Saturday, December 26, 2015

Year Four

I let myself re-read some of the posts Matt & I wrote four years ago as we anticipated Anna's arrival and the days that followed her birth. Wow, what a crazy time that was. I was crying through the updates of her last few days and marveling at the story in general. It's weird to be looking back now and seeing it from a different perspective. It's surreal to think it was truly us that went through it. Yes, we are still going through it (a lifetime experience, I know), but it's different four years later. 

When I have visited this blog occasionally, I get a sinking feeling when I realize it has been so long since we've posted anything. Every time I feel like I "should" write something, but for some reason it hasn't been the right time. There have been texts to family and friends, or random Facebook thoughts I shared more privately, but I couldn't come back to this blog for a while. Not sure if it was something about a blog being so public and I needed a break, or that I wanted to be sure my posts were genuine and not just written because people wanted to read...or that I was super uncomfortable physically being pregnant with Evann, and then the year that followed his arrival was horrible for me (chronic migraines and neck pain - literal survival mode, in a whole new way)... But for whatever reason, it's been a while. 

Part of my suspicion is that so much has been happening in my grief journey, life journey, and spiritual journey, that I've been overwhelmed at not knowing where to start. There is so much I could share. Maybe one of these days I will start writing more so I can compile the lessons God has shown me. And I need to remember they don't have to be long posts to be worth writing.

We just made it through celebrating Anna Joy's short life for the fourth time. Of course, we remember her and love her every day, but oh, those eleven days! Every year they are experienced differently (parties, nothing, private, public, out and about, staying home), yet we have familiar mixed feelings. All the feelings! There is intense love for my sweet daughter that is felt in a place of my heart that swirls with my soul and body - so deep it's not really a measurable physical level, but its affects can be felt in my spirit. It's amazing how an emotion can affect my body and mind and spirit. Have you experienced that? There is also sadness over all we're missing without her around. I still get the tub of baby girl clothes out of the closet every now and then and look through the cuteness. And miss her. And imagine what it would've been like to dress her and see her grow and change. 

Saw this darling baby dress at Target and
 immediately thought of my Anna girl.
Gold reminds me of heaven.

But as these mixed feelings hit me again, this year I'm realizing a stronger sense of gratitude for her life than I was able to see in years past. Obviously I've always been thankful for her, but I mean the privilege of mothering her and being chosen to carry her and love her. 

I think it's beautiful how all those things - body, soul, mind, heart, and spirit - were and are alive and true of Anna as well. She was created in God's image, as I was, and now has a new perfect body in heaven. Neat to think we can still be connected in all of these ways. I like what a friend told me a few years ago about evidence that every baby a woman has carried can leave some DNA with her after birth. (See this interesting article.) So I can literally keep part of Anna Joy with me while I wait to be reunited with her someday. Cool thought. 

On the 8th, we hosted family dinner and celebrated Anna's birthday with the annual strawberry cupcakes. As Matt was cooking, he let out a sigh and commented on how we shouldn't have to do this without her every year. I had a similar thought as I was preparing for the gathering. I teared up wishing I could see her sitting at the table in her 4-year-old glory and cuteness. Not the pink bear, or an empty chair. It would be nice to have her present as we sing "Happy Birthday" to her, instead of us trying not to cry through our smiles, not knowing who to look at. 

Matt and I agree the intense grief fog has lifted, and we've been able to function as more "normal" people for a while. I look back at the first year or two and honestly don't remember many details. I'm glad the fog has lifted, but with that comes more intense emotions. That fog isn't protecting us anymore, and we must deal with the reality of our loss. If not, we feel it in our bones, muscles, interactions, and stomachs. Perhaps subconsciously I've thought that if I stuff my feelings, it would be easier. I'm learning that the opposite is true in the long run. Let them come. Let tears fall. It hurts, but then there is a release that helps the tense shoulders relax and the gut digest and the mind rest.

It is difficult to get all her stuff out of the special cedar chest Matt made. The little Christmas dress and hand prints stop my breath for a moment. Every time. Our tree has many pink ornaments now that join the toy soldiers and heirlooms. On her birthday morning, we opened the chest and started looking at her things. Our sons joined us, but interestingly, they noticed and played with things that have been left out over the years. They visit our room often, but haven't noticed these items before. Evann picked up a special necklace Matt has on his nightstand, and then played with the pink Anna bear. Isaac held the pretty candle holder I have on my nightstand for Anna. It was a surreal time. Amazing how kids sense things spiritual and emotional. Our broken hearts heal tiny bit by bit as we share more moments with our boys. And we've seen how being open with Isaac about Anna's story and life that he has been able to process through it, too. 

We visited Seattle Children's Hospital again this year. Always difficult. Ugh. It takes me right back to the hoping and aching and praying over my baby girl. But I'm always glad I go back. It reminds me that she lived and was worth fighting for. AND, that many other families are facing what we did. We have a keen sensitivity to other parents watching their sick children undergo treatment and surgeries. Our hearts go out to them and we pray for strength and peace for those families. Every child has connection to so many people. 

I love how big brother, Isaac (5.5 yrs), has a special connection to Anna Joy. Before we took this photo, he was certain he wanted to hold her picture. He has a loving, protective heart for her, and often tells people that he has a sister, but that she died. I'm amazed how God can use her story in so many ways, and believe He will continue to develop that in Isaac's life.

So we continue to remember and celebrate. Not only our sweet baby gone way too soon. There are opportunities around us every single day to remember and celebrate love, family, God's faithfulness, and many other gifts. Our journey continues, and there are new steps to be taken around the bend. I'm grateful I can step confidently into the unknown because when I look back into the various experiences of the past, I see the Lord with me. Every step. I may not have seen Him then, but He was there. In the dark, in the hurt, in the agony, in the questions. My God is a faithful God. THE faithful One. I know there will be more bittersweet portions on the road of life. That's the way it is. Sometimes we see the next step, sometimes we don't. But we must move forward anyway. Thankfully, I don't venture alone. My God will come through, always. That's part of the reason we are intentional about remembering and celebrating. Even thought it's painful, it reminds us of what we've been through and that we will continue on.