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.

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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