I continue to be surprised by the grief process. I should know by now that I can’t anticipate these powerful feelings, but I find myself caught off guard ALL THE TIME. The holidays are such a challenge. They are steeped with tradition and family and love and joy, but they are also constant reminders of our missing piece. I really thought that this blog was complete, but as my family has entered the Christmas season I realized that I still need this outlet. It has been such a relief for me to have a place to sort and document my feelings, and really to process. Many times I have started a blog entry and by the end of it there has been a clarity that has surprised me. I guess I’m hoping for that now… My mind is in a fog, and I guess I’m hoping to clear it out.
Can I begin by stating a few positive things? I have a really great life. I have a husband who loves me, who works tirelessly to better our family, and who loves our daughters in a way that brings me to tears. I have the most incredible girls. Dylan is growing up WAY too fast, she is “addicted to reading”, loves everything girly, and she has been a lifeline for me with her perfectly timed hugs and her meaningful and truthful words. Harper Lou is a little spitfire who is so comfortable in her own goofiness I envy her. She is able to truly be herself without a single thought as to the opinion of others and I PRAY she never loses that. Iva Ray is the most darling little thing you ever did see. She is morphing from a precious, sweet, mild mannered baby into a straight up RED HEAD. Everyone told us when she was born that redheads are firecrackers and they have that reputation for a reason, but Iva defied the stereotype. She was the most calm and gentle baby, until she recently turned one. I feel like someone flipped a switch and now she is making it VERY clear that she has a mind of her own. We are loving every minute of it.
I wanted to start with the good stuff because when I write these blog posts I feel like they are heavy, and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. We all have good in our lives and we all have the not so good. I give Robert a hard time because when we discuss ANY issue in life, from family to our marriage to politics to religion, his contribution to the conversation almost always ends with him saying, “well, it’s a balance.” (which is followed by “the look” from me) Duh. I know it’s a balance. He knows it’s a balance. Life is about finding the balance. This blog helps me do that.
Last year Iva was born a week before Thanksgiving. I felt like I was thrust into the holiday season riding a wave of hormones and endorphins. It was pretty awesome. Of course there were tears when we decorated the Christmas tree, there always are. There are Annie’s precious handprint and footprint ornaments made by the loving nurses who took care of our family in so many ways. There is her birthstone ornament given to us by friends who share our pain in a way that only grieving parents know. There is the ornament Robert bought me while he was deployed during the Christmas before Annie was born, a month before her diagnosis, and on the back is written “I love you Abbey, Dylan, Harper, and ?” So. Many. Memories. These memories are always tucked safely away, but when we open the box and physically touch and lay eyes on these precious things, it’s so intense. Last year was different, because I was cuddling a precious sleepy newborn while unpacking these memories, so there was a beautiful balance. I was so grateful.
I guess I mistakenly thought that it would always feel that way. The first Christmas after losing her was ridiculous, I was a big ole sloppy mess but I gave myself grace because it was the first. I really figured that the second year would be a more accurate depiction of what it would really be like. Now I know that that may not be the case because of Iva. I made this realization last night, and I told Robert that if this is true we just need to keep having baby after baby after baby because apparently babies fix things and that way I can always be happy and snuggly… Cause that’s healthy…
One of my very favorite Christmas traditions we do for the girls is every year we buy them an ornament. I got the idea from my best friend’s mother, and the plan is beautiful. We get them a new one every year and when they are an adult and move out they can have a box full of little trinkets from us to adorn their first tree. We try to find an ornament that speaks to that previous year for them. It started out kind of silly because the girls were really little, Dylan got a sparkly little cupcake because her favorite game was a cupcake decorating game and she called them “pupcakes” and it was adorable. Harper always seems to get some sort of animal, because, you know, she is one… The BEST part of this tradition is that we write a little note and tuck it inside with the ornament so decorating the tree is a walk down memory lane for them and for us. I cry during the reading of almost EVERY note because I’m the mom, because they are growing up so fast, and because I’m also a nut job. I still like to be the one reading them, and I think the girls like to see me cry. It seems to make them feel special to elicit that kind of emotion from me. Also, they are REALLY good at humoring their momma. The ornaments and the notes have gotten more sentimental with passing time. I think there are several reasons for this. The girls are getting older and life gets more complicated with age. Another reason is that our lives aren’t sparkly little cupcakes anymore. I remember buying that cupcake for Dylan, and all I felt was happiness and love. It seems so absurd now, looking back. I was completely unaware of the bliss I was living in. Have you guys seen Inside Out? I saw it with the girls recently and towards the end when Riley’s memories start being multicolored and they realize they need Sadness to get to Joy… HOLY CRAP DISNEY. YES. ALL THE FEELS. I was crying so hard Dylan paused the movie for us. I don’t know if she did it so she could comfort me or because my sobs were tainting her cinematic experience, so I’m just going to claim the former. Ever since Annie was born I feel like all of my memories with my family are multicolored. Dylan’s ornament for that year is a little angel. I took one look at the note, the only note in the box written in Robert’s handwriting because I couldn’t even bring myself to write it, let alone read it aloud, and I passed it to him. First of all, it’s written on a thank you card. I don’t know if we did that intentionally or if that’s all we had on hand, but how perfect. The note reads: Dylan, We had a tough year this year. You were so great, so many times you reminded us of God’s simple truths. You read Annie the book Heaven Is For Real, so she would know where she was going. You hugged Mom when she cried. You were our little Angel. We love you. Mom & Dad.
So simple. So true. So multicolored.
I have been in such a down place for a few weeks now. Decorating the tree just compounded these feelings because there was no one to snuggle. Iva is one, she’s walking, she’s ripping ornaments off the tree faster than the big girls can carefully place them on, and I’m really loving the chaos. But is this how it’s always going to feel? It’s so strange, I was watching the beautiful chaos, crying of course, and Robert sat next to me, put his arm around me and asked me if I was crying because I missed her. My answer was sooooo multicolored. Yes, I’m sad because I miss her. I miss her so much it hurts. I also have so much joy because I have the beautiful peace of knowing I will see her again. I have joy in the ornaments being chucked across the room by my baby. I have joy in the argument over who gets to place the star on top of the tree by my big girls. I have feelings of being completely unworthy of the blessings surrounding me. I have fear that I’m going to screw this up. I have feelings of overwhelming anxiety when meeting new people who haven’t heard about Annie…
That last one is a biggie these days. We moved to Enid in August and Robert is currently in USAF pilot training. I didn’t realize the bubble I was living in until we moved. Robert and I had been in the Oklahoma Air Guard together for our entire relationship. I ended my career right before we moved so I can be here for him and our children, and he is starting this completely new career field. It’s new and exciting, but I didn’t really think about all it entailed. The guard is different than Active Duty in that people don’t move around. We joined the unit as teenagers, we went all over the world with the same people every time, did some really stupid things with these people as well as some pretty incredible things. It has been a second family to us in so many ways. Our Guard Family rallied around us during our season of heartache and it was exactly what we needed. Now, we are in a new place making new friends with people who weren’t there during that time. They don’t know. It’s hard because I have been in the aforementioned bubble so long I don’t have a lot of practice organically bringing up and sharing this huge part of my life with people who don’t already know.
There are a few men in Robert’s training class that are married as well and we have gotten together a handful of times with all of the couples and the kids. (Sidenote: we are the only ones with kids and these people are absolutely wonderful to our girls) I really like these get-togethers, because we all are living this same life right now. Our husbands are all trainees and they are exhausted and depleted and giving it all they’ve got. We never get to see them, we want to help but can’t, and we are all struggling to find the balance during this temporary period. It is really nice to sit and talk and feel like, Yeah! You GET me! We invited them all over for Iva’s birthday, and although we only invited family and these few couples, the house was packed. The wives were standing together and visiting next to a beautiful matted picture of Pistol Annie that our friends had made us while I was pregnant with her and people had signed during Annie’s memorial service.
As I was walking by I thought I overheard one of them explaining our story to the others in a whisper. I have replayed this over and over and over in my mind. I should have stopped, walked over to them and said “Oh, you noticed our lovely gift? We have the best friends. That was such a difficult time in our lives and we were supported and loved by so many people. Have I told you about Annie?…” Instead I was overcome with anxiety and walked by as quickly as I could. I HATE that I didn’t say those things. I had been waiting to tell them so I wouldn’t feel the weight of the “do they know? Should I say something? Will it be awkward? What do I do?” anymore. I HATE that these wonderful women were unaware that we proudly and lovingly speak her name in this house, and I didn’t allow them the comfort to do so. I will get better at this, but it’s a process.
I think the main reason I feel so heavy these days is the balance is totally skewed right now. Being a parent is hard, losing a child is hard, pilot training is hard, being the spouse of a pilot trainee is hard, and Robert and I are in this together. Together we made the decision for him to be a pilot. This season is temporary, but difficult. He is burning the candle at both ends and the last thing I need to do when he gets home is to unload on him. We both know that this is wrong, I need to be able to talk to him about everything, but this is just kind of how it has to be right now. There is an end in sight. It’s a long way away, but it’s there. I am grateful for a husband who even when he is overwhelmed, notices that I’m not okay. I’m grateful for the support system I have in family and in friends, new and old. I’m grateful for the mental health resources that the Air Force provides. (I haven’t contacted them yet, but I have made the realization that I need to talk to someone who isn’t begging me for food or needing snot wiped off their face in order to attempt to restore the balance) I am grateful for the many colors and many emotions that make up this life. I’m also grateful for long morning naps from my little red tornado so I can sort myself out here… I’m so grateful for the Sadness, and I’m ever so grateful for the Joy.