Death Book

Letter

Inside my grandmother’s house, you’ll find a black binder. If you thumb through the pages, you’ll see clippings from the local paper. Obituaries. It’s full of obituaries. I’ve taken to calling it the “death book.”   It’s mostly elderly relatives and friends that lived long, full lives.  But interspersed with obituaries of those like my great-grandmother who lived well into her 90’s, you’ll find some clippings that seem more tragic than others. My grandfather who was in his late 40s.  My father also in his late 40s. If you keep looking, as I did when it happened to be sitting out after she added a page for her friend who died recently, you’ll run across my cousin who was in his 20’s when he was murdered.  I hadn’t seen his obituary or the accompanying articles about his death in years.  It’s particularly striking when you read through and see the words “survived by his mother…” I kept thumbing through until I found Zoey’s page.  Her obituary and the program from her memorial service are preserved under a plastic sheet along with a handwritten note that I hadn’t seen before.

Dear LaVera,

We were so pleased to be able to meet your great-granddaughter, Zoey.  In trying to think of words of consolation for you, I realize that it was your dream of the three clouds that was the most comforting.  The third cloud with a butterfly flitting on Zoey, nestled in her great-great grandmother’s arms is exactly where we hope her to be—with her struggles behind her and looking forward to the day when she is reunited with all of her loving family.

All our love, Margie & Karl

If I heard the story about my grandmother dreaming about Zoey, I’d forgotten it in the haze of grief.  And maybe she never shared it with me.  But imagining my sweet girl cuddling with my great-grandmother, a woman I adored, is exactly what I needed.  Snuggled there on my great-grandma’s lap, she is happy—smiling as my great-grandma Ring tells her how we’d walk to the park and stop for a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone on the way home.

I’ve struggled since Zoey’s birthday. At times the sadness has been just under the surface. There have been other moments where I feel it has blindsided me.  Smacking me down on an otherwise ordinary day. Maybe it’s because I’m watching Sebastian meet milestones Zoey never was able to reach. Maybe it’s the stress of adding another baby to our family and having no control over the process.  Maybe it’s realizing this is the year I should be taking pictures of her on her first day of kindergarten, a little backpack over her shoulders and glittery sandals on her feet.  Maybe it’s all of that along with missing her for five full years now.  All I know is that my heart needed to be reminded that she’s waiting for me, but that she’s in good hands with all those who have loved me too.

My grandmother’s binder is full of reminders of death and tragedy.  But there, tucked alongside the stories of those we’ve lost, are reminders of all those we’ve loved.

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing, a holy thing
to love.
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

Jehudah Halevi

Unexpected

Sebastian-zoeyIf you’d given me a sneak peek of this point in my life ten years ago, I would not have believed you.  I would have given you a shake of the head and said you had me confused with someone else.  I know plans tend to take at least a few unexpected turns, but somewhere along the way, I tossed my life plan completely out the window.

We spent May 1st at the Zoo celebrating the birthday of our daughter who should have been turning five.  Should have… but didn’t. Because she died. We’ve been to the Zoo on Zoey’s birthday many years since her death.  But that day, we also took our son.  The one we adopted after years of failed fertility treatments.  I suppose nobody imagines the pain of losing a child, the struggle to get pregnant and the twists the adoption process gives you, but there I was wearing my “Zoey’s Crew” t-shirt while holding the most adorable baby boy.

Joe and I talked about Zoey a lot that day.  We remembered how scared we were to go to the hospital not knowing if we’d even get to meet her alive.  We talked about the decision to have a c-section (well, in reality, it wasn’t a decision—there was no question in my mind). We talked about the joy she brought us.  And we talked about the heartbreak of losing her.  We talked about how complicated it is to miss her but be so overjoyed to have Sebastian.  It’s difficult to grasp that he wouldn’t be in our lives if she was alive.  He hasn’t erased the pain of losing Zoey, but he’s brought much-needed light and joy to our home.

The new life plan is messy and confusing. Broken but beautiful.   It makes “expect the unexpected” reality.   I would have never imagined the next step our little family is taking.  Growing again.  We have the exciting opportunity to adopt Sebastian’s sibling, due in September.  Less than a month before Sebastian’s first birthday.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind around having two kids so close together, but we feel this is part of the new plan.  Crazy.  Busy. Complicated.  Magical.

Sometimes the unexpected is more beautiful than you ever imagined.

Breaking Rules

 

When we brought Zoey home, all the typical parenting “rules” were out the window.  She wasn’t a typical child and nobody was concerned about how much (or little) she slept, or where she slept for that matter.

Things are different with Sebastian.  I find myself comparing what I’m doing to other moms.  I lose myself on the internet with all of the parenting articles.  Everyone has a different opinion.  Read one article and it will tell you to rock your baby to sleep.  The next article thinks that’s the most detrimental thing you can do for his sleep.

I’m obviously very sensitive to keeping Sebastian safe.  I’m also practical.  And I need sleep.  So we’ve broken a few rules.  I didn’t want to readily admit this before his adoption finalized, but now I’m prepared to admit that for a few weeks while he was sick, I slept on the couch with my child.

Cue gasps of horror.

Except from the other desperate moms who did it too.  Come out of the shadows, ladies.  I see you.  And I thank you for your honesty.  You made me feel better. You made me feel like I’m not the worst person on the planet.  You see, I needed sleep too.  And when Sebastian came down with this first cold, he was really fussy and uncomfortable when I put him down.  So I held him.  And he slept.  So I also slept.  And life was better.  When we weren’t sleeping, I wanted to divorce my husband because everything pissed me off (sorry, Joe).  But with even a few hours of sleep, our lives seemed much better.  We’re now working on sleeping in the co-sleeper next to the bed (but he often ends up in the same bed as me).  I’m not condoning unsafe sleep.  But I know my baby and I know myself. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs.  I’m a light sleeper and I take precautions to keep him as safe as possible.

I have another confession.  I don’t put Sebastian in his crib for naps.

Cue more gasps of horror.  But I’ll spoil him!  I’ll make him completely dependent on me!  He’ll be 16 and still napping in my arms.

I’ve spent most weekend afternoons since his arrival sitting on the couch with a sweet little baby. I hold him while he falls asleep.  Sometimes I fall asleep too.  Sometimes I veg out on HGTV.  Sometimes I play on my phone.  I am certainly not getting anything done around the house. Last weekend, I sat on the couch with my sweet boy cradled in my arms—the baby we desperately wanted and have prayed and worked for—and for those moments I didn’t care about what other parents do or what the parenting books say.  I looked above the mantel at the pictures of Zoey and remembered all the time I spent cuddling her instead of vacuuming.  I do not regret one moment.  We knew our time with her was short.  And though in a very different way, our time with Sebastian is short too.  He won’t always want my Sunday afternoon snuggles. So for right now, even if it means his naps a year from now will be more difficult, I’m going to hold that little boy.  I’m going to stare at his tiny nose and stroke his hair.  I’m going to kiss his head and tell him how much I love him.  I’m going to hold on for as long as I can.  I often worry that because he didn’t grow in my belly, he’ll have attachment issues with me.  So I will hold him close to my heart and try my hardest to make sure he knows I’m his mom.  I imagine a few years from now when I look back, I won’t remember the crumbs under the couch.  But I will remember those sweet snuggles with my son.

If you come to our house, look past the pile of laundry on my nightstand.  Look past the dust on the mantle and the clutter on my kitchen table and see a home full of love for our two children. I’m choosing to focus on bonding.  I’m choosing to focus on loving him as much as I can.  And if you have parenting advice, keep it to yourself.  I love my child.  And right now, that’s the only rule I want to follow.

Finalization
Sebastian’s adoption finalized on February 19th! He is officially a Waymire (although he’s really been one all along).

120 Days

 

Our beautiful baby girl lived for 120 days.  She died just shy of her 4month birthday.

One hundred and twenty days ago we welcomed our sweet boy, Sebastian.  In a few days, he will turn four months.  And the day after that, he will “officially” be ours with the finalization of his adoption.

There are similarities between our time with Zoey and our time with Sebastian.  Long, sleepless nights.  Constant worry.  A million checks to see if that sweet, napping baby is breathing.  And all the sweet moments.  Covering them in kisses.  Looking into their beautiful eyes and telling them how endless our love is.

And though our love for both our children is the same, the passage of time feels very different.  We appreciate and soak in as much time with Sebastian as we can.  We savor his sweet little smiles and his attempts at laughing (currently more of a squawk).  But we knew Zoey would be leaving us.  We spent 120 days knowing each moment could be our last.

Sebastian has been a much-needed light in our lives.  We are ever grateful for this beautiful gift.  But just as time does not heal all wounds, neither does the arrival of our son.  We still ache for our girl.  We miss her every moment.  The dance between grief and joy continues on this Valentine’s Day.

We love you, Zoey.  And we love you, Sebastian.

Welcome, Sebastian!

 

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Our little family’s fairy tale has always been about love, about life, and about loss.  And the next chapter is now being written with the most amazing little human.  It’s quite the story to tell.  I can’t share all the details, but here are a few.

Joe and I were activated by the adoption agency in May.  We were prepared for a long wait and set a deadline of about one year.  If we weren’t matched in that time, we’d stop.  I needed that end date for my sanity.  I couldn’t imagine the anxiety of each passing day with no end in sight.  And let’s be honest—we aren’t getting any younger.

To our surprise, we received a call on June 7. A woman in Florida was pregnant and looking for a family to place her child with after his birth.  We learned she was in Melbourne—the same beachside town we traveled to shortly after learning Zoey’s diagnosis. 

There are a few times in my life when I’ve been left speechless by a phone call.  The day the agency called us to say the birth mother had chosen us was one of them.  What do you say when you’ve been told that a woman looked at your life and decided that she would trust you with the most amazing gift?

Shortly after the match, we began emailing with the birthmother. We learned that she loves to draw, would prefer to live in a climate with seasons and that she’s a sweet girl with a hard set of circumstances. We were matched with her pretty early in her pregnancy so we anxiously awaited each of her appointments to hear an update on this little boy.

A few weeks in, we heard some potentially scary information was revealed on the ultrasound. It was a difficult spot to be for us having been through Zoey’s diagnosis which unfolded in a similar way.  The ultrasound revealed one thing which led to another and another. Adding to the challenge was the inability to ask the direct questions. Thankfully as time went on, we heard the doctors were not really worried about the findings on the ultrasound.  The baby would have extra digits, but that’s pretty minor and apparently fairly common.  We wondered if this was just another reason he’d been matched with us.  I imagine another family may freak out about finding out about a birth defect.  But we’d seen Zoey with all of her “defects” and she was stunning.  Extra digits would just make this baby extra special!

The months passed and we thought the baby may come early so I decided to travel to Florida to wait for his birth. This also allowed me to spend time getting to know the birth mother better. I honestly can’t imagine walking into the hospital as she was delivering to meet her for the first time so I’m incredibly thankful for the time I spent with her beforehand.  The weeks I spent with her were valuable to me and our relationship. I hope she feels the same. It wasn’t always easy hearing her stories.  It’ a life I cannot fathom and the privilege of my own life was put on display. We enjoyed going to the zoo, walking the mall and eating out—we even made the trek to Disney Springs one afternoon.  I also had the chance to go to her doctor’s appointments and was able to hear the baby’s heartbeat.  Music to my ears!

Joe came to town a few weeks later and spent time with the birth mother as well. We all went to the zoo together and also met her mom. Joe and I even made a trip to Disney for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  While there, we picked Mickey ears with his name embroidered—Sebastian was officially chosen.

On Thursday, October 18—oddly fitting since Zoey was born on a Thursday and also died on a Thursday—that the birthmother peeked her head out the door from her doctor’s appointment and said “are you ready to have a baby? We’re going to the hospital”.

At 10:22 pm, I watched this beautiful baby boy enter the world. He went to the nursery immediately for a bath and warming, but then he was placed in my arms for his first bottle.

We spent time with him and the birthmother in the hospital.  And on Saturday she signed the paperwork that legally placed this little boy into our family.  Welcome to the Waymire family Sebastian Thomas!

We stayed in Florida for two weeks to wait for legal clearance to travel.  On Halloween, we packed up our beautiful little bundle and took him on his first flight!  He was amazing—slept the entire flight!

We’re home now and gradually meeting family and friends.  Mainly, though, we’re snuggling and soaking in every moment with this amazing little boy—our son!  I honestly never thought this would happen.  And even in my sleep-deprived nights, I look at him and can’t believe he’s ours.

Words won’t do this adventure justice.  It really is something you have to experience to fully understand.  To have another woman choose you to raise, protect and love her child is remarkable.  We love our little fairy tale and are so glad Sebastian has joined us on our journey!

My letter to Sebastian can be found here:

https://stillstandingmag.com/2018/11/letter-to-my-new-son-via-adoption/

Photos by Amanda McMahon Photography: http://amandamcmahonblog.com/

Empathy Fatigue

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I’d like to talk about empathy for a minute.  Or more specifically, empathy burnout.  With so many headlines invading our news feeds about injured, suffering, and dying children it is easy to get fatigued.  Personally, this last week has left me exhausted.  In fact, the last year or so has overflowed my empathy tank.  I can hear the cries of children missing their moms and I can feel the wail of a mom missing her baby.  It can be overwhelming, especially to those who have lost a child, to read about another shooting or death of a child.  Because you know that in a few hours another mom and dad will answer the phone to have their heart shattered.  You’ve answered that call.  And you know their hearts, like yours, will forever be broken.

So what do we do?  Do we turn it all off and just go search recipes on Pinterest?  Honestly, I think it is ok if we all take a little retreat now and then.  I definitely need to limit my intake to protect my fragile heart.  I think we can all retreat for a moment to take care of our families and take care of ourselves.  If you’re a parent, focus on raising kind, loving, emphatic and compassionate children so they can help make a difference in this broken world.

And when you’re ready, come back to the fight.  Even if that just means showing the world that broken is still beautiful.  That shattered hearts still have value.  And that love still wins.

Four

59Four years ago we anxiously awaited the moment our baby girl would arrive.  I think back to the operating room.  Saying it was surreal does not do it justice.  Before that moment, I never even entertained the idea that I’d have a C-section.  Maybe that kept me from being scared while it happened (actually, I’ll admit that the anesthesiologist hovering over me the entire time was a little nerve-wracking!)   My focus was on our little girl, though.  Would she live through the surgery?  Would she live long enough for me to hold her and to tell her how much I loved her?

She did.

I was blessed with a beautiful little soul that day four years ago.  And today was for celebrating that precious life.  Today we celebrated the sweet little coo she’d make when content, the way she’d scrunch her forehead when upset or curious, and the little clenched fist that she’d throw in the air when hungry. We remembered the way she smelled after a bath and the way her hair would get so fluffy.  We looked back on the quiet moments, nestled in our chair with her kitty at my feet.  We celebrated everything that made us a normal little family for as long as we could be.

I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday today, my sweet girl.   I wish I could wrap my arms around you and smother you with birthday kisses.  I love you.9

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CeCe

Earlier this week, we said goodbye to my constant companion of more than 13 years and the kitty I referred to as “Zoey’s kitty”.  Our little Cece had kidney disease and she fought it off many times, but couldn’t fight it anymore. I’ll admit, this one was really, really hard.  I hate losing my pets, but Cece was a special figure in our lives.  We first met her at my friend’s house when a police officer (our friend was an officer as well) stopped by with this tiny little kitten he’d found in the road.  And we were all instantly in love. I asked to take her, but had to leave her with my friend overnight.  The next day, my friend cried as she handed the little kitten over to Joe who was going to keep an eye on her until I got off work.  Later that day, Joe calls me to “come and get the cat”.  I was afraid she’d made a huge mess at his house—then again I wondered how much a tiny little kitten could do in just a few hours?  I arrived to find her tucked under his chin—asleep.  It’s where she’d been for hours and he felt too guilty to move her so he’d also been stuck on the couch.  Cece was definitely a lap cat.  She was always on my lap on the couch, she slept on top of me.  And she followed me from room to room—even in the middle of the night when I’d get up to go to the bathroom.  She’d get up, jump from the bed, follow me to the bathroom and expect a drink from the faucet.  I was nervous about the cats when we had Zoey—would they like her?  Would they hate her?  Most of them were unimpressed.  They just avoided her.  But not Cece.  If Zoey was somewhere, Cece was likely to be nearby.  She seemed to seek out time with her as well.  She joined us for naptime, playtime and bathtime!

My mind cannot detach the experience of losing her and losing Zoey.  Before leaving our house for the vet, I searched for a picture of Zoey and Cece together. I’m not sure why I so badly wanted it with me, but I did.  I found one of the two of them and my mom together. As I was sitting there, holding Cece, the vet tech asked me if I wanted me to put her name on the box with her ashes and asked how we’d like it spelled. I almost started to spell Zoey.  They asked if I wanted to be with her.  And I almost said “well of course. I held my daughter as she died.  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” After she passed, the vet left the room to give us some time with her, but I began to panic. I just couldn’t hold her as her body grew cold and stiff.  I held Zoey like that.  I couldn’t go back to that place.

Cece was very well loved and a wonderful addition to our family.  She brought me great comfort and really wonderful “cozy time”.  She helped me through the most difficult time in my life.  My little cat, Finn, runs away anytime someone in the house cries (which happens more than you’d like to think), but Cece never did.  My sobbing, rattling body never bothered her.  She’d stay in my lap though it all.  Losing pets is always difficult. I won’t begin to compare it to the loss of a child—it is not even close.  But they do have a special place in our lives.  Losing them sucks, but I don’t want to give up the time I have with them.  I will miss her terribly and hope she’s cuddling with Zoey again.

 

Chaos and Hope

Every October since Zoey died, I have taken part in the Capture Your Grief project.  That is until this year.  This year I just never could find the time, space or words.  It’s been a bit hectic since I last wrote.  We’ve started the adoption process.  And with it the mounds of paperwork.  It is a bit overwhelming and I wonder how we’ll ever get through all of the steps.  I need to keep reminding myself that it is one day at a time.  One form at a time.  One online learning module.  I feel like I’m back in college, but this time I’m writing essays about myself and asking for letters of reference regarding my ability to parent rather than my ability to hold a job!  But with the chaos comes the hope.  Hope that we will once again get to parent a living child.

Next month we will invite a stranger into our home, allow her to wander through our house checking for smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.  She’ll look into our cabinets and make sure our medications are safely out of reach of children.  And she’ll open the door to Zoey’s room.  A room that has been empty for more than three years now, but remains as it was the day she died.   We have another spare room in our house so we could use that for another child.  But that just doesn’t feel right.  Zoey’s room feels right.  Allowing the sun to shine through the blinds once again.  Swaying under the ceiling fan where my mom attached a homemade mobile.  Pulling a book from the shelf of stories our family and friends sent to her.  Breathing new life into the space.  That room is where I felt Zoey belonged.  And it’s where I believe another child can make new memories while still feeling her presence. I am not trying to replace my daughter.  But Joe and I know there is more love to give.

My most recent story for Still Standing was just published. You can find it here: http://stillstandingmag.com/2017/11/body-betrayal/

 

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