Brain Struggles

Over the past couple months Daniel has been catching up on some of the latest Marvel movies. He mentioned something about Captain Marvel. I literally did not recognize that name. It sounded like a completely new superhero to me. No image popped in my brain. He saw the blank in my face. “You don’t remember Captain Marvel either, do you?” He explained that we went to see the Captain Marvel movie in theaters but he hardly remembered it. Suddenly the image of Bree Larson came of mind. I responded, “Oh yeah I very vaguely remember that.” I couldn’t tell you what it was about at all. We looked it up; it came out March 2019. That was probably the first movie we saw after Ginny died. 

That is not the only memory that is super fuzzy around the time of our loss. I have vivid memories of hearing the news, delivering Ginny’s body, and some moments in the days before and after, but generally the year surrounding Ginny’s death is kind of a blur. From the beginning, it was obvious our brains weren’t working normally.  Short term memory, concentration, and some basic skills and logic were lacking. It felt impossible to focus. Tasks that used to be easy took a ton of effort and were exhausting. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go back to work as an engineer because I’m not sure I could’ve done it. 

I felt for Daniel because he did quickly have to return to work in the lab. He would come home and tell me how he felt he was not at full capacity. It became difficult to follow along as grad students explained their problems. He struggled to give advice that would’ve been second nature before. It took twice the effort to get half as much done. He worked so so hard and quickly grew tired, but he persevered and had a very productive year scientifically. I’m not sure any of his coworkers noticed how much effort it took or if he even remembers all he did, but I admired his determination.  

Since then, I’ve learned that being forgetful and having difficulty focusing are very normal after a traumatic event. I’ve read that our brains automatically change when we experience trauma. These changes make it harder to store memories and to use the portions of our brains in charge of reason and concentration. I don’t know much about this, but I’d like to learn more.

My memory and focus have definitely improved since the early days of grief, but I still don’t think my brain is functioning the way it did before. I’m not sure if it ever will. And I sometimes wonder what other memories I might have forgotten. Have I forgotten any special moments during my pregnancy with Ginny? I want to remember all the time I had with her. I also want to be sure to remember all the love and support we received from family and friends after our loss. I’m happy that I kept all the cards and I journaled so much during those days. I can look back and remember what might have otherwise been forgotten. 

If you’ve experienced memory loss or feel your brain isn’t working at 100% after trauma, please know you are not alone. It is hard not to feel as sharp as you once were, but please give yourself loads of grace. 

Remembering Ginny’s 1st Birthday – Ash Wednesday

Ginny’s first heavenly birthday fell on Ash Wednesday in 2020. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, was not something I had grown up observing. I usually remembered it was Ash Wednesday when I noticed a few people at work with ashes on their forehead. 

Daniel and I took the day off for Ginny’s 1st birthday. We knew we wanted to honor and celebrate her, but the only thing we had planned was to sing “happy birthday” and eat cake. What were we going to do for the rest of the day? How were we going to get through the day? We heard that a church in the Lakewood neighborhood of Durham, NC was having open sanctuary that morning for anyone to drop-in to receive ashes and pray. Why not? 

We pulled up to the unfamiliar building. It was an old and slightly run down classic church with pillars and stained glass. It was clear the building had seen better days and this congregation was just the most recent of a long history of worshipers here. The tension between the beauty of the stained glass and the worn carpet felt just right for this moment. We walked in to some solemn music playing on speakers and powerful art and words projected on a screen. The only other person there was a woman sitting in a back pew by herself. 

Daniel and I made our way toward the front. We sat in a pew in silence. My heart prayed, but I’m not sure I had any words. That entire past year had been marked with death. The brokenness of the world we live in had never been clearer. And God never felt nearer. It felt like He handed us life and death and then sat us in a pew to look straight at it. We were entering the season of Lent – when we take our grief, our brokenness, our sin, our pain, and we hold it, reflect, repent, and hand it all over to Christ on Good Friday. We could then look toward Easter. This season would not be forever.

After a while, Daniel and I went to the front alter. The woman from the back walked up to meet us. She dipped her finger in ashes and marked each of our heads. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We will remember. 

Happy 3rd Birthday, Ginny!

Happy 3rd Birthday to the girl who made us parents! You are so loved!

Thank you for making us better people. You are a huge part of our family, and that will never change. We cannot wait to give you the biggest hugs in heaven!

We celebrate your life today! We wish you could’ve stayed here with us longer, but we are grateful we had the time with you that we did. You are a very special girl! You deserve to be celebrated, and we are honored to celebrate you!

We miss you so so much! Our love for you grows and grows every single day!

Happy Birthday, Ginny!

Love, Mommy and Daddy and Chet

3 Years Ago – The Day of No Heartbeat

Psalm 6

O Lord, Deliver My Life

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

6 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

Firstborn From the Dead

My heart breaks when I think that Ginny may have been struggling in my womb as she didn’t get enough nutrients or oxygen to survive. Was she in pain? Was she hungry – did she feel the lack? I was as physically near to her as I could possibly be, yet I was not there for her. I had no idea she was struggling. And when her spirit left, I could not go with her. I didn’t even know she had gone. A mother should see her child through all of life’s milestones and challenges. She should walk her into her first day of school or into the doctor’s office. She should be there to explain what to expect and to offer comfort and reassurance. I could not walk with Ginny through death. I could not explain or reassure her where I had never been. I didn’t even get a chance to try. 

Two things give me comfort when I have these thoughts. 1) I’m reminded of the peace I felt during Ginny’s birth. God was so near; it was palpable. I know if He offered that nearness to me during Ginny’s stillbirth, certainly He also offered it to her in her final days. 2) Scripture shows me that Ginny was not alone in passing into death. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He has passed into death, and He has been born back into life. He could walk with Ginny through that milestone in a way in which I never could. He walked her through death and into life in heaven by the power of His love and resurrection. She was never alone. None of us will ever be alone. 

Daniel’s grandmother graciously offered to place a memorial stone for Ginny in front of Great-Grandma Ginny’s gravestone. We have a place to go to remember Ginny alongside family members who have died before her. What a special honor! We got to see the stone for the first time in person during Christmas. It blessed us so much. 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood cross.” Colossians 1:15-18

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Revelation 1:4

“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship; but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.” Psalm 71:20

Anticipation

No one is more excited than a child waiting for Christmas morning! I remember being so eager and impatient to open gifts and celebrate the day with family. I also remember that feeling fading as I got older and how sad that was. When I was pregnant with Ginny, I was so looking forward to reliving the magical Christmas excitement through her. That was one of the many things we lost after she died. She will always be missing from our Christmas mornings, but we are thrilled to share Christmas with Chet and see his anticipation. 

Anticipation for Christmas – that’s what advent is all about. We take this time to eagerly expect our savior. And while a child is excited to open gifts, we can be inspired by their sense of anticipation and wonder to reflect our hearts in expecting Jesus, the greatest gift.

Death reminds us of how broken our world is and how much we need Jesus. Jesus came to heal and restore. Because of His life, death, and resurrection we are reunited with God and have the hope of heaven. Because of Jesus, I will get to see Ginny again. This year I am sad that Ginny isn’t with us, but I also choose to celebrate that we are one year closer to seeing her again. 

I believe God gives us small examples or metaphors from our own lives to reveal to us His heart or allow His Word to “hit home” in a way we never understood before. Christmastime is chock-full of these metaphors if you look for them. A child’s excitement reflecting our anticipation of Christ is one example. 

For parents, experiencing the love for your child is a small glimpse of God’s love for us. For loss parents, the  aching for our children gone too soon shows us God’s aching to be near to us. Our desperation to spend even one more minute with our babies gives us a small insight into God’s heart. He is a Father separated from His children, tirelessly seeking after them, drawing near to them, and wanting them to know He loves them. He does that through Christ. And poetically, it is through Christ that we will also be reunited with our children. The aching will be satisfied thanks to Christmas. It is definitely worth anticipating.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Jude 1:21

Release

Sometimes the grief builds up and needs to be released. It feels heavy on my shoulders and on my heart. A good cry or journalling session usually does the trick to lighten the burden. If I go a while without being able to release the pent up grief, it just builds and builds. If it goes too long, I don’t have the energy to go about my normal day. 

One day a few months back, I was feeling this way. I knew I needed to cry, but I had to care for Chet. All morning I was feeding him, reading to him, and playing with him with a heavy heavy heart. I finally made it to nap time. My plan was to bounce him to sleep on a yoga ball while singing a lullaby (the ONLY effective way to get him to sleep at that time) and then go to my room and bawl my eyes out. I was looking forward to it; I needed the release. 

I started bouncing and singing, bouncing and singing. It wasn’t working! I kept bouncing and singing for what felt likes ages. He just kept looking up at me, refusing to sleep! I was getting frustrated. Ugh! Just sleep! I need to cry! I kept trying and trying. I called out to God, “Please help Chet sleep! I need to go cry! Please!” God responded, “Rock him.” I rolled my eyes. That will not work! He doesn’t sleep when I rock him. I’ve tried that a thousand time. It doesn’t work. I kept bouncing and singing, bouncing and singing. Nothing. “Ugh! God, please help Chet sleep! This grief is so heavy. I need to cry to release it. Please!” He responded, “Rock him.” That won’t work! I was getting so frustrated! Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! Nothing. Ahhh! Fine! 

I angrily stood up and walked over to the glider, knowing that rocking him was futile. He never fell asleep when I rocked him. We sat down. I looked Chet straight in the eye and started rocking and singing the lullaby. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and started… laughing. He laughed a huge belly laugh and didn’t stop. I couldn’t help but laugh myself. The two of us rocked and laughed, rocked and laughed, rocked and laughed! Soon I felt my grief releasing and my heaviness falling away. 

Chet didn’t take his nap that day, and I didn’t cry that day. But we both felt refreshed. God saw my burdens and decided He didn’t want me to mourn with tears that day. He wanted me to mourn with laughter! Thank you, God! 

“He will yet fill your mouth with laughter.” Job 8:21

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:21

My Birthday

This is my 3rd birthday since Ginny was born. From the beginning I expected Ginny’s due date and birthday to be hard. I even knew mother’s day and father’s day would be tough, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard my birthday would be. Why is my birthday so difficult in grief?

As with everything, it’s not a straightforward answer; there are a lot of complex feelings involved. But I think it mostly involves three things:

  1. Ginny should be here. I should hear her sweet little voice singing me “Happy Birthday”. She should’ve colored me a birthday card. She should be here being excited and jumping around. We should be celebrating as a whole family. My birthday is another reminder that we have a missing family member. 
  2. My birthday has me thinking about my own birth. Why did I survive? Why did I live and Ginny die? Why do I continue to survive? I lived another whole year while she didn’t get to see the world outside my womb. Why? 
  3. This is the 3rd time I’m celebrating my birthday as this new person. This post-loss Aimee is so profoundly different. My birthday is a day I acknowledge that there is no going back to who I was before.  I’d be lying if I’d say I don’t ever miss the old Aimee with her naivety. But I’m never one to choose ignorance over truth, even if the knowledge is painful. The truth is we live in a world where people we love die. It can happen to me and my family or to you and yours. My heart was torn to shreds, but it healed bigger and stronger. I wouldn’t go back if I had the choice. I’m proud of the new Aimee. Happy Birthday to her. 

Now that I know my birthday is a tough day, as it approached I felt like I was tripping in slow motion, knowing I was going to hit the ground but unable to stop myself. Then God showed up and slid a big fluffy pillow right under me to break my fall. That pillow was in the form of a podcast episode…

A few months ago, I was honored to be interviewed by Ashlee Proffitt for the Joyful Mourning podcast. The Joyful Mourning podcast and other Morning resources have given me so much hope and encouragement over the past couple of years. It’s the number one resource I recommend to other loss moms. I was thrilled to be able to share Ginny’s story on the podcast. I didn’t know when my episode would be released, so I was surprised when it came out on my birthday! What a gift! It blessed my heart to know that people would hear Ginny’s name and our story. It somehow felt like she was a bit nearer to us on my birthday. God’s kindness shows up in the details and His perfect timing. 

Parenting After Loss: The 1st Year

Over a year has already passed since we brought Chet home from the hospital. I still look at him in disbelief. I am in awe he is here! He keeps getting cuter and cuter, and I just can’t believe my eyes when I see him. 

One year is a big milestone for a lot of reasons. For loss parents, we are hyper aware that one year marks the end of the possibility of infant death. What a relief! According to the CDC, in the US more than 1 in every 200 people die in their first year of life (not including miscarriage or stillbirth). After having experienced baby loss, those odds seem monstrous. The chances of death greatly decrease for children over 1 year. Our boy is strong and healthy, and I’m so grateful! I wish I could say I have no lingering fears, but that’s not reality. COVID daily reminds us of our human fragility. Anything could happen, but that is also what helps us embrace every moment. 

We do embrace every moment and rarely, if ever, take a minute for granted. Time seems to be racing by, so I try to slow it down by rocking him for one more minute, putting my phone down (when I’m not taking thousands of pictures and videos), and having nightly family dance parties to the song Un Poco Loco from the movie Coco. We have a lot of fun together. My heart stings a tiny bit every dance party. Ginny’s not here. 

As more and more of Chet’s adorable personality comes out, I enjoy imagining the two of them playing together. Chet is so smart and interested in everything. He has a longer attention span than I thought possible for a baby. He spends time trying to figure out how things work and is very determined. But he is also very goofy. He never gets tired of laughing at our funny faces or sounds, and he loves making us laugh. He growls, roughhouses, makes loud noises, and throws things – all things I’m not used to, having been raised with two sisters. He LOVES music. It’s a privilege to learn these details about my son. I got a sense of who Ginny is, but I do mourn not knowing the details. I do know she is playful and goofy and fun. So I know she and Chet would have a blast together. 

Each milestone that Chet hits makes me so grateful to experience this. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, all we’ve been through, and who we are as a family. I’m hopeful for all that’s to come, here on Earth and in heaven. And my heart breaks…

My heart breaks in all the normal ways a mama’s heart breaks as her baby grows up. Recently Chet stopped breastfeeding. One day he just lost all interest in nursing. It was around when I was planning on weaning anyway, so it was actually great timing. Even so, I was on the verge of tears for three straight days afterwards. I know it was hormones, but it was also just realizing that Chet is not a baby anymore. He is growing up and that chapter of our relationship is closed. That time was so so precious. I will be forever grateful, honored, and proud to have been able to nurse him for so long. And for some reason, it made me miss Ginny. I felt like it triggered another wave of grief. Why would Chet’s weaning make me grieve Ginny? I asked a friend. She said that anything that marks the passage of time is hard. I think she’s right. Our family is moving forward, and Ginny is still missing. I think it’s also because now I’m taking the time to think back on this past year – all those sweet moments, cute smiles, precious snuggles – all the babyhood. Now I know what we are missing. Well I know the first year of what we are missing. And my heart breaks. 

Now we’ve started the second year. We are going to keep embracing every moment, making each other laugh, and remembering big sister. I’m excited to learn what else we’re missing! 

Goodbye North Carolina

Our time in North Carolina was the craziest three and a half years of our lives. I had two jobs, two houses, and two pregnancies. A tree branch smashed one of our cars, and the transmission died in our other car. I experienced anxiety for the first time and saw a therapist for the first time. We found a church that felt like “home”, and I was baptized. I made major career changes. We met great friends. Our beautiful baby girl died, and we brought a memory box home. We grieved and grieved and grieved. We got tattoos. We endured pregnancy after loss, and we brought a beautiful baby boy home. We quarantined and worked from home. We were vaccinated and still didn’t go anywhere. Friends died, and grandparents died. Friends were born, and nephews were born. I started a blog for a couple months and kept writing for over two years. We woke up in the night again and again and again. I nursed around the clock, and Daniel bounced. I got shingles, and Chet got chickenpox. We had so much fun; we laughed a lot. Daniel got a fellowship, grew hundreds of sunflowers, and got a professorship. We baked bread, we broke bread, we served bread, and we ate bread. Then we left. 

We buckled our baby boy in the back seat, and carefully placed our memory box in the front seat.  And then we left. It was time. That house was feeling very heavy with grief. It was the house Ginny lived and died in. It was where we spent the excruciating hours between her death and birth. It was where we wept. If we were ever away from home for an extended period of time, grief would hit us in the face when we returned. And once the world started reopening, going to places that used to feel like comforts, now felt like triggers. I know returning to that town one day will feel like a tsunami of emotions. So much happened there. 

But at the same time, we will miss it. We miss our friends so much already. I’m so grateful for them, and for technology that allows us to stay in touch so easily. We miss our church and our coworkers and my volunteers. We miss meeting up with friends in downtown Durham and some of the very yummy restaurants. I’ll miss the places I grieved the most: the hospital, the arboretum, the library, and most benches around UNC’s campus. Those places feel kind of sacred now. Those places are where I encountered God in new, powerful ways. 

A small part of me was terrified to move. Would this mean we are closing the chapter that had Ginny in it? Would we be leaving Ginny behind? Were we “moving on”? Daniel comforted me. “No way! Ginny’s coming with us. She will always be with us,” he said with a smile. Yes, it is time. It is time for a new adventure and the next step.

Auburn feels refreshing. I’m so excited to see what God has for us here!