I thought about celebrating my half birthday....every year since the year Ruthie Lou died. As an adult, its not pertinent to celebrate your birthday, the years get lost and really a birthday celebration becomes about celebrating that you are still alive. But, when your daughter dies on your birthday, it's hard to celebrate anything, let alone that I am still living on the day of her death.
This year was going to be different. My son changed schools and because his birthday is mid summer, they celebrated his half birthday and I thought it fitting to do the same with mine. I was going to celebrate my life, my living, my being alive on March 10th this year but as the day rolled around, it didn't feel right. What adult celebrates their half birthday?? None, that I know of. It began to feel silly.
The weekend prior I celebrated life by honoring my sweet daughter with 7 other ladies who have also said goodbye to their babies and I realized, I celebrate living each day that I get out of bed. I am living this life and the "years counted" doesn't really matter. I wish that my birthday felt different, I wish I still had a day designated for me, but I wish even more that my baby was living so in the grand scheme of things a birthday dinner doesn't really matter.
So instead of candles on cake, we lit candles in a cathedral. Instead of making a wish, I sent my love to my sweet girl. Instead of a birthday dinner, I sat with two other mamas missing their babies and we laughed as we ate delicious food overlooking the ocean. And half birthday or 4 1/2 years later, I am still living and today I celebrated both my daughter and me, as I do every.single.day.
I can eat cupcakes any old day. Today marks 4 1/2 years since I held my sweet girl in my arms, not much else matters on this day.
Return to Zero premiered on Saturday, May 17th at 8pm on Lifetime. I have posted about it on Facebook nearly everyday and I am so grateful for the support and understanding of the people in my life and their willingness to watch a film that includes the devastating loss of a child. I am so passionate about this film. I am so grateful for the potential that it has to bring to our society, not only to parents of babies who have died but also to their support networks of family and friends. Nobody knows what to do when a child dies, including the child's own parents!! Yet in the midst of grief you find yourself having to navigate through the unknown sea of overwhelming emotions while at the same time explain or educate those around you because it is unchartered territory for everyone. It is a truly devastating, confusing, scary and lonely time to survive. This film will change that. This movie is for everybody because unfortunately, at some point in your life, you will know someone who experiences a tragic loss and you will want to be able to support them.
While I didn't experience the still birth of my child, I have endured and survived the death of my beloved daughter at 33 days, Return to Zero is still my story. It is the story of a couple that love each other so much, a couple anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child, a couple that had to rebuild their life, their view of the world and ALL of their relationships after their beloved child has died. This movie is so much more than a child dying. It is so much more than death. It is about the beauty of life, the resiliency of the human spirit, it is about living when you are pretty certain that there is nothing left to live for.
I was fortunate enough to see the movie twice already, the first time being at the World Premiere at the San Jose Film Festival Cinequest. I was so nervous to watch the movie, of how I might feel emotionally affected, about being in the room with strangers while feeling vulnerable, I was afraid of what emotions might be stirred back up. I quickly realized that instead of being thrust back into the world of loss, in which I live everyday, I felt seen, I felt heard, I felt empowered. I felt like, FINALLY, someone is telling our story! Of course, I cried (which I seldom do in public) but I also laughed, quite a bit! There are so many times when you're in the midst of grief that inappropriate laughter is the only thing that can possibly carry you through and this movie captured so many of those awkward, entertaining yet necessary moments.
Since the viewing at the film festival, I have had the utmost honor of befriending the mother who this story is based upon, whose husband created the film in honor of their son. She has offered our community of "baby loss mamas" an incredible gift by sharing such an intimate time of her child's life with the world. She, and her family, are breaking the silence of stillbirth, they are breaking the silence of the taboo subject that babies die, too. She is offering a look into our lives from the outside, so that friends and family members can better understand and support those they love when they experience the unimaginable loss of their child.
In this movie, they do show the labor, delivery and post partum time with the couple's beautiful baby boy. It is devastating, it is sad, it is heartbreaking. And it is real life. It is real for the 26,000 families a year whose child has died before birth. In those moments that you never think you will experience, you have to fit a lifetime of love, hugs, kisses, snuggles, smells and photos. I am so glad that the creators of this movie were true to life in this film, they didn't shy away from the reality of what life is like when your child dies. In order to BREAK THE SILENCE, you have to be forthcoming and real and raw to bring understanding that these babies, our children were real and valued and important and will always be desperately loved and fervently missed.
You know, at one time, I too thought that "this" could never happen to me. It was an easier life, a more lighthearted view of the world where I cared so much about things that I now find truly unimportant. My greatest prayer is that nobody I know has to endure this loss, it is truly devastating and life never returns to "normal". I do however know, that this is a horrible reality yet because of this film, families whose babies have died will have support not only from the community in which relates to them but also from friends and family who through this film can be more empathic, loving and patient as rebuild their life.
Yes, this movie is about a family whose child has died. Yes, this movie is about a child who left far too soon. This movie is mostly about love, perseverance, and the ability to create life after loss. And most importantly, this movie is about educating our loved ones on what this journey has been like and how they can best support us in our greatest time of need.
Through our greatest loss, we truly learn the value in this lifetime.
Please watch this movie in whatever capacity feels safe for you.
Thank you, RTZ team, you have truly changed the way in which our society will view our beloved children in their short yet beautiful life in this world.
October 22-October 28, 2013
Day 22, Words-There are no words. There are too many words. Everything reminds me of her. Nothing reminds me of her.
Day 23, Tattoos/Jewelry-Chris and I both have (several) tattoos in honor of Ruthie Lou, we always want her close to us in the way that being forever inked allows. I also wear at least one piece of jewelry each day that is special just for her. These bracelets however, are so special to my heart. Just simple pieces of rubber, these bracelets were distributed during the time of Ruthie Lou's life and passing when her name was spoke of often, when people's lives were touched and directly impacted because she was born and the fragility of life was so close to home for other families, too. These bracelets were worn by friends, family and even strangers all over the county. They were the doing of the most wonderful woman, who will always hold a special place in our heart. (Thank you endlessly, Michelle) These bracelets still float around and some people still where theirs (or keep it near) and to see my daughter's name on a friend's arm or attached to their key chain means more than I can even express. I love seeing Ruthie Lou's name ANYWHERE. These bracelets are so special.
Day 24, Artwork-While at George Mark, they fostered a tremendous amount of memory making and most of that was through art. It is so wonderful to recall those moments with Ruthie Lou and her dad, the laughter and tears that were present in those memories. Today, we are continually invited to events that allow for creative outlets and ways in which to honor our sweet girl and our family. Shortly after she passed away, we were invited to take part in a tile making day where an artist came and facilitated the creating of a tile that now hangs on the wall at George Mark. It was really healing to sit with Chris to design what we wanted it to look like, symbols we wanted to represent and then draw and paint a piece in honor of Ruthie Lou. Now, that tile hangs with other special children who have shared in the magic at GMCH, it feels so good to have that spot that is just hers, it one of our favorite places to visit.
Ruthie Lou has ignited a passion for creating and art in all forms. It has allowed me to process so much of my grief in ways that words cannot convey. I don't pretend to be amazing but the release that art provides is motivation enough to continue with each new project. Just another gift from Ruthie Lou...
Day 26, #SayItOutLoud-If I could say one thing about my journey with grief is that given the choice, I would do it again. Despite my broken heart, I would do every part of Ruthie Lou again. I would want HER again. If given the choice of Ruthie Lou or a baby I could have kept, I would choose Ruthie Lou because I love her. She is my daughter and I am so proud of her. Of course I would want her to be here more than anything but since that would never be possible, I would still choose her, I always want HER..
Undeniably my story is sad but I am more than just a sad story, I am a survivor and my daughter is my greatest strength. In my heart she is my biggest cheerleader and when confronted with a challenge in life I always tell myself, "if Ruthie Lou could defy all odds to stay as long as she did, I can ____". She gives me the courage to be me, she is the reason to live my best life, she has shown me the definition of pure love and because of her, I can give to her brother what I didn't know before she was born. She has made me a better mama, I can now give Reid the best of me.
So if I could say one thing about this journey besides it being long, tiring, overwhelming and so devastating, is it is still so full of love. I love my daughter more than this world and if given the choice yet knowing the outcome, I would choose her again and again.
You are worth every single tear my sweet girl. I love you Ruthie Lou, with all of my being.
Day 26, Community-I feel most normal in the online "baby loss" community. Before Still Standing magazine was established in May 2012, I would be attached to Google searching for blogs that understood me. Instead of finding comfort and hope, many times I would be angered, feel more isolated or suffer PTSD having to relive the moments surrounding Ruthie Lou's transition from this world. Still Standing offers acceptance, understanding, empathy and most importantly hope and I am honored to have had an article published with them.
No more searching for blogs, my community now gathers in one place.
Day 27, Signs-I look for my sweet girl everywhere. Everything reminds me of her, nothing reminds me of her.
While in my belly, the ladybug told me Ruthie Lou was ok, that she was healthy and safe. I never knew how much that sign would eventually mean to me. It started with my 5th graders on an overnight field trip where a tremendous amount of ladybugs were discovered in their cabin. I told them how they were a symbol of good luck to the farmers that they helped rid pests from their garden and how lucky the were to be receiving this sign. When I returned to my cabin that eve and listened to Ruthie Lou's heartbeat on the Doppler, I saw them inexplicably in my room, too. It was magical, another sign, she was safe in my belly. She was always safe in my belly. I wish I could have kept her safe forever.
The first night home from George Mark a green ladybug greeted me inside my house and for many months, I only saw green ones. I know the green ones are not the same as the "lady beetle" but as the world was receiving visitors from red ladybugs I like to believe that the green ones are special signs just for mama.
Now, I look for the signs that my girl is safe and that there is life after this world. I feel beauty in these signs it helps me believe in the magic of our universe. It may sound crazy to you but if it helps heal my heart and find acceptance in this terrible mystery, than I will keeping searching them out for the rest of my life. I hope to see my sweet girl again. Until then, we only have this..
Day 28, Special Place-The moment that dusk takes over and the sun sets low, as the pink sky welcomes the night, she waits for me there. I can relive every sunset we shared, 11 total. Rocking in that oak chair, the songs I sung her, the stories I shared with her, the lessons we learned from each other, all blessed with sacred tears. Sunset is still our time. She's always waiting there for me, no matter where in the world I may be.
October 8-October 14, 2013
Day 8, Color- That big YELLOW flower will always be imprinted in my heart and will forever be Ruthie Lou's color. It makes sense that "the colour yellow represents happiness and fun. The traditional yellow colour meaning is that of inspiration. The meaning of yellow is also associated with vitality, energy and illumination."
Day 9, Music-Music is life, listening, dancing, singing, I live to a soundtrack of music. I could've chosen 40 songs or 100 different lines for today. I sung so many to Ruthie Lou, so many are HER songs, songs from the radio, many created from my heart. Music brings such comfort. I like to remind myself that although she was OUR baby child, we are not alone in this, even when it feels so much that we are...
Day 10, Beliefs- Recycled from Winter 2011, when I was pregnant with Ruthie Lou, I have reflected on this writing numerous times. Sometimes I wonder why I felt compelled to write it back then...a message? Perhaps. Reading it always reminds me of the good in the world & the fragility of life️
"I believe in a God that is loving.
I believe that our human experience is only one small part in the life of our soul and it does not begin nor end on the day of our birth or death.
I believe that our human life is short. Often times shorter than we could ever imagine. It is my own personal responsibility to live and love in a way that everyday I am spiritually fulfilled and proud of who I am and who I am eternally becoming.
I believe that people make daily choices in their life. From the moment I wake until I lay my head back on my pillow at night, my choices should be well thought out and only made with good intentions.
I believe that we are responsible only for oursleves. I can only control my own actions and reactions to experiences and events in my life.
I believe that all people are beautiful, pure and have good intentions. I make mistakes but am clear to always learn the lesson and try better next time.
I believe that very unfortunate things happen to very good people everyday without reasons known to us. Everyday I have the gift of choice of what I will learn from my experiences and how I will respond to lifes greatest as wells as most unfortunate events.
My God is pure, loving, accepting and warm. There is only love."
Two years later I am more certain than ever, there is only love.
Day 11, Triggers-To be completed...
Day 12, Article-To be completed...
Day 13, Book(s)-To be completed...
Day 14, Family-To be completed...
October 1-October 7, 2013
Day 1, Sunrise-Just outside my classroom door, the sun greets the day. Even in the most unlikely of places, beauty appears & a wish that never changes-please be with me today.
Day 2, Identity-Ruthie Lou Lands, you sit amongst this shelf and many others in our home, rightfully next to your brother. You will always be our daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and cousin, we are so proud of you. You are a teacher, a messenger, a water bug, a prankster, the light of our life but most of all you are absolutely perfect and you are so, so desperately missed.
Day 3, Myth- The grief will end.
If grief is the response to loss and the loss never goes away then in return, the grief is never ending. It does not go away. It does not end. EVER.
But it does change. And continue to change. Thank goodness for the change.
I don't think I could have been convinced of that early on, it was so hard to believe and quite frankly, I didn't want the grief to change. In some odd way, that sadness and raw emotion helped me to feel closer to Ruthie Lou and I was worried that if the intense emotions subsided, she would really be gone. But, she was already gone, I knew that.
I have learned that the grief never ends and can sneak up at any moment in the most unexpected times and that is ok. It's ok that I am present in my life again. It's ok that I will never be the same again. It's ok not to question why or when I am feeling lost, but just to feel it, it's healthy and it will pass. Sometimes I check out for a while from friends or family, but those who love me will understand, sometimes I just need some RL time.
Grief never ends because my love for my daughter will never end. I will always grieve the loss of my perfect sweet girl, Ruthie Lou, the child I don't get to raise.
Day 4, Legacy-"REMEMBER RUTHIE"
Remember that life is about perspective.
Remember that it's the little things in life that matter, and don't sweat the small stuff.
Remember that life is bigger than what we see.
Remember that we're all part of this life experience and we all have our own journey.
Remember Ruthie means keeping her alive. Keeping her memory alive, keeps her alive.
Remember joy, remember laughter, remember to love the people you're with, remember to love ME.
Remember to be present every day and to learn from every lesson presented in life.
Remember to be the best person I can be.
And lastly, remember that its when things are not perfect, that that's when I really learn
She left me with this, "The Hummingbird Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation." She left me with a new understanding, love and appreciation of life.
Day 5, Memory- Every memory I have with you here, is my favorite memory. But, the best moment everyday was waking up next to you in bed, hearing the purr of your breath and watching you fight waking up. You were definitely a night owl and NOT a morning person, just like your mama! I love the cranky look on your face and am so glad I captured this moment to watch over and over again...
Day 6, Ritual-When we wake in the morning, Reid and I walk to his window to look out his room. It's the best view of the backyard and perfect to watch the sun rise. In the window sits Ruthie Lou's rock from George Mark, another one specially painted from a student before she was born (of course it was a ladybug before we even knew her), her special flower and beads given to me honoring both Ruthie Lou and Reid while he was in my belly.
We stand at that window, Reid in my arms and say aloud, "good morning world, good morning sister". It's important for me to say hello each morning, to start the day positively, to have a moment set aside for Ruthie Lou. This simple act connects me to both my children at the start of the morning, reminds me to slow down and welcome a fresh new day.
It devastates me that he has a sister that he'll never know in this life. Sometimes I don't know who I'm more sad for; him or me. I want him to know her, love her and to never question how much we love both of them. equally but of course in their own uniqueness.
Day 7, "You Today"- My entire perspective on life has changed in the last two years., my belief system altered. I am a different person than I was before Ruthie Lou, that goes without saying. I will never be the person I was before I gave birth to her and don't want to be that person again. My life is so incredibly richer now because of the things she has shown me, my joy greater, my sorrow deeper.
Two years out, I feel like I should be doing more to honor Ruthie Lou. BIGGER things. It's a struggle I battle with often. I realize I talk about her all over FB and in my everyday life but I still feel like there is something larger for her but what that is...I'm still not certain. At first, I felt a big pressure to do something NOW because I wanted the world to know her but today I am following my heart to see where it leads me. I have a lifetime to honor her and I want it to be "right".
I will always be the mama to a child that I didn't get to raise, that will never change but TODAY, today I am also the mama to a beautifully curious toddler and that is such a tremendous gift. I mother differently because of Ruthie Lou, she taught me to stay present, to live in the moment and I am so grateful for the perspective she gave me. I slow down for Reid, I look to see life through his eyes. I will always live in honor of Ruthie Lou but TODAY I now also live this life for Reid.
GRIEF. Noun. A person, place or thing. "Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed"
GRIEVING. Verb. An action word. Something that you do. "1 : to cause to suffer : distress <it grieves me to see him this way> 2 : to feel or show grief over <grieving the death of her son> "
If grief is the response to loss and that loss never goes away then in return, the grief is never ending. It does not go away. It does not end. EVER.
But it does change. And continue to change. Thank goodness for the change.
It would be naive of me to think that how I feel today is how I will continue to feel in years come, that how I felt in year one of missing Ruthie Lou even mirrors how I feel this year. Thankfully, grief changes. Now that doesn't mean that I miss her any less or that I am comfortable in any way with living without my daughter but the loss becomes more tolerable, more normal to this life. And it certainly doesn't mean that in a moments notice (or no notice at all) that I can find myself in the fresh, raw emotions of devastation that haunted me for months after saying goodbye to our sweet girl. Those moments still follow me......
I am thankful for this change. I am sad for this change. In moving farther away in time and in emotion, I feel like I have forgotten some of the memories I never wanted to forget. Thank goodness I wrote so much down, I read those words, close my eyes and I can instantly smell Ruthie Lou's sweet baby smell, I can feel her thick coarse hair in my fingers, I can hear the purr of her breath. But I am thankful that my mind has protected my heart enough to live in this world again, to find joy in the sorrow, to see beauty in the pain.
With all that said, the grief is ever present. It never fully goes away. Like the healing of a wound, the scab has come off but we are still left with this scar, the ever present reminder of the life that will never return.
I am participating in the "Capture Your Grief" event once again this year, it is a photographing event, which seems fitting to my loss for words lately. Last year, I was unable to finish the month, it was too raw, too hard to hold others grief along with my own. This year, I have a fresh perspective, a pull at my heart to discover the purpose in this mystery of life, to contribute to the legacy left by my daughter. I am not exactly sure what that is yet but I am following my heart to see where it leads. Ruthie Lou gave me so many gifts, left so many lessons in the shadow of her path and I don't feel like she's done yet. Perhaps she is guiding me through my journey.
Whatever the outcome, whether I finish the month or not, I know that my job in this life is to bring awareness to the world. Awareness of loss, awareness of love, awareness of grief, that it is all perfection. These babies who we love so much, are so important, they are our family, parts of our hearts that can never be replaced or forgotten, they are our greatest loves. No matter if our children are in our arms or in our hearts, they are a part of us. Forever.
I never want them to be forgotten. I never want a mama or a family to feel alone. You are not alone in this grief.
I am a mama of three beautiful babes; two boys I have the honor of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.