Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's a done deal!

Em's empty room
Em decorating hers and Noah's trees at 'the loft'
Daddy and Em with her first piece of furniture in the storage unit
Our last pose at Em and Noah's very first house
We snuggled with Noah a lot in this room

And in this room.
Our new house won't be done until December 28th. Meanwhile, we moved into a loft downtown last night for a few weeks. It's like taking a vacation in our own town. We can see the mountains and all the city lights. Em is loving it. We met the new owners at the closing yesterday. They are a couple about our age with 3 kids, one dog, a cat and a bird. They are very excited about being in our neighborhood. We pray that they will be blessed in that home just as we were.

It was a bittersweet exit. I literally mopped myself out the back door and left the garage at 10:35pm, but not until many tears were shed, many prayers said, and an "Okay, Lord, You know I'll miss the memories of my boy there, so, please fill in my blanks..."

We're excited for the change. We're also glad that even though we could not move right into our new home that we have the opportunity to hang out in our town and do the things we've always talked of doing.
Have a great weekend!
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Monday, November 26, 2007


Not that I need to clarify since Noah is gone and it's a little late...the docs never declared Noah as being in a coma. I asked them on several occasions and they said he was definitely NOT in a coma. If people who see Noah's photos on this blog were wondering why I always took pictures of him while he was sleeping, I didn't. The last time his eyes were consciously open was probably October 24th, 2006. His eyes would open once in a while slightly after that, but he had no cycles of wake or sleep time.

I remember each morning at the hospital I would wake up and quickly run over to Noah's crib to see if his eyes were open. I was praying so hard that one day he would just wake up from this sickening prison. I learned so much through my midnight research sessions and continue to make discoveries that I have no doubt are related to Noah's health decline. After more blood work for the three of us, I'll have no qualms about publishing this information in Noah's book.

I have no idea why I'm writing any of this today. I guess in my grief process anger ebbs and flows. My life is an open wound of late because we move out of our home, the only one Noah ever graced with his sweet little presence, the day after tomorrow. I am excited to live in a new home and to finally be able to display pictures of Em and Noah (when you put your house on the market you have to 'depersonalize' it for resale).

His other home, the hospital, is no longer there either. That part is hard for me...I really longed to go to the hospital on Thanksgiving. I thought that if I went over to the new hospital maybe I could satisfy the longing. God had other plans. Em woke up puking. As weird as it sounds, I had a lot of peace knowing I wasn't going to get the opportunity to go wander the halls of the hospital aimlessly looking for the only thing I really was seeking. Em threw up 4 times and was over it, bouncing off the walls the rest of the day, but it gave me the chance to snuggle with the kid I do have and nurture her little soul.

In grief counseling the emphasis remained, "How would we remember our child for the holidays?" My plan to go to the hospital had fallen through, our evening meal was going to be shared with some family and many new faces at someone else's home, so I was not sure how Noah might fit into that setting. As we were sharing around the table things for which we were thankful I thanked the hostess for graciously opening her heart and home to our family two years in a row. This woman, my sister's mother-in-love, is wonderful. Her smile lights up a room, her sincerity can be felt from miles away, and her genuine love for life and people is profound. One of her friends came up to me after dinner and said she did not want to upset me but was wondering if I would tell her everything about our little boy. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my heart, the Source of my strength and hope, and the story of a little boy that changed my perspective forever. He did work his way into our Thanksgiving...

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Everybody wants to go to Heaven...

...but nobody wants to die."

These are the words of a David Crowder song. I believe they are the sentiments of a LOT of people here on earth. I find it interesting that most, if not all people, if asked the question whether they will go to Heaven or Hell when they die, state emphatically, "Heaven". The answer would be followed with something like, "I don't believe God sends 'good' or 'nice' people to Hell" or "I don't believe God would send the people He created to Hell". If the same people were asked if they believe in God the answers would be split between a hardy 'Yes!' and a definite 'No!'. Heaven is God's home. It is His dwelling place. Why on earth would people who do not believe in Him want to spend eternity at His house? It would be like someone who hates your guts or could give a rip about you moving into your spare bedroom until they die. Awkward.

One day you hear the doorbell. You open the door, say hello and standing there is a stranger. They reply 'hello' as if you should know who they are. You figure they are there to sell you something. Then you see they have suitcases, baggage. You are perplexed as to why they are at your door. The look on their face shows their intention of walking through your front door with their bags, and never leaving. You close the door slightly and say, "I'm sorry but I think you have the wrong address." Again, awkward! It's not that you don't like meeting new people...

Jesus said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

He also said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Another entry that sheds light on this is I Corinthians 15.

I can't wait to get to Heaven, whether I die first or I'm old and gray and have to wait it out, but in the mean time, I'm enjoying my relationship with God, believing in Him and getting to know Him quite intimately so that when I do die, it won't be like knocking on a stranger's front door...

I am not only thankful on the 4th Thursday of every November, but I am thankful daily that when I get to God's front door, I won't be toting even one carry on because of what Jesus did for me, AND, God's going to recognize me AND know my name. I am not boasting...of this I am sure.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Grief counseling, week 7

I miss these red, crusty cheeks, really, really, really badly.
I miss these little feet and sweet ankles and knees I used to nibble on.
I miss this mighty little man of God. This picture was taken one year ago today. There isn't anything I don't miss about Noah. I wish the tears that were flowing right now were soaking his head, like we used to do so many nights...

I've been too busy lately. Some of the busyness has been self inflicted and much of it is the reality of having to close on our house in less than two weeks. One thing they have tried to emphasize in grief counseling is slowing down, simplifying, and taking time for self-care and grief. I'm not doing this right. I'm too busy and I feel like I haven't been a good friend to any one of my family members or friends, and quite frankly, I do not have the emotional fortitude to be that to anyone presently. It wouldn't feel so hectic if we were moving right into our new house but we have a month of homelessness to figure out. We need to organize storage of our belongings, pack suitcases for the month of December since we'll either live in a hotel or do some house sitting, mail for the month, etc. This wouldn't feel so hectic, I am sure, if every day I weren't reliving hospital life in my head and heart, missing Noah's sweet presence, missing nurses, and quite frankly, missing being a caretaker and researcher. I guess there is a reason why the grief facilitators emphasize not taking trips or moving during the 9 week session.

We covered a lot of material on Monday. A few questions posed were:

"Where is it that you find a sense of hope?" I find hope in knowing that Noah is whole and healed and in God's presence. I find hope in God. I find hope that I was not created for here, but I am here, so while I am here, my purpose is to be used for God's glory. I find hope that one day Jesus will return for the Bride of Christ. I find hope in the God of the Universe who threw every star in place, designed every living creature, and Who knows my name because He loves me.

"What makes you want to go on?" Deep in my heart, I am ashamed that Christ's short life and gruesome death were not enough of a wake up call for me. I didn't learn in 19 years, at the time, of knowing what Jesus did for me what 7 months and 2 days with Noah taught me. What makes me go on is knowing that I am not my own. I was bought with Jesus' death on the cross. As a mom, no, as Emily and Noah's mom, I will not live this life half-hearted nor for my own pursuit. If I don't love God out loud in front of Em, I'm not worthy of being her mom. I'm not worthy of being His child...

"What would your child tell you to do now?" This one was difficult for me to answer because I can be quite literal...since Noah would be 17 months old, he'd be calling me 'Mama' about now. I suppose that's what I am supposed to continue doing, being his big sister's 'Mama'.

Our assignment was to make preparations for the holidays. This was a powerful time because each parent in the room had different fears or apprehensions about the upcoming dates. Many plans have been rearranged or changed altogether in order to lessen the pain. One mom will be trudging through her second holiday season without her daughter. Her husband has left her, his family no longer comes around, she made no mention of her own family, just she and her two boys, alone all day, her not motivated to cook a meal and finding no reason to celebrate. The dad in the group that has lost 3 children in the last 3+ years encouraged her that perhaps all she stopped doing the first year may be reintroduced over time. Just because she didn't do that particular tradition the first year doesn't mean she has to stop it altogether. Sitting there, I couldn't help but think of so many other people who have lost someone they love, whether a child or spouse or parent or friend or whomever. The point of our discussion and the goal of our homework over the next week and even as time continues, is to establish memories, ways to remember those we miss dearly. I am very grateful that this is our topic for the next couple of weeks because even as I think of Noah on countless occasions throughout the day, I have not made memorials, really, and it makes the last year and a half all the more distant.

One facilitator stated that this is where we as the grievers need to state our thoughts and desires plainly so there is no guessing. We need to take responsibility to mention our child's (or your loved ones) name and say that for which we are thankful. They gave us a sheet titled, "Creating Memorials", which has many suggestions as to ways to remember and help others remember. Our experience is different, as is the next guys, but we were in the hospital last year at this time. We spent the holidays and my birthday in the hospital and so, for me, not being there this year will leave an emptiness in my heart. We will likely head over to the new hospital on Thanksgiving to try to encourage other families experiencing now what we did just one year ago.

Please, understand I am not stating this for my own benefit because my life is full and my heart runs over with love and generosity everyday from family and friends. I really do hope this has become a resource of encouragement for others who are also grieving or for those of you who are standing alongside friends and family in their loss. But as the holidays quickly approach, don't let the time pass by without acknowledging the memory of the person who is no longer here. Light a candle, make a toast, lead out in prayer, giving thanks for that person, give the widower flowers...whatever you do, don't ignore the elephant in the middle of the room or it might just sit on your face.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'm sad...

"Mom, how do you spell 'Paige'?"
"Hey, Mom, let's add a heart."
"Hey, Mom, let's draw a seashell, too."

"Let's pray for Paige's family."
I now know what it feels like to read someone else's blog, pray for them, and for them to die. Her name was Paige Stibgen and she was a tough cookie that had leukemia. She is survived by her loving family and lots of friends. She was 11.
I can't get her out of my mind...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Life in the fast lane, Week 5

equals this.

I am grateful everyday for Emily for more reasons than I can usually count. Today I was grateful that she counts as 'two or more persons' in order for me to qualify for the carpool lane. Em and I are in CA with Jason for a few days while he works. The traffic is crazy out here but we got to pass it all up in the carpool lane. It was a beautiful thing. Today we were blessed to have a play date with my friend's girlfriends who prayed for us while Noah was in the hospital. Em enjoyed meeting new friends and I was humbled once again to meet people who have prayed for us.

Yesterday we swam in the pool, took a picnic to Venice beach, hit the playground, read books at the library, painted nails and then had dinner with a dear friend who was an RA on my first staff in MN. Em was so wiped out from swimming she actually fell asleep at the restaurant...something she has never done because she's such a socialite. My little sister used to fall asleep in literally every restaurant we ever ate in. One restaurant owner kept a sun chair in the closet for every one of our visits just for my sister.

We had to skip out of grief counseling a half hour early but it seemed like a very full hour. Our topic of discussion for the next two weeks is self-care. We were given a sheet divided into three categories: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual. Under each heading were many manifestations that we may or may not be experiencing as a result of walking through grief. I was able to circle a few in each category, but in assessing each word in each list I was grateful that, at least on Monday of this week, I had moved beyond some of those feelings that were more detrimental to my health and spiritual well being.

We did an exercise where we went up to a table filled with 'treasures' or little objects, pictures or words that represented what we currently treasure and those things that remain in our lives in spite of our loss and because of our loss. Jason shared before we had to go. He had chosen: a small coin that said, "PEACE", the meaning of Noah's name; a feather that reminded him of special memories hunting with his dad and brother; a sticker that said, "Family" because he said he values his time with me and Em; and a wooden cross because Christ is the center of his life. Another man who does not share a lot in class talked about the contents of his cup. One of his stickers said, "Family", too, and he proceeded to share how the men in his family do not really engage in displays of affection, saying, "I love you", or conversation, but as a result of their son's death, much of that has changed and for that he is grateful.

It's funny (not really) how my Beth Moore Bible study last week lined up with the content of grief counseling, as well. Self-care. Even in pouring out, there is a necessity for refilling. Often as Christians we talk about being channels of Christ's love to people we meet, but a channel is a constant stream. That means it needs constant access to the Source. I have lived guilty of trying to coast, so to speak, on spiritual 'highs' of the past, not filling up and not seeking the Lord's strength each day. It's like when the Israelites hoarded their manna instead of trusting God was going to provide it each day, just as He had said.

One of the facilitators on Monday read this quote that I will end with to help bring visual perspective to what I'm talking about...

"We should seek to become reservoirs rather than canals. For a canal just allows the water to flow through it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, then it can communicate without loss to itself. In the church today, we have many canals but few reservoirs."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux - 12th century

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Good grief (LONG)

Last year at this time, holding 'Brudder'
He was her favorite person
She knows how to love like no other...
These are our friends, Matt and Molly
After saying she wanted to be a 'dove' and 'Laura Ingalls Wilder', Em decided she wanted to be a 'China doll'
These will be great to look back on when she and Jackson are older

It's been a crazy busy week since we returned from SD, trying to unpack from the trip so we can pack our house and pack in quick visits with friends before we pack again for another week out of town. Did I mention we close on our house on November 28th? I'll just cram all my packing in for the night before...just kidding. Well, sort of. Actually my mom is helping tremendously! I did wait until the night before I left for college, though, to pack. Last minute cramming actually reminds me of one reason I posted a picture of our friends, Matt and Molly.

In 1995 we went to Siberia with these guys, and oh, about 150 teenagers for 2 months. Yes, we were crazy. But, Jason and I would have literally lost it if we hadn't had these guys to keep us laughing and pressing on day to day. Anyone who went on this trip with us knows that there are so many words to describe it yet is was indescribable. One day when I find all my pictures, I'll scan some for fun. Anyway, I mention them because we are blessed. Jason and I have a lot of friends. I am not bragging. This is a reality. We have met many wonderful people growing up, going to college, moving from state to state, going on mission trips, life in the hospital, in blog world. We are blessed because whether in proximity or in our hearts, our friends at whatever stage in life, even if 'inactive', will always be dear to us. Our lives are as busy as anyone else's, but it doesn't keep us from praying for and loving the friends God has sent our way.

The last year and a half has really brought to light the importance of friendship, as well as a working definition of the word for us. We have learned through the agony of losing Noah where our deep friendships lie and where other relationships that were teetering between deep and shallow now stand. As part of our grief counseling, we were assigned the task of essentially going through every person in our lives, during our loss and after, and determining their role in regards to whether they are 'Doers', 'Listeners', or 'Not really serving any role or purpose'. I realize the last category sounds cold, but if everyone were to be honest in their own lives, whether you've walked through grief or not, you could compile your own list and there would be people who fall into that column. These are people who have 'checked out' or are draining or so self-absorbed that there is no room for mutual encouragement. These are people that don't really need to be in our lives at this stage, and maybe not in the future. Basically, it's a column where it's okay to say, "No. I'm a grown up and I choose not to have you in my life." Relationships change. They come and go. The ones that remain are those that run deep. New ones that come are those that can endure the 'new' you.

For me, I can plug people into each column quite easily. I am not 'crusty' about being able to do so, either. My expectations were just that, mine, and when people who I thought were supposed to do something or say something did not, God showed me a bigger picture of the Body of Christ. He showed me that it had no walls. He also showed me that it was not okay for me to have those expectations, even though we think it is justified. Maybe I'm a bit jaded. I have always been an optimist. I try to see both sides, at least at first. I want to pray appropriately so when I do form an opinion, it is based on someone else's fruit and not just my assumptions.

Last night (a Friday, mind you), Jason and I went to a grief night for parents at the new Children's Hospital. The speaker shared about the gamut of emotions. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Guilt. Loneliness. Depression. Non-emotion. I'll go into those on another post, but another thing he touched on was how other people expect 'bereaved parents' (or widows, widowers or any of those 'left behind') to be their old selves again. He talked about men in particular at this point because men do not show emotion like women (nor should they be expected to...FYI). He said that when a person returns to 'life', ie. job, school, social circles, and begins 'doing' some of their old things, ie. responsibilities, tasks, work, other people view that as their 'old self' and expect that the 'griever' is 'over it' and ready to resume life as they knew it. Let me just reiterate what grievers (or even non-grievers who have made radical life changes) have been trying to tell people around them for YEARS...I AM CHANGED AND THERE IS NO 'OLD ME'. THAT PERSON YOU KNEW IS GONE AND FOREVER CHANGED. THIS IS ME. I AM FIGURING OUT THE NEW ME, BUT LET IT BE CRYSTAL CLEAR, I AM NO LONGER THAT PERSON YOU LIKED OR DIDN'T LIKE, SO LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF. YOU CAN GET TO KNOW ME AS I START LIVING ONE DAY AT A TIME WITHOUT THE PERSON IN MY LIFE THAT I LOVED. IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE NEW ME, THAT'S TOTALLY FINE WITH ME. I AM THE MOM OF A DEAD KID. I AM THE MOM OF A LIVING KID. I AM THE WIFE OF A MAN OF GOD WHO LOST THE ONLY SON HE EVER HAS KNOWN. WE ARE THE FAMILY ON THE BLOCK WITH THE CHILD WHO DIED. I DON'T CARE ABOUT WHAT IS ON THE COVER OF THE 'INQUIRER'. I'M NOT INTERESTED IN GOSSIP. I'M NOT WORRIED ABOUT OFFENDING PEOPLE IF THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD.

Anyway, it was insightful. I appreciated what he shared regarding men and their grief expressions. He said that society has expected men to express their grief in the same way women do, so when they don't cry enough or talk about their feelings, everyone assumes they are cold or 'out of touch' with their emotions. We are all going to grieve the way we are wired to grieve. We don't know how we'll grieve. It's not a course you can take: Grief 101: How to Grieve. It hits at unexpected times, like on the ellipse machine at the gym or seeing someone with the same diaper bag I chose for Noah. I am grateful that God showed us early on that even though we shared the same beautiful son, Jason and I will grieve differently as our losses were varied.

We then toured the new facility and found some of Noah's doctors and nurses. It was good to connect with them and catch up a little on their new roles at the hospital. One of the docs, Noah's last resident, got on the phone and started calling people in the hospital saying, "Noah Graves' parents are here", as if everyone should just know who that is. We teased him about it and he and the other doc said it was true. That there are just some kids that remain in their memories forever. When they say, "NOAH" it is like saying 'Madonna' (except of course, DIFFERENT than Madonna). Everyone knows who they are talking about. As a parent, just as the speaker had shared earlier that night, it means a lot to know that people remember and aren't afraid to 'bring up your child'. EVERY PARENT IN THE ROOM RAISED THEIR HAND WHEN ASKED IF IT WAS A POSITIVE THING WHEN PEOPLE BRING UP THEIR DEAD CHILD.