Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Images of Joy

A friend of my parents sent these prints to us a couple of months ago. I really love them. They've just been sitting on the hutch in the hallway until I figure out where to hang them. The other day for what must have been the first time, Emma noticed them. She stopped in her tracks, picked up one of the pictures and smiled. "Look Mommy, it's Jesus with my baby brother Jairus!"

The drawings (which I do not know the origin of, though I'm sure we could figure it out via Google if it matters) are a grateful reminder to me of a few things:
1. My Jairus is safe and happy in Heaven. Heaven is a real, physical place where Christ reigns and where those who love Him will live with Him and celebrate Him forever. It's a place without skinned knees or sore tummy's. A place of no more tears or worries. Where things are as they were always meant to be. 
2. Jesus is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. AND He is also a God-man of joy and laughter. All good things are from the Lord, and that must include smiles and giggles, first steps and hugs. 
3. Jesus LOVES children. All children. For each is made in His image and was knit together in His love. The Bible is very clear on this point. Jesus enjoyed children, spent time playing with them and laughing with them. He healed sick children and even raised at least a couple (that we know of) from the dead. Jesus even told adults that we need to be more like children, to have a pure and honest faith like they do. The Jesus Storybook Bible tells it this way:
...You see, children loved Jesus, and they knew they didn't need to do anything special for Jesus to love them. All they needed to do was run into his arms. And so that's just what they did. Well, after all the laughing and games, Jesus turned to his helpers and said, "No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child's heart: full of trust in God. Be like these children. They are the most important in my kingdom."

And because I know that my Lord is good, and that He loves my son, I know that He is taking great care of him. Now and always. And that makes me smile.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Smile Again Ministries

When your child dies, you often feel alone, misunderstood, fearful, angry, broken. It seems like no one knows what to say or how to help you, no one really understands. The easier thing to do is just draw up inside yourself and try to forget. Rather than deal with the pain and wrestle with what God has allowed to come into your life, you can shove it down deep and try to bury your memories with your child.
But you can't outrun the darkness. You have to turn around and walk toward it, even if all you can muster are baby steps. That's where we are at. We are trying to figure out how to go on without our son. How do we get through each day feeling this gap in our family? How can God be good and allow this to happen? What will happen to Emma and Hazen as they grow up in a family that is dealing with loss? But we can not go forward alone. Mark and I need to cling to each other, to our family, to our friends. And we need the guidance of those who have walked before us. Who can offer hope that while we will never forget Jairus, that we will one day experience true joy again. That we will find reasons to genuinely smile again.

Mark and I just spent 3 days out at Smile Again Ministries in Cross Lake, MN.

We heard about SAM through the Micah Wessman Foundation which does great work in trying to give grieving parents resources and support. We are very grateful to Cory and Heather Wessman and the blessing they have been in reaching out to us since Jairus passed away.

Smile Again Ministries is a retreat center for families who have had a child die. While there we had lots of time to relax and rest, to grieve, to laugh and to get counseling with Pat and Judy, the wonderful couple who created and run SAM. They lost their 13 year old daughter, Mickey 22 years ago. Their story is heartbreaking. They struggled through the valley of the shadow of death and are now reaching out to other parents who are in the midst of pain. They understand what it means to cry, to scream and to question. And they know the ache for a child who has gone to heaven. And yet today they are full of joy and life and hope.
It was just the two of us and Pat and Judy, which was so beneficial for us because we got to drink up all their wisdom and experience for as long as we wanted. They gave us a chance to share about our sweet boy, to talk about the whirlwind of emotions we experience every day, to discuss our marriage and our support network and to begin planning for the many "firsts" we are experiencing without Jairus (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, mother/father's days, etc.) We were able to talk with them about Hazen and Emma and how they are dealing with losing their brother too, and next time we will definitely bring them with us so they can enjoy the beauty of the Northwoods and get some time with Pat and Judy as well. We were really blessed by our time there, and would encourage anyone facing the loss of a child to consider spending time at SAM.

Here are a couple photos from our weekend. If you have any questions or want more information, please let us know!

Our room, also has a loft with beds for kids who come along

Main living area, through glass doors you can watch deer being fed every morning

Main living area with full kitchen, large windows in background look into a playroom for kids
750 feet of lake shore on Pickerel Lake for summer swimming/boating/fishing as well as ice fishing in the winter

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sacrifice of Praise

Since starting to know Jesus at age 15, I have always loved singing worship songs. I've got no talent in the vocal area but I love to sing and singing songs to God and about God has always brought me great joy. Words of old hymns and new poetry, the Psalms and declarations of the Lord, its always been a source of renewal for my spirit. 

But now for the first time in my walk with the Lord, I am struggling to sing to Him. Songs about joy and blessing from the Lord don't feel honest right now. Songs of death and sin and brokenness make me weep. And I can't sing. I know that God is the same today as He was before I lost my son. And I know more than ever that His gift of forgiveness and love is Truth. He is eternally good and loving and faithful. But it doesn't always feel that way. Songs of pain and suffering ring true, but lead me to tears, not vocals. But this too, is worship. It is my necessary surrender to the God who is and continues to be. The great I AM. He continues to pour His love on me through my pain, and instead of staying away or waiting for me to come to Him, He comes to be with me. Jesus weeps with me and understands my suffering because He himself has suffered more. 

There are songs that continue to ring joy into my heart. Songs of hope, of Christ returning to earth to make all things new, to bring healing. Songs of heaven's beauty and the glory of God that is there, shining so brightly there is no more need even for a sun. That is the hope I cling to. It is the song my heart can sing, even in my sorrow. 

The Bible says we are to "offer a continual sacrifice of praise." In the past, my praise was interwoven with happiness. With positive emotion. In this season of tears and heartache, I'm so glad that God is bigger than my emotion. That who He is is not dependent on how I feel, or experiences I have had, or even what I think of Him. I'm grateful that I can worship God through tears as well as song, and through continually surrendering to Him the worldly claims I have my on my life and the lives of those I love. Through the Holy Spirit's strength alone, I have to make the choice now to worship God. To choose to follow Him as Lord. And it is hard. It hurts. It is a sacrifice. A true sacrifice of praise. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Family of Five Minus One

The night before Jairus was born we went out to dinner. We laughed and had a great time, enjoying what we assumed was one of our last dinners out as a family of four. We felt excited and ready to bring Baby 3 into the world, and looked forward to the readjustment of lugging the car seat around again, figuring out  how to get 3 kids fed in one small booth, teaching Hazen not to dip the pacifier in ketchup.

We went out to eat tonight. The kids behaved really well and actually ate what was put in front of them. Mark and I both got to have a beer and the food was delicious. All in all a very nice time. And yet I wanted to scream, "We're not really a family of four! One of us is missing! Our baby isn't here, can't you tell?! Can't anyone in here see past this happy shell we've learned to put on to cover up our breaking hearts?"

It occurs to me often that as time continues to pass, we'll readjust again. We'll get used to being a family of four. Or maybe I'll think of it as five minus one. For all who don't know us, I'm sure it seems as though nothing is out of place. We've got a little girl in a princess dress and a little boy shoving crayons down his straw. We are able to smile and chat, and though the conversation is often of heavy things, its not always so. And no one can tell. It makes me wonder what is really going on in the lives and hearts of those around us. All those smiling people.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Whispers of a Lie

It is hard to have patience with people who say, "There is no death" or "Death doesn't matter." There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences and both it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn't matter."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

There are many days I hear the whisper of a lie within me. It varies, but the jist of these thoughts sound like this..."You're making too big a deal about this. It doesn't really matter that Jairus is gone. He wasn't really here in the first place. It's no real loss, just the loss of a dream, of a pregnancy. not of a child." 

We all have to combat the lies in our lives. And you know what? Jairus is a child. He is our son. And our family feels the great void left by his death. We did not get to spend our lifetime with him, as we had hoped, but he spent all of his life with us. No one knows the number of days they are given. But there is no more or less value to a life based on the number of days lived, breaths taken, memories made. Life has value because it is a gift from God, who has made each person in His image. And He has cared enough, loved enough, that He came here to die for each life. Even the lives of those who would never open their eyes to this world. Christ loved my son, Jairus, enough to give up His own life for his. And He already knew the number of days Jairus would have. He counted that little life worthy of love.

I walk around talking out loud to myself sometimes. Lately I repeat short phrases to myself to try and make myself not only know them theoretically, but truly believe them. I'm beating them into my head, if you will. One of the most common little mantras I have for myself these days is one I borrow from a friend, "He was here, he's real, he matters." "He was here, he's real, he matters." "He was here, he's real, he matters." 

Jairus will always be my son. I will always miss him. He is worth grieving for. It matters that he was here and it matters that he is gone. It matters to us and it matters to the Lord. 

Dr. Seuss had it right after all, "Even if you can't hear or see them at all...a person's a person. No matter how small."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Different Kind of Community

There is a community you never want to be a part of, no one wants membership. But you can't give it back and you're a lifer once you're in. That is the community of parents who have buried a child.
We are simultaneously glad that others have walked this path before (it gives us hope that we can go on) but our hearts are broken even more at the understanding that anyone else should have to experience this kind of pain. We wish no one would.

At the cemetery ours is currently the newest grave in the infant/child area. With the snow and ice there can be no gardening done to hide that fact, and it looks much as it did 10 weeks ago when we laid Jairus' body to rest there. It is difficult to see, though I go back as often as I can. Its still fresh in our minds and hearts, so in that way it makes sense to me that the burial plot still seems out of place in the wintry landscape. Because it is obvious that there is a new little grave there, we have experienced this community of grieving parents from a new and more intimate level. A little over a week ago I was able to go to the cemetery while the kids were at a friends house. One of the graves was covered with fresh rose petals. On the new fallen snow, the brilliant red petals were lovely. And sad. I think someone had a birthday, or anniversary of going to heaven. And to my great surprise, in the snow, from that grave to my son's, footprints, and flower petals. They had also covered Jairus' grave.
That seemingly simple act of kindness touched me so deeply. They came to mourn their own loss and celebrate the life that had touched their own, and additionally reached out to us in our fresh sorrow, knowing as only other parents can, how deep the wound we bear. For that, I am forever grateful.

I think there is a new sting to death when it happens again. When we were the last (that we knew of personally), there was almost a glimmer of hope in our minds that maybe we were the last ones to have to go through this. That no more babies would die. But we were wrong. And now we will "mourn with those who mourn". Another family in our church is grieving for their child, another baby gone to heaven. And while we grieve for little Kaylee Hope, we know that she is now in her Father's arms, where there is only joy and where all hope is realized. But it is still hard. It still hurts.

I have often thought, 'how does God bear all this pain and heart break?!' He chooses to love us not only in our joys but in our sorrows. It is stunning really, because it is His choice to do so. He loves us so infinitely that He allows our pain to be His pain, He weeps with us, aches for us. For He is the "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." What kind of love is this? Only from God the Father could it be so. The one who knows what it is to see the lifeless body of His Son. He is also a member of this grieving community, but more so, He is the Hope for all the parents who have entered it. That one day even death shall die and we shall declare "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" What a glorious day that will be.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Preparing Our Hearts

We had no warning before Jairus died. 6 days before he was born sleeping he received a perfect health score during an ultrasound. Shock is the only way to describe it. But within days, we began to identify that there were actually many ways in which God had gently been preparing our family for this loss. And though it feels sometimes like He led us blindly toward this tragedy, we can see that He was really ahead of us on this path, waiting with open arms so that when Jairus left us to go to his heavenly home, we would catch a glimpse of how God sustains and provides for His children. Here are (in no particular order) a few of the blessings God gave us in preparation for this season of sorrow...

1. Chest freezer - for a couple of months I'd been looking into getting one so we could buy food in bulk and stretch our pennies further. In early November a coworker of Marks passed him in the hall one day, stopped in her tracks and offered Mark hers. Free of charge. We were really excited then, and even more grateful now, as without that freezer we would not be able to accept the overwhelming blessing of food that has been given to us from friends and family since losing Jairus.

2. Community - We started getting involved with our church the summer of 2005. Through relationships with people at Hope we have received endless support, care and love. We couldn't get by without our church family. We had no idea 6 years ago that we would come to love and depend on those true friendships so much.
         - Last spring we met the Pipers just before getting pregnant with Jairus. They were the first family we had ever known personally who had lost a child in stillbirth. Their understanding tears, wisdom and comfort have been priceless. Thanks to God bringing them to Hope, we have never had to walk alone.

3. Marriage - All last year I really had our marriage pressed on my heart. (you can read more about that here) God was working in me about my communication (or lack there of) with my husband. We struggled and began the work of moving toward one another more intentionally. Marriage is a continuous, ongoing battle for love and unity, and I can see how last year's struggle for communication is helping us as we grieve for our baby.

4. Ultrasounds - Due to a blood condition and complications with each of my previous pregnancies, I received more ultrasounds with Jairus than most women get with their babies. I had the opportunity to see him on the screen over and over. I watched him move, knew that he had hair, even saw him smile. I got so many ultrasound photos I have lost track of some of them (which really drives me nuts but hopefully they will all turn up eventually).

5. Dream - This is not something I have come to terms with entirely, it makes me confused and sad, BUT it was definitely a preparation...when I was 4 or 5 months pregnant with Jairus, I dreamed about him. We did not know his gender and had been discussing boy and girl names for awhile. We had agreed on a girl name, but not on a boy name. Mark really liked the name Jairus, but I really wasn't sure. One night I dreamed I was holding my baby in my arms. I knew that this baby had come early and in the dream he was sleeping in my arms. I looked down at him and said sadly, "Oh, his name IS Jairus." When I awoke I was really confused, and thought my sadness was because I wasn't sure I liked the name.

6. Being home - We returned home from celebrating Christmas with family the day before Jairus was born. You can read the story of his birth here. Which was a bit unusual because it was only 2 days after Christmas and we usually try to stay longer when we go. But Mark had to be back at work on Tuesday so home we went. I'm really grateful we were home when I went into labor. Really grateful we had that last dinner as a family of 5. Grateful my kids were sleeping peacefully in their own beds, totally unaware of what was going on. We went to our own hospital and our own doctor delivered Jairus and cared for us afterward.

7. Giving away our car - All fall we talked about getting rid of our second car. Our friend Laura was going to take it off our hands for us. One week before Jairus was born, Laura came to our house to look at the car. She'd never been to our house before and didn't know where we lived. At 3:45am on December 28th Laura answered her phone and jumped in her car to come to our house and be with the kids while we went to the hospital.

8. Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep - As previously stated here, I learned about this organization while I was pregnant with Jairus. It scared me to think of needing such a gift. But because we knew who they were, we were able to immediately have them contacted. Our photographer was able to take photos of our son within hours of his birth.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not Made For It, Don't Want It.

Death sucks. Did you ever wonder why?

It's because we're not supposed to die. Death is not a natural part of life (no matter how many funerals you have been to that told you so). The reason your heart is broken and you ache so terribly for your loved one is because you were not designed to accept death. You're designed, to live. And so was I. And so was Jairus.

And grief is the scream of your soul that IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS!!

When God first made people, He put them in a beautiful garden. And He would hang out with them there. And they were in perfect, joyful, pure relationship with God. God told them that He loved them and they knew He did. With all their hearts they knew God's love, and it was very good. They were created to live forever with God there in the garden. He made them to be His children, who could enjoy Him and live in perfect harmonious joy with Him, forever.
But instead of being satisfied with God and what He had told them, people decided to turn away from God and away from His love. They did what they wanted to do, instead of trusting what God had told them was best. When a Liar came to them, he made them doubt God's love. And people chose to listen to the lie, and not to the Truth. It's called sin. And it broke God's heart.
So God sent them away from the beautiful garden so that they would not have to live forever in the pain that their sin had brought into the world. In the decay and darkness and death. God still loved them though. He was tender and cared for them, clothed them and promised them that one day, He would come to deal with the one who had lied to them, He would come back to rescue them, to save them, to bring them back into perfect relationship with Himself. And He would, and He did.

You see, you're not created to die, you're created to live. But because of sin, there is death, and sickness, and pain, and toil and grief. It is not what God wanted for His children. He always knew it would come to be this way though. He always knew His children would turn from Him and hate Him (isn't it amazing that He chose to create us at all?!). That's why He had His rescue plan in action before the foundations of the world. So that He could show to you the extent of His great love, that He really would do anything to be with you. He would even suffer and die to be with you forever, in that perfect love and joy and harmony He wants to have with you. In heaven. Through Jesus.

So don't get comfortable with death. Hate death because it is unnatural. And hate sin because it leads to death. Cling to life, cling to Jesus. Only through His blood is there any hope to get back to that garden.

Here is a sermon our good friend Steve preached the Sunday following Jairus' death. In it he wrestles with the reality of grief and the good news of Jesus and how those two intermingle.
Please find some time to hear it.
Audio Version: http://hopecc.com/sermons/010211.mp3
Video version: http://vimeo.com/18481793

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

There Are No Words

If you've ever encountered a friend in grief, I'm sure you've done what I've done in the past, you've searched for the "right" words to say. Trying to find something that will comfort them, give them hope. And I know you mean well, I did too. Now that we walk in grief, here are a few tips I've learned about the words of other people:
1. Please say something. Anything! It's difficult, I know, for them and for you. You're wanting to help and worried about hurting them more or making them cry*. But saying anything is better than saying nothing. It allows those who are grieving to know that you care that they are hurting and it matters to you. Saying something communicates that you notice, that you hurt with them and think of them, that you love them enough to be brave and open your mouth. Saying nothing doesn't communicate anything.
             *Side note: When someone is in grief, tears are part of life. The person who is grieving is probably more OK with crying than you are. So I wouldn't worry about making them cry. My own tears are usually just below the surface, they are a part of my daily life now. Its more about you being OK with the fact that they may cry. And that they may not. Tears are funny that way.

2. There is nothing you can say that will make her/him feel better. No magic words to take all the sorrow away. So take the pressure off of yourself and just know that you won't find "the perfect words" to say. Because there aren't any. Let yourself off that hook. "I just don't have any words" may be one of the best things you can say. The point is that you are showing love, that you are entering their pain and accept the fact that you can not fix it. That's a big part of it I think, its hard to grieve with someone because you want to fix it, fix them, help make it all better. But you can't. Again, get off that hook.

3. Don't talk like a hallmark card, in fact  I'd avoid cliches completely (unless you naturally walk around speaking in that way...in that case, do your thing, I guess). Just be yourself, be honest and empathetic. Take time to imagine what their life is like and how you would feel if in their shoes.

4. Ask real questions, express real cares. If you ask me "how are you?" I may tell you I'm fine, or that I'm getting through the day. And that's the end of that. If you really want to know what's going on in my head, ask me something specific (it takes pressure off me from having to figure out if you really want to know how I am doing or are just being polite). Ask me about my son, about how Emma and Hazen are handling the stress, about what made me smile today or what made me cry. Tell me you thought of us when you were out shopping and saw newborn clothes, or that my family came to your mind when you were cooking dinner last night. You get the idea. Jairus is never far from our minds, and I'm sure your friend's mind is never far from their loved one/situation either. So don't worry about 'bringing it up'. Your friend is probably thinking about what happened anyway. Join them.

5. Assess the scene. If the person is in a hurry, or has to pick up the kids, maybe it's not a good time for a full blown heart-to-heart. But again, see #1.

6. Actions do speak louder than words. A hug communicates volumes. Tears more so. Stepping in with help, whether it be food, cleaning, childcare, coffee, that's really priceless (and humbling). We couldn't get through the day without these kinds of practical supports from others. If you do want to offer some kind of practical help, offer something specific. Fresh grief fogs the mind, so "if there's anything you need" is more difficult to respond to than, "I'd like to watch your kids, what day this week works best?" or "Next time it snows I'll come over and help you dig out, I'll call before I come."

Find ways to let your friend know you are thinking about them. If you don't, they'll never know. And they need to. Those in grief need to understand that what they are experiencing is real and justified and that they are not alone. I always tell the kids, 'no one knows what you're thinking unless you say it with your mouth.' I think it's good to keep in mind.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Temporary Dwellings

Almost everyday Emma (4) talks about her baby brother Jairus. She is retelling his story. She's reassuring herself, her brother Hazen and her parents of what has happened to him. She colors Jairus pictures at preschool and talks about him to her dolls while she plays. Emma has wonderful faith, and it encourages me greatly. Usually it goes something like this...
 (Emma walks into a room and Mommy is crying or staring out of a window)
 "Mommy, are you sad?" "Yes, Emma, I am." "Mommy, Jairus is with Jesus, and you miss him?" "Yes Emma, I am happy for Jairus because I know he gets to live with Jesus but I miss him very much." "Yeah, its ok. Jairus is happy with Jesus, it's fun. Someday we'll go to heaven too." "Yes Emma, someday Jesus will come back and bring us all to heaven with Him. That will be a wonderful day." "Yep. And we'll go to Disney world someday too."

Emma's faith that God is good, that He is in control, and that her brother is in perfect relationship with Him in heaven is a great comfort to me. She reaffirms basic truths to us. God is good, He is in control. It will not always be this way, someday Jesus will come a restore this fallen world. 
Children experience life from a concrete point of view. Emma doesn't get bogged down with philosophy or abstract ideas. She knows heaven is real. Just as real as her preschool or her grandparents house, or Disney World :) She trusts. She has faith.

There has been one major part of death that I had put off telling the kids though. Because their perspective is so black and white, so practical, how would they understand burial? We told them that their brother went to live with Jesus. So...why did we put his body in the ground? I've been tossing this over and over in my mind since the funeral (both kids were there, but played in the nursery during the service and napped in the van during the committal at the cemetery). Trying to figure out how to explain cemeteries and burials and souls...makes my head spin a little. I talked with a bunch of people about this, and continued to put off the subject. I figured we'd bring them to the grave this spring when we get a headstone and after there is new grass and not 3 feet of snow everywhere.

Saturday we were getting ready for a morning adventure to IKEA and planned to stop by the cemetery on our way home (assuming the kids would be asleep and we could go without having to talk about why we go there). Emma saw me pulling flowers from our bouquets on the table to bring with. She wanted to know what they were for. This is how we explained it to her (this is not my own idea, I got nothing.A dear friend offered this explanation and I think it is a very good, very honest and practical way to explain burials to a child.):

When Jairus died, where did he go? Right, he went to heaven to live with Jesus! When people die, they take off their bodies the way you take off your dress-up clothes. And their soul, that's their heart, their personality, everything that makes them 'them', goes to heaven if they know Jesus. So Jairus took off his body, he doesn't need it anymore in heaven. We took his body, and we had it buried at a cemetery. Someday, when Jesus comes back to earth, He's going to make that body new and make it rise again to give back to Jairus in Heaven! Remember how Jesus rose to life after He died? Just like that. Its confusing, but it is going to be wonderful. So Jairus is not at the cemetery, but his body is. And we go there with flowers to remember him and make the place look pretty.

And after all of my worrying about putting it off, Emma's only response was "ok, I'll bring the flowers."
She's a great big sister.

The Bible uses a very similar analogy to taking off clothing. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul (the author) talks about our bodies as tents we live in on earth, and that in heaven we will have instead of a tent, a building made by God. Our heavenly bodies will be permanent, whole, perfect the way God desires His children to be. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Changing Tides

"Grief comes in waves. It has to, if it hit you all at once, it would kill you."

My doctor told me that while I was still in the hospital after saying goodbye to Jairus. And it's so true. One minute I will be crying, the next laughing like crazy (usually thanks to Emma and Hazen who have brought both Mark and I many smiles and much comfort in these days). One minute I am stuck in a melancholy fog, the next I feel intensely focused on the task before me. And then back to melancholy, or tears, or laughter. It's often unpredictable but for sure its consistently changing.

So I will continue to mourn the best I can. My sweet boy is worth more than every one of my tears. One day I hope to remember our time with Jairus with joy, but that day has not come yet. In the mean time I will continue to celebrate his siblings. They are worth every smile and more. Each day has its struggles, but I am learning that each day also has its joys.

So while I am thrown in and out of my heart's ache, I know there is much to rejoice in as well.
It is a painful life, but it is also a good life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Friend In Grief

Just before getting pregnant with my third child, I met Molly.
3 years ago she and her husband lost their second child, a little girl, Felicity. She, like Jairus, was born sleeping.
The following link is to a series of posts from Molly's blog. Its super practical if you are trying to help a friend or family member who is going through grief. And if you are stumbling through your own painful journey, you will find in Molly a friend who truly understands the ache of your heart.

How to Help Your Grieving Friend

May it encourage you to be bold in your love for someone who is hurting. To grieve alongside your friend is a precious gift to them. Yes, it will be painful, but that is love. Love is messy and wonderful and painful and sacrificial. And it's worth going through together. So be strong and courageous, reach out in love.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

We had heard of this organization during our pregnancy with Jairus and hoped we would never need to be blessed by them. But we needed Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Thanks to our photographer, Lea, who came into our grief and gave us the incalculable gift of pictures of our beautiful boy. We pray you never need their services, but if you do, know that they are a blessing beyond measure.
It's a heart breaking but powerful video, if you have about 5 minutes to watch (and cry), please do.

Do Not Be Afraid, Just Believe.

Jairus's name is from a story in the Bible about Jesus. Mark came across it early in our pregnancy and instantly wanted it to be our boy name for this baby. Meg was less certain. But it became apparent that this was indeed the name God chose for our boy.
It is an amazing passage of Scripture. Jairus was a  leader of the Jewish people. Most of the leaders of the Jews did not believe Jesus was God's son and sought to kill Jesus (and eventually succeeded in doing so). But Jairus knew he needed Jesus, and now his little girl was sick. For Jairus to seek Jesus' help would have been to sacrifice his position in society, to become hated and outcast by his peers. Seeking Jesus' help was an act of desperation for the healing of his sick child. So Jairus finds Jesus and tells him whats going on, and Jesus goes with Jairus. Then Jesus gets distracted by a very sick, poor woman on the way to Jairus' house and heals her first. He totally turns the human hierarchy upside down and intentionally does not arrive at Jairus' home until after the little girl dies. God's plan to show off how awesome He is is about to be displayed in the death and life of Jairus's little girl. We have found much comfort in Jesus' message to Jairus of "Do not be afraid, just believe." We don;t know what God is up to, but we know that He must be at work in innumerable ways that are better than we can now imagine. Here's the story of Jairus from a book in the Bible called the Gospel of (which just means 'good news written by') Mark:

   When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
   A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them,“Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.
   After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Mark 5:21-43

This is Stillbirth

Before losing our son, Mark and I had little to no clue about stillbirth. It was the part in pregnancy books that I skipped over for fear of even imagining such a thing. So if you're like us, and have no understanding of or experience with stillbirth, here's a quick catch up...

Stillbirth (according to Webster's Learner's Dictionary) is simply "the birth of a dead baby."
A book the hospital gave us immediately after Jairus' birth entitled Empty Arms: Coping after Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death Surviving the First Hours and Beyond by Sherokee Ilse adds that "in most states a stillbirth is the death of a baby anytime after 20 weeks gestation...Each year in the U.S. approximately 29,000 babies are stillborn."
Medically, still birth is the death of an unborn child after at least 20 weeks in the womb. Death might happen before or during labor. Reasons for stillbirth include umbilical chord problems, blood clotting disorders, infections, trauma and placental abruption among many others But around 60% of stillbirths have no medical reason for occurring (much like SIDS but before birth).

All the medical articles, dictionaries and books miss the mark though. This is what stillbirth has been for us...

The death of our third child, our second son. It is the end of our hopes and dreams for him which were so real we have trouble swallowing the fact that those dreams were not reality. Still birth is tears and screams and unanswered questions. It is the feeling of panic when the weather turns cold. Stillbirth is the literal ache of empty arms that expected a newborn to fill them. It is my milk coming in with no baby to nurse, and then drying up as my body moves on but my heart is stuck. Still birth is having to go through labor and delivery for  a child who will never take their first breath. It is holding your baby in your arms as gently as you can while your soul is screaming for him to wake up, open his eyes and to be ok. Stillbirth is sleepless nights and nightmares and exhaustion. It is feeling "phantom kicks" and hearing cries that are not ringing out. Stillbirth is the inability to focus or plan or remember even simple things.

Stillbirth is the loss of seeing our children grow up with their brother as part of their life...
For Emma, it is the loss of being the 'little mother' to her new baby brother, of building memories with him and dressing him up like a living doll. She'll never show him off to our friends as being specifically hers. She'll never hold him, or give him a bottle. Never help him learn to walk to kiss him goodnight after bedtime prayers. Emma won't get to teach Jairus the difference between being a 'prince' and a 'princess' or how to blow bubbles or pop a balloon. Jairus won't help Hazen fight off the boys chasing her during the teen years, and won't stand up in her wedding one day when the right man does come along.
For Hazen it is the loss of a best friend. Growing up with another boy to wrestle, to tackle, to be sneaky with. He will never see his baby brother, never hold him, never shove the pacifier back into his mouth when he cries. He will never share a bunk bed with Jairus or teach him to jump from the back of the couch (just to give Mom a fright!). He'll never play Cars with him. Hazen will have none of his own memories of Jairus and will only know him at all through Emma and through us.

It is where we find out what we really believe in. We learn who we really are and who our friends really are. We learn what it means to truly depend on God to get us through each day, to carry us when we cannot even stand on our own. Stillbirth makes heaven more real and this world less real. It makes Jesus more than just a bonus to a comfortable life, but the very lifeline of our existence.

THAT is stillbirth.