Monday, November 30, 2009

August Photos from My Mom's Camera

Here are some of the pictures from my mom's camera when she was here in August and September. 

This is Samuel's dock number where he spent most of his life.

This is in Egleston's cafeteria.  Caleb just saw this picture and told me that he would pretend to be sick when he was at the hospital.  I didn't know that was what he was doing.  I do know most of the time at the hospital he was emphatic about being held.  I can tell by looking at this picture that Bryan and I were weary and anxious to get up to Samuel's side.

Can't you tell how happy they are to see each other?  This was Bryan's birthday, and I don't think we'd seen Caleb and Joel in 4 days.  The last time we'd seen them was when they finally got to go in and see Samuel and when we told them he was dying.

Here we are for Bryan's birthday celebration in the hospital cafeteria with my mom (left) and the Thiels (Dave, Colleen, Jonathan, and Emily).  I remember how hard this "party" was for me.  It took so much effort just to smile.  I was always so much more relaxed and at ease when I was beside Samuel -- even when things looked bad. 

More of Bryan enjoying his two healthy sons.  I don't think I will ever take healthy children for granted again.

This is in Egleston's beautiful garden.  I can see Caleb's need for us in this picture.  At this point, we had taken the boys back up to see Samuel for a second and final time, and my mom and the Thiels had gone to spend a little time with Samuel.  It was the last time my mom saw him alive, and the last time the Thiels saw him.  Samuel died less than 2 days later.

Tomorrow marks 4 months since Samuel's birth and about 3 months since his death.  (He died on the 31st, so there's no exact month marker this month.)  I miss him so much.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


This Thanksgiving there is much to be thankful for, but two things stand out to me.  The first is Samuel.  I am so deeply grateful for the 30 days we had with our son.  I wouldn't give up one single minute I spent with him.  What a privilege and joy it was to sit by his side, to tell him about His Creator, to rub his head and stroke his hand, to hold his foot, to sing praises to Jesus, to tell him again and again how much I love him, to read the Chronicles of Narnia out loud to him, and to pray to God with him.  Those were moments of true joy and blessing.  And what an honor and gift it was to hold Samuel in his last hours and to hand him over to our God, to gently walk Him to Jesus' throne and to trust my sweet son into the arms of my God's perfect son.  I am so thankful for Samuel.  I'm thankful for how Samuel showed me my God in new, deeper, more real ways.  How I understand grace in a whole new way.  How I am changed because of the life of my third son. 

And I am so grateful for the many, many people who have stood by our side in our grief.  We have been lavished with kindness, with love, and with prayers.  Family and friends have served us in amazing and creative ways.  From housecleaning, to meals in abundance, to gift cards, to grocery runs, to tangible ways to remember and honor Samuel like pictures, jewelry, a painting, and a tree, to sincerely kind and touching letters and emails, to books and music that point us to Jesus, we have been humbled by the love and kindness of others.  We are thankful for those who have mourned with us and who continue to walk this path of grief by our side.  We could not ask for better friends, a better church community, or a more loving family. 

We are truly thankful this Thanksgiving.  Our family has been richly blessed.  And though I wish Samuel had been with us today to celebrate his daddy's favorite holiday alongside the wonderful Thiels, I am still thankful.  God has been gracious, gentle, loving, and kind.  And He continues to heal our hearts.  Part of that healing is giving Him thanks for who He is, what He's done, and what He's given us.  So, God, THANK YOU for Samuel, for the month of August with him, and THANK YOU for the friends and family who have cared for us so faithfully.  Thank You!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Surprised by Grief

Lately I have found myself surprised by grief.  I think after two and half months without Samuel, the pain and ache in my soul has softened into a settled kind of existence.  It's always there; I'm always aware of his absence; Samuel is actively missed at every turn.  But, the pain is more even-keeled.  It's more predictable, more constant, less poignant.  Or so I thought.  The past few days, however, have held numerous moments of grief rising up and taking me unawares.  It crashes over me and leaves me breathless, clutching at my chest, gasping for air and a reprieve.

For more than a week, Joel has struggled with being sick.  He's finally on the mend and almost his normal self.  But Friday he started hacking and hacking and was having trouble getting all the breath he needed between coughs.  At one point he laid down on the floor and just held his beloved Cookie Monster and waited for the fit to pass.  I scooped him up and held him in my lap and put my hand on his chest.  I was overwhelmed by the sorrow that swept over me as I felt Joel's heart pound under my hand.  It brought back so many memories of Samuel working for every breath of his little life and of how we could always see his heart fluttering under his skin because it was working so hard to pump blood to his body.  Sometimes I would gently lay my hand over his heart just to feel it beating, and having Joel's heart under my just brought back a wave of grief and sadness.  After Joel's coughing subsided, I ended up going to another room and sobbing.  How I miss my Samuel.

This weekend we also did a little shopping to get some things for a project we need to do and to buy a few Christmas presents before the rush of people flood the stores.  I was caught off guard by another wave of grief in Home Depot.  I was walking through the Christmas section, and suddenly the thought of Christmas and no Samuel was more than I could take.  Again, my hand was pulling at my chest, and the pain was sharp and shooting.  The same thing happened when I was grocery shopping at Walmart and looked up at the Christmas decorations.  Somehow the juxtaposition of such joy in celebrating Christmas with Bryan, Caleb, and Joel and such sorrow in life without my third son knocked me off balance.  I found myself breathing deeply and trying to ease the weight on my chest.

And after dinner one night we all had pudding cups for dessert.  The expiration date on mine was August 31, 2010 -- what will be the 1 year anniversary of Samuel's death.   Another unexpected moment of sadness.  One minute I'm eating my vanilla pudding and laughing at Caleb and Joel, and the next I'm in a daze, thinking about the day Samuel died.

And then last night I loaded on to my computer a disk my mom sent me of all the pictures she took while she was here in August and September.  They were new pictures to me.  There are some of Samuel when he was a couple of days old -- beautiful and relatively well -- and at least one of him two days before he died -- swollen and so sick.  There are photos from days when I never pulled out my camera and therefore didn't have a record of how that day looked.  Mostly they are photos of Caleb and Joel or of me and Bryan at the hospital.  And even those are heartbreaking to see.  I see in our eyes the pain we were experiencing.  I see, in nearly every shot from Bryan's birthday, the way Caleb is draped over one of us, suggesting how scared and lonely he was for his Momma and Dadda.  I see in my face the torn state of my soul -- wanting desperately to run back up to the CICU to be by Samuel's side but also knowing how much Caleb and Joel needed to hold my hand or rest their heads on my chest.  And then there are pictures of the hospital that I never thought to take -- pictures of parts of the garden where Bryan and I spent many anxious hours waiting to hear a procedure was over and we could come back up to be by our son, pictures of the different medicines and machines that sustained Samuel's life, pictures of our dock number, 2112, where Samuel spent most of his life and where his life came to an end.  All of these are heartbreaking in some way or another.  And, though I'm more grateful than I can say to have the pictures, looking at them was so hard and meant another flood of grief and wave of sobs.

Honestly, I'm kind of surprised that I haven't yet learned how grief is ever-changing, how it is unpredictable, how it swells and ebbs but not in any kind of rhythm.  Grief is grief.  It does its own thing, and I cannot control it.  I cannot chart out a map for it.  I can only pray for the wisdom and courage to respond willingly and honestly when it catches me by surprise, for the wherewithall to identify it when it shows up and to let it wash over me and therefore boulster me up for the next wave and the next plunge.  Each time I follow where grief leads, I find I am grateful for the journey, and I am a little less broken and a little less afraid.  Clearly God knew what He was doing when He designed grief.  I would never have dreamed it up or made it just this way, but I am thankful for it.  As weird as that sounds, it's true.  It's a healing journey.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pancake Masterpieces

I thought I'd post some of Bryan's amazing pancake art on here.  I have a whole album of his pancake masterpieces on Facebook, but I will just post the ones from the last couple of Saturdays.  Our Saturday morning tradition is that the boys each pick a shape, character, picture, etc that they want Bryan to make a pancake of.  Then, regardless of difficulty, Bryan somehow manages to make a pancake that looks like what they've chosen.  It's remarkable every time.  You will soon see what I mean....

Pretty impressive, right?  This is Joel's pick -- Boo from Monster's, Inc.

This is Caleb's pick -- the house from the movie Up.

Here is Joel's pick from this morning -- Leakless from the movie Cars.

And Caleb's pick, Frank, from Cars as well.  You have to admit it: Bryan is good!  I think it's his artistic outlet.  Too bad they're edible and can't stick around.  :)

And just because, here are a couple of cute pictures of Caleb and Joel from the last couple of weeks.  I am so crazy about these boys, and they do so much to heal my soul as I miss their baby brother.  They miss Samuel too.  In fact, yesterday Bryan overheard Caleb talking to Joel about Heaven and how he can't wait to go there and see Samuel.  He kept saying, "I CAN'T WAIT to get to Heaven!  It's a wonderful place!"

I am grateful for this family.  God has blessed me so, and I want to treasure each moment He gives me with Bryan, Caleb, and Joel.  I am learning to live in the moment, soak up each day for what it is and not miss today by longing for yesterday or by worrying about tomorrow.  I have hardly mastered it yet, but it is something on my mind.  So, God, thank you for today and all that it holds.  Thank you for granting me another day to praise You and know You and love You.  Thanks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Day Without Tears

Saturday marked a rather momentous day for me.  It was the first day since before Samuel's death that I didn't cry.  By my recollection, I cried 83 days in a row.  That has certainly never happened in my life before.  I can't remember a day when I didn't cry while Samuel was at Egleston, but I wasn't really paying attention, so I counted from the day Samuel went downhill, and we knew death was on the horizon if God didn't intervene.  I definitely cried those last nine days. 

For some time now, I've wondered how I would feel when the day came without tears.  Would I feel guilty?  Like I was stuffing my grief? Sad that I was able to go a day without shedding tears over my son?  I worried that it would bother me to be dry-eyed.  But it didn't.  At about 11pm that night, I thought, "Huh.  I haven't cried any today.  I don't think I'm going to cry before I climb in bed.  It's been a good day, and I'm grateful for that.  I still miss Samuel tremendously.  I still wish he was in my arms and in this house, but today has been a easier day than many, and that's a good thing.  Thanks, God, for a good day." 

The days since Saturday have held plenty of tears, and that's reassuring in some way.  It's good to have good days, and it's probably good to have bad days.  It means I'm still ackonwledging my loss and sorrow.  I'm not pretending life is better, and I'm over it and ready to move on.  That's a ridiculous thought.  As time goes by, I am more and more convinced that I will never "get over" Samuel's death.  His life and death have changed me unalterably.  I am different because of loving and losing him.  I will never be the person I was before Samuel entered my life, and I don't want to be.  I will be grieving my son in some fashion or another for the rest of my life, and that's as it should be. 

So a day without tears is simply that...a day without tears.  Am I any less of Samuel's mom because of it?  Any less a changed person?  Any less aware of my son's absence?  No.  But I did have a better day, and that's something to note.  Personally, I think it's because I had a Chick-Fil-A peppermint chocolate chip milkshake on Saturday, and who can avoid being cheered up by that?  :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Growing, Trusting, and Remembering

God is growing me and growing my heart.  He is revealing to me the ways in which I am not fully surrendered to Him, the ways in which I still cling to my own desires and resist giving Him my hopes.  It is painful to see that there are still parts of my heart that I withhold from Him, that I haven't been trusting Him as completely as I thought.  I have so much to learn still, so many ways in which I need to grow, and I need God's grace to cover over my failures and shortcomings.

As I sit here and listen to Caleb and Joel talk about Samuel in the other room, I ask myself the same question I've been asking for a couple of weeks now: "Can I trust God?"  The last few months have taught me that I can't trust Him to do what I ask.  I can't trust Him to answer my prayer the way I ask Him to.  So despite the deep heartbreak of losing Samuel, can I willingly walk forward in life and trust God with whatever is ahead?  Can I trust that His answers to my prayers are good?  If He never answers another prayer the way I ask Him to, can I still trust Him?  Is He enough for me if everything else in my life is stripped away?  I am working my way toward a solid "yes," but the journey is taking me longer than I thought it would.  The one thing I am confident of is this: though I can't trust God to do what I want, I can trust God to be God.  I want that truth to be enough for me.  I want to be able to move forward in life without fear -- without fearing what heartbreak may be around the next corner -- instead, resting peacefully in the truth that God is God, and I can trust Him no matter what comes my way.  I am working on this, but it is a slow and painful process.

This past week Bryan and I ordered a Christmas stocking for Samuel.  It arrived on Wednesday and has his name embroidered on it.  It was bittersweet to get in the mail.  We want to make Samuel a permanent part of our family, and so we want him to have stocking and to be celebrated on his birthday every year and at Christmas.  We don't yet know how we will do these things, but we are talking about traditions we can start that will help us remember Samuel, rejoice in the time we had with him, and bless others in the process.  We are trying to come up with ways we can serve and bless others through Samuel's life -- be it gifts of time or money or love.  We don't know yet what traditions we will create, but we know we want Caleb and Joel to think of Samuel as their brother always, and Bryan and I want to remember him in ways that are honoring and life-giving.  So this is on our hearts a lot lately.

This past week held a couple of other memorable moments as well.  Bryan and I started looking at gravestones for Samuel -- horrible -- and spent some time remembering Samuel's last hours.  I have found great comfort in knowing that Bryan shared my memories of that August morning -- that I wasn't the only one carrying around the weight of that day -- but we had never talked about Samuel's actual death together.  It was good for me to be able to talk about that morning with Bryan and not have to try and describe the horror of those hours because he already knows just how awful they were.  We talked about how, despite the blessing and peace of that time with Samuel in our arms, it really was just horrific.  I won't go into details because it's not something for others to enter into lightly or without a reason to enter that pain, but holding our son while he died was...indescribably awful.  And it was healing for me to relive that morning with my husband, to know he saw the same things I saw, he heard the same words and sounds, he held the same precious but broken son in his arms and felt all the ways in which Samuel was unwell like I did.  He lived those dreadful hours with me, and I don't have to carry them by myself.  I am so, so grateful for my Bryan and how he has journeyed with me through Samuel's life and death.  What a gift.

The other significant moment in this week was me holding a baby for the first time since Samuel died in my arms.  Our small group friends, David and Beth, let me hold their beautiful daughter, Chloe, who was born 10 or 11 days before Samuel.  I was scared to reach out for her and take her, but I also really wanted to hold her.  I have always loved, loved, loved babies and holding them, and I have found that when I see a baby, I still want to scoop the little bundle up.  When we were at Egleston and knew Samuel was dying, I feared that I would lose this love for newborns, and I am grateful to find I haven't.  Holding Chloe was emotional and hard for me, but it was also precious and healing.  It was good to have the weight of a baby in my arms, and though I wish I could have held and cradled and comforted Samuel everyday for the last three and half months since his birth, it was healing to rejoice in the miraculous life of Chloe (and she is especially miraculous, but that's not my story to tell).  It is good for the soul to rejoice with those who rejoice, and I am so thankful for those who have mourned with us as we mourn.  I see once again the blessing of community and walking through life together.

As God grows my heart, both for Him and for others, I find again how much I need Him.  I need Him for each moment of every day, and I am repeatedly humbled by His care for me, His love of me, and the people He has placed in my life.  Can I say yet again, it is a good God we serve.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Obstacles to Mourning

Healing is painful. Growing is painful. Healing and growing at the same time is very painful. That is what I am finding out these days. Little by little God is healing my broken heart. At the same time that He is mending me with His comfort, He is growing me. While I knew that my need for healing was great, I was ignorant that the room for growth was great as well. I hadn’t planned on this. It is necessary and good, but it is hard. Harder than I expected. Through all of this I am becoming increasingly aware of the obstacles that I face as I seek to grieve well, to pay attention to my soul.

One of the things that I am discovering about myself is an old, bad, and deeply-engrained habit: ignoring my emotions. Somewhere along the way I picked up and/or developed some faulty assumptions and unhealthy perceptions about emotions, and I think that I am on the front end of a long process of identifying and mending my perspective. I have had multiple situations in recent weeks while intentionally trying to pay attention to my soul in which an emotion, usually heartache, has been stirred up. Strangely, in the same moment that I am trying to pay attention to that emotion – What is it? What triggered it? Why do I feel that way? – a competing reflex disposes of it. Apparently after 15-20 years of practice, I am remarkably efficient at mindlessly repressing my emotions. One moment I am on the verge of tears, and the next moment I feel close to nothing. I am troubled by this. Because of this I think that grieving well requires a lot of intentionality from me.

Recently I have thought of choosing to pay attention to my soul as analogous to choosing to exercise. At least for me, choosing to exercise is always hard. It is even harder when I am tired. It is harder still when I don’t have much time. But when the exercise is physical therapy, motivation is particularly elusive because choosing to exercise is choosing to enter pain. It is always hard for me to pay attention to my soul because the assumptions and habits that I just described are at work against me. It is even harder than usual these days because I consistently feel weary. When 8pm comes and the boys are in bed, everything in me wants to check out and crash and then ride the snooze button in the morning. With work, sleep, household responsibilities, and the fact that everything seems harder these days, my margin seems really narrow also. Most of all, however, it is difficult for me to choose to pay attention to my soul when I know that it means entering into deep pain. I have a hard time getting motivated for that.

The analogy of exercise is helpful for me in identifying yet another challenge to paying attention to my soul. The benefits of individual choices to exercise are not immediately evident, but are cumulative. No one sheds all the weight that they want to lose in one workout. No one achieves their time or distance goals in their initial run. No one’s energy level and alertness is permanently boosted after the first trip to the gym. In the same way, any comfort felt in any one conversation, any rest experienced in any one time of prayer, any healing received in any moments of reflection are incremental and nearly imperceptible. Like the short-term benefits of smart choices, the short-term costs of not exercising and not paying attention to my soul are also incremental and nearly imperceptible.

When it comes to my few windows of margin these days, I find myself considering two primary options: paying attention to my soul and checking out. Checking out (i.e. TV, surfing the web, video games, etc.) is a particularly compelling option because it provides an immediate and tangible respite from both busyness and heavy-heartedness. Unfortunately, the benefits of choosing to check out are fleeting. No one touts the long-term benefits of watching hours of primetime sitcoms. There is, however, a long-term cumulative cost to constantly choosing to check out and a long-term cumulative benefit to regularly choosing to pay attention to my soul. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage the tension between the two in a healthy way, but I am confident that I want to choose to prioritize long-term benefits of paying attention to my soul (i.e. rest, comfort, healing, hope, joy, etc.) even with their short-term costs (i.e. remaining under the weight of my grief) over the short-term benefits of checking out (i.e. a respite from my heavy-heartedness) with their long-term costs (i.e. a wounded and neglected soul). While this is more important than ever for me to do because the stakes are higher, it is also more difficult than ever because the pain is deep, and I am working against faulty assumptions and old habits.

In short, I am realizing that for me in these days, choosing to pay attention to my soul is an exercise of discipline, courage, and wisdom: discipline because my default is to ignore my emotions, courage to choose to enter pain, and wisdom because the benefits of doing so are not immediately evident. Thankfully, I don’t need to muster these on my own. I am known and loved by the God whose Spirit bears the fruit of self-discipline in the lives of those He indwells, who gives courage with His constant presence, and who liberally grants wisdom to those who ask. The choice that I must make is to come to Him and walk with Him. Of course, as simple and obvious as it sounds, this too is hard.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Soul that is Well

Last night Bryan and I joined our dear small group in attending Night of Worship and Communion at our church, North Point Community Church.  It has been a really long time since I've been to something like it, and I am so glad I went.  It was such a needed reminder of my relationship with God, of His love for me, of His redemption of me, of just how good and great He is.  How I needed to proclaim out loud my love for Him and His faithfulness to me.  It renewed my spirit to sing God's praises and to join a crowd of people in declaring His Lordship and trustworthiness.

The second song of the night, "Breathe on Me," was very emotional for me.  One line in particular was moving: "You are the God of my story.  Write every line for Your glory."  How I long to live this -- to know in every moment that God is writing my story and for HIS glory.  How I want for Samuel's life and death to be for God's glory, and how I want to willingly open my hands and offer my life for Him to use as He pleases and as He knows is best.  I pray every day that God would use Samuel's story -- and therefore ours -- to draw people to Him. 

A few songs later, we sang "It is Well," which we also sang at Samuel's memorial service.  As I was singing, I asked myself, "Is it well with my soul?"  And I found the answer was a resounding "YES!  It is well with my soul!"  It was so comforting to realize how truly well my soul is, that despite my sorrow and daily tears, despite missing Samuel more than words can ever say, despite the continual feeling of emptiness in my heart and my house, my soul is truly well.  My soul is confident in God's goodness to me and His presence with me.  My soul can swell with joy in singing to my very good God.  What a healing and peaceful realization that was!

I've taken communion I don't know how many times in my life, but last night was different.  Last night I knew the very personal pain of losing a son.  As I sat with the bread and juice in my hands, I kept thinking about how God gave up His son -- a sorrow I can intimately relate to -- and how He did so by choice and for me.  God willingly endured the suffering I'm facing because He loves us, and He wants to offer us forgiveness, freedom, and redemption.  I am a recipient of that matchless love of God, and I am so grateful for His sacrifice -- a sacrifice I am far from truly understanding but that I grasp better than ever before.  I cannot fathom the depth of pain God suffered to give up His blameless son for very blameworthy people. 

About half way through the service, Bryan noticed one of Samuel's doctors a few rows away from us.  I was really surprised that our lives would overlap, outside of the hospital, with one of the Egleston doctors, and immediately I felt this deep gratitude and joy in my heart that God would allow us to see someone who cared for our sweet son.  We found Dr. Kuo after the service and spent awhile talking to him and thanking him for his work and for being a gentle doctor back in August, talking to us about how sick Samuel was.  Seeing him was another glimpse of God's grace.  It was so good for us to be able to see and talk to and hug a man who was a very real part of Samuel's life and story.  It was very healing to me to be able to say thank you in person -- and with a smile on my face instead of fear in my eyes.  I walked away feeling very loved by my good God.  It was another tangible gift from Him.

So, last night was a beautiful reminder that I am a beloved child of God, that He is a loving, gentle, kind, GOOD Father, and that my soul -- as battered as it has been -- is truly and deeply well.  I am so very grateful for a God I can worship and to whom I can proclaim with full confidence of His worthiness, "Glory to God!"  What a blessed woman am I!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween and Birthday

The four of us on my birthday.  Bryan and I went out on a date, which was really nice.  We spent a lot of time talking about Samuel and how we're grieving him.  We needed the time to connect and grieve together.  I am so very grateful for my husband.

My two big boys giving me a kiss sandwich.  These moments make some of the frustrating stuff (like potty training!) worth it.  :)  They blessed me a lot on my birthday -- probably my record teariest day so far.  It was a hard day, but I would say it was a hard day that was good.  My tears were healing, and  someone I don't know came up to me and asked if I was "Samuel's mom."   That phrase, though it immediately triggered tears, was so wonderful to hear because I don't get to think of myself as Samuel's mom very often, and very few people in our lives actually say Samuel's name.  It was beautiful to hear it spoken and in connection with me.  So, thank you, Seal, for finding me and for calling me by a title I want to be known as forever. 

Caleb was Bumblebee for Halloween, and he LOVED dressing up.  Joel was a candy corn.  They were pretty hilarious about it all.