Imperfect Christmas

The holidays are really hard after a loss. When the entire family is together, the absence of the one who died is overwhelming. All you can think of is that they should be here. 

I remember once we found out we were pregnant with Ginny, I imagined bringing her home to Oklahoma to spend Christmas with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I would imagine her waking up on Christmas morning and opening gifts. I couldn’t wait! When she died, all those dreams would be left unrealized.

When the holidays approached after Ginny died last year, each picture perfect Christmas card I saw felt like a small punch in the gut. They reminded me that I’ll never have a picture perfect family because Ginny will always be missing on Earth. 

The grief was so strong last year. I knew it would be a challenging time, especially because I was also in the first trimester of pregnancy with Chet. My emotions would be out of control. I tried to set expectations for myself and others. I tried to give myself grace to feel however I felt, and I told family that I might need to step away into a back room or sit out some gatherings potentially. I did do all those things, and it was still really hard. 

The first night after the long trip back to Oklahoma, I wanted to make sure that Ginny was remembered and that family knew it was ok to talk about her. I gave homemade bracelets to my mom, mother-in-law, sisters, and niece. The bracelets were in a set of three: one with pink beads, one with gray beads, and one with white beads. The pink represented Ginny’s life. She was a real person who lived on Earth. The gray represented our suffering and what we’ve learned in grief. The white represented hope for heaven and our future family. It was a sweet moment to explain the bracelets and hand them out to the women in my family. But that moment also led to one of several really hard moments of the holiday…

My mom was touched and thankful for the bracelets, but then she realized hers might be a little loose. She wondered if she could swap with one of the sisters or maybe I could adjust it. It was an easy enough request. I did want the bracelets to fit perfectly, but I couldn’t handle that at the time. I blew up and yelled, “Well if you don’t like it, just throw it away!” and stormed off. I hid in a back room and broke down crying. My mom found me and apologized. She assured me she loved the bracelets and what they represent. In tears, I told her why I was really crying, “I wanted to bring you a precious grandbaby for Christmas. Instead I brought you this ill-fitting consolation prize.” She  hugged me and told me how much she missed Ginny too. 

There were other moments like that. For a lot of people Christmas is already a challenging time with extended family and friends. When you add grief on top of it, it can feel impossible. There will be people who say the wrong thing. It may be the comments that should be helpful but are not, like everything happens for a reason. It may be someone explaining “healthy” and “unhealthy” ways to grieve and insinuating that you are doing it wrong. It may be someone pretending like nothing ever happened. It can all be painful, but God can give grace to get through it. It helps me to remember that the whole family is grieving and we are all trying to navigate it in the best ways we can. 

If you are grieving this Christmas remember to give yourself grace. It’s okay to avoid things that are hard. It’s ok to step away if you need to. It’s ok to say “no” to a gathering (especially with COVID as an excuse). And most importantly, it’s ok to talk about your loved one who died. It’s ok to remember and honor them this season. It’s ok to grieve however you need to. 

I was recently reminded of something very helpful in a Joyful Mourning podcast. When it feels like Christmas is imperfect and broken, keep in mind that it was always imperfect. Jesus was born in a manger far from home. He was born to die. Mary would live to see her son die. But Jesus bore all the brokenness for our redemption. If it feels too hard to read the verses describing the celebration of Jesus’s birth, maybe read the Easter story instead this year. God will meet us where we are. Remember that it is through Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection that we are reunited with God and our loved ones are in heaven for us to meet again. 

As hard as last year’s Christmas was, there were some really great moments as well. I asked family members to donate the gifts they would’ve gotten for Ginny to charity. They all did, and that blessed Daniel and me so much. We also got to announce to extended family that I was pregnant again. My favorite response came from Daniel’s grandma. She looked us each in the eye with tears in hers, and told us she was proud of us. In that moment, she was recognizing how hard this was and celebrating the new life at the same time. She then offered to get a stone to memorialize Ginny right next to great-grandma Ginny’s grave. It was such a special moment. We were also blessed to see a stocking for Ginny hung in both my parents’ and Daniel’s parents’ houses. 

This year is going to look a lot different. We won’t be able to travel back home to Oklahoma due to COVID. It will be so sad to not be with our whole family at Christmas. But it will also be Chet’s first Christmas! I can’t wait to see him look at the tree and give him his gifts. His stocking will hang right next to his sister’s. We will take an imperfect family picture on an imperfect Christmas day. Sounds like a memory I will treasure forever. 

Father’s Day

Daniel constantly impresses me and blesses me. He is an incredible father. He loves so well. His love for me, Ginny, and Chet reminds me that we are loved by God; so often it feels like God loves us through Daniel. I’m thrilled Chet will be raised by him, by someone with such a good heart…

  • He’s the father of two but has yet to see either child look up at him. 
  • He bravely cut an umbilical cord blackened by death and still has hope to cut a living cord.
  • He gets asked, “How’s Aimee?” 50 times for every one time he gets asked, “How are you?”.
  • He receives advice to be strong for me while knowing I need him to be broken with me.
  • He wants to fix things more than anything but knows he can’t. He still tries. 
  • He is always looking for ways to improve himself and better serve me. 
  • He is ready to take me to the hospital at a moment’s notice. He’s ready to face anything together. 
  • He mourns all the father-daughter experiences he is missing with Ginny. 
  • He is eager to have all the father-son experiences with Chet (starting with watching Game 7 of the 2016 World Series). 
  • He read The Hobbit aloud to Chet as soon as he learned Chet could hear in the womb.
  • Even though he isn’t allowed at doctor’s appointments, he sits right outside in the car for moral support. He wants to be as close as possible. 
  • He held his daughter’s body and wept.
  • He never left my side. 
  • He is filled with grief and love and hope and fear and sorrow and kindness and bravery and joy and laughter.  
  • He is a wonderful father.

Father’s Day can be complicated and difficult for bereaved dads. Loss fathers don’t get the sympathy and concern that loss mothers do. But they carry their grief and trauma and sorrow along with the weight of the mother’s pain on their shoulders. They deserve to be loved, supported, and honored on Father’s Day. 

Happy Father’s Day, Daniel! Thank you for being the best dad to Ginny and Chet and the best partner to me! 

Mothers

Even though I live across the country and I haven’t seen my mom since Christmas, I still know the feeling of her soft hands. I can imagine leaning my head on her shoulder. Her touch, her voice, her fast-paced strides across the house are all so familiar and comforting to me. She’s the first person I ever knew. She knows me so well. We are connected in ways I don’t even understand. 

That’s why I couldn’t keep the secret when Daniel and I found out I was pregnant with Ginny. I tried for a couple days. When I spoke to my mom during that time, I felt like a liar for keeping it from her. Somehow she was going to just know. I was convinced her motherly instincts would just know, and then I would have to tell her by answering her questions instead of a sweet surprise. We caved and told family after a couple days. haha I don’t know for sure that she would’ve sensed it, but I bet she would have.

She was the first person I called after we found out Ginny had died. Then I called Daniel’s mom. They were the only two family members who held Ginny’s body. Their hearts broke because they missed their granddaughter, but also their hearts broke for us – their children whom they carried in their wombs. They were broken because we were broken. 

A bond between a mother and a child is powerful. It’s fueled by the mother’s love. I’ve always noticed a certain desperation that appears in a woman’s eyes once she becomes a mother. It’s like she is bearing something so valuable and is so afraid of losing it. She has so much love to bear. I’ve felt that desperation. But the truth is you can never lose the love for a child. You can lose the child, but the love stays with you forever. That’s what makes someone a mother – that love. 

You don’t have to have a child in your arms to feel that love. You don’t have to have given birth or been pregnant to feel that love. You don’t have to have someone call you “mom” to feel that love. 

Mother’s Day was hard last year. I knew I was a mother. I wanted to celebrate and honor that fact, but it just wasn’t obvious to the world. I had no baby. But if anyone could see inside my heart, they would see the love I had for Ginny. They could see my motherhood. So last year, I dressed up and went to church, knowing the Mother’s Day service might be painful. During the part of the service where we greet each other and “pass the peace”, another mother who knew my story came up to me from across the room. She hugged me so hard. She told me that I am a mother, a wonderful mother and that she was so proud of me. Tears started flowing down my face. That’s what I needed to hear. I needed someone to acknowledge my motherhood. 

Daniel took me out to a nice lunch afterward, and I received a sweet bouquet of tulips from a friend back in Oklahoma. I was blessed, and I was proud of myself for not hiding away. 

This year my motherhood is more obvious because of my bulging belly. I love that. 

Daniel and I were on a walk the other day. We passed by a cute family with 5 young children on scooters and strollers. The mom looked at me and said, “Hang in there. You’re almost there, Mama!” It took me a second to realize she was talking to me. I couldn’t stop smiling for ten minutes after that. It felt so good for another mother to not only acknowledge my motherhood, but also give me encouraging words to help get through these last couple months of pregnancy. People have no idea how impactful their simple words are. 

If you are a mother without a child this Mother’s Day, know you are a mother. Know that you deserve to be celebrated and that your love is still so powerful. Know that the bond with your child is real and unbroken. Happy Mother’s Day! 

I’m so grateful for my mom, mother-in-law, and grandmothers this Mother’s Day. They encourage me everyday, and I feel their love always. 

For those of you who are missing your mother or have a strained relationship with your mother or your children, I’m so sorry. God loves you with the power of a mother’s love and much more. 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” Isaiah 66:13

Springtime

I have always loved spring. It is the most hopeful time of year. I loved that everything turns green and comes to life. I loved the anticipation of summer break from school and graduations. Daniel and I first starting spending time together in spring. It is full of excitement!

While I was pregnant with Ginny, I loved the fact that she was due in springtime. Spring represents new life! We would have the rest of spring and summer to go on walks together. All winter, I patiently waited for spring. That’s why I got so excited when I saw daffodils blooming when Daniel and I went on a walk a couple days before Ginny was stillborn. “Spring is here!” I proclaimed. That meant Ginny would be here soon. I don’t think I have ever had so much joy at the thought of spring arriving. 

When we lost Ginny a few days later, it was like winter came crashing back. Everything seemed dead and dark. 

In the coming weeks, several very well intentioned loved ones would try to encourage me by saying, “Think of the future. Spring is here, and it’s getting warmer. Try to enjoy that and have hope.” They didn’t realize that was like a knife in my heart. Every tulip that came up and every tree bud reminded me that Ginny would not be arriving that spring. The springtime that I most anticipated would be empty.  Thinking of the future made me think of what was missing. I couldn’t envision the future.. 

Spring 2019 was filled with the deepest grief. I still spent time outside. I spent hours in the UNC Arboretum, crying, reading, and praying. I walked around campus listening to songs that made me feel every emotion in efforts to mourn and face my grief. Spring passed by without Ginny in my arms but with Ginny in my heart, and she was all that was in my mind. 

I worried that spring was ruined forever. It hurt so badly to think of the disappointment spring 2019 carried. I wondered if that hurt would reemerge every spring along with the daffodils. 

This spring, I decided to let myself feel whatever I was feeling. To my surprise, the daffodils brought joy, not heartache! I love seeing all the flowers blooming and bright new leaves appear at the treetops. I think of new life with our baby Chet. But I am also reminded of the sweet time I had mourning Ginny in the deepest moments of grief last year. Although painful, that time so close to Ginny was full of love. 

I’m not sure if those who have never lost will understand, but the early moments of grief are filled with so much love. It is normal to miss the intensity of early grief. This year, spring reminded me of the long walks on campus thinking of Ginny and tending to my broken heart. Our loss didn’t ruin spring; it brought more love and renewal than ever before. I’m so grateful for that. 

Happy Birthday, Ginny

Ginny, 

It’s been one year since I felt you wiggle in my belly. You were more than a belly bump or a series of kicks. I felt your spirit. You were with me wherever I went. I could feel your presence in the same way I know when your dad walks in a room. 

I felt you were joyful and fun. I imagined being silly together, laughing together. I felt your playful spirit. Beyond that, I had an indescribable sense of you. I’ve been told by other mothers that the sense you get from your child in the womb is the same as the sense you get from them outside the womb. That convinces me that I truly did know you. I do know you. 

But one year ago, when I held your body in my arms, I didn’t feel you anymore. You weren’t in your empty shell. I waited to see you. Then when I did, you weren’t there. You were in heaven. We missed you.

We miss you. Every single day we miss you. I try to remember that sense of your spirit. I do feel you. 

But I wish I could see you, hear you, hug you, laugh with you. I wish we were singing “Happy Birthday” to you and watching you make a mess of a cake. I wish I was laughing and saying, “She’s never had this much sugar before!” I wish I was wetting a washcloth and wiping you down. I wish I was helping you open a new toy and watching you reach for it. That’s one of a million moments we are missing with you. 

But we will have more than a million moments together one day. One day this time apart will seem like nothing. But it doesn’t feel like nothing now. This year seems massive. 

So we celebrate this massive year. We celebrate your precious life. We celebrate your spirit that was with us for a short time and is in heaven now with Jesus. 

We celebrate making it through this year of grief. We survived when it seemed like we wouldn’t. 

We celebrate the love, perspective, and hope you’ve given us. 

We thank God for all these things, most importantly you!

Please know your daddy and I love you with all our broken, growing hearts. Your brother will know you and love you too. We are family forever. 

Happy Birthday!

Love, Mama

One Year Ago: The Day of No Heartbeat

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

22 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Hope for 2020

2019 was the biggest year of my life. I felt emotions I didn’t even know existed. I started out thinking it would be the best year yet, and I ended up being proud I survived. It was the hardest and most painful year, and yet it was the most enlightening and transformative. Today I’m not who I was January 2019. 

Now 2020…One of my lessons of 2019 was that I have no control so it’s hard for me to think about making plans for 2020. I know whatever plans I make will likely not go to plan. Even so, I can have hope for 2020. I hope for more joy and more peace. I hope that I keep growing and learning. I hope that the path God has for me continues to become clear.

My hope for all of us is that our love and kindness strengthen. I hope that bitterness and fear fade away. I hope we remember that in both life and death we are not alone. I hope you know you are loved. 

I hope we all have a big year in 2020 but big in the greatest way. I hope for a big, life-giving, love-flowing year!

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

How to parent a child who is not here this Christmas

I’m still her mom. I still have all the desire to mother her this Christmas… and everyday. But how does one mother a child who isn’t here? These are my plans. I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Keep Her Memory

  • Talk about her. Bring her into conversation. 
  • Remember last Christmas when I was carrying her. 
  • Hang an ornament for her. Our amazing friends Katie and Josh had a beautiful one made for us.
  • Hang her stocking as a visual reminder that we have a daughter in heaven.

Create Traditions

  • Donate Christmas gifts to a child in need each year (Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, etc). We will use the money we would’ve spent on Ginny for Christmas. I’ve asked our family to do the same.
  • Write her a letter every year and place it in her stocking. My mom planned on doing this since we first lost Ginny.

Do Good on Her Behalf

  • Have a day of random acts of kindness in honor of Ginny. I heard of a family who does this and hands out little cards that say, “Random Acts of Kindness in honor of ___. Pass it on!”
  • Volunteer for an organization that helps those going through hard times.

Acknowledge My Loss

  • Give myself grace about how I feel during Christmas; lower expectations if needed.
  • Give myself space to step away if I need to; communicate to family that this might be needed.
  • Know this is hard.

Celebrate the Hope of Christ

  • Because Jesus came, death is not the end. We will be reunited with Ginny!
  • The glory of Jesus is real to us in a new way this year. Rejoice in that!

Gratitude

Knowing the outcome, I would do it all over again. If given the choice to be spared from all the pain and grief and sorrow and not have been pregnant with Ginny, I would choose to have Ginny every time. I wouldn’t take it back for anything. 

From that aspect, I am grateful. I’m thankful for the time we had with Ginny. I’m thankful to have delivered her body, and I’m thankful for all I’ve learned in grieving her. 

That being said, sometimes it is so hard to be grateful. This season should be a time of thanksgiving. Don’t ask me to share what I’m thankful for. She was supposed to be here this holiday. She was supposed to be part of all the family gatherings. She was supposed to be my biggest blessing. She’s not here for it; she’s missing. I’m not grateful for that. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

This verse is hard for me right now. I totally get the next verse, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I have experienced that. But making my requests known to God is difficult when my last request was denied. And to do so with thanksgiving seems impossible. I can hand over control. I can ask that His will be done. I can ask for peace. But I am unable to thankfully ask for anything else. Does it even matter what I ask? I trust that his plan is better than mine. Isn’t that enough? I don’t know. 

I have been blessed in countless ways. So many of my prayers have been answered, and only one has been denied – a big one. I should be grateful. I should celebrate this holiday with thanksgiving. I will try, but I’ll also try to give myself grace if I can’t. God knows my heart, and he gives me sufficient grace through all my ungratefulness and even anger. When I don’t know how to pray and supplicate, the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf (Romans 8:26). He holds me in my hurt and in my joy.