Happy 6th Birthday in Heaven Sweet Angel

I woke up this morning and it wasn’t just an ordinary day. Your sister has a cough, which always makes me anxious. She woke up coughing and I looked over at her in your old bed and told her to come cuddle with mommy. “Okay,” she said, then threw her stuffed baby shark, her choocho (soother), and rainbow blanket on the bed, then waited for me to gently pull her up. I hugged her tight and said: “Today is a special day. It’s Bella’s Birthday. Can you say Happy Birthday Bella!?” She whispered softly: “Happy Birthday Bella!” Then she pointed the painting of Bella on the wall. “Oh no. Mommy, what happened? What happened??”

Your baby sister has said a few strange things about you lately. She used to say that the pictures of you were her, but recently she started calling you “Poossa.” This is our nickname for Aria, but he strange thing is when she refers to herself, she calls herself Aria. When I ask her where Bella is, she will point to one of the 2 canvases of you on the wall, but will say Poossa, as if she’s correcting me. “There Poossa!” Of course, we have never referred to you as Poossa.

About a week ago, she started saying “Oh No!” when she points to your photos. Yesterday, when I picked her up from Daycare I asked if we would go home and see Daddy and she said “yes. See Maui?” I replied “yes, we will see Maui too.” Aria then looked at me and said “and Poossa? Go see Poossa?” I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I asked if she meant Bella and she excitedly said, “Okay!”

Aria has always been bright for her age. But I can’t wrap my head around how a 2.5 year old understands that you were a real person and something happened to you. More than that, I have no idea how to respond to her when she asks me what happened to you! How do you explain “death” to a 2 year old? I was honest and told her you are in Heaven, but of course she has no idea what that means.

You would have been 6 years old today, but you will remain 19 months old forever in my heart. As time passes, these difficult days get easier as my grief transforms. When a difficult day is approaching, something minor and completely unrelated to you will break me and I’ll cry so hard that I can’t breathe. This is my way of releasing my human emotions, which is inevitable, and makes these difficult days easier to get through. It’s also my way of letting go, as I no longer want sadness to dominate and leave me unable to cope through these milestones I am forced to get through without you.

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“…And then there was you!” – November 14, 2012

For every year that passes between your birth and the present moment, I let go a little bit more.

In letting go, I choose acceptance.

In letting go, I choose to keep putting one foot in front of the other with my head held high so I can see the beauty before me.

In letting go, I choose this life I was meant to live and decide to make the most of every day.

In letting go, I choose not to let your absence drown me in sorrow, but instead keep looking for your presence everywhere I look.

I’m sad and I miss you, but I am no longer grieving for you. Thank you for the blessings and the lessons. Thank you for always being at my side. And thank you for helping me let go.

Today, I ask for your guidance in how to respond to your baby sister. Someday she will be old enough to tell her all about you. Maybe she’s ready for that now, but what if I’m not!? I feel you in her. Maybe that’s why I don’t miss you as much as I once did. But Aria isn’t you and will never replace you, and you will always hold a special place in our family.

Happy 6th Birthday in Heaven my sweet Angel. I love you more than life!

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#StayStrong❤

Code Blue: The Trauma of Watching My Husband Die (Part 1)

Our wedding day was magical, like a scene from a fairy tale. How could I possibly know that 3 short weeks later, I would stand on the sidelines as I watched my husband die right before my eyes.

After our wedding, we went away for 3 days, just the two of us. It was a great trip, but something didn’t feel right to me. I began to experience anxiety about my husband’s health. There was nothing to trigger it; he was perfectly fine. We both thought I was just paranoid.

It all began a week after we got home. I was at work when I received a text from him saying: “Don’t panic, but I’m on my way to the hospital.” Anxiety had been building inside me for a week and as I read those words, I felt it erupt. I could no longer see clearly and wasn’t able to read the rest of the message. I stood in the middle of the street unable to find my car keys when my boss offered to have someone drive me to the hospital.

There he was, laying in the same room my daughter laid when the medical staff tried so hard to bring her back to life. I pushed the flashback aside and saw that Tom looked absolutely fine, but something was going on with his heart and we wouldn’t know what was wrong until he could get an appointment with his cardiologist. We waiting on pins and needles as I treated him delicately, as though he were made glass. His symptoms would come and go. I couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep because I was absolutely terrified that something would happen to him.

And then it did.

A week later, it was just before midnight and we were settling into bed when he got up to use the washroom. I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling that came over me. Then he rushed back in and said: “We need to go to the the hospital. NOW!!!” I jumped up and threw clothes on as quickly as I could while my legs struggled to support my weight. I grabbed my purse, my phone, and a phone charger thinking it may come in handy. My mother was 6 hours away so I told my father he needed to come NOW and stay with our kids because we needed to leave. “I think Tom is having a heart attack!”

Tom was brought in by ambulance and I followed behind. We were back in that same hospital room. He was in a lot of pain and nothing was helping. His blood pressure dropped and they needed to stabilize him. He seemed calm for a moment and we were alone when he suddenly sat up and said he could feel a wave of pain coming. “Go get someone!!!” His heart monitor began to go wild and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

When you have experienced a trauma and sudden loss, you understand that bad things can happen at any time and know that people die. “I can’t lose him too… It can’t end like this… The Universe can’t be this cruel. I CAN’T LOSE HIM TOO!!!!”

I backed myself into the corner and was petrified. My heart and brain were fighting; my heart told me to be at his side so he knew he wasn’t alone, but my head screamed at me to stay out of the way! I knew the scene I was witnessing was traumatizing me and I tried to stare at the floor. There was a flashing blue light behind me and the words “code blue” were relating over and over on the speaker. I felt as though I were outside of my body as I watched helplessly as my husband died.

My legs were too weak and I couldn’t stand up. I was on my hands and knees and couldn’t breathe. So many nurses piled into the room, all standing around my husband as they pumped air into his lungs and tried to get his heart beating again.

A nurse brought me to another room, the same room I sat in when I was told Bella was gone. Tears streaming down my face, I pleaded with the nurse: “I can’t lose him too…” I was in shock and my fingers were frozen stiff. The nurse called my niece to come so I wasn’t alone.

Tom’s heart stopped for 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity passed by. I lived in a world without my husband for 2 whole minutes. Even though he came back to his body, Tom was in serious condition and time was not on our side.

He needed to get to another hospital where they could perform an angiogram to locate the blockage in his heart. Thankfully the medical team were able to stabilize him so he could make the trip. I was relieved that I was able to fly with him and our first plane ride together was by air ambulance. I was a 3.5 hour drive from home with nothing but the clothes on my back, my purse, cell phone and charger, and most importantly, my husband! I was not going to leave his side.

(To be continued…)

To read Part 2, please click HERE.

We Made History This Week!!!

I was recently approached by the editor of the Canadian Medical Journal of Sonography who asked to include my story, The Ultrasound Miracle in the journal. This is the first time in the history of the journal that they included a story from a patient. So here it is, my miracle, on the cover of the journal! And here is my story, officially in print in a medical journal which will be read by sonographers all over the country! It was a pretty incredible feeling to see my sonogram photo (or as I see it, a photo of my two daughters) on the cover of a medical journal. It’s pretty amazing that my story will reach the medical community in this way. I hope my story touches many more people and opens them up to a new reality where love never dies.

Journal cover and article © 2018 Canadian Journal of Medical Sonography

From Flashbacks to Breakdown

I went on a trip last night, back in time to 3 years ago. It wasn’t something I was expecting and took me by surprise. The flashbacks were intense and flooded me with panic. Watching the band play, dancing and having fun, how could I be so carefree hours before my entire world was about to shatter? I was clueless as to what was about to come.

The panic was suffocating me. Tears streamed my face; I couldn’t see and my legs were seizing. I needed to get out of the building but couldn’t see or walk. Tom took me by the hand and led me to the exit where I was finally able to open my eyes and breathe. I regained my composure and went back inside but instead of enjoying the concert, I tried to focus on anything other than the flashbacks that wouldn’t stop. Is Aria ok? Is something bad going to happen again? I shouldn’t have come! I fought back tears until the last song was over.  

My best friend was was so excited when she found out her favourite band was coming to our hometown. I attended the homecoming concert the night before Bella died. It had been my first night out in months. Last night, I felt like I was living that night all over again with a different awareness, knowing something terrible would happen. 

The arena was set up the same way and many of the same people were there. I have been more focused on the date of Bella’s anniversary than the events leading up to her passing and didn’t give it much thought, but while driving to town last night I realized that it may be difficult to be at this concert. If it wasn’t for my friends’ excitement about seeing Walk Off The Earth, the band that helped her through her grief after losing Bella, I wouldn’t have stayed but felt this was something I needed to do… for both of us. 

After the last song, the lights came on and as soon as I spotted my friend, I ran up to her and said “I did it! I got through it!” She hugged me then held me as I fell apart. The tears wouldn’t stop; the pain felt fresh and raw. I wanted to scream and run away. Memories were flashing before me, worries flooding my mind. Panic, regret, and pain. It was as though no time separated Bella’s death from the present moment 3 years later.

This is grief. It returns when you least expect it. Sometimes it will make its appearance when you’re in public, but this is beyond anyones’ control. Last night, I decided to stay and try to take control of my grief, but I lost the battle. I had a breakdown in public. I re-experienced trauma and released my pain in front of people who know me and many more who do not. 

It took a lot of strength and courage to get through last night. After the concert, I met one of the nurses who tried to save Bella. We talked for a long time and I am so deeply grateful for the words we exchanged. I am so thankful for all the people who tried to save my baby girl. Meeting her made it all worthwhile!

Grief isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows like the ocean. It’s unpredictable and sometimes has a life of its own. I felt like a failure last night but as I’m processing it, I’m seeing it in a different light. I miss Bella so much. I can’t erase what happened. I can’t go back in time. I can’t change a damn thing about any of it! But I can experience every aspect of this loss and grow from it. All I can do is try my best to #StayStrong❤️

The Pain of Mother’s Day for a Bereaved Mom

Looking at her photo breaks me all over again. 3 years have passed since this moment was captured, yet time has stood still for us. That dress, that smile… she’s still that same sweet little girl 3 years later.

As I write this, tears stream down my face and I choke as tension fills my throat. This isn’t how looking at photos of your child is supposed to make you feel. Memories fill my mind and take me back to a time when my heart was whole, full of love and laughter.

Realization sets in. His photo has changed 3 times since hers was put in that frame. He’s growing up before my eyes; meanwhile, her memory remains unchanged. It hurts, I can’t breathe. Being a mom isn’t supposed to feel this way!

IMG_3262Looking back is bittersweet. Memories are all I have left of her and going back to a time before pain of this magnitude ever existed feels incredible… until the moment passes and reality knocks me off my feet. Days like Mother’s Day have a way of bringing these beautiful memories to the forefront, but these cherished memories are accompanied by the painful reminder that all we once had is gone. Life will never be the same again.

Mother’s Day is painful for bereaved parents. Today, there is no escaping the reminders that a piece of us is forever gone.

The best we can do is survive.

It’s easy for others to forget as time passes. For us, forgetting is impossible. So here I am, in survival mode once again. I place a band-aid over my broken heart and force myself to get through the day one moment at a time.

I do not celebrate today, I simply breathe.

Today I am holding space for all the grieving parents. Please take a moment to remember our children who are no longer with us. Speak their name and help us remember that they are not forgotten.

#StayStrong❤️

 

Waiting on Grief at Christmas

Christmas is over, the new year is here, and I’m still waiting for grief to make her appearance. I have learned to embrace grief because she reminds me how important Bella was to me. In her absence, the reminder of love is replaced with guilt. I don’t understand why grief has remained absent this holiday season.

I knew it would be a different kind of Christmas this year, quieter than usual. Our focus was on our little family as it was our first Christmas that we were all together. It was Aria’s first Christmas and it was also our first Christmas with my youngest step-son. It was a beautiful love-filled day and seeing the excitement on the kids faces along with witnessing the love they have for one another was magical.

Christmas Day was also the anniversary of our engagement. Last year, Tom changed the meaning of Christmas for me by asking me to marry him. Christmas is now a day we celebrate us, our love, and the beautiful life we are creating together.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I surprised myself by founding joy in the little things. I enjoyed buying gifts for the kids every time I went into a store and I actually enjoyed wrapping gifts this year, something I used to find great pleasure in but haven’t enjoyed at all since Bella left.

Maybe this is a sign of healing. I am no longer certain that I can predict my grief, and even with this guilt that I feel, it’s much easier to deal with than a broken heart.

In the midst of grief, it may seem as though you will never find joy again. Christmas is an especially difficult time for anyone grieving as it is a time we focus on our family and when someone important is missing, it’s impossible to let it go! It’s a sad time for many…

But I’m here to offer hope. The holidays don’t have to be difficult forever!

For me, it was about finding a different focus at Christmas. Yes, Bella is missing in the physical sense, but her presence remains strong. She was playing with her sisters toys often throughout the holidays and we were often awoken in the middle of the night with a song coming from the toys in the living room. One night, the toys were rotating and as one song would end, another toy would begin playing a different song. This went on for quite some time. These occurrences remind us that Bella is still here.

For loss-parents (or anyone grieving) some days will be about survival and the focus will be getting through one moment at a time. But not every day will always be difficult. Not every Christmas will be difficult either. I’m thankful I have found another focus at Christmas and I hope that anyone who had a difficult holiday season this year can find a new focus next year.

As for my guilt, I understand that my lack of sadness cannot diminish the love I feel for Bella. It also doesn’t take away from how much I miss her and wish she was here. By accepting my reality and choosing to live a life of happiness, I am making myself and my family a priority. I’m sure grief will visit soon enough, but rather than try to understand her absence, I choose to accept and embrace this joy I feel. I’m certain that Bella doesn’t want me to feel sadness. She reminds me that “love heals,” and I am so blessed to be surrounded by love.

A Stranger Can Help Mend a Shattered Heart

After Bella passed, my brother-in-law asked me if I would like to have molds made of Bella’s hand and foot. It would be a small piece of her I could keep forever. I was in a fog and don’t remember the details, but I know the funeral home went above and beyond to meet my request and make the impressions. I will forever be grateful for this gift.

When the impressions were brought to me, I was staying with my parents and that’s where they remained for well over a year. I came across someone online who casted beautiful keepsakes (including hand/foot impressions) and I asked her if she could make something for me out of the impressions I had of Bella. She wasn’t sure what she could do but asked me to take photos of the impressions I had.

The molds of Bella’s hand and foot finally made it home! I recognized the black bag Bella’s urn came in, but when I looked inside, I assumed I was mistaken as my son’s drawings were inside. I put the bag on a chair in my kitchen and it somehow ended up on the floor. When I picked the bag up, I reached inside to see what else was inside. I knew the instant I felt clay that the bag was in fact from Bella’s urn. I realized the molds of her hand and foot were in there. I removed the first piece of clay; I was in disbelief as I looked at the broken piece of my daughter’s foot in my hand. Shock set in and grief shattered me all over again as I struggled to breathe. One of the last pieces I have of Bella was broken. I felt as though I was experiencing her death all over again. I wrote about the experience HERE.

Shortly after posting the story on my blog, my dentist contacted me and wanted to see the mold as she knew someone who may be able to help fix it. Months went by and I finally made the trip to meet with the man from the dental lab. He wasn’t able to help me, but told me about a local woman who does casting and purchases supplies from the lab. He also told me about a new chiropractor clinic down the street who casts feet for orthotics.

I felt as though I was on a wild goose chase for someone to help me. The man at the chiropractor/orthotic clinic didn’t know if he could help but offered to do research for me. I’m sure it was a little shocking to have a complete stranger stop by with her deceased child’s broken foot in a box desperately hoping for someone to fix it. I appreciate the kindness and respect shown to me but began feeling my situation was hopeless.

My next stop was to deliver a book to a dear friend. The visit was short but this woman’s energy always uplifts me. I told her about the impression of Bella’s foot and she immediately suggested I contact “Lynne.” I’m not sure how I knew who she meant but I instinctively knew she was right! “Lynne is the person the man at the lab told me about!” I immediately realized that “Lynne” was also the person I asked to make me a precious keepsake out of the molds in the first place. I never did get back to her.

I found Lynne’s business page, To Have & To Hold Belly Casting & More, on Facebook and immediately sent her a message. She got back to me within minutes and an hour later I was standing in her kitchen with Bella’s foot on her counter.

Love and compassion radiated from Lynne and I could tell she really wanted to help me; however, she didn’t have any experience fixing molds. I was asking her to step out of her comfort zone; Bella’s foot was irreplaceable and there was no room for error. We didn’t even know what type of clay the impression was made from. I felt Bella’s presence surround us and I felt complete trust in her. I left the molds with Lynne and knew she was capable of fixing this shattered mess. I trusted the process and put all my faith into the universe expecting a miracle!

Lynne kept me updated throughout the process. The first obstacle was determining the type of clay the impressions were made from. I contacted the director of the funeral home and asked her what type of clay she used; she wasn’t sure but said it was from Dollarama. I suddenly remembered a package of clay I had in my closet. I had an urge to buy it when I was at Dollarama one day. I have no idea why I bought it but figured I’d need it. (Thankfully, I always trust my intuition!) I snapped a photo of the package of clay and sent it to the funeral home director. She recognized the package. Unfortunately, this type of clay is very fragile and would eventually disintegrate over time.

Lynne consulted with many experts around the world and knew she would have to glue the pieces together, but finding a glue that would hold without damaging the clay wouldn’t be easy. The pieces needed to be strong enough to withstand the pressure to take an impression. Her first attempt failed and the glue didn’t hold, but the second type of glue held, but would it be strong enough?

I left the rest of to Lynne. She managed to make an impression of the glued mold, then made an impression of the impression. The process was long and stressful, but it was a success! I trusted that she would make something beautiful for me. She explained that the material she uses is as hard as stone and wouldn’t break.

After 3 months, I finally got to see the results! I picked up the gorgeous pieces and they were even more beautiful than I had imagined! Lynne created two shadowboxes, one with the imprint and one with the outprint. She even made a Christmas ornament for me so I would be able to touch Bella’s hand any time I want.

This incredible woman managed to give a piece of my daughter back to me. No one can bring Bella back, but she was able to bring her foot back, and that’s as good as it will get for me. This gift from a stranger, this random act of kindness, helped mend a few cracks in my grieving heart. A piece of Bella came home and is now on my wall for me to look at every single day, all thanks to one woman. She put countless hours into researching and even more hours completing the process. I know this was a complicated procedure, but I also know she had a little assistance from Bella.

Thank you, Lynne, from the bottom of my heart, for restoring something that is irreplaceable. Thank you for all your time and effort. You are a beautiful soul and I am so grateful for you and the work that you do!❤️

If you are in the Timmins area and know someone who experiences the loss of a child, please let them know about Lynne at To Have & To Hold Belly Casting & More and give them the option to have a precious keepsake created of their child. It’s a gift that is everlasting!