Friday, February 27, 2009

Does Greif Have Legs?

We had an interesting experience a few days ago.

Rob and I have recently been called to serve in a small branch of the church located about an hour and 15 min from our house. It's been a great experience so far, and we feel blessed to be part of the Lord's work in this area. The people there are so humble, and so willing to do what is asked of them. They have so much love, and have willing shared it with us.

We have been fortunate enough to develop a great friendship with the Branch President and his wife. They are close to us in age, and they are so much fun to be with. We have been so impressed by them and their desire and ability to carry the responsibilities that have been placed upon them because of this calling. We feel blessed to be a part of their lives right now. We are learning so much from their example of love and service.

Just 15 days ago they welcomed their first child, a little girl into their lives. We were so excited for them to experience the intense love that comes from having a child! So, last week after church we decided to stop by their house for a little while and meet their sweet girl for the first time.

I have to admit, that as always, I was a little apprehensive about seeing them in their home with a thriving, breathing, kicking, baby. It's always hard to see someone else that got to bring their baby home...when I never did. I did my usual "emotional preparation" before going in, telling myself that I would be okay, that I could be strong, that I could be happy for them.

As we walked into their house, I was filled with a sense of peace. Mom was cradling her little girl and offered to let me hold her. I took this little bundle into my arms and just let the warmth consume me. I studied her every feature...she is so perfect and beautiful! I let her little fingers wrap around mine, I took off one of her socks and adored her little toes, and I felt her little lungs expand with air as she curled up on my chest.

Inside I was thinking, "this should be hurting, but it's not. I should be shedding tears, but there's no tears to cry."

Then dad pulled out their digital camera and plugged it into the TV, to play a slide show of their first few family pictures with her at the hospital....and yes, panic struck! I knew I was about to see pictures of moments we never had...and inside I was full of fear... fear that I was about to totally loose it in front of all of these people. Yet, I didn't want to get up and walk out of the room either, fearing that doing so would only make the situation uncomfortable.

So, I sat there and watched these pictures scroll across the screen. I sat there waiting...waiting for the tears...for the sobs that typically come at moments such as this. I kept looking at Rob, who was holding the baby at the moment, and he too was doing pretty good. I sat there confused at my reaction.

We left without one tear shed.

On the drive home, I turned to Rob, and said, "Why wasn't that as hard as I thought it would be? Why didn't we cry? Why didn't I feel angry that they had what we don't?" After conversing, we decided that yes, grief (in our case) does have legs. It moves with us.

At first it was so hard for us to see newborns, to hold little babies, to see families bring home their little ones from the hospital, and to see people doing those things we didn't get to do with Branson shortly after birth...those things were hard, because Branson would have been a newborn. Yet, as time has has our grief.

Now instead of grieving the loss of a newborn, we now grieve the loss of a growing, developing little baby. It's harder now to see babies around the age of 8 months because that's how old Branson would be now. Branson wouldn't be a newborn any more. He'd be learning how to roll over, he'd be eating solid foods, he'd be laughing, he'd be cooing, he'd be smiling. Those are the things we miss now.

I'm guessing that our grief won't stop here either. In a few months we won't miss the 8 month old, we'll miss our little boy who should be learning to walk and talk. In a few years we will miss a little boy who should be having his first day of school, and playing his first T-ball game. We'll see children his age play high school ball, go to prom, serve missions, get married, and have families of their own...and all along the way we'll miss him.

So we're learning...learning that grief will be our walking partner. Sometimes the hill's we'll climb together will be hard, but at the summit of these hills we'll always be able to look back at road we've traveled and the road that lies ahead. We'll remember the heartache of the past, we'll see that we still have some hard days ahead, but we'll be blessed to recognize that there's joy scattered all along the way!

I pray that as grief walks with us, we can make it to the end of our journey where our little boy will be waiting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Our Own Little Warriors

Yesterday, Rob and I had the opportunity of attending the temple. We said a special prayer together before going in that we might feel close to Branson, and to have an added amount of peace while we were there. Since Branson's passing, I yearn to be in the temple, for it is where I feel the closest to him...away from the distractions of the world, and freed from the negative thoughts that Satan tempts me to believe.

All day I had been thinking about Branson, and what he's doing during this time that we are spending apart. I often try to envision him...what he looks like, what he's doing during the day, what his mission in the spirit world is. During his name and blessing at the hospital, we had a strong confirmation from the spirit that Branson had in fact been called on a special mission at this time, and I have had that confirmation many times since then. I don't know exactly what he's doing, or why he was needed...I just know that it's real, it's important, and that he was valiant enough to be called and obedient enough to answer it.

During the session, the story of Helaman's 2,000 Stripling Warrior's (Chapters 53 and 56 in the Book of Alma, Book of Mormon) kept coming to my mind. This has always been one of the most inspiring and motivating stories in the Book of Mormon for me. Over and over during the two hours we were in the temple, I thought of these young men who so willingly and courageously accepted the call to serve, and vowed to protect their liberty, their families, and the lives of their people.

I wasn't exactly sure why this story kept coming to mind, when I had prayed to feel close to Branson, and we were also seeking direction to another situation in our lives. Yet, I couldn't ignore that the thoughts were there.

So, first thing this morning after eating breakfast, I sat down at the table and opened up to the book of Alma. I started to read the story of these stripling warriors, and as I read, I felt the spirit so strong and it all started to come together.

Over the past 7 months, and particularly the last 2 months, I have been able to meet (via the Internet) hundreds of mothers who have also had to say goodbye to their little ones too soon. All of these mothers...these families, are good, loving people. Parents who would have provided a wonderful home and a life full of love to these little spirits. As I have learned about each child and each family that they are a part of, I have been so amazed and inspired by each one. Every single little life, no matter how short, has already made a difference in so many so many lives! I have often wondered why so many of them had to leave these beautiful families...why weren't they allowed to stay?

And it hit me...all of these spirits were needed for something special...important. They have been called home to be a part of something great. Like these young men in Alma "...they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold this was not all-they were men/women who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men/women of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him." Alma 53:20-21

The spirit whispered...they are all Heavenly stripling warriors.

What an incredible thought! These spirits, working together, comprise perhaps one of the greatest "armies" ever known. Although their call is not to defend in a mortal battle, it's a call to defend in a time of spiritual unrest. They do not fight with weapons of war, but with the power of God. They don't have to defend the liberty of their land, but perhaps they defend the truthfulness of the gospel and the beauty of the plan of salvation. They don't make preparations for a physical battle, but perhaps they do make preparations for the second coming. They don't stand guard with weapons to protect their leader, but perhaps they do protect and prompt their families, friends, and loved ones on both sides of the veil. They don't teach others the methods of battle, but perhaps they do teach other spirits about Christ and the joy they can find through living his gospel. Perhaps these are just a few of their duties as warriors of truth.

The stripling warriors of the Book of Mormon succeed in their mission to protect, and I have no doubt our warriors will do the same.
"...they fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power" Alma 56:56

I am thankful that I received an answer to my prayer, for the thoughts I had in temple have helped me feel closer to Branson, and they have brought an added measure of peace.

It is my prayer, that although I still grieve the separation from Branson...that I still have days full of tears and a heart full of longing...that Branson will someday be able to reply as the Stripling Warriors did...
"We do not doubt our mothers knew it"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love For Our Little Guy

"A mother's love begins when new life is stirring inside...when a tiny heartbeat is heard for the first time, and a playful kick reminds her that she will never be alone."

Dear Branson,
Happy Valentines Day little buddy! On this day when we take extra time to express our affection to those we love most, you and daddy were at the top of my list! It's hard to put into words the intense love I have for you...I am continually amazed that my heart has the ability to expand in such a way! Through the heartache, sorrow, and pain of having to say "goodbye" to you so soon, daddy and I have grown so much...we have lost...we have gained. But, perhaps the greatest thing we've gained is a deeper, stronger love for each other; an intense, unconditional love for you; and a humbled heart full of gratitude and love for the Savior.

From the moment that we discovered you would be joining our family I began to love you. Actually, I think I have loved you my whole the idea of you and the hope I always had of being a mother! I'll never forget the first time I felt you stir inside me...what an incredible thing! Suddenly you became so real...and my love continued to increase. Our favorite thing to do was cuddle with each other on the couch and together, feel you kick and stretch. Sometimes at night we would just lie in bed, feeling you move, and marvel together at how we could love someone so much that we hadn't even met.

We tried to enjoy the moments we shared with you, as we decorated your nursery, picked out your little outfits, planned for your arrival, and as we dreamed about what life with you would be like. As soon as we finished your nursery, daddy and I would go in their every night. I would sit in the rocker and daddy next to me on the floor. He would read to you from one of the many books we had for you, and then most nights we would sing to you. We talked to you, and daddy loved to kiss my belly! Every night we prayed for you. We prayed that you would be well and healthy. That you would know of our love for you, and that we could prepare to be the best parents possible for you.

The day we met you was the most incredible day of our lives. It was filled with moments of great sorrow and heartache, but having your spirit there with us that day was special, unforgettable! I couldn't get over how beautifully perfect you were in every way! You had the cutest stinkin toes I've ever seen, the longest little fingers, a perfect nose, the cutest round were cuter than I ever imagined possible! I have to admit, that you did take after mommy a lot, but as I study your pictures each day, I can see daddy within you too.

Oh, Branson, I'm glad you were there with us in spirit so you could see the smile on daddy's face. He was so proud to have a son. He held you with tender loving arms, and looked upon you with loving eyes. He got to weigh you, bathe you, dress you, and take your hand and foot prints. He even got to lay down and snuggle with you (something he'd wanted to do for a long time). Daddy just kept saying, "isn't he just perfect Nat?"

I pray that I'll never forget how it felt to you hold you in my arms. It felt so right. I tried to soak up ever imprint your every feature on my mind and in my heart. I loved playing with your little fingers and caressing your little toes. I even got to give you your first hair cut! I loved showing you off to your grandparents and even a few friends who stopped by to see you. I couldn't have been any prouder.

Daddy and your grandpas got to give you a name and blessing...It was incredible. The words daddy spoke were inspired and brought peace to my heart. You were called on a special mission and we knew you wanted to valiantly return. What more could we ask for than a son who was pure enough, special enough to be called back without having to endure the mortal trials of this earth? Daddy told you that it was okay for you to leave us, and shortly after that we felt a change in the room as your spirit said goodbye.

Daddy and I had some special time alone with you where we talked with you, had our first family prayer together, and showered you with hugs and kisses. The hardest moment for us was preparing to let you go...physically and spiritually. I'll never forget the last kiss I placed upon your forehead, and the instant empty feeling I got as daddy took you one last time from my arms. I watched as he walked across the room to hand you over to the nurse. He paused and gave you one last kiss and said "I love you Branson." I couldn't believe that this was the last moment I would see you in this life.

Our love and appreciation for your life has only grown since that day. We miss you more than there are words to express, but we move forward in the knowledge that you're ours for eternity and that someday...sooner than we know...we'll be with you again. Oh how I look forward to that day...that embrace!

We continue to pray for your every night. We pray that the you'll feel of the love we have for you, that you will be blessed to perform your special mission, and that we can do all in our power to make it back to you. We pray that there might be times when you can visit us, and we cherish the times when we feel your spirit near.

But you already know these things don't you've always known that this was your plan. You've been with us during these special moments, and you've shared in this love as well! We take comfort in the fact that you were with us as we celebrated your conception, planned for your arrival, rejoiced in your birth, and as we grieve in your passing.

Our life will never be the same because of the marks you have left on our hearts, and the change that has occurred in our souls. Thank you for the beautiful things you've taught us. Thank you for the love you have shared with us. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your plan. Thank you for being our son.

Sending You All My Love,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I have commented many times before that I only wish that with the shedding of my tears, came the shedding of calories...for then I would truly be a fat burning machine!

I am not sure what has sparked the tears as of late. The last few days, especially the nights, have been extremely hard...lonely. Just last night I found myself tossing and turning in bed, unable to
shut my mind down enough for me to sleep...asking questions, replaying my whole pregnancy, wanting to go back to the day we met Branson, wondering how I got here, wishing I could hold my little guy again, fearing I'll never be an earthly mother, and praying that I'll have the strength to make it through the night.

Finally at 3:00 a.m. with no sleep and a restless mind I decided to go into Branson's nursery and try to sleep in the recliner. However, still unable to slow my mind enough to sleep I just lied there in the darkness going round and round the grief cycle...angry that he's gone, thankful that he's mine forever, feeling at peace because of what I know, wondering why me, asking what if, feeling guilty for asking what if and why me, feeling proud to be his mommy, and then it starts all over again.

I haven't yet figured out why some days...some weeks are easier than others, or why some nights I fall asleep with peace in my heart knowing that Branson is okay and that someday I will be too...and other nights I lie in bed, soaking my pillow with tears of longing to be with him right now.

As I continue on this unfamiliar path of grief, I get to the point where the path ahead looks familiar...predictable, and then all of the sudden there is an unexpected turn in the road and I'm faced with a new hill to climb. This last week has been one of those unexpected hills.

As I've pondered what might have brought about this turn in my path, I have decided that it's the "life's just not fair" feelings that have come about because of some situations I've encountered over the last few days. Now I'm having to climb the hill in front of me...and I'll be the first to admit that the "unfair" hill is not an easy one to scale.

I am currently subbing at the local schools in our area. The last three days I have been at one of the high schools. Each time I'm there I see yet another young women...a little girl...preparing to become a mother. I see these girls rubbing their pregnant bellies, bragging to their friends, showing off ultrasound pictures, and scribbling their favorite baby names on a notebook during class. As I pass them in the hallway and teach them during class, I can't help but feel cheated, angry, and full of questions. One part of me feels compassion for the delicate situations they are in, another part feels jealous that these girls have what I want so bad, another part is screaming that life isn't fair, another part wants to take them by the shoulders and tell them that they're so naive, and another part of me wants to explain what a beautiful gift of love they could give a couple like Rob and I through the choice of adoption.

I've had the nerve a couple of times to ask some of them if they've considered putting up their babies for adoption, and the reply is always the same "no, I'm keeping the baby". I explain that my husband and I would love to adopt a baby, so that is why I was asking. This seems to make them feel like they should tell me about every girl at school that is pregnant and keeping their baby...and today I found out six sophomores...yes sophomores, are pregnant.

After a sleepless night thinking about all of this over and over, and then another day full of it all again...I came home today and emotionally crashed. My heart felt so fragile, and my soul full of sorrow. As I unlocked the door, I fell to my knees under the weight of the "unfair" thoughts I'd carried with me all day, and the tears began to fall..tears, prayers, tears, searching the scriptures for some kind of comfort, tears, and more tears.

After looking up many scriptures I found one that finally brought a little comfort and spoke peace to my heart. It's a scripture that we found to put in Branson's memorial video, but I haven't really thought about it a lot since then. Jeremiah 31:13
"...for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow."

I felt a calm, warming assurance that one day...maybe not tomorrow, next week, or even next month...but some day through the atoning power of the Savior's sacrifice and the unconditional, perfect love of God our sorrow will turn to joy, and that we will truly rejoice for all we have gained through our mourning.

I have faith that "...God will wipe away all the tears from our eyes" (Rev. 7:17) Like the sparrow that falls, I believe that each tear of heartache shed is counted. I believe that that Savior recognizes each one and that some day those same tears will flow again...only that time they will flow because of joy.

For now I'll continue to climb the "unfair" hill.
Accepting that life's not fair is hard.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mommy Marks

Perhaps the greatest "physical" trial I've ever been through happened shortly after Branson's birth.

As many mothers know, the effects of pregnancy and child birth on a woman's body can be harsh, painful, and not pretty! I had been told over and over by several women to prepare myself mentally for the pain associated with breast feeding, the months of still feeling and looking a little pregnant, and they also warned me that I would need to learn how to accept my "new" body, as it would never be the same again after giving birth to a child. I was even given a special cream that I applied every day to prevent stretch marks.

Branson was scheduled to come by way of a C-section due to a large uterine fibroid that was obstructing the birth canal. My doctor and other mothers who had given birth this way also tried to prepare me and educate me about the lengthy, and somewhat painful recovery process of having such major surgery.

I knew these women and my doctor were right. However, the physical hurdles I knew I would face seemed a small price to pay so I could become a mother and have Branson here with me. After all, I'd prayed for this blessing for over 5 years...I didn't feel like complaining much about the physical side affects that came as part of my miracle!

As the heartbreaking news came that Branson's heart had stopped beating, it's almost as if my body automatically went into survival mode. All I could think about was that I would only have my son here with me for a few hours, and I wanted those few hours to be special...memorable. I wanted to capture and burn an image of every moment and every little one of his features in my mind forever. The rest didn't matter.

The morning of his birth seemed so unreal. As they prepped me for surgery, I just laid there with tears streaming down my face. No nerves about the surgery itself, just anxious feelings about meeting our son in a very different way than we had dreamed. As the anesthesiologist came in, and I hunched up in a ball for my spinal block, I wasn't even scared (previous to this point, it was the thing I was most worried about for Branson's delivery). My C-section went well and I shortly found myself in the recovery room with the two most important men in my life...Rob and Branson.

That day was the best day of our lives thus far.

In the days following Branson's birth, I just lied in the hospital...mostly consumed by shock and unbelief. My mind in a state of fog, life passing by in blurry, slow-motion. I let the nurses and Rob take care of me physically, as I just tried to survive emotionally.

It wasn't until I arrived home that I fully began to realize that although my heart and mind knew that Branson was gone, my body did not. The day I came home from the hospital my milk began to come in. My breasts became rock hard with milk, as that is what they're supposed to do. I sat in pain, with my breasts covered in cabbage leaves (a remedy to help dry up the milk), and just sobbed that there was no Branson there to feed, to make the pain seem fair. There I sat in the recliner, unable to go anywhere, or do anything on my own. I reeked of cabbage, and I had to completely rely on my husband and mother-in-law for everything. They brought me food, they transported me to the bathroom, they helped me shower, and dressed me. All I could ask was, "where is the justice in this?"

I remember the first time I got out of the shower and looked at my body in the mirror...again, the tears just flowed. I looked like I had been through Hell and back, and emotionally speaking I had, but now I looked the part too. I remember looking and feeling about four months pregnant still. This made me very apprehensive to leave the house. I knew the "are you pregnant" question from strangers would be inevitable, for that's what I looked like...pregnant. I had a nice little pouch, with no baby by my side to suggest that, no I wasn't pregnant, I had in fact just given birth to a beautiful little boy.

I'll never forget the first person who asked me if I was pregnant after Branson's birth. I wanted to drop kick them and let them have an ear full...instead I just smiled and said that I had actually recently given birth to a little boy who was spending some time at home...for isn't that where he truly is...home?

I felt so angry...cheated, that I still had to deal with the physical pains, the healing, and the unfamiliar...not pregnant, but not normal, body. It just seemed like someone should have taken that all away, it wasn't fair that I still had to go through all of it without a baby to remind me that it was worth it. It just wasn't fair.

Slowly, I began to milk dried up and went away...and my body began to shrink just a little (still working on that one :). I still struggle to accept my body the way it is, yet I find myself not wanting to "let go" of the pouch completely because it's physical proof that Branson was here. Despite the prevention cream, I also acquired some pretty intense stretch marks the last three weeks of my pregnancy...carrying an eight pound baby and a fibroid the size of a small basketball can stretch you to limits never before imagined!

Anyway, the other night Rob and I were lying in bed just chatting and the biggest smile came across Rob's face. I said, "What? What are you smiling about?"

And, he said, "You are just perfect for me in every way."

Sorta jokingly I responded, "I am? Even with my little pouch and the stretch marks that adorn it?"

He said, "Are you kidding? That's the best part! Those aren't stretch marks...they're mommy marks! They remind me everyday of the awesome mother you are, and all that you sacrificed to bring Branson into the world. They are a visual reminder that I am the father of an incredible little boy, and the luckiest man in the world!"

So today, I am grateful for my "mommy marks". Grateful that they came. Grateful for my darling little boy who has left an everlasting mark not only on my body, but on my heart. Grateful that I have an adorable husband who loves me, every part, for who I am. Grateful that together, the three of us, make one cute little family!