Thursday, August 25, 2011

6 months

 Today wasn't so bad. The kids kept me busy by being particularly horrendous, which i am thankful for. I didnt have time to think about what today is. All week i've been dreading it. I actually thought yesterday was the 25th for awhile.
   Today i should be taking a 6 month picture. Filling half the frame. A frame that still hangs empty in the hallway. All by itself next to Gabriel and Sarah's smiling little faces.  I need to cut the mat to fit it and put in his little footprints and handprints and an ultrasound picture from when he was 16 weeks old. I can't quite do it yet. So i just look at the empty frame there every day. I even touch it as i walk through, almost every time. I have no idea why i do that.. reaching for what is lost i suppose.
   Things are getting more hopeful. There are less hard days and some days when I can even feel good. I have stopped feeling guilty about the good days. It is a hard lesson to learn.. how to live without your child.  At first just smiling felt like a betrayal. Some days even getting up felt that way. But i read in a book about child loss that you should picture what it would be like if you were the one to die. Picture your child mourning and not getting out of bed. Living a life devoid of joy because of his/her longing for you. The advice was.. write a letter to your child. Would you want them to live that way? And then... take your own advice.
   So I'm trying. I've stopped trying to pinpoint every little second of his last week. I have finally realized that knowing the timeline will not undo what has been done.  I've stopped picturing my life with him, what he should be doing and what we should be like. Sometimes i do it, but not every day. Giving myself a break.. letting myself smile and enjoy things again. I'm finding that I enjoy work again and have been socializing to some extent. Although i have found that i'm not really comfortable unless I'm with another mother who has had a loss.
  Then you dont have to worry about the sadness that comes unexpectedly. Or the inappropriate comments that sometimes come out that make other people so uncomfortable. Or the fact that people avoid the subject all together when it is all you can think about.
  So i guess I'm learning to live with this. I have never really understood what people said when they  talked of a cross to bare. But that is what this is. You carry it always. Some days it knocks you down. Some days you are strong enough to balance it beautifully. Others it keeps you pinned to the floor.
   So this is our life. Living without Francis. One step in front of the other. Hoping tomorrow is another day that with God's grace I am strong enough.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


  We got the pictures of Francis in the mail today. A DVD sent by amazing people who worked on them for us so we could see him without at least some of the pain that reality brings.
   The nurses waited too long to take the photos. And the reality is that he was gone and things happen to little bodies. Wow.. that is painful to write.
   So after our first try at retouching ( which ended in me staring into space for quite some time)  i consulted a college friend. Who gave me the name of someone in a photo rescue organization. They actually restore photos for disaster victims.. but made an exception for me. I am eternally grateful because I have been afraid i would forget his face. And to be honest.. the original photos were too much of reality for me. These are better. But still are.. what they are.
   He had reddish hair like Gabriel.. but a full head of it. That i didnt know.  It sucks to not know.  All i have now is a blanket he was wrapped in when he was born, a few ultrasound pictures when he was 18 weeks old, some footprints made in ink and these. I wish i had known that i didnt have more time. I would have spent less time packing during those 9 months and more time singing to my baby.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Going home

My son would have turned four months old the day we took our "vacation" to Ohio this month. It should have been a joyous trip to show off our new son to my grandparents. The reality is that the day Francis was born was also the day my grandfather died.  The last trip that we made was a quick one two weeks before we lost our son... we went to bury Thomas... although genetics may say otherwise he was my little brother. So this trip was not easy.
    The first thing I did when we pulled up was walk next door to see Thomas' sister. I couldnt even look at her without crying. The last thing i remember when we left was Tom standing in the driveway... " Don't ever stop hugging them" He told us with the stricken look of grief on his face...  I tried.
   Thomas died at 23. How i remember him is a little boy with blond curls and a dirty face. As a baby he wouldnt stop crying until i held him. He was my little buddy. Nearly 7 years older than him...we were pretty close. I knew him nearly his entire life. Our neighbors weren't just people who lived next door.
   We were together all the time. We ate together, laughed, screamed at each other like only siblings do. There were four of us. We looked so much alike that people that didnt know us thought we were really siblings. Thomas would go with us to my mother's cabin frequently and I dont remember a time when he or his sister were not a daily part of our lives.
  When i heard about Thomas' death I immediately went into panic mode. I was very pregnant... but my midwife gave me clearance to go. I was only worried that i would go into labor there without my midwife... but i had to be there. I couldnt not go to bury him. I couldnt not be with my family.
   It turns out that it was one of my last days with my son. And i'm glad i went. For one i could never not be there for people i care about in a time like that. Another... i had some time with my baby.. i sat at the viewing for hours with my hand on my stomach. I drove to Columbus late at night to pick up my brother with my son and sister in tow laughing about the man next to us picking his nose. Yelling at Thomas for making us do this. Joking i'd go into labor. I wish i would have.
   I have gone over those days with a fine toothed comb. I prayed so much for Thomas that i offered all i could give. I spent a lot of time worrying that i offered something i didnt intend to. But it also gives me some comfort.
  As a Catholic i fully believe in purgatory. I know that Thomas has Francis in heaven.. a little angel to pray for him. Because the last few days of Francis' life were filled with my grief... I'm sure he knew who to pray for when he reached those gates. Who to reach for.
   I spent time with Thomas' mother. We grieved together losses that seem so intertwined. I feel closer to her now than i ever did.  We have different types of losses.. but the same. We want to hold our sons but cant.
  The weekend brought a trip to my father's house and going through photos of my grandfather for a memorial book. With all the rest my Pop has really not gotten many tears from me. I think he'd understand. He didnt want a memorial service or a funeral.. just a party. So that we shall and i'll save the tears for August.
  My visit to Thomas was not an easy one.  It was peaceful there. And we had a nice chat through tears. It is amazing how you can grieve someone but want to punch them at the same time.  I gave his spot a blessing and slowly walked away.  I have yet to visit my son's grave. I can't. Because to think of what is there is more than i can bare.  But this is our life.
  Some days the loss is so fresh and heavy i can hardly function. Others i feel at peace and okay. It is a roller coaster... one i can never get off.  So i'm praying for more of the latter. I know this wont ever get better.. just easier to cope with, easier to hide. And it has been a lot to lose.
   It has been four months... I'm still standing... I wish i had more strength. I wish that i could write of how i'm holding my own and about goodness that has come from this. But to be honest... I'm not sure.  I'm more patient with my kids, more in tune to what is important... I've seriously questioned my faith and rebounded from the doubt.  But still standing is honestly the best description ive got.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

not alone

I've spent the last month going on blogs and chat boards that deal with late term loss and am amazed at how many of us there are. I find it hard to believe that no one really knows that until you've joined this horrible club.
   I say horrible. . . but there is something to be said for not being alone. When i feel alone i start to wonder why. Why is not good to think about. I know the physical reason. But the why is so mind boggling. If only I had noticed decreased movement. What was i doing when he died.. where was i, where was our miracle?
  But when i start to wallow in my self pity I look at all the other women who have gone through labor knowing at the end they will not be holding their child. I can't believe they have done something to deserve this.. so why do i put that on myself?
  So i try to focus on my memories of the nearly 39 weeks of my son. It is getting hard because we are getting close to a year that he was conceived. Which normally isn't such an important date ( and kind of tmi), but i dont want to diminish any second of his short life. The last movement i really remember is when i took my brothers hand and put it on my belly. Francis was moving so much then. I long to ask him when that was because i just can't place that exact moment in between 8 hour car rides and funerals.  He was real and someone else felt him, had a moment.  Which was special to me because i'm not especially close to my brother any more.
  So i guess right now i dont know where i am. Every day is different. Some go so fast that it is a blessing  i dont get a chance to think.
The kids play angel baby with their dolls. And i often hear them talk about getting to heaven to take Francis' wings so we can have him back. What do you do? Just let them play.  They need to work through this too.
  I was watching a stupid TV show ( I'm ashamed to admit i watch every week) and there was a stillbirth. Of course I cried and my son came up to me and said, " Mommy it is okay. Francis is in heaven now and we can see him in the sky. He is looking down on us you know.  Jesus will give us another baby someday, so it is okay."
 It is unbelievable how the kids are a comfort. That they are given the words that will help you. I'm sorry that they have to understand this loss, I wish i could protect them from it. But there are days when i wonder how the women who lost their first born even get out of bed.
  But they do, and so will I. We will ride the waves of grief for the rest of our lives. And until Jesus makes good on Gabriel's promise we will hold on a little tighter and hopefully all we will have to deal with this summer is watching the garden grow.

Monday, May 2, 2011

a moment of peace

 I finally had a moment of peace the other day. Although somewhat short-lived it was nice to breathe for a few minutes.   I sat up on our hill in the garden trying to thin out our veggies and it was a quiet warm and beautiful day. I could look down at my two living children playing in the yard and could turn and look up the hill at the yard our Francis is buried in... I actually felt okay.
  The more i work in the garden with the kids and my husband the more managable things are. Although I could be happy to spend all my time out there. I feel closer to God with my hands in the dirt.
   I can't quite walk up the hill to the cemetery but I can plant things to remember him halfway between our life and his resting place. No matter how much i want to go back and miraculously go into labor before he was taken, i cant.

 Life goes on, with a lot of veggies.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Last big one

The last big hurdle was today... at least the immediate one. A woman in my son's class had her baby. We laughed and joked while pregnant together about having to be friends because all three of our kids would be in classes together. I've been dreading this. I watch her in Mass and can hardly make it through just knowing her baby is going to come and mine didnt. Then i feel bad because she must notice that i avoid her at all costs.. what do i expect, everyone's baby to die?
   So i made it through dropping off my son as her parents happily brought their grandchild to school. High on the new life that they just were given. I didnt start compulsively shaking until i hit the van, at least there is that. So now I just have to get over this angry at everything and everyone hump. I went from prayerfully handling this to all of a sudden wanting to just scream at everyone.
   There is one month between me and February. Besides a broken heart and baby weight ( yeah.. why would you voluntarily not nurse. )  that is about all I have left weighing me down.  Now if i could only get on facebook or walk down the street without seeing someone has given birth to a healthy beautiful child. It makes me so happy for them, but stabs me in the heart as well. To know how close i was to having that. Wondering what i have done to not get it.
   Our diocese is publishing Jason's column about Francis in the Catholic Witness. I am happy for him to get published, but desperate for nothing good to come from our loss, I dont want to justify it.  But i guess anything that happens from here on out is because of him. I suppose at some point there will be happiness again.
   At least it is spring. I can look forward to planting my garden and watching the flowers grow. It gives me some hope. And hopefully under the pile of crap that has been 2011... there will be something green and full of hope.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sheep may safely graze

A blog is supposed to be helpful in coping... so i'm giving it a try. Although I'm sure i'll regret it as soon as i post something. I've written like 10 posts and deleted them all...which is why I'm going to share something my husband wrote for our local newspaper as my first post.
  He shares our loss in his words. Which are much more hopeful and beautiful than mine. I wish i could be as faithful as he is.. but I'm struggling. But i pray every day for the strength to get through this.. with what is left of my heart. Because asking why will never get me the answers I need, you can quote me all the medical facts, but I still ask the same small question. I think i will live my whole life wishing for that week.. just one week, so i could hold my son on his birthday.. not just at his birth.
 So here is what Jason has to say about the stillbirth of our son...

When I first started writing this column three years ago I was scared to death of sharing anything personal. I hid my eyes behind my wife’s glasses and my mouth behind Dostoevsky, and I’d often go into a three-day tizzy when the slightest glimpse of my soul slipped onto paper
Slowly, the columns that delved into my personal life became the easiest to write, but I never would have thought I’d be able to write this one. As many of you already know, on February 25, my wife and I found out that our baby’s heart had stopped beating.
Our son, Francis Lesher, would have been perfectly healthy if he had been born a few weeks premature. At birth, a week before his due date, he weighed eight pounds and 15 ounces and measured 22 inches long. But sometime in the last months of pregnancy, the inner layer of Carolyn’s amniotic sac ruptured and an amniotic band floated near Francis for weeks, slowly wrapping around his umbilical cord. Amniotic band syndrome’s a completely unexplained disorder that affects about one in 3,000 pregnancies. Most of the time the damage occurs early in pregnancy. A baby could be born with webbed fingers or toes, even missing an arm or a leg. According to Ugeskr Laeger, a Danish medical journal, what happened to Francis occurs in one out of 100,000 to 150,000 births. When the pregnancy reaches full-term, with no other complications, the odds keep dropping.
I think I probably could have put that onto paper by the evening of February 27. It’s just the facts, and, honestly, the statistics about amniotic band syndrome mean very little to me. They float around in my mind, but I have no personal attachment to them.

Over these past two weeks I’ve come to realize that Francis’ death was not just a personal loss. The mindboggling number of hugs, flowers, tears, dinners, cards and prayers we have received made it clear that Carolyn and I are not carrying the pain by ourselves, and it’s the words of so many other parents who lost their babies let me find comfort in laying bear the most personal moment of my life.
Around 2 p.m. on the 25th, as Carolyn seemed ready to slide into  a medicated sleep before the beginning of the labor pains, our priest, Father John McLoughlin, took me aside to prepare me for my role in what was about to happen. 
During our talk he told me that I had to hold the baby, who we didn’t yet know was a boy. “Tell him you love him. Tell him everything you wanted to tell him. Tell him all your hopes and dreams.”
I cried from a fear I had never known in my life. I had never even dragged myself through the motions of getting dressed for the funeral of one of my grandparents, but there I was figuring out how to play the supporting role in bringing a little naked child into a world he would never see.
Thank you Father, your words have meant more than any others. An hour after our talk, after a blessedly short labor, I took my baby boy into my arms without a bit of hesitation in my heart.
I can hear myself saying, “He’s perfect.” I told him I loved him at least once, maybe a thousand times. I may have given him a kiss on his forehead. But I know I didn’t tell my own dreams for his life. They would have been trivial.
Instead, I held in my arms an entire life. When Francis was in my arms, his life wasn’t short or tragic. It was complete in a way words can’t approach. 
It wasn’t all the days Carolyn and I missed flashing before my eyes that fulfilled his life. I didn’t see his baptism, potty training, first communion, puberty, first date, first (and last) escort home in a police car, graduation, college dorm room, job, wedding, unemployment, marriage troubles, children and, after much heartache, peace of mind. I didn’t see him years from now holding my hand and praying as I died.
And God didn’t whisper into my ear His almighty plan for Francis, why he had to call his name in the same two-week span that Carolyn’s childhood neighbor -- her second brother --  stepped off a bridge in Indiana and her grandfather periodically slipped back into conciousness during his last days in hospice.
I wasn’t even comforted by the vision of a departed loved one squeezing tight to Francis’s soul as I cradled his tiny broken body, eternally free of sin and sorrow.
I wish I could share exactly what our short time together was, instead of just what it wasn’t. I wish I could find another phrase to describe it because the only one I’ve got left feels like evidence that I’m crazy, profane, or at least betraying my wife and other two children.
It was the most beautiful moment of my life, and when I put him down my left arm ached from top to bottom like I had been cradling every bit of the world’s suffering that I could handle.
Beauty and grief have walked side by side every moment of my life since then. My wife and I share an impossibly deep love as we pull through each day devoid of joy. In suffering, I understand a greater compassion for and from every single person I meet.
My few minutes with Francis in my arms won’t wipe away any tears, but cradling that much beauty did take away every inch where anger, despair and self doubt could have worked their way into my soul. The statistical likelihood that I should be holding him right now could drive a person insane. I have no doubt that truly happy days lie in the future as time slowly heals our pain.
And even though time will also steal tiny fragments of the few memories we’ve got, we’ll always be able to hear our son’s voice in one eternal plea. Francis was supposed to be his middle name, but, for very personal reasons, it’s the only name we gave him. It’s a name he shares with the grandfather Carolyn lost just under 18 years ago, and the name of the 13th-century saint tied to this, one of man’s most beautiful prayers:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen