just as your dad and I look forward to them.

This trip was pretty special. I got to meet little baby Annabelle. She is only a few weeks old and her mama, Erin, and I liked to share baby bump photos while we were both pregnant. I took her some breakfast and we got to share labor and delivery stories, though there was but one baby to hold. I wish there were two; I wish one was you. For most of the visit I just looked – I watched as AB lounged quietly while her mom and I talked. I looked on as Erin breastfed her, changed her diaper, redressed her. Toward the end of my visit I decided to hold her. She was much heavier than you, but still felt so tiny. She was warm and smelled like babies smell, so sweet and clean. And as I cuddled her on my chest, I wished for you.

Joanna, no one can replace you or fill this hole. Holding AB was priceless, so special, even healing. It helped me remember that all babies are precious and all babies are miracles, even if they aren’t mine. But there is just one you. So someday when your dad and I decide that we’ll have another baby, we know that your brother or sister will be a precious gift, but not a replacement. Even in that upcoming joy – you will always be missing from our lives on Earth.

I also got the chance to visit with another friend named Erin. She and I have been friends 18 years this year. That’s a very long time, especially considering I only had you for 6.5 months. While visiting, I was entertained for the evening by Annakay. AK is almost two and is very sweet. I wish you could have been her friend, just like her mom and I are friends. AK and I danced, put hats on and marched around the house, shared a snack and watched the end of Tarzan together.

I find that being around baby girls and little girls is much harder on me than being around boys. Mostly, I suppose, because they are a constant reminder of what I am missing – you. However, I realized the sharp edges of my broken heart are ever so slowly being smoothed: playing games and dancing with AK warmed my heart and made it feel full for a little while. Though the hole where you belong will never go away, there are small, fleeting moments of pure delight that take my breath away. Even though I cried for you the whole drive home from Erin and AK’s.

Who you would have been, how you would have looked as you grew, what we would have played…I still dream of those things. But I know you are doing all those things in Heaven.

I am grateful for the strength to get out of bed each day and live here without you.

I love you.

xoxo,

Mom

P.S. Sweet girl, you’ve been in Heaven for 12 weeks today. How we miss you, Joanna.