Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Holiday Tradition

This article was written and submitted by the Welsch family.

The tradition started nearly 20 years ago.  My husband and I had just had our first child.  We were living on a graduate student budget, which meant there wasn’t money for extra things, and  I wanted a Christmas ornament for our new baby.  While doing laundry an idea crossed my mind.  I found one of his first baby booties he had worn, stitched his initials across the top and hung it from the tree.  It wasn’t a fancy ornament but it would do for now.  Shortly thereafter a daughter was born and I repeated the process for her and for our third child after he was born.  We hung a trio of tiny baby booties from our tree each year.  As the years passed and their feet grew and grew, those booties became some of the most special ornaments we hung.  Each year our children were amazed that they had actually worn them.  That their feet had been that small.

Christmas of 2002 was a special year for our family.  Our children were now 9, 13, and 15 years old, and God had given our family a special gift.  I was pregnant with our fourth child.  As we decorated our tree that year we grew excited when we realized that the next Christmas a fourth bootie would be hung on our tree.  We were overwhelmed with excitement over the baby and all that would change in our lives.

March 24th 2003.  A day we will all remember with sadness in our heart.  Our precious baby, Clayton, died unexpectedly at birth due to a knot in his umbilical cord.  In a matter of minutes, our world had fallen apart.  How would we recover?  The hospital staff knew how important pictures, locks of his hair, and footprints would be to our recovery.  Their help in those first few days will always be so much appreciated.    They couldn’t possibly know everything we would miss about Clayton, though. A day or two after his birth, our daughter broke down in tears.  She realized that Clayton would never wear a pair of booties and therefore would never have a baby bootie ornament hanging from our tree.  As it turned out that wasn’t so.  We had a whole dresser full of clothes waiting for Clayton’s arrival.  We picked out a pair of booties and instructed the funeral home to place them on his feet before the funeral.  When our family arrived for the funeral, we had some time alone with Clayton.  The first thing we did was to look at his feet.  Sure enough, he was wearing the booties.  They had touched his feet and now we could make an ornament out of them.

We hang our favorite four ornaments from the tree each year.  They get a special place up front.  Even though Clayton is not physically sitting under the tree with us each year, his ornament is a reminder that he will be in our hearts forever.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

New Holiday Traditions

This article was provided to Share by Meredith Byers. 

As I enter this holiday season, I realize that our family’s holiday traditions are not quite like other people’s, at least not anymore.  On April 11, 2007, our second son, Samuel Garrison, was stillborn just a week before his scheduled delivery date.  Since that day, our lives changed, and our holidays changed as well.  I bet that everyone who is reading this newsletter remembers that day when life was no longer the same. 

Our oldest son, Wyatt, will be 5 in December. Since losing Samuel, we have been blessed with two more children:  Our daughter, Shiloh, is 20 months old, and our new son, Ryder, is 4 months old.  Before Samuel graced our lives, holidays were focused around celebrations, food, and the more material things of life.  But now, our focus has changed, our emotions have changed, and our family traditions have changed since that unhappy day in April. Thanksgiving was once a day of eating (too much, usually), watching TV, and napping.  Now we focus on being thankful for our family members who sit with us around the table– usually just us, without grandparents or cousins--trying not to be bitter about the one who isn’t there (which is selfish, but honest), and recognize that we are truly blessed to have each other, our lives, and our health.

December used to be about shopping, shopping, and more shopping, followed by traveling, gifts, food, and having somewhat of a carefree attitude about life. Now our December is more reflective. In early December we commemorate our lost time with Samuel by attending the candlelight vigil and laying a flower on Samuel’s brick at the Angel of Hope Ceremony in Blanchette Park. This is followed by placing an ornament on the tree at SSM St. Joseph’s Health Center Share ceremony with our friends-in-loss. At home, a special white stocking is labeled “Samuel,” and hangs appropriately next to his siblings’ stockings. The Christmas tree is adorned with butterfly decorations in remembrance of our butterfly. Finally, the best gift that we now give is time, effort, food, and money to deserving organizations such as Share, in Samuel’s memory. Many of the events are bittersweet, and our holiday season is filled with a range of emotions, but we try not to guard these feelings. Instead, we use the events of the season to allow ourselves to grieve, reminisce, and share our love for Samuel with those who know us.

Unfortunately, last December brought another sad day for our family. Our niece, Huntleigh Elizabeth, was born at 23 weeks on December 27, 2008, and died a few hours later.  Her twin sister, Ryleigh Ruth, was born just a week later on January 3, 2009, and now is thriving at 10 months.  This December, my family will add another bittersweet celebration:  The commemoration of Huntleigh’s first birthday and angel-versary, and Ryleigh’s first Christmas with family, but without her sister.  Before April 11, 2007, I never imagined celebrating the holidays by holding and hugging some of your children in your arms with the others you can only hold tightly to in your heart.

For me personally, New Year’s Eve is the hardest holiday of all – strange, but true.  I think it has to do with ending another year without all the children that I carried for 9 months, which is particularly painful. It is still too hard to celebrate New Year’s Eve with parties and lighthearted fun. Instead Derek and I will probably stay up together, watch the Apple fall, hold each other, and remember the last year with all of its highs and lows before we start a new one.

Do not get me wrong. Our house is filled with smiles and great times, which include us with three innocent, vivacious, and happy children under the age of 5. But losing our Samuel has changed every regular day and holiday in our lives. We hold tight our angel in our hearts and do our best to include him as we celebrate the holiday season with the rest of our family.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Wishes

This article was written by Kimberly Paris in memory of Sydney, born still on June 25, 2003, and “Peanut Paris,” miscarried October 2003.

Tomorrow night is the first night of Chanukah, a holiday that Jews around the world celebrate for eight nights. Like its American counterpart, Christmas, it is a time for celebration, festivals and gift giving. But more importantly, this is a holiday that celebrates miracles. In ancient times, it was the miracle of victory—that the Maccabees could triumph over the much larger Syrian army that oppressed them. That miracle was topped with an immediate second one—the miracle of light. (Despite the fact that the Maccabees only had enough oil for one night, it actually lasted for eight!...hence, eight nights of Chanukah.) Throughout their history, Jews have looked forward to Chanukah as a time to remember and celebrate these and the many other miracles that people have had and continue to experience in our own daily lives.

During Chanukah 2002, my husband and I celebrated our own miracle—the news of our pregnancy. It had taken us a year to conceive her, and we were beyond excited. My husband and I used our holiday celebrations to share our wonderful news with family and friends. As the first grandchild, Sydney's arrival was to be much-anticipated, and the family glowed with excitement. My husband and I felt truly blessed with this unbelievable gift from God. But for us, like many others, that miracle never happened. We lost our beautiful baby girl, Sydney Isabelle, as the result of a cord accident at 33 weeks in June, 2003. She loved to dance and twirl and apparently spun one too many times and got herself caught in a knot. “A strike of lightening” the doctors said.
“Unbelievable based on our circumstances.” But still, faster than our miracle was bestowed…it was taken away. Our beautiful miracle had quickly become a “freak occurrence.”

So, as we come up on our first holiday season without Sydney, there has been little talk of celebrations and no acknowledgment of miracles. Instead, we are left with the empty feelings of
sadness, loss, grief and the pang of WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN! Thoughts of parties with presents and dreidels have now instead given way to the reality of quiet family non-gatherings instead of joyous first celebrations; of silence and tears instead of laughter and smiles; and of eight presents left on a gravestone instead of being opened among family and friends.

Still, what is remarkable as I fear this upcoming holiday is the miracle that I still feel hope. So, in honor of Chanukah, I would like to simply celebrate this miracle by sharing with you eight little hopes that I have for my daughter, Sydney Isabelle Paris:

1. The hope that she is safe and happy
2. The hope that she knows how much we love her
3. The hope that she has found her grandfathers for whom she was named, and that they are looking after her
4. The hope that one day we might be with her again
5. The hope that her spirit and memory will always live on within the people that love her
6. The hope that she will always be proud of her mommy and daddy for holding each other up and being there for each other through every day
7. The hope that one day she will be blessed and become a big sister of an Earth angel
8. The hope that our little princess is still twirling today.

Happy Chanukah to our beautiful Sydney Isabelle.  Mommy and Daddy love you very much!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Very Special Tree

This was written by Tracy Keinrath

We lost our baby daughter, Audrey Hope, in June of 2004. She only briefly lived her life, but the impact of her loss greatly changed ours. That Christmas, it was so important to me that we remember her in a special way. I wanted her to look down from heaven and know she was a huge part of our lives, even though she wasn’t physically with us. I decided we would have an “Audrey Tree” to display just for her.  

I’ve always been quite picky about choosing a Christmas tree. It drove my family crazy the way I’d look at them from all angles, dismissing the ones that looked lop-sided, didn’t have just the right amount of limbs or wasn’t the correct size. Now, at this first Christmas without our daughter, it became even more important to pick out a PERFECT tree. I drug my family around the tree farm, examining each tree closely. I had such an ache in my heart thinking, “Audrey should be here.” I was on a mission though, and finally found a very small, perfectly shaped Christmas tree that I knew would be just right. And…it was.

Another way we honor Audrey at Christmas is by picking out special ornaments for her tree, many of them sweet little angels. We hang pink and white lights and dress it up with pink bows. I love to dim the lights and  sit in front of her sparkling little tree and think about our little girl, what she might look like, what presents we may be picking out for her, and how her face would light up on Christmas morning.

Audrey’s tree today:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Christopher Days

By Cathi Lammert
Today is your birthday dear Christopher. The air is crisp and the holidays are upon us, just like 27 years ago. Last night, I reflected about those many feelings just prior to your birth. We were both so very sick and I knew that the following morning a C- Section would be performed to bring you into the world, and I prayed the doctors would be able to save you. I remember all those feelings of uncertainty and yet a glimmer of hope that you would survive. I remember how valiant your fight was and that you gave it all your might but you were just too premature and too sick with our Rh problems. You left this world just 4 days after you joined it, and our life changed forever.

As your mother, I write often about you and the gifts you have given us. Before your death, I thought that when someone died love remained status quo. I had no idea that our love for you would remain in our hearts and grow deeper. The death of a baby is not something you get over, but it is something that becomes a part of you and is eternal. Many people who really do not understand this may be surprised that 27 years later I still remember all the details of your short life and choose to celebrate your short presence.
We have always called this week The Christopher Days; it is our time to remember you.

The celebration began today as your Dad decorated your blue spruce. He could have decorated it yesterday when the weather was warm but he chose today and he was outside in the cold for 7 hours! Your Christopher tree is now 15 feet tall, so it needs lots of lights… or at least your Dad thinks so. I spent a lot of time watching him decorate this evening and was amazed at the loving precision in the placement of each strand. This year, we have close to 3700 lights. I also am amazed how we continue to see forms of angels within the lights. When this annual tradition was completed, tears rolled down our cheeks as the tree was so magnificent.

I choose to write this tonight, as I want you as new mourners to realize that grief is so intense for so many months. I worried that I would forget Christopher but as you can see we have not. I also thought that I would never smile again but I have. Finding a simple ritual, such as decorating the Christopher tree each year has helped us immensely in our remembering. The tears we shared tonight were not of anguish but sweet pure love.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Healing Moments During the Holidays

Share's Program Director, Rose Carlson, writes about her Healing Moments During the Holidays. 
Several years ago, I was sorting through a box of old photographs that I had never put into an album. I was casually flipping through a stack when I came across a photo that took my breath away for a moment. It was of my son Brandon and I on his second Christmas when he was 19 months old. However, rather than smiling at the memory, I was overcome with emotion seeing the haunted look of myself in the picture. My eyes spilled over with tears as memories of that day, that whole Christmas season, overcame me, as vivid as if it had only been a few months ago rather than many years.

It was 1992. I had looked so forward to this Christmas with Brandon as the previous year, he had only been seven months old and was not really much into Christmas yet; he was more interested in the wrappings and bows than the actual gifts. I was so looking forward to his wide-eyed excitement as he tore into his stack of gifts that year. Christmas 1992 was special for another reason as well. It would be our last Christmas with only one child…by the next year, Brandon’s little brother or sister would be joining our family. I was 12 weeks pregnant, and I had happily announced in our Christmas card that we had a new baby on the way. The pregnancy was not trouble free though. I had been sick, and in the previous month, I had experienced several light bleeding episodes. I had two losses before I became pregnant with Brandon, but I had passed the time they had both happened. I was trying to stay positive and my doctor had assured me that all was well, that some spotting in early pregnancy was normal. By the time Christmas Day came, I had gone nearly a week with no bleeding, so I was starting to feel reassured that since I was almost at that magical end of the first trimester that everything would be fine.

My family wasn’t arriving until the next day, and our friends, Jim and Diedre, had invited us to spend Christmas with their family. Diedre kept patting my belly, telling everyone “can you believe she is three months pregnant? Look how great she looks!” I smiled, but inside, I had that nagging worry. That afternoon, I began bleeding again, much heavier this time, and my heart sank…we left, and I spent the rest of the day in bed. By the next morning, the bleeding had slowed, but hadn’t stopped. My family arrived and I tried to not think about what this could mean. My mom took the picture of Brandon and I that brought so many memories flooding back. I didn’t notice it when I had the film developed the next day, but looking at it all those years later…the look on my face says it all. The worry that is obvious in my eyes…the half-hearted smile that was obviously plastered on my pale face just for the picture. I don’t look well in that photograph, certainly not like a glowing pregnant mom happily celebrating Christmas with her son. By the next day the bleeding had stopped, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe everything WAS going to be okay. My relief was short lived, however…the day before New Years Eve, the bleeding was back, heavier than ever. I called my doctor, and he sent me to the hospital for an ultrasound to reassure me that everything was okay, he said. The ultrasound technician turned the screen so I could see our baby, curled up on its back at the bottom of the sac. I could see the tiny arms and legs, the spine…and where the tiny flicker of a heartbeat should be, nothing. My baby had died. I couldn’ t bel ieve this was really happening. I went home in a state of shock and spent New Year’s Eve in the hospital having a D & C. That night, my hugely pregnant best friend and her husband stopped by on their way to a party and I pretended to fall asleep so they would leave. As I recovered from my ordeal over the following days, I decided that I would forever hate the Christmas season.

By the following Christmas, I had experienced yet another loss and we had nearly given up our dream of having another child. However, I was once again pregnant…13 weeks. It too was a pregnancy filled with many scary moments, practically from the day I had the positive test. In the days leading up to Christmas, I had been put on bed rest and my husband Tony had done almost all of the shopping, cooking and decorating. The night before Christmas Eve, after everyone was in bed, I lay on the couch, the only lights in my house were those from the Christmas tree. With tears streaming down my face, I prayed for everything to be okay with this baby I was now carrying and wanted so desperately.

Thankfully, in spite of the rocky start, pre-term labor and 8 weeks of bed rest, everything turned out okay. The next Christmas, as I took pictures of 3 year old Brandon and 6 month old Justin, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness along with my joy remembering the previous Christmases when I was feeling so heartbroken and hopeless. I kept those feelings in my heart, not sharing them with anyone, knowing that no one would understand them, not even Tony. I didn’t even understand them myself. By the next Christmas, I had another new baby, 3 month old Lauren, and again, while taking pictures of my beautiful, healthy children in front of the tree, I remembered those two difficult Christmases. Over the years, caught up in the excitement and business of Christmas with four children, those sad memories slowly faded. Until, I came across that photo from 1992. I was volunteering at Share by then, and had finally come to the realization that there is nothing wrong with honoring babies who died while celebrating your living children. I came across that picture at the perfect time…I had never done anything tangible to honor the babies I lost, and after reading at Share about what others had done, I felt I wanted to do something too, but I didn’t know what. After finding that photograph, I began collecting angel ornaments. No one knows that I do this, not even my husband. We decorate our tree as a family of six, but I always save my angel ornaments for a time when everyone is in bed. I turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree, put the angels on the tree, and take a few moments to reflect on, and embrace those two difficult holiday seasons and the four babies that I never knew but will never forget. Last year, I pulled out the album that now holds the picture of Brandon and I from Christmas 1992. It was the first time I had looked at it since discovering it and placing it in the album. Even though many Christmases have passed since that photo was taken, my eyes again spilled over with tears. But this time, along with the tears there was smile and a feeling of peace. I stared at it for a moment, remembering, then, I turned off the lights and went to bed feeling grateful for ALL of my children, the ones who are with me and the ones who are not, next to the tree in our brand new home.