But this year, for many reasons, was different.
Each year I seem to have my breaking point a few days before her birthday (the 18th), and last year I was a total train wreck for 3 days straight. I remember sobbing so hard driving home from the cemetery that I didn't think I would survive. The kind of hurt that makes you physically ill. Last year, the deep pain of knowing that I never kissed Bristol really tore at me and I felt like the ultimate failure as a mother. I was finally able to forgive myself after Brad 'reminded' me that we had so little time with her & that we were in total shock. (I know these things, but the combination of grief & guilt equals crazy & irrational.) I remember a conversation with a friend who had a loss a year prior to Bristol about how she was 'okay' last year- the 4th anniversary. I remember thinking, I'll never be like that, look at the mess I am now.
But this year was different.
Last week kicked off a wave of crazy-stressful in our house. Colton had his 4th swallow study followed by 4 straight days of dr visits, ER trips & walk in clinics. In the end, Brody was diagnosed with croup and some type of infection...oh, and a broken clavicle after a late night fall-out-of-bed from a coughing fit. Colton was diagnosed with a sinus infection & reactive airway disease, on top of his other medical issues. My brain has focused on antibiotic schedules, breathing treatments, fevers, snotty noses, and keeping Brody's arm in the sling. Sleeping was/is a rarity and my days are full of tired and fussy kiddos who don't want to share mommy. So an emotional breakdown just wasn't going to happen. I was able to visit her grave this past weekend & put some flowers there, which brought about a sense of peace that I needed.
One of the biggest things I have struggled with is moving "on" in the sense that Bristol (and our pregnancy with her) will be forgotten. Our child loss experience was terrible- and has been a motivating factor in helping other women who experience a loss. I never want someone to go through what we did. Not only did it change me, but it affected our families & friends, changed relationships, and nearly destroyed our marriage. How could something so impactful, be forgotten so easily? Well, I hope it never is. Not just for my own loss, but for yours. Or your friend-neighbor-coworker who has experienced the loss of a child. I pray & hope that their baby will never be forgotten in your world....because I know for the mother, she carries that pain of empty arms in her heart.
If you know me, you know that birthdays are a big deal to me. I tend to go overboard on the boys birthdays. Something deep within me wants me to make them feel loved & extra special on their birthday. It's their day, and I want it to be everything it could possibly be. But how do you celebrate the day your baby was born sleeping? It's not an easy task and nothing that I've done the last few years has felt 'right.' Today is Bristol's birthday. A day that 4 years ago I didn't think I would survive, or even if I wanted to. A day that brought the worst news I could imagine, yet jump started a "new" me. A day that is filled with mixed emotions.
Am I sad? Yes.
And yet, when I look back on this journey, I'm still standing. I have survived and moved forward in a way that I never thought possible. Thanks to a loving God, he healed me and has filled me with a joy & motivation that I couldn't do on my own. If it were up to me, I would have stopped breathing on that hospital bed when the dr said, "One more push honey, and this will be over with." If it were up to me, Brad wouldn't have been home to save me the day I hemorrhaged. If it were up to me, she never would have died.
But it isn't up to me. Losing a child (or a loved one) is the ultimate reminder that we are not in control. This is God's plan, not ours. And even when we have trials, we have to be reminded that "all things work for the good of those who love Him." It rolls off the tongue like icing on a cake, but when you are in that moment, it's incredibly hard to believe that this is part of His plan. I guess that's the root of faith. But I have learned that taking that leap of faith brings incredible blessings, new found peace & understanding, and an unexplainable joy to life. So I encourage you, if you don't have a relationship with Christ...if you have walked away or let trials pull you away, open your heart again. Just as you may long to hold your loved one, He longs to hold you in His arms.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed. Psalms 34:18
Today was 'okay' in the best sense of being okay is on a day like today. I was filled with peace instead of grief, but was able to cry & grieve in a way that was different than the last few years. I say this not to make you think, "Finally, she's over it." but as a way to give hope to other mothers. Yes, I had my moment of closed door crying on the floor. But I was able to stand up, wipe my tears away, and actually celebrate. This year we had a birthday party. We made cupcakes, got balloons, and had presents. We sang Happy Birthday and Brody helped blow out the candles. The boys opened prayer books (thanks to their Meemo) and Brad opened his gift....the welcome packet from our sponsor child through World Vision. Each year I try to do something special because I'm not sure what else to do. My mom sponsored a little girl through World Vision so I decided to find out more. The boys and I searched their website and found a little girl who was born December 18, 2009...she was perfect. I talked to the boys about sponsoring this child and we went to the store to buy her a gift. Brody was excited to buy presents for his "sister."
She is beautiful and perfect. In a way, I will get to nurture & care for her, watch her grow, pray for her, and bless her. And my dad signed up to sponsor a child through World Vision too. He chose another little girl with this birth date. How awesome that three little girls & families across the world are being blessed in Bristol's name? How awesome that women & families across the US & Canada are being blessed in Bristol's name through Beats for Bristol & The Bristol Project? How awesome that God has used me to reach out to other women who are hurting?
How blessed am I that God chose me to be her mother?
One of the greatest promises is knowing, that if I live my life right, I will get to spend forever with Bristol. One day I will get to hold her & kiss her. What a glorious day that will be! But until then, happy birthday sweet baby. I love you more than words can say.