Is This It?

I’m a self-reflective person by nature. I’ve always sat back and watched a new group of people, learning the social context before participating which has good and bad traits. One of the things I’ve learned the most about it, though, is the art of listening to my own answers. Sometimes I just need to know what in the hell is real in all of the opinions and gossip and conflicting studies and “facts”, and I ask myself questions to find out.

Around this time of year – when Mother’s and Father’s Day roll around – I tend to take a step back and ask myself a lot of questions. Occasionally I ask about small day-to-day things like if I’m responding to people in a way that they knew I was being honest and intentional. Every year now, though, I land on one big question that I ask myself several times between February and June:

Is this it?

I mean that in both of the ways you’re asking, by the way.

Is this all there will be?

So many people have come and gone in my life that learning the tools to work through grief is a huge focus of my life – is that going to be my hallmark of value and experience? Helping people heal because I’ve experienced death so often? Let me say before I go further that I don’t think that’s a horrible thing – I love helping people and that’s clearly a place that has my heart. But… I’m really tired of people dying around me. For real.

So is that it, then?

As grieving parents we get so lost in the memories we don’t get to make that we take so long to learn how to trust ourselves again, but there’s another side to the question if you let yourself take two more steps forward.

Is this it?

Is this all that I’m capable of now?

Am I going to allow myself to be so shriveled without Luke and Jonah that I can’t take any steps forward in my life? Have I already given the best I have in my first 33 years that I don’t have anything left with which to make my children proud of their dad?

Am I really giving up so easily?

If I’m able to keep perspective, there will never be a day that the answer to that question is yes. So many parents out there have amazing things because they refused to let the death of their child be the end of their spirit too. If I’m going to let myself have the easy way out and just stay in that dark space I should never have begun at all, because the dream of being a dad began before they were born and won’t stop after they are now gone.

Pick up the pieces and ask yourself the question. Is. This. It? Sit in the first answer for a minute because this shit sucks. We will always need to take a minute to feel the wave of grief when it comes, but don’t let it stay – move on to the second question.

What do you have left?

This will be the third Father’s Day that I’ve asked myself that very question and truthfully, the action isn’t always the same but the effort is. At any given moment I’m giving everything I have left, and that’s what I would want my boys to learn from their dad. In every pitfall, every stumble, and every challenge, I gave it everything I had whatever the outcome.

I hope as Father’s Day comes, you can allow yourself to just BE. If you’re reading this as a mom and aren’t sure how to approach it, trust your instincts. It’s going to be hard but you’ll make it together. If you’re the dad reading this and know every bit of the heartache I’m talking about, trust yourself to ask AND answer the questions with intention. You don’t have to stay in the shadow that losing your child casts. Just take one step and consider the strength that it took to get this far.

You haven’t given up yet. Don’t start now.

#TeamJonah

 

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Your Freedom. Your Purpose.

Cassy and I had always planned to on having her home with our children. We did everything we could to scrap and save each month, paying down our debts, paying off our cars and maintaining them so they would last as long as they could. We decided as a family that if we could position ourselves appropriately, we would have the ability to raise our children on a daily, moment to moment basis.

So we worked. I made spreadsheets (because of course I would). We revisited our progress every couple of months, talking about how our payments would snowball into each other until we were finally at the point that we could make plans. When we became pregnant with Luke it became real. Like, ‘we had better get this thing moving’, real. We weren’t ready yet, but we were going to do this thing one way or another.

We never thought that having children at home would be the hard part.

Losing Luke was so difficult in so many ways. The dreams and memories we were preparing for were ripped right out from under us and all of the saving and spreadsheeting we did was a cruel reminder that we were no closer than we had been six months ago simply because we couldn’t bring our first baby home. To worsen the blow, Cassy had been looking forward to leaving a type of work that was a grind on her heart – she was a creative person working in a grey cubicle world, pushing papers and building schedules. It was draining for her. She went from waiting to leave that world with Luke to wondering if she was going to leave.

We went through the same cycle a year later, only with Jonah we went full term. Jonah never came home, and neither did our hopes and dreams of starting life as a family together. We were saving enough that Cassy could change jobs when she wanted, and work where she wanted, but so much time was spent waiting for our children to come home that we never really got to a point where the time felt right. It has been three years of waiting, working and hoping. And we were spinning in circles.

So we shifted our perspective.

We had enough baggage in our first house at this point that we decided to move – a fresh start in a new house that would have a chance to see a child in its nursery the first time we made it instead of the third. We loosened our spending belts a little bit, allowing some things that we hadn’t while we were building for the life we wanted as parents. And we took a deeper look at the reasons behind Cassy leaving her office beyond family-building. It became more important to choose the things that made her happy – or at least find things that fit her better – outside of the context of being parents.

After a few months of near-constant discussion, but we made the choice to trust in her skills, refocus our vision, and bet on ourselves. Aside from reduced bills, one of the gifts from Luke and Jonah that we never thought of was the amount of savings we have been able to accrue over these last three years. It ebbs and flows like any savings account does (and sometimes more than I want it to), but it is enough to float us through for several months if that’s what it takes to find the work that fits our needs but also Cassy’s heart.

Without Luke and Jonah, this wouldn’t have been possible.

This Memorial Day Weekend, I want to encourage you to think about the things you’re doing and the freedoms you have because of those we have lost. Look at your neighborhood and community and give some heartful consideration to the incredible amount of struggle that has preceded all of the smiles and laughter you see every day. We grieve because they aren’t here, but we also work to make them proud and that includes doing what it takes to truly believe in yourself.

Our children were the beginning of our dreams, not the end.

It’s time to evolve in our grief and take the next step. Will you?

#TeamJonah

 

The Evolution of Grief

I’ve thought a lot about how I handle this Almost Fatherhood and what I want out of my grief process.

Wait, what? You’ve never thought about it like that? Oh surrrre, you can absolutely get things out of grief. For example, we go to funerals and memorials to share memories with people whose hearts had been touched both by a person’s presence and their absence. We look for peace in places of brokenness and tend to find it one way or another, it’s just easier when that person has led a full (or at least longer) life. In our weakest moments, we yell, scream, stew, and destruct to release frustration and tension. We’re all looking for some sense of peace.

But what about when it’s your child that died? How do you find peace in that?

Answer: you evolve.

We have to establish a new normal on this side of parenthood and it takes time to learn how to function in a world that looks like this. Sometimes it takes finding groups of people who do crafts and memorial activities together or meeting for coffee every once in a while, where peace means knowing someone understands like you do. Other times – in my world – it means going for a bike ride or building something. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking in longer terms, where it’s more about my long-term impact. I’m a person who needs to have a heartful connection and it just isn’t there right now. My work – while (mostly) consistent and important to my community – doesn’t hit me anywhere CLOSE to my feels. I’ve been drawn to helping people through child loss somehow.

Maybe it’ll be in my off-time or maybe it’ll come in a career shift, but the point is I’ll never know if I’m not open to where life is taking me. I think a lot about what happens when I don’t feel the need to write any more about Jonah and Luke, specifically if I’ll be ok with not helping people through writing, and if I’m fully honest I don’t think I’m ok with that. I’m built for more than this. But the longer I stay in the same place, grieving the lives that I don’t get to see and angry at the world for dealing me this hand, the longer everything goes on without me. Carrying my children with me has led me this far and I’ll be damned if I can’t take them with me.

What I want out of my grief process is to let my children make me better. I want it to change me in ways I would never have had the chance to without having been through this absolutely ridiculous course of events, and I want to make the lives of other people better because I was strong enough to look at this heartache and choose to be fully engaged in it. There certainly are times where I’m bitter and angry, but I have made the active decision time and again to sit in it, give it the time it needs, and then take another step.

So I’m looking forward with an open, though heavy, heart. I’m curious to see what is coming down the road but I’m doing my best to let them be the ones to lead me there. My boys know what’s in my heart, and they’ll be the ones to help me find a deeper level of peace. But there’s a question in all of this that needs to be answered:

What are you doing that is holding yourself back? 

If you’re afraid of the unknown, you might as well stop now because we can’t control any of this. And if you’re hoping for it to get easier, your best chance is to stay where it’s comfortable – just know that you can’t grow where you’ve always been planted. So be honest with yourself and let it change you. Feel the sunshine on your face and know that you’re supposed to be there, at that moment. It’s time to move forward, one way or another. I hope you come with me.

Over two years without Jonah, over three without Luke… and they’re still holding me together. We miss you, boys. Love you always #TeamJonah

A Little Boy’s Birthday

Jonah’s second birthday has come. I’ve had a few people this week, in particular, ask how it’s been, and if today is making it more stressful. I described it as being the peak of the mountain this time around – I’ve already spent all of that time climbing uphill and trudging along like I’m inches deep in mud.

Today is the view.

After all of the build-up and the time I’ve spent trying to live day to day getting here, we get to disconnect from the grind and go spend time with him. We’re spending time in nature hiking and watching the Pacific Ocean crash onto the beach. No more uphill, no more mud.

I’ve spent so much time forcing myself to sit in this Almost Fatherhood, confronting all of the things that I’ve missed out on after losing other family members that I feel like I can carry the weight this year. You never really move past it, but you get used to the heaviness after it becomes you. There is a peace to his birthday that I can’t really explain other than having confidence that he’ll show up like he always does to let me know things are alright.

That our little family is living this life together no matter the distance.

If you’re reading this I want to share a message very specific to where my heart is right now. I want you to know that there will never be another day like today. The people around you either build you up or bring you down; the job you spend the majority of your life at moves your closer to your goals or further away; your focus and willingness to take action makes the difference.

My life without Jonah has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, knowing that one day I’ll see him again but that it likely won’t be anytime soon. But my life after learning to trust that he will find me has been one of the most grateful experiences I’ll ever have. Because of my son, the things I want for myself and my family are starting to come back into focus and the things I need to accomplish to get there are much more clear. The sacrifice to take those steps is nothing compared to where we’ve been these past three years.

In the child loss community, it’s pretty common to come across things people say that are simply off base because you can’t know unless you’ve been there. But the thing is, we wouldn’t want them to. So don’t feel sorry for the places my life has taken me recently -take solace in knowing that I’m here writing my heart out in the hopes that you will find something within you to own all of the wonderful and terrible things in your life. I hope my Jonah experience inspires you to live this day on purpose and encourages you to love openly; to live aggressively.

On my special boy’s birthday, take action on something that you’ve been afraid or “too busy” to start. If you’ve wanted to write a book, sign up for a class, ask someone on a date, start a business, get a pet – whatever – you have time to do it. Every day you spend waiting for the right time is a day you won’t get back. Live your best life, and let it be inspired by a very special little boy.

Every child changes the world, but not all of them get to do it themselves.

We love you so much, Jonah. Keep us close. Happy Birthday #TeamJonah

The Jonah Complex

I went down a rabbit trail on the internet the other day – as one tends to do – and happened upon something I didn’t have any intent on finding. We all have things come in this kind of parenthood that we can’t explain in any other way – our children are reaching out for us, letting us know they are ok. Letting us know that we are ok. My path took me to a theory about people striving for something but stumbling on their fears. It was called the Jonah Complex. Of course, I bought an entire book for its six-page excerpt that was the only thing I really cared about… also as one tends to do.

We hear so much about people who are afraid of failing. As the thought goes, we become paralyzed by the fear of failing that we never take that first step to change our situation. What’s funny about that theory is that while it applies to so many situations in life, I can’t actually say that I think it applies to my Almost Fatherhood. I’m not afraid of failing them anymore. I don’t even think I could define what failing at this would be, save forgetting them in some way and let’s be honest – that isn’t something we can do. It goes against every cell in our bodies.

What I am, is afraid of succeeding.

The Jonah Complex is about the fear of one’s own greatness and I immediately clung to it. We get so paralyzed by our loss and all of the things come with it, and when we begin to come out of it we want to do something to carry their life and spirit on. We create non-profits in their honor or write books. We fundraise for a cause, create retreats for loss families, and establish doula networks nationwide. We do our part to effect change in the world around us, be it a small support group or something larger. We build furniture and take on races as a way to channel our heartbreak. Greatness in the world of child loss isn’t necessarily about a level of success as it is about finding something you can use to build trust in yourself again and find some peace.

Jonah is challenging me – challenging all of us – to step outside of the walls we’ve built and live a good life in his spirit and in that of all of our children. Maybe you’ve wanted to write a book but it seems like SUCH a daunting task – start it anyway. Maybe you’ve been looking to find a way to stay home with other kids or start a business. Or maybe you just want to get to a place where you can go through the day and smile when you think of them instead of break down.

Take the challenge.

Live your best life, knowing they are cheering you on and want to see you achieve your dreams. It doesn’t have to be a multi-step plan and it doesn’t need to be anything you don’t want it to be. It just has to be something. Fear of failure is real, but a fear of greatness shouldn’t keep you from being a shining beacon of hope for the world.

If you’ve made it this far you’re already powerful. It’s time to take it a step further – do it for them, and do it on purpose.

#TeamJonah

A Christmas for All of Us

I used to think about what it would be like when I didn’t feel like I needed to write anymore. I used to love writing years ago, telling stories and sometimes making things up as I went were just another way to lighten the mood and make people laugh, and the story-telling nature of writing for Jonah came as a natural outlet. I’m not crafty, I’m not as musical as I once was, and there’s a pretty decent chance that the dog that won’t quit barking down the street can draw better than I can… so I wrote.

Lately I’ve been talking about it in those terms though – the need to write. There aren’t many resources for dads and going to meetings that are 100% populated by moms before I arrive don’t really bring about the kind of comfort that makes you want to share no matter the intent or inclusion they allow me. This became my most honest grief space – where I could digest the things that I have a harder time feeling comfortable saying to other people around me in the course of conversation. But it wasn’t an impulse and it was far from a desire to write. It was desperate. I needed to get a message out our send something to my boys, or just get enough out that I could function again. There were times that I couldn’t see the screen because of how emotional it was to get the words. I don’t know what would have happened had I not had that outlet, but I can tell you that it wouldn’t have had anywhere near the impact.

But the curiosity called – when would the time come that I didn’t feel the need to write as strongly as breathing? Would I be ready to step away and live a life that didn’t include sharing the messages of an Almost Father? What would change in my life that would allow me that freedom? Lastly, an most important – would the things I have said and done been enough? And that’s the kicker, because nothing will ever be enough to stop sharing Jonah’s spirit. There will never be something to take the dreams I had of our life with Luke and shape them into something that fits their space in my heart.

Thankfully, that’s not what any of this is about. I’m realizing that I don’t feel that desperation to write like I used to because I’ve finally learned to trust that I won’t forget them – I remember exactly what Jonah looked like. I can see his delivery, the sunrise the morning after he was born, and I have him around me in one form or another every day. Losing both of my children taught me lessons of grace and resilience that have changed my life, and give me a place to compare peaks and valleys with as my days go on. We’ve been to hell – twice – and made it back to share the spirit they would have carried themselves. I’m still writing because I want to share their story, not because I have that deep-seeded yearning to – most of the time. (And really, who better is there to tell their story than the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends who all dreamed-dreams along with us?)

And that’s the nugget in all of this that has been so hard to find – that’s this year’s gift that I could never have had the perspective to ask for. A time comes where you form a relationship with them that is so strong that no one else could understand. The days where you feel absolutely crushed but see a rainbow on the drive home. Where you are fighting through the most emotional of days and see the sun shining through dark clouds as far as you can see, illuminating a field in the distance that looks like an oil painting. Or – as happened to me last week – you go swimming to help the recovery of a back injury and find a whale-tail sticking out of the kids pool, greeting you on the way out of the locker room. I’ve walked past that darn whale so many times and looked right past it to the people around or the pool I’m headed to, but it hit me that at this time in my life – where I’m having trouble walking upright, playing with my nephew, and helping around the house because of an injury – Jonah pops up right in front of me three days a week. I’m sure there are ways to explain how these things came to line up, but you can’t explain the emotional impact they have on my heart.

As you go through this Christmas Day looking at stockings that won’t get used, at children opening gifts knowing there are always some missing, or holding ornaments in your hands instead of children in your arms, don’t looked past the things they are putting right in front of you. They show up in our lives in so many different ways to carry us through and we spend so much time doing the most ridiculous adult things that we don’t stop and see them. In all of the heart ache we both have this Christmas without our children, there is a fullness in knowing that they find me just as often as I look for them.

May the grace of the season find you and keep you. From all of the pieces of my broken heart being held together by four little hands, I hope your whales find you too.

Merry Christmas, from our entire family to yours #TeamJonah

 

Photo credit: BJ McCartney

They don’t tell you everything

As I continue in my grief journey as an Almost Father, I’m learning there are a million  things they don’t tell you when it happens. Little ones, like when your heart skips a beat after finding out someone is pregnant or doing your best not to say something that would bring up your pain instead of encourage their excitement. They can’t describe how strange it is that everything has changed even though very few things look like it. And there will never be a way that anyone can coach you through how you need to grieve – they can only share things that helped them (or didn’t). In the spirit of speaking up about the difficulties we face after loss, here are a few things I wish I had been told.

Self care means something different now. Where before you would go for a spa day or golfing to get away and relax, it’s more likely to happen now because you need something else to focus on. Time helps you to learn how to get used to keeping your guard up – which makes things easier – but it doesn’t ‘heal all wounds’ as they say. After losing a child, more time means keeping your guard up every. single. day. But if you don’t do things to find some form of outlet – to let as much out as you can or need to – you’ll find yourself in a place you didn’t mean to go and don’t know how to return from.

Empty arms hurt more than an empty crib. We’re coming into Jonah’s second birthday in a few months and three years since we found out that we lost Luke, and having all of the nursery things still hurts, but it isn’t what breaks us. Seeing the memories we have made now with them in mind, knowing we can never hold them again… Empty arms will always be more painful than all that other stuff for me. Our Jonah bear and the others help with that, but the ache will always be there.

The conflict is real. Life doesn’t stop because we came home by ourselves. You will have a hard time with pregnancies and births around you and the guilt doesn’t help. Sometimes you’ll want to say something but not know what, and you’ll take a step back instead – that’s okay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to ‘keep scrolling’, text instead of call, or leave early because of that very conflict. There is nothing wrong with wanting all of the wonderful things for those around us while still needing to protect our hearts.

You are strong because you have to be. So many people will say things like ‘I don’t know how you do it’ or ‘You seem to be doing well”, and you may be. But the kind of strength we find after loss came about because the only choice we have is to get out of bed and participate in life. The greatest honor we could give those who didn’t come home is change in their name and sometimes that means taking that first step, every day. Some days you’ll have less to give than others, but give it all to do well by them. We’re still parents – we just teach life lessons in different ways now.

I don’t know that there will ever be a day that I don’t carry them with me, both in my frustration and in my celebration. But the more things I do in their spirit the further their impact goes, and that’s the only victory I need. Protect your heart and do good things.

#TeamJonah