Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 2017

Just recently someone reached out to me, prompted by a friend's loss of their 16 year old son.  Since that message came through I've been praying for them, knowing all too well the nightmare they are living.  Loss of a child has no human words, it is beyond comprehension, until it happens.  And even when it happens, it takes years to understand, accept.  My heart wants to wrap around this family and promise ....yes! promise ....that light will break through, that life will one day be okay!
For anyone reading here after having lost a child ...I know...and I am so deeply sorry for your loss.  I know it hurts beyond pain you ever believed possible.  I know.  I know you go over and over the last moments, the last words, everything, and look for the clue, the minute you could have said something different, done something else, gone a different route, made a better dinner ...that would have changed the outcome.  I know.  I still ask those questions, consider the possibility, take on the blame and shame of what's happened.  How could this child slip through my fingers?  I know.  Believe you are the perfect parent for your child, and you were handpicked just for them.  We don't know the mystery of God or of His plan ...His ways elude us.
I've done my share of screaming at God, letting Him know exactly how I felt, that He didn't actually know what He was doing ...or worse ...intentionally inflicting the agony of snatching my precious girl from me for some kind of punishment, some kind 'get back at me'!  And still, there are moments I find myself there.  The old me would have felt guilty or bad, the new me understands that God knows and understands me far more than I know myself.  He can take my rantings.
Our children are with God.  Why there and not here?  Only God knows.
It is over seven years since Phoebe died.  I'm sitting by our Christmas tree, it's lighted but not decorated.  The kids want to wait until they are all together, at least as many as can be, before the decorations are placed.  I love that!  Last night, I sat with one of our girls, just ten when our lives exploded, and talked about how far we've come, how bonded our kids our to each other.  They were always close, but there is something different now.  Phoebe remains part of them; she's here too.  It takes time, but life reinvents and reworks its way into a new normal, a new beautiful!  The sadness always lingers, but the joy emerges in small ways.
Hold on, with every ounce you have.  Breathe, cry, breathe, cry, breathe ....and trust, as contrary as that sounds.  Trust God with this!  I know, believe me I do, how hard it is to trust God now.  I chose to on a purely intellectual level.  There wasn't a shred of emotion in me that felt trusting towards God.
Trust too I'll be praying for you, for all of you ... I was where you are, I know.
And trust, that one day, the sun will shine again.  Trust that life will be good again!
It will, I promise!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Seven Years

Seven has always been my favorite number.  I don't know why; it just is.  When I was seven I wore bright red patent leather shoes for Easter with a light blue dress.  It didn't match, but I didn't care then.  I remember feeling beautiful.  I'm not sure if that's why seven has always been the number I love best.
This seven ...I don't like much.  The seven year mark since Phoebe passed.  It's a good amount of time, but seems like moments in so many ways.
I watch and listen to parents new to this loss, and I remember how life ended that day.  Not just Phoebe's but mine too ...and my family's.  Life was over.  Simple.  It was gone.  And like those stranded after shipwreck, we began to rebuild bit by bit, tear by tear.  We found a new normal, a new way, and made a life again.  All God's grace.
There is laughter and adventure, newness weaving through our family life.  And yet, it still begs for Phoebe's return, her belonging here hasn't changed.  We've just accommodated the loss of her.
Friends reach out, remembering and wanting to take away the pain that remains.  It is a long time for them too.  There will always be a hint of sorrow no matter how great the joy!  The Ressurection only follows the Crucifixion ...one cannot be without the other.
Just the other day I met with an old friend I hadn't seen in nearly 20 years.  I hold her responsible for teaching me my faith at a time I was truly ready and eager to learn.  She gathered us in, all young mothers, toddlers and babies in tow, to hear lessons on our faith.  It's those same women who carried me through this loss, that sat with me in that little rustic classroom.  She had left so unexpectedly for a family emergency there were no goodbyes or exchange of addresses.  Our little group adjusted and carried on with other teachers trying to offer the charism that came from Mimi.  Her faith was so certain and strong, and so beautifully delivered through her heavy Ukrainian accent.  It grounded me.  I still have the leather bound notebook I wrote in week by week, and look though it once again finding the treasures of faith.
Mimi came back as unexpectedly as she left.  I saw her across a crowd and something in my heart settled. I screamed her name and wove my way to her.  She stood there with one of my dearest friends, who has never left my side.  There was so much to share, what had happened over the years for all of us.  We agreed to meet.
When we did, we spoke only briefly of Phoebe.  She shared her memory of my little girl, just five. Together they found her a job to water the plants.  And she did each time we met, eagerly searching for her cup with her name on it.  Those are precious memories that speak to her innocence. Mimi called Phoebe's death a mystery in the sense that it belongs to God and beyond our understanding.  And in true Mimi form, she urged me onward.  Her eyes spoke volumes "Carolyn, it is very painful this loss, and it cannot be understood now, but you will one day.  For now, there is work that must be done, and you must do it with all your heart."  And she is right!  There is so much work to be done, so many hearts that need tending, so many feet that need lamplight ...way more than I could ever hope to help.
So this weekend started with a strong sense and urge to give back to someone else, to help someone who might be in need.  And all weekend they came in various forms.  People struggling with such hardship, such distress and despair.  It is painful to watch, but so hopeful when they are willing to turn to God and allow His plan to unfold.    So often His plans contradict our own.  I wrestle with that constantly, and it takes time to notice His way is better.
Seven years is a long time to miss someone, a long, long time.  And the aching wears on me.
But ...it is lighter and less threatening than it was in the beginning.
I have the vision to see the beauty around me, the depth of love that resides in my home among my kids and husband.  It is safe here, it is safe now.  I will be with Phoebe again.
God does not abandon us, ever.  Into each pain, each sorrow, each loss ...is a gift.  Doesn't lessen the intensity, but gives us the strength and grace we need to carry it.
Pray especially for those parents new to loss, they are living a nightmare.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Passing time

   The new year looms.  I've never been much of a fan of new year's celebrations.  I'd rather my whole family stay in, lights out at 8, rise early to greet the new year at daybreak, embracing the possibility.  But we are surrounded by youth in this house and getting dressed up, joining friends is fun and full of anticipation.  I wouldn't begrudge them the hope of a new year.  They've graciously and gracefully navigated challenge beyond their years, wiser than their peers, but still innocent and lovely.  I love who these children of mine are, but I wonder if there would be a difference if Phoebe still walked with them.  There is so much we don't say to each other. We've learned a new language that carries weight and heart without words ...we urge each other onward ...we choose forward without forgetting her.  This Christmas season was full of reflection, taking stock and recognizing the gift of who we've become as a family after our shattering loss.  We are survivors because of each other, because of the family we are.  The greatest earthly gift we could hope for.
  For years, even as a young child, I looked to other families and wished my own was more like this one or that one.  I grew up with a good bit of chaos and no extended family; I wanted joyful busyness with lots of people coming and going.  An image took hold in my heart and mind, and it was my quest for a long time to build that family of my own.  I took examples and emulated this or that of people I've loved and admired. But their families were never mine, as warmly hospitable and inclusive they may have been, or continue to be.
Our family is our own, separate and distinct from others.  I see it now for who we are today, what we value, how we treat others ...and I am proud of each one.  It's been a long struggle, day to day, to carry forward what my husband and I started nearly three decades ago.  Phoebe's death ruptured us and might have destroyed us, seriously, as such a thing does many, many families.  We felt destroyed, smashed to the tiniest fragmented pieces.  Fragment by fragment we began to rebuild, but only after learning again how to breath ...sounds so simple, but it needed relearning.  Truly at the core is our faith, which salvaged the wreckage.  And God works in our family every day. I try to see the graces sent our way.  I wonder how many I miss?  I wouldn't want our family to be any different than it is, and know no other that I strive to be more like.
   Christmas cards come in, and the kids open them, giggling at their friends, happy to see them captured for a card that we can post next to others in our home. Sometimes they chatter about having our own done; they've even gotten all dressed for the pose.  But none of us push it, none of us want to take that picture without Phoebe.  We are joyful, but we are not whole.  We are together, but missing one.  We are hopeful, but sorrow begs.  Still.
   As the world has moved on, even forgotten, remembering her is part of who we are, part of our story, our script.  The calendar will turn another page, into another month ...another year.  We march on.  You might not even know, unless we told you, and we are weary of the telling ...because it's not a story that can be understood really, unless you've lived it.  And it's not a story any one of us wants you to ever understand ...its simply too horrible and we pray it happens to no one else.  And it happens often enough that time and heart goes to tending parents so new to loss, blind with pain.  Whether they know it or not, God works in them, through them.  That's the bittersweet, hard to grasp ...that God's plan remains at work, even in the most wretched of pain.  We remain present as best we can, mostly wordless, to assure them they have another shot at living...in time ...even if that seems impossible, or maybe even undesired.  It's a long road to travel, lifelong.  Knowing there are others who are travelling too makes a it bit more bearable at times.
   I think of the journey giving example to us all that began in a manger. Christ's journey from birth to death, in human form, gives us contemplation.  It was not an easy path.  Accompanied by His mother, she bore the weight of it too.  Why would I expect my travelling through this life to be different?  Together, they taught us the beauty and value of suffering ...real, true suffering.  Keeping my eyes on them steadies me and lightens my loss, if only for a moment.
   Gathered at Bethlehem, the holy family, infant Jesus, drew people from near and far.  The scene is sweet, satisfying, worthy of our gaze, our rest.  I go there a lot, to Bethlehem.  It's where I like to believe Phoebe is, with the holiest of families.  I can turn the page of our calendar, welcome the new year knowing she is safe with the Word made flesh.  I consider what the new year might be like, but I don't expect magic with all sorts of superlatives clinging to events and experiences.  It's another year without Phoebe, but another year closer to reunion with her ...and that lifts my heart, without rushing the days.
   Please pray for all the families who have lost a child this past year.  They need every prayer possible.
   May you found peace and grace woven through each of your days this new year.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

This Day

I rise before the sun.  Mass for Phoebe at 7.  I've rested well, so different from years earlier ...where sleep meant nothing and those hours of darkness gave me a chance for stillness.  I wept my way through the night for the first two years, waking with eyes crusted shut ...it became a way.  I didn't care that sleep was fleeting, I only cared that for a little while everyone else slept, and I knew they were safe.
  These past six years have been hard.  There's the obvious loss of Phoebe and with that the nuances of her life entwined with ours from space to noise to laundry, food, shoes, movie preferences, tooth brushes, shower times ...everything changed.  And as mundane as many of these things are, when they're altered you recognize the root they have in our life and when they uproot, balance and basics of everyday become unfamiliar.  It takes time to right the ship ...time to learn to sail without the mast ...time to learn how to move ahead without the sail.  It takes time ...still is taking time.
  So what's the difference at six years?  Chronic agony does not have to be managed.  It still overwhelms and envelopes me, but not quite like it did when this whole journey started.  Yesterday, during our usual routine I could feel the uprising.  I wanted to flee away from where I was, away from the tidal wave of memory and pain that charged at me.  Eyes caught me, a familiar face, laced into our life in a unique way only God can do!  She knew ...the time, the who, the why.  Because every spring she steers her way gently and cautiously through the raging waves of grief.  No words, just a millisecond of a gaze "I know!" was enough to catch my breath, get through the task.  See how amazing God works!
  Six years ago I was thrown into a raging, churning ocean, crashing against jagged rocks.  I was cold and alone not knowing how to swim.  And that ocean is the same ...but today, I swim strong.  Every once and a while a wave catches me and carries me towards those rocks, but I graze them, knowing how to kick and move away.  Sometimes I go there, but mostly to whisper into the ear of a newbie thrashing in the terrifying, deadly waters.  Follow me, I say.  Just like someone offered us in those early days and years.
  Phoebe's death is the obvious loss, but there is so much more that nipped at our heels.  Its exhausting being around someone in devastating grief.  Ours was not familiar to anyone we knew.  It's not the same as losing a mother or father.  It wasn't like any of the miscarriages I'd had.  It's just not.  And its terrifying because it challenges what we like to consider impossible, controllable even.  We want to manage the course of our lives, making just the right choices to maintain a certain path, keep our kids safe.  People like me and my family surely must have done something wrong, or else Phoebe wouldn't have died.  And who wants to catch that cootie?
  And so my kids lost people who were a big part of their lives, and for children that's a really hard thing to understand ...its another loss.  Most people just quietly drifted away, but others created stories and reasons why we (me really!) were terrible, cruel people, freeing themselves from any kind of relationship with us. Today, I'm glad for it, because I know who our friends really are and I learned so much about my family, myself, humility, sacrifice, patience, forgiveness.   God teaches us everything we ask him too, often in ways that are enormously challenging and costly.
  We lost our common step, our way.  For a time.
  Today, six years later, I look at these six children of mine ...plus a new one in my new daughter-in-law ...who to me, is just a plain out daughter!  And I am in awe of them.  Each. One.  Amazing.  Our lives could have detoured in all directions.  But it is just where I would have it ...ready, with open arms to welcome Phoebe home.  It's as if she were still here ...my sweet, challenging, dynamic, witty, intelligent, vibrant girl!
  I brought Olivia home from school after six weeks of being away.  We arrived to an empty house and I could see her disappointment.  Why wasn't everyone awaiting her return?  Shortly after two cars pull in the driveway and the front stairs pound.  There is laughter and yelling and fighting over who gets there first.  By the time I come out of the kitchen, all my kids are fused together in one big hug.  They are holding and rocking, laughing through the welcoming of Olivia.  How different this might have looked; how we might have wandered off, each fighting to survive.
  God stayed at the center of this wild journey.  I've trusted God since the beginning, even before I said goodbye to Phoebe.  And I am so grateful for where we are today.  I am so grateful for the people in our lives who've stayed and tended.  And I'm grateful even for those who left, they gave what they had while they could.  I'm grateful for new people who've entered our lives since Phoebe's passing.  I know she had a hand in picking them.  I'm grateful my husband is the man he is, with the passion for his kids and family he shows every day.  I'm grateful to all of my 'Compassionate Friends' both ahead and behind me in this journey of life after such a loss.
  But most especially, I am grateful to God's generosity and His invitation to draw closer to Him and trust in all things.  He brought me Phoebe for a time, her time.  And if you knew her, you'd know what a blessing that is.  God has not left me.
  Please pray today for parents who've lost a child.  Beg they are surrounded by people genuine in their care.  Pray they find God and rest in His plan.
  On this terribly rainy Sunday ...we're off to the state championship regatta with both Hannah and Lucy rowing!  Phoebe would consider this a great race day, more so because of the rain!  The more elements to contend with the better; so today's weather is fitting, shows she's still in the mix.
  Looking for a victory ...and something tells me ...we've already won, no matter!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Finding Agape

Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love.

I look out my kitchen window, the afternoon bright with sun, leaves falling, a slight chill in the air. I think back to Phoebe's last Monday six years ago.  I remember that week well, her last days here on earth.  And I want to capture this moment ...because it is sweetly heavy.  Burdened but light at the same time.  I think from seventeen to twenty three ...who might she be?  I think of everyone I love and where in six years they will be.  It's funny to pause and think about time and change.  How life looks over the span of time ...how it moves to something different than what we knew.  Dinner hour changes, because we have.  Kids march on towards adulthood, and I watch, waiting.  Missing her, wanting her to be part of it all.  But I don't beg God anymore, I don't deplete the way I once did.  I grab hold of anything that speaks of the glory she might be in.
Six years of missing is a long time ...too long.  But it won't be forever, because one day...

In the time I've sat down to write, chaos ...the rough and tumble of big family life has thundered back in.  Three different kinds of music are playing, while the piano plays an altogether different tune.  Order is what I always chase, but it's not meant for here, in this home most times. Because life is dynamic and fleeting.   But I want to cling to remembering Phoebe while everyone else pulls at me ....and dinner is needed before heading off again to meetings and activities.

But just before all this electricity ignited my home, my phone jingled ...from my sister.  A reminder, a fence post and invitation to something that will root me in the chaos and see it more like ballet ...it gives me a lens to see the beauty and perfection of it.  Agape.

My nephew has been chasing Agape for months.  Waiting and wishing, hoping and praying that it will claim him,  He is a very special young man, and his burning quest for this has filled my heart more than once.  Someone had shared their own experience of finding Agape with him, someone he admires, and since then ...he's been after it.  And today, he believes it found him.  Amazing how God works, because that message to me set me on the right course in so many ways.  Agape ...selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love.    My nephew likely won't understand that his discovery is mine too ...and that's ok.  Most of what we give to others we never know.
And so the over stimulation of sound and movement I see as a gift only because of my nephew's discovery.  

Phoebe was not quiet.  Her presence was obvious ....and so I pay attention and notice ...all the humming and buzzing ...the life that teems through this house.  Life here did not stop when Phoebe died.  And it might have. We might have curled up, shriveled up and become something other than who we were. Phoebe would recognize this place ...it still moves as she did.  Her entry now would be seamless ...the door still open to her.  Still, it's her home.
So my quiet, my desire for stillness to be with here is in my own head ...because that was never who she was.  Phoebe was this life in motion of sound and movement ....constant ...alive.  

To set the point home (because God knows I need lots and lots of help in seeing His ways), my friend arrives, arms full of food.  Makings for a salad, home made bread and lasagna.  She is tired after working all night, catching up on laundry, racing her kids around during the day.  She brought us dinner ...when it should be the other way around.  My friend leans against my counter and we laugh with our easy banter.  She has seven too so we often share the struggle.  
We share faith and laughter mostly ....she found her way into my life just weeks before Phoebe died.  Another thread woven into my life so perfectly for what was to come.  And she hasn't left. 
And this friend likely won't understand that she arrives as the physical definition of Agape ....and again, most of what we give to others we never know.  How could she know how she punctuates the moment?

Phoebe's last Monday ...her bags thumping at the entryway, shoes, sweatshirts dropping behind her as she moves, passing the piano and banging away, cabinet doors open and close, jumping on the counter to be swatted off by me ... She could be here  ...she is here for me.  God does not separate us from each other ...only we do! These kids moving through now echo her own noise and activity ...they live and move as she led them to ...fully invested in the moment they have.

Finding agape for me isn't finding an incredible immersion in peace, having order all around me ...in essence, everything going my way.  Finding agape is immersion into the moment, accepting it as perfection, uniquely designed and delivered by God's own hand ...letting go and noticing ...the mystery of life spinning all around.  Maybe there's more, but I'm pretty simple ...

Hey there, sweet daughter of mine,  you belong here always ... And I am reminded to step back, get out of my own way and let it be as it should.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


 I met an old friend today.  Our lives overlapped before Phoebe died, so she knew the stories of my girl.  We hustled our way through nursing school; she was much younger, but something gelled and we became fast friends, championing each other through clinicals and exams.  Life carried us forward, and we mostly lost touch after Phoebe died and her life carried her on a journey she hadn't planned.
Professional overlap let me keep tabs on her and we would send cryptic messages back and forth.  But today we met, sighed, caught up.  Well into sharing and updating she paused, and asked me if I'd heard about one of our classmates.  I hadn't.
Bright and beautiful, fun and witty, she sat next to us during class and a few times the three of us were in the same clinical rotations.  She was hardworking, capable and resourceful.  I learned a lot from her.  I liked her company.  She ate a lot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, pulling them out during a lecture.  Her life was full of drama and disappointment, yet her compassion and kindness to those she cared for led many of us to offer better care ...a bigger piece of our heart.  Jocelyn was the first to care for the seemingly unlovable, the hardest to love.
She died.  And I hadn't known until today.  And it has weighted my day.  It's made me stand still today.
I remember her coming to Phoebe's wake, and the gift my two friends brought to me.  That gift still sits on a small shelf in my kitchen, reminding me of how they'd reached out.
I think of her, and I think of her parents.
Her life was a hard one, and her successes were very hard fought.  Some obstacles she faced were her own, but most weren't.
She's a person whose life many would not be surprised ended early.  And likely, many will forget her and move on, remembering only her mistakes.  I never saw the underbelly of her life.  In the brief time we knew each other, she kept that from me, and offered her best self ...which was brilliant.
I think about her parents, the emptiness that permeates, the abyss of sorrow.  Learning to carry that takes time ...lots and lots of time.
As I drive away from my visit, my questions start.  Why God, do some people struggle so much more than others in life?  Some people's personal struggles are so public and exposed, casting a shadow over the gem-like qualities most don't possess.  Those questions can never be answered, in this lifetime anyway.
Too often, people are remembered for the mistakes they've made, or the battles they've lost, temptations they couldn't fight. Many are remembered for how they die.
I hope people remember Phoebe for who she was, not for how she died.
And I want to remember Jocelyn, my friend for a short time, for her radiance and compassion she brought to the world.
Please pray for her, and for her family.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Twenty three!

Phoebe would turn 23 today!  Hard to believe and imagine who she might be if she was still fluttering through my days.
I have tons of thoughts, emotions, memories, regrets ...but mostly I just really really miss this girl who was mine.  And I'm leaning into God, a bit skeptical, but trying very hard to trust Him in all His ways.  Trusting Phoebe is with Him, in perfection and glory.
Little gifts here and there light the way.  One of those gifts found its way into my hands, giving me words that I can't find on my own right now to help others remember ....  One of her best friends wrote this soon after Phoebe died ...

Someone once asked me who you were, and I remember being surprised and frustrated that anyone could possibly not know about YOU.   There was just so much to say that I didn't know how to sum it up accurately without going on forever.  I ended up saying, "only the coolest person ever."  You were an incredible one-of-a-kind best friend, but that description is not at all adequate for a person as outstanding as you.  You're wonderful, spontaneous, vivacious, brilliant, dynamic, energetic, loving, dependable, self assured, talented, beautiful.  Completely unique

Her friend goes on ...but this captures much of who Phoebe was ...and perhaps still is.

Happy Birthday my dear sweet girl ....how I miss you and all you are.  I miss how you would press every button I have all at once.  I miss how you move and boss me around.  I miss how you critique my parking job!  I miss how you would make me redress so I wouldn't embarrass you in public.  I miss your beautiful eyes and how you used them to tell me so much.  I miss laughing with you, fighting with you ...chasing you.
I just really miss you Phoebe ...and one day ...I will see that gorgeous smile and hold you close.
Big hugs and kisses on this birthday!  I love you Phoebe ...always

Eternal rest grant unto Phoebe O' Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her.  And may her soul and the soul of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.