Thursday, July 30, 2015

Olive's Branches Day

Yesterday was a day I both dread and looked forward to.  On one hand it was heart-wrenching to have to celebrate Olive's first birthday without the birthday girl, but on the other hand I was so looking forward to the many ways we would, collectively, shower the world with love and kindness in her memory.

To say I was blown away is an understatement.

We woke up as we normally to - to silence.  No baby babble coming over the monitor, no curly haired blonde to get out of her crib and snuggle, no little one to make special birthday pancakes for.  But, we weren't sad.

Instead we awoke to our phones flooded with kind and generous gestures that, from the moment we woke up to the minute we laid our heads down last night (early this morning for me), brought a peace that I can't even describe to you.

I'm sobbing as I type this because I wish you all knew what you did for this mama's heart. The ripple effect you had on the communities you live in was astounding. As much as my sinful human nature would have loved to snuggle my sweet one, I recognize that without her short life - without her death - I don't know that all of these things would have happened.  That's a conflicting place to be as a parent, but one thing is for certain: our daughter only and will ever only know unconditional love.  As much as I want her back, I can't offer her anywhere close to what she has now - and because of that, I've accepted (and dare I say, am happier) that she is where she is and I will see her again when it's the appropriate time.

Because of all of YOU people felt joy, they believed in the kindness of the human spirit, they were uplifted and loved.  YOU did that - for me, for the lady at Starbucks, for the mail carriers, servers, children, parents and homeless in your communities!  YOU created a ripple effect that will be felt for days, weeks and hopefully months to come.

As for my husband and I - we weren't able to do many of the things that parents do with their children on their birthdays, but because of you there was singing and balloons and snuggling.  There was joy and fun and laughter.  There was fellowship and celebration.  And peace.

Because of you Olive's birthday was a happy one, one that we will never, EVER forget.  To have thousands of people bear witness to your daughter's life, to shower her and her family with love through your acts of kindness to others is nothing short of remarkable.

I pray that the joy YOU felt in giving back continues to leave a lasting impression on your heart.  I pray that in the upcoming months you set aside moments in your busy life to pay closer attention, say some extra "I love yous", find a stranger or friend that needs a little extra in their life - and continue to pay it forward. 

I promise you there is good in the world. I saw it, you saw it and we felt it.
God's richest blessings to you all.
With love and gratitude,

We will be creating a video montage of the different ways people helped to celebrate.  Please continue to check the blog for updates.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Happy 1st Birthday!

My dear sweet girl,
It's hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since we first laid eyes on you.  If I close my eyes I can still feel your warm, slippery body lying right over my heart.  You were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.  We were so in love with you, from the moment we knew you were growing inside of me.

A lot has changed in the last year - life has been lived, new memories made but the love we feel for you has not changed.  The love I feel for you is as strong as it was the day I met you and I will forever be grateful that you made me a mommy.

We know there is no birthday gift that we can give you.  You have already received the ultimate birthday gift - all of this earthly stuff is just for us, we know that.  But we are trying really hard.  We want the world to know how much you are loved - and how much love there is to share.  There are no words to describe the joy and pride we feel for you today.

In honor of your first birthday we wanted to put together some of our favorite memories.  We know there will be many more - just because you aren't here doesn't mean that you will not be a part of the memories this family will make with your future brother(s) and/or sister(s). 

We love you so very much and we miss you like crazy!

Happy 1st Birthday, Olive!
Mommy and Daddy

To read Olive's birth story, please visit this link and this one


Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 26

Today will always be the day that stands out to me as the one that started it all.  It was a Saturday and I had an acupuncture appointment.  I wanted to see if there was any way to start labor without getting too crazy.  We discussed my options and decided it would be best to wait a little longer to really get things moving, after all, my due date was still 4 days away.  I scheduled an appointment for the 29th to come back and see where we were.

I had been convinced that I was going to have Olive on the 26th.  That date just stood out to me as "the day". We obviously know now that it wasn't meant to be her birthday, but my brain often tries to play tricks on me, telling me that if she had been born this day she'd be alive.  I know that's not true, but sometimes it's difficult to turn off those thoughts.

My husband was getting some yard work done and I was scrolling through Facebook, maybe golf or a race was on the TV- nothing super exciting, I remember that much at least.  I recall reading a post that a friend from grade school, who was currently serving in Afghanistan, had lost her husband early that morning in a fatal car crash, leaving behind her and her two children. In my hormonal condition I recall breaking down in my living room.  I thought, "how could God let this happen to her?"  It seemed so unfair, so unimaginable.  I remember the next few days would be spent following her on Facebook as she tried to make her way home from the war torn country she was stationed in to her new war torn life that awaited her in the states.  I could not stop hurting for her and those precious babes.  

Little did I know that my own worst nightmare was just a few days away.

July has been hard for me.  As soon as the calendar hit July 1 I could feel myself panicking a little bit.  This was the month that I met and lost my daughter.  Getting through this month meant that we had survived a whole year of this, and part of me was feeling as though I would be forced to move on. So much life has been lived in this year- so many life lessons learned, faith lessons learned, marriage lessons learned.  With a new baby on the way I feared that many would view Olive's first birthday as a day for me to leave the grieving behind and begin to prepare for the next phase.  

I recognize now that isn't true.  There is no real moving on, sure life goes on, but there will always be a part of my heart missing, memories that creep in when I least expect them to, tears that fall when I'm not prepared.  There is no way to erase this, no matter how many more life experiences are to come or how many more babies we have.

She is a part of me, a part of this family and while her birthday is certainly a reminder of what we no longer have, it's also a beautiful reminder of everything she gave us.  Love, patience, a new compassion for others, and  wonderful new friends in this gigantic community of parents who have experienced some of life's most horrific, complex but beautiful journies.  

There is no telling what Wednesday will bring us.  The next few days will be days that I know will stop me in my tracks as I recall something I did, felt or said as I prepared to meet this little creation.  I ask for your prayers and also your support.  Many of you have traveled this year long journey with us, and we know that your hearts are hurting and healing along with ours.  Your love and friendship have, no doubt, helped to get us through some of the worst of times.  Your faith-filled messages of hope and peace have reminded us to cling to the only One who will someday lead us back to her, to Him.  

If you would like to join us in celebrating Olive's life, on Wednesday we would love for you to do something kind in remembrance of her.  Shortly after we lost her people asked us what they could do for us and we told you to hug your babies, love on them and spend time with them.  That's what we wish for you to do on Wednesday as well.  If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or other loved ones nearby, please post a picture to social media of you doing something fun together, using the hashtag #olivesbranches 

If you don't have children or loved ones in your life, consider buying someone's Starbucks, leaving a note of love or hope on someone's car, cutting your neighbors grass, bringing flowers to a shut in, whatever it is- do it out of love and do it for the moments that you may not get tomorrow. Again, if you are so inclined, tell us how you showed love to someone with the hashtag #olivesbranches

We would also be so humbled if you would consider joining or donating to our Olive's Branches team to support Children's Hospital of WI this September at their annual Run/walk.  The link to our team is below.

Thank you again, there are no words to share with you how each one of you has touched our lives this past year.  We love you all so very much.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Beauty of a Story

I never imagined that my daughter's brief life would be considered a story.  Stories are tales told before bedtime, drawn out plots on your favorite soap opera or exaggerations your grandfather uses to help you realize your life isn't really as hard as you think it is, right? The more I live this life the more I realize how much of a story it really is.  Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it full of exaggerations - but all interwoven to create this beautiful masterpiece, a masterpiece that can only be called your own.  No one story is alike.  How amazing is that?

When I started writing about Olive's story after she died it never occurred to me that it wasn't over.  I didn't view it as a story, not until late last fall that is.  A friend of mine has been actively involved in the Listen to Your Mother shows for a few years now.  I've always been intrigued by the stories I've watched online, never attending a live show myself.  Stories of motherhood: love, loss, humor and beauty. Late last fall I realized that Milwaukee had a show of it's own and thanks to many of you continuing to follow along our journey - you helped me to realize that I had a story to tell.  A very important one.

I was the keeper of Olive's story - a story that deserved to be told just like any other story.  A story that would bring healing to more than just myself.  I decided to sign up for an audition spot.

It is one thing to tell pieces of this story from behind my computer screen, it's a whole new beast to tell it in front of hundreds of people.  Before I jumped the gun I needed to get through the 3 producers.  And before that - well, I had to actually write a piece of the story.

Where would I begin?  There were so many things I wanted to say, so many emotions I wanted my viewer to understand - three days before the audition I had nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

I cried to my husband that I was going to let Olive down.  This is all I wanted to do - even if I didn't make the show, I wanted to verbally tell someone her story.  He encouraged me to get in front of the computer and just start writing.  I did and I came up with a rough draft.  When I read through it I thought it was great - and then I realized it was over 10 minutes long.  I only had 5 minutes to tell her story.  Crap.

After days of editing and tweaking, I had my final draft.  Olive's story - in 5 minutes.  Geesh - I could talk about this sweet baby for days, how on earth was I going to get people to understand the depth of my love for her, and hopefully have them fall in love with her too, in just 5 short minutes?  I practiced in front of the bathroom mirror.  I recorded myself and played it back, over and over again while I was driving around town running errands.  Sunday afternoon came and I headed off to the audition. 

I was nervous.  My voice was shaking and I hadn't been able to get through the piece without crying.  "That's OK," I thought, "you can't tell this story without tears," I convinced myself.  I didn't cry. I read my piece with dry mouth and a cracking voice.  When I finally looked up no one said a word.  They were all crying.  They asked me what her name was, apologized for my loss and thanked me for sharing such an important and private piece of my life with them.  I left.  I felt good, not 100% confident that I would make it, but I was proud of myself.  I got out of my comfort zone and told her story, even if it was to just 3 people.

Later that week I learned I would be a part of the cast.  I had no idea how this would change my life.

The people I've met, the stories I've heard, the beautiful community that is created when we celebrate all of these unique versions of motherhood is something that cannot be described - it just needs to be felt.  Something amazing happens when we sit back and listen to each other.  We ALL have stories to tell, each one unique, but each one identifiable. 

I would encourage you: man, woman, husband, wife, brother, son, grandmother or mother - any of you reading this now to consider finding a Listen to Your Mother show in your area, remove yourself from your comfort zone and tell your beautiful story! 

I promise you - the world wants to needs to hear it!

To all who came, offered words of encouragement or sent well-wishes from afar - thank you!  To my husband - I know that this is as much your story as mine, and you continue to encourage me to bare my soul to the world.  I hope this crazy little blog and the support from friends, family and strangers that comes with it has brought you peace as well. Thank you for being the amazing husband and father you are!

For those of you who have asked, the videos from every Listen to Your Mother show nationwide have been released!! I've included mine here if you'd like to watch.  I would encourage you to search the LTYM Show channel on You Tube to find other videos that inspire you - there are thousands!