Hey Jude — Making the Most of This Life

Dear Jude,

Hey you. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. Sometimes, I try too hard to think of what to say or of saying it the right way when what I should do is just talk to you, the way I talk to your sisters. In fact, I should probably think before I speak with them…some of the time, anyway.

In four months, you’ll be four-years-old. I’ve been looking at our friend’s children who are turning four and thinking, “Oh wow, he’d be such a little person right now.” Specifically, I watched little Catherine at her birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese as she wandered around seemingly lost but also quite self-assured in the way that only preschoolers can be. She was wearing a Bat Girl costume just ‘cause. What would you like? Dinosaurs? Trucks? Space? Bugs? Balls? Cars? Costumes? I told Sean that I bet you’d love to watch the Earth program on Netflix that he likes to turn on and watch with the girls in the evenings.

What would you like to eat? I’d like to think you’d be somewhere between Lillianne and Eilie…a little finicky but not so much that your entire diet is comprised of goldfish crackers and organic milk (like Eilie’s does).

I imagine you playing with the gusto of a little boy. You were by far the busiest baby. Your movements had no rhyme or reason—you just wanted to be on the go.

As I visualize the happier aspects of what your life would be like, I neglect to imagine the challenges, like getting you to listen. Would you be a good listener? I kind of feel like you’d be Lillianne made over and maybe a little wilder…less imagination, but more action-packed. I really would give anything to be able to fuss at you when you’re naughty or when you wake the baby or fight with your sisters over toys. I’d give anything to be able to feel like I was suffering from simultaneous rage strokes and heart-attacks because I’m so overwhelmed.

I’m sure every parent who lost a baby before she ever met them feels this way just like I’m sure every parent who lost a baby after meeting them—and perhaps fussing at them or feeling frustrated because of lack of time or sleep or whatever felt ashamed and possibly tortured with guilt.

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The emotions that come from losing a baby or a child at any age are so nuanced they defy logic. The perspective, too, shifts paradigms.

To begin, you realize how unimportant everything else is compared to those little lives. Money. Work. Legacy. House. Status…whatever, is completely irrelevant. You’d give it all away and never ask to have it back just to have that person back. The irony is that no one is standing around wheeling and dealing and willing to make that offer.

Then, you learn to live with what happened, with the pain of the loss or the grief. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that in our / my case, the faith that I didn’t even realize I had enabled me to grow in ways that I never imagined. While I wouldn’t wish our loss on anyone, I also wouldn’t begrudge anyone experiencing the absolute love and comfort and peace that we were given after losing Jude…in the weeks, months, and years.

To begin, Jude helped me realize one of the hardest lessons of all, which is that we are not in control. I still struggle with that one, to be honest, but I also know that the things that make me hit the emergency brake on my brain—like when I imagine a freak-accident, our child running across someone’s driveway as they’re backing out, a car wreck, choking on a grape—are things I can’t control just as are the medical maladies that paralyze me with fear.

Last week, a little girl who suddenly developed a deadly brain tumor lost her life.  I look at my vibrant and healthy little girls and take it for granted. I take for granted that none of my children were born with some other kind of cancer or allergy or genetic disorder that at any moment could cause them to cross beyond the veil; however, I have friends who have babies with these problems, and I’m perpetually awed by their faith and resilience. I know that it’s ironic given what happened with Jude, but I can’t imagine.

But then I realize that the fear isn’t what God want us to feel. These challenges, these terrifying, awful, challenges have purpose if we allow them to, and they can transform us in ways that we never realized.

To begin, one of the most remarkable things I learned when I realized how little control I had was that…that’s actually quite okay. Someone else is in control, and I can only do my very best.

Another thing is that one of the most beautiful aspects of tragedy is when you’re able to use what happened to you to help others. This, too, is a Biblical precept as Paul advised in his letters for people to take their struggles and to help those who struggle similarly. Sometimes, I allow myself to revisit Jude’s funeral in my mind, and the people who stand out the most are the ones who came because they’d also lost children or suffered a traumatic loss.

Finally, I understand why suffering is important. In nearly four years, I’ve grown so much emotionally and mentally. I’m more understanding, loving, and compassionate. I’m not perfect, but I want to do better all of the time for my family and my babies. In our Sunday School class a few weeks ago, we talked about why suffering is necessary or why God allows bad things to happen.

I think about things like that a lot because for people who find people like me, people who have faith, to be tedious is that we often can’t explain why suffering is allowed…natural disasters, pedophiles, hatred, evil, etc. I won’t go back to Genesis to explain that, but I will say I started to think of a story idea one day (a total non-starter) about a world where there was no pain, no suffering, no bad, etc. While I realize that Christians believe that is the very definition of heaven, I also cannot imagine being as grateful or as compassionate as I am now if not for suffering. I tried to picture what the conflict would be in this story, and there wouldn’t be. How would the characters grow? Without conflict, how would they evolve into a better version of themselves? So, I believe suffering is allowed in part because it allows us to behave in a way that shows our courage, our love, our compassion, our patience, and our forgiveness for our fellow man…all virtues that God shows to us on a regular basis.

As I look ahead, I know my future will include more suffering, more trials, more challenges to the aspects of my person that I am sometimes too afraid to relinquish. I don’t fear the unknown nor the unexpected. I don’t allow myself to worry about what may or may not happen. I don’t worry about what suffering life will bring. I believe in taking each day as it comes and in doing my best every day and in being kind to myself because sometimes, I think we forget to be kind to ourselves, especially when we are dealing with something that aggrieves us, when we think perhaps we could have done better or had we acted differently, things would have been different.

So, my Jude, thank you for all of that. I love to imagine what kind of little boy you’d be if you were here, but I know that’s only ever going to be fiction. The reality is that the little boy you are now is more than I ever could have conceived or hoped for.

One day, I’ll see you again. For now, you’re in my life, and you’re in my heart. You sweet, beautiful boy. Mommy misses you.

PS: I love that today was one of “your” days because I feel like you were there with our family and your dad this morning. Big hugs.

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Hey Jude – Extraordinary Faith

Joshua

Last week, our Sunday school class covered the events of Joshua 10, which were honestly quite extraordinary. It was the day that the sun stood still in which Joshua and the Israelites were able to defeat predator armies because God essentially froze the moon and sun in the sky, which provided enough light for Joshua and his army to advance as needed. He also threw in a hailstorm on the enemies of the Israelites for good measure. I can only imagine it was a lovely day…to have a full sun and a full moon simultaneously….unless you were on the losing side.

Anyway, in our group, the question was asked as to how one has faith when we aren’t always presented with extraordinary circumstances. I reflected on this because at no point has the sun or moon stopped for me (I’m not even sure death would stop for me, nudge, nudge, wink, wink Emily Dickinson). I’m being flip. But truly, we have extraordinary things happen to us all of the time…it’s just that sometimes the end result isn’t always something that we think is what we want or deserve.

I did comment some to the lesson during class that day, but when we were asked if we had an example of how extraordinary events were transformative for our faith I didn’t respond. The answer was fully-formed in my mind, but I couldn’t talk about you, Jude.

 

Jude

I couldn’t explain the story about how I went in for monitoring because I hadn’t felt you move as much on 12/26/14. I couldn’t explain that while being monitored, they lost your heartbeat. We went in for an emergency Cesarean delivery. I was literally in shock; I shook from head to toe as oxygen was administered and I was rushed into the OR. I couldn’t even think clearly. I just kept saying, “Oh God,” as if by repeating the mantra, God would appear and make this all okay and save my son.

My last conscious and cognizant thoughts before going under for the surgery were of Sean and Lillianne, “God, please let me wake up,” and my last spoken words as I felt pin-pricks along the previous cesarean scar line that had delivered Lillianne, “Wait, I’m not asleep!” And then I inhaled the gas. Must get to sleep. Must get to sleep.

I woke up, and Sean was by my side. The world was fuzzy. “How’s our baby?” I’d asked. The baby hadn’t made it. “I named him Jude, Jude David,” Sean said, and I started to sing, “Hey Jude,” which had been the impetus for me wanting to go with the name Jude (ultimately). Originally, Jude had been a boy’s name that we both just loved. When we found out we were expecting a boy, Sean had wanted to explore other boy’s names to be sure. Aedan became a close contender, but after a night of Beatle’s tribute music and hearing “Hey Jude”, I knew that Jude was the name I wanted for my son. It was a name that represented the person I’d forgotten how to be…a person who could be sentimental and emotional and who felt deeply. I’d become very unhappy with many things because what they don’t tell you when you have the audacity to get married and to pursue “happily ever after” with a kid and some guy you hopefully didn’t meet on the Internet, it’s really stinking hard to come close to “happily”. Love really isn’t enough; it’s not even close. You have to also both be good, sacrificial and understanding human beings.

 

Marriage & Parenting

Sean and I loved each other, and we wanted to understand each other, but we may as well have lived in the Tower of Babel for much of Lillianne’s first year and the subsequent year when we were (as planned) pregnant with Jude. I wasn’t happy; my feelings were like a valve that was slowly being turned into the off position. This was the cumulative result of my 20s plus the impact of becoming a wife and mother without truly understanding what any of that actually did to a person who would –if I’m being honest—could’ve been complete without any of those amazing things. I could have. I know I could. I’m thankful I’ve been chosen for what I have, but if nature had decided I couldn’t have kids, I’d have been okay. Sean wouldn’t have. He wanted kids; craved them. He definitely had no idea what he was signing up for, but he had the yearning that so many humans have that I didn’t.

 

Un-Plans

I’m not being melodramatic. I know that if we hadn’t started doing natural family planning (because I was very aware of the heightened cancer risks after 30 and my family history with cancer) and if we hadn’t been so aggressively bad at it those first four months and happened to get pregnant, I’d have never looked at myself or my life or my selfish ambitions and said, “Yes, now’s a great time to have a baby.” And maybe, for the first time, I think that perhaps Lillianne was God’s first effort to get my attention.

 

Plans

And then we got pregnant with Jude. Jude was planned. Sean and I were both close in age to our closest siblings (Sean was 13 months younger than his brother, and I was 20 months older than mine) easily knew we wanted our children close together. Ideally, Lillianne and her sibling would’ve been 18 months apart, but stress literally hindered our conception plans, and it so happened they were destined to be 20 months apart…at least that’s what it seemed at the onset. Jude’s gestational due date was 2/15/15. We were sure we’d have to do a Cesarean, so I chose 2/11, my mom’s birthday, as his DD.

 

Testing Faith

Then, on 12/26/14, Boxing Day, the day after we celebrated Jesus’s birthday, it all went wrong. Jude went to heaven. He was gone. I’ve written extensively about how surreal that first night was in the hospital with Sean by my side in the twin hospital bed. How every time I woke up after falling asleep, I’d have to remind myself that this was real. My son was dead. I was no longer pregnant, even though I could feel twitches in my body, like baby kicks. Little phantom kicks. I’ve never been so raw.

I had to pause just now in this writing because to revisit that room and that night and that space in my mind is all encompassing. I had been a Christian, that is to say, someone who had no problem believing in God and having “faith” in God and the Bible, my entire life. I never went through that edgy phase some kids go through where they challenge religion and spirituality and faith. I had reason to, mind you. I was bullied at times. I wasn’t beautiful. I really just wanted to be loved. I was an introverted artistic kid who was pre-Meyers-Brigg obsessive “what about me” anti-bullying culture. I had an eating disorder for eight years. I was literally afraid that I would die from it some nights as I lay in bed. I didn’t lean on God during many of those times, but I didn’t reject Him either.

When I lost Jude, it was like a wake-up call. I did, for a brief time, wonder if God hadn’t taken Jude to force us to the wake-up call. I had to wonder if I wasn’t such a horrible human being that God had to kill my baby for me to look in His direction. I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I sometimes wonder if perhaps, Jude’s death wasn’t entirely preventable. We have always been lead to believe that it was a complete medical mystery. I’ve been okay with that because it’s something I can cope with. There’s not one person or one mistake or one thing to direct pain, frustration, and rage at, so I don’t express those things.

Even thought I don’t think God took Jude to wake us up, that’s what happened. Sean and I both remember Jude’s funeral on New Year’s Eve of 2014. It was a cold, clear, sunny day with a beautiful blue sky. We wept as the wake started. He was so tiny in that little white box. Oh, how I cried when I saw his little coffin. Parents who’d suffered so much more than I did –and who would suffer so much more than I would—came, cried, and hugged me. Eventually, I stopped crying. I just felt…at peace.

Sean stopped crying, too. We felt peace. Later, afterward, we agreed that we felt…peace. We also were surprised at how much faith we had. Suddenly versus that had been words really meant something. I could do all things through Christ that strengthened me, for example.

 

The Extraodinary

And that brings me back to Joshua and the extraordinary things that Christ does that gives us cause for having faith.

An extraordinary thing happened to me and my family. It was an extraordinarily bad thing. We lost a baby. A beautiful, health, 4 lb, 2 oz baby boy went to heaven at 33 weeks the day after Christmas for reasons we may never know. Sean and I were broken. Lillianne was a haven of joy. We had nothing but our faith to rely on and so began a journey. I craved being closer to God. I needed the water of life that is only found through faith. Sean said that he felt like Jude saved his life because without losing Jude, he wouldn’t desire heaven the way he did.

Yes, God does do extraordinary things to transform our faith. Sometimes, they are mundane things. Sometimes, they are terrible things. God has the power to take negatives and positives and to heal us and help us from them.

I realize that I’ve never seen the sun and the moon stand still at the same time, and I probably won’t, but at the same time, I also know that my world has stopped spinning, and I’ll never be the same.

“And there has been no day like that, before or it or after it….” Joshua 10:14

 

Dear Jude,

I love you. I do miss you. Your sisters miss you. I know you’re with us, but I wish I could hold you. It’s hard to believe that you’re almost 2 ½, darling. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. I really wish I could see how you look. I look at your pictures, and I just miss you. You’ve done so much for me. I don’t know how I could ever ask for a more beautiful boy. You give me so much to look forward to one day.

Love forever,

Mommy

Hey Jude – Thanks to You

Hi, Sweetheart.

It will be Thanksgiving in one and a half hours. You’ll be 11 months old. It’s really hard to believe that I should be planning your birthday party right now…perhaps bemoaning (while smiling as I wouldn’t really be bothered) that I’m planning a one-year-old’s birthday party while also doing Christmas. I wonder if you’d be walking by now. I’m sure you would; you were so busy…those little legs never stopped when you lived inside of mommy.

I can just see you now puttering after your sister; you might still use a walker; I’m sure you’d terrorize the cats (it’s okay; after what they did to the furniture, they’d have it coming). I think I would secretly be worried that no one would come to a birthday party the day after Christmas, but I’m sure they would…surely.

I bet your smile would light up a room. I bet you’d have a funny giggle…something weird, perhaps overly effusive…something that would make everyone laugh when you did. I’m sure we’d have nicknamed you 100 times over by now; I bet I’d call you my Joy Boy because you’d fill us with so much joy.

When we’d pray with the family tomorrow, we would say thanks for you along with Lillianne, and there’d be a moment in Daddy Joe’s prayer where perhaps he’d mention you were nearly one and how thankful we were for that. Yes, you’d have been a preemie, so we’d be very thankful for your health.

I wish with all of my heart that I was eagerly counting down one more month before we reached a year on nursing. I wish with all of my heart that I wasn’t here writing this…that I was in bed, perhaps still awake, thinking of things for tomorrow like when I would start braising the cabbage and where my popover pan was.

I miss you.

I miss the weight of where you should be on my hip as I try to do things like be a good mom for Lillianne and cook food and keep the house reasonably clean.

I miss you when I look at your photos and am forcibly reminded that we celebrated your birthday and every birthday that you’ll never have on December 31 last year.

I miss getting to hold you even though the few times I did hold you, you weren’t there.

I miss that you were warm the first time we held you.

I miss that you didn’t look quite like yourself again after that.

I miss you so much, and your daddy does, too.

After we let you go last December, your daddy said he wanted to get you back and to hold you one last time. I think I understand that better now than I did then…at least now, I can think of what it felt like to hold you, and I wish so much that I could cradle you to my chest again…just one more time…and kiss your beautiful, innocent little face and imagine what it’d look like with a smile one it.

I know you’re smiling at us all of the time. You do make me so happy. You make me so much a better person, and I’d be lost without you.

Please know that I’m thankful for you; I’m thankful for everything you do. I wouldn’t be me without you…none of us would. So, thank you my baby. I’m so happy and so blessed that you’re mine.