Writing from the Heart

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It has been a while since I’ve posted any real writing. I’ve been told my words come from the heart. Perhaps that’s why I don’t seem to have any words flowing right now. My heart is hurting. In spite of our two vibrant young boys and all the life of Spring and Summer, much of my world seems to be in a season of death right now. I have never dealt particularly well with death.

First, celebrating Memorial Day, visiting my grandfather’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. I was overwhelmed with all that he gave to other soldiers and their families as we went to the Visitor’s Center for the first time in my life. I was floored, telling my sons that their great grandfather was intricately involved in planning the funeral for JFK. Their great grandfather researched and wrote the military protocol observed for over 27 funerals taking place per day and that is just at ANC. What a gift my grandfather gave to those who died as well as those left behind. What a legacy. I had, only moments before, walked by a long line of tourists saying to my husband, “Grandpa would be ashamed of what I am thinking of those people.  –Touring the dead and having picnics on their graves. Do they know what it cost? Do they really understand?” I was overcome seeing all these people stopping to read information, to pause and reflect as I never had before. I always made a beeline for my grandfather’s grave and went straight out again. I see now. I realize I haven’t the slightest idea what it is like to have a soldier’s soul.

Then there was Mrs. Z’s death. The first of my constants to pass away. We lost touch because life gets so darn busy and then the party list gets so long you feel like you have to cut it down. And you learn later you cut out the wrong people. You invited people who aren’t really invested in you or your children. People who aren’t really involved. People who wouldn’t know if you were having a good week or a bad one. No, she should have been here more often. I am reminded of something relayed at my step grandmother’s funeral. She once said, “Come to my birthday party. Skip the funeral.” I should try to remember to keep the invitation lists long for the birthday parties. Who cares about the funeral.

Finally, or at least I hope so, we just found out our “daughter”/dog is dying of cancer. I am a noted worrier yet I took her to this appointment thinking we were wasting our money on an x-ray because they were going to say everything was fine. But it isn’t. I am not certain what I expected to hear when I asked how long she had. A year maybe. But they estimate a month. And all of the sudden the 12 years we’ve spent with her seem so short. And every less than stellar mothering moment stands out boldly in my mind. Moments I should have been more patient, more kind, more loving. I’m tossing the regret aside, to be observed at a later time. Now, we have a month plus or minus (now already a week into that estimation), so I am trying to cherish and memorize. Silas celebrates every morning with a pronouncement, “Yea! Star is still alive!” He worries each time we return home, “I hope she didn’t die while we were away.” I know he doesn’t really get it but we are doing our best to help him cherish and remember what little time we have left with her. Maybe teaching him will help me to remember these important lessons I am reminded of with each death yet forget with time. The hum of a busy life is like falling asleep in a poppy field. It is so easy to lose track of the things which truly matter.

So… My heart seems to be building a cocoon to shelter from recent and coming days. It is curling up inside as it undergoes yet another metamorphosis. I have always been more emotive than anything else. I have a friend who calls me intuitive. Maybe I have intuited that I need to reserve my strength. At any rate, it is hard for me to write deeply when I am holding back pain. It is my heart that needs to speak not my mind. Perhaps it has to be both but my heart certainly leads the way. I feel the words beginning to stir but they have not yet taken form.

The Steel Magnolias: A Living Friendship

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Many years ago, my mother and some friends were out shopping. One of them needed shoes so they all came along. They were just sitting there chatting, joking and laughing, as they always did, while one of them was fitted for a shoe. When they were about to leave, the clerk said, “I hope you ladies aren’t offended but you remind of The Steel Magnolias.” They were not offended. They were delighted. And they have been known as The Steel Magnolias or The Steels ever since.

So what is a Steel Magnolia? The steel part obviously means they are strong. The bond among them is like steel in its strength. They have helped one another through the challenges of motherhood and marriage. They have bolstered each other through sickness and sorrow. My father had cardiac arrhythmia and the doctors decided stopping his heart and then bringing it back would be the best course of action. He would technically be dead for a few minutes and there was a chance they would not be able to revive him. I remember standing in a circle, holding hands with my mother and some of her Steel friends, praying together as we waited just outside the room, within earshot of all that was happening. A circle of strength, faith and love. I also remember one ebbing the tide of pain following my miscarriage. She used just three words. It was all she needed because the look in her eyes told me she knew exactly where I was and what I was going through. One of their greatest gifts is that they do not try to fix everything. They simply steel themselves and stand with you through the storm.

The magnolia. What does that part mean? Magnolias are beautiful, unique,  fragrant trees. When I think of these women, the thing that stands out for me is the way they smile and laugh when they are together. Like the fragrance of a magnolia bloom carried on the wind, their joy carries far and wide. The strength and energy they bring to each other is like the root system of a tree holding them upright, providing nourishment and strength, bringing beauty to all who surround them. The way they simply ARE with each other resonates beauty.

Webster’s dictionary defines friend as, “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.” The word seems so small to me. It hardly conveys the magnitude of this sort of relationship. These women are branches of the same tree. Growing together. Relying on one another. Caring for all of the branches and flowers among them. The relationship itself an entity. Living and breathing. Life sustaining. A living friendship.

Yesterday, one of these flowers fell. She lost her battle with leukemia. She went peacefully and we know she is at rest. As they say, funerals are for the living. Those of us left behind have to move forward. Yet, the void she leaves is huge. I have known many people who have died. I have been to more funerals than years I have been alive. But, aside from my grandparents, this is the first person who was so consistently a part of my life to die. These women have been a constant part of our lives. Present for my mom’s pregnancies, at our births, baptisms, schools, games, graduations, college, college graduations, first jobs, careers, weddings, our own pregnancies, miscarriages, our children’s births and their milestones. One of The Steels (my Aunt Mimi) said, “I will so miss her. We have talked almost every day for the last 40 yrs.” That amounts to 14, 600+ moments with one another. That’s it, right there! The best word to describe a steel magnolia: CONSTANT. All other ways to describe them involve constants. Constantly beautiful. Constantly strong. Constantly there. Constantly loving.

And now she’s gone. 14, 600+ moments and, still, not nearly enough. Things are fresh. The sorrow new. I know she is no longer in pain. I know she is home in Heaven. Most likely, already scoping out the best place to play cards with her friends when they arrive. But, my goodness, it hurts. You will be missed. I note that I am just a spectator to this incredible friendship. I can not imagine how my Steel mothers are feeling right now. I see their heartache. It is raw yet beautiful. In some weird way, I find myself hoping I will have the privilege of feeling that sort of pain one day. If I do, it will mean I have been lucky enough to have had such an indescribable friendship. And, if I find myself so fortunate, it will be because these women taught me how.

Thank you, my Steel Magnolia mothers.

May you rest in peace, Mrs. Z.

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Lt. Col. Edgar W. Boggan with his wife, Edith.
Lt. Col. Edgar W. Boggan with his wife, Edith.

I never know what to say on Memorial Day. Thank you always seems so small in light of the courageous sacrifices made by those who serve in our military. Alas, as far as words go, it is all I have: Thank you. 

But words are not all we have, are they? We also have actions. I hope I honor the sacrifices of our military service members in the way I live each day, how I guide and teach my children and how I serve others. I hope our way of living brings life to the ideals you have died to protect. As I stare at my children, I am even more grateful. Their life is brighter because so many soldiers decided the future of this country was something worth fighting for, worth dying for. Thank you to all those who have served and died for this country. 

Thinking about Memorial Day in the context of this blog, I was thinking about the concept behind Umbrella Moms. What is an Umbrella Mom and how can it help us honor the sacrifices of those who serve, served or died for this country?

My mother grew up an Army brat. Her mother (Edith Boggan, pictured above) raised two children, essentially as a single mother, as her husband (Lt. Col. Edgar Boggan, pictured above) fought overseas in WWII. They were stationed, as a family, in Germany for five years following the war. My grandmother had umbrella friends who helped her get through the years her husband was overseas fighting the war. She had umbrellas who helped her settle in overseas. She had umbrellas who helped her settle in each new post they were sent to. Umbrella Moms help our friends. We help perfect strangers. We simply show up when we see a storm rolling in. We hold the umbrella over the one in need so they can focus on the important things beneath it. We strengthen other moms so that they may remain strong for others. Of course, we also revel with each other in the sunshine as well.

As I think about this, I want to challenge you. Let this Memorial Day serve as a reminder that it is not just the soldier who serves. Their loved ones serve as well. We can honor the sacrifices of our service members by offering an umbrella to the loved ones who remain stateside. Send a text when you are on your way to the grocery store to see if they need anything. Call to offer yourself as a babysitter. Drop off a meal, for no other reason than it it sometimes nice to not have to cook. Stop by to watch their kids so they can fold some laundry. DO a load of laundry for them. Bring flowers or sweets or a note saying what a great job they are doing. We can help strengthen our soldiers by letting them know their loved ones are cared for and protected while they are away.

I often talk about Umbrella Moms shielding other moms in the storms of life. Sometimes, the storms are so great there is simply no way to shield someone. The rain splashes back up. The wind batters the umbrella, turning it inside out and blowing it away. One must walk through this sort of storm without protection. Someone receives notice their loved one has been killed or is missing in action. In these cases, we show up and walk through the storm with them. Hold their hand. Hold them up. Cry with them. Hope with them. Remember with them. Love them. Let them know, we are with them, always. For however long it may take, we stand with them throughout the storm until they are able to see the rainbows and the sunshine again.

So, thank you to all the service members and your families. Thank you to those who died serving your country. You are courageous. You are strong. You are noble. You are loved. You have been our umbrella so we may be yours.

 

Kid-fatuations: Jake and the Never Land Pirates

Don’t ever let anyone tell you kids aren’t capable of having attention spans. I’ve learned they are selectively capable. When it comes to eating: no attention span. When it comes to church: no attention span. When it comes to getting dressed: no attention span. When it comes to school: no attention span. When it comes to anything preceded by, “Please look at Mommy”: no attention span. When it comes to a kid-fatuation… Defined here as any infatuation a child holds with the intensity and passion of a fully-fledged stalker. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a WINNER!!!

Silas is presently kid-fatuated with Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Morning, noon and night. He literally came into our bedroom the other night at 4:30 in the morning to tell us he lost his Jake toy and could we help him find it in the morning. Seriously?!?! At 4:30 in the morning you feel like asking us if we can help you find something in the morning? How about just waiting until the morning to ask us that urgent question?!?!

Whenever we get into the car, I am Izzy and I have sprinkled pixie dust over the car so it can fly. Izzy was given a bag of pixie dust by Tinker Bell and her friends but she is only allowed to use it in emergencies. Have to take issue with Season 1, Episode 10, Surfin’ Turf. She uses the “emergency” pixie dust to save a surf board. I’d like to submit that as a blatant abuse of pixie power. Although, I will concede that sometimes getting in our car to go somewhere IS an emergency. Sometimes the car nap is a matter of life and death and I am not always sure whose.

From the moment he wakes up until the moment he goes to sleep, Silas wants to either watch the show or pretend to be the characters. And since we limit his television, we are pretty much acting out the show all day long.  Every member of this family has played every role. Hollywood should take a creative cue from Silas as roles are not bound by gender or even species. I have played every character from pirate to parrot.

I had a moment of weakness and thought to myself, “If we’re going to do this from sun up until sun down, then let’s go all the way!” I let him take his allowance to the toy store to get a costume but he picked out a Bucky (Jake’s ship) tub toy instead. Now, he is constantly climbing into the tub to play with the one and only Jake and the Never Land toy we have. Of course, his birthday is coming up so everything on his wish list is Jake, Jake, Jake. So, I imagine that resource crisis will rectify itself soon enough.

Oh, dear. How much more intense the imaginary play will be once we have actual props! We will then be able to add in the pleasure of meltdowns when he loses pieces. Of course, once he does have all the toys he won’t be using his imagination anymore and the kid-fatuation will quickly recede. As exhausting as it is, I do love the way his mind turns ordinary things into pirate ships, swords, gold doubloons, treasure. I love the look of excitement on his face as he builds upon his imagination with us and his friends. It’s like watching a time elapsed video of a seed being planted, watered and grown. You can see that sunflower grow and tower right before your very eyes. Those thoughts and ideas tucked within his head spring to life. He’s learning that he can make things happen.

I just need a training program. As an adult, my imagination has withered on the vine. I need to put together a creativity challenge for myself like those 30-day plank challenges I’ve seen (and, of course, never done). Wait. There it is. Someone is up from his nap now. I hear the call… “Mommy! Mommy! Let’s play, JAKE AND THE NEVER LAND PIRATES!”  [Sigh.]

Not even 30 minutes after this exuberant proclamation he was very sick. He frequently suffers from croup which sometimes escalates into stridor. We have never had it set in as quickly as it did today. This episode was bad and the doctor sent us straight to the emergency room. The poor boy burst blood vessels all across his face from straining so hard coughing and trying to breathe. He could no longer walk by the time I got him to the hospital. All this, from a bouncy ball of excitement to limp and lifeless in a matter of 60 minutes. As much as a mother prays for a little break from the hyper insanity that is daily life with toddlers, it breaks our hearts when it comes this way. We’ve been here before but it does not make it any less terrifying. A little cool air, a dose of steroids and he was back to normal. I’ll bet you’ll never guess what he was doing 1 hour later. He was skipping out of the hospital singing the theme song to the show, “Yo ho, let’s go!”  A sight for this mama’s sore eyes. I hate fire drills but I like them more than fires.

After the scare he gave us today, and while I am building up my creative endurance, here is what I’d like to say when he asks me to play Jake and the Neverland Pirates, “How about we play Margaritaville instead? I’ll make yours a virgin and mine a double.”

April Fools

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* * * * * Folks, I was feeling horrible throughout the day I originally put this post up. I had been walking around wondering if I broke some unspoken code to not talk about such horrible things. I was about to log in and just delete it when I received an email from someone who told me sharing my story helped her when she was having her own crisis of faith, hitting bottom. So, while it is much darker than most of my writing, I will leave this story up, hoping it helps others know they are not alone, that God does have a plan and maybe it will help them find the courage to keep moving forward.  However, please be warned this has the potential to cause undue worry if you are currently pregnant and re-traumatize  if you have had a loss. Please think about your state of mind before proceeding.* * * * *

Our first child was due April 2, 2009. An April Fools baby.

We had been trying to conceive for two years to no avail. We finally decided to take a break since we had just bought a house and were in the midst of moving. Shortly after we were settled, I remember it dawning on me one morning that I was late. Very late. Of course, since we’d been trying to get pregnant for two years already, I had oodles of tests lying around so I took one. I laughed out loud when I saw a bold blue line appear. It was fate. Finally, everything was working out for us.

We wanted to wait to tell people until we made it to three months. We had an ultrasound and he was gorgeous. We had never been through this before and had no idea what to expect from that first doctor’s visit. We were both so stunned when the doctor turned on the sound and we could hear his heartbeat. It sounded like a horse galloping through the wild. So strong and fierce! Oh, we were so EXCITED! —So excited that we didn’t make it to three months but we did make it to eight weeks.

In retrospect, I know exactly when we lost him. We had dinner with my mother-in-law, to share the news, the meat made me feel nauseated. I had this weird flip-flop feeling in my belly and felt sort of like the world was spinning too fast. I just chalked it up to morning sickness when nothing happened. The spotting started the day before my three month check-up. My husband and I were sure everything was okay but I was definitely scared. I can still hear the horrible crack in his voice as he told his father, expressing remorse that it was the one time I wasn’t just worrying over nothing.

Our son (we both believe it was a boy), who we’ve come to call Noah, had died just after our eight week appointment. The specialists believe it was due to Trisomy-18. Neither of us could really believe it was true because there still wasn’t any real bleeding or cramping or anything. -Just a little bit of spotting. And how could he have died a month ago and not have passed yet?!?! How could I walk around for an entire month with a dead baby inside me and not know? All the while, gleefully dreaming away and sharing our good news with friends and family. The doctors compassionately assured me he was gone. I was still in denial so I refused the D&C and said I would wait to pass the fetus naturally. Like the dying embers of a fire, I still had hope they were wrong.

I remember where I was when it finally started to happen. At a stoplight near our home. I still can not sit at that light without remembering it all. By the time we arrived home, it was time. The cramping had started in earnest. It was so intense when I stood up to get out of the car. I collapsed into my husband’s arms and cried out, in pain and heartbreak. I remember the first gush felt like someone was ripping my soul from my body. I have cried many times in my life but that is the first and only time I felt like it was my heart literally crying out.

I did go into shock from all the blood loss but I still refused to go to the hospital. Looking back, I don’t know why it was so important for me to be at home. I remember being on the bathroom floor asking my husband and mother why it sounded like they were talking to me from inside a can. I bled heavily for four days. I would shake so hard my teeth would chatter. I kept thinking this is it and then there would be more. I kept thinking each clot was finally the baby. The pain meds did nothing to curb the pain. Nothing. It took four days for him to pass. We said a prayer before we bid him farewell.

We ended up planting a double flowering peach tree in his honor. It blooms beautiful and vibrant flowers for just a few weeks each Spring and then retires, just like our Noah. Interestingly, Silas has two favorite books and they are both about Noah’s Ark. Thad and I think he somehow knows his big brother is in Heaven watching over him.

In my mind, Noah died September 11, 2008, the day we found out. They opened the 9/11 museum today so perhaps that is why I am remembering all this now. I also saw a beautiful interview with Sarah Bessey today in which she recalls feeling forgotten by God during her miscarriages and her quest for children.  Forsaken: It’s a feeling I am all too familiar with. Her message is an important one: “..you are not forgotten.” Take the time to watch the interview. It’s worth it.

It took me a long time to hear that message. It was another two years before we found success on our journey to parenthood. I remember having a screaming match with God after one of many failed infertility treatments. I sat at the table yelling upwards, asking why as well as why not. Now, I know. God knows me like any parent knows their children. He knew this was the best way for me to become a mom. I believe He intended for me to care for two very specific souls, Silas and Emerson. They were not ready. So, He sent me Noah to let me know how very much I did want to be a mother. He sent me Noah to make sure I had enough fight in me to conquer infertility, to bring Silas and Emerson into the world when they were ready. And, maybe, He wanted me to be able to speak about my pain so others might know they are definitely NOT forgotten. Yes, you out there, thinking you are all alone… You are not alone and you are not forgotten. As Sarah Bessey says in the video above, “Wholeness is in God’s heart.” He has wholeness in store for you!

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I was undecided about whether to post this or not. Here is what my husband said when I asked for his thoughts:

It’s difficult for me to put into words – as with any loss, you go through periods of numbness and periods of pain – but that experience greatly exaggerated both the pain and numbness.  You probably remember before the first (and ultimately last and only) ultrasound, I was not very excited… for me, the pregnancy was simply a line on a stick, there was nothing real.  Hearing the heartbeat for the first time was a game changer, it was beyond anything I had experienced, and for me, it was literally the proof that god was real.  And then all that was taken away… there was no joy, no future, no god… the elation I felt only weeks before, had completely turned upside down.  That upside down feeling, that numbness lasted a long time – as much as I loved Silas, he was probably two years old before I felt comfortable about him going to sleep. Each night, I half expected (not even feared, just expected) him to not wake up the next morning; and every morning brought only a temporary relief before the next bedtime.

I’ve said before that sometimes a good memory is a curse – there are plenty of things that I wish weren’t so fresh in my mind.  So, reading this post, reliving all the events and the feelings that went with them, is not a fun thing.  It sucks.  That experience was so horrible that I would not wish it on my worst enemy; yet, so many people go through the same thing… or worse.  If writing and publishing that blog post helps only one person, you must do it.  The entire medical community (along with our friends and family) will tell you that 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage – of course, the intent is to be helpful, if not consoling.  But no one warns you how much it will hurt.  Fertility issues aside (that’s a whole separate topic), that single event, that single loss of a heartbeat, that single loss of life, changed our perceptions, changed our lives, forever.  So I say again, if this post helps just one person, you must share it.

 

They hold the safety net that catches me when I fall. They hold umbrellas over me when the world seemingly crumbles all around us. They hold my hand and they hold my heart. They are my friends. And I love them. -Celeste McNiesh