Grief, Gratitude, and the Grace of Pumpkin Spice

4 years ago, I wrote the following (thank you, Timehop):

“I’m in a season of celebrating one new life, while remembering the short life of one gone far too soon. It’s conflicting, celebratory, sad, & a beautiful dichotomy that is not lost on me, even in my current chaos. Hello, Autumn-you remind me again of what is lost, even in the midst of great, wonderful, amazing gain…”

If you’re new to my blog and haven’t read the “About Me” section, then you may not have picked up on the fact that my husband David & I lost our first daughter, Hannah, at 29 days of age, to late-onset Group B Strep with Bacterial Meningitis. I could wax loquacious about the details, but I will spare you (and me), and stick with the general, “Google It” response that I tend to give in order to stop reliving the worst 5 days of my life.  Our daughter was a preemie (34 weeks), and could not fight off the flukiest-of fluke diseases (even though she was born completely healthy). My pregnancy with her basically wrecked my heart (physically and emotionally), and it was nothing short of a miracle that we conceived and successfully delivered our rainbow baby, Jericho, 7 years later. My pregnancy with Jericho was spent partially in the peripartum “spa” (if you’ve been “incarcerated” into peripartum care long-term, you know I’m joking) of the amazing Missouri Baptist Hospital, under the care of phenomenal doctors (shout-out to Michael Paul, MD, life-saving and baby-loving perinatologist) and nurses that I couldn’t have survived (physically and emotionally) without.

Bringing home a newborn after losing one, is a strange, difficult, conflicting process…For Jericho’s first month of life, I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep (which led to some serious post-partum issues, that I am neither ashamed of nor silent about. Post-partum depression is real, and if you’re suffering from it, save yourself and your family, and get help), and I’m not so sure my husband did, either. I had a full 8 weeks at home with my little guy, and I think I spent most of my time crying happy tears, crying sad tears, swearing about a lousy milk supply, praying that I didn’t screw this up, and thanking God for how He keeps His promises….while also praying with everything within me that we could just get through the first 30 days. I think when Day 30 hit, I finally took my first post-partum breath. It felt like the oceans receded (proceeded? Words are hard) after being held back for a month…like all of the tension flew out of my body with that breath, and I finally, finally, could rest.

I didn’t, of course—hello, sleep training!—but I knew that I COULD, and that made a huge difference. After 30 days, I think I finally went from handling motherhood like a Swarovski crystal spider-web, and began to actually embrace that this really was my life now…he was ours, and he was everything I prayed for. The reality of the answer to years of prayers was staring me in the face, and he wasn’t going away. He was real…my precious boy…and I could truly, sincerely be happy.

After that first 30 days, through the spring and summer, I began to struggle with the “we nevers.” Jericho would have a milestone moment, and I’d think, “We never got to see Hannah do that.” I tried to turn it off, tried to celebrate what was happening, but the thoughts would creep back…”He giggled…I never got to hear her laugh.” “David, he flipped over…we never got to see Hannah do that.”

At one point, I dreamt that Jericho was lying on my bed, and a little red-haired girl was sitting there with him. Even now, as I type this, I can feel the tears at the back of my eyelids…that image was so, so powerful, as was the sentiment with it: “I will never, in this life, have a picture of my children together. What has happened to us? We will never be a normal family.” I woke up from that dream absolutely hysterical…I was deeply, deeply grieved. I can remember that intensity as if I’d dreamt it last night. Family pictures with one boy, one girl? They are still hard for me to see, even amongst friends…You just never have that sense of completion. You learn to accept it, to view it as your “normal,” but as a parent? You will always recognize that missing person in your family picture.

Anyway, the first year with Jericho was tough, as it is for all parents: You’re learning how to be a mom, learning how to juggle a full work-week, and finding trustworthy childcare. I had further complications that first year; my heart still wasn’t functioning correctly, my gall bladder required 2 different surgeries to remove, and my recovery post-C-section caused scar tissue to develop that would later result in a full hysterectomy just one year after having my son.

However, one of the greatest joys of that year was how often David & I would look at each other, or look at Jericho, and just know how great was the love of Jesus? How amazing was it that this tiny little person came about because of healing, grace, and love? We could look at this child and see tangible evidence that when you have a dream in your heart, and you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is NOT finished with you, despite what modern healthcare says– He can make miracles happen!  We could look at this child and know that you cannot accept the things men say, when you hear in your spirit the things God says!!  My son is nothing short of a breathing miracle, and frankly, I am, too. He has that legacy—that legacy of prayer, of hope, of determination. There is nothing in this world I am more grateful for, except my husband and my salvation.

Yep—I’m officially crying now. Jesus, I am so thankful! You can’t know how my heart blows up at just writing these words…I am grateful, with every cell of my body.

Even as I write this, though, I come back to how this blog started, with that quote from 2013: “Hello, Autumn—you remind me again of what is lost, even in the midst of great, wonderful, amazing gain…”

The spring and summer of 2013 were full of new-mom fog, surgery, work, etc. We were just trying to get our feet back under us to charge ahead on our new life together as a Party of 3. But then….

Then came Autumn.

And then came The Hardest Part.

When I went into Missouri Baptist Hospital in October, 2006, the fall leaves were still on the trees. My room overlooked the highway, so I really didn’t get a good handle on watching the season change to winter; when I left my hospital room in November, 2006, winter had come, and the world was bare.  I missed the entire season in a 4-week span, and we brought our little girl home the week before Thanksgiving. By the day after Thanksgiving, she was in a coma, and then she was gone…we buried her on December 1st, the day after one of the worst ice storms Missouri has ever seen. The sun shone, and the world was crystallized for my winter princess.  I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the day my child was buried…it was like the Lord decided to cover the trees in diamonds in her honor. It was stunning, even in the darkness of our grief.

But that year, 2006, I missed the fall. So when the leaves turned in 2007, something hit my heart, and I could only think of that Fall I Had Missed…and every year, I am reminded as such.

In 2013, the reminders came as I was looking into the eyes of my son…my miracle boy…and I was so totally conflicted in ways I hadn’t realized were possible. I had so much, but had lost so much, and the season reminded me of all of it, combined with gutting guilt. HOW dare I mourn, when I had so much to be thankful for?

How could I not, when that world was staring me in the face every day I walked out of my door?

I found myself not necessarily regressing in my grieving process, but really struggling with the dichotomy of grief and gratitude. And I’m writing this not to say that I have ever found an answer to that conflict, but to say that every year, I’m reminded of Hannah’s precious life in so many stronger ways than in my usual daily thoughts.

There is no season like Autumn, in all of its symbolism and glory…it’s a season of death, but a season where colors come alive….where we breath in the dust of the trees as they make their fiery curtain call for the year. It’s a season of living at bonfires and parks, a season where photographers revel in making memories, and where families gather to celebrate all things together…

We know death is coming…that winter is coming…but there is no day like today, and today, we celebrate the abundance of the harvest.  Are we near-sighted, to not hunker down and prepare for the winter? Or do we understand the breath/breadth of life, and own the day with its undeniable charm?

We cram our calendars with activities to take in every moment. That first year? We did it all. And we did the second year, and the third, and I’m getting ready to do it all again in the fourth year with our Rico-Bean. We celebrate the Fall, and we run ourselves ragged with the memories we make…and we make no apologies. I celebrate the Fall season with my little guy, and I never let on that I am internally fighting the conflict of that grief and that gratitude.

And I realize through it all, that there is no “conflict.”

There is only cohabitation.

I miss my little girl. Fall reminds me of her birth, of her death, and of the 29 days we had between…of the crunching of the leaves as I walked into the hospital, and the Christmas decorations as we came out…of that first day home from the hospital with her in our arms…and of the last day, where home was a place I never wanted to go back to…I wish I could separate her birth and her death, but her death came so quickly that I simply cannot. It all happened in the same season…this season…and every day is a reminder…

But every day is also a gift.

Every day, I look at Jericho and marvel at who he is, who he was born as, and what possibilities are to come…Every day, I am so grateful, and so genuinely happy. Every day, I praise God that I get to be that boy’s mother…Every. Single. Day.

This fall, we have adventures planned…it’s his first year in Pre-K, so there are school events (field trips!), fall festivals, our annual events with Parents-As-Teachers, and my favorite, Halloween!!!!!!!! This year, he’s going as Harry Potter for at least one event (he wears glasses, so it’s perfect!).  We celebrate this season; don’t be surprised to see me in my Uggs with my leggings and some S’mores, cradling a Pumpkin Spice Latte in my monogrammed fleece jacket,  as a shining example of Suburban White Chick Bliss (that’s an entire other blog).

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I love this season. I love that it has multiple meanings, deep significance, and a beautiful, melancholy soul. I love the constant reminders of grace, which hovers over the grief and the gratitude. Grace envelopes both feelings, and makes them walk side-by-side instead of in mental conflict.

Grace is how we had our Hannah…how we said goodbye…and ultimately, how we will say “hello,” again…

Grace is how we had our Jericho…how we said “hello” for the very first time…and how we embrace each new day and sleep peacefully each night.

Grace is what brought David & I together in this crazy world—two kids with no idea of what was to come, and no idea how to engage on this life or on this journey—

Grace is what keeps us together, and is what pulls us through the tough times. It pushes us constantly toward the Father Who bestows it in abundance, and works in us independently to keep us engaged…to keep us from throwing up our hands and breaking our hearts in this process.

Grace is what binds our hearts, and binds our hearts to each other.

And Grace is what leads us home…

There is a beautiful loss in the season of Autumn, but it is part of the journey to a beautiful rebirth…and we are constantly on that journey, surrounded by grace, with eternity in our hearts….<3

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Image result for he has made everything beautiful in it's time

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