In the Raw – Our God is in Control

This is the last post in my weekly series called “In the Raw.” These are posts that I wrote early (2-3 years) into my grief following the deaths of our identical twin daughters in 2011. Writing helped me to process what I was feeling, and my hope is that by sharing these, newly bereaved parents will recognize that they are not alone in their thoughts and emotions.

This post was originally written in May of 2014.


Three years ago today, it was Mother’s Day and I delivered my twin daughters by emergency c-section at 28 weeks and 2 days.

Fiona had died eight weeks earlier and Brigid made her way into the world silently.  She was whisked away to the NICU, and I didn’t even get to look at her.  I remember I had to beg to see Fiona because she looked so bad that they didn’t want to show her to me.  I am so thankful that I insisted. I had to tell them that I knew she was not going to look normal, but I still wanted to see her.  

You see, the morning before my in utero surgery was the last time I felt Fiona move.  I needed her to stay alive until the surgery or else we couldn’t have it.  That morning after a fitful, sleepless night, I cried and rubbed the spot on my belly where I knew she was – pressed up against my right side – and prayed that she had made it through the night.  And she gave me a little kick as if to let me know. Our sweet girl held on just long enough to save the life of her sister, and I wanted to hold her and thank her for that.  The nurse offered to take photographs of her for us.  I am so grateful that she did.

Another nurse snapped a photo of our little Brigid in the time between the removal of her C-Pap mask and her intubation so that I could see her precious face. She even made a little pink bow for her and put it in her hair for the photo. The thoughtfulness of this action was so moving to me.

I was wheeled into the NICU to see Brigid and then back to my room to recover.  But that recovery did not include rest.  It involved visits from clergy and bereavement counselors and people asking what we wanted to do with Fiona’s body and NICU doctors giving me updates and packets of information about funeral homes.  It was so much to process – one tiny baby hanging on in the NICU and the other needing me to make decisions about how to “handle” her remains.

I was overwhelmed.

I can remember those feelings every year – trying to be strong and to navigate everything while feeling so emotionally and physically weak.

And this year is no different.  Except that, despite all of my could bes and should bes from the past week, I am reminded, kindly, gently, by a Father who has never been anything but loving and trustworthy and good to me, that He is.  There is no subjunctive with Him. No conditions that need to be met.

He IS.  He WAS then, and He WILL BE.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner, as I was looping my could be and should be thoughts around in my head earlier this week and trying to find relief in the indicative, but this song that we used in Brigid’s memorial service is such a good reminder.  It’s from Steven Curtis Chapman’s album, Beauty Will Rise, which he wrote after the tragic death of his own three-year-old daughter.

This is not how it should be

This is not how it could be

But this is how it is

And our God is in control.

I believe He was in control from the very beginning, that He has a plan for us that included allowing the death of our girls, and that we will be reunited with them again one day.

I can’t wait for that day.

In the Raw – Blessed be the Name of the Lord

This post is part of a weekly series I’m sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote in the early stages of my grief from the loss of our twin daughters in 2011, and my hope is that by sharing them, newly bereaved parents will recognize that they are not alone in their experience.

This post was originally written in June of 2013.

Job was able to say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” because he had experienced the goodness of the Lord in his life. When we suffer or feel afraid, it is good to remind ourselves of the ways the Lord has been good to us – both in our own lives and in the many examples He has given us in His Word.

He has proven himself trustworthy time and again, and has even entered into the most horrible suffering Himself, all for love of us.


After Brigid died, it took about four or five weeks for the numbness to start to wear off, and for us to really start feeling the weight of our grief.  It started becoming more difficult to carry instead of easier.  I also started to feel like the Lord, whose presence and comfort was almost physically tangible to me in the days and weeks before, was pulling away.  I remember standing in the kitchen and washing dishes and crying, saying to him, “No, please don’t go!  Please don’t leave me!”

It was right around that time that we had another devastating tragedy hit our family, and I truly felt like someone was holding my head under water.  Like I couldn’t even get a second to come up for air.  It physically felt hard to breathe.  My heart was heavy. My chest had a weight on it.  It was literally crushing.

I felt like Job.  Remember him?  Everything was going just fine for Job until one day, God allowed him to be tested.  God removed His protection for a time and tragedy befell Job.  Not just one tragedy – a series of devastating events, one immediately after the other.  So close, in fact, that the scripture says that while one messenger was still speaking to Job, informing him of something horrific, the next messenger would arrive, with his own tale of woe.

After all of the messages had been relayed to Job, he responded by saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This seems so hard to believe, that someone could experience all of those things and yet have that response.  Surely, anger at God would have been justified in this case?  And yet, Job did not sin by cursing God.  And this was prior to any of the good news that comes to us in the New Testament with the arrival of Jesus and the promises He gave us.  We learn there that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28), that there is victory over death, and that, while even Jesus the healer wept at the death of his dear friend, Lazarus, we don’t have to grieve like those who have no hope for seeing their loved ones again. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

When Brigid died, I was challenged by the book of Job.  I had people telling me it was okay to be angry at God – that He could take it.  And I knew this was true.  But I had a lifelong relationship with God and Jesus.  I knew that trials and suffering were part of life and that they weren’t to blame for them.  I knew that trials strengthened our faith.  And I remembered that when, at the end of the book, Job even dared to question, “Why?” God sat him down and told him of all His vast knowledge and power.  Sometimes, even sarcastically – “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:4)  I knew what that meant.  Sarcasm is my second language.

So I asked God to help me understand.  I didn’t want to ask why, and I didn’t want to curse Him.  But I needed help understanding how a loving Father could have answered all our prayers for her healing with, “No.”  And then He answered me.  It was like a comforting hug.  Like a band-aid on my broken heart. I shared that answer when I gave Brigid’s eulogy.

I felt like God comforted my heart by helping me understand that the suffering we were experiencing, though it felt like a heavy cross to bear, was light and momentary and achieving for us an eternal glory. (2 Corinthians 4:17) I felt like He was teaching us about Himself in our suffering, and giving us a perspective on eternity, compassion for others, and a hope for heaven that we had been lacking. In doing so, He was refining us in the fire and making us more like Christ. 

In hindsight, I think the pulling away I felt in those weeks after Brigid died was like a parent who lets go of his child’s bike as he learns to ride with no training wheels.  In those early, wobbly trials, the parent is still holding on, but at some point, he has to say, “Okay, I’ve taught you all I can, but you won’t learn how to use it unless I let go.  Now you just have to do it.”  He is not abandoning the child; it is in love that he lets go.  He is still right there, but eventually, the child has to take all of the wisdom and instruction imparted by the parent and actually put it into practice.   He has to take the words and turn them into knowledge and understanding.  There is no better way to put the words of your faith into practice than with a trial, and the death of a baby is the ultimate trial.  I wonder if any of this understanding would have been possible without going through that dark valley.  On the other side of it, I have to say that I don’t think it would have.  We are truly changed.

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

Of course, we still struggle daily with sin in our lives and we still feel the weight of grief. It’s not like now we’ve learned this valuable lesson and we don’t have anything else to learn.  We treat each other unkindly and our grief can translate into a short temper or anger or distraction that feels like laziness.  We forget to love God and one another.  Yesterday was a particularly hard day for me on all of those fronts.  Not until we reach heaven will those things be over.  But we know that one day, he will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:4)

We sang this song in church yesterday, and it has been in my head ever since.  That verse in Job that says the Lord gives and the Lord takes away can be of little comfort, unless we also combine it with the knowledge that He loves us, that He works all things together for our good, that there are rewards in heaven for our suffering on earth, and that we will be reunited with our loved ones again one day.

If He is worthy of praise when good things happen, then He is worthy of praise when bad things happen.  He doesn’t change.  He is good.  I hope that encourages you like it does me.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

In the Raw – What Could Have Been

This post is part of a series called “In the Raw.” These are posts that I wrote earlier in my grieving after the loss of our twin daughters in 2011.

Along with the “What ifs,” parents are often haunted by the thought of what could or should have been, wondering what their family would look like if their child had survived. Sometimes people say (and the parents themselves may wonder if it’s true) that they are “dwelling” on their loss too much by thinking about these things, but I don’t think we can help it.

This post was originally written on May 6, 2014.

My girls’ birthday is May 8th. They would be eleven years old this year.

It was a Mother’s Day the day they were born, too, and while my own thoughts about what could have been have subsided since then, I still have fleeting thoughts of what it might be like to celebrate the birthday of identical twin girls, and how their presence in the day-to-day life of our family would change things.

Instead, one of them was stillborn and the other lived just 47 days. They are still a part of our family, just in a different way. It has taken a long time, but I have come to resign myself to God’s will for them and for us, recalling that “all of the days ordained for us were written in God’s book, before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Do you think about what could have been, too?

I’d love to know your story in the comments below.


My girls’ birthday is in two days, and I have had a pit in my stomach since the weekend.

They would be three years old this year.  We should be having a party with pretty dresses and streamers and balloons and bubbles, and they should be giggling and twirling and blowing out three candles on two birthday cakes.  Or one.   (I tend to imagine myself being overly ambitious in these daydreams.)

I was listening to NPR on Saturday afternoon as I was organizing our boys’ bedroom.  All three of our boys share a room right now and the mess can get out of hand rather quickly.  As I worked, the TED radio hour came on and they were talking about languages.  I heard this talk by a Vietnamese teacher of Greek and Latin named Phuc Tran. In it, he talks about how our language affects our perceptions.  Specifically, he talked about the subjunctive mood, which is present in English and several other languages, but is not found in his native Vietnamese.  The subjunctive is a verb tense that deals in the hypothetical.  In wishing, in hoping, in possibilities.  Phuc talks about a near miss that his family had when he was a child in Saigon.  They made a last-minute change that saved their lives, as a bus that they were going to take pulled away from the station, was hit by artillery, and exploded.  He implies that because of the subjunctive mood in English, he was able to spend time thinking about what could have happened while his Vietnamese-speaking family, with their indicative mood, could not.  The former French teacher in me was intrigued.  Le subjonctif and I have a love-hate relationship.

Whether or not the lack of the subjunctive in Asian languages prohibits them from being able to contemplate what could have been, this got me thinking about grief and loss and the subjunctive.  When a person lives a full life, grows old and dies, we are not usually left wondering what could have been.  It was.  They were.  They lived their lives and then they died.  But when a child dies, there are so many possibilities that are taken away, from their appearance to their personality to what they would have done with their lives and how our lives would be different with them living in it.  There are an infinite number of possible outcomes, each with its own subtle nuances,  and we will never get to experience any of them.  We are left with this void and wondering what would have filled it.

But is that a good thing?

That is the question that Phuc brings up in his talk.  The “dark side” of the subjunctive is that we spend time thinking about what could have been when the reality is that it just wasn’t.  But I can’t imagine that there are mothers out there, even without the subjunctive mood, who aren’t wondering what life would be like with their children.  Is that just my cultural – or linguistical – bias? It’s hard to imagine life without the subjunctive.  It’s the basis for so much of our film and literature.  Imagine reading an O. Henry story without wondering what would have been if something had not happened.

A particularly trying day with my kids on Sunday left me thinking a lot about those things.  The two hours spent getting everyone dressed and out the door for, and then sitting through, church leave me feeling steamrolled, and maybe it was because of the girls’ upcoming birthday, but on that particular day, I spent a lot of time wondering if I could have managed if my twins were with us. And if they were, would we still have our sweet youngest daughter?  If things are difficult and I feel overwhelmed with four, am I glad that I don’t have two more?  Did God know I couldn’t handle it?

You can imagine that running that loop of questions through your mind for a day is futile and defeating, and doing it while meeting the needs of four little ones is quite exhausting.  It was indeed a dark side and my mood matched it. So it got me thinking about what it would be like to live in the indicative.

Our twins died.  They are not with us.  I don’t spend time dwelling on possibilities because that is a waste of time and effort.

I have to admit that it was a bit refreshing, but I couldn’t maintain it long before the  thought of “Yes, but…” crept in.

So what do you think?  I’d love to hear from someone whose native tongue does not include the subjunctive mood.  How does one grieve the loss of a child without the subjunctive?  And for the rest of us, is the subjunctive why we “dwell?”  Does its usage reflect a lack of contentment or faith?  Does it help our healing or hinder it?

I think that on Thursday, we will be celebrating their birthday the way we always do: by releasing some balloons, having some cake, and imagining what life in our home would be like if Fiona and Brigid were with us.

In the Raw – Worth It

This post is part of a weekly series I’m sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote in the early stages of my grief from the loss of our twin daughters in 2011 – one to stillbirth and the other to an infection she contracted in the NICU. 

My hope is that by sharing these, grieving parents will feel understood. Our family math is now ten minus four. What is yours?

This was originally written in October of 2013.


I always wanted four kids.

For as long as I can remember, that just seemed like the ideal number to me.  No one would be left out.  No two against one.  It was a big family without being too big.

But I didn’t meet my husband until I was 31.  I had no idea whether we’d actually be able to have the four children I’d idealized, but we gave it the old college try.  In the fall of 2010, we had three young boys at home, 4, 2, and 10 months.  We were thrilled by our family size and the joy that our boys brought us, but we needed a breather.  They’d come so close together that we intended to wait a year or two before maybe trying for a fourth.

And that November, just a few months before our baby boy turned one, I was late.

I remember shaking as I saw the lines appear on the pregnancy test.  I was charting my temperatures and so careful about my dates.  I couldn’t understand how it had happened.  But there it was.

Positive.

A few weeks later, I was washing in the shower and thought that my stomach felt a little larger than it usually did by seven weeks.  I knew it was twins.  I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.  And I’m glad I did, because otherwise, I might have rolled off the table in the ultrasound room when the picture on the screen confirmed it.  I was excited and overwhelmed and anxious, but mostly, I was giddy at the prospect of bringing two more babies home to our wild, wonderful family.

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FIVE!  We were going to have five children under five.  We were going to need five car seats.  We were going to need a new car.  Two more stockings would hang on our railing the next Christmas. We kept saying it over and over again.  Twins?  Twins!  It was just so hard to wrap our minds around the changes two more babies would bring, but we felt blessed.

Then, in March, we got the devastating news that they were dying.  It was the only other ultrasound I had besides that first one at eight weeks, despite my several requests to my doctors that I be monitored for issues – for TTTS specifically, which is what ultimately took them. 

And now, at almost 20 weeks, we were learning that our baby girls (girls!) were very ill and would require immediate in utero surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia if there was any hope for their survival.  

Whatever it takes to save them, we said, it will be worth it.  We will do it. 

But Fiona’s heart was no longer beating the day after the surgery, and suddenly, our world came crashing down around us.

We’d wanted four children, but not like this. 

Not five minus one.

Our lives became a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, scrambling to find childcare for our three boys when family promised help but didn’t follow through, eight weeks of bedrest, round-the-clock medication to stop premature labor. It was so very hard.

It will all be worth it when she’s here with us, we said.  This is unbelievably hard, but it will be worth it.

Finally, a traumatic labor, delivering a preemie, healing from a c-section, burying Fiona, Brigid’s life in the NICU with its ups and downs, having her airlifted to a higher-level NICU farther away, pumping milk, daily visits for morning rounds and a crash course in neonatology and respiratory therapy and cardiology, precious few hours spent with her each day before having to head home to take care of my three boys.

One day at a time.  It will be worth it.  She is growing and she will come home soon, and it will be worth it.

And then she died.

All of that work.  My husband’s near nervous breakdown trying to juggle his full-time job and our three children while I was on bed rest, back and forth to the hospital, the surgeries, the freezer full of breast milk I’d carefully pumped for her.  It wasn’t worth it.  None of it mattered.  She’s gone, too.

We’re back to three.  We weren’t even trying for four.  Then we had five.  And now we have three again.

Why?  (WHY WHY WHY?!)

It wasn’t worth it!

But this November will be three years since we learned we were expecting them. Three years since my jaw dropped seeing those lines on the test.

And now I don’t hesitate for a second to say it was absolutely worth it.  

Every second of anxiety, of stress, of physical pain.  Every minute spent in the NICU with her.  Every tear shed, every hour spent driving to the hospital, every day my house was a disaster because I couldn’t clean it, every dollar we spent on hospitals, and doctors, and surgeries, and childcare, and caskets, and holes dug, and funerals.  Every bit of heartache and every day spent grieving.  

She was worth it.  They were worth it.

Because they are still my daughters. 

Because my love for them is never ending. 

Because I am still the mother of twins. 

Because they changed me forever. 

Because so many things in life became so very clear. 

Because I now live my life with an eternal perspective that I didn’t have before. 

Because I can empathize in new ways. 

Because my children learned about death and heaven in a way I might never have been able to teach them. 

Because I learned so much. 

Because every moment with them was a precious, special gift, if I had the choice to do it all over again, and knew that the outcome would be the same, I’d still choose them.

It was worth it.

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In the Raw – Comfort From My Father

This post is part of a weekly series I am sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote early in my grief after the death of my identical twin daughters in 2011. I share them in the hopes that newly bereaved parents will be able to identify with them and know that they are not alone.

This post was originally written in October of 2013.


I visited my girls in the cemetery the other day.  For a few days before and on the drive there, I was feeling so empty.  As a mother of four young children, I often feel like I’m running on empty, but this time, it was just overwhelming me.  I needed a break and it had been a while since I’d taken one. I’d been giving to and taking care of everyone else and there was no one who was taking care of me.  Not even me.

So, crying and mentally checked-out, I told my husband that I just needed to go visit them for a bit and have a good cry.  He stayed with the kids and I left.

On the way, I told God how I was feeling.  Saddened that there is really no parental figure in my life, since those relationships were destroyed when my twins died. (They were never really that great to begin with.)  Now there is no one who thinks of me that way, who takes care of me or gives me a time when I just don’t have to worry about something – groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, diapers, arguments, discipline.  No one to say, “How about if I take care of that for you today and give you a break?”  I was parenting, but I also longed to be parented.

And, as if that weren’t devastating enough, I was missing my babies and heading to the cemetery to visit them.  The feeling of loss and emptiness was crushing me, as it does from time to time, even now.  Even two years later.

Suddenly, as I cried and cried out to Him, a flood of Bible verses came pouring into my head.  Verses that I’ve known since childhood.  Verses that I’ve been reading for so long that they had started to lose their meaning.  They’d become so familiar that I forgot how special they were.

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First, it was “Jesus wept.” And I had the realization that Jesus, the healer, the one who raised people from the dead, the one who was with the Father, hovering over the waters before the creation of the world, wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus.   My heartache and tears were not something that He didn’t understand, or that He expected me to keep inside because of the hope I had to be reunited with my babies one day.  They didn’t reflect a lack of faith or of that hope.  They were a natural part of loss.

Then came “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”  And I realized that a mother’s love for her babies is so enormous and so universal that the Lord used it as an example of His love for us.  And then went on to say that His love was even greater.  Of course I love and miss my babies.  I am their mother.  But how much more does He love them and love me?  Even if I forgot them, which of course I never ever would, He wouldn’t forget.  I felt so close to Him during our losses, and then I felt like He was pulling away.  But He hasn’t pulled away.  He hasn’t forgotten me.  He is still here with me.  

And then, “My grace is sufficient.”  

“Be still and know that I am God.” 

“For I know the plans I have for you.” 

“My God shall supply all my needs.”  

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

One after the other, they came flooding over me and I felt so loved and cared for.

I remembered that He refines us by fire, and that when a refiner is working with precious metals, making them pure and perfecting them, he holds them in the fire just until he can see his own reflection and all the impurities are burned away – not for a moment longer.  And then, he takes them out.  But he doesn’t just leave them.  He molds them into something special.

We are made into something beautiful, meant to reflect our creator to the world in different ways.  He does not just make mirrors.  He makes beautiful items that can be used differently and reflect him individually – a platter or a spoon for serving others, a shiny pitcher for pouring ourselves out with words or art or music, jewelry for bringing His beauty to places that need it.  All have unique patterns and unique uses, but all reflect Him in the way He carefully and lovingly designs them to.

He has not forgotten me.  He is molding me to be a unique reflection of Him to others.

And with those thoughts, I felt known and understood and comforted.  I felt restored.

I felt parented.

Fathered.

What has God used to comfort you in the midst of your grief?

In the Raw – Grieving Other Losses, Part 2

This post is part of a weekly series of posts I am sharing called “In the Raw.” These were written early in my grief after the death of my twin daughters in 2011. My hope is to help newly bereaved parents to feel understood and to know that they are not alone.

This was originally written in August of 2013.


Some of the other losses we grieve after our child dies have to do with the relationships we had before their death.

People that we imagined would be there supporting us in our darkest hour were nowhere to be found. No phone calls asking how we were or how they could help.  Nothing.

Some of them were making demands of us, wanting us to accommodate them or comfort them.  Making things more difficult instead of helping.

I read an op-ed piece about how not to say the wrong thing to someone during a crisis situation and thought it was so helpful. People don’t know this.  So many people said the wrong thing.  In the piece, the writer talked about putting concentric circles around the person or people going through the crisis, labeling the larger ones with those people farther away from the epicenter of the situation.  The closer the person is to the crisis, the smaller their circle.  They encourage people to offer comfort and help to anyone in a smaller circle than their own, and to lament or complain or vent only to people in bigger circles.  Comfort in, dump out.

Saying the wrong thing can be forgivable.  Sometimes we all put our foot in our mouth, especially when we don’t know what to say.   But at the end, the author points out that almost everyone knows not to dump in on the person in the middle circle.  The point is that that should be self-evident.  It’s the other smaller circles that the author is making people aware of.  Not dumping on the center circle is a “duh” thing.

But some people dumped.  Even on us, in the center.

Sometimes they didn’t like how we were handling things and complained.  Sometimes they would tell us about their own troubles and wanted our sympathy or comfort.   Sometimes, we asked them to come and they stayed away, or we asked them to stay away and they came.  They did what they wanted and not what we needed them to do.  That’s dumping, too, in a way.  They were using us to meet their own needs, but not ours.

And as we were struggling to keep our heads above water, more than we ever have before in our lives, those people were like dead weight pulling us under.  Sometimes, we had to let them go.

If we’re honest, we might acknowledge that some of those relationships were troubled to begin with.  In my case, there were a few that were always off, always strained or unhealthy.  But this crisis situation caused them to become gangrenous.  We needed to cut them off before they killed us.

Some of those relationships no longer exist.  Some will never be the same again.

And now we have to grieve that, too.

We grieve the fact that the people we thought would be there for us were not.

We grieve the damaged or broken relationships that our tragedy left in its wake.  It’s hard to look past the dumping in.  Past the absence of help or phone calls. We wanted to scream, Do you have any idea what I am going through here?!  Their lack of empathy was staggering, and we realized that if they couldn’t have it then, they are likely never going to have it.  And we just don’t have time or energy for that kind of relationship now.

We are different people.

Sometimes those broken relationships are with people in very small circles – parents, siblings, close friends.  And now we grieve the void that is left there.  Holidays, birthdays, times when we would see them or want to call and talk to them, we just don’t now.  We can’t.

But out of that tragedy, we have made new friendships.  We may have fellow bereaved parents – a community of them or even just one – who helped us through because they understood our pain.

We may have had strangers or people we hardly knew stepping up to help us in ways we couldn’t have imagined and now our friendships with them are stronger, filling in the void left by those who abandoned us.  Closing in the circles.

We have those friends and family who stood by us and supported us, and our friendships with them are strengthened.

And finally, because of our losses, we can forge friendships with other newly bereaved parents.  Who else understands the agony they are feeling?  Who else knows the depth of their loss if not us?  Offering them comfort gives our losses a purpose, since we can help them and speak to them and listen to them in a way that many others can not.

So we do have to grieve those relationships.  And the pain of them comes up again and again throughout the year as we remember what things were like before our loss.

But after we grieve them, we might need to take a good look at ourselves and realize that because of our losses, and possibly even because of those people, our compassion and empathy has been supercharged and our tolerance of insensitivity and unkindness from others has been greatly reduced.

And maybe that is a good thing.

Were your relationships affected after your loss?

In the Raw – Grieving Other Losses

This post is part of a weekly series of posts I am sharing called “In the Raw.” These were written early in my grief after the death of my twin daughters in 2011. My hope is to help newly bereaved parents to feel understood and to know that they are not alone.

This post was originally written in August of 2013.


Yesterday I wrote about the first day of school, and it had me thinking about the other losses that we grieve when we lose a baby.

We don’t just grieve our baby who died.  Which seems unfathomable because that loss is enormous – how can we possibly add more to it?  But we do.  We add so much more.

Many of us grieve the loss of bringing a baby home from the hospital.

We grieve the loss of flowers and cards that people get when they bring home a new baby.

We grieve the loss of decorating the nursery (or possibly worse, we grieve the loss of a baby to enjoy in our beautifully decorated and lovingly prepared nursery).

We grieve the loss of late night feedings and diaper changes.

We grieve the loss of trips to the park and the zoo with them.

We grieve the loss of siblings for our children.

We grieve the loss of brushing their hair and dressing them in cute outfits and giving them baths and reading them stories.

At holidays, we grieve the empty spaces where their stockings or Easter baskets or gifts or presence would be.  Should be.

We grieve the loss of first words, first steps, first teeth, and first days of school.

Some of us grieve the loss of having multiples when one or both of them is gone – it is such a rare thing that everyone loves to comment on.  Oh wow, twins!  Triplets!

There are so many facets to our losses that it is no wonder that our grief can spiral back and catch us off guard sometimes, rearing its ugly head and reducing us to tears at different times throughout the year.  Years.  Not just on their birthdays or on anniversaries. 

Maybe that’s why it seems unending and bottomless.

Knowing that this is a normal part of grief and loss is helpful, but those things still hurt.  Sometimes, people don’t understand.  How are you still grieving like this is new? It’s been years. 

But every one of these is a new loss.  A loss of something else that we didn’t even realize that we’d be missing, reminding us of the ultimate sadness which was seeing our baby die.

What other losses do you grieve with the death of your little one?


If you can relate to this post, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.

If you are looking for understanding and support that is based in our Catholic faith, consider joining one of my healing retreats.

Other posts from this series include:

In the Raw – How Many Kids do you Have?

In the Raw – The What Ifs

In the Raw – Surprised by Grief

In the Raw – Surprised by Grief

This post is part of a weekly series I’m sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote in the early stages of my grief from the loss of our twin daughters in 2011, and my hope is that by sharing them, newly bereaved parents will recognize that they are not alone in their experience.

Grief is a long and confusing process.

This post was originally written in July of 2013.

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This week, I’ve found myself feeling grumpy and short-tempered with my family.

The everyday demands of life with four young children have been overwhelming me.  I know it’s a hard job, but suddenly it feels impossible.  Like I can’t possibly survive another day of arguing and getting cups of juice and changing diapers and picking up toys.  I just can’t do it.  I want to get in a car and drive away from here.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this came over me suddenly, and I’m surprised to realize that I think it’s because of my grief.

In the days following Brigid’s funeral, I checked out, mentally.  I remember feeling my mind slipping away during the service.  My body was there, going through the motions, but I couldn’t focus on anything.  I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked like a deer in headlights.  My eyes were wide and the face that looked back was not my own.  I didn’t look like me.  I needed to go somewhere other than our home afterward.  For whatever reason, I really wanted to get to the ocean, sit by the edge and just stare out at it.  I knew the sound of the waves and the time to think would be comforting. 

My husband, Patrick, and I stayed in a hotel that night because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to care for my three boys.  I remember waking up and feeling like my head was not attached to my body.  Like I literally did not know how much effort to use to raise my arm.  I learned later that this was a form of post traumatic stress disorder.  Apparently, watching a team of emergency personnel gather around your preemie baby’s three-pound body and perform CPR while she is dying is a little too much for the brain to process.

I remember fearing that I was going insane.  That people would say, “Gee, she was fine until the babies died, but then she just was never right after that.”

I did end up getting my head and body back together, though it took a few days of doing nothing.  I had to sit and stare in silence and just keep thinking about what happened over and over again.  I had to say the words, “She’s dead” out loud.  A hundred times.  Scream them.  Cry them.  I’d drive around in the car aimlessly by myself and just say it over and over.  It was as if my mind wouldn’t accept it unless I did that.

After one or two nights away from the house after the funeral, it was back to reality with three young boys, and my grieving got pushed aside.  I had to focus on these small children who needed juice and help with the potty and baths and meals and I didn’t have time to just sit and cry or think. I did a lot of that in the evening, after they were in bed.  Or in the shower.  But the demands of the day meant that I could not do it when they were awake.  So some of my grieving didn’t happen then. 

There were days when I recognized that it would probably be harder to grieve the loss of a baby if I didn’t have any other children, and days when I imagined it could be easier.  If there is ever an “easier” way to deal with that.  Sometimes, throwing myself into life with the boys was a welcome distraction.  Other times, they were just a distraction from the quiet and tears in which I wanted to lose myself.

And so now, two years later, is it any wonder that I still need to process it?  That the anniversary of Brigid’s death just brings all of that back to mind and I need to grieve it all over again?  And yet, here is my little family, the boys having moved on from the sadness of losing their sister – which is as it should be – and still needing me to be present with them, making chocolate milk and paper airplanes and hearing about the features of their latest Lego creation. And our new little “rainbow” daughter who brings us so much joy being a typical seven month old, in need of care and cuddles. 

But my brain still wants to just sit and think for a bit.  About the daughter that I had and now I don’t.  About the times that I held her and sang to her.  About her warmth and her smell.  About the way she would smile, even behind the ventilator tube taped to her lip, when I came into her hospital room and started talking to her.  About the ten or fifteen things that I can think of that might have possibly prevented her death, wishing I’d been more pushy about them, and wondering if that would even have made a difference.

I need to think.  I need to process it and heal from it.   And the reality is, there just isn’t time for thinking right now.  There’s groceries, and diapers, and “Mommy, Mommy Mommy,” and laundry, and juice, and meal planning, and organizing, and diapers, and nursing, and bedtime, and dishes, and cleaning (and did I mention diapers?), but there’s not a lot of thinking.  There’s not a lot of alone time.   And I think that makes me feel a little grumpy.  More than a little, actually – I’ve been snapping at everyone and feeling like I can’t do it anymore.

Funny to me that the very thing I had in abundance when I was single, not ten years ago – the thing I hated the most about being single – is the one thing I would give almost anything for right now.

Grief has been described as a cycle or a spiral, and anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and lots of different things can put you right back into that spin.

Grief_Wheel

Right now, I feel somewhere down at the bottom.

But this is where the Lord has me right now. He knew that I’d have three little ones to take care of when our twins died.  He knew that there would be another baby in our family, too.  This is my vocation, caring for these little ones.  I can’t begrudge them their neediness – they’re little.  They’re just being kids.  It is hard work, even without the grieving factor added in.  But He can give me the strength and wisdom to do it.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  And they are some of the most amazingly wonderful kids in the world.

I’m surprised by my grief this year, and the unexpected emotions that have come with it.  I had to figure it out for the sake of my family.   They need me to be consistent.  They need to know where they stand and not be walking on eggshells around me.  And I know that these few weeks of feeling out of control and overwhelmed is not going to ruin them, but it might be best for me to carve out some solo time to work through some of the feelings I’ve been having and to think about my baby and miss her. 

And actually, just recognizing that and verbalizing it has helped me feel more able to handle all the other things that I have to do each day, especially since I’ve spent much of the past few weeks wondering what was wrong with me.

Nothing is wrong with me.  I just need to grieve.

Have you ever felt surprised by the way grief made you feel?

In the Raw – The What Ifs

This post is part of a weekly series I’m sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote in the early stages of my grief from the loss of our twin daughters in 2011 – one to stillbirth and the other to an infection she contracted in the NICU.

My hope is that by sharing these, grieving parents will feel understood. Grief is a long, painful process.

This was originally written in August of 2013.

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I’ve had a bad case of the “what ifs” lately regarding Brigid’s death.

What if I had insisted on seeing a perinatologist sooner?

What if I hadn’t had a stomach virus at the beginning of the pregnancy?

What if I hadn’t gotten up to use the bathroom so much during my bed rest?

What if I’d insisted that they give her antibiotics sooner like I’d wanted them to?

What if that nurse hadn’t held her mouth closed with a dirty Bic pen during her breathing trial and had used her sanitized hand instead?

There were several times that I was afraid to speak up or to sound pushy.  I let the medical staff do what it felt was best, but I was Brigid’s only voice.  I could have advocated for her better.  There are so many things that I can think of that, if they’d been handled differently, might have resulted in her still being here.

Or they might not have.

I will never know.

But that doesn’t stop me from dwelling on them.  From thinking about them and wondering if I could have changed things if I’d been more persistent or careful.  I want to blame it on myself.  Or on someone else.  Or on something.

It was easy, right after her death, to say, God has a plan.  Everything happens for a reason.  It was in His control.  I was still a little numb.  And I felt really close to Him then.  My faith felt strong.  But now, I feel like I’m alone in this.  I’m floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean.  I’m wandering around in the desert.  Surely, this must be how the Israelites felt a couple years into their journey.  At first, it seemed like it was all going to be okay, but a few years of wandering around and they must have thought, this is much harder than I imagined it would be.  Even with the manna and the quail and the parting of the Red Sea.  I keep looking for my own signs and wonders.  A shooting star, a pair of butterflies.  Something to let me know that my faith is not in vain.  That they are okay and I really will be with them again.

I think I’ll probably keep doing it until I die, as I try to make sense of what happened.  I know it’s just part of the grieving process.  To try to give it a reason.  I live that day that she died over and over again, and try to imagine how things could have been different.  It’s debilitating.  It leaves me sobbing.  I’m crying as I write this.  It gives me a sick feeling in my stomach.

I’m thankful that it doesn’t happen every day; I can’t live like that.  I have four living children to take care of, and my beautiful rainbow baby might not even be here if Brigid were.  That doesn’t mean I wish I could have one instead of the other.  I means that I keep trying to figure out why I can’t have both.  Or all three.  There are just some days that those what ifs are louder in my thoughts than others.

I can’t help it.

I do know, though, that saying them out loud – and writing them here – lessens their hold on me a little.  In my head, they are huge monsters.  They sneak up on me out of the blue.  They taunt me and make me think that if I had only done xyz, then she would be here today.  Maybe they both would.  Why didn’t I do it?  I should have known!

But when I see them written, I can be a little more gentle with myself.  I couldn’t have known.  I did the best that I could.  I did absolutely everything I knew how to do.  When I tell my husband about them, he can remind me that we both worked so hard to have her home with us.  That it wasn’t our fault.

This week, I find I’m using a lot of my emotional energy to keep those What If monsters away.

Do you have what ifs that taunt you?

In the Raw – How many kids do you have?

This post was originally written on July 19, 2013 – two years after the death of our twin daughters. I had a different blog then – one that I used to process my grief because writing helped me to organize the ever-present jumble of thoughts and emotions I had spinning in my head.

At the time, I was creating sketches for families who found it difficult to share the photographs of their miscarried or stillborn children. Now I do something different – retreats for grieving mothers – and incorporate a creative activity that includes the name of their child.

The post went viral with over 10k shares on Facebook, and received 169 comments as people felt understood and shared their own stories with me. I was so honored that they did.

Sharing our stories can help so much with our healing.

I’ve decided to do a series here called “In the Raw” where I share some of the posts from that time to help grieving parents feel understood.

In the years since this post was written, our family has added three more children – two living and one lost to miscarriage. We now have ten children, but you can only see six.

How many kids do you have?

I’d love it if you shared your story in the comments below.

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Any parent who has lost a child knows how painful this seemingly benign question can be.

To most people doing the asking, it’s just a way to make small talk.  Just getting to know you a little bit more.  They have no idea about the internalized chain reaction of thoughts and decisions they set off by asking this.

Do I want to get into the whole story?

Do I just give the easy answer?

Am I going to upset this person?

Do they have time to hear?

Is it worth it?

In a split second (because, really, how silly does it seem if you look like you have to do some math before you answer that? Even if your last name is Duggar.) we calculate not the numbers, but the level of comfort we feel sharing the story of our little winged ones with this person.

In the days following Brigid’s death, I went to a nail salon to get a pedicure.  I needed to get out of the house, and this was a tiny bit of pampering that I thought might make me feel better.  Feel something.  Plus, I’d planned to wear open-toed shoes to her funeral the next day.  I selected a shade of pale pink, sat in the chair, and just sort of stared.  A young girl, about eight years old, was seated a few chairs to my right, getting a pedicure while her mother had her nails done.  In an effort to make small talk, the lady doing my pedicure asked me, “Do you have a daughter?”  Because I was still in shock, I barely flinched.  “No.  I have three boys.”  There I was getting my toenails painted pink for my daughter’s funeral and I didn’t even acknowledge her existence.  Honestly, I hardly felt sad giving the answer, because I was still so numb.  A few weeks later, I felt like I’d betrayed her. “Oh, you are so lucky,” the lady had gone on, “girls are so difficult.  Always wanting things and complaining about stuff.”  On and on she went, telling me how lucky I was not to have a girl when I was pretty sure I’d have cut off both of the feet she was massaging in a heartbeat to have my baby girl back.  To give her whatever she wanted and listen to her complain.  In all her seven weeks in the NICU, poked, prodded, tested, x-rayed, stuck with needles and IVs, operated on, intubated and fed through a tube, she never complained.  Not once.

A few weeks later, we took the boys to a nearby lake to swim.  Our summer had been tainted by loss, but we still wanted to keep some sense of normal for them, even though I think I’d have been content to just curl up in a ball and stay in bed.  As so many people who have seen us with three boys have asked before, a lady walked past our crew as we were packing up to leave and said with a smile, “Three boys, huh?  Are you going to try for that girl?”  Hearing that question always annoyed me, as if we were unhappy with our boys and only had three of them because we kept trying to get a girl, but it never hurt before.  I know she just thought she was being friendly and funny.  She was literally walking by as she asked the question, in jest, not even waiting for the answer.   She couldn’t have known that it felt like a drive-by shooting.   “Ha,” I replied limply, with a halfhearted smile.   The scar on my belly still hurt a little bit from the baby girls I had just delivered.  But I couldn’t tell her that.  She didn’t even stop.  I got to the car and cried.

In the weeks and months after, our second son would mention the girls’ death to everyone we saw.  Everyone.  People in Target would be walking past us and he would say, “Hi. We used to have baby sisters, but then they died.”  The person would look at me, slightly horrified, and inwardly, I would cringe.   Walks in the park, trips to the grocery store, it didn’t matter where we were or if he even had a segue – he just blurted it out.   I needed to get new glasses and brought him with me.  I let him bring a few toy trains with him, and to make conversation, the optician said, “My little boy likes those trains, too.”  “Did he die?” PJ asked.  The look on the lady’s face was one of disgust as she quickly looked to me for an explanation.  I knew that he just needed to say it out loud to validate the experience.   To make it true.  To help him to process it and heal.  But I was shocked at the way he would just say it, so matter-of-factly, to anyone, without even having to think about their feelings or how they would respond, because he was a child, and that didn’t matter, and he didn’t realize that people didn’t just talk about that sort of thing.  I think I envied him that ignorance a little.  I became wary of taking him places, but I also just wanted to hug and hold him as he tried to make sense of what had happened to him – to us.  It broke my heart that death was part of their everyday vocabulary at such a young age.

So many times, over and over, people have made comments about our boys or inquired about the size of our family, and although I’d had a miscarriage before our third son was born, I never had a hard time answering that question until the twins died.

Now it was like a trick question.  No matter how I answered, someone would be upset.

I’ve been trying harder to be honest when I give my answer, though I still find it difficult to include the babies I’ve miscarried.  They were no less my babies than the twins were, but I still feel like I need to keep them a secret for some reason.  When I was pregnant with my new baby girl, a few people asked me if she was my first when I was out somewhere alone.  It felt easy to say, “Nope, my sixth.”  Easy because they didn’t count three little boys and look at me funny.  I was proud, even.

But then, when she was born and we were attending a birthday party with some other family members, someone who didn’t know us asked, “Is she your first girl?”  Without skipping a beat, one of my family members answered for us – but not in the way that I thought she would.  “Yup – she’s their first girl!”   Ouch.  No, she is not, I thought.  We had two other girls.  That question was phrased in a way that I never would have answered in the affirmative, and I was shocked.  But there is was.   I know she didn’t mean to upset anyone – in fact, her reply was probably consciously intended not to upset someone – but that someone was not me.  And that hurt.

You see, after having lost a baby, there is a part of me that still even feels like maybe it didn’t actually happen.  It seems like it wasn’t real.  Like I couldn’t have possibly lived through that horror and be on the other side of it now.  She was with me for such a short time – I don’t have many memories with her, not like I have with my other children.  First words, first steps.  I didn’t see her do any of those things.  So please, family and friends, please let me know that you still remember that she existed.  They existed. It means so much.  More than you could ever imagine, actually.

I love their names.   I love the way they sound, the way they look written.  But now, I don’t get to hear them or see them or use them nearly enough.   The few items that I have with their names on them are treasured possessions – even the inexpensive, handmade ornament craft that came from the bereavement department of the hospital where Brigid died.  It only says Brigid’s name – her twin, Fiona was stillborn at another hospital, so they don’t know that she existed.   But someone thought of her and of us and sent that to us the Christmas after she died, and that was nice.  I always put it up high so the kids don’t pull the glued-on letters off.  As if I couldn’t recreate it for 50 cents or less.  But the value is in her name.  Having her name on it makes it a treasure.

Which is why I do what I do.  Having a sketch of your baby or babies to look at makes them real.  Reminds you that they did exist, that you did come through that horrific experience, and that you are strong.  It provides an easier way to share them with other people who might come to your home and not know what happened.  It gives you something to kiss, to touch, to look at when the memories in your mind are growing fuzzy and you feel like they’re slipping from your grasp.

I might not be able to bring up all of my babies to everyone who casually asks me the question, “How many kids do you have?”  But right here, in this safe place, I can say that I had two boys, then a miscarriage at ten weeks, then a third boy, then identical twin girls (it’s such a special thing to have identical twins, isn’t it?  I had them!) – one of whom was stillborn and one who died at seven weeks of age, then another miscarriage, then a baby girl.

It feels good to say that here, in this place where people understand and want to know the whole story.

I have eight children.

But you can only see half of them.

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How many kids do you have?

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