Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflections on a Year

Has it really been a year? Where did the time go? Tomorrow is the anniversary of the worst day of my life. One year ago at this very moment, I was enjoying what I assumed would be my new “normal” as a mom of my brand new son. We were home, and learning the ropes of parenthood after being released from the hospital the day before. Then the next day came and my whole world came crashing down so very quickly. The worst happens to other people, not me. Will my life be defined by tragedy? Turns out yes.

I have spent the last year living day to day. Sometimes breath to breath (when I could breathe at all). I have been numb, raw, driven, slowed down, disorganized, inefficient, and everything in between. I don’t remember much of it. I know I have worked hard. I know there have been days when I can hardly get through. The only reason that I can stand here before you forming any kind of coherent thought is thanks to an incredible army of people, some of whom I knew before this happened, and some are wise souls that get what this journey is all about that have come out of the woodwork to see me through another day. It is the kindness and generosity of these people, along with some drive deep within me to not give up.

I do it for him. I do it for both my boys really. I do not want Noah’s soul to bear the burden of thinking that his short innocent life ruined mine. I look at his picture and remember his sweet spirit and know that I have to get up every day and try harder for him. He deserves a mother who keeps fighting. I do it for Aaron because he is an innocent spirit coming into a family amidst unfathomable tragedy, and he deserves to not have to pay for that. He deserves parents that can be whole for him.

My faith has certainly taken a beating this year. That will just take a while to repair. I look at God differently now. I suppose I always will. I will never again believe that he is who I was always taught that he was. I was clearly so wrong about so many things when it came to him. Forgiveness, and rebuilding of this relationship is what I hope for in the future. I am open and willing to keep trying. Pray for some clear messages there.

I had such a hard time in the beginning feeling like a real mother. I did it for such a short while after all. That’s different now. I do feel like a mother, but the thing is that I have had to embrace what that means – being a mother of a child that has passed away. I can’t clothe him, feed him, read him books or put him to bed at night. To be Noah’s mother is to always be the one that holds the candle for his memory. I will spend the rest of my life screaming from the mountaintops, letting anyone who can hear me know that he existed. He was special, and worth knowing. We will always celebrate his birthday. We will always have a stocking hung on our mantle with his name on it at Christmas. There will be Easter lilies up front at church for him on Easter. I will always make a way for him to be present at holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions to remember him. That is my job. That is what it is to be his mother, and I will do it maybe with an edge of panic that no one wants to hear it or be a part of it, but with pride over this amazing person that Chris and I made.

Sitting here a year later, I am very raw leading up to this anniversary. Coming up to it, it has felt like a return to where I was just after I lost him. I was numb, and didn’t feel “bad” exactly, but evidence of the trauma was there. I would make stupid, scatterbrained mistakes that I would never ordinarily make. I would think I had the car in drive, when it was really in reverse. I would write things down on the wrong day in my calendar. I would shuffle from one thing to another, only half completing everything. A day would pass and I had no idea where I had been or what I had done. I have been feeling like that again this last month. As the days to this week have gotten closer, I have tipped over into more raw emotion. I cry a lot. I feel very nostalgic. It is a blessing and a curse to be here. Every day that passes is another day away from Noah. Yet, every day that passes and I make it just a little bit further, I feel more and more like myself, or a new version of me anyways. I want to feel normal, but I don’t want to lose any more of my son. Memories of him.

I have one more task to face to close the last of the physical Noah business. I have to move him out of his room for his brother. We need the nursery. This tears my heart apart, but it must be done. So, we are spending this anniversary making a special chest that will be put in our room that will hold all of Noah’s things. There aren’t many things, as he was only here for four days. But to have everything that reminds us so much of him all in one place safe and sound and close to us feels good. It will be our permanent Noah remembrance spot that we can always come back to, rather than having to dig through this drawer, or that corner of closet to find all of his things. That makes it feel ok. The nursery will be redecorated for Aaron so that it will be his own unique space. The act of doing it feels terrible, but the end result will be good.

Aaron is the silver lining in all of this. Getting to this year anniversary is painful enough as it is. At least the sadness has rays hope in Aaron. He is coming, which means the noise and activity that we dreamed of having in this house will finally be fulfilled. We still have a lot of work to do on ourselves as we move forward, and we have not shied away from any challenge yet. But, amongst all of it, there is this wonderful potential for joy in him. We need this little boy so badly. Just to come here to us and be him, whatever that means to him. We are open with loving hearts to embrace all that he brings with him – his thought processes and choices, his sense of humor, the ups and downs of his life. We are more open to go with the flow with him in a way we might not have been had we not lived through this. His life is an absolute blessing and miracle, and we are so eager to see what he has in store for us. The thought of his arrival propels us forward to work harder, smarter, and faster in whatever way we can to be the kind of parents we feel he deserves.

We’ll see what year two has in store for us. The experts all say that the first year is the hardest. Maybe the load will be easier to carry. Maybe not. All we can do is keep trying the best we can. The journey is far from over, but at least we have braved some of the worst of it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The first milestone in my Noah week…

Today is June 23 and one year since my water broke with Noah. I woke up that morning and felt a lot of pressure down low like he was dropping quite a bit that day. I went to work as usual, and during lunch, took my daily walk up and down the main drag through downtown. Just as I passed the children’s fountain called “Uncle Wilbur” where children excitedly scream as they dart through jets of water shooting up from the ground there is a Subway sandwich store. It happened right in front of the Subway, while still feeling distracted from the noise and activity of the fountain. I felt the big gush that signals that your water has broken. I was caught completely by surprise. I went immediately into the Subway and found the bathroom. I cleaned myself up as best as I could because I had to walk back to work, which was a few blocks. It sparked the beginning of Noah’s short life outside of me.

Maybe I am a glutton for punishment, or maybe it was to be a good caretaker of Aaron and my pregnancy with him that led me to go walk today at lunch and inevitably end up at the same spot. I wanted to blow Noah a kiss as I walked by, but I knew if I did that I would crumble right there and make a spectacle of myself, the grieving mother come unhinged. I couldn’t do it. I bit my lip, paused for the memory and made myself trudge onward. It was so hard.

All through this journey it is like I am putting together my own soundtrack for my loss. There are songs that stick out and speak to me and articulate my grief in a way that I just can’t entirely do by myself. Today as I walked past this Noah spot in Colorado Springs, I thought of the Beatles song “Blackbird.” There was a more recent version I heard not too long ago that was sung by a woman. This is what was in my head. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” My soul was singing it with her on the inside as I made myself move forward.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our Noah Anniversary Season is Here

I am always amazed when I bump into women that I see regularly that end up having lived what I have lived. For example, every month I go to Dream Dinners, a place where you can spend an hour and prepare a dozen or so meals that can be frozen for later use. I can’t say that I have felt much like cooking since I lost Noah, and I am making life easier for myself where I can. Every month when I go, there are the same small group of very pleasant women who work there, who clean up after you when you are done at a particular station, and make sure you have all the tools and ingredients you need to make your meals. I overheard one of them talking with a customer about adoption. In particular they were talking about the costs. Since I have just been in the world of infertility, I bumped in, and mentioned that I had done in vitro, but was curious about the costs of adoption. They were just as curious about in vitro, so it was an interesting conversation! Of course, the reasons why we were all doing this came up and I had to admit that I had lost a child. I worried about it (people’s reactions to this news are always so varied) but lo and behold, the employee had had a stillborn baby. It was a little boy named Justin, born on New Year’s Eve. Then conversation comparing our experiences and feelings ensued along with a tear or two. It is a comfort to talk with others who know what this pain feels like!

The thing that really kicked me in the gut was that she had explained that she just passed the seven year anniversary since her child was born. Her family (she now has other children) celebrate her son’s birthday every year. Her family and friends ignore the anniversary. It hurts her deeply. As parents of these lost children, we understand that it is tough for others outside of our immediate family unit to either deal with these sorts of things with us, or understand that they worry about it making us too sad. The problem is that there is no way that we can forget these anniversaries. Whether you celebrate with us or not, it will always be in the forefront of our minds. We will never forget our children. We want to remember. In fact, the worry that our child will be forgotten consumes us. I think that as I meet these courageous women of lost children, I need to make a note to write their babies dates on my calendar, and get a stack of kid themed birthday cards to send whenever these dates come around. I know that I don’t have to say much. Just something along the lines of “I am thinking of you and on this anniversary. Sending you lots of love, Sarah.” And that is all it takes! Just simply recognize the day and that it is the child’s birthday. Another year of survival has passed. We keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep trying to live, and somehow have succeeded for a little bit longer. The years since the tragedy are irrelevant. Every day, walking this earth without your child, no matter how long it has been, is not easy, and it needs to be honored when we reach these times when we can feel like we are making it, even in some small measure.

What I have learned from the last year of grief, is that our kind of loss leaves our family and friends completely unsure of what to say and do to support us. And, rather than having us walk around with hurt feelings because of what people did or didn’t do for us, it is easiest to be direct and let others that want to help know the best ways to support us.

We are coming up on an anniversary. Both a joyful and a painful one at that. On June 26, it will be one year since our sweet baby Noah was born. On June 30, it will be one year since our boy left us. For us, we find it best to celebrate the joy of his birth openly with our family and friends. Conversely, June 30 is the anniversary of the very worst day of our lives, and Chris and I plan to share that day between the two of us.

If you are wondering what would feel good to us on Noah’s birthday, here’s a list of ideas:

  • Send us a birthday card. You don’t have to say much. Just that you are thinking of us and Noah on this anniversary. Here’s our address: Chris and Sarah Wilkerson, 1214 Adams Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80904

  • Call and talk about what you remember about the day he was born. Did you remember seeing me post about it on Facebook? Who told you I had gone into labor? What did Chris first say to you after he had officially become a father? What did you think when you found out we were going to have a baby? Remind us of those joyful days.

  • Make a donation to the Noah fund at the Children’s Hospital in Denver in his memory. Or to the March of Dimes (they promote expanded newborn screenings on all infants). Or to some other charity that benefits babies or families.

  • We are always looking for interesting ways to memorialize Noah. If you think of some neat way to do that, either get it set up for us, or tell us about it.

  • Post “Happy Birthday to Noah!” on my Facebook page. Or something to let us know that you are thinking about us and Noah.

  • Say his name. It means so much to us to hear it.

  • Light a candle in his honor at your house on his birthday. At the end of the day, sing happy birthday to him, and help him blow out the candle.

  • Know that his birthday is a joy, but the anniversary of his death is right around the corner. Don’t be too shy to send words of support to us. It really does mean a lot.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grieving My Faith

I have spent a lot of time and energy feeling my way through how my faith plays into what I have been through. The night of June 30th when my son died, everything that I ever knew to be true about God was made false. I have spent much of my adult life being a faithful servant, who has done nothing but steadily grow a closer relationship with God. I have heard tons of sermons, Sunday school curriculums, bible studies and the like hearing about what a big loving God I believe in, who delivers miracles. He is the alpha and the omega, the omnipotent being, the “be still and know that I am God” deity. But where was he the night of June 30 when my infant son slipped away from us so easily? He didn’t deliver Noah. He didn’t deliver me or my husband. We suffered a tremendous, earth-shattering tragedy that we will live with and suffer from for the rest of our lives. Where was my faith? Was it not enough? What was all that time spent for?

I have settled on the answers (that work for today at least) as to why these things happen. That is a several pages long bit of writing that is too big to post here (that I am still happy to share. Just shoot me a note). The thing that is so painful for me to work around now is pondering what is the point of God if he can’t do what you need in the very moment that you need it most? He can’t save me from the worst that life has to offer. These things will happen and there is nothing to stop it. I have been angry and bitter, either screaming up at him in the heavens or giving him the cold shoulder. There is no booming voice coming down from the heavens that delivers that answers that I need. I am left here in silence to try to find my way through this. It is cold and lonely after having felt so cared for and cradled by God all these years.

It struck me that it really isn’t his fault that I have believed all these false things about him and what he can do. The sermons, Sunday school curriculums and bible studies are written in large part, by people that have never experienced the bring-you-to-your-knees types of tragedy that throws your whole life out of order and makes you question everything. They are writing based on their own life experience minus this critical element. Mob mentality prevails and God gets bigger and bigger with each new writing. Except that that is not who he is, and for those of us struggling to try to figure out where God is after such things happen are left feeling completely let down and alienated by a God that never intended for it to be this way.

They say that when these things happen, God’s heart breaks first. He sees it coming, and has no power to stop it. He also knows what a wedge this will drive between the suffering person and him. Who wouldn’t want to be Superman to someone that they love? He is left to helplessly watch the train go off the tracks, and the consequences prevail.

Today, I am left feeling frustrated and angry by what I have grown up believing about God. I am frustrated with God for not being these things. I am trying to learn who he is now, and to try to love God as he is as an imperfect being. It is like when you get to the place as you grow up that you realize that your parents aren’t perfect. They are human and fallible. Somehow I was able to see that in them and love them anyways. I hope that I can find the same ending here with God but, as it is with most faith journeys, it is going to take some time.