Friday, March 6, 2015

The Exception

It is probably human nature to wish for the extraordinary: we want better-than-average looks, bank accounts, athletic abilities, jobs, adventures, houses, grades, friends, creativity, intelligence, and, of course, families. Anyone who listens to "A Prairie Home Companion" knows about the Lake Woebegon effect.

For most of my life, I wanted to be extraordinary in these areas too. To be fair, I am quite privileged: I am a white, educated, married, healthy (sometimes), Christian, American woman and mother. Also, I have health insurance. But I was fairly average for a privileged woman, always falling within normal ranges.

Then, the year 2012 happened. Weston happened. 2012 kicked me out of the average club and into the club no parent ever wants to join. I became the exception to the rule, the statistical anomaly.

I was initiated into the bereaved parents club because I, and then Weston, defied one medical average after another. It certainly was not the extraordinariness I had wished for.

First, hospital bed rest. From the hospital maternal-fetal medicine specialist: "We only see cases like yours once or twice a year. There is only a one in 2,000-3,000 chance of a pregnant woman developing this condition. It happens more to women who use cocaine." For the record, I have never touched cocaine.

Then, the NICU. There is nothing average about the NICU and watching your baby suffer.

Then, I held my son as he took his last breath: my most extraordinary of extraordinary tragedies.

Afterwards: "We don't know why Weston died. His body just shut down."

Statistics ceased to have meaning. Our family had defied them too many times, as had my new friends' children. Freak accidents and stillbirth and cancer and SIDS became the norm.

Time went on, and I stopped trying to win the Grief Olympics. I have survived the death of my child, and the other tragedies of my life are distant second, third, and so on. However, those other tragedies and struggles I and all of humanity face are no less legitimate simply because they might not be as bad as losing a child.

Take this accident, for example. It could have been so much worse, and I would take on this pain for the rest of my life over losing a child. But. Oh, it hurts, physically and emotionally.

I got some difficult news today. The three broken bones are healed, and I am cleared for movement and more aggressive therapy. However, according to the doctors it is going to hurt like hell. I am looking at six MONTHS of therapy. The splint has to come off, which, so far, has greatly increased the pain level. I need pain management injections, and I have to increase the narcotics. I still cannot take care of Will for at least 5-7 more weeks.

When I got home, without my protective splint, I saw that too-familiar sad/scared/confused look in Caroline's eye. She knows I'm in pain and that she has to be careful around me...again. Will has not gained a single ounce in over a month.

The kicker from today: "Your pain/poor range of motion/need for six more months of therapy is not normal. This does not happen often, and we don't know why." Once again, I'm the exception. Lucky me.

And then (this made me smile): "I'm so sorry this has happened to you. You're so normal and sweet."

There it is: why do bad things happen to good people? I have stopped asking that question, but it remains a universal mystery. I have prayed and reflected often lately and have discovered some profound spiritual truths related to my current physical pain. That is and has to be enough for now.

And my sweet girl introduced our babysitter to Weston today. Overheard from the other room:

Caroline:...And we were outside talking to the neighbor, and then we saw a huge rainbow!

R: Oh, rainbows are so pretty!

C: Do you know Weston?

R: Huh?

C: Well, he died. [Pause] He's my brother.

Yes, he is her brother, and he is extraordinary.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Partial Deja Vu

Hello, friends. It's time to dust off the old blog again. Disclaimer: I am typing with one hand, and I just took a nice strong painkiller. If this post makes no sense, it means I hit "publish" too soon. You have been warned...

If we are Facebook friends, you probably know that the kids and I were in a car accident almost two weeks ago. The children are physically fine-thank you, God-but I was injured. Long medical story short: I sustained an open compound fracture to my radius (the larger forearm bone), a fracture to one of the wrist bones, instant carpal tunnel syndrome, and damage to multiple tendons that control movement to my thumb and the last two fingers.

The accident was on a Thursday evening, I had surgery Friday evening, and I went home Sunday afternoon, which was Super Bowl Sunday. I have a splint now and can't use my arm at all for at least six weeks. Full recovery could take up to a year. That's all I'm going to say about my injuries, because this is not a pity party post. Except I will say this: whoever said childbirth is the most painful thing one can experience was, uh, misinformed.

What is remarkable is that I am in the exact position I was almost three years ago in that I am entirely dependent on others to meet our family's basic needs. More than one person has mentioned our family's repeated misfortunes and my newfound familiarity with hospitals.

This is such a discouraging situation: the pain is unbearable at times. I can't hold my baby or even be alone with him. My husband is once again my caretaker, sole caretaker of the children, cook, errand runner, breadwinner, and house cleaner. Caroline was traumatized at watching me bleed AGAIN; she said she thought my hand was going to fall off. I JUST started homeschooling her last month; it's been going so well, and we are derailed already. Will didn't cry immediately after the impact, so I thought he might be dead. I have newfound grief over the physical suffering Weston must have experienced in his short life, now that I have a taste of it myself. My "In Mourning" bracelet for Weston that had never left my wrist had to be cut off. I have every reason to throw a massive pity party.

(I have, at times. There has been plenty of ugly crying.)


I have said before that having and losing Weston has given me many beautiful gifts. Of course, I'd gladly give them up to have him back, but I choose to acknowledge and accept the gifts he has given me. He has made the world a better place. On my best days, I am a better person than before, and it is because I am Weston's mother. Also because God didn't give up on me.

GRATITUDE and PERSPECTIVE are Weston's gifts to me regarding this accident. Consider:

My children were unharmed. MY CHILDREN WERE UNHARMED. That first night at the hospital was scary, to say the least. To keep myself under control after I was admitted and taken to my room, I just repeated a prayer of thanksgiving over and over for their safety.

We had so much help at the accident scene. I couldn't help the kids at all due to my injuries, but a woman took hysterical Caroline and held her until the Fire Department arrived. A man called 911 and Shannon for us. Another man took Will out of his carseat and then sheltered him from the rain. Others looked after me. The first responders were...amazing. What a difficult and rewarding job.

My right hand and arm were injured. I'm a lefty.

I have no internal injuries.

I knew two of my nurses, although I didn't recognize either of them initially. Morphine...

I talked about Weston a lot to the hospital staff. I don't remember what I said (again, morphine), but the accident really triggered a lot of painful memories, which is why I kept talking about him, I think. Even in my state of shock, system full of drugs, and hyperventilating as my preferred coping mechanism, I remember and appreciate the sincere sympathy everyone displayed.

My first night, I had an elderly roommate with dementia who kept me awake almost all night with her chattering. If I'm being completely honest, it was REALLY annoying, but I felt terrible for her; she was in pain and so confused. In the morning, a volunteer from a neighborhood Catholic church came to visit her and give her communion. As she left, I called out to her from behind my curtain and asked her if she would give this searching Protestant a prayer. We said the Our Father together and chatted for a few minutes. She was so kind when I (of course) started bawling again. This chance encounter was another reminder that God never left my side.

Caroline is now in Flagstaff having the time of her life at my mom and sister's houses. She'll be up there all week.

Once again, the outpouring of love and help has been overwhelming. I can't even put it into words. (But you know I'm going to try anyway...) After all we have been through in the last three years, I would have thought people would get tired of helping us. "Help the Yoder Family" practically deserves its own time and money budget category by now. But the offers continue to pour in, all the way from old friends whom I haven't seen in many years to brand new friends I have just met in the past month, and everyone in between.

Last week, I was worrying about how we were going to find help for six weeks. Then I remembered a quote from C.S. Lewis (I think): "Manna kept, it worms." The quote refers to the Israelite exodus from Egypt in which God made food (manna) rain down when the people were starving. The manna shower happened every morning, with just enough manna to get through that day. If the people tried to ration it, it spoiled. The point was to trust God for everyday provision and not worry about the next day.

Anyway. I stopped worrying about who is going to help with the kids on February 28 or whatever. (It's not nearly as pious as it sounds. I was just distracted by trying to manage the pain.) And now we have EVERY NEED through February 21-ish met at this point.

Making a meal, giving me a ride, and babysitting might seem mundane. But I have stopped distinguishing between the sacred and the mundane. Using your hands (or car) when I can't use mine is being a servant. As far as I'm concerned, meeting my or any family's needs is a sacred act.

Equally important are the prayers and words of kindness and encouragement, some coming from people who are suffering much more than I am.

And, the perspective. How am I doing right now? I have been much better. This situation sucks. But it could be, and has been, far worse. I did not have to bury a child this time. While I certainly wish this accident was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, I know that my family can survive this setback.

Thank you for being present for my family, yet again, whether physically or in spirit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Christmas in July

Well, we had a baby! William Andrew Yoder (Will) was born on July 5, his due date, at 8:33 a.m. He weighed in at 8 pounds 5.6 ounces. He had an echo when he was about eight hours old, and his heart is perfect! I'll have to write down his birth story at some point, although I am in no danger of forgetting.

July is obviously the most difficult month of the year for our family, as it includes Weston's birthday and the day he died. Last July, we had an incredibly healing vacation in Colorado. This July, we had a baby!

I can hardly believe I have a living, breathing baby to hold and love. Over the past ten months, I have only let my mind wander to the place of holding a baby occasionally. Even as I pushed Will out, with my family saying excitedly, "There he is! There's his head! He's here!", I could not let my mind imagine the reality of a live baby until he was on my chest where I could see him, and crying, so I knew without a doubt that he was alive. He is such a gift.

Will arrived two days before Weston's second birthday. That reality hasn't sunk in yet, although Weston's birthday was a very hard, emotional day. My heart and mind need to work through the birthdays, but I'm simply too tired to do so right now.

Will looks exactly like Caroline did when she was a baby. Weston has a lot of strong similarities to the two of them as well. I imagine the similarities would be even stronger if I had any pictures of him both alive and not covered in tubes.

My first big "test" came only eight or so hours after Will was born. Shannon had left to pick up Caroline, so I was alone with Will. I knew he would need a repeat echo on his heart, and I was emotionally prepared. I was not prepared, however, for the echo to take place in the NICU.

Merely seeing the doors to the NICU causes my chest to tighten and my heart to race. I could not imagine going in there. The nurse came to get Will for the echo, but there was no way I was going to let him go without me. As his mother, it was simply not an option.

With the powerful motivation to be present for Will, I did not fall apart this time. I did not have to scrub in, which was a relief, and we were led to an area about twenty feet from Weston's bed. There were only one or two babies in Weston's pod, including one in Weston's spot in an identical bed. The NICU was very quiet that day. I don't think I heard any alarms. I sat there in that eerily quiet NICU with my healthy child, directly in front of the spot where my sick child was taken off life support.

But I was OK. I got a big hug from one of Weston's former nurses. She had enabled Shannon to hold Weston for an hour one night (I wasn't there). I wonder if others thought it was weird that we were reminiscing about such a painful time, but I am grateful for my memories and grateful that she was willing to share hers.

We were discharged late in the afternoon of July 6. As I was wheeled outside with my family, and a healthy baby in my arms, I remembered the late afternoon of July 6, 2012: I was taken to the high risk unit and began the terrifying countdown to Weston's birth about ten hours later.

In case anyone is wondering, we are very happy with our decision to give birth at the same hospital where Weston lived and died. That building will now forever hold the most painful and some of the most precious memories of our lives.

The monsoons are here, which means…rainbows. I still have only seen one rainbow since Weston died, not counting the one we saw the day he died. However, other people have told me about their rainbow sightings in recent days, for which I am grateful.

We had newborn and family photos taken the other day. I had set up the session several weeks ago. I told the photographer about Weston and let her know we'd bring a few objects to represent him in the family pictures. We were at her studio all day, and I was blown away at her ideas to incorporate Weston into the pictures. I cannot wait to see the finished product. It was a special day; I loved watching my family interact for these pictures, but I did not expect to feel Weston's presence so strongly there.

We were all exhausted when we went home from the photo session. I got the mail on my way inside, which included a large envelope full of cards and a letter from the Postal Service. I figured they were congratulatory cards for Will's birth. I scanned the Postal Service letter, which said something about being sorry that our mail got damaged. I looked closer at the cards and discovered that they were all postmarked December 2012. They were Christmas cards from our first Christmas without Weston.

Somehow these several cards were lost in the Postal Service system for 1.5 years, only to materialize in July? Like Will's birth falling so close to Weston's birthday, this was no coincidence. I was so overwhelmed that I had to put the cards aside to read them later. One card was written by someone who has since died; it was surreal to see her handwriting, expressing her sympathy.

I have mentioned previously that I gave myself permission not to observe Weston's birthday this year and not to feel guilty about it. Although I didn't feel guilty, it was still an incredibly painful day. I had figured, with the happy chaos of a new baby, Weston would fall to the wayside for a while. I couldn't have been more wrong. His presence is everywhere, and others are remembering him too. My heart is full.

And I am not the only one. For some reason, July is a tragically busy month in the bereaved parent community. But these children are everywhere. There are random acts of kindness happening, vivid dreams, and unmistakable signs.

Caroline and Weston will always have a bond; they were alive together, after all. Today, on Will's ninth day of life, the bond between my two boys is unmistakable. I am grateful.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Weston's second birthday is in nine days. I will most likely give birth between now and then. Last year, anticipating the month of July was like a rock in my chest. I know so many families of children who died in July. Whether we are one, two, or twenty years out, it is a painful month. I anticipated and experienced the same.

However, there is nothing like cardiac problems with one's unborn baby to shift the attention and anticipation elsewhere. Make no mistake, my attention has been right where it should be. However, now the cardiac problems seem to be abating, and I have truly begun the (probable) single-digit countdown to childbirth. The reality is upon me that I will be giving birth again very soon.

When we learned that Baby #3's due date would fall two days before Weston's birthday, I gave myself permission to not observe his birthday and not feel guilty about it. Even baking a cake will be too much with a days-old newborn or being overdue in Phoenix in the summertime.

Throughout my pregnancy, I have wondered how my grief over Weston would change when his little brother arrives. Different fears have come and gone. At times, I've expected to be blown away by the intensity of the grief. I don't talk about it much outside of a very small group of people, and I'm not going to elaborate here either. It is quite taboo for any emotion besides elation to accompany the arrival of a new baby, so I'm keeping my mouth shut.

Reminders of Weston are everywhere these days. It is almost overwhelming. In one evening recently, two people let me know he was on their minds.

A new website was launched this week specifically for pregnant women who have previously lost a child. It has been enormously helpful to read others' experiences with childbirth, caring for their rainbow babies, and all the feelings that accompany these experiences.

And, yesterday. I had another echo at the hospital's medical tower. It was fine: baby's heart is unchanged from last time, there are still no signs of distress, and I don't have to have anymore fetal echoes! They will do another one directly on the baby when he is born, and we'll go from there.

Recently, I've been having brief bouts of sciatic pain that, quite literally, stop me in my tracks. I had several of those as I left the medical tower. I was limping along when I saw someone out of the corner of my eye. I looked closer-yes, it was her. Dr. Z, the neonatologist who treated Weston as he was dying.

At that moment, I had a strong, painful contraction. Dr. Z was talking to someone else and didn't see me. I hadn't seen her since our meeting a couple of months after he died. I limped to the elevator and somehow made it to my car before I ugly-cried for several minutes.

I had figured that seeing the NICU or any NICU staff that I knew would be a painful trigger, but I did not expect ugly crying. I felt a little better afterwards, or so I thought, because then I almost had a BAD car accident. I can't bear to imagine the consequences if the accident had actually happened.

At this point, I have to keep it together. I have a baby to birth and a lot of anxiety to work through to make it happen. I can't wait to meet him, and I think about holding him constantly. I have a daughter who is petrified that I'll go to the hospital and not leave for a month again. It will all be over soon.

If you see me in the month of July, please go easy on me. There is no doubt that Weston is with me, even when I'm too overwhelmed to see him, until he makes it quite obvious like he did this week.

It is hot and dry out, with forecasts ranging from 107 to 115 degrees for the following week. But, wouldn't you know it, there is a chance of rain on July 4. I'm hoping and praying to have both of my boys with me that day: one rainbow in the sky and my rainbow baby in my arms.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Elimination of First World Problems (Again)

For the last few weeks, my toenails have been on my mind. I painted them myself a few weeks ago, but it was, uh, challenging. Just put a beach ball under your shirt and try to see past it; then you'll know what I was up against. Now they are chipped, and I can't paint them at all (the whole nine-months-pregnant thing). Yesterday I had a routine-for-me ultrasound scheduled, so I decided to squeeze in a pedicure afterwards. I have probably had less than ten pedicures in my whole life-I'm a DIY kind of person when it comes to beauty-so the pedicure was going to be quite a luxury.

When one's child dies, one's entire world view shifts. As the title suggests, first world problems vanish. For me, some of them have returned since Weston died. But I am a different person now, so I'm fairly certain that I will mostly either not experience or not care about the majority of my former first world problems anymore.

For me, I guess, fretting over ugly toenails at nine months pregnant is a first world problem that returned. Just as quickly as it returned, though, it has disappeared again.

Yesterday's ultrasound was the last of my growth ultrasounds. Due to my severe placental problems with Weston, my OB ordered these extra ultrasounds every four weeks to make sure baby's growth is on track. Everything has been perfect, growth-wise and anatomy-wise, so far.

So I had the ultrasound, was told baby is measuring about one week ahead, and waited a few minutes for the ultrasound tech to confirm the results with the maternal-fetal-medicine physician. There was some back and forth communication, more calculations on the computer, and eventually the tech returned with the MFM to re-measure baby's heart. It was probably around that point that I forgot about my toenails.

It looked enlarged, but probably because baby was at a weird angle. No big deal, we can send you to a pediatric cardiologist if it will make you feel better, but it's not necessary, etc. Then one more measurement was taken, looks were exchanged, and I was promptly referred to the pediatric cardiologist, "just to be cautious."

One hour later I found myself at the medical tower at St. Joseph's Hospital, site of Weston's birth, life, and death, in the same building where my former MFM had his office. Another ninety minutes after that (spent in a tiny room with an ultrasound tech, nurse practitioner, cardiologist, Shannon, and myself), and we had added the anatomy and function of the human heart, specifically of our baby's heart, to our areas of medical expertise.

In a nutshell, our baby's heart is enlarged; more specifically, the right ventricle of his heart is enlarged. This enlargement is apparently causing slight decrease in heart function and signifies stress on his heart. It is NOT a defect-the anatomy of his heart is perfect-and there are no rhythm or circulation problems. At the time of the cardiac exam, his heart rate was slightly elevated as well.

Many things can cause stress on a baby's heart. However, none of those reasons was present on the ultrasound screen. I don't know if that is good or bad. The cardiologist said he'd like to repeat the scan next week but that my OB would make the final call regarding care from that point. We were reassured that no one had been in a rush to do anything yet. Even the MFM had originally suggested a Monday appointment with the cardiologist. So we went home with instructions to wait for a follow-up call for further recommendations.

An hour later, my OB's partner called with instructions to present to the hospital for continuous monitoring over the weekend with a repeat cardiac scan on Monday. After that, everything is up in the air. I do know that, if his heart is worse, he will probably be delivered by C-section then. What I do not know is whether I will get to go home if there has been no change.

It is also my understanding that cardiac issues are the most common newborn problems, and most are easily corrected. Also, some people just have larger hearts than others. This is not entirely reassuring to me anymore, because he specifically has an enlarged ventricle. And, some babies' heart issues just disappear, either before or after they are born. The sense I get is that, if this problem does not go away, baby will be delivered sooner rather than later, will spend some time in the NICU getting tested, and then go home with us.

So here I am. I'm in a room like the one where I spent eight terrifying hours before Weston was born. I had to ask to switch rooms to one that is flip-flopped from the pre-Weston room because, well, terrible flashbacks.

I have already seen three of my former nurses, which makes me happy. Two of them were/are my current nurses, and the other one will be on Monday.

Since I have been on continuous monitoring, it has become evident that baby's heart rate is NOT elevated. An elevated heart rate is another sign of stress. His heart rate has remained steady, and there are no other indications that he is in any distress. I can unhook the monitors myself to use the restroom, etc., and I was told earlier today that I can even walk around the hospital without any monitors a couple times a day.

I am trying not to let my mind go where it inevitably wants to go, and I'm doing OK so far. My entire medical team is quite calm, so I'm holding onto that. On the other hand, (1) my child died, and (2) there is something not right with my baby's HEART.

My baby is not quite full-term: one more week until we hit that milestone. Fortunately, medical risks that accompany prematurity would be minimal if he has to be born in the upcoming week.

Caroline is doing relatively well. She was quite upset to hear that I am in the hospital until she arrived last night for a visit. Then she was just disappointed that the baby is STILL in my tummy! She's having fun today so far, and she and Shannon will come visit later this afternoon. But she remembers this room as "the room you were in when Weston was in your tummy."

Despite the cautiously optimistic outcome, this experience is quite trying. It almost feels like a cruel joke that we are in this position again. On Monday, I want to see a regular-sized ventricle and heart, a fully functioning heart, and a medical team scratching their collective heads as a result. And I want to go HOME and come back in a few weeks for a regular labor and delivery. And maybe even squeeze in a pedicure in the meantime.

Thank you for all the prayers, love, and support. Please keep it coming.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

To My Son

Dear Son,

You, my third child, will arrive in less than two months. Your big sister, Caroline, is anxiously awaiting your arrival, and your dad and I are working feverishly to get our house ready for you. Once again, our lives will change when you get here.

Four of us will experience life together, but we are a family of five. You have an older brother who died. You are the only member of our family who will never get to meet him. Our family talks about him all the time, so I think you will always know he is part of us. I don't envision a big, sit-down talk where we tell you that you have an older brother named Weston.

You are expected to arrive right around Weston's birthday. In fact, there is a chance the two of you will share a birthday. If so, I hope it creates a special bond between the two of you.

Parents have hopes, dreams, and fears for their children, even before they are born. After losing your brother, my list of hopes and dreams for you is pretty short: I want you to live longer than me and your dad. I want you to know you are always loved, no matter what. There are more, but those are the two big ones.

And, fears. That list has gotten longer. It is one of many changes in moms and dads who lose children. Now, though, I just want to address one fear.

I fear that there are already heavy, heavy expectations placed on you.

I am elated that you will be joining our family. The thought of meeting you for the first time, smelling your sweet newborn smell, finally holding you, and watching you grow fills my heart with a joy that you cannot even imagine.

Weston died when he was three weeks old. He will not grow up. The two of you will not play together. And that fact makes me very, very sad. Weston's absence has left a hole in my heart that will never be filled as long as I am alive.

My fear is that YOU, my second son, are expected to fill the hole in my heart. Thankfully, no one has suggested that you will replace Weston (what an insult to both of you). But I am afraid that your arrival in our lives will be characterized as a cure for my sadness and grief over Weston.

I feel joy every day. Your big sister and your dad bring joy to my life. Now, feeling you kick, preparing your room, and imagining my day-to-day life with you in it bring me joy as well.

But I am also sad every day. Because I always think about Weston, and he is not here, so I miss him terribly. As a mother, I cannot help but carry all three of you in my heart, constantly. I could no more stop thinking about the three of you than I could make my heart stop beating.

So the key is this: it is possible to feel abundant joy and overwhelming sadness at the same time.

Trying to "cure" my sadness is an impossible task. It is unfair to ask such a thing of both you and your big sister. When you see my sadness over your brother (and you will), please do not ever think that you need to make it go away. That is the heavy expectation that I will never place on you.

You will learn that two seemingly opposite states of being-joy and grief-can coexist. They do not cancel each other out. But as long as we love someone who is not here, we experience grief. And joy does not invalidate or eliminate grief. They are yin and yang. In fact, I would argue that we cannot fully experience either state of being without the other.

You are not Weston, so you do not need to fill a Weston-shaped hole. You are not a cure for my grief. You are my third child, my second son, the baby of our family. That is and always will be enough for me. You are a gift from God.

I love you,

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sharing Anniversaries

Two years ago today, the journey of losing my innocence began. Nearing the end of my first trimester carrying Weston, heavy bleeding began at the park. It was not the worst day, and it is not the worst "anniversary," but it is quite symbolic to me, as it (unknowingly then) changed the course of my life.

If April 18, 2012 was the beginning of a journey, it, by necessity, signified the end of something else: a relatively carefree and oblivious life. It was the first of many crossroads.

Today, April 18, 2014, is Good Friday, in which Christians observe the death of Jesus. The significance of these two "anniversaries" occurring on the same day is not lost on me.

Lent ended yesterday. (Lent is the roughly 40-day period preceding Easter in which Christians prepare their hearts for the events of Holy Week, which include the death and resurrection of Jesus.) There are fasting days, and people who observe Lent usually forgo some luxury (Facebook, sweets, etc.). For the past several years, I have read Lent readers (daily meditations on various Lenten themes), and for the past two years I have done additional spiritual explorations/projects.

Last year and this year, I consciously decided I am NOT giving up anything for Lent. I feel that I already "gave up" Weston, however involuntarily, so I cannot bear to give up anything else, at least this point in my life. Last week, a blogger I follow, who writes about losing THREE children, among other things, made the identical statement. So, right or wrong in my feelings about Lent, I know that I am not alone.

The last two weeks have been full of highs and lows: a growing, healthy baby (29 weeks tomorrow and the size of a butternut squash!). Missing my baby. A road trip to see my family. People I love having health struggles. A hayride, a hike, and roasting marshmallows. Being judged for my grief. Birthdays. Unexpected flashbacks and nightmares. Seeing an old friend. Insomnia. New crown molding. Yet another allergic reaction, complete with a visit from the paramedics.

(Regarding the last item, everything turned out fine: Caroline is OK, and…what could be better for a kid than to see an ambulance and fire truck up close?!)

I haven't done much to observe Holy Week this week, and my soul feels it. We didn't even have time to go to church today because our schedule was too full. Finally, I had some time this evening to catch up and reflect. I have been reading a daily lectionary (selected Scriptures) and was struck by the mix of despair and hope in today's selection.

For me, today's date marks the beginning of the darkest road I have ever walked. For Christians, myself included, today is the darkest day of the year. Acknowledging it and reflecting on it is essential to fully appreciate and truly rejoice in the coming observance of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. The darkness, suffering, and despair of Good Friday has drawn close to me in the last two years. As odd as it may sound, it brings me comfort and hope: Jesus can empathize with the pain I have experienced, because he has been there. He actually had it much worse.

But there is hope. We will celebration the victory of Jesus on Sunday. However, humanity's true "Easter" will not come during life on earth. It will happen when we are united with God for eternity, and when we are reunited with our loved ones.

While there is not wholeness on earth, there is hope. I'll take it. Today's lectionary demonstrated both despair and hope. Before Weston died, the same couple of Scripture verses came into my life over and over, and they were part of today's reading:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23.

I am holding onto hope on this day of dual anniversaries.

A blogger I follow wrote beautiful words today from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus: another mother who watched her son die. I love her description of wholeness. Through the death of her son, all parts of us became sacred, even the all-encompassing, gut-wrenching, involuntary heaving sobs of a mother saying goodbye to her son:

…You let your side be ripped open that our lives need never be split into sacred and secular.

How you were slashed that our lives could be seamless - all holy.

That the veil in the temple rents in two because of you, and there is no longer a divide between the common and the hallowed, and the whole earth is full of your glory and You are the continuous, unending, divine thread that weaves through all of the world, holding all together…even when you, Son, are rent apart.

-Ann Voskamp