Tuesday, November 15, 2016

4 Common Questions That Have Complicated Answers For a Bereaved Parent

A dead child. It's a taboo subject. People either don't want to or don't know how to talk about it. Before I lost my son, Dylan, to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) at almost 9-months-old, I felt the same way. I had only met a handful of people who had lost children and even fewer that were willing or able to discuss it. The problem with continuing in this manner is that it isolates the survivors and creates an atmosphere where common questions manifest complicated answers.

1. How Are You Doing? Everyone asks this question when they run into people. Most respond with the automatic, "I'm fine." I realized quickly after losing my son, I wasn't really fine anymore. But with over packed days, few people have time to listen to how we are really doing. If I'm checking out at the grocery store and the cashier asks, "How are you doing today?" I know they don't expect to hear the answer, "I just cried my eyes out for two hours because I came across the sock of my son who passed away." The person behind me doesn't have the time for it either. So, you get used to giving the contrived response, "I'm fine." It's not to say, I haven't blurted out how I'm really feeling, especially in the beginning when the emotions were so raw and uncontrollable. Over time though, I figured out how to manage my responses. But even now, two and a half years later, sometimes, the pain is still so overwhelming, I respond without a filter. Even with friends and family, I wonder if they really want to know the brutal details of how I have flashbacks, nightmares and sobbing spells. This lead to the other cliché response I got use to saying, "As well as can be expected." Writing it out, it seems so silly a response; how does anyone think a person that just lost a child is doing? Most people literally say, "I can't even imagine" because its unimaginable. Even when you are living it, it feels that way. You feel like you are living someone else's life because in no way does it resemble the one you had imagined for yourself.  The truth is, once you have lost a loved one, how you are doing can no longer be summed up in one simple sentence.
2. How Many Children Do You Have? When meeting new people, this inevitably comes up. It's a routine question asked when trying to get to know someone and before my son passed away, it never bothered me. But now, when I find myself in new situations, I feel myself tensing up waiting for this question. I know if I answer fully, it's going to become uncomfortable for both of us. They expect a standard response, which is too complicated to be answered by just "4" and if I do say just that, they inevitably ask, "Boys? Girls? What are their ages?" Then that common question is quickly regretted by the other person because it comes with my new standard answer of "3 living daughters and one infant son in heaven." Immediately, a pitying look appears on the other person's face and I can tell they wished they hadn't asked the question. There's usually an awkward, "I'm so sorry." And then the worst part comes, the sub-question: What happened? You're probably thinking, people don't really ask that do they? Yes, often, especially when they are trying to fill the uncomfortable pause in the conversation or simply because they are in such disbelief, they want to understand. My reply depends on how I am feeling and generally dictates how much detail I give out. I had a sales person in a maternity store ask me when I was pregnant with my rainbow daughter about my son. I didn't want to turn a happy occasion into a sad one, so I didn't go into much detail. Another time, I was picking up clothes for the new baby and I felt lead to go into more detail and it turns out, that mother had lost a child to stillbirth at 36 weeks. I was able to share with her and create a friendship where she felt safe to talk about her tragedy. Amongst the many positive experiences with this question, it inevitably opens the door for hurtful follow-up questions to be asked as well. One mother asked me if my son had vaccines before his death as she was an adamant anti-vaccinator and firm believer in vaccines contributing to SIDS deaths. She barely knew me and wanted to pass judgment on decisions I made for the care of my child. It takes great resolve not to react in anger in those situations and I am still doing my best to figure out how to handle it when it happens. I have been asked by many people, "Why don't you just say you have only three children and save yourself the pain." My response is, "Because when I became a mother to an angel, I made the decision never to deny my son's existence." He is as much my child as my other living children. That doesn't just go away because he died. Yes, it can make situations uncomfortable at times but I refuse to pretend he doesn't exist simply to make life easier.
3. Are You Planning to Have Another child? Because I only have girls, I get asked this often. It opens up mixed emotions because I feel like I have to explain the fact that I have a son, he's just not with us any longer and I did have another child after him, she just happened to turn out to be a girl. We have always seen ourselves with just three kids, we can't have anymore of our own and I don't want to keep chasing the idea of having more children to fill a void that I have come to realize can never be filled. Especially since I finally made peace with the fact I know I will never have a living son on earth again. It took me a long time to accept that, to be able to say it out loud and a find a way to not be angry or disappointed when someone says, "Oh, you have all girls. You think you will try for a boy?" There is one thing that does give me comfort: the possibility that one day I might have a grandson. It may seem odd to think of something so distant in the future since my girls are only 10, 8 and 17 months, but it gives me solace to think that one day, I might have a little boy in my life again via one of my daughters.

4. Do you want to come to my baby shower/child's birthday/son's wedding? Milestones are painful, whether it be the ones our own living children reach or the ones of friends' and family. Invites to events that used to be reflexively yes become difficult to decide whether you are able to attend. The old you would have said yes with no hesitation but the new you knows these type of milestone events create triggers sparking upheaval. Going would be like walking through an emotional minefield and when you already hurt every day without triggers, how do you muster up the courage to purposefully walk into a situation rife with them. For the first few months immediately following my son's death, I couldn't even be around other babies without crying and I didn't know if I could ever be normal around them, let alone hold one or be at an event for one. Then around six months, things changed for me. I started finding joy again in other people's celebrations. I even decided that I wanted to try for another baby, something my husband had wanted right away but I couldn't think about. I helped plan and attended my sister-in-law's baby shower, went to two first birthday parties for little boys and a dear friend's wedding where he danced with his mother all within the first nine months. These were huge milestones for important people in our lives and I wanted to be a part of them. Their special moments made me smile with happiness for them but if I am honest, they also brought twinges of deep pain. It was the first shower I attended since my own for Dylan and I found myself constantly forcing myself to push away thoughts of him. Dylan never made it to his first birthday and one of the cousins was the little boy with whom he was supposed to grow up. When our friend danced with his mother, I realized I would never get to dance with my son at his wedding. All of those moments were ripped away for me when my son died. With time, it gets more bearable but it never changes. I was recently at another shower for a baby boy and the same thoughts floated across my mind. It doesn't mean I don't want to be invited to your baby shower, child's birthday or son's wedding but when you see me at your event and I have a sad look on my face or a tear in my eye, realize that it's not a reflection of what you have but as a result of what I have lost.

Basic answers becomes labyrinthine after deep loss. It causes one to live a duel life in which two sets of emotions are simultaneously felt, happiness for others mixed with sadness for what will never be. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

On the 10 Year Anniversary of My Husband's Near-Fatal Wreck

I'm crying right now as I look at my baby girl who would have never been born if God had not saved my husband 10 years ago. That night, he had been working doing his job like any other night when he was nearly killed by a drunk driver. It was the hardest night of my life, not knowing if my husband would survive emergency brain surgery. I remember sitting in the quiet room so afraid that I might never see my husband again. He was my partner, my best friend and father to my child. I didn't know what I would do without him. I was still recovering from giving birth to our first child, Katie, who was barely five months at the time. It was so scary to hold a newborn baby in my arms while praying for my husband who was in the trauma center barely hanging on to life. I was told he had less than a 20% chance of living and if he did survive, to prepare myself because he would be in a persistent vegetative state. He would never be my husband again. He beat those odds and did survive but spent over two weeks on life support in an induced comma to combat his brain swelling followed by two weeks in the medical intensive care unit and over a month in a physical rehab facility. He had compound fractures in his right leg and left arm including a completely destroyed elbow, a broken pelvis, a fracture vertebrae and a 10 cm brain bleed. Even though he survived and the doctors finally released him from their care, his recovery didn't end when he got home. He had over two dozen surgeries, battled multiple infections and underwent intense physical rehabilitation over the course of six long years. It was full of up and downs and emotional and physical setbacks but every step of the way, I was by his side. This was where the “for worse” part of our marriage vows came in. I loved him through the worst of it and that was what allowed us to make it to where we are now in the better times. We weren't alone during those difficult days, God saw us through with the help of family and close friends. Our lives have changed so much since then, some wonderful things have occurred such as the birth of three more children as well as some tragedies when our son Dylan and my Dad both passed away less than two years apart. But today I can say we are exactly where we are meant to be, doing exactly what we were meant to do, surrounded by the perfect people God has put in our lives. I am grateful for the struggles because I can more greatly appreciate the victories. My husband is a walking testimony that God is still in the miracle business. He has overcome disabilities and odds stacked against him. I know now God saved him that night because God still has things for my husband to do and I feel blessed to be able to walk along side him while he does them. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ritual Vs. Relationship: a hard look at choosing to engage in life

We live in fast food, live-streaming, ATM cash dispensing, instant credit card swiping culture. Figuring out how to balance the most important aspects in our lives and keeping them from becoming a habit is difficult. But if we purposefully choose to engage in our own lives and take a hard look at how and why we do things, it can really change not only the way we do them but the outcome.

Family and Holidays. How we chose to parent can become a system that we don't even think about and do out of routine. Get the kids ready for school, pick the kids up, extra curricular activates, homework, dinner, baths, bedtime, rinse, repeat. The key to turning ritual into relationship is by thoughtfully participating in the tiny moments that make up each of those steps. Engaging with our children: asking them questions, listening to their stories, savoring each kiss and hug creates an unbreakable bond. Sometimes its hard, especially when we have had a long day and not a lot of sleep but that's usually when its the most important to stop and actually participate in our lives, not just hit cruise control and have it all pass us by. I was never more aware of this until after my 9-month-old son, Dylan, passed away from SIDS in 2013. Luckily, at the time, I thought he was going to be my last child, so I really immersed myself in every moment I had with him. Looking back, I'm so grateful for that. But what if he had been my first child or my second? Would I feel the same lack of regret? If I'm honest, probably not. I had a lot going on when I had my first two children, external events that took my focus off of savoring those small moments of perfection. I didn't realize until after my son died, how truly precious all the little moments really are and that sometimes, they become even more valuable than the big ones we focus so much of out time on. After my son died, my husband and I choice to have another child, my third daughter and I can say, I am keenly aware of how valuable each moment is with her as well as her sisters. Parenting properly is important but being a loving parent is paramount. We should strive to give our kids all we can and do right by them but it needs to be balanced by letting them be kids and showing them their inner worth. Would I rather my child grow up being a concert level pianist that never felt loved by their parents because of the focus on exterior things or a child that maybe spent half as much time being shuttled to and from lessons allowing more family time causing them to feel more important than what they could do? People always quote, "Quality over quanity." If I can't give my child lots of time, I will just make sure to give them quality time. But I really believe it need to be both. Children need to feel they matter and the best way you can do that is to spend a little less of our time watching tv, reading a book or surfing the internet and play a board game with them, go outside and count the stars at night or take a walk together. Another area where ritualism can form is with our spouses. Fatigue and stress of daily life can cause us to treat our spouse as a ship passing in the night. By the time the day is over, we have no energy to engage in any type of intimacy. I feel this way often but my husband needs to feel connected and needs to know that he is a priority, not at the bottom of my "to do" list. We have to make ourselves do that extra little thing they like, tell them how much they mean to us, cook them dinner even when you don't feel like it just because you know it will put a smile on their face. It's important to nurture that bond because when our kids grow up and we retire, all each of us will have is the relationship we did (or didn't) create with our spouse. We don't want to wake up one day, look over at a stranger laying next to us and think, "I have no idea who that is or what's important to that person." Another area that we can find ourselves following tradition rather than making purposeful choices is during the holidays. I know that I personally have fallen victim to this. I want to do activities on certain holidays a certain way because of nostalgia and/or guilt. One example: Going around and making everyone say what they are thankful for on Thanksgiving. In the past, I always made it a point to do this because I grew up ever year doing it. Another example is opening one gift on Christmas Eve because we always did that when I was a child. It's hard for me to not want to keep things the same. It's even harder to merge two sets of traditions together and even though my husband and I were both raised in Christian homes, we celebrated many of the holidays differently (in some cases not at all, like Halloween). Trying to find a way to accommodate both sets of expectations and needs is extremely hard during an already stressful time like the holidays. But what should really matter is following those traditions (or not) because they personally mean something. We can also make new traditions that are special and significant to your family. We used to let each of our children pick out an ornament for Christmas and now that our son has passed away, we didn't end the tradition, instead, as a family we have evolved the tradition into picking one for him and placing it on the tree right beside the others. We can also look at the holidays differently rather than the way we always have in the past. Like on Thanksgiving, we should be saying we are thankful every day, not just once a year because that's what's mandated. We should allow ourselves to acknowledge that there are seasons where it's difficult to find a grateful heart in the midst of deep turmoil or grief and when Thanksgiving comes around during those seasons, God will understand, if from our broken place, we tell Him how we really feel rather than sugarcoating it.  The holidays don't need to fit into the perfect photo album. It's okay to not be okay.
Graveyards and Funerals. Most people like to use the term "visit" the cemetery. I don't so much as see myself as a "visitor" as much as an honorary citizen. I have my plot already picked out next to my son and I know one day I will be a permanent citizen but in the meantime, I am content to upkeep the grounds and commemorate those that have gone before me. When I go to the cemetery, it's a way for me to continue to have a relationship with my son and my father even though I know both of them are in heaven now. Because I have gone to the cemetery often over the past two and half years, my living children have grown up playing amongst the trees there, fixing the flowers of strangers' graves, taking gifts to their baby brother and grandfather on special occasions and doing balloon releases on their birthdays. Through doing these things, I see my children finding a acute awareness of what's to come after this life and a deep knowledge of how limited our time here on earth really is. I think visiting a graveyard becomes ritualistic when we do it out of habit or out of guilt, when there is no thought behind it other than "I should do this" or "this is what I always do." In the beginning, I went every Sunday to see my son simply because the cemetery was by my old church but now that we have moved and my son's grave moved with us, I tend to go more sporadically and I found more freedom in that. Sometimes I will go several times a week, sometimes only once a week and there have even been times where I haven't made it there every week due to various circumstances. The thing is, my son and dad aren't really there. I know that but I go there to feel connected to them and to give me a quiet place to reflect and process my loss. It's about honoring the relationship I had with both of them here on earth and the relationship and I know will be restored again one day. Funerals can be viewed the same way. Many people have funerals out of habit because "it's what you do" when some dies or they do it out of obligation to please everyone else. A friend of mine's father died recently and their family chose not to have any type of official ceremony and instead had an intimate dinner with close family. They chose to forgo ritual and chose relationship because that was what they wanted. They honored him the way he had asked them to which was more important than doing what they thought they should by cultural standards.
Faith and Devotion. Why do we go to church? Many of us were raised going. I can admit that there were times in my life that I went solely out of obligation or routine. It doesn't mean God isn't there or that He can't talk to us even when our motives aren't necessarily pure. Honestly, sometimes when we don't want to go, that is the time when we need to go the most and when God has the biggest message for us. But I truly believe going to church should be something we look forward to and something that doesn't feel like a chore or punishment. If it does feel that way, chances are high that we aren't going to the right church or our heart isn't in the right place. If we are at the wrong church or church that doesn't fit our personality, we will most likely become stagnant. God says he wants us to be either hot or cold, he doesn't want us to be lukewarm. If we feel like we are, than we need to find another church that is a better match. The good news: there is a variety of churches out there. If we are lucky enough to live in the USA, we have the luxury of openly trying out churches until we find the right fit. I want to encourage people to not give up because the right church is out there where each of us can find our calling, our purpose, our extended family and a true connection to God. Another area that can become bogged down with routine is our prayer and devotion time. My pastor, Jason Hanash, said recently, "Little prayer, little power, more prayer, more power, no prayer, no power." When we are taught to pray as children, often we are given a cookie-cutter prayer such as this: "Dear God, thank you for everything you do for me, bless my friends and family, keep us safe, Amen." It can vary and be tweaked but usually its somewhere in that ballpark. That's great if we are just starting out in our prayer life but does our prayer time mature from that? Prayer should be like a conversation, ebbing and flowing. Giving time for God to speak to us and telling Him our deep truths, worries and hang-ups. It's easy when we're busy or tired to just hit the easy button and go back to what we were taught as children but we are busy and tired often and if we hit the easy button too many times, our prayer life will be stunted, never making it past the adolescent years.  Another spot in our lives we can fall into a pattern is when we are reading the Bible. It's hard sometimes to carve out the time to sit down and read the Word. I know, because I often find myself coming up with excuses just like I do with my prayer time. And when we do read, how often is it a quick word of the day or scripture that scrolls across the screen of our computer. We take a momentary glance and then continue about whatever we were doing before that moment, not even giving any true time for God to speak to us through His Word. The problem is that if we are not going to church, praying and doing our devotions, things won't get easier and we won't find more time. We need prayer and devotion time to refuel and refocus on what is most important: our relationship with God.

Daily Life and Habits. I'm a stress eater. What that means is that when I am stressed out, I turn to food to comfort me, usually without even realizing it. Something goes wrong in my life ie. problems at work, fight with the kids, rude driver on the road, I will inevitably find something to eat to make me feel better. When problems become pitfalls, like when my son or my father died, the eating becomes more frequent with bigger portions. I didn't realize this until lately. Never knew that something I need to do every day could become such a drawback in my life. I wasn't looking at food in a way that it was substance to keep me alive and healthy but as treat. When things were really bad, I would wait until everyone was asleep and reward myself with food I didn't have time to eat with my stressful schedule during the day. I would feel guilty and swear I wouldn't do it again but the cycle kept on happening. I'm realizing now the only way to combat these food rituals is to seek God to help me. I've tried it on my own, with little to no success. I've also had to acknowledge that it will be something I will battle with most of my life but if I choose to allow God to fight for me, I can come out the victor. I think food is an area where a lot of us struggle with and one that is overlooked quite often. Spending habits is another daily activity that most of us don't want to analyze. It's hard because we want to be able to buy whatever we want whenever we want. Most of us have been raised inundated with it. I remember when I was handed my first credit card at 18 at my local junior college. They wanted to get me hooked early. Spend what I make tomorrow on what I'm buying today. What they didn't mention to me at the time I signed-up is that I would be paying off the interest for the next 25 years and if I lost my job, well it would be going to collections. I was part of the rat race for many years. I fell sucker to all the clichés like "trying to keep up with the Joneses" and "the grass is always greener on the other side" but I came to realize that money really can't buy happiness. It can be a blinged out Band-Aid on a festering wound but the Band-Aid is going to fall off and the wound is going to be toxic. Another important point my pastor made is that "the antidote to materialism is generosity." I want to be the type of person that is more generous to others than I am to myself and I want to instill that same principal in my children. True happiness comes from finding your purpose in life and fulfilling it, not how many dollar signs are present in your bank account. A twin problem to materialism is being a workaholic. I have known people that let their work become their number one priority and have had to struggle with balancing their work life with their home life. This is an issue that directly affected me because I was married to a workaholic. My husband had a job he loved more than anything else in the world. His priorities were work first, family second and everything else after that. It didn't seem so bad until he started missing the kids school awards shows, didn't make it home for dinner for the hundredth time or stayed an hour late just because he would rather be there than with his family, then I realized it was the worst feeling in the world. I can use my husband as an example in this area because my husband has profoundly and irrevocably changed and is no longer the same person. I know God wanted him to change his priorities sooner than he did but my husband has always been stubborn. It took two major events to shake up my husband's misguided priorities. First, my husband almost died in a car wreck that caused him to be unable to do the job he loved. It was devastating to him and he fought for years to get back to the career he valued more than anything, nearly ruining our marriage. The second event was the death of our son. It truly was the breaking point for my husband. He finally realized he had been focusing too much time on the wrong things. I'm grateful to say that he is a better man now: kinder, more generous and helpful that he has ever been but it is because he finally gave his whole life and all control up to God. When he did that, it was like a lightbulb went on and this new man emerged that was everything I  had ever prayed for and more. But it was a difficult road to get to this place. In some ways, we are still navigating it but I know we are headed in the right direction because my husband just told me the other day, with our new business and our new life, he is happier than he ever was with his first career. I attribute his happiness to being right where God wants him to be and that's because his priorities shifted to the right order: God first, family and God's work second, career third.
When we strip away all the rituals and focus on our relationships, we are capable of anything. It's a choice, a tough one sometimes, but if we make that choice to engage in life, we will never regret it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rebuilt-A Poem

Broken to be rebuilt
A reminder every day
You can't become bitter
He wouldn't want it that way 

Sometimes it's a struggle
Your loss takes its toll
Not sure how to live
While giving up control 

Constant work in progress 
Hesitant how life will look
But God always gives
More than He ever took

Fear is a tricky partner
Divorce is never final 
Even when you see it
There’s some level of denial 

With just one word 
With just one flick 
Given in a moment
Taken just as quick 

The road we travel
Isn’t the road we planned 
God never gives us more
Then we can withstand 

Nothing lasts forever
Nothing on this earth
Heaven is all that matters 
From the moment of our birth

Thursday, April 28, 2016

HOPE. It's a four letter word with which I constantly struggle. I want to hope for a future filled with joy and peace and I know God will provide it to me but whenever I start to rely on His promises, doubt seems to creep into my mind. Why did God let my son die from SIDS? Why did God move me home just to have my dad die only months later? When I find myself in a place where I doubt the hope He provides, I turn to this scripture, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)

FIRM. I am told so clearly by His very Word that my hope doesn't rest in what has happened to me but in what He promises to give me. I am a child of God. Chosen, set apart. He is resolute in His choice to adopt me. It's irrevocable and my name has been written in the Book of Life.

SECURE. I have hope I will live on forever and one day be reunited with all my loved ones. I need to remind myself that this world is only temporary and that in the grand scheme of things, its just a fraction of eternity. When I am reunited with my son and my dad, what a glorious reunion that will be.

Another translation, "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast." (NAS)

SURE. God is unhesitating, unshakable, definite.When I start to get pulled down by my doubts, I need to remember God is certain to fulfill what He has said.

STEADFAST. He is loyal, faithful, dependable, constant and true. He is unwavering in his devotion. He will never leave me or forsake me. He is tireless in his pursuit of me.

Another translation, "Hope's an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God." Hebrews 6:19 (MSG) 

UNBREAKABLE. God's love is long-lasting and indestructible. He has seen me through all my trials. I am never alone because God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come is always by my side. He never lets me down, He never abandons me, He never fails.

LIFELINE. When I feel like I am alone, God is always with me and he surrounds me with His presence. God is my constant connection to my son. My son was not taken from me, he was just allowed to skip to the head of the line. The hard part is being stuck at the back of the line, waiting without him.

By praying, reading His Word and worshipping, I will not sink. He will keep me in safe harbor as long as I trust in Him and allow His hope to be my anchor.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

My interview with ABC News

Mom of Child Who Died from SIDS Pens Blog to New Baby
Mar 24, 2016, 5:09 PM ET

In a moving blog post, Jenna Brandt addressed her now 9-month-old daughter on the same day her son passed away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) two years ago.
"Nicole: today you are 8 months, 26 days old - the same age your brother, Dylan, was when he passed away from SIDS," she wrote. "He never reached 9 months old, so I pray and hope you will make it past this day.”

In her post, the Bakersfield, California mom opened up about her fears of losing her daughter just like her son.

"Sometimes, I am consumed by my fear that lightning can strike twice. I watch you sleep and touch your arm just to see you move to prove to me that you're still breathing," Brandt wrote. "I want to live free from the burden of fear, but losing Dylan was the worst moment of my life and I can't fathom going through it again if something should ever happen to you."

SIDS affects 3,500 children in the U.S. yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SIDS is often the result of health issues that affect infants while they sleep or conditions around their sleeping area, such as soft bedding, pillows, objects or becoming entangled in cribs.

But the deaths are often listed as unexplained. Such was the case for Brandt's son.

The mother told ABC News she was "naive" about the ordeal.

"You think, 'Oh, that's not going to happen to me.' You hear these stories of people who've lost children and you think, 'That won't be me,'" Brandt said. "But now I'm very aware that you can lose a child.”

“It literally is the worst feeling in the world," she added.

Brandt said she found comfort in the positive reactions to her post, which have been read by thousands of people.

"I had such a huge response [from] it," she said. "No one talks about infant loss. They're afraid people are going to be uncomfortable.”

Since losing her son two years ago, the mother of three daughters said she's changed how she parents. Although her son Dylan didn't die because of his crib conditions like most SIDS deaths, Brandt still said she now uses a sleep monitor for her daughter and has removed toys and blankets from Nicole's crib. Instead, she dresses her in a wearable sleeping blanket.

"It's just changed my perspective," Brandt continued. "It sounds so cliche, but I take in every moment more and I look at it like this could be my last moment with them."

She said that even in moments of frustration, she stops to think. “I say, 'But what if it's the last thing I say to them? I want it to be, "I love you, have a good day.'"

Brandt credits her faith and counseling with helping her to overcome her fear while parenting her newborn daughter. She and her husband decided to have another child through in-vitro fertilization, but she says it wasn't because she was trying to replace Dylan.

"I always say she didn't erase the pain, but she helped ease it. When I look at her and she smiles and she giggles and I'm playing with her, it makes me happy," Brandt explained.

"I'll be honest, there's always a twinge like, 'Oh now she's doing things he didn't do,'" she added. "It sounds funny, but holding her and focusing on her, it really helps ease the loss of him."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Just Beyond the Horizon

Dylan & me at Newport Beach 8-8-13
I feel the ocean breeze, ever-so-gently blowing my hair across my shoulders and cheek. I am amazed at how much peace and tranquility the beach has always provided me. An oasis when my life is in crisis, a refuge from the world that so often has brought me pain. You, my son, were my greatest surprise and my greatest loss. I find it profound that one little soul could hold so much influence but you changed everything for me. You were the perfect little boy I had always dreamed of but thought I would never have. When I looked into your eyes, nothing else mattered. God blessed me with you and I couldn't imagine my life without you. And then you were gone in a blink of an eye. One moment here and the next, you slipped away like the waves fall back into the ocean. It was so quick, so brutal and so final.

As I am looking out at the ocean and thinking of you, my third born and only son, I realize you would have loved it here. Even though you did get to visit the ocean one time before you departed this world, being only two-months-old, you never got to experience it the way a child should. You never felt the rush of having the waves crash into you or the salt water engulf you in a sea of foam. You never got to feel the soft sand tickle your feet as you dug your toes into it or feel the warmth of the sun dry your wet skin.

I watch your sisters and cousins play in the ocean and I think of how you are missing. No playmate for my nephew who is now the only boy in our family. No little duck tagging along after them, trying to keep up with the "big" kids. Like every other moment of every day, you are gone. Absent in a way that I have accepted but will never be accustom to. I can't escape the feeling that every moment is lacking you.

In the moment, the moment I knew you were gone and I would never see you again on this earth, I changed, morphed into someone else. In some ways, a fraction of the person I used to be but in others, I have grown in ways I never thought possible. Most of the time, I'm good at hiding my pain but there are the rare occasions that I am awkward, that my words come out odd or I answer with tears. I accept my new me and hope others can do the same. I have become acclimatized to the world I live in and the person I have become, a mother to a child that has died. I can say it a thousand times and I can write it a thousand more but it will never become easy. There is nothing easy about losing you.

The ocean is vast. As I look out over the water, as far as the eye can see, there is just endless blue. I find it comforting that even though we are farther than even oceans apart, that there is something out past the horizon. I may not see them but there are others past the deep far-reaching sea. I can't see anyone right now but someone is just beyond. It makes me think of how earth and heaven might be. I can't see heaven right now but it doesn't mean you're not there waiting for me, just past where I can't see, just past the horizon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

To my infant daughter on the day she turns the age my son passed away.

Nicole: today you are 8 months, 26 days old-the same age your brother, Dylan, was when he passed away from SIDS. He never reached 9 months old, so I pray and hope you will make it past this day. 

Sometimes, I am consumed by my fear that lightning can strike twice. I watch you sleep and touch your arm just to see you move to prove to me that you’re still breathing. While you are awake, I monitor your every action, scanning to make sure nothing happens. Every cough, every cry, I hold my breath and wait to make sure it's not a warning sign you’re in trouble. I hate that I live this way and fight constantly against the fear of losing you like I did your brother. I want to live free from the burden of fear but losing Dylan was the worst moment of my life and I can't fathom going through it again if something should ever happen to you.

I wonder sometimes how different life would be if your brother hadn't died. I watch you play on our living room floor or swing at the park and imagine how much fun you would have had with your big brother, but you will never meet him on this earth. What would he look like now as he approached three-years-old? Sometimes just for a moment, I see him in you. When you scrunch your face up just a certain way when you laugh or when you blow raspberries just how he did, I see a glimpse of him just for a second and my heart skips a beat. It confirms to me you were hand-picked in heaven to help me through this difficult time. Losing your brother was like surviving a storm. Choosing to have you, didn't erase the damage, but you do help ease it. The aftermath is still all around us but God promises to help us rebuild. 

Today will be difficult. I will cry, most likely hard and often and it will be the same on this day for the rest of your life. But it is a testament to how deeply I love each of you. Each of my babies hold a unique place in my heart made up of special moments that are just for you. 

I will never be the same-I know this. It's odd to think you will never know the mother I was before your brother passed away. Your sisters may tell you stories of what they got away with before I was so keenly aware of how one moment can forever change your life. It's impossible to unknow something once you’ve become aware of it. I know now how fragile life is and how vigilant you have to be to protect it and sometimes, that's not even enough. The mother you have is wiser, stronger, braver in some ways but also broken, humbled, and cautious. I live a paradoxical life: a mother to three living children and a mother to one child who is missing. But to you, my youngest daughter, you will only know this version of me. I hope I succeed in making you happy, keeping you safe and caring for you during the time I am graciously given to love you. 

Tomorrow, for the first time in your life, I will no longer be counting down the days to when you surpass the life of your brother. Together, we will be stepping into new territory. I might even stop holding my breath and breathe a sigh of relief. You made it baby girl, you're 8 months, 27 days old.