Geez Louise. I’m freakin tired. And our “Christmas Chaos” starts tomorrow. There is so much going on, so I am making myself sit down and write this now because who the heck knows when I’ll get a chance to later.
I hate complaining about the craziness of my family’s schedule this time of year, because it is such a blessing to have tons of family here locally that love and care about us. Last year was a true test of my abilities as a momma, because Robert was on a month long deployment in Guam over Christmas and I was here with the girls by myself, pregnant, and in nursing school. And for fun, to add a little more stress, Robert and a friend went swimming in the ocean on what we now know is the “wrong” side of the island. They got caught in a rip current, were whisked out to sea, and almost drowned. [insert long dramatic pause for effect] A customer eating at a restaurant on the shore noticed they were struggling and notified their waiter, who told his manager, who called his boss, who hopped on his jet ski and came to the rescue. I get teared up every time I allow myself to think how close I came to losing the love of my life that day. I have only ever heard fear in my husband’s voice one time, and it was when he told me what happened. He was convinced he only had a minute or two left of fight in him before that jet ski arrived and plucked him out of the water. It is insane to think of how different this past year would have been had that customer not begun the chain of events that saved Rob’s life. 30 days after his near death experience, we were sobbing together in a darkened ultrasound room after receiving Annie’s diagnosis… You absolutely cannot convince either of us that God didn’t save Robert and his friend that day. I have no idea what our story would look like if He hadn’t, but I know that Robert’s strength has gotten me through some dark times this year.
It became very apparent to me that holidays were going to be tough “post Annie” about 2 months after Annie left us, and we had just sort of established our “new normal.” Robert was on his first short trip since her birth, (he’s a crew chief in the Air Force, so he travels frequently) and he was scheduled to come home on the evening of my birthday. We always do a picnic in the park (it’s my favorite birthday tradition), but there was an OSU football game that night and we were planning on watching it and swimming at my sister’s. That morning I packed up Annie’s quilt, the girls and some doughnuts and we headed for a breakfast picnic. As I was sitting there on her beautiful quilt in the morning sun watching my girls argue over a swing at the park, it dawned on me that the only place I wanted to be was at home in bed. I got angry that Robert wasn’t there, even though I told him I was ok for him to go. I wanted to shut out the world and wait for the day to end under my covers. I was aware that the big ones like Christmas would probably be hard, but I wasn’t really expecting such a huge wave of sadness on my birthday. It wasn’t anything in particular that set me off, either. It was just another day without my baby.
Thanksgiving was tough, but not too bad. I’m guessing because at Thanksgiving there’s lots of wine and intense games of Trivial Pursuit… I looked forward to Thanksgiving more than usual this year (it’s my absolute FAVORITE holiday). A few months before, Rob and I had a meeting with LifeShare, the people who worked SO hard for Annie to be able to give the gift of organ donation. They put together an insert in the Daily Oklahoman every Thanksgiving to let people know some of the stories surrounding both sides of organ donation, and to let people know how to register to be an organ donor. They were so touched by Annie’s story, they had decided to make her the cover girl of this year’s insert. Of course I cried when they told us. I am so incredibly grateful that these people love my baby so much, and that they acknowledge her tiny little life wasn’t for nothing. She made such progress in the area of infant organ donation, and she made the next family’s journey just a little bit easier. I was also so honored when they asked me to write the article. They loved the way we have shared everything (maybe too much at times, sorry…) so openly and honestly, that it just made sense to do it in first person in the newspaper. It was painful yet exciting to write the article, and it was also incredibly difficult to condense our story to the word limit given. I sobbed with pride and sorrow when I saw the GIANT picture of Rob and I loving on Annie on the insert’s front page Thanksgiving morning. She looked so beautiful. They also chose one of my favorite pictures of Rob, the girls, and I for the inside page.
We also have something HUGE happening over the new year. Annie was chosen to be one of several deceased organ donors honored as a “floragraph” on this year’s Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade!!!! “What the heck is a floragraph?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Floragraphs are awesome portraits made of seeds, coffee, and anything else pretty and organic. The entire float has to be covered in organic material, and it’s so awesome that they can make portraits this way! I am OVER THE MOON about this! Rob and I couldn’t believe that they chose our sweet little lady! And plus, I love love love love love parades. Seriously. Like, way more than my kids. So much so, that one year we took Dylan to the Stockyards Christmas Parade and watched a bunch of longhorn steer walk down the street… so, I love ANY parade. (The Oklahoma State homecoming parades may be my favorite that I have personally witnessed thus far… sorry cows) Robert and I leave on the 29th and head to Pasadena, CA for this whole Rose Bowl experience! I can’t even believe this is happening. We had a meeting with LifeShare and the two other families who are going a few weeks ago and did a run through of the schedule. It’s going to be so stinkin awesome! I’ll save the details for a later post… Don’t worry, you won’t miss a thing. 🙂
Tomorrow, we are participating in a floragraph finishing event. They have shipped Annie’s portrait here to Oklahoma City, with one tiny part unfinished. Rob, the girls and I get to finish decorating our baby’s picture before they ship it back to Pasadena to be attached to the float. The news is supposed to be there and do a story about it, because the whole purpose of this is to motivate people to register as organ donors. I’m terrified I will be a blubbering mess, because, that’s what I do. I will just wear waterproof mascara and let Rob do the talking. 😉 I’m excited our little girls will get to see the picture of their sister up close, because they won’t be travelling with us to the parade. This is such an unbelievable honor, and a once in a lifetime experience, and I can’t believe we get to show our Annie to the world.
Rob and I went over our schedule for the next two weeks, and it looked a little something like this:
20- Annie’s floragraph party
21- Christmas with my giant crazy family
22- church/finishing touches on Christmas stuff
23- Rob works
24- Christmas Eve with Rob’s mom & family
25- Christmas morning with our little fam, Lunch with my dad’s family, Dinner with Rob’s dad’s family
26- Bachelorette/Wedding shower prep for my sis-in-law
27- Bachelorette Party/Sleepover
28- Wedding Shower in a.m./Christmas with my brothers & sisters in p.m.
3- Rehearsal dinner/wedding setup
After I saw this schedule, I had two reactions. First, I was so excited. I love all of the crazy Christmas gatherings. They are totally worth the exhaustion. We always stay up too late, laugh til someone pees a little, eat too much, and just enjoy the crap out of each other. The wedding stuff will be a blast too. I’m so happy for my sister in law and the man she has chosen. They are such great people, and I’m really happy to play a part in planning their big day. And I’m suuuuuuper excited for our trip.
My second reaction hit me yesterday. I cried, pretty much all day long. We have been so busy, that when I finally slowed down yesterday, I broke down and couldn’t stop. I miss Annie. It’s so weird, because we didn’t know her in the way we know our other girls. It’s almost like I miss the idea of her. I imagine what she would be like every day. On Christmas, she would have been 6 months old. I have no idea what she would have looked like by now, and that breaks my heart. In the midst of all of this joy and merry making, our family is facing some pretty intense hardships. Several family members are just skipping Christmas all together. They are sad and exhausted, and I don’t blame them at all. Yesterday, I wanted to join them. However, I have 2 small kids and they wouldn’t understand… They might even be a little pissed…
I was telling my sister Emily yesterday through tears that I was worried about all the grief my girls have seen this year, and how I was scared for them. She told me that it wasn’t anything to worry about, that the girls were just getting to learn compassion at a young age. She was absolutely right (she thinks she always is) 😉 because as I cried Dylan didn’t say a word. She just came over and hugged me. Harper Lou galloped up to me (she’s a brown horsey more often than not these days) and nuzzled my arm. Harper softly neighed and Dylan stood quietly and held me until I had composed myself. Maybe this isn’t normal behavior for a 2 and 4 year old, but it is my normal and I thank God for it. I love these girls with all I have, and they are very compassionate. They are also very patient with their momma.
***side note: This is an exchange that happened between Rob and Harper Lou the other morning:
R: Good morning Harp! Did you have good dreams?
R: What did you dream about?
R: Really? What did she look like?
HL: My best friend.
R: Wow! Where were you guys?
HL: In heaben. (heaven)
There were more questions from Robert, but Harper got uncomfortable. When that happens she gets super awkward and looks out of the corner of her eye, slowly raises her fists up to her chest and rubs them together like hooves, neighs, and runs away on all fours… for real…
Harper rarely talks about Annie, so I believe her. I hope that this was a real, vivid experience for her. I hope for Harper that she sees her sister from time to time, and I absolutely believe that it’s possible.
I may be a huge wreck. I may cry at every single gathering. But I’m also aware that I’m not the only one in pain this Christmas. If someone you love has passed away this year and this is your first Christmas without them, my heart aches for you. If someone you love is missing, I weep with you. If someone you love is sick, or hurting, I hurt for you. I have to often remind myself that without pain and sorrow, we can’t know true happiness. God has proven himself faithful to me and my family this year, despite the evils of this world. We have been able to find joy through our tears, and I am incredibly grateful. I pray that we all make it through this time of year, despite our sadness. I pray that we find joy in the little things. I pray that we all stay strong, and don’t allow the enemy to consume us with depression, anger and hate. And I pray that we all CELEBRATE the birth of our Savior with so much hope, because He came to us to save us from all of this.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Love, The Aherns