7th Birthday in Heaven

Child loss is devastating. It is undoubtably the most pain I have ever, and will ever, experience in my life. It’s something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. It breaks you. Changes you. Over time, it molds you as you grieve to become someone your old self doesn’t recognize. It’s a continuous cycle of gathering up the pieces of your shattered soul only to have a storm come through and tear the pieces from your arms. Over. And over. And over again.

This is the reality of child loss, although there is hope in the darkness. The space between the storms begins to grow and, for the most part, they weaken in strength. The mess the storm leaves becomes easier to clean up. Your soul remains shattered, but all a grieving parent can do is make an effort to focus on the beauty that is born from the brokenness.

The beauty in grief are the love and the lessons. Looking for positive elements is one of the most helpful factors to healing. My grief has taught me many lessons and I hold on to the these valuable gifts.

This month we celebrated what would have been Bella’s 7th Birthday. Just because she is no longer in a physical body does not mean she is not here. Her presence was felt strongly as we celebrated her essence and I trust she appreciated the cake and all the love sent her way. This year, I spent Bella’s Birthday reflecting on all she has taught me.

My daughter’s death has taught me how to be grateful for the difficult times I endured with her, such as when she had colic and I was struggling to cope. 9+ hours of screaming every day was horrendous, but I am now grateful for those many endless days she spent in my arms. This is also where she slept for the first 15 months of her life. It wasn’t always easy, but it was where she felt safe and I am comforted knowing I was able to provide her this security.

My daughter has taught me the value of a moment and the treasure of a memory. She has shown me that nothing is permanent, and that there is something to be happy about every day! We would look for the happy moments in every day, and on darker days when those moments were less obvious, we would be happy on purpose to create a moment to  be captured in a photograph. I have hundreds of these mementos, all of which are priceless treasures.

Then there are the hard lessons, which I will continue to learn as they resurface from time to time. I have had to learn to accept what happened to my daughter, to forgive myself for being a less than perfect parent, and to let go of what will never be. I’m not certain I will ever fully recover from this, and I am learning to accept this.

I was given the opportunity to create such an incredible life and nurture her every day she lived in her physical body. Every moment I had with her is one I will cherish until the end of time.

Grief changes you. It’s inevitable, but you get to decide HOW it changes you. You do this by choosing where you focus your energy and what you give your attention to.

7 years ago, I gave birth to a little girl who I held in my arms for 19 months and will continue to hold in my heart for the rest of my life. This magnificent soul changed every aspect of me. I continue to learn how to be her mother, just as Hudson and Aria continue to learn how to be her sister. Even if that means blowing out her Birthday candles for her.

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Happy Birthday Bella. We love you more than life. XO

Never Ready to Say Goodbye

She was 88 years old and still independent. final 26It’s the only way she knew how to be. She woke up that morning and drank her coffee like any other day. She washed her laundry as she did every Saturday, then had her shower and folded her laundry.

While she followed her daily routine, my mother, sister and I went to a celebration of life in honour of our dear friend’s father who suffered a massive heart attack while he was singing in church. We decided to make the most of the trip and stopped for supper. Shining across my plate was a delicate rainbow, a reflection from my water glass, a gentle reminder that our loved ones are always with us.

final 19Moments after we arrived home, a loud urgent knocking at the door startled my mother and sent her running to me in a panic. “Nonna collapsed in church and my car won’t start!” Before I could even think, I grabbed my phone, purse and car keys and we were gone.

Just like every Saturday night, Nonna went to church. It was more than her place of worship; it was her sanctuary. We were told she was out of breath when she walked in, sat in her regular seat, then gently closed her eyes. The priest intuitively knew something was amiss and when he asked a kind man to check on her, she was already gone.

Nonna was in the ambulance when we arrived and as I witnessed the paramedic performing CPR on her, I refused to believe what I knew in my heart to be true. Nonna joined Bella that night. We were told it was a massive heart attack. It felt like a replay of what happened to my friend’s father the week before.

final 23Nonna was more than a grandmother to me. She was an important part of my immediate family and was included in everything we did. She attended every celebration and gathering at our home. She loved coming to visit and was so grateful when we would surprise her with a visit too.

She and Bella had a very special bond which developed before Bella was born. I really wanted Nonna to be at Bella’s birth, and although she didn’t make it in time, she did accompany me to my last ultrasound. Nonna had never witnessed an obstetric ultrasound before and it was an honour to share that sacred moment with her.

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After Bella was born, Nonna was my saving grace. She would drive down to my home, park in the driveway and my kids would get excited as soon as they saw her walk up to the house. Nonna was Bella’s favourite person. She called her “Bis” and  would fetch Nonna’s slippers from the closet and greet her at the door ready to place them on her feet. Nonna would entertain the kids while I cleaned up after supper and washed dishes. We would visit and play, then she would rock Bella while I put Hudson to sleep. I would take over from Nonna once Hudson was settled and she would see herself out. This was our routine for many months, until the tragic day we lost Bella.

final 20I will never forget Nonna’s reaction that day, the shock and horror. I will never forget how she begged God to take her instead. The memory brings tears to my eyes and is something that terrified me as I was deathly afraid of losing someone else I loved. That fear is what forced me to be strong as I believed my family would get through the tragedy as long as they knew I would be okay. Except Nonna was never the same after that day. A piece of her died along with my daughter. She lost her spark, her love of life, and hope for the future.

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I have seen that spark return for brief moments, but her essence has never been the same. I know she is now where she’s wanted to be for the last 4.5 years.

My best friend, who is a medium, began communicating with Bella shortly after she passed. The following is from a letter she wrote to me where Bella described Nonna’s transition to heaven:

 

“She shows me Nonna Bis leaving this world but not in the immediate future. She shows me a man’s shadow calling Bella’s name and saying ‘okay it is time.’ Bella is playing and she is shadowed too. She grabs the man’s hand that I get is your Nonno’s presence. They walk toward a bright light. They are holding hands and they just wait. Then Nonna Bis slowly comes into sight in an illuminating white light and smiles. img_8621 2I see her approach the man and Bella and the first words she says are “What took you so long?” The man kind of chuckles giving of a sense of ‘well it’s not up to me when you get here’ so to speak. Nonna takes Bella’s other hand and they walk into the light.”

You will never be ready to say goodbye to someone you love, but this image brings great comfort.

Nonno was 88 years old when he passed, the same age as Nonna; they both passed on the 12th day of the month. I’m not sure what it means but I don’t believe in coincidences.

Now I grieve once more as I mourn the loss of my Grandmother, Nonna Bis.

Rest in Pease Nonna Bis. Please take care of my baby girl.

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Waiting on Grief at Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stranger Can Help Mend a Shattered Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggles of a New Mother

Long days suck. Especially after long nights. I’m exhausted and irritable. I’m emotional and frustrated. These days seem to drag on forever. I let her sleep in my arms because that’s where she’s happy, so that’s where she will stay. Judge me if you wish but it doesn’t change a thing. Some babies are fussier than others and sometimes we do what we need to in order to get by. Some days we have to look a little harder for the enjoyable moments. All you have to do is open your eyes a little bit wider and hopefully you will find a smile. I’m grateful for these difficult days because not every mother has the chance to hear her baby cry or be up with her child through the night. I love her so much and I’m thankful she is here. Not every day will be easy but she is definitely worth it!!!! ❤️