Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What I Have Learned from an Angel


I don't often write about my sweet Haleigh. It's not that I don't think of her story is one worth sharing, it's just to hard to re-visit emotions, and difficult to convey those emotions with those who haven't walked the path of losing a child.  I do refer to her often because I want to honor her place in my heart, not because I want sympathy.  She changed my life in many ways by teaching me things I had no idea I was learning at the time.

These are just a few I learned from having her in my life.

Be strong.
In the midst of my pain, I was fighting myself. I didn't want to be strong, I wanted my life to be perfect, or what I thought it should be ~ a healthy, happy family.  I didn't order up brain damage, seizures, medical malpractice, "terminal" and death.  But she showed me how strong she was by hanging on to every breath, fighting through 300 seizures a day, living in constant pain.  She was a fighter and I had to show her I was going to fight for her too.  I still try and be strong for her today, not because it is easy but because I want her to be proud of me. I want to be strong like her.

Grief never really leaves.
Grief comes in many forms.  It's not just the loss of the physical, although that is huge.  It's the loss of dreams.  Loss of "what could have been".  Loss of "what should be today"....she should be turning 15 today, riding to school with her older sister, learning to drive, playing soccer perhaps, and leaving her stuff all over the house. I wonder what kind of young woman she would be.  I wonder what her relationship with her siblings would be like.  I wonder what her voice would sound like and what dreams she would have for her life.  Would she want to be an artist like me or a scientist?

Yes, in many ways grief behaves better over time.  I can easily recall the days where I was constantly contemplating suicide.  I knew I was destined to live a sad and depressed life.  Every minute was a struggle.  Every. Single. Minute.  My grief was intense and all-consuming.  But slowly, over time,  the body makes less room for this resident.  Laughter, happiness and love grow again and expand their real estate in the body. But he (grief) always has a place. Some days he expands his territory, other days his presence is barely noticeable. But he is always there.

It never gets easier answering the question, "how many children do you have?" Never. I have been answering it for years now and every time I get an instant pit in my stomach and my neck gets hot and tense.  I have learned to get better at faking it so I don't make others uncomfortable.  I have even learned to say "two" instead of "three, but one is in heaven".  And right behind that innocuous question is the one, "how many in your party?"  Sigh. No, it has never become "easier".

Everything is not a big deal.
We make a big deal about little stuff.  And we like to announce it to the world.  Yep, you know you do. I do too, still. I try not to though because I know how little the stuff in our lives really is.  I remember when I was in the thick of my trials ~ caring for a child who could not swallow, who would scream in pain for hours at a time, who struggled for breath ~ I remember hearing women complain about how "johnny was still not toilet training". I don't blame these women for their talk, although at the time I was secretly full of hate and thought "wow. If only that were my problem."  It did make me realize how we spend a lot of time on this earth complaining about the little stuff.  I mean, seriously, as frustrating as raising a toddler can be (remember I raised two others), we know Johnny isn't going to walk down the aisle wearing a diaper. So let's just embrace this time and if this is the biggest challenge of our day, remember, we have it pretty good.

Siblings in a family who have suffered the loss of a child have it tougher than "normal" kids.  Yes, this is specifically for my Sarah and Ben.  They had to grow up with grief.  I am not even sure Sarah was old enough to process it and I know Ben was not.  But they grew up with grief because they grew up with me.  And I can tell you, as protective as mothers tend to be, I am that on steroids.  Everything from riding a roller coaster to driving down the interstate without an adult in the car is a struggle for me.  I don't like my kids to EVER leave the house without a hug and a kiss. Ever.  This sometimes irritates my teenage daughter who thinks I am needy.  Maybe I am.  But I am her mother and that is something she won't understand until she becomes one herself. I constantly have the thought of "what if..." and KNOW the feelings of grief that will ensue if my worse fears are realized. It's a daily battle. I have not quite made any progress in this area of my life and I am sure I am causing a lot of angst in both my teens' worlds. But it is just the fiber of who we are as a family and I am sure I will not change.

Soak it In.
I want to document my life as much as possible. I scrapbook with more intensity because I want my kids to remember our life together and I want to remember the little moments that make life so darn precious and perfect.  I take photos like a crazy person because I don't ever want to take for granted that I will remember them at "this stage" or "that part of their personality" or just the beauty in our every day life.  And long after I am gone, I want them to know I loved them ~ all the bits of imperfection and all the special moments too. I want to soak it all in and become intoxicated with the essence of love, life and family.

Compassion.
I have learned how to be compassionate.  Not that I wasn't compassionate before. I think I have always been a little bit sensitive.  But I have learned how to care.  Not just lip service but real service.  I think God has brought me along a path where I have crossed with other mothers who lost children to help them, support them.  Love them out of their grief.  Hold their hands. Dry their tears.  Pray for them.

You have one life ~ make it count.
Yes, my sweet Haleigh made it clear I had one life and there were no guarantees it was going to be a long one.  Her sweet life ended when she was just 27 months old. I may live to be only 50 or I may live to be 95.  I want to make this life count. I don't want to waste my time being unhealthy, unhappy, or unsatisfied.  I want to leave my mark on this world, make this world better even if it is only here in my little community volunteering for the HOA or the local food bank or being the soccer team mom.  I don't want to limit myself. I want to share my gifts with others and speak encouragement into others' lives as often as possible.  I want to do my best to be a good friend, not a fair-weather friend.  I want to be a great wife.  I want to love with all my heart and be thankful for every ray of sunshine, every day, every breath, every hug and kiss from my sweet babies that are still here on earth.  And always hold close the spiritual hugs from my angel above.




19 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, Kirsten. I'm so sorry for the loss of Haleigh and all of the grief you and your family have had to go through. My thoughts and heart go out to you today. So many {{hugs}}!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hugs right back to you Kelly! and thank you <3

      Delete
  2. I saw this on the Compassionate Friends FB page. It sounds like we lived mirror lives except for timing. My Olivia battled the seizure monster for 6 1/2 years, and she lost the fight when she was 8. This is a perfectly written post. My heart goes out to you today and every day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. God Bless you and your sweet angel Olivia ~ I think many of us in the tribe of "parents who have lost a child" feel similar emotions with grief. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. <3

      Delete
  3. Beautiful post Kirsten. I cannot put myself in your shoes but I have lost most of my family to early illness so I can relate to the grief that never leaves and shows up at the oddest of moment. It took real courage to put this out there and I respect you immensely for it. xox

    ReplyDelete
  4. this is a beautiful, brave post. We never know what we are capable of carrying and enduring, and how much we are capable of loving, until we face tests that no-one should be asked to take. Thank you for sharing Haleigh with us today. Looking up to the sky and ending you a hug and Haleigh a kiss.

    ReplyDelete
  5. God bless your Haleigh, you, and your whole family. What a beautiful post, and I'm sure Haleigh is quite proud of you! I experienced loss in the opposite way ... I lost both my parents by the time I was ten. I was the youngest of 5, so we stuck together, and, rocky as it was, we're all came out OK. Everyday I appreciate my beautiful family, and thank God that both my children are happy & healthy. So sorry for your loss.
    Hugs

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing Stephanie. What a tremendous loss for you at such a tender age. May God bless you and your family. ((Hugs))

      Delete
  6. Beautiful written Kirsten! Hugs to you on this very difficult day. Thank you for the reminder to make every day count. You are a blessing to many!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the kind words Alicia. xxoo

      Delete
  7. Wow! What a beautifully written tribute to Haleigh. I am honored to have been a part of her short life. You and Vince are (in my mind) the most awesome incredible couple with the most awesome incredible children, and that includes Haleigh. I see Haleigh in both of you every time we talk or see each other (which isn't often enough). Her influence extends way beyond her short two years on this earth. God bless. Love you all.
    Kenny

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kenny. You will always be one of our dearest friends. Love you! xxoo

      Delete
  8. How beautifully written! Haleigh was an angel here on earth. My son Brian passed away 7 years ago at the age of 23. He had cerebral palsy, seizures, etc. But what I wouldn't give to have just one day back with him!! He has changed my life and continues to make a difference! We love our angels I heaven!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh Kirsten, what a beautiful post. I am so sorry for your terrible loss. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. I really appreciate your sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. KIrsten...thank you for being so strong to post this blog. You have helped me more than you know. I always think about you when I'm on my down slope and think about your words to me. I know I am getting through these days because I see you and know that I can do it too. Sure I still cry...I'm crying now....but the downslopes don't last as long as they did in the beginning. Haleigh has not only taught you, but because of her you have taught me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for being brave and strong and sharing your thoughts. You will likely never know how many people you reached by sharing - and that's a beautiful thing. I had no idea about this part of your life's story. I am sorry for the hurt and pain you have endured. You are beautiful inside and out, through and through. Blessings to you, Sarah, Ben, and everyone else who loved Haleigh - and blessings to your sweet angel Haleigh herself.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Revisiting your post, I am as moved today as when you wrote it three years ago. Hugs to you my friend. May you always find the strength to keep making the world a more beautiful, caring, loving place.

    ReplyDelete