Unexpected Challenges

Before I was forced onto the front lines of the biggest battle of my life, I didn’t fully understand the depths of grief. I had no idea about the ancillary challenges that would arise.

One of my greatest challenges has been focus and concentration. My personality-type requires me to be on my game in order to thrive. I require organization, order, and accomplishment in order to feel content. My job requires focus and attention to detail in order to succeed, yet there have been days that I can’t even remember names, or something that someone told me just a short time ago. It’s not because I don’t care, but because the “Rolodex” that existed in my brain has been shaken and disorganized, and many things have been lost.

However, through a lot of therapy and prayer and meditation and mental work, and grace (still working on this one) I’ve discovered some things that have helped me:

Essential oils: diffusing peppermint oil during my work day can increase my focus and concentration tremendously. I also love lemon and frankincense for this.

Breathing techniques – “smell the hot chocolate, blow out the candle.” This is a technique that I use with Addy and Sydney during their challenging and difficult times. Slow, intentional inhalation through the nose, fill the lungs, slow, intentional exhalation through the mouth. Just 10 seconds can do wonders.

Tapping – our brains can trick us into thinking dark thoughts, especially during times of struggle. By taking the index finger of one hand and tapping on the pinky-side of the other hand (we call it the “hi-YAH” area of the hand), you can trick the part of your brain (the amygdala) that’s responsible for stress responses. The amygdala hijacks the frontal lobe and forces a fight or flight response, which leads to panic, anxiety, fear, traumatic memories, invasive thoughts, etc. Regaining control of this area can help return rational and calming thoughts.

Meditative sitting – (along with the breathing techniques mentioned above) – we recently dug out the original Wii Fit to teach and challenge our girls to some old school Mario Kart. Haha! Turns out there are some useful balance games that I didn’t pay much attention to before. “Lotus Focus” is a new favorite of mine. Even just 1-2 minutes (good posture, eyes closed) can change your day.

Music – I’m a music lover. I relate to lyrics and feel rhythm. I could narrate the timeline of my life with songs from many genres. I’ve discovered the need to play music all day, during my workday, to help with focus and concentration, and to be able to multi-task and remain productive. This is one of my favorites: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EwCXTa1ZKNU

I’m setting my intentions today for hope, love, light, and rest to be bestowed upon those struggling with grief, anxiety, depression, PTSD, hopelessness, loneliness, and any other challenges you may be facing.

As a dear friend recently said to me when I needed to hear it most: Keep going.

Sunday, May 13, 2018 We snuggled and tickled and gazed into each other’s eyes, as the sun came up at camp and everyone else was sound asleep. I’m grateful for the bond we shared.

“Code 111”

The pain experienced in this second year of grief is deep, unexplainable. It’s no longer like the acute pain – the screaming, the audible weeping, the nightmares, the constant panic attacks. It’s now the yearning, the missing, the crying in silence, the reality, the isolation, the forever. I love the toddler years so much and man, am I missing my (would-be) toddler right now.

I’ve also been down and out physically, due to a foot injury last fall. I’ve gone through multiple doctors, multiple treatments, thousands of dollars, and still feeling so unhealthy due to lack of movement and constant pain.

Yesterday, I had foot surgery. I had been so nervous in the weeks leading up to it. I’ve feared that there was no fix for this. I was worried I’d live in more pain than I already do. I was stressing over my activity and ability to get healthy again. I was so uncertain going in to this, but knew I had run out of options.

As I was being wheeled back to the OR suite, we passed a nurses station with a huge dry erase board, filled with many hand-written medical notes. Right in the center of the board was a hand-drawn “bubble” with the phrase “Code 111” written inside. At that moment I smiled and a tear ran down my face. I felt instant calmness and relief. I knew that Norah, my toddler, was right by my side.

I’m happy to say that I’m already pain-free. I know things will improve for me soon and my health will return. Here’s to 2020, with my little “Code 111” standing by.

Find What Serves You

I have heard this phrase many times. I never truly understood what it meant. I mean, I knew the definition – but I never felt it.

Until now.

Until Norah died.

Ugh.

But here I am… finding what serves me (us, as a family). Shedding what doesn’t.

Our surroundings did not serve us.

We moved.

Our lifestyle was too hectic.

We simplified.

Hank’s career was peeling away his soul, layer after layer; it was affecting his health; leaving too many gaps in the non-monetary needs of our family.

He resigned.

Each and everyday I thank Norah for enlightening me. For enlightening us. For continuing to work with us. Her gifts are vast. Her light shines so bright. She has saved us in so many ways. It’s a hard concept for me to grasp sometimes – that our daughter’s death saved our lives, especially when there was a time when it seemed totally opposite. But now I realize that it is her life, on Earth and in Heaven, that’s saving our lives.

I’m proud of her. I’m in awe of her work. I’m blown away by the strength and power of a tiny human. Our tiny human. I’m grateful. Grieving, yet grateful.

I now sit atop of a mountain, closer to God and Spirit and nature…. and Norah. I’m wiggling in and figuring out how to recognize and utilize the things that serve us.

We still cry.

We still ache.

We still struggle.

We still long for the one who is forever (physically) missing.

But, we have plans again.

We have visions again.

We have hope again.

My hope is to do whatever it takes to continue to help my family. To help others. To help myself.

… by finding what serves me.

Sunshine in a Different Light

“Time heals all wounds.”

The age-old phrase that we, as humans, often say in an attempt to comfort ourselves as we’re offering “comfort” to others who are grieving. It turns out, for a grieveing mother, this phrase is not at all comforting. But there’s another side to it. A deeper side.

I believe that even the most broken things can change over time, but no, not ALL wounds fully heal.

I’ve found hope, however, in discovering something different that can occur over time – if we work hard and use time to do something specific – to discover, to ponder, to soul-search, to live within a deeper realm. So for me, “time” has given me the gift of enlightenment.

I’m only at the beginning of this journey, with Norah and God right by my side. For me, pushing away the connection with my daughter, leaving memories behind, and losing my faith would have taken me to my breaking point. If I had turned my back, I’m certain that my life would have ended. But I wanted something bigger. I have too much goodness surrounding me, even in the most extreme darkness. I saw my other two girls and knew there was so much ahead of us – so much more light ahead; my hope deepened. I felt God’s presence more than I ever had in my life; my faith deepened. I looked into my husband’s deeply aching eyes and knew we had to change how we were “using” time; my love deepened.

We’re now in the process of beginning a new life, and what we consider an adventure of a lifetime. We’re moving from the fast-paced “city/suburbs” life with insane schedules and limited quality time together, to the mountains where we feel closest to God and to Norah. Where we will have so much quality time, so many new hobbies, so much healing work on our land (both physical and spiritual), and opportunities in nature that will continue to enlighten us throughout our remaining days on this Earth.

No, we have not hit the lottery – in fact it’s quite the opposite. We’re giving up half of our income simply for time and togetherness; to sit in our grief and to deeepen ourselves; to find hope in the stars and a love we didn’t know existed.

I can assure you that money means nothing. It’s useless when your dinner table has someone missing, when your heart and soul are not full, and when your spirit is not enlightened.

We will soon be able to fully embrace each other and the new life we’ve been gifted, in nature, closest to God and to Norah. We’ll soon be able to see the sun shining… in a different light.

Our “new” sunset. It’s always been there but now we’ll see it from a new perspective.

Gifts of Love and Light

Reliving “the space between” (Norah’s life and death) proved harder than I had anticipated. Although, I tend to not anticipate much of anything anymore, because nothing is predictable. Nothing.

I’ve been “quiet” during these days because I had nothing to say, nothing to convey, nothing to openly sort through. I was simply “sitting” and “listening” and “learning.”

Admittedly, there were weeks early on in the “space between,” that I experienced the lowest of lows. There were times I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going. Times in which I cried out to God, and to the universe, and to anyone who would listen, that this life was so damn unfair. But Norah interceded. She gave me clarity and showed me the beauty that was still in front of me, even that of her life, and her death. She encouraged me to keep going.

I suddenly realized, as we closed this chapter last Saturday afternoon at 2:39pm, and as we were preparing for the funeral of my Nanny, who was deeply connected to Norah, the experiences we’ve had in this space between were Norah’s gifts of love and light:

  • Clarity
  • Beauty
  • The ability to slow down
  • Patience
  • Opportunities
  • Truly listening, even in silence; especially in silence
  • Nature
  • Connection
  • Enlightenment

Through a lot of pain and a lot of tears, a lot of grinding into the depths of my soul, I survived. Because of the way she presents herself to us. Because of the way she has made intercessions for her family, especially her sisters (thank you, Norah), and many others. The way she has strengthened her Momma and Daddy’s marriage. The way she has restored faith for so many here on this Earth. The way she has shown us the important things in life. I know now that I’ll continue to survive, because of the gifts of love and light that Norah gives to this world.

2633 hours and 39 minutes is all we had with her here on Earth.

2633 hours and 39 minutes that we’re so grateful for.

2633 hours and 39 minutes that has led us into a lifetime of love and light.

Norah’s presence is stronger than ever.

Our very first photo with her, at just 40 minutes old
Our very last night together on Earth
Our very last photos with her, after her bright soul had left her sweet body

Click the link below to hear a very special song in our journey.

Miracles of Light and Time

I have been receiving many messages about my blog, so I wanted to share a bit on how this work unfolded and what it has done for me. In previous posts I mentioned that journaling and blogging are therapeutic for me – it helps me remember, reflect, and reorganize my brain and my life.

My writings are organic. They usually begin with a photo or a memory that comes to me in a dream or a thought that crosses my mind during the day – one that I can’t always articulate or release otherwise. None of it is planned. I usually end up with a title at the end, after seeing where the writing journey takes me. There are often gaps in time because I only write when I’m given the information that my brain and my heart need to “download” that day. I believe the information, or the calling to write, is given to me by Norah and by God; sometimes by nature, sometimes by the universe, and sometimes simply by memories of events that inflict a visceral reaction, needing to be released.

Thank you for continuing to read.

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April 15, 2018 – Addy’s First Holy Communion and Norah’s Baptism: a day that will forever hold a special place in my mind and in my heart.

I was a little apprehensive to have Norah baptized that soon, due to the timing – the end of flu season and her being just seven weeks old. (I am very attentive when it comes to all of my girls’ health, but for “some reason” I was extra-vigilant with Norah’s.) But I had an overwhelming feeling that this was the right time.

Being that many of our closest family members live out of state, we decided that it would also be most convenient for those we love to share in the sacraments of both Addy and Norah. Father Tony graciously agreed to make this work, so we made the decision to move forward with the plan. We relied on good hand washing and the strong immunity that she and I had been building in her body for almost two months.

Recent reflections of that day have brought so much light to the darkness:

• The altar was still decorated in celebration of Easter, as the Easter season lasts SEVEN additional WEEKS, into Pentecost.

• Norah was not baptized from the usual baptismal font, where both Addy and Sydney were baptized, but instead from the font leading to the altar, which was filled with holy water from the Easter Vigil.

• We were able to enjoy the experience of having so many of our closest family and friends present to meet Norah and to experience the light and love from our three daughters, referred to by Uncle Jack as “The Northern Sisters,” all together.

• Our last photo as a family of five was captured on this day.

• The beginning of the last half of Norah’s beautiful life here on Earth began, as she was blessed at her first (of two) sacrament. Her second and last sacrament was by a wonderful Priest sent to us in the emergency department, to pray over her and perform (an infant version of what I consider) her “last rites,” as she laid dead on a hospital gurney.

I’ve always been a very spiritual person; faithful to God and the beliefs I was presented with at a young age. But Norah’s life and death has brought my faith to a new level. It has become the foundation in my reflection and for my survival as a bereaved mother.

I’ve recently been reflecting on the symbols of baptism, specifically The Baptism Light, for which a special candle is used on the day of baptism to represent moving from death to life in Christ.

As Father Tony anointed Norah with oil, I’m certain she could see something that none of the rest of us could.

One Year Later

April 15, 2019 – Notre Dame Cathedral is (mostly) destroyed by fire.

I try not to become overly affected by news anymore, because I simply do not have the strength for extra emotions or the capacity for negative feelings beyond what I experience in times of deep grief. But some things still lay heavy on my heart.

For obvious reasons, crimes or accidents that involve children affect me heavily. The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue devoured my attention for days, for weeks actually, because it was so close to home, I also have very close friends who are Jewish. The lives of good and faithful people were tragically stolen due to antisemitism.

Yesterday, the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral affected me more than I expected, but I could not pinpoint why. Perhaps the loss of a landmark that holds hundreds of years of history? The religious and cultural connection? The people of Paris, and around the world, who are directly affected by the loss? 

Then, today, I woke to see magnificent images among the devastating damage. I was enlightened by remarkable news – news of miraculous light and perfect timing, both of which remind me of Norah and her life here on Earth and in Heaven.

• “The cathedral’s golden altar cross was seen standing as officials surveyed the charred structure. Votive candles lit prior to the blaze — each one symbolizing a prayer — still flickered undisturbed in the cathedral,” CNN reported.

• According to Doreen Carvajal The New York Times, “Instead, in a miracle of timing, the sculptures of the Twelve Apostles and four New Testament evangelists escaped a fiery end when they were plucked by cranes and removed just days before the blaze in Paris on Monday.

Sculptures of the Twelve Apostles and four New Testament evangelists were removed for restoration just days before the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire on Monday. Credit Credit Georges Gobet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

• “Notre Dame was destroyed but the soul of France was not,” Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris, told RMC radio.

I’ve been even more enlightened now by something a dear friend, and one of my greatest supporters, sent to me recently during some of my darkest of times: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Through all of this reflection, the significance of the date, Holy Week, the incredible photos of our three loves, the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the light surrounding me, I’ve been reminded that though my family’s hearts often feel destroyed, our souls remain intact. We’re still grieving but now growing, and will continue to shine the light of Norah’s life until we’re no longer able to do so.

I’ll forever dedicate this song to Norah. I sing it to her daily.

ttps://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Om3e4qOxdLs

The Space Between

I’ve been “camped out” for almost 7 weeks now, reliving every moment of Norah’s time here with us.

There’s been a lot of reflection, a lot of meditation, a lot of prayers, a lot of tears, a lot of smiles, a lot of fears, a lot of hugs, and a lot of pain for the four of us.

THIS is the space between Norah’s incredible birth and her tragic death. This short space was her entire life. This time is filled with the most beautiful memories, meshed with the deepest, most painful physical and emotional pain; so deep that I couldn’t have begun to understand the depths of it prior to experiencing it firsthand.

There have been haunting moments filled with the deepest darkness – moments I did not anticipate happening again; moments that almost destroyed me. There have also been moments of renewed light that I haven’t been able to experience in quite a while. Joy and gratitude is felt so much deeper now.

However, I continue to live a life constantly questioning myself and others, lacking confidence in my mothering skills, losing my zest for life and laughter, still trying to get to know the “new me,” feeling like a failure because I couldn’t keep all of my children alive. Grieving. It’s an ongoing struggle knowing that we’re not at all spared from losing our other two children just because we’ve already lost one – dark thoughts are prevalent when you experience the darkest times. Yet through all of this I’m learning to laugh again, I’ve experienced joyful events, and I’m beginning to see growth within my mind and within my soul.

It’s all so confusing.

It’s all so terrifying.

It’s all so exhausting.

It’s all so enlightening.

Recently, of course, a lot of memories have been resurfacing. So many beautiful photos have been reminding me of what we had, and of what we lost. They’ve forced me to revisit the time when I was privileged with giving my all to all three of the beautiful girls who grew inside of me and who are a part of us. I was nurturing everyone in every possible way I knew how.

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I was gifted with a book, an amazing book, at the retreat I attended last year:

You Are the Mother of All Mothers: A Message of Hope for the Grieving Heart by Angela Miller

This book has given me so much hope and comfort, on both my darkest and brightest days. It’s been a much needed reminder, in this space between, of my mantra: “Love is all I’m capable of.”

A collection of my most favorite quotes from the book You Are the Mother of All Mothers: A Message of Hope for the Grieving Heart by Angela Miller

This photo was taken one year ago. I had been committed to the “full time job” of giving Norah every possible nutrient from my own body, even though she struggled to feed due to a tongue tie, a lip tie, and a submucous cleft palate. I documented every feeding, every minute of sleep, every diaper change in an app to give to providers that we visited every few days during the first two months, for weight checks and lactation consultation. I kept having this deep feeling that she really needed this. Little did I know, WE really needed this – she and I. We were almost halfway through her life already. Thank you, God, for those moments.