a little bit of closure

Our last week in Atlanta was an emotional one for me. There wasn't a day without tears, and some days were filled with lots. Moving to a different state two months after your baby dies probably isn't the wisest decision. A move brings a lot of stress, and stress is harder to handle these days. We knew it was what we needed to do, but we were also aware it could stir things up a bit. The worst part of grieving the loss of Owen is that I never know when it will hit me. It hit hard last week...

We went back to Egleston last week for the first time since Owen died. It was weird to be back. When we stepped off the elevator on the second floor of the hospital, we had mixed emotions. It felt like no time had passed at all, but at the same time it felt like so much had changed. The parking deck, the smells, the bright yellow and orange walls... everything brought back so many emotions. The most intense moments of our lives were spent at this place. When we rang the bell to enter the CICU, we so badly wanted to tell the receptionist that we were there for Owen Parker and that we were his parents, just like we had done so many times before. When we walked in the unit, we were greeted by some of our favorite people. I made a list of people I wanted to personally thank, and I came up with over sixty individuals. I wish we could have seen them all that day, but I'm thankful for those we did get to see. We laughed and joked with everyone like old times. They all wanted to know how we were doing, and we wanted to know the same about them. I think coming back was healing for not just us, but for them as well. Owen's life and death left a lasting impact on their lives too. I kept telling everyone how much we missed them, and how much we missed Egleston. They looked at us like we were crazy, but it's true. All of the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, social workers, chaplains, therapy dogs, receptionists, cafeteria workers, janitors, etc. will always hold a special place in our hearts. Egleston is a happy place for us because it is where Owen spent his life. That's where most of  our memories with him are.

I remember sitting next to Owen's bed and seeing other families come back to visit with their little ones who were former patients. They all looked so healthy and strong and brought so much joy to the staff in the unit. I wanted SO BADLY for Owen to be one of those success stories. I wanted to bring him back one day and amaze everyone with how well he was doing. I wanted everyone to see him grow big and strong. Even though we weren't able to bring him back with us, it was still good to come back for a visit. Over the past few months, I made a bunch of crotcheted hearts just like the ones I made Owen. When we went back to Egleston, I dropped them off for the nurses to pass out to other babies on the floor. I attached a little note of encouragement for the moms. I know it's not much, but it made me happy to give something to other babies in honor of Owen.

The other highlight from our last week in Atlanta was visiting with the family who we stayed with for six weeks while Owen was in the hospital. We went to their house for dinner, and it was so wonderful to be back. This family was one of the biggest blessings to us during Owen's life. We really clicked with them and became very fast friends. I'm not sure if I ever mentioned before that they also have a son named Owen. We sat around and visited, looked at Owen's baby book, and talked about our upcoming move. They called the cardiologist who lives next door to come over and visit also, so we got to talk to him. He had been on Owen's case since the very beginning, and he was there the day he died. We loved chatting with him and hearing him say that people on the floor are still talking about Owen... It makes us so proud. He really was a special little guy. We all miss him so much.

Leaving Atlanta felt like the end to a chapter in our lives. We have been in Charlotte for a week, and at times it feels like none of that with Owen ever happened. When I look at pictures or videos of him, my heart breaks and longs for him. I never knew how physically draining grief was. It's completely exhausting. Occasionally my arms will physically ache. Like I need to be holding my baby. I can't explain it, but I have heard other parents who have lost babies say the same thing. At my last session with my counselor, he told me that it will get better. He said that my heart will slowly heal. I tearfully told him I don't believe him. I want my heart to heal, and I don't want to be bitter or angry or sad, but I can't imagine it getting any better. Part of me does believe him since he also lost a child....

Overall, our move went well! We ended up subleasing an apartment from some good friends of ours for three months while we look for a house. We had lots of help from friends and family packing, cleaning our house, and unpacking which was great.
Brian drove the truck with Toby who apparently wasn't the best passenger...
The next day, we celebrated Natalie's birthday! We are loving trying out all the fun restaurants that Charlotte has to offer.

Charlotte already feels like the best fresh start we could have asked for. I can't wait to share about our life here in our new city. We really love it. Brian started his new job and loves it, and I'm in the process of looking for work. Thanks for your continued prayers for our family as we continue to try to move forward as best we can. We will never have complete closure on our life with Owen. He does not belong to one chapter of our lives- he will be a part of all the chapters to come, and we are happy to take him with us in our hearts.

in a funk...

I've been in a funk lately. Maybe it's because I've been so consumed by packing for our move and living in a house full of boxes stacked to the ceiling. My environment unfortunately affects my mood. I haven't taken as much time this week to feel. Last week, my grandfather passed away. He was 90 years old, and lived a healthy life up until the very end. It was a hard decision whether or not to go to his funeral. Of course I wanted to go and honor his life, but I wasn't sure I was ready for another funeral. It had only been two months since Owen's... Everything is still so fresh and raw. I decided to go, and I'm glad I went especially since all twelve of his grandchildren were there. We haven't all been together in years. My mom was with him right before he died. She held the phone up to his ear so that I could say goodbye. I told him I loved him, and I told him to give Owen lots of love in heaven. It's a sweet thought to think of my grandparents with Owen in heaven, but it's also extremely painful- a reminder that Owen isn't here for me to hold and kiss and love.

I've found myself feeling angry lately. I'm angry that God took away our perfect gift. I'm angry that my days aren’t consumed with snuggles and crying and napping and dirty diapers. I'm angry that I can't dress Owen up in cute outfits and post pictures. I'm angry that I didn't get to take a picture of Brian holding Owen on Father's Day. I'm angry that I don't know what he would look like now at almost four months old. My anger then turns into jealousy of other families with healthy living children. Yesterday we went to a grocery store we don't usually go to. We pulled into a parking space, but the sign above it said "parents with children." It felt like knives stabbing into our chests. We had to pull out and park two spaces away. I hate it. I hate feeling angry and jealous. And I hate that it is a constant battle throughout every single day. 

Some days I wake up and ask myself if all of that really happened. I have flashbacks from the hospital...Remembering the beeps and the monitors and the tubes. I would trade any of Owen's worst days alive for any day without him. There were moments at the hospital when I didn't think it could get any worse. This is worse. Everyone tells you how having a baby is like nothing else in the world- the love you feel for that child is instantaneous and unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I felt that love the moment I laid eyes on Owen. I still feel that amount of love for him, but at the same time, I feel that same amount of intensity in sadness.

Ronald Greer writes in his book Markings on the Windowsill, "It has been said that the death of a parent is the loss of one's past; the death of a spouse is the loss of one's present, and the death of a child is the loss of one's future." I had Owen at the age of twenty-nine. He was my future. I most likely have a long life ahead of me, but every single day, I will feel the deep loss for my baby boy.

I discussed the stages of grief with my counselor: shock and numbness, flood and grief, despair, and integration and affirmation. I told him that I have gone through them all, and continue to go through each stage again and again. Sometimes multiple times in a day. He said that is completely normal. It's a cyclical process. A never ending one. He said that for important losses, there is no closure. Mourning is not a task to be completed but a process to be engaged.

I keep trying to remind myself of my determination to gain as much as I can out of all of this. When I'm in a funk like this, I want to ask God "why?" But I know that's not the best question... Instead ask, how am I going to grow from this powerful experience in my life? Sometimes I don’t really see growth. I see ugliness in the forms of anger and jealousy. But I know that God is working even if I don’t feel like he is… He is present even when I don't feel his presence

“I will never leave you or forsake you…” Hebrews 13:5b 
"...I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow."  Jeremiah 30:13b

moving forward

May, 2014. This is when Brian and I decided it would be a good time to start looking for a new job and possibly relocate. Owen would be three months old, I would be finished with my fifth year working at my school, and Brian would be finished with school for computer programming. Moving with a baby wouldn't be ideal, but it would be such an exciting time full of new beginnings.

For over a year, we have had the desire to move to Charlotte. We love North Carolina, and we both felt strongly about settling down there eventually. After Owen died, we felt like we needed a fresh start. We didn't know what that would look like, but we decided to go ahead and start looking for jobs. Charlotte could be our fresh start. We knew it wouldn't fix our problems, in fact, it could make them worse. But we knew ultimately that it was where we wanted to be, and this seemed like the right time to move forward.

It all happened so quickly. Within two days of sending out resumes, Brian had a phone interview with a financial company in Charlotte. Two weeks later, he interviewed in person, and four days after that, he was offered the job. And not just any job... This is a job that he really wants. It's exactly what he wants to do. He accepted the offer, and we will be moving in June. 

We are thankful for the opportunity and excited to be moving back to North Carolina, but our happy emotions are dampened by our sadness. Owen should be here with us for this move. Our grief counselor gave me an analogy that is so true. He told me that I see everything now through dark shaded glasses. Every single thing, even happiness is darkened now. It sounds depressing, but it's just the way it is. Faking it and not feeling these emotions would just make it worse. I don't like to be sad. I'm not normally a sad and emotional person. It takes so much energy to grieve. But it's important. I have moments of happiness and excitement, but those moments are not the same as they used to be. This new job and move should be such celebratory events, and they are. But they are darkened a few shades... 

He went on to say that over time, if I let myself grieve and let my emotions out, the lenses of those glasses will become lighter and lighter. This man lost his two-year-old in a car accident thirty years ago. He knows. Hearing this from someone who has also lost a child has so much more weight than it would from someone who has never experienced this type of tragedy. He said that it will take a lot of time, but it will happen... Slowly, the lenses will get lighter and lighter. I am looking forward to that day when they do. 

Owen has given me a whole new perspective on life. I find myself not stressing about the little things as much as I did before. Big things like packing up our house, finding a place to live, starting a new job, living in a new city, and all the other stressors that come with a move are all so minor in the grand scheme. Owen has also taught me to pray differently. Instead of praying for things to happen because I want them to happen, I ask God to show me if it is what he wants for us, and to make it clear. I think he made Charlotte a pretty clear "yes", and he is already starting to work out all of the details. 

Leaving Georgia is bittersweet. This is where Owen spent his entire life. In my belly in our home and at Northside and at Egleston. Those will always be special places to us. We are also sad to leave our family and friends that we have spent the last five years with. Even though Charlotte is a new city for us, we already have support there. Some of our closest friends are there, and it is the perfect central location to visit other friends and family who live just a few hours away. We are excited about a new adventure. Owen is coming with us in our hearts. He will always be with us wherever we go.

*Photo credit: weblogcharlotte.com