When the Humor is Gone

As I was trying to figure out what to write about last night, I checked out my facebook feed only to see the sad, sad news about Robin Williams.  I couldn’t believe it, like most of you out there I was a fan.  In fact, I don’t think there is a generation that Robin Williams didn’t touch through his gift of comedic genius.  As I read on, I couldn’t help but find myself thinking how could this happen? Why?

I don’t mean that in the open-ended “mourning” woe-is-the-universe way; I truly don’t understand. Was he so good at hiding it that his closest friends and family didn’t know how deep his sadness was?  Was he showing all the signs but no one paid close enough attention? Was this a reaction to one thing that put him over the top or a build up of things that finally came to this sad conclusion?  How did it get so bad that he couldn’t see the point in living anymore, that he couldn’t find an ounce happiness or purpose in life that made it worth fighting for? Why didn’t he ask for help?  Or did he??  I know that he spent years and years battling drugs and depression, and it could not have been easy (that’s quite the understatement isn’t it?), but at the end of the day he gave up, and we will never have the answers to these questions.  It’s another very public reality check on the detriment of battles with one’s own self and a heartbreaking way to call attention to something that has been needing it for some time. The scary thing is, we still don’t know how to fix it, and even worse, I’m unsure that “we” can. There is ample help out there for those who need it, doctors, medications, support groups, friends, but it takes the person who is suffering to choose life.  It may be a lifelong battle, it may be short term after tragedy strikes, it may be somewhere in between.  So what can “we” do?

We can care.  We can care enough to read between the lines of our loved one’s words and behaviors.  Sometimes we can care enough to physically intervene and get someone help they need.  We can listen to the uncomfortable truths of that person’s reality, and validate how they’re feeling. We can respond to people who are asking for help in their own way and not brush them off or turn them away because we don’t have time or energy to deal with them.  We can give them something worth living for, we can remind them that they are loved, and we can tell them that we need and want them around.  We can help them see that there is something worth fighting for.  In the end, It’s got to be the person suffering who makes their own choice.  It may not be our choice to make, but we can make it easier for that person to choose to fight, with whatever help and encouragement we can give. 

To the bullied child or teenager, I’m talking to you.  To the parent suffering from post-partum depression, I’m talking to you.  To the man who spends 80+ hours a week working to support his family, I’m talking to you.  To the struggling college student who doesn’t see the point of all their labor, I’m talking to you.  To the GBLT community, I’m talking to you. To the suburban housewife, I’m talking to you. To anyone who has lost someone so dear, that you don’t want to be here without them, I’m talking to you.  To anyone who leads a perfectly “average” life, I’m talking to you. To the one who always makes us laugh, yet is dying on the inside, I’m talking to you….. To all of you –

You are all fighting different battles, every day. Remember even when you may feel at your worst, someone has seen your best. It will not be easy, but don’t be afraid to let someone see you are hurting. They may not be able to fix what is making your world cave in, but they can be a lifeline at times when you can’t keep yourself afloat, all you have to do is choose to hold on long enough.  Every. Single. Time.  It’s a lot of work that I’m asking of you, I know that.  I also know there is something or someone out there you will be glad you were around for.

10 (non-grief) things about me

I write so much about infant loss, grief, preeclampsia and the like, I thought it would be nice to change it up a bit for this one. So, in the spirit of some of the other blogger mamas I follow who have been giving us a little more insight about them lately, I thought I’d share 10 things about me:

1. At one time, my career goal was to be a marital & family therapist.  When I finished up school with my B.S. in Human Development / Family Studies, I wasn’t quite ready to move from the area to go to the school to get my Masters degree at that time, so instead, I took a job at a banquet center, and that led me to my flair for event planning…. so……

2. I woke up one day and said “I’m going to be a wedding planner”, and with that my entrepreneurial spirit was born. I ran a successful event planning business while also working full time for 8 years until we moved and my kids were old enough to start noticing & being effected by the late nights and weekends with me gone from the house.

3. Thanks to the wedding planning, I am now a cake snob. Cake is not my personal dessert of choice (that would be french silk pie), but If you come to a celebration I’m hosting, you can expect it not only to be there, but to also be from the best local bakery there is, and to look just as good as it tastes.  And while we’re on the topic of sweets….

4. I don’t like ice cream unless its in sundae form.  That’s right, i said it. It’s gotta be the real deal; hot fudge, whipped cream, sprinkles or chocolate chips, nuts and the maraschino cherry on top.  But enough about my food quirks.

5. I am an introvert.  Despite my love, understanding, and compassion for people and the many relationships I’ve made throughout my careers and active community involvement, I need my own personal time and space to stay sane.  There’s nothing I love more than that recharge time. Except my family…

6. I have a phenomenal husband of 11 years so far who hasn’t kicked me to the curb yet, and two kiddos, currently ages 7 & 5. I’m very lucky, and I ❤ them all, most of the time…….

7. I’m an only child, but a handful of my cousins and I are really tight. They may as well be siblings, because I couldn’t live without them. They’ve been there for every milestone, and I have and will be there for theirs. 

Confession: Every now and then I think about dropping them off with said cousins for a week or two and going for a vacation in Hawaii (well, maybe not the hubby, he can look after himself; maybe if he’s nice I’ll let him tag along).  But then I remember that would miss them too much as I’m sitting there soaking in the sun and drinking my pina colada, and I don’t want said cousins to hate me for dropping children into their laps while I am off on an island somewhere, so I don’t. Instead….

8. I like to decompress by playing video games or watching movies / tv shows, oddly enough, they are usually zombie related.  Although that is just substituting those who consume your heart and soul (in both the most loving and tiring way possible) in real life right?  The movie Zombieland taught me the keys to surviving the impending apocalypse (Cardio, seatbelts, double-tap, etc.), I do the happy dance on Sundays in the fall when the Walking Dead is going to be on (and then again after their return from a way too long mid-season break), and I’ve beaten State of Decay on XBOX 360 at least 5 times now….I need to find another hobby. Maybe I will finally organize something…..

9. I once organized my closet by color and put them in the order of a rainbow, not to make things easier to find, but because I liked the order, it made sense to me and rainbows are pretty.  It was a win-win,  Now I continue that vicariously through my kids clothes because their laundry is almost always done, and mine is usually just a remnant of when I use to have time to do such things. This is because I spend far too much time organizing other things and other people. It’s what I’m good at, it’s how I thrive, and it’s a great adaptation for my passion in life.  I could plan 20 concurrent weddings and tell you which vendors would be at each one, at what time and what place and what the songs are, etc, but I can’t find my keys (again)?  How one can be so “messy” in a workspace or at home, and so opposite in everything else I don’t know…. Obviously I do not have the power of photographic memory. But…

10. If I could pick one superpower to have, I’d choose the power of telepathy. I just think that would be pretty damn cool. Flying is overrated, strength isn’t smarts, invisibility is only as good as your stealth skills (I have none), and moreso, because Communication, my friends, is everything.

Don’t forget the fathers

By definition a parent is described as a mother or a father.  If you helped to create a child with your DNA and/OR you are a primary figure raising them (holla step parents and adoptive parents!) you are a parent right?  SO, why don’t we think more about the DADs who have lost their children?  Its not that we ignore them, we may offer condolences, check on them, but not in the same way we console a grieving mother.  But we should….. here’s why:

Dads are actually doing twice the work, maybe even three times…… When a bereaved mother falls apart who is often her rock?  Her husband/baby’s father.  When a bereaved mother works to recover from the physical trauma of giving birth, who is looking after her?  Who is looking after any other children?  Who is going to work to keep up with the bills while the mother recuperates?  But who is there to take care of the bereaved father when the bereaved mother can’t?  Yes, I realize this is not always the case, but more times than not, it is.  Fathers are so busy looking after the mother, their grieving time is either cut short, or long long delayed.  That is no good for them.

Do we really expect grieving fathers to suck it up and be so stoic to pretend like it doesn’t hurt him just as badly, simply because they didn’t carry the child in utero?  I never did, but my husband took care of me and all the other stuff just the same.  Sure, we discussed our feelings and we sobbed together at times, but he just did all the other stuff, because someone had to.  For me, I simply couldn’t handle taking care of anyone else. Period. Its not that I didn’t care about his feelings, I did, but my emotional availability for anything or anyone else was zero.  Its rude to turn that around and expect the same from him, and I was lucky that he somehow found a way to do that, but I am sure it could not have been easy, and I’m sure it would’ve been easier if there was another person for him to lean on more through it.  Luckily we have a couple who we’ve known since college that had experienced losing their own baby so I know that our friend reached out to my husband often enough just as I cried to my friend (his wife) when I needed to….. I wasn’t privy to their conversations but I am thankful that he was there for my husband.

Sometimes taking care of others is how people cope with loss…. go through a day of “normalcy”, albeit on auto-pilot, or because they have to for no other reason than avoiding more financial obliteration.  But sometimes I fear men feel like they have to “be a man”, be strong for the woman….I won’t go too much into gender stereotyping here, but we all know its out there.  But I ask the question again, is that bereaved father still a parent? Absolutely.  So don’t they want the same support that is so accepted and freely offered to the mothers?  I think so. Don’t they have stories to share or pictures to show of their child?  Don’t they want their loss acknowledged? Aren’t they still angry at such an unbelievable atrocity?

My husband was right to know that I couldn’t fathom trying to do anything more than breathe for awhile to make it through a day in my own sorrow.  I am thankful for that, please don’t get me wrong, but I’m ashamed to admit that I forgot for a little bit that he was grieving too, in his own way.  Bereaved mothers are in middle their own catastrophic inferno so don’t expect them to speak up and remind others to talk to their significant others about the situation as they are processing their own.  However, wouldn’t be great if those of us on the outside looking in would try a little harder to offer the same opportunities to share and support the fathers throughout the experience? Don’t only ask about the mother.  Six words: “How are YOU coping with this?”  And if you know them well enough, you will know how to spot the obligatory answers from the truth.

There may be ways that you can help them without being all “kumbaya” if they’re not up for that too, just don’t forget to ask. Even if they’re not in a talking mood…… they may feel like breaking stuff, going for a run, grabbing a beer and sitting in silence, offer to watch their other kids so he can do something that makes him happy…..whatever it takes.  They need to get out of their own head sometimes too.

All people grieve differently, and some may not want to share, sometimes “okay” is simply all you’re going to get, but you can always offer to be there for the grieving father when he feels like talking about his child (so say so- as long as you truly mean it and are willing to have that conversation, as uncomfortable for you as it may be).  Or you can pass this little tidbit along: it’s a site dedicated to dads who have been through loss (for dads by a bereaved dad).. http://grievingdads.com/

So there it is folks, my PSA for today.  Don’t forget the fathers.

How will you be kind?

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International Kindness Project Day will be on July 27th. It’s a beautiful event that links us together in loss, hope and love worldwide doing something .  The Tangerine Owl Project will be out in our community doing our part….. what will your project be?  (PS. If you haven’t heard of this yet, check out more info here: http://www.missfoundation.org/support/kindness)

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Saying Goodbye had to be perfect for you – Guest Blog post from the Tangerine Owl Project on “Chasing Dragonflies”

I was honored to be able to be a guest blogger on the beautiful blog Chasing Dragonflies… this one was hard to write because it brought back a whirlwind of emotions.  I remember the memorial like yesterday.  XOXO to any parents who have had to do the same, and a great big thank you to Chasing Dragonflies for letting me “write it out”.  Click the above link to read and then follow the Chasing Dragonflies blog too!

Saying Goodbye had to be perfect (for you)

As I recall the days in the NICU and the loss of Delilah, I often wonder how I made it through in once piece.  Usually I attribute this to my children and my husband.  My husband was my partner who was also grieving and wasn’t afraid to talk about about her or to let me feel however i was feeling without question or instruction. Our children were 3 & 4 at the time, and had come to see Delilah a few times at the hospital during hand-off between our parents and us.  When we found that she was too sick to make it, we called everyone to the hospital and told them there that her condition was deteriorating and we were going to turn off the machines that afternoon. Our 3 year old saw all the tears and it evoked that same emotional reaction in her, not because she totally understood what was happening, but because everyone else was so upset…. but our 4 year old grasped this concept, heartbreakingly clear in his response: “So she’s never going to come home with us?”.  We nodded and hugged and his face filled with tears as he said that he wanted her to come home with us so he could play with her and share his toys with her. Our pastor performed a baptism for Delilah with everyone there and then our family each took time to go in and see her one last time on their own, because when we shut off the machines my husband and I wanted to be the only ones in the room (besides any necessary medical staff).  And then it was time.  Time to let her go.  We got to hold her without the tubes, which we had never done and she was so purple and bloated because of the sepsis she didn’t even look like herself, but it didn’t matter. She was gorgeous. We did get to see those eyes, those beautiful eyes that Delilah had open one more time for us as we talked to her and rocked with her.  She knew we were there.  And then she was gone.  It had been 27 days since she was born and I’d spent nearly that entire time by her side, and now she was just gone.  I wasn’t in denial of anything, but that pain was unbearable, so then I did the only thing I could do at that point; I started working on the plan. You see, I was an event planner by trade, running my own business for the last 8 years, mostly tending to weddings, but it was what I did. It was something I was good at, and something I enjoyed, and now it was a coping mechanism.  There was never a question in my mind that we would have a memorial.  She deserved to be shared with our family, she deserved to be known and acknowledged, even if her life was short, it meant something.  So that evening from our hotel room, I got to work on the most important event thus far in my life.

It started with where she would be buried….we decided to place her grave in my hometown. We had lived in Champaign/Urbana for the last 8 years, but it was not our permanent home, so we didn’t want to bury her there knowing we’d leave.  The hospital I’d delivered at was an hour and a half away from there, so that was completely out because we had no ties to it.  Well, that plus the fact that my husband and I would’ve been happy to see that city firebombed to the ground for what we’d just gone through…… (relax ppl, we would never cause ACTUAL destruction, but man did we both want to at that time).  My husband grew up between southern IL and his folks were now in Indiana which we didn’t get to often, so the most rational option was my hometown, where my parents still lived, along with a ton of my extended family, and a place that we visited frequently.  It was only a few hours away, which was close enough for us, and I remember feeling that it was good because others would be there for her even when we were not.  I got a referral from my mom on a funeral home who was going to work with the hospital to transport her body.  We picked out a tiny casket for her, because there wasn’t really that much to choose from to begin with when they are that small.  And then it was onto the most important things….. the venue, the ceremony, the flowers, and the music.

That’s insane, you may be thinking…..Why do those things matter? Well, they don’t matter to everyone, but they mattered to me.  The reason they mattered was because it was important for us to share our little girl with those who had never met her.  It was symbolism at it’s best, because that was the only way to do so, with the exception of sharing our stories of her.  A baby is a baby right? And who wants to talk about dead babies? Just make them go away, its too sad a thought…… To all of that i Say WRONG.  As in life, babies have entirely different personalities, and should be treated as an individual in death.  You’re right, no one wants to talk about dead babies, it IS sad and wrong that they die without a chance to experience the world, but it happens and she deserved recognition for her life, just as anyone who lived 115 years does. I didn’t care if its awkward, she was going to be remembered, even if we were the only ones who showed up at the memorial (we weren’t).

Now, my husband’s dad was a former Presbyterian pastor.  He had married us at a little chapel in my hometown, in front of 175 people almost a decade ago, so it was fitting that we would share that same space with our daughter and our other children as well.  It was beautiful and was filled with the warm memories of the wedding, actually making it a tiny bit less painful to be the place we say goodbye. He would co-conduct the ceremony with our pastor Heidi who had made weekly trips to Peoria to see us and the baby while she was in the NICU.  She knew our family well and I am forever grateful that she trekked to the burbs to do this for us, but it was equally meaningful to have someone who had been one of the few people who had actually met her to be doing the ceremony along with my father-in-law.  They could speak for her knowingly, not just from what we told them about her, they had connection to her, and the words would be true and do her justice, as well as sharing her with those who never got the chance to meet her. 

We had chosen my cousin and her husband as Delilah’s godparents when she was born (an easy choice as her two siblings were already the godparents of our other kids). Her husband was a talented musician, and we had asked if he’d be comfortable performing at the memorial, to which he kindly agreed.  We chose the song “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White Tees as it had played a small part in her naming, because honestly, I just really liked it (the name and the song).  We found out shortly after she was born that the nursing staff had sung that to her as they got her situated in her NICU room. it WAS for her. I wrote a letter to her as did my husband. He was brave enough to read his at the service, but I was not able, so i had mine read by proxy. We had picked poems and readings that seemed well suited for her, and left the rest up to the resident officiants. 

During our time in the NICU I was lucky enough to have a staff member suggest having pictures taken by the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep organization.  I will never be more thankful that professional photographers volunteer their time and skills to families going through loss.  Our photographer was wonderful and had made it out before Delilah passed.  Afterwards, she had compiled the images into a beautiful slideshow and set it to a hauntingly touching song.  I had watched it many many times at home, alone, sobbing my eyes out, almost forcing myself to experience the pain of her loss over and over again, but it was so remarkably done that I knew it was perfect to show at the memorial.  I knew I would not possibly be able to hold it together when I heard that first note of the music and when I saw that first image of a stuffed giraffe she got as a gift, but it was such a tribute to her it didn’t matter.

The flowers were another piece of the puzzle, but I didn’t agonize over that.  Orange lilies were it. Not only were they my favorite flower (inspired by my wedding planning days), they were vibrant and fragile just like our daughter. Delilah’s middle name was Evangeline and my husband had nicknamed her Lily for short as he spoke to her through the NICU isolette which made it an even more perfect choice.

We had everything in place, and the day came to lay her to rest. Valentine’s Day. You may also think this is insane, but she had passed away on the 10th of February, and I couldn’t think of anything better than to celebrate the love that we had for her. I knew it was setting up to be a bittersweet day for the rest of my life whenever February 14th hit, others would be out celebrating with their significant others, and gushing about flowers, chocolate and bling, and I would always be reminded of our loss, but strangely that didn’t bother me.  At least there would be beauty around as well.

I had decided to get my hair done that morning and as the stylist asked if we had special plans for the day I found just enough voice to whisper that we were burying our daughter that morning but that I wanted to look my best for her.  She nodded, and said she’d make sure my hair looked lovely for her, and it did. They probably thought I was nuts, I didn’t know if she would be watching over us that day, but if she did, I wanted her to know how much I cared.  I cared about my appearance on the worst day of my entire life. I didn’t wear black that day…instead, I wore a bright fuschia dress because my daughter was anything but dull and frankly I wanted to celebrate her vibrancy and her unwavering boldness in all she did, plus it was a nod toward the holiday that celebrated all things LOVE. 

When it was time to leave for the morning’s events, I almost collapsed into a heap coming down the stairs at my parents house because I didn’t want to….I couldn’t…. go through with saying the final goodbye and watching that little tiny casket be placed into the ground.  We did the actual funeral only for our little family and our parents and a few of my cousins who may as well be our immediate family, but everyone else would be at the memorial immediately following.  and They were there. We had family fly in from other states just for a few hours to be there. Not because we made them, but because she had touched their lives and they wanted to be there. There were others who made the trek from Champaign to be there, and I couldn’t fathom at that time how much of an impact she had made.  I somehow made it through the memorial, I even found myself laughing as my goofy cousin cracked a joke, which was exactly what i needed at that moment.  It was more emotionally charged than I imagined, but it was perfect.  All these small details that may seem strange to anyone else made perfect sense to me, and they all added up to giving others a little taste of what Delilah was like as a person.  They were the right choices then, and they are still the right choices now.  We mourned. It was sorrowful and beautiful and angering and fulfilling all at the same time, but it was perfect. It was perfectly right for her and for us, and that is all that mattered.

The Universe and it’s ways…

Those of us who have had traumatic experiences in life often wonder Why Me? Why Us? Why Now?  I am not a believer that the Universe has a set plan for everyone that is followed on a straight course of life.  That said, I AM a believer that there are people and things that occur in our lives that align like the stars and if you pay attention, you’ll realize that the Universe is telling you something at that moment.  I don’t mean that the universe talks to you in voices or that there is a ring of light shining like a neon sign down a path or that special person, because that would just be silly.  It’s taking in the sights, sounds and words of others you come in contact with and taking note of the things around your environment where you’ll see them.  I’ll share some experiences with you:

The biggest one I can refer to is what led to the start of this organization. After Delilah passed away, I had many people that would reach out to me, and not only would they check in on how our family was doing, but they would also tell me that they had thought about her often, and that she had impacted their lives in some way.  The stories weren’t just from our close friends and family, but from people who would tell me this when I had not seen them in months, they were past friends who we rarely got to see anymore, but she had made enough of an imprint on them for them to reach out and say something.  After thinking about that for some time, I realized that this was the universe speaking to me; telling me that her short life was not for nothing, and that she was not done yet making her mark on this world. And so the Tangerine Owl Project was created.

Another experience was random, or was it? Bright Tangerine orange was the color that reminded us of our little girl.  She was not the fru fru light pink, and had never done anything muted in her life. I had always loved lilies, but not the stargazer ones, or even the casablancas, I loved the vibrancy and the in-your-face vividness of the orange ones… Delilah’s middle name was Evangeline, and my husband called her Lily for short sometimes.  It was for those reasons orange lilies were our memorial flower of choice.  They symbolized a small representation of her. A few months later, after we had moved into our new place in another city, we were leaving our house to take our children to school and in our front yard, what had bloomed, but orange lilies.  We hadn’t seen these yet, because it had been too cold, and it wasn’t anywhere in the pictures of the home when we were looking – completely random, and perhaps coincidental, but I had been having a hard time that day and had been thinking about Delilah almost non-stop for those last few days, and had cried myself to sleep the night before for whatever reason I was thinking about her being gone.  That morning, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw those lovely flowers because to me, they were a sign that she was still there with us.

Another more recent, was the case of a few lovely ladies I met recently.  I had been at my regular coffee shop one weekday morning just grabbing a cup before heading out to start my day and happened to see a friend of mine (who is a superb people connector) sitting there chatting with another lady.  He does a lot for our community and seemingly knows everybody so I said hi, not wanting to interrupt their conversation. While doing so, he introduced me to the lady he was with, turns out she is with a blood donation company, and they were just discussing how summer is a hard time for them because people tend to donate less in that time, but the need is still in great demand.  So I say, well, if you guys figure something out I’d love to help out with it, and take her business card, say my goodbyes and leave them to get back to their meeting….. I emailed her later that week to say hi and follow up, and when I did that she had mentioned that she’s working with a local resident to put together a blood drive to honor her son (yep, the one I’ve posted about earlier this week), and if I wanted to meet with them they’d be happy to work together. When we held that meeting, in talking to this boy’s mother and telling her more about the Tangerine Owl Project and Delilah’s story, I found out that her son had been a preemie as well (due to being a triplet), and she had had her own NICU experience in addition to the battle with Leukemia her son had faced in later years.  We all laughed at the fact that the stars had aligned to bring the three of us together to now put on this upcoming event.

Some people argue that with cases as this people are searching for any connection to their loss or something that’s on their mind (like how people trying to conceive take more notice of baby bumps, children playing, etc.), and some will argue that its all random chance.  This may be the case, but instead I’m choosing to believe that the Universe chooses to communicate with us sometimes, and listening to it when we notice leads to something positive.  These aren’t answers to the “why?” or “why me/us?” but rather sometimes the “why now” and “where do I go from here” if you’re lucky enough to catch the whispers.

Summer Blood Drive

We are THRILLED to be sponsoring a summer blood drive to honor of Griffin Maks, a little boy who had leukemia and is now in remission.  This incredible Skokie family has endured a lot…. Not only was Griffin a triplet who was born prematurely and spent some time in the NICU and received transfusions, but at only a few years old, he was diagnosed with leukemia.  We are happy to say that Griffin has made an excellent recovery thanks to blood donations supplied by Heartland Blood Centers – 

Did you know that cancer patients receive just as much blood, if not MORE, than those in accidents that need transfusions? And preemies are often in need of multiple transfusions throughout their stay at in the NICU.

So now, we’re partnering with Griffin’s family and HBC to try to give back. Time and details to be announced, but keep a lookout for info soon. Each donation can save 3 people!  It’s amazing, and just because it’s summer doesn’t mean that people don’t still need blood each and every week….

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Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep – Remembrance Photography

If you have a sick baby, this may be one of the most valuable memories you can have.  These professional photographers donate their time and talent to this organization and will come to take precious photos of your little one in a way that will provide solace in a time of loss.  Whether they were born sleeping or whether they end up very ill after birth, the care shown is phenomenal in these moments when families are suffering so much.