Broken Wings and Sacred Space…

img_5140“What are you thankful for?”

The phrase that is thrown around quite often this time of year. Gratitude list. Name things you’re thankful for. Things and people you appreciate. What are you most thankful for this year?

5 and 1/2 years ago, that first Thanksgiving without you, these questions would have sent me in a spiral of tears and clenched fists… what could i possibly be thankful for? I just buried my son. His father just left. This should have been his first holiday season with us. His first little onesie with a silly turkey on it, his first dimpled first full of his Mimi’s famous garlic mashed potatoes… his first family photo shoot amongst the autumn leaves of Ohio… should have been. But wasn’t.

And every year we gather together around the festive table, there will always be an empty high chair… booster seat… big boy chair this year. And every year, i will look around that table filled with the ones i love so much, and i will smile at each heart that has loved me so well, and a tear or 2 may trail down that cheek. A tear for my little one who is having quite the banquet of his own with Jesus, and i like to imagine they have quite a massive “kids table” filled with his angel baby friends…

And I’m jealous of that table. The utter completeness they must feel in the presence of our Savior… the joy with no sorrow. I can only imagine the immense amount of love and wholeness around that table.

I wouldn’t say every year without my son gets easier, but every year i seem to be a little better at juggling the tears of grief and the laughter and joy around that table. My muscles have gotten a little stronger the longer I’ve learned to rides the waves of grief that come out of nowhere at times. And at moments, my arms will be too tired. And another grieving Mama will swim beside me. Tell me she gets it, and that I’ll make it somehow. And we ride the wave together. I don’t know what i would do without those little life rafts of “me too” that come at the most needed times.

I am reminded once again of that lovely winged creature that has been such a symbol of love and remembrance for Edwin. My sister sent me these pictures today, and told me someone had stepped on this beautiful little life. Broken his wings…

and he was laying there taking his last breaths. She lovingly picked up his broken body, and held some sacred space for his short little life… i am definitely far more sentimental then my sister, so this message coming from her came at the exact moment i needed to be reminded… today, my wings felt broken once again. Stepped on by the waves of past torment, and i couldn’t stop the tears. I opened my phone, and was reminded of the tender care and love that was given to me during so much grief. So many times of broken wings and shattered hearts… and i am grateful. I am grateful for this little flutterby’s life, no matter how short it was. Even though their lives may be short, it does not make them any less beautiful…

This Thanksgiving, i am thankful for the broken wings, healing scars, and smiles through tears i am able to experience. I am thankful that though the Lord could have taken me home many times, He still has a story to write through me here. And my story isn’t over. And i am thankful, that though there is a big boy chair missing it’s 5 years old occupant around that table, he still sends flutterbys and kisses on their wings, and aunties to hold sacred space for his memory. I am truly thankful.

This Thanksgiving, may we celebrate what we are grateful for, and in the same moment, hold sacred space for the empty chair around the table.

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The Face of a Heroin Addict

I know what you’re thinking.

Stop.

Please don’t.

That’s too far, Jamie.

Too raw

Too real

Too offensive.

You can’t say that word. Not the H word. It makes people uncomfortable.

Aren’t you worried about your future? The opportunities you may lose for being too honest about THIS part of your story?

Nope. I’m not worried about that. You know what worries me more? Another funeral to sing at. Another friend I have to bury to this drug. I’m more worried about another girl, sitting on the floor of a dirty bathroom stall. Violently shaking through the painful symptoms of another withdrawal. Needle in hand. Tears rolling down once beautifully rounded, now mutilated and scarred cheeks from hours of incessant picking and scratching. Looking up to the dust covered, dingy ceiling panels. Begging for someone, anyone to just let her die… and that girl thinking she is alone in this world.

That girl, the one with the needle in her hand, that girl was me. Raised in a beautifully loving and faith fueled Christian home. Taken to church, all dolled up every Sunday morning. The girl who had more friends then she could remember to invite to her perfectly planned Disney Princess Parties. The one who’s Daddy used to sing her to sleep along to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”. The girl who had a passion for music, a love for theatre, and a quirky sense of humor that would leave any room she left rolling in laugher. The girl who never went a day without hearing she was loved. Who never wondered if she would have a warm bed to sleep in, or a hot meal to come home to. That girl, she was me. And years down the road, she would end up sitting on the floor of a dirty bathroom stall, needle in hand, asking God to just let her die…

When I was 12 years old, my mother brought home our new baby sister. Freshly adopted from Seattle, my biological cousin. Her birth mom was my mom’s sister. She had struggled with the disease of addiction for as long as i could remember. She lost her battle, and we spread her ashes in loving memory at one of her favorite places in Lees Ferry AZ. I remember being a 16 year old girl, watching the pain and torment that heroin had just put my family through. And yet, that girl who never went a day without hearing she was loved, she picked up her first joint.

Marijuana and alcohol became a regular part of my coping routine. No one knew. It was as if that first inhale for me, was the very first time i could ever remember being able to completely exhale the breath i didn’t know i had been holding for over a decade. And I thought i had found my solution. The antidote to all the pain i had pent up inside. The only thing that ever allowed me to escape the blaring lies in my head of never being enough. I was never pretty enough. Never smart enough. Never enough to measure up to an unrealistic expectation i thought the world had of me. And it took over. Like a blanket of night draped over every ounce of daylight left in the sky. My addiction had become my best friend. My family. My world.

When i turned 18 years old, i was in an accident. I was riding my bike down the street from my parents house, and was hit by a car. Resulting in a lacerated liver, a stent in the ICU, and an introduction to what I thought would be my ultimate escape from pain. Opiates. My mom can remember the first dose of fentanyl the nurse gave to me in that ICU bed. As my eyes rolled back into my head, I felt the instant relief i had been searching for in alcohol and weed until then. This, was it. My ultimate escape. My solution. My answer to every problem i have ever had.

And that began an almost decade battle with opiate addiction . From pain killers to the ultimate. Heroin. I went from a care free, smiling and happy girl who loved her Disney Princesses more then life itself, to that girl on the bathroom floor, needle in hand.

And looking back, i couldn’t tell you how many times i tried to get clean. I went to detox after detox. Inpatient treatment after inpatient treatment. Trying to get clean in my own strength, only to be on that same bathroom floor, in a puddle of my own vomit. Wishing i was dying.

There were years in between relapses, chunks of “clean time” and freedom from the daily struggle to get high one more time. But this last one, it truly almost killed me. I had been clean from heroin for almost 6 years. I had started drinking a few years before, and thought i could manage that. That there was a strength inside of me that could handle “only drinking”. I was wrong.

After going through a nasty separation from my husband, and burying my stillborn son, i was completely out of reserves. I had ignored the demon of addiction for far too long. Thinking if i could just move on, if i could only fill my life with good things. That it would never rear up it’s ugly head again.

I was very, very wrong.

The day i received divorce papers served to my door, my world shattered. Everything i had put my worth in was gone. My son was dead, my home was taken, and the only thing of value i had left in being a wife was now over. The most profound sense of rejection i have ever felt. I had nothing left to glean from, and i went back to the only time i remembered feeling that sense of relief. That first dose of opiates, that felt like my solution. I picked up Heroin again. And in my mind, i thought- only this once. One more time. I will do anything to escape this pain.

So i did. I shot up my first dose of heroin in almost 6 years. And the next thing i remember, i am being put onto a stretcher, my entire body in convulsions from Narcan, and my left leg feeling as if it had been blown up by a bomb. I arrived at the hospital to a team of nurses and Doctors hovering over me. And one Orthopedic Surgeon taking my face into hands, telling me “You May wake up without a leg, sweetie”

At that point i begged them to just cut it off. Make the pain stop. Just let me die…

I had overdosed sitting cross legged on the floor of my bathroom. I had been half dead for 12 hours. If it hadn’t been for the angel my roommate was to come home on a whim and find me there, i wouldn’t be alive today. I had cut off circulation to my left leg and given myself compartment syndrome. 7 surgeries later, and a month in the hospital, they somehow saved my leg.

I checked into treatment for the last time that spring. And i have never been the same. The journey since my “One More Time” has been anything but perfect or easy. This sleeping giant of addiction is something i fight daily. It takes a lot of work and intentional effort to not go back to what I thought was my solution. To have found a new solution, a new way of thinking, an army of so many around me who are fighting the same battle. And i daily have survivors guilt that some of the most beautiful people this world has ever known are gone from their “one more time” and I’m not….

So, no. I’m not worried about my so called reputation, or image. I’m worried more about you, dear one. Sitting on the bathroom floor, needle in hand, convinced you are alone and that there is no hope. We are not alone, we do recover, and 3 and 1/2 years later, i am the face of a recovering Heroin Addict.

Will Mother’s Day Ever be mine too?

Here it comes again… that bittersweet weekend of so many reminders, triggers, well wishes and painful heartache. Of all of the anniversaries that surround losing Edwin, this day is by far the hardest of the year…

I remember that month before Mother’s Day that year… you were still with us. Kicking my tummy, and doing somersaults on ultrasounds. Always sucking your tiny little thumb…. i remember being so excited to be celebrated that year. My first as a Mother… the thing i never knew i was created for until i heard your tiny heart beat. It was in that moment i knew. This was what i was supposed to do. I was crafted in a very specific and special way to be your Mother. It was like I was instantly equipped for this assignment in life. Like a bird knowing it’s purpose was to fly…

And just 4 weeks shy of that first Mother’s Day with you, your tiny heart stopped beating here with me, and you took your first breath in Heaven….

That Mother’s Day never felt like it was mine. There are those who acknowledge my motherhood, but 5 years later… people forget. They move on. And thats ok. They have their own grief and sorrow. Their own miracle babies and joy. And here i am, another Mother’s Day… single. No Rainbow Baby in sight in the near future… and this one feels like the hardest.

The hardest part of that day for me, is knowing deep in my heart that I AM a mother… but i do not get the privilege of mothering yet… and i feel like a bird, who was born to fly, but they clipped my wings… i don’t get to do the job i got assigned when i first saw those faint little lines that told us you were here… i don’t get to chase you around the house. Or get a handmade macaroni necklace from you on Sunday…I don’t get to be woken up by you every 2 hours in the night… i don’t get the gift of changing dirty diapers and tantrums in the isle of Target. I don’t get to do all the things i often hear mothers complain of…. i would give anything to Mother my son….

Yes, i will celebrate my own amazing Mother, because she deserves it more then anyone i know. I will bring her blue hydrangeas from her grandson. I will wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, and my arms will ache a little extra that day. And that’s ok. We have permission to do both. Where joy and sorrow meet, we can celebrate and grieve in the same moment.

And for today, Mother’s Day will still bring an aching in my heart and gratitude for those who are Mother’s around me… but i will say, this day has never felt like it was mine too…. and i don’t know if God will ever fill my aching arms with a rainbow, but i will hold other’s babies, and let them heal my broken Mama Heart. And maybe someday, this day will be mine too…

5 Years Later…

As i sit in the courtyard of the very hospital i was in 5 years ago today, i look up at that 3rd floor… that floor where i would see you in a grainy black and white screen, so alive and active. Doing somersaults in my belly, sucking your tiny thumb, so active they had to give you a little shot for you to hold still so they could try and save your life… that 3rd floor that has seen so much joy, and so much sorrow. Mingled in IV lines of fluids and fetal monitors. The sound of newborn cries, and the deafening silence of countless babies born with no heart beat… those words will ring forever in my ears “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.” And the sound of my own voice. One, heartbreaking word. “NO!” Followed by a plea to my Daddy to pray… “Daddy, pray?” As he placed his hand on my swollen belly, we pleaded with God in that moment as a family to bring Edwin back. Not to take him home yet… to please, let his heart beat again…

Would I still trust God in that moment? Would i really be like Abraham, and place my son on the alter of trust? Would I open my empty arms and really be able to say “Thy will be done.”

And 5 years later, I’m back in that room. Where we heard his final heartbeats… that room that was so instantly flooded with pain and grief, and love and support… I’m there. Feeling the most profound sense of loss I’ve ever known…

And I also feel that same profound feeling of being so cradled and loved by God, and the amazing people He has sent our way to walk this road with us. That He had me in that hospital, across the country with my family for such a time as this. With angels in scrubs to be our Samwise Gamgees, walking with us on that road to Mordor. The very hospital my mother labored with me in 26 years earlier. That hospital I had grown up going to now and then to see my Marmee at work. I work here now.

And 5 years later, though the feelings of that day are not as poignant or constant as they once were, it’s still there. That unforgiving sting of those words. “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.”

And 5 years later, will I still trust Him that He really does have a plan? Will I be able to daily place “My Isaac” on that alter? To live my life with open arms, knowing He may not fill them with the things my heart so longs for that day, but that He still fills my life with good things? Will I let my own heart beat again?

Yes. Today I will. 5 years later today, I will utter the words “Thy will be done” through the years. I will trust Him, that though He didn’t give me Edwin back, He has him in His arms. That Edwin is dancing on the streets of Gold with Him, that He is teaching Him the things I never got to, and that He is the best Father Edwin will ever know…

And as I look at the photo of his weathered headstone in Ohio… the place we committed his earthly body to the ground. The edges are worn by the changing of the seasons. The rain and snow…. I see my own heart. And I’m reminded of a song I sang in a cathedral years ago, as if a foreshadow of what would come.

“Rolling River God, little stones are smooth, only once the water passes through. So I am a stone, rough and grainy still, trying to reconcile this river’s chill. And when i close my eyes, and feel You rushing by, I know that time brings change, and change takes time. And when the sunset comes, my prayer would be this one- that You might pick me up and notice that I am… just a little smoother in Your hand…”

So for today, with a worn and weathered heart, 5 years later I know that He is still good. Somehow…

Life isn’t Like The Movies

Sitting in a courtyard, sun on my skin, cool breeze on the nape of my neck… i look around and see it. The normalcy of everything. The kitchen staff standing in the corner, having a chat about the mondaying happenings of a hospital cafeteria buzzing with patients and staff… the pigeons pecking at the tiny crumbs on the ground, left by others, leading their normal lives. Getting up to an alarm every day. Coffee in the thermos. Quick snack on the way…

And then i think of him… i look up at that third floor. That very room i said hello and goodbye in the same breath. And i see them. In their white coats, navy blue scrubs. Clutching their coffee tumblers, busily moving on from one room to another… and it’s normal. It’s mondaying. It’s life…

And though my thoughts don’t revolve around him all the time anymore, they still come in unexpected waves…

almost 5 years Jamie… it has been almost 5 years since you held his little body on that 3rd floor… almost 5 years since you were absolutely convinced you could feel him move, even after they confirmed “no heartbeat”

That Doctor that didn’t treat you like you were crazy for being convinced you felt your lifeless baby move in your belly… who showed more humanity and kindness to you then you could have ever imagined from someone in a white coat. Who took the time to go get the ultrasound, and explained so gently where his tiny heart would be beating if he was still with us… thank you, angel in a white coat. For validating my desperate attempt to grasp the fact that my baby had died… it means more to me then you’ll ever know…

And you watch the cinematic epic sagas at night, and try to cry yourself to sleep, and realize… life is not like that. Real life doesn’t have the devastating tragedy and epic redemption all wrapped up in 97 minutes…. that’s not real life. The resolution may not be what you think it should… and the chapter you’re in right now may feel like the middle of The Two Towers, and this road to Mordor May barely hold a shred of hope on the horizon….

And it’s ok. It’s ok that life is not like the movies. It’s ok that your epic saga might look a little broken still… and you’re in it. And hopefully, out of the corner of the courtyard of normalcy, you’ll hear a Samwise shout out to you “And I’m goin with you!”

Waiting in the Rain

Storms make trees take deeeper roots…

I’ve heard this quote several times. In support and sympathy cards, in Instagram or Facebook posts, or just a random passing by of a friend offering encouragement through a difficult time. It has been almost 6 years since I buried my first born son, and this storm I am in seems to continuously come and go. I do have days of peaceful, cloudless blue skies. Of happy birds chirping in the distance their song of content and satisfaction in the glorious rays of sunshine on their wings. I have days filled with winds of change and doubt. And I most definitely have those days that are darkened by the clouds of sadness, tossled by the roaring winds of grief, and drenched in the rain overflowed by the tears of a Mama looking down at her empty arms…

Those days, are the hardest to wait in. Sitting inside under the shelter of the roof over my head, the comfort of a blanket that once wrapped his tiny little body, the Owl shaped pillow that has been drenched in tears for so many years…

This waiting, watching the storm rage outside can seemingly be overwhelmingly impossible to get through. But, for some unknown reason, I get through it. I survive. I wake up to another day that might be scored by sounds of happy birds chirping, and sunshine on my shoulders.

I hear other babyloss mothers around me talk about their storms. Their pain. Their grief that sounds so similar to my own. And for those moments I know I am not alone. I know I am in this fight with another warrior woman who has waged this war no Mother should ever have to. And then I see among those the mothers, the ones who are holding the most beautiful and most hopeful sight to behold. A rainbow on their hip. A colorful tapestry of hope after their storm all bundled up in shining eyes, dimpled cheeks, and chubby little hands clasped tightly around their Mama’s once empty arms…

And my heart could not be more thankful for them. More overjoyed that of all mothers in the world, that baby is the most precious gift to them. And I can actually celebrate with that mother. I can be genuinely happy for her, and the promise that came true for her after her storm.

And my heart can also ache at the same time. Waiting in this rain. And I ask God how long will it be before I too have that promise, bundled up in those chubby cheeks and dimpled hands…

And He reminds me just how many seeds He has planted in my heart these 6 years of grief. These years of a seemingly endless storm. He reminds me that there has been so much truth and healing He has sowed into the soil of my heart. That He hasn’t forgotten about me. That He isn’t leaving me out. But that He is allowing me to grow roots deeper then I could ever imagine, and before He sends a rainbow, sometimes He needs to send a little extra rain…. and if that rain and the wind grow the roots of truth deeper in my heart, I will wait. And not just wait for the storm to pass, but learn to dance in the rain too.

For those afraid we are “stuck”

I get it. I really do.

Working in healthcare has given me a brand new insight to what it’s like to watch people you care for in pain. Suffering, hurting, in gut wrenching agony… and all you want to do is make it stop for them. Hearing the cries and sobs of another human in pain is one of the most heartbreaking sounds we as humans can listen to. And generally when it comes to physical pain, there is usually a remedy. A quickly administered antidote of anti inflammatory medication, a pill, a shot, anything to calm the storm in another’s body causing them so much discomfort…

When it comes to the agony of grief  unfortunately, that remedy is not so easily accessed. And watching another human, let alone someone you love, riddled in seemingly unending devastation and pain and knowing you hold no such remedy must be one of the most helpless feelings you could have.

When it comes to grief, the road is not one that has been easily mapped out for us. There is no program with a series of steps and processes that make the journey just a little bit more bearable. The healing a little bit faster. I always thought grief was inside of you. Something you wrestled with internally. After losing my baby boy before he ever took his first breath has taught me that grief is something outside of you. Like a shadow. It never leaves… it attaches to every step you make, every gesture you are able to muster, and you don’t ever walk without it. It has a mind of its own. It morphs and changes, and you just learn to live with its presence.

As a baby loss mom, I have tried to fight this thing called grief with every fiber of my being. I have avoided the pain, the triggers at all costs. I have run from its effects on my emotions like it was a zombie chasing me at the end of the world. I have numbed the pain by whatever means necessary. And I have failed. Every step I have tried to outrun this shadow has only brought me to a place where the darkness is all there is…

This year, the fourth since he died, with the encouragement from some very educated individuals I have done things just a bit differently. I have gone after the pain. I have intentionally felt through the sadness, and marinated in it. I have opened up that terrifying door that has barracaded my loss for far to long, and I’ve gone into that room. I’ve sat on the floor of that hall in a puddle of tears, clutching his Owl and blanket… and I’ve welcomed grief like the overwhelmingly itchy blanket it is. I’ve been intentional… I have grieved on purpose.

And I can see that from the outside, it could look like all this grieving, all of this intermittent celebrating of the life that no longer is, could be so terrifying to you, dear loved one, who can only listen to the pain, and have no remedy to stop it. You could see my constant posts about my dead son as a warning of a downward spiral that you’ve seen me go down before.

But I want you to know that though you see an external remedy as the only thing that will stop the pain, sitting in it is the only thing that ever will. That allowing myself to fully feel the sadness, scored by sobs and whaling, flowers, flutterbys and laughter too, is the only way to welcome the shadow of grief that now walks with me. I know it must be scary to watch and the love in your heart for me must be overwhelming. But please, don’t be afraid. For when I run and numb from this shadow, when I try to ignore it’s presence at all costs, when I try to forget… though that seems the remedy easiest attained by those around me, that is the moment that should be most terrifying.

Let me grieve in whatever way I need to. Don’t let it frighten you. For we do not heal by forgetting, we heal by remembering.

And for you who only see the tears and photos and balloons as a warning of my being “stuck in grief” please try for a moment not to judge me… for this is the only way I will ever learn to live with this shadow, and not be enveloped in its darkness forever…