Mothering Caroline Grace

learning how to be the mom of an angel


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The Should-Be Thoughts

I’ve been having a really tough week.  I think about how Caroline should be 8 months old.  She should be crawling.  She should be cooing and babbling.  She should still be in my arms.  Last week, she should have been sticking her fingers in mashed potatoes and getting them all over the floor.

Should-be, should-be, should-be.

I think it is so normal to have these thoughts.  Every second of every day I am thinking about and missing Caroline.  I will always wonder who she would have been had she stayed here on earth.

However, the reality is that my should-be thoughts are a fantasy.  As much as I wish that she were still here, I think God had a plan.  As much as I don’t understand it, I think that Caroline was destined to return to heaven early.  Maybe she even knew.  She was so, so brave.  I think to myself, Caroline should be here with me.  What if that is so painfully untrue?  Am I unable to see the big picture, that Caroline is happy and pain-free in heaven and we will be together again soon for eternity?

At her funeral, I said that she accomplished more in 58 days than some people do in 58 years, and I still believe that to be true.  She showed me the biggest love that I have ever known.  Because of her, I am such a different and better person.  I’ve always shied away from feelings and all things touchy-feely, but now they don’t make me uncomfortable.  In fact, I’m now a feeling seeker and hope to help other families through this devastating diagnosis.  My husband and I have organized a toy drive in Caroline’s name, which we never would have done on our own.  We’ve noticed that members of our family no longer sweat the small stuff because Caroline reminded them of what was important.  Who knows how many more lives Caroline has touched or will touch in the future.

I am heartbroken, but Caroline is worth the heartbreak.  I am here to make sure that the work she started is finished.

Although I will always keep track of how old Caroline would have been and wonder as I see children her “age” what could have been, I will try to turn my thoughts away from the should-be’s.  I wish things could have been different and I could still be taking care of her.  The thing is, when you’re the mom of an angel, you are still taking care of your baby.  It’s in a way that you never expected or wanted, but holding your child in your heart and helping people through your child’s memory is a labor of love.  This is how I mother Caroline Grace.

 

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Memory Monday

After three days in the hospital, we were all ready to go home.  As I was wheeled out the door, my husband carried Caroline in her car seat.  I distinctly remember her eyes during the walk to the car.  They were so wide and alert as we walked the halls of the hospital.  She was leaving the delivery room for the first time, and taking in all of the new sights with wonder.  She was filled with life, on her first adventure.

Those eyes are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  They let you see right through to her beautiful soul.  Caroline’s eyes and her gorgeous curly hair were enough to melt your heart.  She truly was an angel here on earth.

Missing you every second, Miss Caroline.


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Rediscovering Me

I searched around the house until I found them.  My bag of colored pens was deep in our storage closet, anxiously waiting to be used.

I used to consider myself an artist.  If you asked me when I was 10 years old what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have told you that I was going to illustrate children’s books.  My grandfather was an artist too, and used to take me to local art meetings.  I remember at one the topic was framing and we were supposed to bring a piece of art for the speaker to discuss appropriate framing and have examples.  I brought a picture of a girl and a dog sitting outside that I had drawn in art class.  My picture was discussed during the framing presentation, and the framer commented on how much he liked my picture, not knowing that it was the work of a child.

Somewhere along the line, life got busy and my artistic side faded into the background.  I became occupied by school, science, and life.  Having a career that involved saving the world became more important and I stopped drawing.

When we got Caroline’s diagnosis, one thing I decided was to go buy some pens and to make her a book.  I wrote the book and included everything I wanted to tell her.  That she was loved, and that she’d be happy in heaven, and that her mom and dad would be okay.  I drew pictures to accompany the words.  I became that children’s book illustrator after all.

 

I read that book to Caroline as she entered heaven.

 

Now that Caroline is in heaven, I have decided to pick up art again.  Being so close to death puts everything into perspective.  I love to draw.  Why don’t I do it more often?  Life is short and we have to do what makes us happy.  I took the pens out of the closet and I’m determined to make my world a little more beautiful.  Perhaps I can save the world in more than one way.


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Looking Up

Miss Caroline seemed to have a preoccupation with the ceiling.  Sometimes there was a clear reason for her to be looking up; the fluorescent lights in the kitchen were soothing to her and always managed to help when she was upset.  Other times, we would just be sitting around the living room, rocking her back and forth, and she, very often, would look up.  I don’t think it was reflexive; she was very capable of following faces with her eyes and tracking things as they moved across her visual field.  There was usually plenty of activity in our house to look at, especially when she was awake and everyone vied to take a picture or talk to her or stare into her deep eyes.  Still, she would look up.

I like to think that there was a reason.

That her angels were with her and she was looking up at them.

Of course, I will never know during my time on this earth if this is true, but this is what I believe.

When I found out about Caroline’s diagnosis, I started reading.  I read family stories and research articles, and then moved on to books.  I started searching for evidence that heaven is real and that children have a special place there.  I have always believed in God, but the doubts creep in when your child is facing a fatal diagnosis and you can’t imagine why God would allow it.  This mother needed to know that her baby would be okay.  One book in particular really resonated with me.  It is called Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life, and Eternity, by Leanne Hadley.  In some ways it was a difficult read; it is written by a children’s hospital chaplain about her experiences with dying children.  However, I walked away from this book with some comfort that Caroline wouldn’t be scared when she left this world, and I don’t think she was.

Another book that I read about heaven was Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, M.D.  The scientist in me was drawn to this account by someone who should be the biggest skeptic of heaven there is.  In the book, he describes his near death experience while fighting bacterial meningitis in a coma.  He argues that there is no way that what he experienced had anything to do with his brain, as it had essentially shut down due to the attack it was facing.

These books gave me some support and comfort, but I think the answer had been with me all along.  I have to think that there is a point to all this.  That there is a higher power and that souls are real and eternal.  Through my journey with Caroline, I saw the way that she inspired so many people.  I was upset that I would not get the time that I expected with my little girl, but she did more in 58 days than some people do in 58 years.  Her lifetime was short but fulfilling.  She showed me God’s grace.  I miss her so much, but I think she is happy and playing in the sunshine in heaven.

It is now my turn to tell her story and continue the work that my amazing little girl started.  I will look up, the way Caroline taught me.


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Grieving Together

They say that men and women grieve differently.  I think a more accurate way to put it would be that people grieve differently.  I am thankful that my husband and I have been able to support each other through our grief, regardless of that fact.  As couples become more similar to each other as they get to know each other, we have taken a similar journey with our grief.  We started so differently but now we cope in very similar ways.

Before Caroline was born, we dealt very differently with her diagnosis.  I needed to be prepared in every way.  I scoured the internet for family stories and research articles about survival and quality of life.  I made her a purple and green tulle tutu with purple flowers for pictures if she was very premature.  I ordered a pink ruffled romper with a pink flowered headband for pictures if she was born closer to term.  When I made and bought these outfits, I thought that they would likely be the only outfits that she would ever wear.  Even so, I bought a few extra outfits in preemie and newborn sizes, just in case.  I made and gathered books to read to her.  I made sure we had blankets, booties, and mittens.  I got special paper for ink footprints and handprints.  I made a chalkboard for pictures that might not ever be used.  I called the funeral home to make an appointment.  This is the way that I grieved – I did my best to prepare myself for every possible outcome.  I wanted so badly to have some time to love on her and get to know her, but I had to prepare myself for the worst.

My husband grieved very differently.  He couldn’t shop for Caroline.  I couldn’t leave my journal out, because if I did he would try to read it and about a sentence in, would burst into tears.  “How do you write this without crying?” he would say.  I honestly didn’t know, but my journal was my outlet.  As I wrote about Caroline’s appointments and documented my pregnancy, it put my mind at ease that I would never forget my time with her.  To my husband, the writing seemed an exercise in masochism.  His approach was to just not talk about the fact that he may never meet his daughter, and although I didn’t understand it, it was okay.  It was his way of processing the unprocessible.

I remember when Caroline was born, and we were able to TAKE HER HOME, seeing how happy my husband was.  It was startling.  I don’t think I realized how miserable he was before until I saw how happy he was to spend time with Caroline.  When he went back to work, he would come home almost every day with a new outfit for her to wear.  He knew that we would have to say goodbye someday soon, but he was the happiest I had ever seen him.  I was happy too.  Looking back at pictures, we both glow in every single one.

When our daughter went to heaven, our grief became more similar.  We both cried often for the first week or so, but then it lessened.  We both talk about Caroline all the time.  My husband has told me that he’s so glad that I kept a journal.  He had me put excerpts from it in a baby book that I made for her.  I have bad days and he has bad days.  Most of the time, they fall on different days so that we can take turns being the comforter and comforted.  Other times, we have bad days together and cry together, holding each other close.  I don’t know how I would get through this without him and am so glad that he hasn’t reacted by wanting to pretend that she didn’t exist.  He acknowledges her every day and is as proud as I am to have her pictures hanging throughout our home.

The grief of losing a child is certainly life-changing enough to have the capability of putting immense strain on a marriage.  I am happy to say that my spouse and I are closer than we have ever been.  We lean on each other and support each other, loving our daughter Caroline every second of every day.


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Caroline Bunny

This week has been hard.  I’ve had that pressure on your chest that won’t let up, no matter what you do.  The past few nights I have been very glad to have our Caroline bunny to hold tight in my arms.

A few days after Caroline died was our second wedding anniversary and what would have been her two-month birthday.  My husband and I took a trip into the city to accomplish a few goals.  Unfortunately, one was to buy a dress and a suit for her funeral.  The other goal was to go to one of those bear building stores.  My husband had talked about going there to build one for Caroline before she passed away, and it felt right to still do it for her.  We brought sunglasses to wear if we needed them, but we made it through without any tears.  We chose a bunny with a pattern of multicolored flowers on the fur.  Flowers are something that we associate with Caroline, and she had a musical bunny that she loved, so it was perfect.  We each picked out a heart for the bunny, and went through all the steps of putting it together.  We named the bunny Caroline.  The most difficult part was checking out – the cashier asked us how old our daughter was.  We didn’t have the heart to tell her the whole story, so we told her that she was 2 months old, and the cashier responded that it’s a fun age.  That stung, but what could we expect her to say when we kept our secret?

We built Caroline bunny for our daughter, but it has helped us through our grief instead.  Holding something in your arms is sometimes the only thing that helps when you miss your daughter more than words can say.  I like to think that Caroline smiles when her bunny comforts her parents.


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5 Months

Caroline, today you would have been 5 months old.

Your father and I miss you so much, sweetheart.  We can’t believe that you have been an angel for almost 3 months.  When I pray, I tell God that He better be taking very good care of you.  I’m still your mama and that means that I’m still suspicious of the best babysitter you could possibly have.  Missing you every day, sweetheart.

My husband and I had a moment this past weekend.  It was his weekend off from work, so we had the full two days to entertain ourselves.  We spent Saturday binge-watching Breaking Bad and we went out to dinner.  By the time Sunday evening came around, we were sick of staring at screens, but there is not a lot to do in this town.  We live far from family so visiting someone for the afternoon was not an option.  We fell into a well of boredom, trying desperately to think of something to do that would help us escape.

That was when my husband came and hugged me, and I responded, “Me too.”  I knew he was saying that he missed Caroline.  I cried for the first time in weeks.  If she was still here, we wouldn’t sit around watching TV all weekend – we would be busy taking care of our 5 month old daughter.  Life is so different now.

I suggested we go for a drive.  We got in the car and I drove us to a grocery store to pick out some flowers for Caroline.  The first two stores didn’t have what we were looking for, so we continued on to a third and got her a beautiful bouquet of purple and white daisies.  They look beautiful next to her urn and I hope she likes them.  Going to pick them out allowed us to do something for her and to actively be her parents for the first time in a while.  We took care of our little girl, and it was what we needed in that moment.