Thursday, January 3, 2013

All I Want For Christmas is You.. Baby Jesus

How was our Christmas?  Well... it was definitely sad at times.  My due date was Dec. 20th, so it didn't escape me that, had circumstances been different, I'd be holding a newborn for Christmas.  Sigh.

At the same time, however, it wasn't a sadness of despair or completely overwhelming, but perhaps the kind of sadness that comes with all change-- when life moves slowly along.  I imagine it's akin to the sadness that any mother feels when her baby goes to kindergarten for the first time, or off to college, or down the aisle on their wedding day.  The sadness that I felt was in realizing that Joey went on to better things without us; that our time caring for him on this Earth was over; that circumstances weren't different.  Joey lived a full life on this Earth in a matter of minutes, and I experienced the fullness of being his mother in that same amount of time.

I feel the same sadness watching Elisa grow up too.  Last year, I did have a baby for Christmas, (not a newborn, but definitely a baby); the year before I had a pregnancy.  And now I've got a toddler, and I just can't believe how time is flying by.  Elisa's already a year and a half-- another 11 like it and she'll be graduating from high school!  Oh, gosh. This motherhood stuff is really tough no matter how you experience it!  It makes me wonder how/when/where, (not if), I'll be forced to let Elisa go, and it reminds me to stop and hug her as often as possible (especially when she's bugging me, or crying, or trashing my house, or I'm trying to get something done, etc.) i.e. As she is climbing all over my computer desk as I write this!!

Fast forward to Christmas Eve.  This year, more than ever, I wanted to experience the birth of Christ in a deeper way.  I wanted Christmas to be about baby Jesus.  We had a bunch a family gatherings scheduled to run around and open presents, but my heart wasn't in that at all.  I decided to skip the evening festivities and instead I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with Mary, anxiously awaiting baby Jesus's arrival.  I wanted to be the "first one there," so to speak, like our family and priest who stayed up most of the night in the waiting room, anticipating the arrival of our Baby Joey.

I went to my local parish church and spent the evening in the chapel there.  As I sat there, I thought about Mary's travel to Bethlehem at nine months pregnant, going into labor in the stable, and her being all alone in a different town, with only Joseph and the animals.  I realized Christmas Eve was the day Mary would have been in labor, and that made me feel a deep connection with her as I re-lived Joey's labor and birth in my mind.  I decided I would stay there in the chapel "with Mary" until Jesus was born, like my doula stayed with me, and brought me tremendous comfort as I labored to bring Joey into the world.  At 11:00pm-11:30ish, the church started filling with people, the choir started singing songs of joy and glad tidings, and my heart wept. It was actually very, very, beautiful.  I was still alone in the little back chapel, sticking it out with Mary.  (If, say, Jesus was born at midnight, then Mary would have been in transition at 11:30pm, and my heart cried out with her. I also felt tremendous joy when the clock struck 12, and the whole Church burst into song!)

Being the mother of Jesus was a tremendous gift, as well as a tremendous cross for Mary.  (Just like we felt with Joey.) Mary is called "Our Lady of Sorrows" for that reason.  Seems that the two go hand-in-hand: tremendous spiritual gifts, and also crosses. To suffer for another is to have loved them, and I feel that way about our time with Joey.  I think my prayer for 2013 will have to be asking for more of Mary's help in my life:  Mary, please teach me how to love Jesus better and welcome Him into my life, as you did!  Help me to welcome not only the joys, but also the crosses that go with them.  Help me to labor, out of love, for others.    

Monday, December 3, 2012

Getting Back to "Normal"

I'm on such a roll for writing blog posts tonight, why not keep it going!  It occurred to me, after I posted all the other thoughts, that this was the one I was thinking of first.  The other thoughts were difficult to get out, but this one is pretty lighthearted.  I think my old friends, especially, will get a kick out of this reflection.

Anyhow-- I realized something today-- not new by any stretch of my close friends' imaginations, but an epiphany of the moment for me.  It occurred to me that I love/seek/crave intense moments, intense experiences.  So, the full experience of Joey's life, in all seriousness, probably suited me quite well.  It seems that, in my "past life," I'm pretty sure I said, "What's the craziest thing I can do?" And then would I go ahead and do it.

The intensity of Joey's birth and death, the whirlwind of the funeral, the retreat, etc., experiencing life to the fullest, (even in suffering), is what I always seek out.  So, why would I expect the arrival and departure of Joey to be anything but?

That being said, it's been pretty difficult getting back to "normal" life, after the whirlwind has settled down.  What does normal look like, anyways? Lying on the couch all day? Good grief! (In actuality- now I feel great, I'm already back to my pre-Joey weight, and I feel more alive than ever... So, now what?)

Let's see, before Joey, I was nursing my baby Elisa.  Before that, I was teaching and pregnant.  Before that... I was single!  Wow, that's a crazy thought.  No wonder it's a tough transition.  I don't have a "normal" life to go back to.

If I went back to the old normal, well, it would be pretty much time for a new job, (long overdue in fact, LOL =), time to move to a new town, try a crazy new adventure, etc.  All kinds of outrageous ideas have crossed my mind, so I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone, let alone me! Matt's not exactly the crazy adventure type (which is probably a good thing), so I doubt he'd be up for moving away and trying something new and outrageous.

That being said, I've definitely been thinking alot about how to make a fresh start, how to make a new normal for my life as it currently stands.  Hmm... Well, for starters, I've been doing my hair once in a while. That would make my much cuter sister very proud.  (LOL.. that's not my first!! But my sister would be proud.)  For seconds... I'm trying a new weight loss system-- seems to be working awesome so far-- yay!  For thirds... (actually, first) I've been going to Mass each day and getting on a new earlier schedule, which is also going great.  Fourth... trying a new side business, and hoping to help others in a new way.  Fifth... not sure yet!  I'll keep you posted, as crazy ventures and ideas keep popping their heads up! (How do I always forget that this craziness suits me?!)    

Babies, Babies Everywhere

One thing that I was determined about after Joey's diagnosis, was that I was not going to run away from other babies, no matter how emotional it was going to be!  I love babies, and I didn't want to spend the next-- who knows how long-- running away and hiding from them.

There was one person, in particular, who was a great inspiration to me in making this decision. She and I were due just several days apart when I was expecting Elisa.  I almost miscarried at 8 weeks, but then she did miscarry at 10 weeks.  I was so heartbroken for her, and I didn't know how she could ever face my daughter, knowing the loss that she suffered.  Well, not only did she love my daughter, but she threw me a baby shower, and even suffered a series of miscarriages (that I didn't know about), while I was expecting Elisa.  Her strength and courage to face the situation was so admirable, that I knew I had to try and follow her example.

So-- facing other babies is what I've been determined to do.  After Joey's diagnosis, I purposely spent time with as many babies as I could find, hugging and loving them as deeply as I could.  My younger sister had baby twins this summer, and I spent many days visiting their family, and just finding comfort in loving those babies.

Fast forward to after Joey's funeral.  Seems that everyone I know is either having, just had, or trying to have another baby!  In the grocery, at the park, in every pew at Church, etc., it seems that every young family has a new baby, and for some reason they all seem to be boys right about Joey's age.  Wow.  Thank goodness I've decided not to run away from them all, but it can be pretty intense to face as well.

At Thanksgiving, Matt's cousin (who we rarely see, if ever) came and brought their 5 week old baby boy with them.  (I didn't even know they were expecting, let alone had a baby almost exactly Joey's age!)  Gulp- It took my breath away for a minute.  But I was determined to face those emotions so, instead, I asked to hold their baby and share some love with him for a few minutes.  It was tough, but a really worthwhile experience.  At Mass, on another day, we ran into a friend who had a baby boy 2 days before Joey.  Gulp- same thing, and I asked to give him some hugs as well.

Finally, last Thursday, the most intense experience happened.  A new couple came to the young adult group that we're part of, and brought their little baby boy.  Apparently they had come a long time ago, but not any time recently.  I found myself sneaking glances at the little baby and thinking that he was, most likely, pretty close to Joey's age as well.  I thought about asking to hold him, but something made me hesitate and almost run away.  He was smaller than the other babies I'd run into, and therefore reminded me even more of Joey, and choked me up quite a bit.  Well, after the meeting... I can't even remember the details exactly... but somehow we started a little conversation and I was considering asking to hold their baby.  For some reason, this baby was harder to face than any baby yet.  I started to say that I had a little baby a few weeks ago, too, but then the other mom burst into tears first!  She said that she knew, she had read my blog, and that her son was born on the exact same day, just a couple hours sooner!  Then of course, I burst into tears, and we both cried together for several minutes, realizing the intensity of the situation.  She was so heartbroken for me, and we both felt the deepest connection even though we barely knew each other.  Finally, I got to hold her baby, little Andrew, and I just cried and cried.

It was a good cry, but I just can't describe how intense this meeting with baby Andrew was.  I had been thinking that, although I feel so close to Joey's spirit, I desperately miss the ability to hug and hold him in person.  Just the day before, the song came on the radio, All I want for Christmas is You, and I cried all the way to my destination.  I just wanted to re-live Joey's birthday all over again, hugging and holding him all day long.

In meeting baby Andrew, however, it was like Joey was saying, "Here I am, mom! =) You can give me some hugs in baby Andrew!"                              

Grave Marker Update

I wanted to mention that we've met our goal for purchasing Joey's grave marker! (I know- seems like a crazy thing to celebrate.)  Well, it's joyful for us to share our little Joey with others, and this will help others (and us) identify his resting place.  We'll be ordering a marker soon, but apparently it takes several months to get it in.  

As Catholics, we believe that Joey's spirit is in Heaven, but one day he'll be reunited with his body as well.  (And it will be whole and perfect then.)  For now, his little body is really a relic, and the place where he's buried would be considered holy ground.

It's our hope that others will find comfort in connecting with Joey, and asking for his prayers for you and your family.  I know that we have been immensely blessed to have Joey in our lives, and every day brings new surprises from him!  We hope that others will find comfort and healing through Joey's prayers as well. 

(PS- If you wanted to contribute but didn't get the chance, may I suggest making a donation to or to a Pregnancy Help Center in Joey's name?  We would be so grateful for his life to help other mothers and babies in need!)         

Courage and Closure

Lord, Grant me the Courage...

I started this blog with the thought of being able to document some memories of Joey's life, as well as being able to share his diagnosis with close friends and family. It was much easier to do in writing than in person (seeing as I would burst into tears before words actually came out).  Secondly, I was so grateful for other moms who shared their stories with me, I felt it was only right to share Joey's special life as well.

One day on a whim, I decided to made this blog public, and now it's a little overwhelming-- but kind of a courage-challenge too.  The thought of sharing the deepest parts of my heart with the whole possible world is... wow.  Vertigo.  I have to say, I'm not used to doing this.  So that's why it takes me a really long time in-between posts.  Basically, I have to muster up the courage to share a little more.  And find the words to do so.

How Are We Doing?

I know people are wondering, how are we doing?  It will be 6 weeks, tomorrow, since Joey's birth.  It feels like ages ago and yesterday, at the same time.

The overwhelming feeling that I still have, after experiencing the birth and death of my firstborn son in a day, is AWE.  I am is total awe of the gift that his life was/is to our family, and even to those around us.

Transforming Motherhood

The day that I gave birth to my daughter, Elisa, I was transformed-- into a mother.  I'm pretty sure most mothers feel this way.  It was a change that touched the core of my being, and (I think) it was basically instant.  It changed my life completely.  (I'm not sure it's the same experience with fathers.. but that's a thought to ponder later!)

Anyhow, in a similar way, I experienced the same kind of instant transformation when I became a spiritual mother.  Knowing that my son is in Heaven, praying and rooting for me, is... INCREDIBLE.  It's a gift beyond words.  I can just picture my little Joey saying to the other saints, and to Mary, "Hey, that's my mom!  You've got to help me get her up here too!"  Wow.

The Ups

At the same time, I've had some ups and downs in the past few weeks as well.  The birth of Joey was actually such a spiritual high, strange as that sounds, that we were riding on a total high for a couple of weeks.  It was the most amazing feeling, the closest I've ever felt to God in my life.  And I was really, really grateful for that gift. (The next closest was when I experienced the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette in person, and/or all night Adoration sessions at the Kartause, in Gaming Austria =)

The spiritual high continues when I experience and focus on what I've gained from being Joey's mother- the gifts- joy, grace, peace, a direct link to Heaven, a deeper experience of the meaning of life and suffering, a catalyst for allowing my own heart to grow closer to God, etc.

And the Downs

The Downs happen when I start focusing on what I don't have-- a baby in my arms to hug and hold, a little brother for Elisa to love and pick on, even a pregnancy to complain about anymore!  Unexpected encounters  with people, and explanations can be really difficult.  Some days I feel like a rock (and surprise myself), and other days I find myself melting like a baby.  (I am soooo thankful, by the way, when people give me a heads-up that they know, like, "Hey I've been praying for you." Then I don't have to explain to someone in a state of shock!) Sometimes I just hear a song on the radio... I'll Be Home for Christmas, All I Want for Christmas is You, Mary Did You Know... and burst into tears.

Closure has been the most difficult of all.  In all seriousness, I really feel like Joey's spirit is closer to me, now, than even when I was pregnant.  So it's really strange coming to grips with closure.  The hardest moments with Joey were not when his heartbeat disappeared, but when we handed him over to the funeral director, and said goodbye to his little body, at the funeral and at the cemetery.  Since then, the hardest days have been when I cleaned up the house and put away many of Joey's little things, when I put away my pregnancy clothes (which was awesome, but really sad at the same time), when I went to Mass alone one day (Elisa was sick) and I had flashbacks of Joey's funeral the whole time, when I've attempted to write thank-you cards (which remind me that Joey's really not here with us), etc.    

The Gaping-Heart Wound 

Another thing that I've experienced in the aftermath is that my heart is so full of love for Joey, but since he's not here to receive it, it's just flowing away from me, from a big gaping hole in my heart.  It's tempting to hide it, or bottle it up, which I admit I feel like doing sometimes.  But other times, when I have the courage to direct it towards someone else, it's been a really beautiful experience.  I can see why God put it there, even if I can't give it to Joey.  (Maybe even especially so, since I can share it with people I normally would have never thought to.)

I went on a retreat the week right after Joey's funeral, and one thing affected me profoundly.  In the women's talk, the priest (Fr. Nathan) spoke of allowing your heart to be pierced in the way that Mary's heart was pierced, at the foot of the cross.  At that moment, at the foot of the cross, when Mary was giving her son back to the Father and her heart was pierced the deepest, Jesus gave her to John.  At that moment, she became the "Mother of the Church", and Jesus asked her to love John, (and then others as well), with the love she had in her heart for Jesus.

Wow. wow.. I thought-- ohmigosh-- that's me, too (in a much less profound way).  I gave my son back to the Father, and now my heart is overflowing with love to give to someone.  Wow. Need to think on that one some more.                                            
Happy 6 weeks in Heaven, Baby Joey!!  xoxoxoxo
Don't forget to pray for our family and all our friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks

We have so, so, much to be thankful for.  Maybe it's easier to realize it because we've just had a deep loss,  I don't know.  What I do know is that I feel so incredibly thankful for the little things this year, which now seem huge... life, freedom, good health, two arms and two legs, sunshine, fresh air, Elisa's laughter, big hugs from Matt, the smell of campfires burning, crunching the fall leaves underfoot, dear friendships... I could go on.

We're also incredibly thankful for all of YOU-- you, who have journeyed with us, grieved with us, celebrated with us, and recognized the precious life of our little baby Joey.  We are more grateful that words can express.  To those of you who contributed to Joey's grave marker, we are soooo grateful, and we're almost there!  We want to thank every one of you personally, and we are in the process of writing your thank-you cards... very slowly, but surely. =)   .

Finally, on this eve of Thanksgiving in America, I especially want to say, thank you, God, for all the wonderful things you have put into my life! Thank you for my family, friends, health, the natural world and all its beauty, and especially life itself! Thank you for sending us baby Joey to help us remember what's important.  And, especially, thank you for the Eucharist, and for sending your own Son to die for me.

To baby Joey- "Happy one month birthday, on Friday!" We love you and miss you dearly!          

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gifts From Joey

So... I'm not really one to be superstitious, overly sentimental, or anything like that.  However, a few really sweet things have happened since Joey's passing and I thought some of you would take joy in hearing about them.  Do I know for sure these stories are from Joey? No, of course not.  However, do I believe that Joey is really alive, much more so than before, and could possibly take the time to bring our family little messages of love? (Yes, of course!)

Mommy's Garden

We planted a square foot garden this past spring, with all kinds of wonderful fruits and veggies, right around the time Joey was conceived.  As the summer went on, Elisa and I would spend a few moments each day, checking out the progress, picking little weeds, and munching on a few ripe treats.  The garden made me think a lot of our coming baby, as I watched the new sprouts grow taller and bear fruit.

As the summer heat continued, however, the garden started to wilt and dry up, despite my efforts.  We then left for a long weekend, and the garden was nearly fried by the time we got back. Two days later, we found out about Joey's diagnosis and were devastated.  I couldn't bear to work in the garden anymore, and I felt it was perfectly symbolic that it had wilted away, right along with our hopes for baby Joey.

Well.. skip ahead to the day after Joey's birth.  Our neighbor was talking to Matt and they walked out back near the garden.  It was Oct 24th, and one perfect red strawberry was hanging over the edge of the garden in plain sight.  The neighbor saw it and said, "Hey it actually looks like a heart!" And it did. There was a little leaf sticking down just so, which made the strawberry look just like a heart.

It was also our first ripe strawberry of the year and the garden.  (We just put in the strawberry plants this summer and had been picking off the flowers so the plants would bear better fruit next year.)  So, to us, it was a beautiful symbol of Joey's new life in Heaven, and how his life has only just begun to bear fruit!

Daddy's Glasses

Well, if you're Catholic, you might be familiar with the practice of asking a saint to help you out with little things, like finding missing glasses.  We believe the saints can, if God allows them, help us out here below. (So, why not ask?)

Well, when Matt misplaced his glasses the other day, we looked around for about 15 min to no avail.  Matt was getting anxious to get to work, and so on the spur of the moment we decided to ask Joey for help.  Not even 10 seconds later, we walked back into the living room and there they were-- right on the top edge of the couch, where I thought we already looked!

Coincidence? Perhaps.  Love message from Joey? We prefer to think so!  (I can just imagine what Joey would have been like as a little boy, eager to please, and running all around the house to help find daddy's glasses!)

Grandma's Water

This story is from my mom, and she is really the opposite of overly-sentimental.  However, this one even choked her up.

Anyhow, my mom was helping us get ready for the day of Joey's funeral, and she had taken Elisa grocery shopping while Matt and I were making funeral arrangements.  We were planning to have folks over afterwards, and so mom was picking up food/drinks for the after party.  We knew that we didn't want to grieve all day, but that we wanted to celebrate Joey's little life, and the gift he had been to us already.

So, that being said, mom was debating whether to pick up a few water bottles for the guests or not.  She didn't feel like walking all the way to the back of the store, so she just decided to forget it.  At the last minute, she changed her mind and headed to get some.  What she saw next choked her up-- right on the top of the package, in huge letters, it said something like, "check out our new labels, where you can write your name like this... JOEY"!

Mom couldn't believe her eyes, and felt that Joey was saying to us, "It's ok! Go ahead and celebrate. I'm in Heaven and we're celebrating here too!"