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One of my closest friends is pregnant and is due on February 21st, just 6 days after Eliana was born. Needless to say, we have had many discussions about the various emotional responses we’ve both had. I am both terrified and excited about the possibility of her child being born on the same day. What an incredible cyclical sort of irony there would be in that-a living testament to the reality that life goes on. It never occurred to me to ask, but I realize that her baby must have been conceived somewhere around the time that mine was dying.

To be honest, there are few people in this world that I could have been truly happy for if they had told me that news at that time. She happens to be one of them. It has been both painful and healing to watch her go through her pregnancy. It’s like watching a fuzzy movie of myself one year ago. The discomforts, the growth, the expectations, the waiting-all the things I went through at the same time I went through them, but from a distance.

Because it’s her, I don’t hate her for her pregnancy. I don’t hate her for her happiness, or for her complaints. Because it’s her, I don’t assume she is naive about the fact that sometimes babies die, and I know that she does not take this gift she’s been given for granted. She knows, and that makes all the difference.

I have a much harder time with strangers, or for that matter, with acquaintances who know I lost Eliana, but who never said anything to me about it. It may be unfair, since I don’t know for sure what has happened in their lives, whether they have ever lost a child. Unfair or not, I have to fight the resentment I feel over the thought that they don’t know how lucky they are, and anger over all the times I have to sit and listen to them griping about inconveniences I would give anything to have back. I want to scream at them to shut up and go hug their babies, that they might not have them tomorrow. But I don’t.

Would I have listened if some crazy lady had started ranting to me about appreciating my kids while I still had the chance? Would I have understood if a newly bereaved mom had cried to me to not wait until it was too late? Was I only able to truly let in the horrible, unbelievable truth of child death after it had already happened to me? Was it just too terrible for my mind to accept until I no longer had a choice, because I was living it?

Does my anger and resentment toward the clueless really just stem from jealousy over their lack of knowledge of this agony I now call my life? That may be it. I’m jealous-of not knowing, of not feeling, and of not understanding the grief of losing a child. I don’t want to know what this is like. I want to be clueless too.

I wish I could go back. I’d give up my greater empathy, my fundraising, my collection drives, what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown, who I’ve helped and all the people whose lives have been touched by my baby’s story. I’d give it all up to turn back the clock. It was too high a price. Losing Eliana is not worth whatever I may have gained from the experience of going through it. Selfishly enough, it’s also not worth whatever others may have gained from it.

Nobody is given a choice, though, about whether they want to go through hard things. I would certainly never have chosen for my child to die, no matter what good may result from it. And I suppose if I had been given a choice, I probably would have thought that going through my friend’s pregnancy, with it’s eerie deja vu timing, was way too hard too. Better to put it off-too hard to deal with right now. But as soon as she told me, the whole thing just felt right-difficult, but right.

And now, I’m greedy for this baby, so anxious for him to be born. I want to hold him in my arms and be comforted once again by the thought that most babies are healthy, that most babies don’t die. I need to cry on his little head, both in sadness over Eliana being gone, and in amazement over the miracle of birth and life. He is both a reminder of the past, and a hope for the future. I need to love him, but from a distance. I need to test out the waters of opening up my heart again to a baby, to work through the fears and confusion and guilt of loving again after losing her. I’m grateful to my friend for loving me enough to put up with all the weird, convoluted emotions I already feel for her little boy.

The people on the grief support forums have a term for a child born after they’ve lost one-a rainbow baby. That’s what this unborn child is to me. He may not be my rainbow baby, but he is the rainbow baby. He’s the baby born after Eliana, the baby that represents promise-promise for his parents, promise for me, promise for the future, and promise for the world. There will always be pain, but there will also always be joy that follows it, just like the rainbow after the rain. Sometimes it appears right away, and sometimes we have to wait a while to see it. It has been a long, rough storm, and I’m looking forward to seeing a rainbow.

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I should be asleep right now. We are supposed to be getting pictures taken in the morning. But as I was putting Elisabeth to bed, she started sobbing, choking out that she misses Eliana. This happens, not frequently, but enough that (sadly) I am used to it. Used to it or not, it breaks my heart all over again each time it happens.

She talked more tonight than usual. She kept asking why Eliana had to die, and said how sad she was that the doctors couldn’t fix her. She cried about not getting to hold her more, and that she didn’t get to come see her more often at the hospital. She was so upset that Eliana was taken so soon after I had her. Her face was lined with pain when she told me she didn’t get to kiss Eliana goodbye at the funeral. To experience my child dying is the worst thing I have ever gone through. Watching my other child try to deal with her death is the second worst thing.

Toward the end of our talk, Elisabeth brought up having our pictures taken tomorrow. I asked her if she would like to take Eliana’s teddy bear with us to be in the picture, since Eliana can’t be here with us. She said she wanted to. It was something I had been thinking about doing all along, but it’s nice that it can be something to comfort Elisabeth too, not just make me feel better.

To be honest, I was having serious issues with the idea of having family pictures taken again. I know, I know, you don’t have to say it.  It’s something we need to do.  We have to do it for the girls.  I’ve heard all the admonitions. Perhaps unless you have lost a child you cannot really understand my strong resistance to having our photos done again.

My baby is not here. Eliana will not be in these pictures. Eliana will never be in any of our family photos again.  It seems so wrong sometimes to go on doing the normal everyday things that she cannot be a part of any longer. These thoughts race through my head, round and round without resolution. Motherly guilt and feelings of obligation compete with the gut-level conviction that I don’t want them done again……ever.

I’ve heard more than one person say that they have tried to complete a puzzle, only to discover that there is one piece missing. Do you know what they did with the puzzle? Donated it? Kept it and ignored the missing piece? No. They threw the puzzle away. I think there is something about being human that makes us hate an otherwise beautiful image that has one little missing piece. Just like I, motherly guilt and all, am going to, on one level, hate the otherwise beautiful image that is going to have one piece missing. The face that won’t be there is just as loved, and just as important, as the faces that will be there.

Elisabeth was able to go to sleep after letting her sorrow out. I’m not so lucky. Here I sit, typing away instead of getting my beauty sleep. I may look a little tired in those pictures tomorrow. The smile might be on my lips but not reach my eyes. At least I’ll have a good reason. Before I even see the proofs, I’ll know that there will be something wrong with them. I’ll get some anyway, but I’ll know that behind the image is a family grieving the loss of their daughter, their sister, and their granddaughter. It will be a picture of a family that is incomplete.

And always will be.

I thought this was just beautiful. It was written by Linn Keller, who recently read it as a eulogy for someone close to him who died. It paints such a heart-tugging picture, doesn’t it? Sadly, children are often end up being the forgotten grievers.

I am a child.img_3558-21
I stand alone on the playground in the gathering dusk.
I look around and I am sad, for my friend has been called home by a Wise and Loving Parent.
I know this — I know the Parent is both wise and loving, and I know my friend is safe and warm at home — and yes, I know I will see my friend again, in the dawning of the new day.
But I am a child.
A child understands one thing:
NOW!!
A child does not understand later, or perhaps, or tomorrow; a child exists in the moment, and I am a child.
I will see my friend again in the dawning of the new day, but to a child, tomorrow is forever, an eternity.
When one of our own is called in by that Wise and Loving Parent, we look around the playground and cry for them, for there is still light enough to play.  There is still light, there is time, but my friend is gone, and I must wait.

dsc_0035-1abw_filteredI know for myself and a lot of other bereaved parents, that sometimes it’s very hard to be thankful for anything. The magnitude of our loss seems to overshadow everything else. It blinds us to the good things that might be right in front of us. No wonder, since what we have lost is a precious, longed for, loved child of our wombs and hearts. What is there to be thankful for when a child has died? Life seems to be a dichotomy: happy or sad, smiling or crying, thankful or thankless. If feels like there is no middle ground, and that we will spend the rest of our lives grieving as hard as we do in the beginning.

As more time passes, though, it is becoming easier to gives thanks for what I have, while still mourning for my sweet Eliana who is no longer here. I have come to understand that opposing emotions are rarely mutually exclusive. I can smile through my tears, laugh even in my sadness, and see beauty even through the pain. So, on this first Thanksgiving without my baby, I would like to share some things that I am thankful for.

I am thankful that Eliana has given me the courage to speak up, when before I would have stayed silent.

I am thankful that losing her has given me the wisdom to be quiet and just listen, when before I would have said something totally unhelpful, or even worse, have avoided the person because I just didn’t know what to say.

I am thankful that it will always be impossible now to take my other children for granted, since I know what it’s like to lose one of them.

I am thankful that I know how badly this hurts, so I can be more compassionate to others in pain.

I am thankful that so many people have received help because of Eliana-much needed items at the hospital, love and support from MISS after losing a child, food from the food bank, and the encouragement that they are not alone.

I am thankful that I now know what my priorities in life are.

I am thankful for all the people who surrounded me with love and support during the most horrible time of my life.

I am thankful for all the people who continue to help me on this journey, long after the majority believe I should be over it.

I am thankful for all the ways I have to remember my child that most people never had: photographs, hand and foot prints, an online memorial site, scrapbooks, and video clips.

I am thankful for this blog, where I can share my feelings with friends and strangers alike.

I am thankful for the month I had with Eliana at home, for the month I had with her in the hospital, and for the time I had with her after they took her off the machines.

I am thankful that I now know what I’m willing to die for, and that death is less scary, because I will get to join her.

I am thankful for all the people who have cried with me over Eliana, people who let my little girl into their hearts and allowed themselves to feel the pain of her absence.

I am thankful that at any given moment, people at the hospital, children at a school, someone across the world at their computer, or a friend right down the road, might be thinking about my baby or saying her name.

I am thankful that I was able to see, hear, feel, smell, hold, and love Eliana before she died.

I am thankful that I have a God big enough to handle my anger and fears.

I am thankful for the depth of my sorrow, because it is a testament to the depth of my love, and I’m thankful for joy, because that is also a testament to the depth of my love.

I am thankful for the knowledge of God, love, hope, and happiness, even during the times when they can’t be felt.img_23062

I am thankful that the moments of deepest despair do not last forever.

I am thankful that I had the joy of knowing such a sweet, gentle, and brave little person, my precious Eliana.

Wishing you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and if it can’t be happy yet, then I wish you the comfort of knowing that the pain will not always be quite this bad. I know that is hard to believe in the beginning. But that is something else I’m thankful for: that all the people who said that to me turned out to be right, even though I didn’t believe them at the time either. Love to all of you, Deanna

A few posts ago I mentioned my friend who had a tumor removed. The doctors believe they got all of it, and said that the lymph nodes were clean. At the end of the email that was sent out with this update, the person writing it said “Praise His Name for answering prayers.” I’m sure back when I was normal that would have been my first reaction as well. But I’m not “normal” by any means at this point, and any relief or rejoicing I feel is tinged with confusion and jealousy.

In this new reality I live in, I wonder “Why wasn’t Eliana healed?” Don’t get me wrong. Of course I am happy and thankful that my friend’s prognosis is good. But if God is truly in the business of dabbling in our physical world, then why does He heal some, and let others suffer and die? I don’t understand it. I will never understand it. And I suppose the truth is that we are not meant to understand it. People have been brooding over the question of human suffering since the beginning of time, and I doubt that me blogging about it is going to reveal any brilliant insights. Nevertheless, writing is my outlet, so I’ll go ahead and share my thoughts, even if none of us end up with any better answers to the questions as a result.

I am a very….detail-oriented person. I’ll skip the description I usually give, to keep this family-friendly and let you avoid a possible conversation with your child about Freud and his interesting theories. =) Anyway, when naming my children, I go through all sorts of mental gymnastics because I want the name to be perfect. What are the origins, the meanings, the possible nicknames? What does it rhyme with? How does it sound with the other kid’s names? Are the styles and lengths similar? How does it sound with our last name, with possible middle names? Um, yeah, I’m an….I mean detail-oriented. With the first two kid’s names, it was easy, and they fit all my criteria just fine.

Then I got pregnant with our third. I had a hard time finding the perfect name. Nothing seemed just right. I had a list of possibles, and my husband and I went over them repeatedly. I ended up favoring Eliana because of it’s meaning. It didn’t really “fit” with the other girls names, but I felt like I had to have that name. The meaning is “God answered” or “God has answered.” I didn’t know why I had to have that meaning, or what He was going to end up answering. And then for the middle name, we chose to name her after my grandpa’s middle name. He died many years ago.

The other strange thing was that I needed to pray for this baby’s health. I admit I was pretty careless about praying for the other two. I just took it for granted that they were fine. But with this one I had to pray. And I did, daily, for her physical and mental health, and her birth. Nevertheless, I had the feeling through most of my pregnancy that she was going to die. Then I didn’t miscarry, and she wasn’t stillborn, and she didn’t die at birth, so I though I must have been just paranoid.

A month later she gets sick, and then dies. And I am sitting here wondering what in the world this all means. “God answered.”  What am I supposed to do with that? I realize that perhaps early on in grief is not an objective point-of-view to be trying to answer this question, but I have to ask it anyway. Letting my child die was His answer? What awful question was it that I don’t even remember asking, that He decided to answer by taking my baby? Or I could get really superstitious and think that it was bad luck to name her after a dead relative. Maybe I should stick to living family member’s names. Or was it that I jinxed her by saying the words out loud. I should have kept my mouth shut and everything would have been fine. And if God was the one who “told” me that there was something wrong, why not just fix whatever was wrong? I didn’t want a warning. I wanted my baby!

Well, to get back to what this post started out with, I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should not praise God for my friend getting better. Regardless of whether God healed her or she just got lucky, having a thankful attitude about the good things in life is something to strive for. But those are still very hard words for bereaved parents to hear. “Praise His Name for answering prayer.” Why didn’t He answer my prayer? Why does He let die the loved children of good parents, and let live and suffer the unwanted babies of abusers who would never even think to pray for their children in the first place? If babies have to be miscarried or stillborn, why not those who will know only suffering at the hands of their own parents? If He’s merciful, why not let those children escape their awful fate? I just don’t understand.

I know I’ve created here one big, giant ramble with no good conclusion. I wish I had answers. I wish things were different. I think to close I’ll share a quote that a friend sent to me one morning. It seems appropriate here. It was found written on a wall in one of the concentration camps.

“I believe in the sun even if it isn’t shining.

I believe in love even when I am alone.

I believe in God even when He is silent.”

Then my friend wrote, “I just thought that if someone in such circumstances had this positive outlook about God we shouldn’t give up.”  And she is right. Rather than give up on God, I choose to admit that some of the pat answers I’ve always believed don’t make sense anymore. God doesn’t make sense anymore. But He’s God. He doesn’t have to. He’d be a pretty lame God if us pitiful little humans could understand everything about Him. If He were that easy to understand, perhaps He wouldn’t be a God worth serving.

Maybe if we here on Earth spent more time trying to do the right thing, than in trying to come up with the right answers, there would be less of this confusing human suffering for us to ponder. Instead of asking why people are suffering, maybe we should ask ourselves what we can do to help them. Maybe the answer to prayer is found in other people’s compassion, and by doing nothing, we are the ones that cause some prayers to seemingly go unanswered. Death is something we’ll always have to deal with. But there is a lot of unnecessary pain in this world that we all have the power to put a stop to. Pick a cause, and go answer someone’s prayer.

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