Leif’s Story: Day 6

Note to reader: This will most likely be the last piece of Leif’s story I will blog about. As an avid reader, I feel this particular part is a satisfying stopping point and a good chapter’s end.  There’s so much more to tell and so much wisdom we gained on our journey from a deep pit to standing above it, but I hope this leaves you feeling convicted that God is awesome in the details. That you are seen. That you are so loved. And that He comforts those suffering in tangible, special ways when we surrender. I’ve got the pieces of a book on my computer and so much writing still left to do, but until it is finished, I’m so grateful for all those that have followed along, supported us, sent encouraging messages, and prayed for us. It truly meant the world. –B

 Breauna

(Sep. 1, 2017) I woke up the morning  of “the day” with tears. The dreaded day when we would lay our baby boy in the ground.  The day before had felt like progress, but this morning felt like square one. It was the day of his funeral. The day I had dreaded all week. Everyone would be travelling and gathering not to celebrate the birth of our son, but to mourn our loss. I cried as I picked out what to wear. I cried as I straightened my hair. I cried as I put my make-up on—an exercise in futility.  I could not pull it together…could not stop the tears. I looked up to the Lord and said, “Father, I can’t do this!” I prayed for strength, but it just wasn’t coming, so I continued to cry. And I fretted. I worried that something was going to go wrong. I worried about how many people might be there. What if I didn’t know some of them? Could I keep my composure? What would they think of me? Would I act how they think I should act? What if someone made me smile? Would they think I didn’t love my son? What if I bawled my eyes out? Would they think me unstable? My nerves were frantic as I thought about being a spectacle—how my grief was going to be on such public display. And I continued to cry.

Leslee

When I was a little boy, I enjoyed going to a certain hill on my family’s farm. I never talked about this hill much because I considered it a sort of boyhood retreat that I kept to myself. On this hill was something that always intrigued me: iron ore—rocks that iron is extracted from. I would walk around up there as a young boy, fantasizing about being a miner. I pondered  those rocks because they riddled the hill and wondered why this hill—of many hills on our place—was the only hill that boasted these rocks.  I liked that hill.  In the quiet, I would think about iron.  My  thoughts would always wander to words of strength. Steel. Metal. Iron. Ships. Trains. High rises. Bridges.  The small rock in my hand—in large quantity—was capable of so much.  It could hold things together. It could hold things up. It could hold things high. It could haul the heavy and sail lightly. It could hold things protected. And wandering thoughts would turn to wonder. Little bits of great strength were all around me a half mile away.

I needed strength. I needed it badly.  I would lay my son to rest in a few hours and I was about to do something so absolutely hard that I planned a back-up in case I couldn’t get through it. I was going to speak at Leif’s funeral. It didn’t seem right for anyone else to do it. It had to be me… and I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. I wanted to be strong for my son. He deserved to have his dad do this…but I’ve never been good at holding my heart protected. It’s not made of iron. It’s soft and it resides on my sleeve. I’m an emotional guy. It’s something I’ve always hated about myself. I’m not made of iron…because steel doesn’t cry. Right?

On our drive home from the hospital, Breauna asked me who we might have say a few words at Leif’s funeral. Immediately, I knew it was me. She looked a little shocked when I told her I was going to do it because she knows me so well.

“Are you sure, Leslee? I mean…I love that idea. There’s no one better…but are you sure you can do that?”

I felt confident in that moment. “Yeah,” I said. “I can do it for him.”

Over the next day or two, I chewed on ideas of what I would say. I thought of all the conversations Breauna and I had had over the last nine months about Leif. The dreams we had. The influence, leadership, and impact we asked God to give him. I had all these thoughts, but they were completely unorganized.  A jumbled up mess in my head. So, while travelling one day, I unpacked all the thoughts and handed them to Breauna.

“Can you help me organize that? You know, make it flow?”

With a wistful grin, she said, “I love it, Leslee. Those are beautiful thoughts. Perfect. I definitely think I can work with that.”

She typed it up and thanked me for allowing her to be a part of what I would say. On that paper laid my ideas blessed by my wife’s gift with words. In a few hours, they would be said for the first and the last time.

I walked to the house from the barn. I had checked on the guys milking for me that morning and assured myself that they had everything under control. The walk from the barn to our house is a short distance, so I might have missed it had I not been looking down in that moment. There…in the middle of my path…was a piece of iron ore. I stopped short. No way… I stood there for a minute–just staring at it–trying to wrap my mind around how this chunk had travelled to the middle of my driveway. I bent down, picked it up, and understood to my core what it was doing here. It was affirmation. No one else but Him would have known just how significant a rock in my way would be. I got the message. I’ve got you. I’ve had you since you were a little boy. I know you.  And I know you’re about to do something hard. But, Leslee, you’re tough. If a soft heart isn’t strong…if steel doesn’t cry… what do you say I am? You are a small rock in My hand…and I am capable. I hold things together. I hold things up. I haul the heavy and sail lightly. I hold things protected. In My hand, you are iron. A small bit of steel with a great amount of strength. Trust Me. You’ll be fine today.

Breauna

When we arrived at the cemetery, a few family members had already gathered, but the hearse—and Leif—had not arrived yet. I could tell Leslee was silently drawing on the strength he needed to get through what he was about to do. Speaking at Leif’s service was going to be no easy task. Luxe was sleeping in the car and I used it as an excuse to stay put. Taegan got out to go greet her cousins.

Leslee turned to me as he put the car in park. “Do you want to get out or…?” Leslee asked.

“No… I just want to hide,” I replied as my face crumbled and the tears started falling again.

“That’s fine, baby. That’s fine. I’ll get out, say hi, and you can stay here.”

“I’ll get out when he gets here,” I feebly replied, grateful—so very grateful—for my husband’s sensitivity and understanding. The man was walking, talking proof that one can be incredibly masculine and incredibly soft-hearted at the same time. I couldn’t begin to tell a person all the ways Leslee had comforted me from the day of Leif’s arrival to this day—where we, his parents, were saying goodbye to him on this part of all our journeys. However, as soon as the thought of journeys occurred to me, it also struck me that none of our journeys were over. They would never be over…and that brought me some comfort for a moment.

Still…I didn’t know how I was going to do this. Of all the times I had prayed for strength, the Lord didn’t seem to be providing it this time. I cried some more.

The hearse arrived and pulled up behind us. Leslee hopped back into our car and led them to Leif’s spot. As they started to get things out and set up, I stood there watching. People continued to gather and park, but they had to walk up the hill to get to us. I was grateful for the added time it brought me to try to gain a semblance of composure.

When they laid his little casket on top of the table, a whole new round of tears fell down my face. It was a sturdy, custom made box of old barnwood. It had been sanded to a smoother finish and stained a dark brown. I loved the texture—all the pock marks and imperfections. It was perfect and beautiful—made even more so by the fact that it had been gifted to us by some sweet friends who are in the business of casket-making. Doing this for a baby was something they hated, but we knew this little box was made with love. And in it lay a little body that I loved more than life itself.

The minutes before the funeral began were a blur. My uncle opened it up by reading Leif’s obituary.

“Leif Owen Krider was born to Leslee and Breauna Krider on August 27, 2017. He measured 18 ½ inches long, weighed 5 lbs. 13 oz, and was perfect. His hair was blonde and he had his mommy’s long toes. His parents’ prayer for him was that he would be strong and mighty in the Kingdom one day… and they believe that’s exactly what he is. The Father decided Leif would get a free pass from all the turmoil and trouble this world offers and carried him home before his family could meet him. He waits there with Jesus for that great reunion when all of God’s children get home. Leslee and Breauna are so thankful for the gift it was to be his parents. He lived his entire life in a hug right below his mother’s heart and all he ever knew was that he was loved and wanted by her, his father, his big sisters, and a multitude of family and friends.

Leif joined his grandfather, Lonnie Krider, in Heaven and he is survived by his parents; his sisters, Taegan and Luxe; his grandmothers; Karen Fae Krider and Trish Rogers; his grandfather, David Cauthron; his great-grandmothers; Laurolee Rogers and Betty Cauthron, and a large family of aunts, uncles, and cousins who love him very much.”

After he read that sweet poem we loved, Leslee stood up and made his way to a point right beside the little box holding Leif.

“Breauna and I would like to thank all of you for coming to support us and love on us through this. We have been so grateful for the outpouring of prayer on our behalf, the outpouring of tears cried with us and for us, and the thoughtful, comforting words sent to us and the girls.  I’m going to attempt to stumble my way through a few words here because I want to. I want to do it for Leif.

“One of the most popular questions we were asked when deciding to name our son Leif was ‘Why Leif? Does that name have a special meaning for you?’ We realized it was uncommon and even liked it because it was. Breauna loves history and thought that was just the coolest name since a famous Viking carried it. Naming your son after a famous Viking’s got to bestow some sort of masculine ruggedness upon him, right? Bravery, leadership, influence, strength—all those things parents hope they are able to foster in a son were hopes we had for Leif. At the top of the list, a man who lived to love and obey the Lord. A man who was a force to be reckoned with in the Kingdom. A man who could fight valiantly against the enemy’s attacks and win. A little seed that would grow into a mighty tree. Those were the things we prayed for over our son.

And you know? God heard those prayers and He answered them…just not in the way we expected. You see, Leif was just a unique name we liked until we actually looked up what it meant. The Scandanavian meaning is “descendant” or “heir.” It took on a new significance for us when we learned that because I am the only Krider of my particular line that got to keep that name. And our son would carry it, as well. Leif was the only heir to my last name and so we felt it fit the situation perfectly.

As I sat there in that hospital room trying to process the fact that the Lord had carried away our son before we even knew it, the thought occurred to me that Leif was always His first. He chose us to give Leif’s little soul to for a time, but his true father was the One who created him. He was not just my descendant or heir. I could only give him love, guidance, and a last name he could keep. But, he was God, the Father’s, heir. God, the Father’s, descendant. And he is with him now. Victorious. What heartbreak we feel… but what mercy and favor was shown to Leif in getting a free pass from the ugliness of this world. And we find comfort in knowing he is all those things up there with our God. Jesus is showing him what true masculinity, bravery, leadership, influence, and strength is all about. We cry because we missed out on an opportunity to know him here, but we trust that our little seed has already become– or is being shown–how to be a mighty tree.”

This part did not make me cry. I simply felt bolstered. I had watched my easily touched husband get up there and talk about our baby with such passion while remaining so stoic. It moved me greatly. I couldn’t have been prouder of him only because I knew how much getting emotional bothered him. It would have been completely understandable for someone to fall apart. Natural. But, he held it together. And I knew Who held him.

Out of the corner of my eye, something got my attention. I looked to my right. Sitting on the other side of my grandma was my eldest daughter, shoulders hunkered, quietly sobbing into her hands. Grandma looked at me sympathetically as she patted and rubbed Taegan’s back.  Someone else needed some holding.

***

A sweet prayer from the heart was offered by a good friend and the service was over. It was hard to accept condolences. It was harder to see people smile or laugh when they noticed someone they hadn’t seen in forever. Stop watching people. Let grace abound. A gentle voice amidst the sarcastic, angry thoughts bouncing around in my head. How could someone laugh or smile on a day such as this? This is the second worst day of my life and people are happy! However, conviction trumped emotion.  I was certain I was unknowingly guilty of the same thing. Laughing…smiling…on the worst day of someone else’s life. Yes, grace was necessary. I had surely needed it myself.

We thanked everyone for coming and as people started to leave the cemetery, I stood there with my mom’s arm around me and watched Leslee, Aaron, and Leslee’s uncle, Robert, lower Leif’s casket into the hole his father had dug. A painful, painful moment. The first few bits of dirt and dust fell off the shovel into the hole. A rock fell with a loud “thunk” on the little box and I winced. A couple more rocks fell on top of my baby’s casket and I started to lose it. Right at that moment, Leslee dropped the shovel and knelt, siphoning as he pushed soil into the hole so no more rocks would crash onto Leif’s casket. It had gotten to him, too. I was touched that Aaron was right there beside him on his knees in his suitpants pushing dirt as Robert used the shovel to get the big rocks out from his side.

I stood there and watched until the hole was completely filled. Numb. A surreal feeling of “This cannot be happening to me.” I had just buried my baby boy.

 

***

We got into the car to drive home for one last little piece of ceremony that Aaron and Maddi wanted to do for our girls. Maddi was sitting with me in the car as Leslee saw to everything being finished up. She turned to me in characteristic fashion of good humor and said, “Well, I think I know Leslee’s future career path. You’re gonna be married to a preacher. Breauna Krider…preacher’s wife.” She raised her eyebrows, blew out a big breath, and slyly said, “You better get your act together.”

I laughed. Second worst day of my life…and I laughed.

 

***

We arrived home ready to take it easy in a little solitude, but there was one last thing we wanted to do with the girls. It had been Maddi’s idea. She had texted me mid-week and said, “Hey, I want to run something by you. How would you feel about Aaron and I getting the girls a couple balloons that they could write or draw on and letting them turn them loose after Leif’s funeral?”

“I think that would be really special,” I replied. It was.

With markers, Taegan and Luxe started creating on their balloons. My thoughts wandered as I waited and I was pulled back to Earth by Leslee.

“Breauna, look…” He held Taegan’s balloon. On it were written the words, “I love you, Leif” and below stood a little stick figure with a crown on his head. She got it. Taegan understood. I was completely touched. So was Leslee.

We stood the girls out in the field and told them to let go of their balloons. Taegan was all too ready to watch it fly away…up to Leif. Luxe was a little more hesitant, but upon finding out there were two extra balloons to play with, she let go.

I watched the balloons float up, up, up…and a little piece of me let go, too. The balloons soared and I envied them because they were just a little bit closer to home than I was. I wanted to go home. Up, up, up. But, for whatever reason, I was still standing here watching green balloons become specks amidst the clouds. A wave of determination rolled through me. I’m still aliveso You’re not done with me yet. I trust You—no matter how much this hurts. You’re still good. You are God and You are good. This—all of this–has been filtered through Your sovereign hands. You’ll create something beautiful out of this. I believe that because it’s who You are. Carry me with that hope. Help me hold on…and let him go.

As our balloons to Leif vanished, I whispered to the sky, “Bye-bye, baby boy. I’ll see you soon.”

Leslee

As our friends left, we made our way inside the house and the girls continued to enjoy their balloons as the evening went on. Taegan cut the string off hers so she could bounce it around while Luxe let hers proudly float in the living room as we turned in for the night. I shut all the lights off and glanced at the balloon—still floating, but maybe having lost some of its pep.

Luxe hopped out of bed the next morning in a hurry to get to the living room. Little feet flew past our room only to fly back down the hall into our room as she exclaimed, “Mommy, where’s my bawoon?! It’s not in da wiving woom!”

I got up thinking, It’s probably on the ground and she just hasn’t spotted it. But, indeed, it wasn’t in the living room. It had ventured down the hall and made a right-hand turn…directly into Leif’s room.

Luxe came up behind me. “Oh!” she giggled. “It’s in Weif’s woom. I didn’t even see it there!”

I smiled and acknowledged the special wink from God. “Luxe,” I sighed. “I think your brother liked the balloons.”

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Leif’s Story: Day 5

8/31/17

Breauna

I woke up this morning a little stronger—a little lighter. My chest was no longer throbbing and I sighed as I looked up. Thank you. I had a few things I wanted to get taken care of before Leif’s funeral and it gave me purpose. My resolve to place pieces of my heart in every aspect of Leif’s funeral carried me through a solo trip to the city where I encountered pregnant women and babies at every turn. But, I couldn’t help reflecting on a moment I’d had the day before with Luxe. I was sitting on the couch watching her dance. The little girl loves to dance and it’s thoroughly enchanting. I caught myself with a grin of amusement as I watched her and thought, I’m grinning. She stopped and said, “Mama, dance!” just to dart into another twirl and spin. I laughed and stood up, feeling free in that moment to just goof off, So, I did. I danced just to keep her dancing and laughed while I watched her. I thought to myself as tears started to spring, Oh, Luxe, you sweet, precious girl. You are serving right now and you don’t even know it… used by the Lord and He honors your name. Light.  

Baby girl was bringing the sunshine. I see You, God. He winked. The great I AM. Ever resourceful. A shattered heart felt a little less broken. I soaked up the warmth of Luxe as the arms of God encompassed us both. I gave myself permission to feel the joy without guilt and I felt His blessing, knowing He created the moment and called it good.

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Before I went to sleep that night, I opened my Bible to read. I had read Ecclesiastes 2 the night before, so Ecclesiastes 3 was the text for this  night and the timing was no coincidence because right in front of me–on that particular evening–were these words: “In every season, there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

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Tears of gratitude welled up and comfort saturated my heart. I had divine permission to grieve, yes…but also blessing in moving forward. To have happy moments did not mean that I didn’t love Leif… just like being entrenched in sorrow didn’t mean I cared less for the children in front of me. This verse was drenched in grace and I was struck with wonder. Here I was… suffering, broken, so small in the grand scheme of things that go on in the world…and Almighty God was right with me…stooping down in tangible ways to show how He draws close. And even though I hurt, to experience Him like this created a hunger for every single morsel He had to give.  I see You, Lord. Let me see more.

 

Leslee

I dug his grave today. I wanted to. Needed to. I’ve cried many tears and I know I’ll cry more, but today they fall in the form of sweat. It pours out, soaking my shirt.

I work hard and hard work builds muscle. My muscle is one thing I can offer Leif right now—and my family. I hit tree roots and rocks. It only makes me more determined.

Breauna and I chose this resting spot for our son and it is perfect. He’ll be right under a maple tree. Not only will it be beautiful this fall, but it will provide shade for Leif. This was symbolic for Breauna and I. Our biggest and most important goal has always been to plant trees in the lives of our children that provide them strength, trust, faith, love, and shade. This is done by raising them in the Lord. Those trees will be a refuge—a cover—for them as they encounter ugliness on their journey to Heaven. Leif has already made it. But, we still wanted Leif’s little body to rest in the shade. And if my pain brings me any joy at all, it’s knowing that my son and one of my daughters have already been successful in their journey.

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Leif’s Story, Day 4

It’s been almost 8 months since we lost our son and–by the wonderful grace of God– so much healing has occurred in that span of time. We’re all in a good place. However, something still compels me to share the valley we walked through because it is flooded with His grace and goodness. And so, today, the story continues if you so choose. 

8/30/17

My eyes opened to another morning. It was tough to get out of bed. Not only was I sore from giving birth, a wreck from waking up every morning thus far to a nightmare, but my chest  was starting to throb. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. My milk was in full production. It’s too bad my body wasn’t aware that I had no baby to feed. It only stood as a cruel, cruel reminder. I had to let off some of the pressure—even though I was told not to pump. I couldn’t get mastitis. I didn’t have time to get sick. I had to plan his funeral and nothing was going to stop me from attending it.

As I stood in the bathroom, expressing just enough milk to relieve some pain but not cause my body to produce more, tears ran down my face at how absolutely tragic this scene was. Heartbreaking to watch play out. Gut wrenching to go through.

Clear tears ran down my face. White tears close to my heart.

God, please help me. I’m thankful that my body is doing what it’s supposed to, but I can’t take this. Please stop the flow. It hurts and it only serves to cause me more heartache. Please make it stop.

I walked out of the bathroom and made my way down the hall to the living room. The girls were sitting on the couch watching cartoons. Leslee had started back to his milking routine but had fed the girls before he left. I said nothing and made my way to the coffee pot. Numb. Present physically, but not emotionally or mentally. It was so hard to smile. I stood there sipping my coffee at the counter staring off into space as Taegan got up off the couch and came to stand beside me.

“Are you sad, Mommy?”

I could only look at her as new tears welled in my eyes. I nodded my head and squeaked out the word, “Very.”

“I wish Leif was here,” she sighed with the sincerest look of understanding a 7-year-old can muster. I appreciated her reaching out, her attempt to be my company in the misery. Tough- as-nails, rock solid little Taegan who rarely showed emotion was trying to meet me in the pain.

“Me too, baby….me, too.”

I walked back to the bedroom, coffee cup in hand, to put my make up on. Silly, really…knowing how much I would surely cry over the course of the day.  We would go pick up Leif’s casket from some sweet friends who custom made it and deliver it to the funeral home this afternoon.

I reflected on one of the things my OB had said before we left the hospital…that this was going to be the worst month of our lives. She knew nothing of Leslee’s past, but I was certain she was right about me. So, I found my planner, opened it to August, and crossed out the 27th, 28th, and 29th. 3 days down. 28 more to go.

 

Leslee

 

We had spent a lot of time driving, it seemed, and today was no different. We drove in virtual silence, but that was ok. No conversation was necessary. No questions needed asking when tears would well up. A pat on the leg, a squeeze of the hand, a sympathetic look was the only exchange. I would look at her and wonder what was going through her mind. How she was feeling. How she was processing. I reflected on the “stages of grief” I went through and wondered if Breauna would hit those or whether I could help her skirt around a few based on my own experiences.

I took her out to lunch after we delivered the casket to the funeral home and we talked about the coming days and other things. It was probably the first time we had a conversation without crying. We left and on the drive home, Breauna sat looking up at the sky. Her face was always turned to the window. What was she thinking about? I wondered that a lot. Sometimes, I pressed for an answer and she was always willing to talk, but other times I just left her alone with her thoughts. I had a pretty good idea.

A song came on the radio and she reached to turn it up. I remember the song—“Wild West” by Runaway June—a current favorite of hers. It was the first time since Leif left us that I’d heard my wife sing. I just sat there and listened. To say something might have caused her to stop and I didn’t want that. I sat there and let the low, rich tambre of her beautiful voice wash over me while I rejoiced in my head. She loves to sing. She’s singing! My grieving, heartbroken wife is singing.

The song ended and I couldn’t hold back. “I’m so in love with you,” I told her. “And I’m so happy to hear you singing.”

She turned to me and gave me that little grin she does.

That was my first indication that she was going to be ok. That we were going to be ok. If she was ok, I was ok. I would walk with her through every stage of what she was going to go through in the next month and more, but she was singing… It reassured me. Amidst the brokenness, I held onto the beauty of that moment.

 

***

That evening, after milking, I walked up to the house. All the lights were on and it was dark outside, so the fact that I was simply standing in the yard staring into the windows went unnoticed. It wasn’t my first time to enjoy watching my life—my family—without them knowing. I actually did it quite a lot.  It never failed in giving me a sense of awe. The stunning woman in that house is my WIFE! Wow…speechless. Those beautiful little girls were MINE to shepherd. I definitely didn’t deserve any of this privilege.

I enjoyed taking a moment to stand here and be outside of it. Outside of myself for a moment just looking at my life and reflecting on where I’ve been. Where I am now. What I’ve seen…and the sadness overtook me out of nowhere. What I’ve seen…

I couldn’t help reflecting on the weeks following Luxe’s arrival. Starting at 5 p.m. every single night, she would start screaming and crying and it would last until exactly 8 p.m. I, of course, was always milking most of the evening, so Breauna would have to walk up down the hall and in and out of our bedroom bouncing, swaying, and pacing to somewhat calm Luxe. She wore a path through the house until Luxe grew out of the colic. I would see this each night as I walked up.  Well, actually, I could hear it, too, so I didn’t stand there very long. I’d walk in ready to relief pitch…even if it was only for about 20 minutes.

I remember all that. And this moment looked a lot like that. We’d come home from the hospital. The girls were in the living room. My wife was standing in the kitchen. Hair piled on top of her head. Sweatpants. T-shirt. Everything looked like it should have. Like it would have. But, there was no baby in her arms. There was no Leif… and there never would be. Empty arms was the distorted image I saw through my windows and the pain washed the moment in gray. Even my house seemed to sag from missing something it knew it was supposed to contain. I did my best to pull myself together before I walked in the door.

Day 2-3: Walking On in the Ugly Beautiful Bitter Sweet

The sun went down on our first day home and pain blindsided me in a moment I didn’t expect. You might wonder how it blindsided me when it had been the only constant, but some happy moments were even sadder than the sorrowful ones. I glanced outside as the sun went down to see Leslee pushing our girls on the swings.

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It was a sweet moment, but I felt the bitter start to build inside me. He was smiling, they were giggling…laughing, and I was having a hard time with the image of happiness this scene was portraying. It was surreal…standing there fully aware that this was my life and yet I was so far removed from it. In my mind, I was wherever Leif was. That’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be witnessing a happy family. I didn’t belong there.

I remember a conversation I had with my mom before I left the hospital. A conversation about how life goes on in spite of you. I told her I didn’t know how in the world I was going to move forward. That I had no desire to. I can’t remember everything she said, but one line stuck with me. “That’s the hard, but somewhat merciful thing about life…Whether we want to move forward or not, as life moves forward, it tends to drag us along with it.”

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I stood there looking out the window and realized this was one of those moments. This beautiful, ugly, golden, bitter moment where I first experienced that she was right. I was going to be dragged along whether I liked it or not. It was happening as I stood there. My family was going to drag me along.  I might as well find the beauty over the ugly. The sweet over the bitter. I got my camera. It occurred to me that I might want to remember this. This…the moment  life started to move on. The moment life looked like nothing horrible had happened to us.  A normal, happy family playing in the yard.

I saw Leslee pushing the girls and I wanted to embrace his strength. This was a joy-filled moment. For him. I was sincerely thankful for that. He found solace in two little girls. I took pictures. Someday, we’ll all get back to this, right, Father? I have to believe that.

**

My head hit the pillow that night and I passed out. But not before I cried some more. For as I had gone to turn out the light under our cabinets, there lay the pacifiers I had bought last week.

**

I woke up the next morning feeling a lot more rested. A little stronger. I moved through the fog that surrounded me and prayed a thousand prayers. Every moment, I need You. I need You. Give me the strength to get out of this bed. Give me the strength to make breakfast. Give me the strength to plan my son’s funeral today. Let me feel you, Lord. Heal my broken heart. Give Leif a hug and a kiss from me (I love you, sweet boy). I need You. Please comfort me.

If my own prayers weren’t enough, I was covered.  In prayers and love. I could feel it. A warm embrace. Prayers went up…the Lord’s presence intensified. So tangibly. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced and it’s difficult to put into words. He was there…through a loving, specific, well-timed word from Leslee. Through a heart-felt message from friends or family.  Through hugs. Through generosity. Through meals. Through His Word. Through tears. Lots and lots of tears. When I broke down, He carried. When I leaned into the pain and the flood broke forth, His strength could handle the storm. When I whispered, He whispered back.

However, that day was a hard day. We met with the funeral home and made the arrangements for Leif’s service. I sat there and could hardly speak. I was grateful that Leslee did all the talking. We wanted a little handout for people to have at the service. I was frustrated that I didn’t have full control over the design, the font, the colors, the EVERYTHING about it. Amidst my gratitude that the funeral home was willing to do an infant service for very little cost, it worried me that it might not be our idea of perfect. I just wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to control the details because I couldn’t control anything else.

And then I found out I had to write the obituary. I guess I assumed they would have kind of a fill-in-the-blank template for us.  Yeah, something mindless would be best for me right now. I don’t want to think. However, in my current state, I’m certain I would have wanted to hijack that, too. I needed something to give me purpose. Something to throw myself into. I couldn’t be pleased. And the responsibility of writing my baby’s obituary left me feeling overwhelmed.

The ride home was long. There was silence, but feelings and thoughts filled the car.  I stared up out the window, blue sky, white cotton clouds, trying to draw near to those heights. Trying to lose myself…hear God…find my son. Tears were ready and then Leslee grabbed my hand and squeezed intuitively.

“What are you thinking right now?”

Floodgates opened as I turned my head to look at him. “I miss my son!” I wailed. As I cried, he squeezed harder and continued to hold on as tears brimmed in his own eyes. No words were necessary. He missed him, too. His generosity in asking me time and time again to share my thoughts was not lost on me. Giving me permission to unload on him is what he’s always done, but it’s easier to hear when you’re not in it. When you’re not the one unpacking the baggage. We were sharing a suitcase on this journey.

“I love you, Breauna. I miss him, too.” A phrase he uttered countless times never grew old. It grounded me.

When we arrived home, he went to take care of some chores and I sat down at my computer, wrote the first line of Leif’s obituary, and sobbed. I wrote another line and had to stop because I couldn’t even see the screen. Another line. And another…until I had reached 8 lines that I absolutely hated. If ever anger presented itself, it was in that moment. I was angry at myself for not being able to articulate what I wanted to say about my baby. A baby I had only known through little kicks and twists and rolls in my belly. A baby that knew me so much better than I knew him…or would ever get the chance to.   I should have been able to DO this, but it sounded so flat. I looked up and said, “Father, You’re going to have to help me with this. Give me inspiration. Give me the words. I need You.”

 

I decided to leave it for a while. Walk away and put it off. I needed to message a friend and tell her I was using her poem in the ceremony. Little did I know she would help me finish the hard part of his obituary with her response. Her words were perfect.  Yet again, and as always… there He was.

 

Leslee

I finished up my chores and went for a little drive around the farm to clear my head. I had gotten upset upon arriving at the funeral home to find my son was still at the hospital. I beat myself up. I should have brought him there myself. I left him thinking they would pick him up that day. He spent another night at the hospital alone. The thought cut me to the core. I know I was somewhat irrational, but just because he wasn’t living didn’t make me any less his parent. It didn’t make me love or care for him any less. It’s not a switch I can turn off. The funeral director assured me someone was on their way to get him as we spoke, but I was visibly frazzled. These woods and hills brought me peace.

I decided checking my cameras would be a nice distraction. I enjoy tracking the deer population on the farm, hunting sheds…hunting, period. I like to watch the little bucks grow and ponder what they might mature into. I had had my eye on one in particular. I had watched him grow. I had held onto his sheds. He was on my list. I loved how symmetrical he was. The best way I can explain it…He was just my kind of deer. And we had a history. He was stealthy, though, which made him even more of a challenge.

I drove up to one of my cameras, scrolled through a few photos, and there he was. Front and center. His face and his antlers filled the screen. Yes! I thought. What day was this?

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I looked down and it suddenly hit me. 8/27/17. I’ll admit I’ve always been more a believer in coincidence when it comes to details. Small things. This feeling that washed over me was more up Breauna’s alley. I always just kind of grinned and let her tell me a story about details she saw God’s hand in and thought, Well, maybe…But I’ve never felt or experienced anything like that personally.

God wasn’t going to let me write this one off. There stood my special buck—the one I’d hardly talked to anyone about—on my camera on the day we said hello and goodbye to our son. The photo sent a message straight through me. I know you. I know all of the little details. Things you don’t share with everyone. And I know this moment because I know this buck is special to you. Hear Me: It’s going to be ok. If this photo says anything to you, let it be this. If I can work about this tiny thing that speaks volumes to you, I can work about the big things. Start trusting I do indeed speak and work in the details.

I hopped in my side-by-side and ran home to show Breauna my picture and the date. She would know. She would understand what it meant to me and I understood her even better now. I had a story—an encounter of my own—about how God reaches us and how very resourceful He is.

I named the buck Leif’s Buck. Never had I wanted to see a deer live so bad in my life. As long as he stayed on the farm, he was safe. And that day was a turning point for me. God had my back and all the little details in between. He orchestrated them and there was a peaceful blessing in being able to see. I simply had to put the right glasses on when I scrolled through the camera.

Leif’s Story, Day 1, Part 4

Shortly before the girls arrived in a quiet moment in my room, I received a message from my friend, L.A. In it were words sent straight from Heaven. I couldn’t have been more appreciative of the vessel she allowed herself to be when I read:

Baby Bird (The Gift It Is To Be)

Baby bird lays in a tree

Warm and safe ‘neath mother’s wing

Knowing not a world of sin

 Or pain or suffering of man.

He knows of only joy and love

Protections by his God above,

The care his parents give and of

The gift it is to be.

In his egg, he stays untainted

Blue and white and speckle-painted

Content to live unchanged

From his fetal state of life.

For to live a life so short as

Straight heaven-bound from unhatched

Is having not such things as

The devil and his strife.

He’ll know of only joy and love

Protection by his God above

The care his parents gave and of

The gift it is to be.

 

I cried as I finished it and thought to myself, Oh, yes…what a gift it truly is to simply be. I read it to Leslee and said, “Those last 4 lines…they have to go on his headstone.” Leslee agreed.

I had a moment to myself later. No one was in the room. Leslee had gone to get our things and see the girls off. I was alone. Alone with Him. A moment I had been waiting all day for. I looked over at my baby in the crib, sweetly “sleeping.” I started sobbing. Desperate pain and sorrow overtook me. Oh, Father, please give me strength! Give me comfort!  I don’t know how I’m going to do this! I love him so much! I can’t bear this burden, God. I need You! I need You to take this! I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t know what path you have me on, but I want you to know I trust you. Please give me peace.

And then the poem came to mind and even amidst the deepest sorrow I’ve ever felt, I felt gratitude, which only brought more tears. Thank you for letting him “be” with me. Thank you for keeping my little treasure. I told You I wanted to raise him to be Yours…This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I’m grateful, Father. I’m so thankful I got to be his mommy.

 

Leslee

The girls arrived and ran to me. I soaked them up—sight, smell, and sound. Taegan’s little face was tear-stained. Oh, how I wish she could have been spared the pain of this. And oh, how I hoped this didn’t shake her faith or ruin the burgeoning little relationship we saw our daughter enjoying with the Lord. I prayed about that– and sensed it was up to us to model what unshakeable faith looked like for her. I walked them to our room and Taegan was the first to enter. She went straight to Breauna and held on. I had watery eyes. They held onto each other like a lifeline. Taegan saw Breauna’s mom holding Leif and averted her eyes.

“Do you want to hold him or see him?” Breauna gently asked her.

She shook her head.

“That’s ok. You don’t have to,” she said. As mothers do, I knew Breauna could sense every question Taegan wasn’t asking. Every thought she wasn’t speaking. Several family members had arrived with the girls. They hugged each other, offered mutual condolences, and looked at Leif for the first time. Breauna took that moment to quietly tell Taegan through tears of her own, “Baby, you don’t have to be strong right now. It’s ok to cry. Daddy and I are so, so sad and it’s ok for you to be, too. But I want you to know this: God didn’t do this because He’s mad…or because He’s punishing us…or because He doesn’t love us. He is still good and still faithful. I believe that with my whole heart and I want you to believe that, too. Ok? He’s going to get all of us through this.”

Taegan was fighting back tears, but she nodded her head.

She never did look at Leif. Never did ask to hold him. But, when the nurses brought the memory box in with sweet little pictures they had taken of him, a locket of his hair, a special blanket they had wrapped him in, and other little keepsakes they thought our family might like, Taegan untied the green string, looked at every photo, gently touched and inspected each item, and neatly placed it all back in there, tying the bow neatly as if it were something precious. She sat there in a tall chair by Breauna’s bed faithfully for an hour and a half being a little rock. And I can’t number the times she picked that memory box back up and gently, lovingly caressed each item in there while a tear or two would roll down her cheeks. I couldn’t help shedding a tear or two myself as I thought about what she was going through. How much love this little girl had for a baby boy that wasn’t able to feel it. How she had longed to feed him. Longed to hold him. Longed to love him. And in that moment, I did feel a little sorry for Leif. Even though I knew he was in a much better place than I…because he was missing out on Taegan.

 

Breauna

That night was the worst night of my life. Shock was wearing off. Each time I would go in the bathroom, I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t. Everything about me was a reminder of him. I already knew what this felt like. I didn’t need to see it. Everyone had gone home for the evening which left Leslee and I in some much-needed, but very painful silence. Although we were completely exhausted, we didn’t really want to go to sleep.

The nurses were supposed to come take Leif some time in the night so the funeral home could come get him. Leslee had taken it upon himself to make all the arrangements and I was grateful.

I fell asleep some time around 11 and woke back up at 1. I immediately looked over where Leif had been to find him still there. I don’t know why, but this wrecked me. If he had been gone, it would have wrecked me. Everything wrecked me. I was wrecked. If daylight had been unimaginable, the night was beyond comprehension. I let the sobs rock my body. I tried to be quiet because Leslee had fallen asleep, too. We need him to get some sleep, I thought to myself. He’s got a lot on his shoulders right now and I’m too weak to carry anything but this. I reflected on our conversation before bed. As we stood over the crib and looked at our sweet baby boy, I turned to my husband and broke down.

“Will I ever be ok again?” I clung to him and cried my eyes out. “Will this gaping, gut-wrenching hole ever be filled? Because I don’t want to feel like I’ll never recover from this! I don’t want to feel this hole forever!”

All the while, I was wrought with guilt for feeling this way. Salty, guilty tears for having the opportunity to carry on without my baby boy. And wanting to do it without feeling the weight of this misery. People had told me this hole would never be filled, but that time would make it better. That offered me no comfort. It left me feeling like a comeback was impossible. So I turned to the only person that might have an answer for me. The one I trusted most with predicting my outcome. These were uncharted waters for me…but they were not for Leslee. Amidst this present grief, he had been here before. He had walked out of a hospital without his child…and without a wife. He had navigated the unimaginable.

He put his finger under my chin, lifted my face up, and in answer to my question said, “Although I don’t want to say it, you’re not through the worst part yet. But, let me tell you this…you will be ok again, baby girl. We’ll get through this. And just speaking from my own experience, holes can be filled. And it doesn’t mean you love the ones you lost less…it just means you found joy again…and that’s ok. We have two beautiful girls and I love you. I can carry us. We have much to find joy in. We can fill holes, baby. Don’t feel guilty using a shovel.”

He lay sleeping and his words continued to run through my mind. Holes and shovels. I got out of bed and walked over to Leif’s crib. My heart implodes while new tears burst forth. I walked back over to my bed, but decided to sit in the chair next to it. I grabbed my phone and clicked on Pinterest. I wanted distraction. But, as I scrolled, I found no satisfaction. Distraction wasn’t a luxury awarded me. So, I decided to look up comforting Bible verses. I knew them all, but felt led to look again.

“Code blue! Code blue!” an automated voice declared over the intercom system in the hallway. I didn’t know what that meant, but knew it couldn’t be good. I went on scrolling and read verses like Psalm 14:73, “He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.” Isaiah 43:2, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” I continued to seek His word for comfort in this as I continued to cry. And then, as I do when anything affects me positively or negatively, I decided to write. I sobbed as I wrote, but yet I didn’t want to forget the moment.

“Code blue! Code blue!” the automated voice again sounded the alarm. It had been about an hour and I wanted to know what that meant. Cardiac arrest was Google’s answer. A patient requiring immediate resuscitation. I inhaled slowly. Oh, please let that baby be ok.

My tears had started to dry up. It was 4:30 in the morning. My eyes were getting heavy and I crawled back into bed. As I drifted off, I was awakened by a screaming sob in one of the rooms down the hall. Leslee stirred. He heard it, too. I wanted to run out of my room to her, but all I could do was squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth knowing there was nothing I could do to ease her pain. I knew that all too well.

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