stop. think. love.

Bereavement Leave

The last time my staff saw me I was pregnant.  A life form developing inside me waiting to join our family and then nothing to hold, nothing to breastfeed, nothing to change diapers and wake up in the middle of the night to rock.  I remember my breasts being so sore and painful that my brother binded me with a sheet to reduce the pain.  So this is what this feels like.  I’ve always nursed my children for months after birth.  My first thought was, “who would ever want to go thru this pain.”  Breastfeeding would take this pain away but there was nothing to nurse, nothing to burp, nothing to look down at and that made me mad.  The many things I didn’t realize at the moment I lost Russell that I would go through the next two weeks of my life.  These events would constantly remind me of Russell.  Yes, there would be moments I would want to escape from these feelings.  But looking back on my experience the afterbirth was there for a reason, to start my grief journey.  I thank God for those moments.

Eric went back to work immediately.  Even before the burial.  Then I was resentful now I understand.  Me, it took weeks, months.  Bereavement leave was long, depressing, rejuvenating, cold, lonely, and at times overwhelming.  There were thoughts that I would never go back until I read a woman’s post on Facebook and she was stuck in her journey.  I couldn’t be stuck I had too many people to take care, including myself.  How and why was everyone else going back to work, continuing their lives?  Now that I had this time to reflect I also found myself avoiding certain places and people.  If I hadn’t received a warm welcome from you the first time since Russell had passed well I wasn’t going to put myself through that again.  Counseling came and went.  Nights became harder to sleep and mornings became harder to wake.  I had now entered into my grieving journey.

I counted on my Thursday nights.  I would drop everything, kids activities for Sam and Kathryn, invites out with family just to get in my car and travel across the bridge to the Kroger on Bardstown Road.  On the second floor of this Kroger a conference room full of bereaved parents hungry to feel the presence of others just like them.  I felt welcomed, relieved, anxious, and most of all exhausted.  Compassionate Friends saved many things for me.  It answered questions, it brought me peace, I began to feel better, and most of all I would sit one Thursday a month amongst people who could relate with my loss.  Thank you Compassionate Friends for continuing my journey.

Soon it would be time for me to say goodbye to my bereavement leave and start a painful battle of walking back into my business, where I was once pregnant with Russell, and encounter the questions and stares.  How’s your son doing?  Can I see a picture of the baby?  How old is he now?  It wasn’t even the, “So sorry for your loss” statements that would hurt because at least during my busy day it would remind me of Russell.  But working with the public meant not everyone was aware of our loss.  My staff was aware but patients weren’t.  Perhaps the last time they saw me I was pregnant and now I’m not.  I could see the confusion on their faces.  Maybe their thinking of what to say to me.  Maybe they want to ask how I’m doing but the fear overwhelms them.  Then came the comments that helped me through my day.  The comments from the least expected people with the least to say.  For example, a long time patient of my husband, walks into the practice, sees me at the front desk and what comes out of his mouth seems as though Russell had gently placed those words on his tongue for him to say.  A man with few words to say, says everything right and at the right time.  What he didn’t realize was earlier that morning I had a hard time getting out of bed.  The grief had won earlier and now he gave me a reason to fight back.  It was as simple as him saying, “I’m sorry about your son,” which in return gave me strength to carry on my day.

People who have lost children typically are able to prioritize their needs from what’s most important to what’s least important.  It’s our badge of honor we receive when burying a child.  With this badge of honor came the understanding of moving on quickly from things that didn’t matter anymore.  From issues at work to issues with the kids to even issues in our marriage.  The “life is too short,” statement meant for us to slow down.  We seemed to always move at a fast speed before Russell.  Never enough time to just “BE.”  Russell gave us this time.  He gave us the ability to say, “that there isn’t a big deal.”  The powers I gained from loosing something so precious made it easier to move forward in my journey by using this tool I call, “Let Go Let God.”

This is what I have learned from loving Russell: Never give up, strive to make things better even if it means standing up for something when others wouldn’t, the word HUMBLE made it to my word bank, believe in something bigger than you, heaven, a higher spirit, anything, love the ones around you who cheer for you, set boundaries for those who don’t, and finally, Russell taught me to be kind to myself, allow myself to cry when I needed to and laugh when it was appropriate and lay in bed when I needed a break from all of the above.

It is Russell that has brought me to my present.  Kathryn now 8, Sam now 4, Lizzie now 18 months, and just seven days ago our 5th child being born into this world, Annie Ray.  All of our blessings.  We celebrate his life everyday in big ways and in small ways.  But most of all we celebrate our journey, the events of our life.  Russell would be turning 3, December 21.  This is the most present we can “be”.  One day at a time.

I dedicate this to Abby and Sam, where ever your journey takes you, leads you to peace, happiness, and love.


August 4, 2015 Family. Love. Russell.

Sam was two when Russell passed.  Barely two and looking at us as though he was trying to understand why our household had so many tears, but at two how could you process the loss of a brother.  With guidance from our advocate nurse we stuck to the plan, love and family.

In our support group we talk about the forgotten mourners.  Siblings who are left behind dealing with the loss of their brother or sister.  Whether young or old the grief process doesn’t discriminate.  Whether it comes sooner or later, there is no time line for grieving.  We understood the kids would have their journey and we needed to make sure we would be there to answer questions and to make sure they understood.  We would remember Russell by talking about what he looked like and what mommy and daddy did when we first met him, Kathryn’s school honoring Russell by releasing a balloon, inviting our closest friends over for a candlelight memorial, planting a tree in our backyard, purchasing memorial bricks in his name at the Butterfly Garden in Louisville, and most of all placing his picture in our home next to our family photos.  Honoring our Russell meant saying his name a million times a day.

Eric and I were certainly concerned about our family and the pain they were suffering.  From the kids to our parents to my sister, Taylor.  With this loss we also had to wrap our head around how our family would process loosing a sibling, a grandchild, a nephew, etc.  Someone once asked me if there is anything worse than loosing a child.  I have yet to come across anything worse than loosing a child.  I have yet to come across the roller coaster emotions with experiencing the loss of a child.  But yet, there are days of peace,  days of happiness, days of being blessed, days of watching your family grow.  Would we be a different family if Russell was here?  What have we learned from our dear Russell?  Do we appreciate more or less?  Do we feel closer to God?  Is Russell listening to us?  How was our family coping with the loss?  So many questions and some not answered but at the end of the day it was family and love that began our journey.

Family is the most important lifeline we have as a couple.  Eric and I counted on our family for strength and guidance.  However, there would be times we would struggle with family.  We realize their struggles are not ours.  Our struggles may not be theirs.  But regardless it was our children on earth that guided us through those struggles.  Kathryn and Sam taught us “being stuck” wasn’t an option on most days.  Because lets be honest no one can grieve perfectly.  They reminded us that it was okay to cry and it was okay to laugh again.  Children have that way of reminding you to move forward.  Notice I didn’t say “move on.”  Because with loosing a child, their is no “moving on.”  You must move through your journey and when you have family support sometimes it makes the journey a little easier.

So looking back Eric and I had family surrounding us at all times in the beginning.  To my mother driving me to the funeral home to make arrangements for Russell.  My dear cousin Stephanie and Aunt Nina having the family over for dinner after the funeral.  For the times I would call my dad at work just to talk.  My best friend coordinating meals in the neighborhood.  The family that waited for us graveside as we arrived at the cemetery.  The cards and letters that followed his death.  All of this support and more which gave us a start to our journey remembering Russell.

Family. Love. Russell.

With this Russell lives on within us.

July 30, 2015

A pattern of not sleeping.  My body preparing for the birth of our 5th child, maybe.  I use cereal for the hope I can fall back to sleep but most nights that fails me.    This is the longest I have ever been pregnant.  Certain emotions consume me to the point I start doing kick counts every hour in bed.  There are some days I live off movements and heartbeats to achieve the comfort I need to carry on my routine.

After loosing a child and becoming pregnant again, not once but twice, your concerns become different than before.  The awareness is enough to make you go insane.  Maybe my unwarranted sleep patterns result from just that, knowing too much and what can go wrong.  So what do you do?  I become focused on a project, a person, a thought other than what’s right in front of me, or should I say inside me.  A method I’ve used in the past years since Russell passed away to come off the path of grieving.  A way to give myself a break from the constant reminders that something is missing, incomplete, imperfect.

The thought I want to run away from the most is the moment my brother pulled the car around to help me and mom get into the car at the hospital.  This thought weighs heavily on my heart.  I remember what he was wearing and, like my dad, the cologne he had on that stuck to his skin for probably hours that day.  Which gave me a second of joy and familiarity but only lasted, just that, a second.  The wheelchair rolled up to the car door as he opened the door to greet me.  My emotions were raw at that point and I was in such a fog, until the car door closed.  My mother in the backseat, me in the passenger seat and my brother driving us to her house until Eric got off of work.  Yes, another moment I look back on and think, why wasn’t Eric there to take me home?  Why was he working?  Maybe his way of escaping, using work as a curtain for grieving.  Regardless, this is how I was raised, drop, stop, and help.  No matter where you are or what your doing, nothing comes in the way of helping someone, even work.  This is still a sensitive subject for me to discuss….Heading back to that memory and pulling away from the hospital, that’s when I knew Russell wasn’t coming home with me, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.  I sobbed all the way to my moms house, where I waited for Eric to come and get me.  But it was that car ride that haunts me everyday.  The awful thought of what a terrible person I was not to fight the nurses to take him with me, or have my brother turn around so I could wait in the hospital morgue until the funeral home came to pick him up, which then my thought was to follow them to the funeral home until I knew he was dressed properly for his burial.  So many ways to control the process so in return I may feel better.  Who was I kidding?  He had already exited the earth.  But all I had was him at that moment.  His toes and fingers, his ears and hair, his precious eyes and sleeping expression.  I play that moment in my head over and over again.  Because that was the moment I realized this was our reality.  And hearing my mother in the backseat of the car sobbing was another reality, how this would affect the people that I loved dearly.

My next phase was fear.  The fear of walking in the door to my home with my 5 year old and 2 year old waiting on the couch for Eric and I to talk about our loss.  How do I tell a passionate old soul, like my daughter Kathryn, that her brother had passed away.  Eric and I decided it would be too hard to have the kids come to the hospital and visit with Russell.  We felt it was best to share pictures and our memories with the kids as a way to communicate the love we had for Russell.  We hoped we were making the right decision and to this very day I don’t regret it.  Kathryn and Sam are left with the most precious images of their brother from Bella Baby.  Baptist East was a positive guidance for us.  The stillbirth/infancy death resource nurse was wonderful.  And after years of owning a medical facility, she certainly was in the right position.  Perfect for this job where nothing should be rushed or decided without knowledge.  She counseled us on how to speak to the kids.  What not to say, “lost, God took him, etc.”  Because explaining to two small children something has been taken or lost would encourage them to try to find it, or expect their mommy and daddy to do the same.  And as someone who believes in the truth, this wasn’t an option for our family to fairytale.  Kathryn impressed me with her maturity.  She asked to see pictures of Russell.  I was hesitant at first, but I remembered what the nurse told me, if they ask, talk first, show and then tell.  What Kathryn said next was unbelievable.  “Momma, he’s so cute.”  There could have been a million other things she could have said, or said nothing at all.  But that moment gave me a glimpse of hope that we were going to be okay.  A five year old little girl giving her mommy a reason to stay on track and follow this process through called, grief.

And then there was my Sam…..

July 29, 2015

It’s days like this that you think to yourself “what would he look like today?”  As I prepare my oldest for her first day of 3rd Grade my mind wonders to everything else but what I should be mindful of.  His voice, the color of his hair, would he be a funny kid, or serious like his momma?  It’s hard to imagine we’ve passed up almost three years of Russell sleeping peacefully in my arms.  When it takes an individual this long to write after her child’s death you realize grief has become a journey and well, “if you don’t do grief successfully then you can’t live life successfully.” (Shrivers – Fully Alive)

Since I was a little girl I wanted to get everything right in life.  My education, my career, my friends, my family, and most of all my choices.  I realized that relaxation only led to laziness for me and being lazy wasn’t an option in our family growing up.  Highly functional on the outside (work ethic, etc), perhaps a little disorganization on the inside.  All this lead me to believe that if I kept going and worked harder than everyone else, then nothing bad would happen to me or my family.  How we quickly find out trying to be perfect will only lead to being imperfect.  There’s that word IMPERFECTION, it drives me crazy.  Why would anyone do less than PERFECT?

Soon I would realize the only human being I would ever come in contact with, that was PERFECT, was my Russell.  He had no words to speak of which meant he had no words to get wrong.  There was no bad choices, no wrong steps in life, no hearts to break, no failures, meant nothing at all that would lead you to believe he was anything less than PERFECT.  So it was that day, December 21, 2012 that I decided I probably should give the people around me, including myself, a break.  Perhaps I should remember the lessons I had learned.  But when Russell passed away on that day maybe “my perfection” went with him.  It was a gift to me to carry on, but to realize that I couldn’t have done anything different to make him breath or take him home safely.  Instead God carried him home for me.  He’s now with God, a perfect place.  And no matter who your higher power is and where you might think those that die go, my “at peace moment” was he had left our family to go to a place more divine than this place we call EARTH.

Today, almost three years later, I sit in my kitchen at 6:24 a.m. writing my first blog still hoping today will be perfect for everyone around me.  From Kathryn’s first day of school, to the birth of our 5th child, to a perfect day in the office……blah….blah….blah.   Did the “perfection” really go when Russell died or is this part of the grieving process I need to accept?

Shortly after we buried Russell we joined Compassionate Friends.  An international support group for parents who have lost children.  When I mean shortly, I mean I needed to be around others who understood our loss very quickly or I was going to go insane.  Things changed so quickly around us.  We lost communication with friends, it was harder to go out into public without feeling alone, we felt abandoned by most.  Those who have lost children would relate to the dead stares and the sudden silence entering a room.  Compassionate Friends was my outlet and what I thought would be my way of perfecting the grief process.  How do you do thing called Grief?  How long does it take?  When will this pain ever go away?  I laugh now at these questions because I soon found out there were know answers.

Eric went a few times and I continued to go and be involved for up to two years till Lizzie was born.  Eric and I struggled to understand each other and our grief process.  For example, Russell passed away on a Friday and Eric went back to work on a Monday.  He took off for the funeral the following Friday and seemed to keep going.  As for me my bereavement leave was longer, almost two months.  I struggled with this concept that one person grieves differently than another.  How could a father go back to work so quickly?  How could a mother not get out of bed for three days?  Things we struggled with back and forth until one morning I saw him staring into the backyard from the kitchen window crying by himself and then I realized he was grieving in his own way and he would have to find his own path.  I was only there to love him.  Since then when I talk to grieving parents I don’t give advice on the journey.  Tomorrow you maybe two steps forward followed by two steps backwards the next day.  With this said, this is common, normal, however you want to put it.  Anyone who says otherwise, guide them to the nearest library where they can find books on “Grief.”

Eric would handle peoples comments better than I would.  I shake my head at people when your asked how many children you have and what’s their ages, you simply state their names and ages and when Russell’s name would be mentioned a dead silence on their part, a loss of words.  Imagine this, you’ve lost a child, and you think of him/her everyday, you want to celebrate their lives, and the people around you are afraid to mention their name in fear you will become sad.  What do you think would make us sad, the thought of never passing their name across our lips to make you feel more comfortable in a social situation or mentioning their name in casual conversation which in return lightens our heart?  Mentioning Russell’s name makes my heart glow, my eyes open, and my mind filled with memories.

And then there is the word “STILLBIRTH.”  The misunderstanding, the judgments, the misinformed, the uneducated, the repeated silence, even by professionals (wow).  My first meeting with Compassionate Friends I sat next to a dad that lost his college aged daughter in a car accident years before.  At first I thought I didn’t belong in this group.  I was certainly wrong when it came time to share and he placed his hand on my shoulder to say these words, words so touching that it changed my viewpoint forever, “It doesn’t matter how many seconds, minutes, or years your child lived, they were still your child, you had to say goodbye to them, make funeral arrangements, continue through your grief journey, live with the forever pain of never seeing that child again.”  It was that day he became my unsaid mentor.  To this very day he probably doesn’t know he changed my life and geared my journey in a different direction.  Shame, depression, confusion, denial could be the path one would stay on during the grief process.  And although I experienced those emotions, staying on that path was not an option for me.  With other children to raise, a business to run, family and friends to love, a husband to continue to build a relationship with, and there was me, self improvement (being a better person), I had no time to be “STUCK.”  A term I use in the grief process that described me in the early stages of grief.  More painful than anything I have ever experienced.

Today I have short moments of grief followed by tears followed by laughter followed by anger followed by repeating this all over again.  This is my journey.  My journey includes my family and friends but it also includes my growth toward “IMPERFECTION.”  Because there was only one person in my life that was perfect and that position has been filled now.  Russell lives on within us and with this Blog I hope to continue my journey, be a better person, continue to love the people around me and realize everyone’s journey is different.

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