Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I can't seem to get out of bed in the morning. It takes me a while. Usually I read until my back hurts and then I'm so uncomfortable I get up. This morning I grabbed Stand a Little Taller by Gordon B. Hinckley, it has a scripture and thought for each day. I flipped to November 29 and read the following scripture from the Book of Mormon:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27
I have read this scripture many times. I always thought it applied to specific weaknesses. For example, if you are not good at public speaking, humble yourself, rely on God, and He will help you be a good public speaker. Although I think it can work that way, I have a new view of it's meaning.
In the last two months I have been shown my weakness. My mom had a heart attack over the weekend, my sister has five children and is getting divorced, my son died, my dear friend lost her baby at 20 weeks, and other members of my family are struggling. It is very clear to me that I possess very little control of the world around me. This lack of control has been very humbling. I realize that my weakness is not a singular character flaw, it is a state of being.
Many people have told me they are impressed that I have turned to God in my trials. My response is that I am too afraid to go it alone. I feel so vulnerable and defenseless, like anything could happen in life, and I really need help. I need to be strengthened. I feel stronger when I pray for help. I feel stronger when I read God's promises in the scriptures. I feel stronger when I go to church. I feel stronger when I attend the temple. I have turned to God because I want to feel strong again. Honestly, I don't know what else to do. So I try to be faithful, and believe that God's grace will help me feel strong, that my constant weakness will eventually become my constant strength, and that maybe some morning I will want to get out of bed.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
On October 21st my kind father-in-law, Mark, and his wife brought us this sweet blue balloon attached to a little blue pumpkin. It was such a lovely gift and reminder of Jonah.
Jonah absolutely loved balloons. At the grocery store he would spot balloons, then lean and steer Jordan over to see them. He wanted to touch them, pull on their strings, and try to taste them. We never left Harmon's without a balloon. On the day of his funeral we released 100 baby blue balloons for Jonah. I think he loved it!
To my surprise I woke up the day after the balloon arrived and it was still floating. What is the average life expectancy for a balloon? 1 or 2 days? We left town for 10 days, only to return to a perfect balloon floating high. 20 days later it was still floating. This blue balloon floated, without drooping at all, for a month!
This may seem silly to some people. Maybe you could explain it away as a fluke, amazing high float, a high quality balloon, etc... But to me it is a miracle. I think Jonah loved this gift from his Grandpa and kept his balloon floating! I like to think that he knew it would lift my spirits to see it floating and defying the odds every morning. In the end, how the balloon continued to float is irrelevant. Each day I saw the balloon I smiled, and that was a miracle.
I know that we have the opportunity to see miracles in our lives everyday. It is our choice to notice them or to explain them away. I have seen many small miracles in the past two months, and it has brought me happiness in the midst of heartbreak. This everlasting balloon is only one example, and it feels like a perfect gift from my beautiful boy, and his loving grandpa.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Little did I know that I would lose my sweet boy only a few weeks later. As I held Jonah's beautiful body in the hospital a nurse gently asked if we wanted Jonah to be an organ/tissue donor. She told us he could still donate his heart valves, even though he had been deprived of oxygen. I immediately thought of Ruby. I thought of her beautiful family, and said "Yes."
It is an amazing feeling to know that your sorrow can be transformed into joy for another family. Ruby's story made a difficult choice easier for us. Her amazing parents are on a mission to raise awareness about organ/tissue donation. In their grief they have managed to find hope and ultimately save the lives of children and adults waiting for transplants. They are incredible examples to me.
You can learn more about Ruby and the facts about organ/tissue donation on their website. http://www.rubyjanefoundation.org/
If you live in California you can participate in their 1st annual Run for Ruby in January.
You can register to be an organ donor here.
Friday, November 25, 2011
I realized that the heart of the holiday is not tradition, it is family. Even though I was surrounded with friends and family that I love, it was so evident that my family was not whole. Jonah was absent and my heart was with him. As I made conversation I could imagine myself chasing him up the stairs, or changing his diaper in the hallway. I wondered what food he would have gobbled up. I wished for the excuse to leave and put him down for a nap. Instead, I sat. I ate my food. I thought of something to be grateful for, and I tried not to cry.
When Jordan and I finally came home last night, we crawled into bed, talked about how hard the day was and said a prayer together. After we prayed I laid in bed thinking about gratitude. It is not necessarily hard for me to find things to be grateful for, it is just that the cumulative impact of all those good things only seems to make a small dent in the grief I feel. My health, Jordan, my home, Jordan's job, my family, good food... As I listed these things I remembered the last night I had with Jonah.
The night before Jonah died he woke up 3 or 4 times. This was unusual for him, and I had recently gotten used to sleeping through the night. Each time I got up with him I tried to figure out what was wrong. He wasn't teething. He had a dry diaper. He wasn't hungry. He wasn't grumpy, just awake. Each time I would hold him and kiss him and put him back to bed. The last time I got up with him it was about 4:00 am. Normally after the 3rd wake up I would have made him a bottle and given it to him in his crib, and gone back to bed. I was so tired, but I felt like I should hold him. I pulled him out of his crib, grabbed his blanket and sat in the recliner with him. He was wide awake. He laid on my chest for awhile, and then popped his head up and looked at me with the brightest eyes. He began to scoot off my lap like he was ready to play. I said "no, no, it is time to sleep, come here." I pulled him back on my lap and he smiled. Then he cuddled into me and laid his sweet head on my chest. Something inside me told me not to worry about sleep, and to enjoy holding my sweet boy. We laid together for a long time. I stroked his wispy hair and breathed in his little boy smell. When I finally put him down in his crib, he was still awake. He looked at me and I signed "I love you." Then he turned and snuggled into his blanket. This is one of my sweetest memories.
I am so grateful. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be a mother, to be pregnant, to feel his life grow inside me. I am grateful that I was able to stay home with him and be with him every single day of his life. I am grateful that I tried to soak up every minute I had as his mother. I am grateful for the sacrifice of motherhood and how it tied my heart to his. I am grateful that I was with him the day he died, that I was the last face he saw, and that I could hold his hand as he left this life. I am so grateful for the sweet whisper of the spirit that told me to stay and enjoy my little boy one last night. Most of all I am grateful that I listened.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I never really understood the ritual of visiting graves at the cemetery until Jonah died. It is so healing to have a distinct and separate place to go to remember him. I love that I am alone there, that I can cry and no one questions my tears. They are expected. I love to watch Jordan clean the headstone and continue to care for his child. I love it when people tell me they stopped by to see Jonah, because I want everyone to remember him and how beautiful he was.
When I visit Jonah I like to walk around and visit the other children at the cemetery. There are far too many. I see their beautiful names...Isola, Bradley, Claire. I read their birthdays and death days. I think about each of their mothers carefully choosing a name, celebrating their birth and experiencing the grief I feel now.
When I think about these graveyard mothers I realize I am not alone. Is it strange to find comfort in the graves of other children? I realize that death, and even the death of children, has always been a part of life. So why did I feel so immune? How could I think I would avoid such heartache? Now I see death all around me. I feel the pain of others more intensely. Part of me wishes I could crawl back in my cocoon, that I could cover my eyes and not see. And part of me is grateful for the knowledge, for the ability to see. I hope the purpose of pain is to help us see the world around us more clearly, to open our eyes, and enlighten our minds.
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
The day Jonah died my faith wavered. I found myself asking "who is God?" There was so much pain in my heart that it was hard to find a good answer. C.S. Lewis says "You can't see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears."
It wasn't until the sharpness of the pain had subsided that I could see and remember the goodness of God. I began to think about the day Jonah was born. It was an amazing day. I remember starring into his dark eyes and wondering where his soul came from. I knew that his body had grown and developed inside me. But the spirit that gave life to his body was not my creation. I knew, deeply, that God was the father of Jonah's soul, and that he was a gift to me. On July 14, I believed that God was infinitely good.
I realize now that in order to deny the goodness of God, I would have to deny the incredible feeling I had the day Jonah was born. I cannot. The feeling was too strong. My life has been sprinkled with small moments of clarity like this one, moments when truth seemed to settle in my soul and become knowledge. I have come to believe God is like any good parent. He knows the path of least resistance rarely creates strength and understanding in children. I do not believe he throws obstacles in our way, but sometimes he lets us struggle and experience difficult things. He knows that we learn when our souls are challenged, when our hearts are broken, and he would not deny us that experience.
And yet he also knows our pain, and is compassionate. The other night as I tried to fall asleep, tears flooding my eyes and pain in my heart, it was almost as if someone whispered to me "Be at peace. There is so much to look forward to...your life will be beautiful." I felt the goodness of God fill my heart, and the truth of His words found place in my soul again.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Lord make me a rainbow, I'll shine down on my mother
She'll know I'm safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh and Life ain't always what you think it ought to be,
no Ain't even grey, but she buries her baby
And this is how the weeping happens, triggered by the simplest phrase or song. A song I would have dismissed as sappy at any other time in my life. The reaction is sudden, it is unpredictable, and it is not pretty. The word weeping itself is far too delicate to describe the reality of the situation. The reality is convulsive, crumbling, and full of snot. It is physically painful. It makes my forehead hurt, and trying to hold it back hurts even more. I always feel better after this kind of crying, but I don't enjoy it...it is like touching a bruise, you want to feel just enough pain to remind you of the original wound, but at the same time know that you are healing.
Here are some other songs that trigger the weeping...
He'll Carry You by Hilary Weeks
Not Enough by Emmylou Harris
Godspeed (Sweet Dreams) by The Dixie Chicks
Consider the Lilies by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
I know people wonder if I want to be around children. They wonder if it is too painful. It is so painful...but everything is painful. It is not just children that remind me of Jonah, but Walmart, and our car, and every picture and toy I have in my house, and the sounds of dogs barking. Everything. There is no escaping the things that make me think of him, and I don't want to stop thinking of him. I have accepted that the pain I feel is the price of memory.
Despite the pain I long to be with children. I love their honest and direct questions. I love that a child will hug me without hesitation. I love that they don't pass judgement. I love that my nieces and nephews talk about Jonah so freely. I love the simple drawings and flowers they make to brighten my day. I love that they don't know what is "proper" or "acceptable" behavior. Children act immediately and without fear of judgement.
I wonder what Janice's mother would have thought of such a question. Would she have apologized on her daughters behalf for being too personal. Or maybe gently pulled Janice aside to remind her about being polite. I hope not...I hope she would have waited patiently for my answer, like Janice, expressed her love, and then praised her daughter for reaching out to someone in need.
It is hard to know what to do for someone who has experienced loss. I have often stopped myself from reaching out to someone because of fear of imposing, offending, not knowing what to say, or not knowing what to expect. Now I would say it is always better to act, to do something, and that we are given the urge to help for a reason. Here are some of things that people have done for me that I have loved.
Notice: The morning after Jonah died people began ringing our doorbell. Most came with food, some came with words of comfort, some tried to offer explanation, some didn't know what to say, but each came because they noticed that someone who was so important to us was gone. When you lose someone it seems as though the whole world should stop and notice, but people continue driving, shopping, laughing... I was so grateful for the people that stopped their lives for a moment to tell us they noticed our loss. I cried with each new person that came until I ran out of tears, and then they cried for me.
Service: Almost every person that came to our home asked "Is there anything we can do?" I think everyone feels helpless when tragedy strikes, and it is our impulse to do something. Our dear friends told us that as soon as they heard about Jonah they started making cookies because they didn't know what else to do. I love that. Our family, friends, and neighbors were left to their own devices to find ways of helping us and healing us. Here are a few beautiful things they have done for us...
- shined Jordan's shoes for the funeral
- shared books that helped them during their own loss or grief
- brought beautiful flowers
- gave me personalized jewelry to remember Jonah
- wrote down tender memories of Jonah
- arranged meals for my family
- set-up a bank account to help with funeral and medical expenses
- gave us gift cards, so Jordan and I could spend time alone together
- donated money
- helped me get ready the morning of the funeral
- brought me waterproof mascara
- sent me pictures of Jonah
- called all of Jonah's doctors and specialists
- brought healthy drinks, because I couldn't eat anything for days
- traveled great distances for the funeral and to be with us
- created beautiful art to remember Jonah
- asked me to go walking in the morning
- arranged the food for the funeral
- continued to invite me to lunch (even though I didn't feel like going for awhile)
- brought a Costco pack of Kleenex, and Tupperware for leftovers
- called me
- brought soothing music
- put Jonah's pictures into a beautiful photo album
- took beautiful pictures of the funeral
- made cookies, bread, and other comfort food
- put all of my videos of Jonah on a DVD
- visited Jonah's grave
- helped me shop for a dress and shoes to wear to the funeral
- took care of my other family members that were struggling
- prayed and fasted for us
- helped me clean my house
- helped me plant bulbs to brighten my yard in the spring
- offered legal advice to help with insurance
- arranged to have balloons at Jonah's grave
- wept with me
- donated picture frames to use at the funeral
When I think of the Savior, I often picture Him with hands outstretched, reaching out to comfort, heal, bless, and love. And He always talked with, never down to, people. He loved the humble and the meek and walked among them, ministering to them and offering hope and salvation...As we emulate His perfect example, our hands can become His hands; our eyes, His eyes; our heart, His heart.
I don't know when I will be able to send you a proper personal thank you note, but I hope until then this note will do. Thank you!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Things I love about sweet Jonah:
- His sweet innocent smile
- His laugh
- The way he shared his favorite blanket with everyone so that they could feel the comfort it brought him.
- His stinky face (:
- When he would sneeze at dinner, we would laugh and get the nastiest looks from him
- His dimples
- He always made me laugh
- How he taught me to look at my life so differently
- He was always smiling or laughing at something
- When he would flick his bottle off his teeth to make it squirt
- How he would stare at perfect strangers until they had to become close friends.
- He could always tell when something was wrong..so he would come cuddle
- His imperfect body but perfect tiny little spirit
- I loved how everytime I saw him i would clap my hands and say come here baby...he would instantly take off and run into my arms.
- He loved kittys
- When he would bounce every time he heard music
- Even when he didn't have his Baha on, he could still understand what you were talking about.
- When he would throw his blocks at us (:
- He always had something in his hands to throw.
- I fell in love with the way he looked at Lynzie. They were best friends and nothing could replace that.
- He always did something funny to make us all laugh
- He always had a sweet little spirit.
- That boy could read for hours. He was always moving around but the second you started reading to him he would sit and listen.
- He was always so proud when he would go down grandma's stairs. he would sit at the bottom and clap for himself and sign "all done."
- He would always jerk his body from side to side to get you to move somewhere :)
- He loved watching the fan in grandma's kitchen.
- The SADDEST cry when he was a newborn
- He would always look for us when we would laugh at something funny he did.
- How he changed all of our lives, even though his wasn't long enough.
- I love how I was so proud to call him My cousin.
- He was always running and climbing things
- His Baha (hearing aid)
- The bug hat with the hole for the Baha
- He signed "more" with his thumb hitting the palm of his hand
- He taught me to love with everything I have.
- His first word caught on video ( momma )
- He looked at everything in awe.
- He was so amazed by everything
- He brought our family so close
- He was the best thing that ever happened in my life.
- Even though his physical body wasn't perfect, in my eyes..He was more than perfect.
- He loved running around outside
- Jordan called him "Floody" when he was in Julie's stomach (:
- In the hospital the day he was born, Lynzie said "Mommy, Heavenly Father makes everyone different"
- He is everything to me. My whole world.
- I love that when we were in the hospital the day he died Julia looked down and sang, with tears running down her cheeks "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy. when skies are grey, You'll never know dear, how much i love you, please don't take my sunshine away"
- I love that we sang primary songs to him the day he died.
I loved this sweet boy with all of my heart. he was my whole world and i would have done anything for him. i was so so so proud to have him in my life and i don't know what i would do without being a part of my life. i feel like the luckiest person alive to have been such a big part of his life. I am so blessed that i was able to see him every Sunday night. I am so blessed that i got to see him all the time. I feel like the luckiest person alive that i got to spend so much time with that little sweet heart. He will forever be in my heart. I love my sweet Jonah Ramsey Hall. I know now what love is because i had so much of it for that sweet little boy.
Here are some quotes that I love from the book...
"If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to 'glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild."
"Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief."
"And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness."
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't."
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Soon we were joined by another couple (Larry and Val) and we easily fell into simple conversation about Jordan's job, living in Utah, Larry's vacation home in Mexico, Val's job as a massage therapist, and after awhile the conversation naturally came around to me. I had been quietly soaking up the warmth of the hot tub, only contributing to the conversation superficially, and letting Jordan do most of the talking (which is his absolute worst nightmare, but he seemed comfortable enough taking on that role for a night). Eventually Larry asked me "Julie, what do you do?"
Such a simple question, but one I could not easily answer. What do I do? I found myself instantly debating how much to tell this new hot tub acquaintance. Do I tell him I'm a mom? If I do will he ask about Jonah, and then do I tell him that he died? Will he want to know more about Jonah or will the conversation take an awkward silent turn? And then will I start crying in this hot tub? Then will I have to get out of the hot tub? I was sure that the "childless mother" answer would be more than this pleasant couple bargained for, with such a simple question. So I said something about being a business owner...preschool...art classes...blah blah blah.
Afterward I felt so sad. Being a mother to Jonah is the greatest job I have ever had. It is the title I am most proud of...my dream job. It is the hardest job I have ever had. I literally gave everything to the work of being a mother, my body, my sleep, my mind, my heart. It required me to stretch my capacity and develop new skills. I had days when I felt unqualified, incompetent, and sure I had missed some important training meetings. Despite all that I wanted to be a great mother. When I think of the other jobs I have had they all seem so unnecessary, so trivial. It felt like a betrayal to leave motherhood off my verbal resume, just to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
So last night, I found myself in a similar situation, with new acquaintances. The question came to me again "Julie, what do you do?" This time I felt the same hesitation, and a twinge of sympathy for the one who asked. I said "I am a mom, to a beautiful little boy, he died 6 weeks ago. So right now I don't know what I do, but I'm trying to figure it out."
As you can imagine I got astonished looks, and condolences, and then the group slowly dispersed into smaller more comfortable conversations...not knowing what to do or say. I can't blame them, I probably would have done the same. They were not prepared for my answer.
It was awkward, but I felt so peaceful. It felt honest. I would rather have hundreds of honest awkward moments, than one comfortable yet shallow conversation. I hope you feel the same. When we ask someone to tell us about themselves, to tell us who they are, are we really prepared for any answer, or will we only accept the expected?
I appreciate people who hear my honest answer and want to know about my heartache. I am amazed by people who are not afraid...who ask about Jonah, even people who ask how he died. I know most of these people have experienced their own grief. I would rather walk from a conversation crying, than feeling the numbness of not mentioning his name.
I have promised myself that I will continue to tell people about my heartache when they ask who I am, because it is a huge part of who I am right now. I hope that when I ask you a seemingly simple question about "how you are" or "what you do" you won't be afraid to tell me the truth.
Monday, November 14, 2011
My family came to see my grief, for it was a new part of our family. They wept. My mother held it tenderly, and spoke softly. My neighbors brought casseroles and bread to sustain us. My friends asked about it and shared their tips for bearing grief.
Taking care of my newborn grief is demanding. It wakes me up in the middle of the night. I carry it with me everywhere. I long for a simpler time when my heart was not burdened by so much responsibility.
I measure the life of my grief in the same way I measured Jonah's life. At first I counted every minute he was with me... then each hour. As time passed each hour became less significant and I measured more generally by days, then weeks. I hear a sad echo of my former self saying "It has been 3 days...It has been 2 weeks....now 6 weeks", and then I wonder how I have survived for any length of time without him.
I know that there will be milestones, holidays, special occasions. I will watch my grief change, and transform. Maybe I will be impressed by the things it can do, maybe I will be more exhausted than ever. People say in time I will forget the sharpness of the pain I experienced that day. That seems impossible to believe right now.
I do believe that there is opposition in all things. Our pain magnifies our joy. For now, I desperately long for, hope for, and have faith in future moments when new joy will be born to match my grief.