What I Know Today

Monday, December 19, 2011

Our Very Own Elf On The Shelf

Meet..... Legolas.

I know, I know. No long blonde hair, no miraculously full quiver of arrows, no hobbit to follow. But still, he's an elf, and therefore he shall be called Legolas. This is what happens when you marry a gamer nerd. Jack couldn't decide on a name, so we asked Papa for input. He made the suggestion, Jack (age 3, knowing nothing of the "real" Legolas) loved it, and so it stuck.

Jack's Aunt Sandie sent the Elf on the Shelf set for Jack and we received it today. He was thrilled, and couldn't wait to read the story. She also sent him the stuffed elf along with other elven goodies, and that stuffed elf was tucked firmly under Jack's arm and carried off to bed (his name is also Legolas, because Jack insisted they have the same name) where he and the boy are snuggling as I type.

I have seen several posts on Pinterest and from friends who have their own elf about what sort of mischief the elves can get into at night, but I dreamed this up all on my own. Jack loves Pez, so last night when Legolas went to the North Pole to report back to Santa, he returned with a new General Grievous Pez dispenser. He loaded the dispenser with one pack of Pez, then decided to chomp on a few himself before getting caught in the morning. Naughty little elf!

Do you have an elf on your shelf?


Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Day In The North Woods

So many of my entries on this blog have been about grief since we lost Henry. While that is understandable, the truth is that although a piece of my heart is gone from me, there is still a lot of living I need to do. I still struggle with some major separation anxiety when it comes to leaving Jack for any length of time (sometimes just leaving him with Papa so I can drive across town to visit my mom gives me anxiety). I tried to be brave and schedule a weekend away in Minneapolis to visit one of my best friends... a trip I took regularly and without thought before having kids... but I couldn't go through with it. Fortunately, God has blessed me with some pretty amazing friends, and this one in particular happens to have a family cottage in northern Wisconsin. He suggested we meet there for the day, and I accepted. I was relieved to have a day away, but still be close enough that I could rush home if something happened.

Maybe you're thinking that's crazy, but it's part of my process. And, let's face it. We're talking about Jack here. The kid who had to be life flighted to Milwaukee a month after his brother was because he fell with a toy in his mouth and did major throat damage. It was the same flight team that came for Henry. Exactly the same. Their faces turned ashen as soon as they rounded the corner in the hospital and saw us standing there. Or, more accurately, saw my husband standing there and me sitting near by in a wheel chair unable to breathe properly. I faint easily, and nothing brings on a spell like one of my babies in the hospital, so extra precautions are always taken.

At any rate, I spent the day up north yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I didn't dwell on being away from Jack. I trusted that he was in capable hands with his Papa and lived in the moment for the first time in a long time, and it was blissful.

My friend (Chris) and I spent some time at his family's cottage, had brunch, did a little shopping, a little driving, a little hiking, a little reflecting. It was perfect. He is always worried about not doing enough to entertain me when I visit, but it really was exactly the kind of day I needed.

Here is a photo I took of the road we traveled up as we approached the Cathedral Pines area in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. How gorgeous is that? 

There is a sign as you enter the trail area that tells you this: "This area, called the 'Cathedral of Pines', was preserved as a result of the efforts of Lucy Rumsey Holt who influenced her husband, logger W.A. Holt, to leave it as virgin timber. Mrs. Holt used this area to teach Bible studies to her children and did not want the area disturbed. This 200 to 400 year old white pine and balsam old growth stand is also home to a Great blue heron rookery."

I am always in such awe when standing in the presence of history. To think that these pines are between 200 and 400 years old is amazing to me. I can't help but think about the different people who have crossed this same path and touched these same trees, and what their lives might have been like. How equally amazed would they have been if they could have seen me there yesterday snapping photos with my iPhone!

Speaking of iPhone's, did you know that your photo will look like this if you point it directly at the sun?

Yeah, me neither. :)

Just to give you an idea of the size of the pines, here's a photo of an unsuspecting Chris giving one a hug, and another I took at the base of that same tree looking up.

We crossed paths with two women at this point and took a picture for each other. Ignore my cute little pose. I just wanted to be short for once in my life. We were a little loopy with these women we'd never met before. If you know me at all, you'll know "loopy" is not a far stretch from reality for me. *wink*

After leaving the pines, we visited a small dam. I couldn't tell you how to get there or what the name of it was, but the lake was gorgeous with all the fallen leaves in the water:

 Here is a shot looking the other direction (bottom of the dam, out towards the river):

Someone took the liberty to "decorate" the dam with silver spray paint. Seriously, don't even get me started. Lovely antecdotes, like, "JUMP!" spray painted at the top of the dam were scattered here and there. Although I don't condone this type of vandalism AT ALL, I thought the silver heart on this rock did make for an interesting picture...

Same river, a little farther downstream:

Back at the lake Chris's family's cottage is on, I was impressed by how clear the water is. Growing up on a larger lake that is mostly filled with greenish brown water and corporate waste, this was amazing to me.  This was taken at the small boat landing area:

And this is the view they see from their back yard. The good life, to say the least.

Despite all the trials we have been through, I can honestly say that life, and the God we serve, is good. As someone far wiser than me (and anonymous) once said: "At the end of the day you can focus on what's tearing you apart, or what's holding you together." I'm trying my best to stay positive, and focus on what holds me together: God, and His blessings of family, friends, and nature. I feel more comfortable now with the idea of traveling farther from home (but will still take baby steps, I'm sure), and I think Papa is more comfortable with it, too. Jack was largely unphased through my absence, but isn't that always the way? The one you worry about the most is the one who seems to notice the least!  


Friday, October 7, 2011

Working It Out

I just finished reading another book about life and the grief process and thought I'd share it and a little story here since I haven't updated this blog in awhile. The book is called Working It Out by Abby Rike. Does anyone remember Abby from her season on The Biggest Loser? She was on the year Danny won, and was roomates with Shay - Season 8, which aired in the fall of 2009. I vividly remember watching the contestants introduce myself and her tear filled account of the accident that took the life of her husband, 5 year old daughter, and 18 day old son. I was heart broken for her and wondered to myself how she ever managed to move on from that experience. How she could move on from losing a child. Little did I know that before the season was over, I would be learning first hand.

After we lost Henry, Abby was one of the first people I thought of. I searched for her on Facebook and found the fan page that is run either by her or on her behalf and later posted a comment in the "death of a child" discussion area letting her know that she is in my prayers and thoughts regularly. I knew she had a book in the works, and was anxious to read it when it came out in May. Well, one thing led to another and me and reading didn't actually do too well together over the spring and summer. I've always been a book worm, but as Jack gets older and my daily window of free time gets smaller, I find I have time for only one hobby at a time and this year it was embroidery. I finally ordered the book a week or so ago and when it arrived, I finished it in a matter of days.

Sometimes, when I'm thinking about Henry and all that has happened to us, I am dead inside. I don't cry, I just feel empty. I have felt often that this feeling of emptiness makes me a bad mother. I should have some level of emotion, but it usually is not there. There are other times though that the emotions are so strong they are almost violent and they scare me to my core. It's a roller coaster in the truest sense, and it never ceases. Reading Abby's book, and seeing that she experienced the same types of highs and lows helped me to remember that I am normal. I am not a bad mother, I am not in denial. I am simply working through my emotions as they come to me, and that is enough. I in no way believe our situations were equal, but I do strongly believe that grief is grief, if that makes sense, and in that respect we are similar.

I also felt a deep connection with Abby because of how steadfast she has been in her faith through the last five years. When the doctor took my husband and I into the small conference room and sat down with us to tell us there was nothing more he could do, my first thought was not despair or destruction, but rather, I thanked the Lord that I was raised in faith. I thanked him silently as we sat there for blessing my life with a mother, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were all Christians and who went out of their way to ensure that I knew I was a child of God and that he would not forsake me. If it were not for that knowledge, that blessed assurance, I can honestly say I would not have been able to rise up out of that seat and walk out of that room under my own power. I swear to you with every fiber of my being that Jesus was in that room with us, and it was then that He carried me.

Abby wrote something in a journal entry two months after the accident that she shared in her book. It struck such a chord with me, I am going to share it here with you all, for I could have written these words myself.

What now? What do I do now? What plan does God have for me? If I have to suffer like this, then I want my life to matter. I want to know what I'm supposed to do. I want to know my plan. I am shattered and I'm trusting with childlike faith that God will put me back together again. This loss cannot be for naught.
~Abby Rike, December 3, 2006

I cried when I read that. And I don't mean those sweet little tears my grandma used to shed and discretely wipe away with a tissue. I mean I CRIED. I bawled. I gave a full on "ugly cry", as Oprah likes to call it. The topic was something I had often thought about, but never had the words to express until now. Instead of Why me? I have often felt What now? What am I to do with this lot in life? How can I use my experience to help others? I have put a lot of thought into bereavement counseling, but I'm not sure I'm up for more schooling with three unused degrees on the wall already. We've thought about fostering or adopting to help another child, but don't feel a strong draw to that calling either. I largely still feel like I'm floating in a vast ocean with no real direction as to where the dock may be. I have no specific goal other than my focus on raising Jack, preparing to educate him as a home schooling mom, caring for and loving my husband, and keeping our home up. I reach out to different areas and play them out in my mind, but nothing fits. Square pegs, round holes. I am almost morbidly drawn to history, bereavement, death, and dying, but how can I fit in there? Since losing Henry I have also developed a keen interest in heaven, health, and organized living, but again, I'm seeing no strong direction for my life. These are the answers I pray for.

Abby also spoke to my heart when she quoted passages from Job about the people who "sat in the ashes" with him. I have heard before from different people that our story is reminiscent of Job's story, but never took the time to think it through very well. Abby's stories about the love that surrounded her and the people who "sat in the ashes" with her - just being present without trying to offer advice or wisdom or ramble because they don't know any other way to fill the space - reminded me of the dear friends and family members we have been blessed with who did the same for us. It is truly humbling to think about.

Finally, Abby speaks about her experience on the Biggest Loser and her efforts to reach and maintain her goal weight - another topic near and dear to my heart. To say this book and this woman are an inspiration to me would be an understatement. I am not in the habit of building a library, and frequently pass books on to friends once I've finished them, but this copy of Working It Out is mine and will remain as such for a very long time. I hope you'll check it out. I think it will move you, regardless of your struggle.

If you could also take a moment to pray for Abby and her family this week, that would be wonderful. Thursday, October 13 marks the five year anniversary of the accident. I'm sure they can use all of the prayers they can get to help them through the upcoming days. For more information on Abby Rike, you can visit her personal website HERE. Check out her calendar and see if she's speaking near you. If she is, consider me jealous. I would love so much to meet her in person, but I have yet to figure out exactly how to make that happen. I will be praying about it, and if it's meant to be, I am confident God will find a way.

God bless,    


P.S. Please pardon my lack of blogger knowledge. I can't get this post left justified for the life of me. Except for this post script, that is. Go figure.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I was busy on Friday getting the house ready for company, and had an obscene amount of dishes that needed washing. I have had two back to back colds/sore throats, so things had gotten a little out of control. And, since one of the many joys of owning an old (110+ years!) home is a lack of a dishwasher and no hope of getting one without a major renovation, well, I was in for a solid hour of washing.

Jack does pretty well (usually *ahem*) with entertaining himself if I need to do dishes or pick things up, but I tend to save these larger tasks for when he's in bed at night or at naptime. This time I was on a time crunch though, so there was no way around it. I needed to work and I needed an easy distraction. Enter the train wash:

Like any kid, Jack loves to play with bubbles. Whenever I do the dishes, he'll ask to grab a handful, and then usually claps his hands together and giggles while they shoot into the air and fall around him like snowflakes. I got tired of walking on a soap-sticky floor, so I encouranged him to "draw" with the bubbles on the island. On Friday, we introduced trains to the mix. He was enthralled for the duration of my dish washing adventure, continuously coming back for more bubbles as each of the four trains maneuvered in and around them. When we were all done, I rinsed and dried them, too, and to my knowledge they are none the worse for wear. Only one of the four had a battery operated light... had I noticed early enough we would have nixed that one {Proteus} from the party. Ah well. I'm just a mama, not a superhero. I can't catch *every*thing.

Our makeshift Sodor Engine Wash (with "Live Action Bubbles!" )...

See how happy Salty is? He got cleaned up, Jack got a solid hour of fun play with good imaginative and sensory applications, and I got the dishes done!

PEEP, PEEP! We are all really useful engines! hehe.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Heaven Is For Real

I am not much of a book reviewer, and when I do share books with my readers I tend to do so on my craft blog, because I think of reading as a hobby and that is where I share all things related to my hobbies. But given the nature of this book and the nature of bereavement, I thought it seemed more appropriate to talk a bit here about it instead.

Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo is a short and sweet book that was gifted to me recently (well. semi-recently) by one of my girlfriends. She read it herself and knowing that I enjoy reading about first hand experiences with heaven - particularly since we lost Henry - thought it would bring me some comfort... and she was right.

For starters, I loved the book. I loved the story and the experience, and the fact that this family did not have to go through the experience of losing a child. Praise God for that! I enjoyed reading Colton's account of his visit to heaven and the comical way in which his dad related the stories as bits and pieces of the experience was revealed to them.

The struggle I have with this book (and others like it) is that it leans heavily on the fact that God answered their prayers and saved their child. While I am eternally grateful that He did that for ANY family, there is a part of me that always asks... why not mine? The book talks about how the family was prayerful and the church held special prayer vigils and so on and so forth and that collectively their voices reached God and their prayers were answered. Well, we prayed, too. When Henry was in the emergency room and I was kneeling at his bedside beside his little head because it was the only space in the room that was not occupied by a doctor, nurse, priest, or some other support staff, I prayed until I was on the verge of a black out from exhaustion, and then I was moved to my own bed where I lay with the hospital chaplain at my bedside and prayed some more. Our friends were praying, our families were praying, churches, strangers, even an entire village in Vietnam (true story) and many others we don't even know were holding prayer vigils for my boy.... but he still died. Our prayers weren't answered. As I read, I struggled more wondering why not. Because he (Todd Burpo) is a pastor? A better Christian? The right denomination? Does he know some secret way to pray that I don't? It's a slippery slope down this road, but it is hard to avoid in situations like this.

Of course the answer to those question is no. I am every bit the Christian that the Burpo's are, and Jesus loves me as equally as any other parent loves his children. He has no desire to hurt me or seek vengence on me or punish me in that way. He knows the prayers on my heart that haven't even reached my lips yet. He knows the future and the past and has a plan that ensures eternity for me - for us - for all His children. And part of that plan, for whatever reason, included taking Henry to heaven before I was ready to offer him up. I don't understand why, and maybe I never will, but I have faith in Jesus Christ and I have faith in the works of our Heavenly Father, and I hold those faiths close to my heart and they lift me when nothing else will. Afterall, faith isn't faith unless it's all you're holding on to.

Our family situation was unique in that both of our boys could have died without us ever knowing what killed them. My husband and I often speculate that if it had been Jack and not Henry who died, we may have never followed through with an autopsy. Babies die. It's an unfortunate reality, but it happens. Would we have been as alarmed if a baby had died as we were when a preschooler did? Or would it have been explained away as "one of those things" that happens but here is no explanation for. There is a very real possibility that we would have lost both of our boys if any one detail of our story had been different. Had the surgeon at Children's Hospital not persuaded us to have an autopsy done - something we were hesitant to do (he's been through enough, he was cut into enough when he was alive, no more...) we would have never diagnosed the XLA... never gotten Jack tested and diagnosed. Without a diagnosis and his monthly treatments, it was only a matter of time until Jack would have contracted a virus his little body couldn't fight off and in a matter of days he would have been gone, too. In taking Henry, we believe that God spared Jack. Would I love for Him to have spared both boys? Obviously. It goes without saying. But after having lost one child, I can't even imagine the horror of life that would have come had we lost both.

In the weeks before Henry's death, some interesting things happened with him. Nothing on the level of what happened to Colton, but interesting just the same. He started to speak of a man who was in the house at night who wasn't Papa. My husband thought it had been a friend of mine, or perhaps a repairman, but no males had been to the house. Henry was adament that the man had been there in his bedroom several times though. At the time, I chalked it up to an over active childhood imagination. After his death, I started to wonder if Jesus had visited my son. I don't know - I never will - but the thought brings me comfort, and it is not outside the realm of possibility for me. In the month or so before his death, I would open Henry's door most mornings to find a good share of his clothes - two dressers worth - strewn across his bedroom floor. The only explanation he had was that "the man" told him he needed to get ready, because he would be going on a trip. I also vividly remember one day, walking into his bedroom in the morning to wake him - it was quiet, so I assumed he must  have still been sleeping - only to find him sitting in the rocking chair with his children's Bible open on his lap, studying every picture. What three year old does that voluntarily in a room full of his favorite toys? I sat down with him and told him the story of Noah and about Jesus and then we started our day. We always said that our kids assumed the personalities of the people they were named after and waking early to read the Bible only solidified that notion, as my Grandpa Hank (Henry's namesake) did it daily when he was alive.

Again, I'm not making any grand claims here - the book just brought a lot of thoughts, feelings, and memories to the foreground.

In regards to the book itself, what a wonderful depiction of Heaven! I wonder now who Henry met when he first got to heaven (besides Jesus, of course). I remember sitting in the hospital room with him at Childrens Hospital that Monday morning. In my heart, I believed he had died the night before and was no longer in that body. Everything was being kept "alive" artificially, but I knew he wasn't there and wasn't coming back. I still caressed him as if he was there and whispered his stories into his ear (he asked for the same three stories every night for over a year - by then I had them all memorized), kneeling again at his bedside, but I couldn't shake the feeling that he was somehow above us in the room, at peace, and looking down on us with love.

It was something I'd never felt before and never did again until this past May when my grandma was in the ICU after surgery to remove a small tumor on her lung. When it started to become apparent that she may not recover after the surgery, there was one night that I sat with her and distinctly felt the presence of someone else in the room and I couldn't shake the feeling that it was Henry. To make matters even more interesting, the following day my mom told me that grandma asked if my mom could see "that misty cloud" over grandma's bed. Was it Henry? Grandpa? Or a drug induced hallucination? I prefer to believe the former.

I've rambled quite a bit here and not really talked about the book much at all. Remember how I said I am not much of a book reviewer? Yeah. Now you know why. I am plagued by tangents. I get off on a stream of thought and the original topic is lost in the dust. I guess my best advice at this point would be to just read the book. It's an awesome story, and an awesome account of one child's brush with Christ. You will be moved, I guarantee it.

In closing I'll share this picture, a picture of Jesus. After his experience, Colton's parents shared pictures of Jesus with the boy, asking if that particular image was an accurate depiction of what Jesus looked like. They shared hundreds of different prints and paintings with the boy over the span of a few years and each time they did, Colton would tell them what was wrong with the picture. The hair was too long, or the nose wasn't right, or what have you. What it was about that particular painting or sculpture that didn't match the Jesus he saw in heaven. And then one day, his father showed him this painting titled Prince of Peace by Akiane Kramarik:

Colton replied (after a long moment of stunned silence), "that one's right." What makes it even more amazing is that this painting was done by a (then) 8 year old girl who also had visions of Heaven. A girl Colton had never met or even knew existed. You can read more about her story here.

Things that make you go hmmmmm....

God bless,


Monday, July 25, 2011

A Trip To The Zoo

A few weeks ago, Jack and I took a little trip to our local zoo. He's not too keen on noises or animals that make them, but we needed to get out of the house so we tried it. And it was fine. Mostly. He didn't really pay much attention to the animals, and the few he did see he really wasn't all that impressed with. He was more interested in sitting EVERYWHERE and trying to jump in the lagoon in the center of the zoo. I finally convinced him that that water was only for the animals, so that crisis was averted, but I couldn't get him to stop sitting on every flat surface he could find. For most kids, this would be a non-issue, but for us with Jack's immune deficiency, we worry about the bacteria he could pick up - especially at a zoo. Granted he gets his IvIG treatments and theoretically they will protect him for most of those, but having already lost one child, we can't help but be concerned and a little (ok, a lot) cautious.

It's not an easy thing to do... trying to balance concerns and risks while still letting Jack be a kid and have as many experiences of childhood as possible. It doesn't help that he is uncooperative and stubborn and independent. But I can hardly fault him for owning three of the most common traits in both of his parents, can I? *wink*

Here are a few pictures from our day. First, Jack sitting on the bench in the wolf viewing cabin. Note that the windows one would look through to actually see the wolves are behind him. There weren't any there that day, but I would be willing to bet it wouldn't have made a bit of difference.

Here we are sitting in a little area by the lagoon. This zoo was Henry's favorite place on earth. We visited it daily during Henry's second and third summer. Sometimes more than once a day. When we lost Henry, some of our good friends bought a memorial brick for Henry. You can see it in the photo below:

We used some of the memorial money we received for Henry to help get the turtle pond up and running again. I would always tell Henry about the turtles that had been in there when I was a little girl and how we'd watch them sunning themselves. Throughout Henry's little life, it was only a weedy overgrown area in need of work (and a new water pump). Despite the overgrowth and lack of life, Henry would pick a clover every day and toss it over the fence to feed the turtles. We saw a chipmunk run under some nearby evergreens one day, and after that he would always toss a clover in there, too, in case the chipmunks were hungry, too. Henry's heart was bigger than the moon - especially when it came to the animals.

One of Henry's favorite things to say was, "Be good to the aminals." He couldn't quite pronounce the word right, but it was so cute we never tried to correct him, and came to find ourselves pronouncing it the same way. We had it spelled correctly on the sign though, because we didn't want people to think it was a typo since we couldn't be there telling the stories and explaining the whole thing every time someone walked by. 

In addition to the turtle pond, we also donated two large cement turtles for the kids to climb on. Here's Jack crawling up the little one...

We chose turtles because Henry loved this guy:

His name is Dash, and we sought him out on every visit. He wasn't always easy to find, but on this day with Jack he was right out on the path waiting for us. I told Jack all about Dash and about how much Henry loved him. I tried to get him to pet Dash's shell, again weighing bacteria against life experience in my head all along (when am I not?), but he would have none of it. This is as close as he got:

Today, as I'm typing, Jack is beside me saying, "Mama pet the turtle!" :) I don't know if that's a memory or a directive so he doesn't have to try it himself. hee hee.

It's hard to go back to these places that were so much a part of Henry's life, but it's all part of the healing process I guess. And, it helps me to remember that life does indeed go on. Jack has the whole world to explore. I just need to guide him through it, remind him of all the people (on earth and in heaven) who love him, teach him as he goes, and maybe every once in awhile let life experience trump potential bacterial issues and believe the doctors when they say it will be ok.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Henry's Fifth Birthday

Each year since his death, we've had a small gathering of friends and family at the house on Henry's birthday. We have lunch and visit and then go to the cemetery for a balloon release. We also ask our guests to bring gifts that are then donated somewhere in Henry's name. Last year we asked for gifts from the humane society wishlist. This year, since Henry would have started kindergarten in the fall, we opted to collect gifts to donate to a kindergarten classroom. It just so happens that Henry's godmother is a kindergarten teacher, so choosing her classroom only seemed right. We collected lots of glue sticks and crayons and stickers, games, jump ropes, etc. It was an awesome day, and an awesome way to try to make the best of a sad situation.

Below you can see a photo of our balloon bouquet. We invited two friends who had also lost children, so I decided to have balloons to represent their angels as well. We released five orange balloons for Henry, two pink balloons for the twin daughters of one friend, and a blue balloon for the son of another. Everyone wrote messages on the balloons before we sent them to heaven. 

And off they went (carefully, to avoid all those trees, of course!)....

Higher and higher....

There is nothing I can say to you (unless you are also a bereaved parent) that will make you understand the depth of loss and pain that comes with losing a child. It never ends, it never lessens. But small things like this balloon release help to lessen that pain in small ways, if even temporarily. I know those balloons don't actually go to heaven, but to think for a moment that something I am releasing is going straight to my boy makes my heart happy. And giving back to our community in his name, and seeing other people so willing and generous in their giving to do the same gives me a little comfort to know that he is not forgotten.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Mother's Day Wish From Heaven

A Mother's Day Wish From Heaven
By Jody Seilheimer

Dear Mr. Hallmark,

I am writing to you from heaven, and though it must appear
A rather strange idea, I see everything from here.
I just popped in to visit, your stores to find a card
A card of love for my mother, as this day for her is hard.

There must be some mistake I thought, every card you could imagine
Except I could not find a card, from a child who lives in heaven.
She is still a mother too, no matter where I reside
I had to leave, she understands, but oh the tears she’s cried.

I thought that if I wrote you, that you would come to know
That though I live in heaven now, I still love my mother so.
She talks with me, and dreams with me; we still share laughter too,
Memories our way of speaking now, would you see what you could do?

My mother carries me in her heart, her tears she hides from sight.
She writes poems to honor me, sometimes far into the night
She plants flowers in my garden, there my living memory dwells
She writes to other grieving parents, trying to ease their pain as well.

So you see Mr. Hallmark, though I no longer live on earth
I must find a way, to remind her of her wondrous worth
She needs to be honored, and remembered too
Just as the children of earth will do.

Thank you Mr. Hallmark, I know you’ll do your best
I have done all I can do; to you I’ll leave the rest.
Find a way to tell her, how much she means to me
Until I can do it for myself, when she joins me in eternity.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Party Like A Jedi

My littlest boy turned three yesterday(!), and to celebrate we had a little "Yoda Party". Jack is very much his own person with a stubborness I have never seen before in any child (although if you ask my mother she may claim to have had one other experience with such a streak, but I have no idea what she is talking about). When grandma asked if we were going to eat before we opened gifts, I thought, yeah, right. Sure enough, as soon as the gifts started coming in, he was having a fit because he couldn't open them. If this first picture was a a video clip you'd be hearing "WHAZZINDERR? WHAZZINDERR??" over and over and over and over and, well, you get the picture....

How sad he looks while he stands guard to make sure no one takes his beloved Yoda bag (which, by the way, has become as much of a toy for him as the toys it contained). Jackie got lots of fun gifts, including some books we've been wanting (Llama, Llama, Red Pajama, and Oh, The Places You'll Go) and both LOVE, some Star Wars guys, clothes, a Star Wars chair, a Hot Wheels track, etc., etc., etc.... and this light saber from grandma. Never mind that that is one child. With six light sabers. He neeeeeeds them, don't you know?! We will soon be holding Jedi training for the block. Watch your mailbox for info... (heh.)

Here is a picture of our traditional cupcake tower. I cheated this year and bought these cupcakes rather than making them. I felt like a bad mom, but everyone lived through it so I guess it wasn't so bad. And, most importantly, Jack absolutely loved the "Darf Ader" cupcakes. He still carries that candle holder around with him (in the aforementioned Yoda bag) and thinks it's a toy. Remind me again why I buy this child expensive gifts when he's happy with a gift bag and a candle holder?!

His favorite part of the whole day, however, was NOT Darf Ader. It was NOT Yoda, nor even the gifts. It was all of us singing the Happy Birthday song. :) He demanded an encore. And then another. I'll bet it was the most curtain calls many of us - myself included - have ever gotten. We finally video taped it the third time around because he was so stinkin' cute the way he'd run around laughing and dancing and then clap at the end. I'll have to remember to share it once I get it uploaded to YouTube... Here we are with his godfather, Tod, clapping after the first round of song... Aaaaand here we are with our Star Wars hat (a.k.a. my table centerpiece). And what, you ask, is that underneath it? That would be his train shaped Easter basket. Because he thinks that - and just about everything else - is also a hat. This from the child that would NOT wear a hat for love nor money for a full two and half years (once he could reach it to pull it off). I also love this picture because I feel like it's a foreshadowing of photos I will see some twenty years from now after other parties where maybe a little too much fun was had.

Mama.... Where am I? What time is it? I had the craziest dream. There was all this singing, and all these light sabers and I think we demolished the dark side....

Yes, yes you did, little man....

Thank goodness the galaxy is safe once again!


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Joy! Joy! Joy?

Jack and I were watching a new show on Netflix on Demand (love that, by the way) today. I don't know the exact name of it, but it's something similar to Baby Einstein except with a Christian theme. This particular one was about the story of Jonah and the Whale (or "Big Fish" if you want to get technical, which they apparently do not). Most of the show is filled with instrumental music of songs that I remember from Sunday School, but at one point children start singing along to one, so I decided to sing along with them.

"I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Down in my heart, down in my heart!"

Jack loves when I sing, and tries to mimic me with words a few seconds too late and knee slaps a bit off beat, but he's so stinkin' cute those things don't even matter. He's smiling and laughing and I'm smiling and singing....

"...and I'm so haappy! So very haaaappy!....."

We're really on a roll here!

"....I've got the love of Je *sniff* s *sob* us in *sob*..."

Aaaaaand I can barely choke out that last sentence because I am bursting into tears. Jack looks at me like I have three heads and two of them just managed to spontaneously combust. Not only did I muff the song and further disrupt his knee-slapping, belly laughing fervor, I started *crying*! In a song about JOY!

HELLO, MAMA! We're singing about JOY here!! DuH! I can just read it on his face...

My little man does not realize yet that there are happy tears and sad tears. He doesn't understand the feeling that you are losing every single thing you love in the world, and the only thing you have to hold on to is that love of Jesus this very song sings about that is etched deep in your heart. He doesn't realize how very much that love means to you on your darkest days, nor how you're really not entirely sure you could survive without it. I remember the doctor coming in to tell us they had done all they could do for Henry. When he left, the first thing I said to my husband was "Thank God I was raised in Faith." Because I knew then that I needed the assurance of Jesus and His word to get me through that day, and every other day for the rest of my life.

I am grateful for the diligence of my mom and grandparents who insisted I attend worship every. single. week. (sometimes two or three times a week!) as a child and young adult. We lived in the country, and I can remember massive snow storms that my grandpa would drive through to get me to Sunday School, when even city kids were absent. God bless you, Grandpa. You didn't know it then, but every trip you took added up and you may have single handedly saved my life some thirty years later.

When we would ride in to town, I would sit next to Grandpa and sing to him for the duration of the whole 20 minute trip. I would be willing to bet that I even sang this song a dozen or more times. Who knew how it would define me all these years later? Grandpa always loved listening to me sing - he encouraged it. His favorite song for me to sing was "I'm in the Lord's Army (Yes, Sir!)" I still remember the whole (short) song, and it brings tears to my eyes to even think of it because he loved it that much. As a military man himself, I think he could relate to it. It said what needed to be said, and was short, direct, and to the point, much like himself. His least favorite song for me to sing was The First Noel. Because he said I was always off pitch on it. He was a military man and a painter by trade, but he couldn't sing a note so I blame his ear rather than my voice.

Ha. Kidding, Grandpa. Just kidding.

Anyhow, when you look at me, or read my blog, or hear me talk, and think, I just don't know how she does it... Remember this blog post. Remember Jesus. He is how I do it. He is my strength.

I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery. I may never fly o'er the enemy, but I'm in the Lord's army. Yes Sir!...


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Love and Laughter

For those who don't know me and haven't heard the news, I'll admit it here: I have loved John Ritter my entire life. Some of my earliest memories include watching Three's Company with my mom, and although I didn't get most of the jokes and inuendos until years later, Jack and his antics had me rolling from day one. I was obsessed, and credit Mr. Ritter (along with my grandparents and mom who are all downright hilarious in their own right) with being much of my comedic inspiration in life. I have followed his career religiously, catching sitcoms, movies, and interviews whenever possible. The fact that I have a child named Jack is no coincidence. I was even watching a Three's Company marathon in the hospital while I was in labor with Henry. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and despite all I have been through, I still agree with that statement. That, and: sometimes you have to laugh just to keep from crying.

When I read about the release of this book, I knew I needed to read it. The last few chapters of the book hit closest to home as they detailed the events of the days surrounding John's death and then the emotions his wife faced afterwards. It's the first book I've ever read about grief and loss that I could have written myself. It's refreshing to me to read about other people who try to laugh and live through their pain. So many books I've read about bereaved parents talk about people who could not listen to music ever again, or could not bring themselves to laugh for at least ten years, etc. I will not judge them, because every grief process is different, but I truly felt like I was either defective or in denial. It turns out I am neither (the first being more debatable than the second). She spoke about how much heavier she felt after John's death. About how gravity seemed to have a greater pull on her, which is not unlike my post about The Weight of Grief. That alone gave me comfort. She went on to describe her grief process in ways that were nearly identical to mine. The trudging forward, despite wanting to curl up and cry. The days when we let ourselves do just that. The hope with which we look to the future, and ways we try to keep the memory of our loved ones - in her case a husband, in mine, a son - alive.

Amy wrote, "My life now is not what I expected when John and I fell in love. It's not what I intended, nor what I was creating. Gravity took the life I imagined and added its own spin. The struggle is accepting that fact and still finding beauty and meaning in what remains."

Amen, sister.

She also included in her book a portion of a letter that John wrote to his daughter Carly, two years (to the day) before he died. In it, he quotes Thornton Wilder's famous novel The Bridge Over St. Luis Re. In his letter, John was relating the quote to the attacks on the Word Trade Center (the letter was written the day of the attacks, September 11, 2001. He died two years later on September 11, 2003, which also happened to be his daughter Stella's fifth birthday). The excerpt reads:

But soon we will die, and all memories of those five will have left Earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for awhile and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living in a land of the dead and the bridge is love. The only survival, the only meaning.

Beautiful, isn't it?

I loved reading about John and his family. Like so many others, I always felt like he was a part of my own family. I was surprised to learn that he could not cook. *grin* I guess the naivete of childhood had engrained the idea of Jack Tripper going to cooking school equating to John Ritter learning as well. I love that his family has become so active in informing others about aortic aneurysms and dissection, even lending the family name to the "Ritter Rules", a list of guidelines about the disease. It reminds me in many ways of how active my husband has become in the world of primary immune deficiencies. The world has lost some precious boys here, but in their absense has gained advocates for some very worthy causes and hopefully in doing so has saved several other people from the same fate.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Message To Heaven

This past Sunday the family took a drive through the cemetery to visit our little man. Last year the snow in the cemetery was such that if you were creative, you could walk between the drifts and pretty much get from the road to the grave site on grass. This year we weren't quite so lucky. A nice, thick, evenly distributed, blanket of snow is covering the grounds and we weren't dressed for trudging through it. As we rounded the bend before coming up to his area, I noticed something in the snow. About ten feet long, there was a message written from someone to "Bruce", saying several sweet things including, "Thank you for loving me." Once we got to our area, I took my lead from that writer and left a message myself, on behalf of all who were in the van (Jack, Papa, Grandma, Great-Grandma): "We {heart} you, Bug".

I've often thought about you, my blog readers, and thought of things I can post here. Unfortunately my follow through hasn't been so great. We are now 15 months past Henry's death and it still seems like it was yesterday at times. I'm not sure that feeling will ever go away. The pain is still very fresh and very real and very constant. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel something - pain, remorse, guilt. I can't pinpoint any one thing that gets to me more than anything else, it just happens at random. I've been struggling with bitterness, and a general lack of empathy. These are both characteristics that are new to me and so different from the person I was before November 2, 2009. I'm not sure what to do with those feelings, so I pray about them. I pray that simple prayer that I have prayed nearly every day for 15 months - first about the saddness and desperation I was feeling. Then about the guilt. Now about the bitterness: Lord, please lift these feelings from my heart and help me find peace. Such a short little prayer, but a powerful one, and thankfully one that is responded to quickly. Those feelings are frequent but brief and I am grateful for that brevity.

I wonder about heaven a lot. What it is like, who we'll see there. I find myself seeking out literature about it - scriptures, stories, "eye-witness" accounts from folks who claim to have been there and returned to earth. All of it fascinates me. I'm a bit of a skeptic with the folks who say they've been there and back, but I don't discount their stories... I just don't pin my dreams on them, if that makes sense. Awhile back I was looking for some words of wisdom to share with a girlfriend who is also going through a grief process of her own after the sudden unexpected death of her mother, and I found this quote by Dwight L. Moody:

"Very often people come to me and say: "Mr. Moody, do you think we shall know each other in Heaven?" There is a verse in Scripture in answer to this, and that is: "We shall be satisfied." (Psalm 17:15). It is all I wanted to know. My brother who went up there the other day I shall see, because I shall be satisfied. We will see all those we loved on Earth up there, and if we loved them here, we will love them ten thousand times more when we meet them there."

I found comfort in this, and have carried it with me ever since that day. As I get older, and continue to grow in my faith (because let's face it, faith, like love, is a verb - an action word - continuously moving and growing, enveloping and developing), I realize more and more that this earth is not the end of my journey just as it was not the end of his. He is in heaven, and he is waiting for all of us who love him, and one day we will all be satisfied just as he is today. He doesn't know the pain of missing his mama, papa, "bee", and grandmas, just the anticipation and excitement as he awaits our arrival. What will be decades of life for us on earth will be only seconds to him in heaven before we are reunited again.

Until that day, I am here, and I am waking up every morning, and living the life God intended for me to live. I am taking care of my family and watching my baby boy (who is much more boy than baby these days) grow at an unprecedented rate of speed. We are nearing the end of our therapy with the wonderful "Birth to 3" therapists who have helped us over the last 16 months, and we couldn't be happier with the progress Jack has made. His vocabulary has exploded, and he is picking up new words and activities every single day. He knows his alphabet forward, backward, and sideways (which makes Aunt Julie the kindergarten teacher very proud because she will tell you that just because you can sing the song doesn't mean you know your alphabet.). He can identify the letters in any order right side up or upside down (which surprised us all!). He is counting from 1 - 13 unassisted, 13-29 with a little help. He loves to sing(!) and his favorite songs are the alphabet song, Old MacDonald, and Jingle Bells.

That last one makes my heart smile, because Jingle Bells was the only song Henry ever attempted (despite Old MacDonald being his all time favorite for me to sing while he chimed in with the animal noises). Henry would run up to a cat toy we have hanging on the door and shake it (there are bells on it) and sing, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, oh we have funnnnnn!!!!!!"


Jack is obsessed with dinosaurs and can identify about 50 different types of dinosaur by name (and alternate name where applicable, as is the case with the Gravitholus who is also called Prenocephale, and Stenonychosaurus who is also known as Troodon... things I never thought I'd learn, much less teach my two year old). He loves puzzles and play time, and, and, and..... I could go on forever. He's quite the character, and we love him more than he'll probably ever know. We are so blessed to have him in our lives, and so grateful that in losing Henry we were able to save Jack. It is the bright and shiny silver lining to that very dark cloud.

Looking forward, I have purchased paint for Henry's bedroom to bring it from it's current bright yellow little boy nursery to a much more muted beige guest room. It is the bigger of our two bedrooms for the boys, but I'm not ready to move Jack into it yet. Not ready to open that door every morning expecting a face that is no longer looking back at me to be on the other side. Maybe some day, but not today. I will post pictures once that project is complete. Although I am sad to paint the room and convert it back, I know that keeping it untouched does not bring my boy back. And, truthfully, I regretted that bright yellow color choice from day one, so in that respect the change will be welcomed.

We also have a birthday party to plan in the not-too-distant future as Jack will turn three at the end of March. It looks like a dino party is in order, and we are already scheming to switch out his Raggedy Ann & Andy decor for some dinorific decorations as our gift to him.

I am also very proud of my husband who has been working diligently for months now on getting Henry's bedtime stories illustrated and published. The first book will be available soon in hardcover, and we are so excited about it - there aren't even words to express what this means to us, and especially to Papa whom Henry shared those stories with every night. Not only are we getting the stories out, but we are doing so in a way that will benefit other children with rare diseases. Click over to the Adventures of Henry website if you'd like to learn more or help great causes by ordering a copy or three. *wink*

Thank you, as always, for your continued thoughts and prayers. We are so grateful for the strong network of family and friends (both in person and online) that God has blessed us with.

God bless,