The Kindness 

  If you are finding your way here because of one of these cards, welcome!!! I hope you enjoyed your act of kindness!

I am Abbey, Annie’s mom. If you choose to go to the very beginning and read her whole journey you won’t be disappointed, but allow me to sum up here.

Annie is our third daughter (of four! ❤️❤️❤️❤️) We knew a few months before she was born that she was not made for this earth. We carried her to term in the hopes of a few precious moments with her. She was born on June 26, 2013, and she lived a beautiful and incredible 14 hours and 58 minutes. She spent her entire life surrounded by love, joy, and peace, and it was one of the best days of my life.

Because we knew our daughters fate before she was born, we used that precious time to intentionally plan for her. We planned for every possible scenario. We planned for time with her big sisters, we planned for pictures, we covered all our bases. Most of all we planned her gift of life. We worked diligently with LifeShare of Oklahoma, and because of their hard work and preparation, Annie became the very first newborn infant organ donor in Oklahoma.

We are so incredibly proud of our baby girl and the lives she has touched, including yours. To you it may seem like just a simple random act of kindness, but to me, each act was deliberately performed by someone who loves her. I know her life was small and finite, but this is our way of keeping her memory alive and honoring her. Annie’s entire existence was one of faith, love, and giving, and even if you don’t choose to read her story please consider being a part of her legacy. Do something kind for someone else for no reason other than that you can. Lives have been changed because of Annie, and lives can be changed because of you.

*I would love to hear how someone’s act of kindness impacted your day! I encourage you to go to the Pistol Annie Facebook page and share your story. https://www.facebook.com/PistolAnnieAhern

*You absolutely do not need a card to be kind, but if you would like to perform an act of kindness in Annie’s honor,  email your mailing address to abbeyahern@gmail.com (abbey with an E!) and I would be so happy to mail you some cards.  

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The Nurse

  
:::WARNING::: Super sappy- lovey dovey- ooey gooey- OMG we get it- husband lovin post. Dooooon’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t waaarn ya. (sorry, we listen to a lot of Taylor Swift around here)

(Photo by Sarah Libby Photography)

When I was in the final semester of nursing school I was carrying Annie and dealing with her devastating diagnosis of anencephaly. We were planning for her birth, her tiny little life, and her death all at the same time. I was due 6 weeks after graduation, and that is when several of my classmates were planning on taking the NCLEX-RN (National Council Lisencure Examination-Registered Nurse). I had discussed with a few of my teachers and agreed with their advice to plan on taking my exam around 6 weeks after Annie was born, and at the latest by Labor Day. That would give me some time to grieve, process, and then study. I honestly thought that would be plenty of time…

Before I knew it, Labor Day was a distant memory. I thought, lets just get through our first holiday season without Annie and then I’ll take my exam. After Christmas I still wasn’t ready. Then we became pregnant with Iva, and I turned around and we were celebrating Annie’s first birthday. Iva’s pregnancy was so overwhelmingly emotional for me, and when she was finally born I just spent every waking moment soaking her up. Then, another holiday season, my big girls birthdays, and I realized I was rapidly approaching the 2 year deadline. If you go past 2 years you can still take the exam, but you have to repeat your clinicals first. (Uh, NO WAY.) So in true Abbey Ahern fashion, I waited until the very last minute and registered.

It isn’t cheap to register, and I also had to pay for an online review course because I had forgotten everything. I was carrying so much stress and guilt because if I failed this test I would have felt like I just took that money away from my family for nothing. I was feeling guilty for waiting so long to take the test, thinking maybe I should have just sucked it up and done it earlier, and just having a whole lot of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” conversations with myself. When I recieved my email approving me to test it gave me a window from April to July to schedule and take the exam. Again, in true Abbey Ahern fashion, I waited to schedule.

My husband has been in the process of becoming an Air Force pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard for the past year and a half. It normally doesn’t take nearly this long, but he’s an old man by AF standards and had to get approved for an age waiver (He’s 32, you have to be <30 when you begin pilot training). He finally got approval and received his start date for officer training, and was scheduled to begin on May 5. He graduates in July, after my NCLEX window closes. In other words, if I didn’t get this test over with before he left town, I would be studying and taking the biggest test I’ve ever taken… on my own with 3 kids. (Please note: I am so blessed with more family and help close by than I deserve, but my testing plans were top secret. If I failed, I didn’t want the added pressure of having to tell everyone right away) I got online to schedule the exam and there was an opening on May 1. I scheduled it, then burst into tears and felt like I was going to barf.

Robert was incredible. I had two and a half weeks to relearn everything I had learned in two years of nursing school, and he understood that. He took the kids and left me alone at home to study as often as he could. He made excuses for me when I didn’t show up to family dinners. Dylan’s kindergarten field trip was the day before my exam and he took Harper and Iva along and chaperoned. I also think he saved several babies from the tiger that escaped that day, but left before the news could interview him… 😉 He also was an emotional support for me, which has been his role for such a long time. I would take a practice test and do terrible on it, then cry because I was convinced there was no way I could pass. He would wait for me to finish my outburst and then build me back up by telling me how proud he was of me and how he was positive I could do this.

The morning of my exam I woke up early and was getting ready. I poured an extra large mug of coffee because Iva decided she wanted to party with me the night before. I realized I wasn’t too incredibly nervous so I tried to psych myself up. I thought “ok, this is the most important day of the past two years.” Then I stopped and almost laughed out loud. That is in no way true. Then I thought, “this is the hardest thing you’ve done in two years.” Again. Absurd. I kept trying to think of how to phrase it, and then I gave up. I realized this is just a test. I either pass or fail. If I fail, I’ll take it again. If I fail again, maybe 3rd times a charm. I just really hoped I didn’t end up like My Cousin Vinny and have to say, “No, for me six times was a charm.”

I arrived at the testing center at the appointed time. They take people back one at a time, and I was the last one to go back. I stood by the window and looked out. It was a gorgeous morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and there was a single hot air balloon flying fairly close to the building I was in. The following is my train of thought, and it’s super weird and happened in like, half a second. So don’t judge.

-Oh, how pretty!
-I want to fly in one of those!
-No wait, they’re dangerous. Mom and Dad crashed that one time.
-How cool would that be if this was a sign from God?!
-But hot air balloons mean nothing to me, so I bet it’s not.
-Except for Mom and Dad crashing… Am I going to crash and burn???
-Maybe I should SPECIFICALLY ask for a sign.
-But they are about to call me back!
-He wouldn’t have time to give me one.
-Wow.
-I just made God so small.
-Stop thinking about signs and remember all your dang lab values! Focus!
-Holy crap. They’re calling me.

Thankfully, time and time again, God shows me that He is so much bigger than my doubt, fear, or time restraints. The very first question on my exam was about anencephaly. In my hours of studying and the hundreds of practice questions I had done there was not a single mention of anencephaly, or any neural tube defect for that matter. (to be fair, I only skimmed the OB/GYN review section. I’ve had 4 babies, I know almost all of it from experience) God was with me. He called me to become a nurse and He loved me through it when life got hard. The question of rocked me for a minute and I teared up, but was able to continue without any big episode.

Two days later I got the results of my test. I freakin passed. I honestly never thought I’d see the day. For two years when Rob and I would discuss his upcoming career change and the possible gaps in  pay and training, he would reassure me. He would say “well, worst case scenario if we really need it, you’re only one test away from being able to work as a nurse, so we’ll be ok.” Something that was just a possibility for such a long time is a real, legit thing now. It’s weird, and I don’t really have my mind wrapped around it just yet.

The timing of all of this was so divinely laid out as well. I took my test and was able to get my results with my husband right before he left for his training. Now, the next two years while he is pursuing aviation, I will be able to support him in the same ways he supported me during nursing school. I love that man more than words can say. During the past two years any time someone asked if I had taken my boards yet I would experience a rush of anxiety, guilt, and pressure so I avoided talking about it at all costs. Robert NEVER asked me. He gave me the greatest gift after we lost our daughter. He gave me freedom. He had set our family up financially where we would be fine if I didn’t work. I had the freedom to stay at home with our children. I had the freedom to grieve for as long as I needed to and in whatever way I needed to. I was able to heal from the inside out, so there is no risk of re-injuring that deep emotional wound. The scar is still there and will never go away, but I have such a confidence about the way I have been able to heal. I was able to grieve in a very complete way, and I can’t thank Robert enough for all he has done to help me. He is also going to look super hot in his flight suit, so don’t be surprised if there’s a 5th little Ahern someday…. 🙂

Life is good these days. So good. But the pain is always lurking in the shadows. It’s always unexpected too. We took family pictures recently (yeah, I know, we’re obsessed with ourselves) and my sister had an idea for my parents to sit on a bench and watch all of our little individual families playing. She suggested that my family be playing on Annie’s quilt. It was such a great way to acknowledge her, but it was awful at the same time. We were all playing with 8 happy healthy kids (and a sweet pup) and Annie’s gorgeous quilt was just a glaring reminder of her absence. My family is different. We have a quilt. I held it together for a few shots, but then I just burst into tears and buried my face into Iva’s squishy cheeks. I’m so grateful that we didn’t rush the grieving process, because those waves are manageable. I can rarely anticipate them, but my feet are sturdy enough that they don’t knock me down. Praise God.

  

(Photo by Sarah Libby Photography)

I have also decided to begin a new blog so I can continue to write. I made this decision for a few reasons. Blogging has been such a great form of expression for me, and I love writing. Something I have heard several times is how much people have appreciated the honesty/transparency in this. People really dig the truth, you know? My new blog will be just that. I am guilty of the “picture perfect” social media facade and I think that’s ok, to an extent. The new blog is not an attempt to air all of our dirty laundry or anything, but there is something really refreshing about women being truly honest with their life struggles. I hope it’s a bit more light hearted than Tomorrow Will Be Kinder, but who knows what life is going to throw my way? I hope you read it, and thank you all again for your support these past few years. It has been a true life line.

Abbey Ahern, RN (<—OMG!)

***Our dear friends are still waiting. If you would like to help them please pray both for them and for their son. If you would like to make a donation you can do so here: http://www.gofundme.com/homesweethoma

The Good Life

It has been a long while since I have posted anything here. I felt led to start this blog so many months ago and I have continued to update it with as many details as possible so I could have an accurate account of my thoughts and feelings in this season of life. As time continues to slip by I have fewer and fewer updates to post. Annie’s time here was so brief and her story is far from over, but there just isn’t that much left to say. I kind of feel like Forrest Gump. I’ve been brutally honest, maybe overshared a time or two, and now “that’s all I have to say about that.”
This post is just a big huge thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for praying. Thank you for believing. Thank you for being involved in making my little girl’s existence so much bigger than 14 hours and 58 minutes. That means so much more to me than I could ever express here.
Our family has started a new chapter recently. The last time I posted was about being pregnant again and how bittersweet it was. It was incredibly difficult at times and it made me grieve Annie all over again. When the ultrasound was scheduled to be performed on Annie’s birthday I knew it had to be divine intervention. We brought the big girls with us because we wanted the 4 of us to be together all day on that day. I was terrified, but tried my best to stay calm and be brave. When we finally got back into the room, the technician asked a simple small talk type question and I lost it. I started sobbing and felt like I couldn’t breathe. She was amazing and knew our situation so she just handed me some tissue and began her scan. She immediately scanned our baby’s head and showed us a big round perfect skull. It’s funny, but that was the least of my worries. Annie’s diagnosis shattered my false sense of security in this imperfect world that we live in, and I knew that there was a million other things she could find on her scan. I was on pins and needles until she was finished and told us we were having a perfectly healthy baby girl. Then I started laughing… 4 girls!!! Are you kidding?! I laughed for about a week. I love having girls and Robert adores his little ladies. We were over the moon.
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(BTW-how gorgeous are these pictures!? We did a maternity shoot at the Oklahoma State Fair with Sarah, and she knocked our socks off. Per usual.) http://www.sarahlibbyphotography.com

Robert and I went to the hospital alone on the day of delivery. I didn’t know how I was going to be emotionally, and I wanted a few hours with just him, me and the baby. We went into the prep area and I was a nervous wreck. We discussed with our doctor and the anesthesiologists about my anxiety and our history, and everyone agreed to let Robert come back with me from the very beginning. (Normally when you have a C-section, the momma has to go back and get the spinal, get prepped, and surgery is usually underway before the dad comes back) It was so wonderful to be able to hold on to my man during that time. That short period when I’m usually alone can be so terrifying and cold. Surgery began soon after and all of a sudden I heard the whole room erupt with “Oh my God!” “She’s huge!” “Look at that HAIR!” and then the most beautiful chubby face peeped around the drape and I saw my baby girl. They put her on my chest and I just LET GO. My heart hadn’t felt that light in so very long.
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Our darling Iva Ray Ahern was 8 lbs 12 oz, 20 inches long, and had a head full of beautiful red hair. She had some respiratory issues and had to be taken to the NICU, and she ended up spending 4 days there until we were discharged, so nothing went according to plan. We didn’t get our alone time with her, her sisters couldn’t go meet her, I was torn between needing to rest after surgery and NEEDING to be with my baby… It was hard. But we know from experience it could be much, much harder, so we just sucked it up and did what we had to do. 4 days after she was born, we took our baby home. (Insert giant waving MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner here)
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Our big girls FINALLY got to love on their baby sister, and they haven’t stopped since.
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The name Iva means “God is gracious”. God has blessed us beyond belief. We recently did a newborn photo shoot with Sarah and I made this little flipagram with her pictures. I cry every time I watch it because it’s just so freakin beautiful. It’s a miracle that God can take something so wretched and turn it into something so glorious. I am in awe of His power, and humbled that He chose to give me these 4 girls and this man.

http://flipagram.com/f/OmDcYP2RG0

I pray that this blog and Annie continue to reach people. I pray that the mom who just received the crippling news about their own unborn baby’s health and is frantically googling “anencephaly” comes across this story and finds hope. I pray that the Lord continues to use Annie and her sisters for his glory. I pray that Dylan and Harper never forget their time with Annie, and I pray that Iva will always hear of and be proud of her big sister.

Thank you again, for all you have done for me and my family.

Love, Abbey

***Our dear friends are still waiting. If you would like to help them please pray both for them and for their son. If you would like to make a donation you can do so here: http://www.gofundme.com/homesweethoma

The Community

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Robert and I have an incredibly supportive little group of friends. Three of those friends own a T Shirt company here in Oklahoma City called The Okay See. When Robert ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon back in March, those friends designed and printed up a T Shirt for him to wear and honor his daughter as he ran. They made enough for our family to wear as we chased him around the city in our cars and cheered him on as he ran the dumbest number of miles in an even dumber amount of time. (He’s super fast and athletic, and I hate him)
I posted pictures to Facebook and Instagram, and several people wanted to know where they could buy a shirt too. We talked it over with our friends and decided that if people wanted a shirt, we may as well do it as a fundraiser for our friends adopting from the Congo. They did a two week preorder of shirts, and I couldn’t believe the amount of shirts that were ordered! My little family was beyond surprised at the number of people who wanted to show us their love and support. It was humbling and inspiring. When the shirts were printed and shipped out, I asked people to send in modeling pics when they got them. I wasn’t prepared for my feelings when I saw each individual picture, nor was I prepared for the creativity of my friends. The pictures show our supporters in several different locations, from family dinners to OKC Thunder playoff games, and from Ada, OK to Guam and Australia.
After I started posting all of the pictures we were getting, we also started getting messages asking where people could get a shirt, or messages stating how sad someone was because they missed the ordering deadline. The boys and I talked it over again, and they were willing to do yet another preorder. You can order one of these shirts by June 21st at http://www.theokaysee.com . We have been so blessed to be able to see the community rally around us, and there is no way to thank you enough, wether you buy a shirt or not. Thank you for all you’ve done for us.
Robert, Abbey, Dylan, Harper Lou, and Annie

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The Feelings

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I feel a little overwhelmed right now, so please bear with me if this post seems to be all over the place. I can’t seem to put two thoughts together, I’m exhausted, and I am an emotional rollercoaster… because I’m pregnant. Yup. Ahern baby #4 is due in November. We are so incredibly grateful for this gift that God has given us. Harper Lou is so excited, and she constantly has a stuffed animal stuck under her t-shirt claiming that her baby is almost ready to “pop out.” Dylan keeps telling us we’ve had enough girls for now, so we need to have a boy. She’s like me, however, and wants to wait until the baby’s birthday to find out the gender. Robert, just like in all 3 previous pregnancies, is taking incredible care of me. He takes over as soon as he walks in the door. He, more often than not in the first trimester, has had to stop somewhere after work and pick up dinner because I have been too tired or sick to cook. He rough houses with the girls, he does cleanup, bath, and bed, all with no complaints. Which is good, because I’m complaining enough for the both of us.

This pregnancy has kicked by butt so far. I haven’t been throwing up or too ridiculously nauseous, but I have just felt like I have been hit like a truck. There are days where I drag myself out of bed to pour cereal for my girls, then I shuffle to the couch where I lay until they start begging for lunch. (Yeah, I know. I’m Supermom.) Then back to the couch until Robert gets home and feeds us, then I go to bed. It’s awful. So on top of feeling like dog crap, I also have a huge amount of guilt. I feel like I’m not carrying my weight. I feel like I’m letting my husband and my girls down. I am very aware each morning of all of the things I should be doing, but most days I just can’t or don’t do them.

On top of all of the physical challenges, I am starting to get to a very confusing point for me in the grieving process. In the first 6 months or so after Annie died, I felt very comfortable in my grief. I felt like my tears and my sadness were normal. In these past few months it’s feeling less and less that way. I’m starting to feel more alone. I really feel like sometimes I can’t distinguish my grief from my pregnancy symptoms, because they are so similar.

 This baby was not an accident. My doctor gave us the green light to start trying for a baby 6 months after Annie was born. Robert and I knew that pregnancy would be difficult emotionally so soon after losing a child, but there were a few reasons we went ahead and tried.  We want our children to be close in age. He and his sisters are all 2 years apart, my sisters and I are also 2 years apart, and we want our own children to have that special intimacy with each other. When this baby is born, Dylan will be almost 6 and Harper almost 4. That’s a much bigger gap than we ever wanted, and we didn’t want it to get any bigger.

The second reason is, I’m not a huge fan of the baby stage. (Gasp!!!!!!) I know. Call me a jerk if you must, just not to my face. With my mood swings these days I can’t guarantee your safety. Don’t get me wrong, the newborn stage is ok, other than middle of the night feedings. The way newborn babies smell is like crack to women, we just can’t get enough, they are the best snugglers in the whole wide world, and they sleep all day. After they get out of the newborn stage, however, they just get really wiggly. They get that weird neck cheese in the folds of their fat little necks so they smell like old milk all day, they spit up all the time, their poop starts to REALLY smell, and you can’t ever put them down. Seriously. When we go to family get-togethers these days, I rarely see my kids. They are running around the whole time with their cousins, going to the bathroom on their own, feeding themselves, and just having a blast. If you have a baby, you can’t put it down. Their heads are wobbly, they get bored after 15 minutes in any particular spot, and they require a lot of hands on attention. After saying all of that, I think it’s obvious that I need to have all of my babies as soon as possible so I can get that stage out of the way.

The third reason we went ahead with trying is because we weren’t sure how to know when you’re really ready. Every time we have decided we wanted another baby we have felt severely unqualified to make that decision. How in the heck to 2 people just say, hey. Let’s make A WHOLE NEW PERSON. It just seems absurd to me. This time we had the “are we really sure we want another baby?” coupled with the “are we emotionally ready for this?” Honestly, the second question was impossible to answer. I am not over losing my daughter. I pray that I am never over it. I always want to miss her. I always want to think about her. For the longest time I was so worried that would I want another baby just to replace her, but I truly believe that that is not the case. I know this because as of right now, I feel more sad that Annie isn’t here with us than I feel excited about this new baby. I’m ashamed to admit that, and as a mother it seems so wrong to feel this way, but it’s true. I pray that my excitement will grow in the coming months, and I’m sure it will, but as for now I can’t even feel this baby move yet. I don’t know it. (see? It’s still an IT.) So most of my feelings are still focused on Annie.

One thing I have been thinking of lately is that I feel like a lot of my physical discomfort could be stress and anxiety related as opposed to only pregnancy. I remember on the day Annie was born, I was full of joy and peace while I was with her, but I was also nauseous and throwing up all day. The nurses told me it was related to the medication I received during surgery which might be true, but the moment Annie died all of my nausea was gone. I truly believe that holding my little girl and knowing her time was running out was enough to make any parent throw up. Once she was gone, I knew where she was and that she had been healed. She was with our Savior and there was nothing at all to be anxious about. Physically I felt fine.

This pregnancy has me riddled with anxiety, but I know all too well that there is nothing I can do at this point. I am trusting, waiting, and praying. I received a phone call recently from my doctor’s office saying they had scheduled my ultrasound for June 24. I flipped open my calendar and noticed that we would be out of town at a family reunion that day. I informed the woman on the other end of the line that we would get back into town on the 25th. She paused and scanned her available appointments. A moment later she piped up, “Ok, how about Thursday, June 26 at 9:30?” I was stunned. June 26 is Annie’s birthday. What are the freaking odds? I was a little shocked so I just wrote it down and hung up. I called Robert and told him what had happened, and he quietly told me that we could change the appointment if I needed to. I thought for a moment and said, “you know what? Every single time I have tried to take control in the past year and a half, God has shown me that I don’t have this. He has this, and He has me.” He has taken care of us and protected us in our most awful storms, so who am I not to trust Him now? I am sure that the day of this baby’s ultrasound will be anxious, terrifying, and full of painful memories. I’m also sure that Annie’s first birthday will be incredibly difficult. Now they will be combined into one day, and I pray that seeing a healthy little baby will lighten our hearts a bit.

I am afraid of what is to come with this baby. There is no guarantee that once one tragic thing happens to you then you are safe for awhile. That’s not how this world works. If anything, I’m positive that more tragedies will come my way. I’m not trying to be depressing, I actually think I have a pretty positive outlook on life, but the reality is that we live in a fallen world. This life shouldn’t be perfect. This isn’t paradise. I don’t feel like God owes me anything because I have suffered a loss. I am trusting in Him and in His plan, but as I’ve stated before, I’m human. I’m trying my best to keep my fear in check and not let it consume me.

Pricilla Shirer was a guest speaker at church recently and she spoke on fear. She declared fear is not of God, and if it is not of God than it must be from Satan. The more she spoke, the more I was completely and totally convicted. I was in tears. I couldn’t believe that I had allowed myself to have a spirit of fear surrounding this pregnancy. God has provided, protected, loved and cared for me and my family in the most incredible ways, some so beautiful I can’t even describe, so how DARE I be afraid?!! He is good. He is constant. Despite my failings, He will not fail. I love the saying “He is not threatened by my doubt, but He is glorified by my faith.” I realize that I will experience the feeling of fear throughout this pregnancy, and that is ok. However, I will not allow myself to ever again have a spirit of fear. I know and serve a God who deserves so much more than my fear.

Something that has helped a tremendous amount in quieting that fear in me is the ripple effect we have seen materialize from Annie’s tiny little life. My family was recently invited to a picnic at OU Medical where Annie was delivered that was put on by LifeShare. We were told that there would be free food and there would be some awards handed out. All I heard was free food, so I said we’d be there. We showed up, ate, and let girls run wild and dance to the Frozen songs playing over the speakers just for them. (They’re kind of a hit with our LifeShare family) We looked around and saw several familiar faces. We saw the nurse who cared for Annie during and after her birth. I will never forget that woman’s face, because she is the one who handed me my daughter for the first time. We hugged and reminisced a bit. Then we saw the chaplain who was there for us in several of the prenatal planning meetings and during our prayer service before Annie’s birth. The nurse who was kind of our liason between all of the different departments working together came. My doctor who delivered Annie arrived and sat with us. Several nurses who were involved in our care showed up. Then I was approached by a woman I didn’t recognize who said, “Excuse me, are you Annie’s mom?” Her name was Ashley, and she told me that her daughter Gabriella was born with anencephaly this past December, and became the second infant organ donor in Oklahoma. My eyes immediately filled with tears as I listened to her talk about her daughter. I can’t tell you how wonderful the conversation I had with Ashley was. How horrible of a circumstance to have to bond over, but I felt like we did. As I was talking with her, I felt understood, like really understood, for the first time in a long time. I could see her pain, but I also saw the joy and pride in her eyes when she spoke about her daughter’s gift of life. Our stories were very different, but so similar at the same time. Her daughter was diagnosed in July, and she had come across this blog in her internet research. That was how she got in touch with LifeShare in order to plan for Gabriella’s donation. As a donor mom, donation has been so incredibly helpful in the healing process. I’m grateful that this beautiful family was able to have the same help.

As the award portion of the picnic began, I realized that everyone receiving an award was part of our “team.” They were being acknowledged for all the hard work and planning they had done to make such an incredible thing like infant organ donation happen where it never had before. Then everyone was gathered for a picture, and I couldn’t believe the visual. There was a big group of people, some of which we had never met, who had all worked so hard for us. I was emotionally depleted when we left, because I was in no way prepared for the events of that picnic. I couldn’t be more grateful.

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Another big thing that has happened is Annie’s LifeShare nurse Shellie has written an award winning abstract entitled; “Pistol Annie, Boldly Opening Doors for Neonatal Donation after Circulatory Death in Oklahoma.” Her abstract was selected to be presented at a conference and Rob, the girls, and I were able to attend. The auditorium was very large and it filled up quickly with nursing students. Harper attracted a lot of attention because each seat had a huge microphone on the back of it for questions so she was shamelessly belting out “Let It Go” until the presentation began. (What is with that movie?!) When Shellie gave the presentation, I just sat in awe of my little girl. She really has opened doors in this area, and if this process has been made even just a tiny bit easier for the parents behind us, it was worth it. Shellie will be traveling to the east coast this summer to present again, and I am so proud to know her and proud of her work!

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Despite all of these positive things our little girl has accomplished and we are able to see, it still really really sucks that she’s gone. I miss her so much. It’s almost routine for my other girls. They see me cry all the time, out of the blue, and they stop whatever they are doing and just hug me until I’m finished. Mother’s Day was ridiculous. I cried during the music part of church, and it wasn’t my typical quicky cry. This was an all out, balls to the wall, sob fest. It started during a song that was praising God for being constant. I just became overcome with pain and guilt singing that. There is nothing I am more grateful for these days. After all He has done for me and all of my answered prayers, you’d think I’d be shouting His praises from the rooftops. He absolutely deserves that. But I’m not. I have been still and quiet. I feel so empty and low, and undeserving of His unfailing love. We made it through the service without any more outbursts (sorry Robert), and went to lunch. All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to work in the garden, so we went to Lowe’s and got supplies then headed home. We worked outside all day, the weather was incredible, Robert looks ridiculously gorgeous when he’s digging, so that was a plus, and just enjoyed our little family. Well, I enjoyed it between cries. I don’t know what it is on holidays. I’m sad every day, but I guess I just feel a little more justified in letting it out on big days like that. I feel incredibly lonely when I cry, because I’m the only one doing it. I know my husband loves and misses his baby girl, but he’s not as emotional as I am. My big girls talk about their sister all of the time, which I love, but their feelings of loss are in no way comparable to mine. So I cry, get lots of sweet hugs, then apologize for awhile.  

I don’t know that I want the pain to ever go completely away. I want to learn to deal with it better, and to be able to live with it. A question I have been getting for a whole year now is, “have you taken your boards yet?” I graduated from nursing school 6 weeks before Annie was born, and after she died I just wasn’t in a huge hurry to rush back to work. We took the girls out of daycare and I became a stay at home mom for the time being. Robert has worked his tail off from the very beginning of our marriage, and he has put our family in a position financially where I don’t need to work. Dylan starts kindergarten in August, so I was just enjoying my time at home with my girls. More and more time passed, and I still felt like my brain was enveloped in this fog of grief. I’m still not ready. It has now been a year since I have graduated, and I still haven’t taken my boards. I am so absolutely OK with this. This is the least of my problems. I love my husband whose only desire is for me to be where I need to be. He has not pressured me one way or the other. He has allowed me to make my own decisions on how much time I need to take to heal, or move on, or whatever. He has actually been selected for a pilot position in our Air National Guard unit and is currently in the deep dark depths of government paperwork trying to get started with training. Once he begins, the girls and I will need to go where he goes, and our main job will be to try and support him as well as he has supported us over the years. For the first time in our marriage, we don’t really have a plan. We’re going with the flow, and it’s a little scary. I really and truly believe God called me to be a nurse, and I loved doing that work. I haven’t given up on that path at all, but I do feel that I’m allowed to roll with the punches a little bit.

Please please please don’t feel like this is a “woe is me” post. I am fully aware that we all have struggles we deal with every day. I felt led to start this blog at the very beginning of our journey, and it was really intimidating. I have never felt more vulnerable or exposed. I have talked about things here that I haven’t shared verbally with anyone, because it’s just easier for me to sit alone in my room and write. God has been stirring in my heart to share these feelings for some time, and I can’t ignore Him anymore, no matter how embarrassing they are to admit. What woman wants to tell the world that she feels weak and out of control? I, for one, like to post my happy pictures of my happy family and show all of you that everything in my life is great and wonderful and deny the darkness. I actually stayed home tonight and skipped my bible study because I felt like total crap, and I have been laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep because this was still nagging at me. Maybe God wasn’t allowing me to sleep until I finally shared what was He had put on my heart. So there it is.

In closing, I want to say something to the dear, sweet, fourth little fetus in my belly:

Hey little baby. I know that one day when you grow up you’ll be reading this and think, “well crap. My mom was super sad and she didn’t even want me.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. I can’t believe I am lucky enough to be pregnant. I am honored to suffer through pregnancy pains just to meet you. I bawled like an idiot when I saw your sweet little heart beating strong and quickly at my first doctor’s appointment. I panicked and made everyone stop talking when it took awhile for the doctor to find your heartbeat at my second appointment, then cried tears of relief when he finally did. I want you more than words can say. Your sisters can’t wait to take care of you. Your dad is already taking care of you by taking such good care of me. This family isn’t complete yet, because you aren’t here. I praise God for giving you to us, and we can’t wait to meet you.

PS- right now, your name is Lil Rainbow. You can thank Harper later.

The Trip

Our little Pistol Annie was one of several deceased organ donors honored on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade this year and it was an overwhelming, beautiful, empowering, heartbreaking, joyful and overall wonderful experience to be a part of. We met so many wonderful people and forged many friendships due to shared joy and heartache. For every story of a love lost, there was one of love saved. Medical miracles were walking among us, and it was so incredible. I’m going to try to convey all of the emotion we felt in this post, and I’m sure I will fall short.

I was very anxious and excited when we got to the airport. I didn’t know what to expect, and I just felt all tingly. I was so very glad to have Robert, my rock, with me. I clung to his arm as we checked our bags and made our way through security. We left on December 29, so very early in the morning, and we had just finished up our last Christmas celebration the night before. I had had absolutely ZERO time to mentally prepare for the emotionally charged journey we were embarking on, and that was probably a good thing. I was nervous, but so very excited to celebrate Annie’s tiny life and the impact she had on this world. I knew that we had several family members and friends praying for us and supporting us, so I tried to document the trip and post to Instagram/Facebook as much as I could. I didn’t want anyone to miss a thing! We started out the trip with a typical airplane selfie:

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We arrived at LAX that morning, and we had a driver waiting to take us the rest of the way to Pasadena. As we walked out of the airport toward the car, the driver told us “whatever you do, say your flight was delayed.” Rob and I politely laughed, because we had no idea what the guy was talking about, and when all else fails you chuckle and nod and hope that’s an appropriate reaction, right? We looked up and there was a police officer waiting next to the car. That’s when we realized that we had been in LA for 5 minutes and the first guy we met asked us to lie to the cops… perfect. As we approached the car, the policeman separated us from our driver so we couldn’t concoct a story (too late), and proceeded to have a heated discussion with him. Robert looked at me and said “there’s no freakin way I’m lying to the cops for a grown man I don’t know.” It all turned out to be over a parking violation, but the way the cop and driver were acting we were all going to jail. He lied, we didn’t, no ticket was issued, and we were on our way. (This doesn’t really have anything to do with our trip, but it was funny and I took pictures while we were being interrogated)

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When we checked into our bustling hotel, I cried because we were surrounded by people just like us. We were all there to honor someone we had lost. People either had buttons on with pictures of their honoree, or a button that said “living donor” or “float rider.” The living donors walked around the float and were being honored for their selfless act of donation. The float riders were organ recipients whose lives had been saved by organ donation. I felt a deep comradery with the people with picture buttons. We all were so very proud to be there, but we would all give anything to NOT be there and be at home with our loved one.

We were issued a welcome packet along with our room keys. It had commemorative pins, programs, schedules, yearbooks, and tons of other keepsake materials. This was all so exciting! I cried when I flipped through the yearbook and saw Annie’s paragraph. She was the youngest honoree. Robert and I could only read a few of the stories at a time, because they were all so painful.

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After we checked into our room we went outside and found our shuttle bus. The very first activity for us was heading down to the barn where the float was and we were going to work a decorating shift. I grabbed a pack of Donate Life tissues off the welcome table in the lobby on the way out, because I was crying every 5 minutes. (Most were “happy cries”, but tears nonetheless)

The woman in charge stood up and addressed the bus to prepare us for what was ahead that evening. She introduced herself, and her name was Annie… tears… She told us what to expect, where to go, who to look for, etc, but I was just praying Robert was listening. I couldn’t concentrate. I was so excited, emotional, and it just felt like my mind was enveloped in a fog. We got off the bus in a parking lot and walked toward the barn. As we turned the corner and walked through the entrance, my eyes widened. I couldn’t believe the scene in front of me. There were people EVERYWHERE. It was then I realized the scale of what we were a part of. This was huge. Millions of people were going to see this. Thousands of people were working on this. This was very, very big.

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We checked in to the Donate Life tent, received our decorating TShirts, and received our briefing on how to be a float decorator. (The part of the briefing that stuck out the most was how dangerous being on the scaffolding was, and we should not “be a hero”… Robert…)

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The scene on the inside of the barn was more shocking than the scene outside. People were scrambling like ants all over these massive floats. The smell of flowers about knocked me over. It was so beautiful! Then we turned a corner and saw our float… tears… and the first thing I thought was “there’s no way in hell they are going to finish this in time.” They kept saying they were ahead of schedule, and I believed them because I was just a rookie decorator. These guys were professionals. The Donate Life float crew is so amazing and compassionate. There were 80+ floragraph honorees, and all of the family members wanted to help decorate the float. They accommodated all of us, and it was pure chaos. I’m sure that things would go much easier if they were just to construct the float with seasoned volunteers, but they graciously take the time each shift to train new ones so families get the most incredible experience possible. They do their best, and we are so very grateful for their hearts. For the first hour, we sat at a table towards the back waiting for a job, because that’s where we were directed. We chatted with other families, observed the chaos, and literally stopped and smelled the roses… and babies breath… and carnations…

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Robert decided that the only way he was going to get a job was to go insert himself, so he took off. He popped up a few minutes later across the way as a delivery boy. He would take boxes of flowers prepped with glue and take them to the people up on the scaffolding to attach to the float.

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He then graduated to flower placer himself. He worked his way up the scaffolding while I stood below and yelled “don’t be a hero!!!” He placed babies breath and roses on the large branch that held all the lanterns. I spotted any holes and yelled “no, left! Your other left! Now down! A little further! Now back up just a bit! OK THERE! RIGHT THERE! PUT A YELLOW ROSE RIGHT THERE!” (I really liked this job, and I really liked my view) 😉

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At one point during our shift I snipped carnations and handed them to my friend/sponsor Tammye, and she applied glue to the stems.

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We also got to see Annie’s finished and touched up floragraph, and take a picture with our sweetie… tears…

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After our shift we went outside the barn and got in line for the taco truck. Authentic Mexican street tacos are my love language, so I’m pretty sure that Donate Life loves me. After an incredible dinner sitting on the concrete, we trekked back to the shuttle pick up. I was exhausted.

The next morning was the Floragraph Honoree Breakfast. We walked in, registered, got name tags, and were sent over to the “tile table.” An artist had made beautiful glass tiles, each one unique and hand painted, and we got to select one to take home and keep. Then we went downstairs to the banquet hall and were shown to a table. Over the loudspeaker we heard an announcement to go to the stage if we haven’t already, and look for the people holding our loved one’s picture. If they were able to be there that morning, we would be able to meet and have breakfast with the artist who decorated our floragraph. Whaaaaa?!?!?! We get to meet the people who devoted so much time to our girl?!?!… tears… My heart was pounding as we walked up to the stage. When we saw the beautiful young woman holding a sign with Annie on it my heart leaped. She was there! I couldn’t get enough details about the process. It was incredible. Lindsay and her partner (who wasn’t able to make it) spent so much time blending different materials to get the perfect colors. They painstakingly placed every tiny piece in the perfect spot. They used their artistic abilities to erase Annie’s nasal cannula so we could see more of her beautiful face. This was more difficult than they initially thought, because the tube was pushing Annie’s nose up and her lip down. They redid that portion of her face over and over until it was perfect. I couldn’t thank her enough for all of the time she devoted to our little lady.

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The rest of the breakfast was so emotional. An organ recipient named Melissa who was going to ride on the float came and spoke. Her story was beautiful, and the fact that she was standing there healthy and vibrant because of someone’s gift of life was just so incredible. The most touching part was after her 10 year battle with kidney failure and she finally received her donation, her daughter told her “I’m so glad I can we can just be mom/daughter now. Not nurse/patient.” I can’t imagine how hard it had to be for her to be taken care of by her children. Praise God for healing.

We watched a video documenting the process of floragraph decorating. Then a representative from each table took a jar of colored sand up to the front to pour into a large vase. There was another family at our table so one of them and Robert when to the front together. The room was silent during this process, and it took awhile to complete. The whole room was standing silent, and I could see hand after hand raise and pour the sand for their loved one. I saw old, wrinkled hands, I saw the chubby hands of children as young as mine. I saw my husband’s big, manly hand, the same hand that held Annie’s strong and tiny hand just 6 months before… tears…

We remained standing and sang the song that would play on the float. It was the song from Disney’s Tangled, “The Light”… tears… It was so, so beautiful. After the breakfast was adjourned, I was done. People were walking around and visiting, hugging, telling stories about their loved ones, but I had to get out of there. These people had the benefit of time. For most of them it had been at least a few years since their loss, but for us it had only been half a year. I could only handle it in doses. So I did what I always do to relax. I shopped, ate, and had a beer… and I let Robert tag along.

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After our happy hour we went back to the hotel to prepare for the gala. I’d never been to a gala before, so I was pretty excited. We got all dolled up and walked to the venue. During the cocktail hour we stood around and had drinks with our group from Oklahoma. There was another floragraph family there with us, the Kinzer family, who were honoring their son Jantz on the float. There was a float rider, Nita French, who is a kidney/pancreas recipient. Her transplant cured her type I diabetes, and she has had 3 beautiful children post-transplant which is a WORLD RECORD! Her husband Dennie is in our Air National Guard unit back home, and we had to go all the way to California to meet him. 🙂 Our wonderful sponsors, Jeff and his son Will, Annie’s nurse Shellie, and Tammye and her husband Brian rounded out the group. There was a silent auction, trays of appetizers floating around, and free beer and wine. Holla! All of the ladies sparkled and the men (especially mine) looked so handsome. There were several little girls that were beaming in their fancy dresses and looked like they felt like Cinderella… or Belle, or Rapunzel, or Sleeping Beauty, or whatever princess is cool right now. Robert proudly wore his button with his youngest daughter on it. I didn’t wear mine because it would have ruined my dress. I’m sure Annie understood.

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(Below: The Kinzers on the right, our sponsor Jeff in the middle, and the Frenches on the left. We love our Oklahomies!)

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We had the honor of meeting Mr. Reg Green, a donor father and accomplished author. His son Nicholas was killed in an attempted car hijacking in Italy, and his organs saved several Italian’s lives. The day before we left for our trip, Robert’s mom got word from a friend that there was a Letter to the Editor in the Daily Oklahoman about Annie. Reg, who is very involved in the Donate Life community, was so touched by Annie’s story that he wrote to the Oklahoman on her behalf. He wanted to make sure people knew about the parade and had the chance to see our girl, and wanted people to be aware of the real stories surrounding organ donation. It is something so beautiful that can come from something so dark, and he knows that all too well. Reg wrote a book, The Nicholas Effect, which was also made into a movie, and made sure Robert and I got a copy of both. He spoke at the gala, and was so engaging, funny, thought provoking and sentimental all in the span of about 5 minutes… tears…

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Towards the end of the gala, a local glee club came out and sang an upbeat a capella version of “The Light” that would play on the float. It was gorgeous. They then sang that one “rock this club like it’s dynomite” song and started pulling people out on the dance floor. That’s when the party started! I saw old people getting down to “Blurred Lines”, I saw Nita shaking it in her floor length evening gown down an aisle of cheering people, I convinced Robert to dance with me because my sisters weren’t there (they are my usual dance partners). One of my favorite stories from the gala is when Rob and I were dancing, and this tall guy dancing next to us started giving Robert a hard time about his dance moves. The guy wasn’t the best dancer either, but he and Robert were giving each other a hard time trying to decide who was the worse dancer. Later that evening we got to know that guy a little better, and it turns out he is a disabled veteran and purple heart recipient with one leg… tears – of laughter… Max, if you are reading this, I still give Robert a hard time about how he got beat in a dance off by a guy with one leg. 🙂 Max was at the gala with his buddy Ed, another purple heart recipient, who was riding on the float. He was shot in the leg in Afghanistan and his sciatic nerve was severed. Through a transplant of nerve allografts, three years later he had full use of his leg. See what I’m talking about?! For every sad and tragic story, there is one of life and hope. This community is incredible. We were the last ones to leave the gala, and by leave I mean we got kicked out. We were having such a blast with our new friends, so we moved the party to the hotel bar. Then, you know, we tried to solve the world’s problems for a while, made more friends, stayed up too late, and had a little too much fun…

The whole time we were gone, our girls were bouncing around OKC. We kept getting pictures of them from family, and I just wanted to show you guys how cute they are…

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An unexpected picture that I got from a friend was this one. My friend Elisa in OKC sent me this picture while we were in Pasadena. I couldn’t believe how small this great big world can be. This is her friend Jordan, who works in the organ donation community in Arkansas. She was the one who placed Annie’s flogagraph on the float, and Jordan knew Elisa and I were friends. So this picture was taken, sent to Oklahoma, and bounced back to us in Pasadena. Incredible.

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The day after the gala was New Years Eve. Robert and I slept in, woke up and ate a greasy breakfast (to counteract the rowdy night before) and headed back to the barn for float judging. From all accounts I had heard, judging was going to be the most incredible part of the trip. I was so excited. We showed up at the barn, ate at the taco truck… tears – of joy… and waited for judging. And waited. And waited and waited and waited. It seemed like it took forever! It was pretty cool because while we were waiting we got to look around at all of the floats that were pulled out of the barn. They were huge, bright, and very impressive. Across the way we saw a float with a band on it, and when they started practicing I realized it was Hall & Oates! But it was just one of them, so, great job Hall, or Oates, or whoever. Thanks for helping us pass the time!

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We gathered in the barn when it was finally time for judging. There were rows and rows of folding chairs for us to sit in. The float was gleaming in the California sun, and the crowd for our float was huge! There are only about 15-20 people there for each float during judging, but since the Donate Life float is such an emotional “experience” there are special accommodations made for them. There were over 650 people there for our judging. Yeah. That’s a lot. The judges walked over, a bell rang and judging began. The music began, the riders and walkers began to wave, and all of us floragraph family members waved back. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a surge of energy like that in my life. Everyone in that moment in that barn was connected. The power in those waves was incredible. The people sitting on the float were saying “thank you” with their waves as they looked into they eyes of heartbroken families. The living donors stood tall and proud around the float, knowing what it feels like to sacrifice for others. Can you imagine how it would feel to know that because of a small piece of you, someone was able to live and breathe today?! There was such a respect for those walkers. Then there was us. The families. I was surrounded by people who had the same pain I did. I felt that pain deep down in my gut, but at the same time I felt a lightness in my heart. There were tears EVERYWHERE. The riders were all crying because of their deep appreciation of the gift they had received. The families were crying because there was so much pain, but oh so much joy. The judges were even crying, because all of these emotions were thick and palpable. Judging was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. Time was up, another bell rang, and that barn ERUPTED in applause, hoots, hollers, and joyful racket. It was awesome. We walked around and took pictures of everything.

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“See that light? It’s Annie.”

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After judging we went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We went out with our Oklahomies to a real fancy New Years Eve dinner. Dennie mentioned during dinner that the restaurant looked just like what he pictured New Year’s Eve would look like when he was a kid. He was exactly right. There were white and champagne colored balloons covering every inch of the ceiling, we were sitting near the bar and all of the ladies were dripping in sequins, and there was a band playing right next to our table. The saxophone player was RIGHT next to us, and it took everything in me not to yell “Careless Whisper!” at her until she took my request. 🙂 Dinner was delicious, the wine was incredible, and the company was beautiful. Rob and I went back to the hotel, kissed each other Happy New Year, and we were in bed by 10:00…

The next morning was parade day!!!!! I could hear the marching bands warming up outside our hotel as I was getting ready, and it just amplified my excitement. Rob and I sent out a mean mugging selfie to remind people that they were dead to us if they didn’t watch the parade.

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We took our places in the grandstands, and I had butterflies waiting for the parade to start. There was an adorable little baby girl sitting in the row in front of us, and it turned out she was 6 months old. The exact age Annie would have been. It was so strange to see that little baby exploring everything around her, shoving things in her mouth, cooing at strangers, and trying to conjure up in my mind what my little girl would have looked like. I couldn’t do it. I have a snapshot in my mind of Annie, not a slideshow of growing girls like I do of Dylan and Harper Lou. I can’t even imagine what she would look like, and I’m not sure I want to. I love her for who she was, not who she wasn’t… tears…

The parade started, and the closer we got to our float the more anxious we all got. I was sitting next to Dennie, and he was so excited to see his pretty wife on the float. On the other side of us were the Kinzers, whose emotions were similar to ours I imagine. Their little boy’s sparkling eyes and adorable blonde locks were on the float as well. As soon as the float came into view, the stands went crazy. We all were jumping, waving, snapping pictures, and trying to soak in every moment. I locked eyes with Nita. She was sitting on the float, waving, and searching the crowd for familiar faces. When we saw each other we both started bawling. Such a rush of emotions! She then saw her hubby and cried even harder. I saw my baby. She was so beautiful, so high up, and shining like the little light that she was. Then before I knew it, she was gone. I cried when it was over because it was so symbolic of her life. Here for just a moment, bringing so much joy and light, and then it was over before we knew it.

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This whole parade experience was incredible. It was a really great form of closure. It was a way to be outwardly focused, and not so focused on our own pain. I think it’s important to acknowledge my pain and to feel my way through it, but if it is all that I see, it will consume me. I saw that everyone had a story. There were people whose lives were saved because other people were able to see past their grief and pain, and were able to allow their loved ones to give as their final act. I am so very grateful that the people at LifeShare of Oklahoma gave us this opportunity to celebrate life. I’m so honored that they chose our Pistol Annie. I’m thankful that her story is saving lives. I praise God for the pain and the heartache, because I was able to SEE His works, miracles, and His light in the darkness. I also praise Him for the joy that was present throughout our journey, and for the hope that we have in Him. I thank God for sending all of the people into our path that helped us along the way. And I thank Him most of all for letting me be Annie’s mom.