Updated: Nov 22, 2022
10 days after losing Leaf
The days kept passing by, one after another, like some sort of torture. Each day ripped my heart just a little more, farther and farther away from the days we had a second child, and closer and closer to the days we were back to being a family of 3. Part of me longed for time to stand still; the other part of me wanted to skip the next 5 years so I didn't have to be in this intense grief... Oh Grief, little did I know how intimate we'd be become. Grateful for the things people did for us that helped support our grief process, as well as the intuitive things we did without knowing, that helped us heal.
Men supporting men
I found myself thanking several men for how supportive they'd been with Brian, the head of our household, because I felt their support trickling down into our little family. I don't think they realized what they were doing, but they just loved him. Brian could've fallen apart, but he didn't because of these men holding him together. He was like a wounded stallion being held together by strong stallions bravely helping point and guid him towards Truth and encouraging him to turn to Jesus in the midst of such devastation. If even one of them was not heading passionately in the right direction, our little family would feel the pull, the tug to veer off, but we were fortunate to have nothing but grounded men speaking into Brian heart.
The memorial service
The local memorial service was very touching and heartfelt. Around 100 of our closest friends came to support us. I needed a small ceremony. I know our town is very loving and many wanted to attend, "to pay their respects", but we needed intimacy, not obligation. What happened was beautiful...
We projected a slide show of our time with Leaf, taking our close friends into our world for the past month. At the end, we played our theme song: "It is well" by Kristene Demarco (sent to us by a friend in the middle of our journey). By the end of the song, the entire room was singing "It is well, with my soul", arm is in the air, tears streaming down faces. We did truly believe that it was all well in our souls, and it had been comforting in the midst of our journey with Leaf. Was it possible to be in utter despair and be at peace at the same time? That's how we felt. It was amazing and beautiful. The room was full of people we'd come to know intimately over the years, many whom taught us what true, unconditional love was. Our relationships are now even deeper because of this journey. It’s one of the blessings of tragedy, we all get a little closer (I did feel vulnerable in a way I couldn't control or change, or take back. I'm generally quite private, and I wasn't able to maintain that. Interestingly, this made me uncomfortable for years to come). Relationships grew deeper through this journey. Walls come down, extra measures of grace allowed, a sense of community ran rampant. The whole thing was very healing... and also very exhausting. So many mixed feelings.
I can't list all the sweet words & encouragements, but I did write some down:
“Life on earth is but a vapor, and in that it doesn’t matter whether we live 8 hours or 80 years. And soon we will all be together.”
“I think in heaven we will have our babies to hold as babies, and they will never grow up”. (What a sweet thought huh? I LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of holding my babies in a sling all day long. This feeling of being prematurely separated form Leaf was killing me. It’s SO incredibly & innately wrong. We are meant to be CLOSE to our babies. It makes us feel whole. It makes us feel connected. Whoever had the idea of the “4th trimester” probably was a mom who needed a reason to hold her baby ALL DAY LONG).
“I had a dream about my mom, and she was in heaven. She was in her perfect 18-year-old body, and now there is no pain in heaven and they are all happy. And soon we will all be happy together, and she can meet my wife and kids” (We too will have our little family back together… Mommy, Daddy, Cord, and Leaf…and we will all be happy. I truely believe Leaf is happy now, and not sad to be without us. It's us on earth that struggle with separation.
After we got home from the service, we all scarfed down some food, and laid down to take a nap, and maybe just sleep through the night. We were each not just sleepy, but exhausted on EVERY level. Now that this memorial was over, it felt like we'd finished the marathon. All obligations were fulfilled. We melted into our sweet cozy home. Finally able to embrace the space to relax, and now without having anything on the horizon… We’re able to just be.
I had a dream about Leaf soon after the funeral. She was 2 or 3 and had a square face, bright light brown eyes, olive skin, short curly brown hair, and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. She was radiant. There was a glowing hue beaming up behind her, but her face was also lit up; her entire being was happy. I remember being so confused, wondering how she was sitting in front of me, since the last I checked she was not alive. I must have been mistaken because here she was, right in front of me, in all her healthy glory. She somehow told me or let me know she was ok…She’s fine, and my heart felt at peace. As a momma, my heart still ached of course, but there was something peaceful about having seen her in her heavenly state. The next day, Brian and I were driving, and I told him about my dream. We both just stared forward, tears streaming down our faces. Brian was comforted by my dream as well.
My mind wandered... I remember wondering how God might use this journey in Brian and myself, and even Cord’s life someday. I hoped we could be as great a comfort as some of those that had walked this journey beside us, holding us up when we couldn't stand on our own.
The weeks following
The weeks following Leaf's death were very intense, and filled with lots of endless crying and feelings of desperation, on my end. I was home with Cord, who luckily was napping, which meant I could nap (and very much needed to). Cord needed his nature walks, so I had a reason to get outside, which helped me by get outside. Other than these activities, I was overwhelmed by a lack of direction. It as like I was fired from my job. For so long I was waiting for the next baby so I could continue my mothering journey. Now I was without my new baby and just felt lost. I was trying to adjust to our new normal. I remember being extremely frustrated that Brian wasn't grieving the same as I was. I felt so incredibly alone. Brian threw himself into his work and I was left to my own thoughts most of the time. I think he was overwhelmed, and also processed so differently. Women have an advantage in grief processing, they have women that love to love on them, get deep, and support each other. Men don't comfort each other the same way we do, so how was Brian supposed to move forward? I remember him saying he needed to "be strong" for us. That sounded like code for "I'm not going to process right now". I felt bad for him, but also needed him to be the healthiest version of himself for his sake now and in the future, but also for the sake of Cord and myself. I wish there were more services (and social support) to support men and their grief needs, especially after losing a baby, after all, they are the head of the household and totally effect the houselhold if they're not in a healthy place.
"You have to cry your own tears because no one can do it for you - David Kessler
I remember feeling like I didn't know how to stand, literally. It would be normal to be holding a baby, slightly distracted, not able to care how I look, much less how I needed to stand up straight or present myself well to the public. Without a baby though, I feel SO naked and awkward. I felt like I should have her connected to me, on my chest, in my presence, breastfeeding, on me all the time.
This felt so abnormal… I feel so naked… I didn't even know how to stand…
What helped with the intensity...
There were some very specific things that helped in the first could months. My family bought me weekly massage, for 6 weeks. My massage therapist was so attentive and helpful. She talked with me for an hour before each massage, addressing my emotional state before ever touching me. I was so thankful for her during this very delicate time. I'm so impressed by those who were able to meet me in those early raw moments. At several points in our time together, I cried. On occasion I saw her she shed a tear as well...
Our amazing chiropractor offered us A YEAR of free weekly adjustments... I now realize how much of a financial gift that was, and am thankful I didn't realize at the time because I probably wouldn't have accepted it. Looking back, I'm blown away by such a gesture. She helped change our healing trajectory, and I am eternally grateful. What an extremely generous woman...
I wish I'd started seeing a counselor sooner, but I didn't until over a year later. It helped me immensely when I did start seeing someone. I did have a lot of close people to talk things through with, but I don't think it's the same.
I journaled when in moments of clarity, which was probably helpful, but I did't do it daily. I cried when I felt like it, and went about my day when I could. I was what felt right, but also I didn't feel like there was another way through this messy time.
"The ultimate meaning we find is in everyone we have loved. Your loved one's story is over. For unknown reasons, their time on earth has drawn to a close, but yours continues. I can only invite you to be curious about the rest of the story of your life" - David Kessler
And so we put one foot in front of another...
2 weeks after meeting and saying goodbye to Leaf, we found ourselves in the midst of Thanksgiving. Friends had us over & others came over and loved on Cord. And then it was Christmas time with a 2-year-old, so we took Cord on the Christmas train with some friends. We just had to make a choice to keep looking forward... mixed with loving and letting go of the past. I am so grateful for having Cord to hold and to pour into. I do wonder if it's harder for those parent that don't have another toddler in their arms. So grateful. My heart aches for the mommas that are on this journey with their first child.
A year summary, and how we continuing to walk forward, sustained by facing the hard moments, lots of crying, mixed with hope, and an invisible support system and faith that allowed us to see dimmers of hope. We didn't do it perfectly, and wanted to rush the grief at times, but we came out of the 1-year anniversary in a lot less intense grief than we started.