Because She Lived

Eight years ago joy and heartbreak collided quicker than my husband and I could process.

Kylie 6.11.2007 039Our Kylie Joy was born and lived for 80 minutes. There is a raw pain of holding your child in your arms, knowing there is nothing you could do to save her life. Through sobs, I told her it was okay to go to Jesus. As if she somehow understood my words, she turned her head slightly towards my voice, took her last breath, and died.

She never had to see the brokenness of this world. In fact, I’ve often wondered if the very first time she opened her eyes, she got to gaze upon her Savior. What an amazing first sight.

People often ask if it gets easier.

Does the death of a child always hurt and sting? Will you ever be the same again?

Time helps.

I am better today than I was 8, 7, 6, even 5 years ago. Do the memories still relapse and sting? Of course! And when that happens, I take one day at a time; sometimes one hour, or one moment at a time.

Like a vase that has been broken and pieced back together, those of us who have experienced child loss will always carry the scars of our child’s death. One cannot know this heartbreak and remain the same. But, that doesn’t mean that the LIFE of their child can’t still be beautiful and filled with purpose.

In order to die, one first has to LIVE.

Because Kylie LIVED, I am more compassionate. I am a better friend. I can walk beside someone else in the midst of this suffocating grief. I understand how short life is, and do my best to cherish what I have. I steal hugs and kisses, and cling to my husband. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I try to keep short accounts. I forgive easier, and let go of hurt quicker.

Because she LIVED, I know there will come a day when I too will take my last breath on this Earth. And, when I open my eyes, I have no doubt I will see my little girl – running as fast as her little legs can carry her into my arms once again. I’ll tell you – all those reunion videos will have nothing on this moment!

But, until then, I have a purpose – to love God and to love others. To allow my life, broken pieces and all, to help bridge the gap between this broken world and God’s love.

Happy Birthday Kylie! We love you so much!!

The Un-Happy Mother’s Day

Kylie 6.11.2007 052 - Version 2As Mother’s Day approached, our family was closing in on the one-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth and death day. My emotions were all over the place. Even though I still had a living child, my heart ached for Kylie. My grieving process was still very real and highly unpredictable. Before church, my husband reminded me of the annual Baby Dedication at our church that morning. As instant nausea set in I froze.

“I’m not ready God!”

I was filled with uneasy anticipation, not knowing what I may or may not feel. When the dedication began, it took everything in me to remain seated, while tears streamed down my face. While I was genuinely happy for my friends celebrating their children, my heart was raw and broken.

I was a Mother living two extremes. Celebrating one child on Earth, while grieving one child in Heaven. Did that make me ungrateful for what I could still hold in my arms? No way! This was simply where I was in my stage of grief.

This Sunday, churches will be filled with sweet mementos of motherhood. Pastors will call upon mom’s to stand, receive a flower, a gift, or a picture drawn from their children. Unfortunately, on this same day women all over this country will suffer, often times in silence. They will force their smile and hold back tears.

These are women who:

Miscarried.

Chose an abortion.

Chose an adoption plan.

Are single and desire more than anything to be a mom.

Experienced pre-term delivery leading to infant death.

Gave birth to a child still-born.

Are in a custody battle.

Have had their children removed from their custody.

Are in the process of adopting.

Experienced a failed adoption.

Are a step-parent.

Struggle with infertility.

Experienced the sudden and tragic loss of their child.

Have a missing child.

Woke up one morning to find their child lifeless.

Have a wayward child.

Are currently watching their son or daughter die due to cancer, disease, abnormality, or infection.

Are grieving the death of their own mother.

As a church community, should we stop celebrating Mother’s Day in churches to avoid upsetting women who fall into the above (non-exhaustive) categories? No. But, with a little compromise, we can still make the non-traditional mom feel special on Mother’s Day by following these two suggestions:

1) Pastors: As you lead services this Sunday, PLEASE be mindful of the women who might be hurting. If you recognize moms on Mother’s Day, please consider recognizing the non-traditional mom as well. Perhaps you could say: “As we honor and recognize all mom’s day, we know there are many women here today who are hurting. Some of you may have children in Heaven, are unable to be with your children today, or are grieving the loss of your own mother. Know that we love you, and are so glad you joined us this morning!”

2) Family and Friends: Call, text, Facebook, email, write a card, or find a tangible action to reach out to the women in your life who are hurting. Let her know you love her, are thinking about her, and are praying for her. Acknowledge her pain, even if it is uncomfortable for you. Allow her to talk about her thoughts and feelings if she wants to. You may be one of few, or perhaps the only person who recognizes her today.

Q. Are you a Non-Traditional Mom? If so, what can someone do this Mother’s Day to make YOU feel special?

How Many Children Do You Have?

babyThis question is asked very innocently all the time by strangers, new acquaintances, co-workers, and people you meet in various places in life. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with asking how many children someone has. This  is a normal question to ask when you meet someone new to learn more about their family and show interest. I have (and continue) to ask this question often.

Now, it would seem, this question should have a very straightforward answer. “I have ____ children.” And, for many people, it is. However, for those who have grieved the death of a child, or experienced the loss of a child through a failed adoption, this question is very complicated to answer.

Here’s why:

If I say, I only have 2 children, I feel like I am not honoring the life and ultimate death of our daughter Kylie. It feels like she never existed, never moved within me, and didn’t live for 80 minutes. I have been completely changed by the year I spent grieving her death, and the joy and purpose we have found that has come because she lived.

If I say, I only have 2 children, I feel like our three children who died via miscarriages were never really our children; yet every part of their sweet little bodies were real! They had beating hearts, brains, their human bodies were forming, but most importantly, they had an eternal soul, and each one of them are singing with Jesus right now!

If I say, I only have 2 children, those 24 hours we parented , loved, and cherished JT as our own son seem inconsequential. Yes, he was never legally our son, but in our hearts, he was our son, even though his adoption failed. We loved him as we loved our biological daughter and built plans for our family based on him being a part of it.

Each child  we have had the privilege of loving on this Earth is a very big part of our story, our life, and who we are today!

However, if I say, “Well, we’ve had 7 children, but only 2 are still with us!” it makes people feel super awkward and uncomfortable. It is shocking to hear, and opens up questions, stories, and confusion that I don’t always want to rehash over and over to each person I meet. And, the reality is that most people I meet for the first time just aren’t ready for all of that anyway.

After thinking through this a bunch and talking with many friends who have also experienced the death or loss of a child, I have finally come up with a response I am happy with!  Over the last year or so, when people have asked how many children we have, I will now say, without hesitation, “This side of Heaven, we have two children!” Sometimes this opens up conversation to learn our story, but most times people will nod along, smile and keep the conversation going with, “So, what do you do?”

Down the road when our paths cross again, many people have revisited our story and asked for more information. Most of the time, these are men and women who have also experienced something similar, or are very close to someone who has. People who want to hear our story, and who want to share theirs.

What this does is it builds rapport to those who might find common ground with child death or loss, while not freaking people out, and putting people on the spot to figure out how to respond, especially the first time you meet!

So if you are ever meeting someone new and receive a hesitated pause when you ask how many children they have, it is very possible the pause means they don’t know how to answer your question without making you feel uncomfortable, while still honoring the children they’ve had who are no longer in their arms.

Q. If you have experienced the death or loss of a child, is this question awkward for you? If so, how do you respond?

I Didn’t Care I Had Cancer


monitor“For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Phil 1:21

At 22, when cancer invaded my body for the first time, I completely understood what Paul meant in this verse. Not only was my cancer rare, to the point where doctors had never heard of it before, but the doctors had to guess about the best way to treat it. They then went on to tell me if the cancer ever returned, I could only have 2 months left to live.

My response was a fairly nonchalant: “Okay! Let’s see what God wants to do through this!”

This response left some of those around me thinking I did not understand cancer, did not understand death, and was living deeply in that land of D.E.N.I.A.L. However, I got it. I knew what this meant. I was watching my stepfather, who at the time had no Hope, and no Jesus dying of cancer. (Ask me sometime about how he came to Jesus… it will rock your world.)

And, while I do not say this lightly, I really didn’t care that I had cancer.

Now, let me explain this. I cared in the fact that I went to all my appointments, took care of myself, exercised (I was still playing collegiate volleyball), and agreed to treatment. However, the news of having cancer didn’t bother me. I had this total surrender and faith in Christ that enabled me to understand Phil 1:21 in a way that had I not been exactly where I was in life, I may not have understood this verse as clearly.

At the time of this diagnosis, I was unmarried, did not have any children, and didn’t really have anyone counting on me in life. My life was solely about Jesus, as I had no other major life obligations. Sure, if I died, my death would highly impact my family and perhaps a few close friends; but if Heaven and Jesus were really as cool as I read about, why would I NOT want to go there? Would I not trade my shell of a body, now invaded with cancer, for a Heavenly body that would never break down? My family and friends loved Jesus… my death would be a “see you later”, not a forever goodbye. This was my perspective.

And, to tell you the truth, having this attitude and perspective freaked a few people out! Some people around me just did not get it, and it frustrated them. They would try and explain the cancer in other terms that might “make it easier for me to understand”, but I was already there… I got it, I just saw it differently. And this even made a few people angry. I went through much of my first bout of cancer feeling very misunderstood, and confused why others couldn’t understand my perspective; not that I wanted to die, but to die was gain!

Now that I am 13 years removed (almost to the date of that first diagnosis), I am now a parent who has dealt with the death of a daughter. And, I do see the other side of this perspective a bit more. My life circumstances have dramatically changed. If the roles were reversed and it were now my other daughter diagnosed with cancer, I’d be devastated. But then, if she told me she was okay dying, I’d probably say, “You might be okay with it, but I am not ready for you to go!” While the reality of how amazing Heaven is, what I understood about Paul’s message, and the thrill of being with Jesus has not changed, my own selfishness has now gotten in the way…

“If it’s all the same to you God, I can serve you here for a loooooooong time, with my husband whom I want to adore and cherish, for a loooooooong time, and my children whom I love and want to serve here with, for a loooooooong time!” Okay God?

Perhaps you are the daughter today feeling misunderstood. Or, maybe you are the spouse, parent, or best friend, feeling frustrated by your loved ones response. If this is you today, the best encouragement I can offer, is to talk it out. Be as open and vulnerable with each other as possible. What emotions are you feeling? Why are you feeling them? What makes you feel frustrated? Talk through the depth and the heart of the issues, so as not to mask or bandaid one displaced feeling for another.

Perhaps, you will find you can go from “I’m frustrated because I don’t feel like you are taking this seriously.” to “I’m terrified of losing you!” That last part is the heart

Be real. Be raw. Be willing to listen. Be willing to accept a different perspective, even if you just don’t get it!

Check back tomorrow for my own story of how this original perspective drastically changed when I was diagnosed with cancer the second time, and how I came back around the third time.

Q. Do you have a similar story? Have you ever struggled through a trial feeling misunderstood because of your perspective of death?

*Photo courtesy of JakoJellema (7j.nl) via flickr.

Finding Purpose When You’re Wrecked

In Jeff Goins new book, Wrecked, he says, “It is hard to get your heart broken on the couch!” And while, I agree this can be difficult, it is not impossible. Sometimes you do get wrecked sitting on the couch, or perhaps sitting in a hospital bed.

I remember the days vividly.

“Erica, I’m afraid to tell you that your cancer is back!”

“Your labor has progressed too far and there is nothing we can do.”

“But, I’m only 22.5 weeks pregnant!”

“I know. I’m sorry to tell you your daughter Kylie will die shortly after birth!”

“Todd and Erica, the birthmother has changed her mind and wants her son back! Do you want us to come pick him up, or do you want to give him back yourself?”

Shock. Brokenness. Completely wrecked.

The Grief Ministry my husband and I have found ourselves immersed in was not a ministry we sought. We did not see a need in others, and then find a way to meet it. We found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the personal brokenness, pain, and hurt. We had to work through all of the “what if’s”, the unanswered questions, the anger, the resentment, the well-intentioned yet hurtful comments from others, and all of the unpredictable emotions that went hand-in-hand with our grief.

And, I think Jeff hits the nail on the head in Wrecked, “Shock can stun you so badly that you don’t do anything. Or it can be used to help. But eventually, the shock goes away, and what remains is what we choose to do with the pain that lingers.” While Jeff does not share the experiences of those he serves and cares for most (the poor and homeless), he does share how we need to get wrecked by not only seeing the brokenness of others, but by becoming compassionate enough to staying committed to help.

This is the key; not just for the brokenness around us, but the brokenness that happens to us. When we become the bereaved, the broken, the cancer patient, or the one burying a child, are we going to become (or remain) bitter and angry? Will we drown in our desire to find the purpose or reason why this happened to us? Or, could we work through our brokenness to eventually find purpose in the emotional scars and pain that linger?

This world would be very different if we each took our personal brokenness, and used our experiences to help heal and love other people; to help others not feel like they are alone. When we become the one personally broken, we are given a unique understanding of the emotions others feel with this kind of pain. We love and care for people more intensely, more deeply, and with a greater insight because we have a rapport of understanding.

Will you be that type of compassionate person? The one who builds relationships from those experiences which once left you broken.

Tomorrow (Aug 4) is the last day to purchase Jeff’s book and qualify for the additional $158 in bonuses. All you have to do is buy the book before Aug. 5, scan the receipt, and email it to wrecked@goinswriter.com. Click here to purchase Wrecked now.

To read more about the purpose we have found in our daughter’s death, please click here!

Q. What purpose have you found when you have personally been wrecked?