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.

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Walk, Not Run (The Struggle of Being OK with Less)

4/3/18

I went on a walk today. I had a little time to myself and decided a good dose of Vitamin D was in order to make up for all the depressing, cold, rainy days we’ve had of late.

Walking is hard for me. Walking is an all out struggle. It goes against everything in me to be ok with walking. My natural preset is run. Push. Challenge. Perform. Improve. Learn. Grow. Learn some more. And then do it again. Do. Do. Do.

I’m self-aware enough to know this about myself and realize that sometimes our natural presets work against the very progress we seek, so as I shut the front door, I stepped out on the porch and said a little prayer, Lord, just help me be. And walk with me.

 This is a concept He’s been driving home with me ever since Leif passed away–that action is a comfort zone for me. Action keeps me focused on what’s ahead—always working towards the next ____________…living in anticipation and being underwhelmed with the present. If I can just get to the next spot in the road—the next highpoint—the next whatever…and yet…I can’t finish that sentence because I don’t know what I’m even running towards. I don’t know what happens “if” I get there…I just figure it’ll be better than what I’m dealing with right now. I’ll be better than who I am right now.

It’s interesting how an introspective person has a problem staying who they are…where they are. Has a problem just walking. It’s interesting how I keep coming to the Lord asking him to change me. To grow me. To help me evolve into who He created me to be and yet…never being truly satisfied with who that is. The best version of me is never who I am right now.

Herein lies my ephiphany: Breauna, if you’re just doing all the time—crossing things off a list, living by checkpoints, constantly challenging yourself to be better, faster, stronger, more this, more that, are you ever truly being?

And so we come back to the walking. Walking requires me to just be. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to get my mindset right. I don’t have to perform because walking doesn’t require anything of me. It’s mindless. And yet…my mind runs rampant as it clears. The gravel crunches under my feet, still mush from the rain. The wind rushes through the pines in a hollow. It sounds like a roaring creek and He knows it soothes me. A warm breeze softly caresses my face. Angel breath.  Just be. With Me.

I talked. I talked a lot. He knows my heart. He knows my motivations are pure. I listened. What better insight can one gain than from the One who made them? From the Father who knows what He wants each of His children to be? He created me this way. He created this driven, disciplined, high-energy woman, but the real challenge—the rewarding journey that leads to satisfaction—is not becoming more of that. It consists of learning how to temper it. Tempering my own intensity. It serves me and my personal growth, but it doesn’t necessarily serve others. And He desires that I—that we all–serve others. And in serving others, we have to learn how to walk. We come alongside…and we walk. We slow down. We be present. And we be open and aware to His promptings. Being “busy” with productivity and efficiency leave little space for impact. And impact is my heart’s greatest yearning.

It’s always interesting to me that even in the smallest of ways, God has to get me outside of my comfort zone to do exactly what I’m asking Him to do. On a measly, mindless walk with a long list of things I should be doing, the Almighty Runner—the Ultimate Doer– comes alongside me…and He walks. And He shows me—yet again—that’s it’s ok to be less sometimes. Because, for a personality like mine, that is where the growth is. That is the evolving. Evolving into less. Because less is more. Not for me, but for Him.

 

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Say Yes

I’ve been reflecting today a lot on the last 6 months—how we’ve loved and lost, how we’ve come up against obstacles, how fast change has been enacted in our lives, how doors have opened, how others have closed, how one chapter has ended while a new one is beginning, how prayers we’ve been praying for so long occur in a moment, a blink of an eye and we got what we asked for. A blink of an eye and we’re on a new path. A blink of an eye and suddenly we see so much clearer things we’ve never seen before. Or maybe we’ve seen them, but retreated in fear. No more.

A new path could be worrisome because we’re not really fans of unpredictability, but we embrace it because we trust the Trailguide. He promises adventure.

There’s a quote that says, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going. It’s who you have beside you.” True…A new path doesn’t seem daunting when you embrace it with the one you love. When the team is solid. United. And working toward a common goal together. But, I think it’s better said, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going when you know Who’s in front of you, Who’s beside you, and Who’s behind you. Just say yes.”

I praise You, God, for moving our mountain! I praise You for giving Leslee and I the grace and power to please You through Jesus! I praise You for giving us Your strength in our struggles so we’re more solid than ever in our love for each other and our faith in You! And I praise You for everything else You’re about to do even though I can’t see it. I simply say yes. Let it be, Lord. Let it be.28378910_10156444720881435_1641743548690420011_n

Leif’s Story, Day 1, Part 3

Leslee

I made arrangements for the girls to be brought to us in the city as Breauna rested. I had laid Leif in the little crib cart the nurses had brought to our room and sat down. Heart broken. Spent. Still in shock. All I knew was that I had to be strong for Breauna. My mind raced. Maybe something was wrong with him and that’s why God took him. As an act of mercy on us. No…no no no…He was perfect. I know in my heart there wasn’t anything wrong. Why, then? Why did he make it to this point and then…? I wanted answers so badly. It’s me, isn’t it, God? It’s not Breauna. She’s suffering because of me. Because I just can’t get my act together. I battle controlling my mouth. I battle so many things. I’m not who you want me to be, right? I  think it’s pretty obvious right now that I am cursed. Two out of four…not a real great success rate… But over and above all that, I looked over at my wife and wondered what she was thinking and feeling. I felt for her more than I thought of myself. What was it like to bear a child? What kind of pain did that entail? What pain she must be in…far greater than mine…to have carried him for nine months, felt every kick, felt every roll,  and lost him. What was she feeling right now? What was she thinking?

I watched her bring Leif into the world knowing he was dead and I couldn’t think of anyone I’d ever known who was stronger than my wife. I was thankful-so thankful-that she was here. I may not have had Leif, but I still had her. I knew what it was like to lose my whole family–

My outlook took a turn there. Was I discouraged? Yes. Was I hurting? To the core. Was I afraid of what lie ahead and how we would navigate it? Yeah…a little…because I’d gone down this path before. But, I was harder now. Stronger. See, that’s the thing about death and loss—at least for me, anyway—each time I suffer, I get tougher. The dark places of this rough road are familiar. Call me callous, but the first time I went down it was the hardest. After that, I knew how to get where I wanted to go. But, I could not imagine going down it without Breauna. That would be a whole different road. That’s the other thing about death and loss—for me, anyway—my loss caused me to love Breauna like I’ve never loved before. That woman lit up my road—lit up my entire life. I didn’t have to wonder what it would be like if I lost her—goodness, I didn’t even want to think about that. Black. The darkest black. Blind black. Black I didn’t think there was any way I could ever recover from.

I’m not cursed. I’m still very blessed. And I determined right there that we would certainly cry together—we would hurt—but I was going to be the one this time that lit our road. I was going to guide her down it. In the fog, I would try my best to bring clarity. I would validate her feelings. I would hold her when she cried—when we cried. And I would understand.

I tried my best to cling to that thought—how very blessed I still am—and decided to focus on what needed to be done right now. There was one thing nagging my heart in that moment: Taegan was on her way to the hospital and she didn’t know. My heart broke all over again thinking about her…knowing she was excited and happy. I asked our family not to say anything to her because it needed to be me. I was dreading that phone call, but I couldn’t let her get here thinking she was going to meet her baby brother and find out once she was here that he was gone. That felt cruel. So, I picked up the phone and called my sister.

“Hey, Tanna. Where are you guys at?”

“We just left…only about 5 minutes down the road from Mom’s.”

“Ok, can you put Taegan on the phone? I need to tell her.”

“Yeah.”

I heard some shuffling and then Taegan’s sweet little voice.

“Hi, Daddy!”

“Hey, baby…um…There’s something I need to tell you.” My voice broke and tears started rolling down my face.

Silence.

“Leif didn’t make it.”

“What…?”

“He didn’t make it, sweetie.” She started to cry and  the call dropped. Oh, no! Aw, man! I dialed it back as fast as I could and got Tanna again.

“Can you put Taegan back on the phone? I’m not sure if she hung up on me or if you lost signal, but I need to talk to her again.” I felt awful. There was no easy way to do this and I couldn’t come up with words. I could hear her crying in the background.

“Hello?” Taegan said.

“Hey, I lost ya there. Mommy and I want to see you really bad. I’m going to have Tanna text me as soon as you get here and I’ll meet you at the front door, ok? I love you, Taegan.” She was still crying. “Hey, I love you. I’ll see you when you get here, alright?” She wasn’t talking. Just crying.

Tanna came back on the phone and I said, “Hey, Tanna, just let me know when you’re parked and I’ll come meet you at the front door.”

“Ok, Leslee. Love you.”

“Love you, too. Bye.”

I felt awful. That was definitely one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make.

 

Breauna

I listened to Leslee make that phone call, tears rolling down my face. My mom had arrived and was sitting in the chair next to my bed in tears, as well. She was holding Leif and trying her best to be a comfort. The only thing I could think about was Leif. I beat myself up. How did I not know? I’m his mother! How did I not know?! I went shopping on Friday and bought the rug I’d been wanting for his room. I took the girls to the pediatrician and told her she was going to have a new little patient. And he was already slipping away…or gone! I didn’t even know! He didn’t tell me goodbye! Oh God, please say he didn’t suffer. I was supposed to protect him. He was supposed to be safe with me. I failed. I failed miserably. I failed my son. I gave him my best and it wasn’t good enough. Tears continued to come. I thought I’d never stop crying. I continued to pray for peace, comfort, and strength. I got it, but I found that tears were a part of it.

My sister arrived and we held on tight. “I wish I could take all of this on myself,” she said as she cried. “I wish I could carry this pain on me rather than see you carry it. I just want to make all this go away. I feel so helpless to help you.” These were the same sentiments almost verbatim that my mom had said when she had arrived earlier. “I wanted to let you know there’s a little bit of buzz on Facebook. Nothing specific. It’s all pretty vague, but people are asking questions.”

“Aw, man, are you serious?” I asked.

“Yeah…”

In that moment, I was frustrated that I had to do it, but I would much rather have had people hear it from the source than find out from someone else, so I quickly typed up a Facebook post.

 

I’ve heard there is Facebook chatter, so I’ll go ahead and address it. I went into labor this morning, got to the hospital fine, and found out our son, Leif Owen, was no longer with us. He’s with the One who gave him to us. We are experiencing the unimaginable, but I feel Jesus here with us. And through it all, we still believe that God is good. Your prayers mean the world to us. Leslee and I are leaning into each other while we trust the Father with this grief.

 

I clicked “post” and tried my best to think about some of my favorite songs. This is not well with my soul, Father. Not yet, anyway. But, I trust You’re going to make it so. You’ve always been my only hope. More so now than ever. So, don’t let me go. Peace came over me as friends and family started to fill up the waiting room. Never have, never will, it was as if He said. Messages of comfort and solidarity started pinging on my phone. Prayers were going up. Friends were crying with us. People loved us and they loved Leif, too. It wasn’t easy letting each of them see me so raw, but I found that visiting and having each of them cry, sit, and talk with us was a comforting distraction from solitude in our pain. I was thankful for that…and thankful for friends and family all over the country that were another vessel for the love God wanted us to feel. And for the rest of that day, I chose to dwell on that.

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Leif’s Story (Day 1 Continued)

Breauna 

I’m not tough. I wouldn’t call myself tough at all. I knew Who had me. When the doctor told me how far along I was, I was dumbstruck, as well. How could I be almost ready to have a baby? I wasn’t in pain! My quick bathroom prayer was definitely being answered. However, I also knew this took me completely out of the running for an epidural. I was too far gone. So, this is how it’s going to be, huh? I thought. You’re going to allow me to feel the full force of what I’m about to do…All the pain…on every level… And then, a warm thought filled my heart. What WE’RE about to do. I’m here. I’m carrying you. I’m carrying all of this. Lean into the pain. Trust Me. 

I couldn’t stop crying. I’d dry up for a minute and then a new flood would burst forth. I still had no idea how I was going to do this, but I knew I wanted to see him. I wanted to see my baby.

The OB and nurses had left the room for maybe ten minutes when my contractions started coming on full force. This was the kind of pain I remembered well. I turned to Leslee, “It’s time! It’s happening! They need to hurry back in here.”

He dodged out the door and they came back with him. I was in the middle of an intense contraction, so they and Leslee lifted me onto a different bed to take me into the delivery room. I sat bent over, cringing, on the edge of the bed as they wheeled me down the halls. Laying down hurt so bad that I was refusing their directives at that point. When the uncontrollable desire to push started to present itself, we had arrived in the delivery room. They needed to move me to a different bed. Seriously? I was able to stand just long enough for another contraction to take me down. Leslee and the nurses lifted me again. The OB was in the room and I pushed. I couldn’t help it. My body had taken over and my brain could only focus on getting this baby out. Emotional pain went out the window while I felt the full physical force of bringing my son into the world. My son that wasn’t even alive. That thought never really left me.

The nurses put my feet on the stir-ups and told me to hold onto the back of my legs. I moaned, “I can’t!!”

“Yes, you can, Breauna! Put your hands up here!” they coached me.

Another contraction rocked me and I pushed again, crying out to God for help.

“One more push,” the doctor said.

“Breauna, honey, you need to grab hold behind your knees and push!” the nurse said again. I was in so much pain that I didn’t even have the ability to pull myself up there. As the next contraction started, I drew up with all my might, sideswiped several nurses with my right hand on the way up, and grasped hold of my husband who was standing at my left. He stood there like a boulder while I held onto him for dear life, face buried in his shirt, and brought Leif’s little body into the world. Three pushes. I thanked God for that and fell back onto the bed completely exhausted.

In the nurses rush to help me labor, they hadn’t had time to hook me up to anything. Leslee went into a little bit of a panic. “Hey, can we make sure she’s ok over here? She’s not hooked up to anything. Nothing’s monitoring her. Can you—can you just make sure she’s ok?”

I wasn’t concerned. At that point, I didn’t really care if I lived or died.

***

That moment was short lived when the nurse turned to me and gently asked, “Do you want to hold him?”

I nodded. There was nothing I wanted more. Nothing in the world.  He was swaddled and she placed him carefully in my arms. He weighed only almost 6 pounds, but I was surprised at what a solid almost 6 pounds it was. His eyes were peacefully shut and it looked like he was sleeping. I studied him with tears rolling down my face. Leslee was looking over my shoulder. Our son. The little boy I was so proud to give Leslee. I knew he was destined for great things…and now this… Dreams completely gone and love that felt like it had nowhere to go. Could he feel it? In Heaven, did he know that I loved him with everything I had?

“He’s beautiful,” I said as I looked at Leslee, both our eyes full of tears that streamed down our faces.

He nodded. “He is. He’s perfect.”

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We both continued to simply stare at him. His hair was dark, but as it dried, it went blonde. It had grown in a ring around his head and the top was bald. I smiled and looked at Leslee. “He has your hair.”

Leslee smiled and laughed a little, nodding.

His eyes were closed, but we could tell they were big, with long, wispy lashes. He had a cute little smushed nose and generous little lips. Pretty lips. Kissable lips. We both saw a very even mix of his sisters in his features. The girls the Lord blessed us with are absolutely beautiful and Leif was, too.

The OB had told us by looking at Leif, his estimate was that he’d been gone for 2+ days. His coloring was not that of a baby born alive, but that was ok because parents only see perfection anyway. And I was thankful—so thankful—that I was able to see him when I did. That I was actually able to give birth to him rather than have him removed from me via medical intervention. I thanked God for allowing me that mercy. I didn’t get to meet my son, but I got to see him. I got to see the little soul that was knit to mine for 9 months.

The medical staff left us alone and I handed him to Leslee. I still didn’t feel like this could be real. This couldn’t be happening to me. This happens to other people, not me. I’m not sitting here watching my husband cradle our dead baby in his arms while we cry. My heart continued to cry out to God for something to hold on to while wave after wave of grief overtook me. I turned to Leslee.

“Can you have someone bring the girls? I want to hold them.”