Capture Your Grief Day 19: Special Project

They say one of the best ways to find healing in your grief is to reach out to someone who is going through something similar and offer help, sympathy, compassion – in other words, minister to them and you will actually be ministering to yourself. I have found this to be true. I have had the honor of meeting so many beautiful people on this sacred journey, all traveling a similar path. It’s not something you hope for, but since I’m here, I’m glad I have had so many opportunities to love, help, share, and bless others.

This past June I had the honor of embarking on a project that is very personally dear to my heart.

When I first started out on this loss journey, I could not possibly know that one of the hardest things about losing my baby was that I lost all the potential memories we might have made. Those little things like her first tooth, or her first taste of ice cream, or trying to keep her from tearing the wrapping off the presents under the Christmas tree before Christmas, or splashing in a mud puddle after a Summer rain – you don’t realize all the things you say goodbye to forever when you say goodbye to your baby.

Like many other families, I began collecting keepsake Christmas ornaments each year beginning the year I got married. My favorite part of getting a tree and decorating it is not making it picture perfect or color coordinated. My favorite part is putting on the tinsel and remembering the first time I helped my Grandmother decorate her big tree when I was a girl. Its putting on the lights and remembering how my dad used to get so frustrated with untangling all those lights, but he and my mom would work at it, bickering back and forth, and the finished tree was sparkly and glorious. Its pulling those ornaments out and remembering having my little sisters (who are all but grown now) painting little childish designs on simple ball ornaments so we could have unique keepsakes to hang on our first tree as a married couple, or seeing “Champion 2006” and marvelling that it has already been 6 years we’ve been married, or pulling out the little pink and white candy cane and remembering how when everyone else had all but forgotten I was spending my first Christmas without a baby in my arms, the wonderful people at Hearts and Hands had not and they sent a hand written card and that ornament to me in my darkest, loneliest hour, several months after everyone else had gone on about their lives and I was stuck in a Hell I could not escape.

My project has been several years in the making, an idea and a wish mostly, but this year it materialized into “In Memory Of” an ornament donation program. Many people who don’t understand loss, especially child loss, think the last thing you want to do is “dampen the holidays with grieving for a loss” but what so many don’t understand is, we don’t stop grieving. Holiday, ordinary day, everyday, you don’t stop thinking of your baby and wishing for those memories you never got a chance to make. I personally think the holidays are even worse, that’s when you think of them the most.

Each year when I pull out those precious ornaments, its like pulling out the memories, and since I had such a short time to make them with my baby, the few memories I have concerning Skye are the most precious. Since she has died we still get her an ornament each year, or I make one. I do this for all my kids. Hanging them on the tree each year gives me the opportunity to remember and even to make new memories with my family as my kids here on earth begin to learn about the sister they never met, how special she was, and why that makes them even more special to me and Daddy. It is beautiful.

My ornament donation program took off from the very start, showing me that so many other families felt the same way I did. I have cried over tender, heart-felt emails telling me how I have touched them with my work and how I don’t know what that ornament means to them. Yes, they are free, but it is not the cost of the item that is the blessing. Most of my recipients can easily go and buy their own ornaments, make them, or even buy the ones I make that are for sale. I believe the magic is in the fact that someone cares enough to hand make this little token, knowing acutely how inadequate it is to fill the void, yet how beautiful it is to truly care days, months, even years after you have lost your baby, by someone who knows first hand how precious the memories are. The word donation simply means filling an emotional need rather than a financial one.

I have a waiting list for bereaved parents, specifically parents that have suffered loss through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or early childhood death (basically children 5 and under) because these parents got so little time to make memories, and that is ultimately what my program is about, making and enjoying memories. To find out more about this program you can visit my Facebook page.

Ornaments from my “In Memory Of” donation program.

Capture Your Grief Day 13: Signs

The most beautiful signs I have gotten don’t come from my daughter. She got to leave this yucky world behind on October 13, 2008 and never look back. I would never expect her to look back into this cold, painful world that was her prison while she was here. She has all of Heaven to behold now and I truly hope she has no memory of this life of suffering. We made Skye a promise, my husband and I, as we held her and watched her taking her last breaths. We told her it was ok, she could go, Jesus had given us permission to hold her pain now and we would see her again one day when none of us had to feel pain. I intend to keep that promise, as long as my girl is happy and whole I would never want her looking back here to earth, not for me.

I’m human however, and the ache I bear at times can be unbearable. My comfort has come a few times in signs from my God that He is taking care of my daughter, and me and Josh too, even in our pain. We are not bearing it alone.┬áThe most out standing sign I ever got was something that probably seems silly and simple to a lot of people, but I know it was meant for us to see and know that God cares about our smallest worries and hears prayers we don’t even pray.

Our daughter is buried in a tiny town called Salem in western Kentucky, it is where Josh’s family is from for many generations on his mom’s side, and she is buried in the same cemetery as her ancestors. This is comforting for the simple fact that we always go in each year for at least the Holidays and we like to visit her grave when we are in, not because she is there, but because we like to have a quiet time of remembrance and the opportunity for our other kids to hear about and ask about the older sister they never met.

In 2010, we woke up to a white Christmas, something that had not happened since before Skye was born, at least in that town. It was beautiful. We left my mother in law’s house that morning, on our way to visit Josh’s dad, and we planned to stop at the cemetery as was our custom and place a special gift at Skye’s grave, a big pot I had painted for her and filled with an arrangement of artificial flowers I had hand chosen to put in the pot and place at her grave. We had Faith with us, she was visiting the grave for the first time, the Christmas before she had only been 3 months old and it had been too cold to take her to the cemetery.

We were almost there when Josh sighed and said, “I meant to grab a little brush to brush the snow off her stone, I had it sitting right on the table and I left it at Mom’s.” He looked down at his gloveless hands. “It’s ok,” I said, “I’ll pull my coat sleeve over my hand if you’ll hold onto Faith.”

It wasn’t a long conversation, I really didn’t think much of it. After all, it was just snow on a stone, a very trivial thing, but it was important enough to him to mention wanting to wipe it away. When we pulled into the cemetery and got out of the car, he was busy getting the flower-pot out of the trunk and holding onto Faith, I was snapping pictures with the camera. I first saw how beautiful everything looked in the fresh snow. Nobody had marred the ground with foot prints yet. Then as we walked the short distance to her grave and looked, we were kind of dumbstruck. It was a cold, cloudy, windless morning. Every stone nearby had a puff of snow on it – except Skye’s. Even the stone right next to hers that is the same size and height had snow on it. There were no foot prints anywhere but the ones we had just made. It looked like someone had come and wiped her stone clean before we got there, it was still wet, there HAD been snow, but there wasn’t anymore. I snapped pictures as we gazed at this, and we both started to cry. To this day I know it was God whispering to us, “Don’t worry, I am taking care of her and I’m taking care of you. I care about your pain, I am here.”

Christmas morning, 2010, the first white Christmas in several years and here is the pristine snow in the cemetery.

Notice the snow on the other stones, the wreath, the bench – but Skye’s has no snow.

I know my God cares enough even to just wipe the snow from a simple stone. He’s not too busy, He also knows what it’s like to lose a child.