Fourteen.

Every year around this time, I sit down to write with a focus on my Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley. Can you believe she’d be 14 this year? This October 30th, my daughter would be turning 14 years old, & I’m sure had she stayed with us, that our social media feeds would be full of the things that mothers and teenagers are both besties and frenemies over. I’d like to think we’d have a great relationship, and that we would be on each other’s last nerve…that she’d be musical and lyrical, and free-spirited and independent, and that above all, she’d love Jesus. That’s my hope for both of my kiddos–that they love Jesus. I think a lot of parents would say that about their children.

Last night, I was perusing Instagram when the Humans of New York page came up:

“(edited for space)There were prayer chains and Facebook groups. My friends got together without me knowing, and they prayed over us. We received letters from so many people: family overseas, people we’d lost touch with, people we’d never met. We hung them all in the bathroom until the entire wall was filled. But a few weeks before our due date, we received the worst possible news: Elliana’s chest cavity hadn’t grown enough, and there wasn’t room for her lungs. I asked the doctor to give me the odds, but he just shook his head. We began to plan for her funeral… On the day of her birth, the waiting room was filled with people who loved us. They prayed from 10 AM to 5 AM the next day. I still keep a picture of that waiting room hanging in our hallway. And it’s my favorite picture, because it reminds me of all the people who petitioned for Elliana’s life. And we got our miracle. I struggle with it sometimes, because I know so many people lose their babies. But Elliana came out breathing on her own, and the doctors were in awe…Our story has a happy ending. But even when it seemed like a tragedy, I never felt alone. I never felt like the story was my own. Because in my darkest moments, a community of people chose to share my burden.”

I don’t need to go into the “whys,” for my breakdown (albeit a brief one) into the Ugly Crys. You know me well enough to understand that when I read the phrase, “we got our miracle,” that it broke me. I’m so grateful that HONY shared this story, because I remember what it was like to see that room full of people who poured their hearts out for days, petitioning to the Lord to save my daughter’s life. We didn’t get our miracle, and I can’t paint that in any kind of redeeming light. I will never understand the whys (on this earth), and even if I did, would that make it any better? No. So we pursue on in faith, trusting that He knows what He’s doing when He makes His choices.

Last week, our daily reading plan (click the link, you won’t be sorry–see my last blog for details) had us reading in both Micah and in 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy, we see Paul coming to the end of his life, as he writes his final words from prison.

In Micah, we see a prophet trying to prepare his community…trying to get them to wake up and seek the Lord for their redemption…He states the oft-quoted,

Meanwhile, as Paul looks at the approaching end of his life, he states,

We have a mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Only when we do these things, can we look at the end of our life and say, with confidence (not arrogance) that we have “fought the good fight,” and that we have “kept the faith.”

This is not an easy thing to do…it’s not a small task, and Jesus knows what He is asking us to do.

Trials–deaths, sickness, COVID, poverty, unemployment, crime, whatever–come and go, but Jesus and His love for us are eternal.

That’s the only reason I have any hope for anything.

After I read the HONY story last night, I tripped up over “we got our miracle,” and my mind immediately went to “why?” I’ve blogged about this before; the “whys” range from plaintive cries to flat-out screams, and they’re always there in some respect. The question is do I stay there? Do I keep questioning, knowing the outcome will always be the same, until I’m face-to-face with Him? Or do I take a deep breath (or 50), let the tears fall, and listen to Him remind me that He loves me? That He’s still in control? That I’m heard, and that He understands? I make a choice every time the “why” comes to the forefront of my thoughts. I choose to “walk humbly with my God,” and that means that above all, I trust Him.

No one ever said that was a fun choice.

Sometimes the world smacks us in the face with that reminder….that reminder that we are strangers in a strange land, and that we can’t let ourselves get sucked into the mindgames and emotional traps that are laid for us: “Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you“–I Pet. 2:11-12, CEV

Those “desires that fight against” us aren’t just people throwing lusts of the flesh in our face. They’re also the “quicksand” that we get trapped into, that make us question His motives and character, and our own faith. It’s cyclical thinking that kicks off our anxiety and leaves us an emotional basket case. I’m not immune to it, but I’d like to think I can spot the traps a bit easier now than I used to. Those first few years after Hannah passed away? Oooh, I got caught UP in some messes.

Quicksand – Stuff Rater
Actual photo of getting stuck in the quicksand of an emotional mind trap. 🙂

Grief and loss are pitfalls for so many of us…playing the “why?” game with God is a dangerous dead weight that only serves an enemy that wants to see us destroyed.

It’s a tender time of the year for us–for David as well as for myself, even when we seem like everything is fine. Our daughter is never far from our minds, but as her birthday approaches, memories come back, and I know I find myself looking at her pictures a bit more…remembering tiny hands, and beautiful, red-pink cheeks (like her Daddy), and how she’d snuggle in to the soft robe my mother had made me…how she smelled like Cheerios, and how to this day, I cherish every photo taken of family and friends because I know how much those pictures of her mean to me.

I’m finding myself ready to withdraw from social events, and from social media in general–whether it’s healthy or not, I never know, but I will tell you that I make no apologies. Maybe that sounds rude, but I’ve learned that if I don’t listen to these emotions, they’ll pop out at the most inopportune times, and I have no desire to have another flippin’ sobfest in the middle of a Hobby Lobby, so if I tell you I can’t make it, let me be. 🙂

I started writing a piece last night that I think I will leave unfinished; I feel like it makes a good conclusion, even though it’s not fully written, because “unfinished” feels like a pretty good way to describe how I’m feeling through all of this….

Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley, 10/30/2006-11/28/2006

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.

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