CS Lewis once said that "grief is like the sky, it covers everything." In recent weeks, our family has found that this is so very true. It seems that there is no right or wrong way to travel this path of grief. I have created this blog in hopes that some day we will be able to look back on our journey and see written proof that our great God never leaves us. God is good all the time.
Time does not heal all wounds, it does not take pain, in every form from us. The past week has confimed this for Jim and I. The holidays are arduous and time has not and, I suspect, will not change this fact.
Jim and I have both communicated our own feelings of sorrow and loss over the past several days. It's Christmas time and every holiday event is experienced through the scope of child loss. The reality that our family circle is incomplete practically screams at us as we live out our own holiday traditions. The television reminds us that we should be curled up with a 5 year old, watching Charlie Brown's Christmas, Rudolph and Frosty. Glittery, twinkling lights lose some of their luster in the abscence of childish excitement that should come from a child gone far too soon. Spoons, rubber scrapers, and egg beaters practically beg to be licked clean by her tongue. One stocking hangs limp and lifeless, clean and crisp, barren of little girl trinkets, from the mantle.
I thought......I hoped..... that perhaps the presence of our sweet baby Kruz would ease some of the pain this year. But, while he does bring with him a new sense of joy, he does not lessen the pain. He does fill my empty arms, but he does not fill the emptiness of my heart. I thought that, with Kruz snuggled in my arms, I might be able to attend our church Children's program for the first time since Laynee left us. But yesterday morning I woke with heavy dread and sorrow, knowing that my mind would know exactly where Laynee should be standing on that stage. And I knew that I could not, would not put myself through it.
We do not feel anger or bitterness as this new wave of grief washes over us. There is no need to fight against it or even to explain it. It simply is and will forever be a part of who we are. Often, as pain grabs a tight hold on us, we must seek out silence amidst the hustle and bustle of life and remind ourselves that God is good and God does good....... all the time. Nothing.....not even the greatest sorrows of life..... will ever change that.
I've missed my little girl something fierce lately. It happens this way.........I go for a time....days, maybe even weeks without the pain being quite as intense and then suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, it returns full force. I've long ago given up the notion that I might be able to figure out what makes some days better than others. The pain, it's ebbing and flowing, is simply a part of life, a normal aspect of grief. I am no longer compelled to fight against it. I grab the board and hang on for dear life, knowing that it's best to ride with the waves.
I love having my family all around me. There is nothing on earth that brings me more joy. Yet it is this very thing, my life's greatest pleasure, that brings about the very keen awareness that all is not as it should be in our world. When we're all together, there's somebody missing, my life's greatest sorrow.
I missed her as we prepared for Thanksgiving. I wondered what would be her favorite kind of pie and who she would have sat close to around the big table for the grandkids. As we shopped on Black Friday, I missed her tiny hand in mine and ached at the sight of the sweet little girl clothes. Would she have something that she desperately wants for Christmas this year? We listened to Christmas songs on the radio as we drove, as we hung the stockings, as we put up the tree and every song somehow reminds me of her. Every reminder of her brought a stab to my heart, a lump to my throat.
As I hung her stocking, which stands out among the rest, my heart clenched tight. It doesn't matter that there two extra stockings this year, one for Kruz and one for Anna. Her's will remain empty... always....and that will hurt.....always.
We hung her new ornament and the reality that this is our fourth holiday season without her felt like a punch to the midsection
I love this tradition of hanging a new ornament every year for her. Each ornament representing another year without her is treasured, cherished. Still, they hang, glistening and beautiful, a glaring reminder of the time that has passed without her. A gentle reminder that each day brings us closer to her.
It's Thanksgiving today, another one without you. Today in church, emotions warred within me. My heart is grateful for so much but thankfulness walks hand in hand with the hurt that runs deep inside of me. On this day, I choose to focus on thanksgiving rather than the hurting.
I am thankful that you, my sweet girl, are my daughter. Nothing can change that, not even death. I will be your mommy forever and that brings me so much joy. I am thankful for this sweet little boy in my arms right now, he does not fill the void that your abscence leaves, but he does fill my aching arms. I am thankful for family - your daddy, your brothers and sisters and for so many friends who are loyal and true to us. I am thankful for this wonderful country that we live in and the foundation that it was founded upon. But more than anything else in the world, I am thankful for the gift of salvation and eternal life. Because of this, I know that I will hold you again someday. And that, dear Laynee, that is what gets me through each painful day without you.
It seems I am failing miserably at this blog thing. This is partially due to lack of time but more due to the fact that I have much that I would like to share about sweet baby boy but still need to maintain a level of confidentiallity where he is concerned. He is a major happening in our house but there is much to be determined about his future and for this we remain discreet. I find it easier to not post at all than to try to post about life events without detailing this one, biggest event. I am, however, a bit appalled to find that I didn't even have the decency to post an update that he was finally released from the hospital. My apologies and deepest thanks and appreciation to all who diligently prayed and continue to pray for him.
Baby boy, whom we are referring to as "Kruz" while he is in our home, has been out of the hospital for three weeks. He is making huge progress in his growth and development and is pure, one hundred percent, sweetness. To say that his presence in our life has been disruptive would be a gross understatement. Yet, once again, I am amazed to find that life, regardless of the changes it brings, has a way of settling into a routine and a new normal is always established. So it is with this monumental change. We have adjusted, stretched, and molded him into our lives. Having him here means a little less sleep, earlier mornings, countless doctor's appointments and everyone pitching in a little more. It also means more softness and cuddling, more time spent in awe of the wonder of life, more soaking up the beauty of perfect simplicity, more moments that take our breath away.
This child, so sweet and so incredibly complex, has awakened something in me that I thought was dead, buried with my sweet baby girl. I cannot put a name to it. Healing??? Joy??? Redemption??? Perhaps a combination of all of these. Our days have been hectic and I feel pulled in a million different directions. Yet, in spite of the chaos, this child has brought a quietness to my soul in a way that nothing has been capable of doing since Laynee was taken from us. His soft, warm body fills the aching emptiness of my arms. He brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. Still, I know that I will never know joy like I knew it before I became mother to a child in heaven. I know that I can never have that joy again on this earth. To have a child in heaven is to hurt in the very depths of who I am, a hurt that has no end, a hurt that is a part of every day, every thought, every breath. This hurt stems from an emptiness that no one and nothing can ever fill; nothing, that is, on this earth. In the meantime, we continue to love.......our children on earth, our child in heaven, and this child who, for now, is in our care.......we love them all and we wait, anxiously, for the the day when we will see her again.
I've debated about which blog this post belongs on. This happens often, Laynee.....her life....her death.....the subsequent grief and sadness, have become such a part of who I am that nearly everything I do, everything I think, links in some way or other, back to her. Nearly everything that takes place, every event or happening brings memories or longing for her. More often than not, on our family blog, I choose to omit the part about how this or that causes us to think of her. On Laynee's blog I feel more free to openly pour out my heart about how we miss her still. But this......this post about this life event is too big, too life changing. It belongs on our family blog for it affects each one of us. But it cannot be written without Laynee being a part of it and so I have decided that it will have a spot on both blogs.
The last week has been tumultuous to say the least. On Friday we brought into our home, a beautiful little boy. A child with dark skin, soft black curls, enormous dark eyes and thick, black lashes that curl. I will preface anything else that my heart has to say about this by saying that I will be purposefully vague concerning this pecious one. No decisions have been made concerning his future and I will not give details about the child or his biological parents, nor will I post any pictures of him. We value his privacy and that of all involved in making decisions concerning his future. My purpose in writing is that this is a big, perhaps even a pivotal event in our life. Already, in just 3 days, this child has dramatically impacted our family. My heart is full, overflowing with things that I honestly cannot explain.
When a phone call came to us explaining that there was a child in the hospital, who had been there too long already and needed a place to go home to, my heart felt torn in two. One part desperately wanting to fill the emptiness that my arms have felt for more than three years, the other terrified of the hurt that this child could cause my already aching heart. We refrained from giving an immediate answer about whether or not we would bring him into our home but what we found was that time only made the decision more difficult. For Jamee and Jade, the answer was simple "why would we not take him?" Jade nearly burst with excitement and longing. The boys, more reserved in their emotion, seemed content with whatever decision was made. But Jim and I? We swayed, like branches in the wind, between wanting to bring him here and wanting to run far away from this.
This is not the first call of this nature since Jalayne went home to Jesus. We pray daily that God would use us in whatever way he sees fit and that he would open our eyes to the needs of those around us and write upon our hearts, the names of those whose lives we can touch, be it in big or small ways. We have actually been contacted several times about babies who were in need of a home either permanently or temporarily. Jim and I have tried to have open and willing hearts for whatever God has planned for us. In each instance, God has closed those doors and made it clear that he has other plans for our life, leaving us with a sense of peace that comes from knowing that He is in control. But somehow, for some reason, this time felt different. This may very well be because there is a great deal of uncertainty in regards to this child's future development. Suddenly we were faced with the question "what if God doesn't close the door this time?"
With each day that this decision lay before us, my heart seemed to writhe with increasing agony. Everything in me rebeled at the thought that anyone might think we were attempting to replace our sweet Laynee Grace, knowing that this could never, ever happen. My mind filled with horrific images and I questioned my own ability to keep another child safe. I reasoned that I had only recently accepted a 30 hour position at my current job and an infant didn't fit into that plan, even for a brief time. I have questioned whether or not I could ever love a child in the way they deserve to be loved, knowing how much it hurts to let them go.
Over the few days that we struggled with this decision, we began to see the hand of God working things out in ways that began to ease some of our fears. I know that our sovereign God is always working out all of the most intricate details of our lives. So often these things go unnoticed, taken for granted, but in times of deep struggles our eyes are opened and we become keenly aware of his presence and his mighty hand that goes before us. Most specifically, the concern about my job was resolved as two or three dear friends have expressed that they would not only be willing, but delighted to care for him as I work.
Finally, on Tuesday, we agreed to meet this little boy after lunch. My heart stuggled with whether or not this decision was wise. I was terrified of loving this baby and I knew that seeing him would take the decision to an entirely different level. I knew also that seeing him would answer alot of the questions that we had concerning his development. That morning before work, after Jim and I prayed together, I told Jim that "I wish God would just tell us what He wants us to do" As I worked that morning I felt almost physically ill with apprehension over the upcoming meeting. As I was seeing patients, I felt my phone vibrate deep in my pocket, indicating that someone had sent me a text. Later, as I took a restroom break I read the text and it nearly took my breath away. I have a friend who sends me a scripture verse each morning. This friend knew nothing of the decision that we were faced with and that morning's text came to me in two parts so that when I looked at my phone, this is what I read "there was a great calm. He said to them. 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? Mark 4:38b-40 With a sense of peace in our hearts, Jim and I went to meet the baby in the hospital and it was determined that we would bring him home and care for him while a final decision concerning his future is made. On Friday we brought him home and without question, this child has brought joy into our home. In just three days he has blossomed under constant affection and nurturing. He is a beautiful child, so wonderfully made, exactly as God intended him to be. Like any child, he has been sent here to love and be loved and we are honored to have a part in loving him.
Please pray for this sweet babe and all involved in the decision making process. Pray also regarding the surgery that he will be undergoing on Wednesday. For now, we are content to love him in the best way that we know how. And we will remember what Laynee taught us so well, that each day is precious, each moment sacred and God is good..........all the time.
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book
Three years. Three long and painful years. In my mind the memories are fresh and painful as if it happened yesterday. In my heart it seems a lifetime ago since I last held her. Three years and I still wake up wondering "How did we get here?" "How could this happen?" Three years and my heart still twists with longing for her. My love for her remains desperate. Three years since the worst moment of my life but three years since the best day of her life.
Today, no matter how we try to pretend as if it is just another day, time stands still as we remember her last day. Her love, her joy, her radiance, her simplicity. I remember her smell and the sound of her soft laughter. I remember and long for one more hug...........oh how I long for another squishy Laynee hug. And to see her raise her hands up for her daddy to hold her close or raise her hands in declaration that she is "the prettiest girl in the world." There was just never a doubt she knew that she was most beautiful, most loved, most adored. I remember all the beautiful attributes of this most precious child along with the horror of her final moment.
Three agonizing years since I've held her, three years closer to holding her again. Thank you, King Jesus for that hope that I will hold my baby again. Without this we could not, would not survive.
HAPPY HEAVEN DAY,LAYNEE GRACE
MY FOREVER LOVE, THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN ALL THE WORLD
"The Kissing Hand"......... it's a story that most mama's know and probably most children. I cannot say that I remember the story all that well but perhaps if I dug through the stack of books in the "game" closet I would find it. Or maybe we passed that book along to someone else, another mama and child, somewhere along the way. I don't really remember all the details of the book but I clearly recall the concept, the idea behind the beautifully written story of a mama raccoon who sends her baby off to kindergarten. I know because we lived it for many years. We incorporated it into our daily routine as, one by one, I sent my children off to school.
My children are close in age. All four of my biological children born within 5 years. They had great fun with each other and with our neighbor children during their first, formative years. Then I began sending them to kindergarten. It happened fast, first Jamee, a year later Grant, two years later Jade and then Brock. And just like that my babies were all school agers. Each time I saw one of them off to kindergarten was horribly beautiful. I wasn't at all sure that I was ready for them to leave toddlerhood behind. Yet their was so much pride in seeing them left their chins, square their shoulders and, inspite of all their fears, step tentatively into independence .
They were, and still are, quiet in nature, each one of them. While I don't really recall alot of tears from any of them that first day of school, a couple of them hit a road block a week or two into it and decided they'd had enough, they weren't going back. They wanted to be at home with mommy where all was safely familiar. So we got creative and on my dresser sit two cherished pins, one a tiny blue bird, the other a St Louis Cardinals pin (we are Chicago Cubs fans by the way, but that didn't matter then:). Two of my children needed these pinned to their shirts every day to get them through kindergarten. They would pin them close to their hearts and when they felt sad or needed to see me, they would rub that pin and remember that soon, very soon they would come back home. Eventually the pins were forgotten and they would realize that they can get through a day without me. They didn't really need the pins.
We read "The Kissing Hand" sometime before Jamee went off to school and the idea stuck for us. The idea was that if they kissed my hand and I kissed theirs and we placed our fresh kissed hands to our hearts, we would be together in heart throughout the day. They needed this. I needed this! So began each new school day. I would pack lunches, do their hair, make sure clothes were properly adjusted and shoes tied. I would feed them a healthy breakfast, and supervise while teeth were brushed. And then? Then I would squat down before each of them place my hands to their sometimes syrupy smelling lips, while they placed their hand to my own lips and kissed. We would place our hands to our hearts, sealing us together for the day. "I love you, have a good day" and off they went. Every single morning. There was a time when I kissed four growing hands each day. The routine was sometimes rushed and eventually it was done more out of habit than need. Sometimes, on really hectic mornings, one or more of them would rush back to me, a look of sheer panic on their face, hands outstretched, "WE DIDN'T KISS HANDS." Or sometimes one of them would need just one more kissing hand. The worry was so easily removed, a quick peck on the hand, the hand to the heart and all was well once more. And then somehow, without any of us noticing, in order from oldest to youngest, they stopped needing the kissing hand. I remember the bittersweet day when I watched the bus pull away and realized I hadn't kissed any hands for awhile. My children were growing and needing me in different ways. It hurt a little but it was sign that marked maturity and independence, good things in the life of a child. They were on their way to becoming who they were meant to be.
This past week and a half I have thought of the kissing hand each morning. Not really longing to kiss the hands of my grown and nearly grown children, but that of my youngest, the one whose hand I cannot kiss. For three years I have gone to her grave and placed my kissed fingers to her picture on the headstone. I have placed kisses on the photos that hang on our walls. But now my insides writhe with needing to kiss that little hand and place it to her heart, to place my own kissed hand to my heart. I suspect that Laynee would not need the kissing hand nearly as much as I would. She was a child that loved all and feared none. She drew people in and captured them with her exuberance and joy. With her bigger than life personality, I doubt that she would have faced much apprehension. Still, we would have done kissing hands. Maybe because she needed it, maybe because I needed it or maybe just because it is a beautiful expression of the love between mother and child. We would have done "The Kissing Hand."
It's a little thing..... I know that.......I shouldn't feel so angry about something so ignificant.......I know that too. But I am angry! I am so angry!
I stopped at Laynee's grave today. As I pulled up I noticed that her backpack was unzipped and hanging open. As I went to zip it back up I realized that the crayon and markers that I put there for her were gone. Someone STOLE her crayons and markers!!!!!!
I know that it is irrational to get so upset over this. I have thought of every imaginable possiblity that might make me less angry. Things like....."maybe whoever took them does not know the story of Laynee, how much she is loved and missed." But her grave site tells the story of a little girl loved and lost. The very fact that she is there tells a story, not to mention that her grave is adorned with many trinkets telling of our love for her. I've reasoned (and this is most likely the correct reasoning)
that it was likely a child. I see children playing at her sight all the time, while their parents walk around the cemetary. They play with the pinwheels and stuffed animals and I always imagine Laynee smiling down at them from heaven. But if it was a child why would their parents not tell them to put the things back?
I am so angry. I am angry that someone stole from Laynee's grave...........Who does something like that?!?!!!?? But more than anything I am angry that she is gone, that her body lies beneath the ground, that I have reason to visit the cemetary on a regular basis.
I should have coaxed her awake early this morning and fed her a warm, healthy breakfast. I should have dressed her in new clothes and new shoes, rubbed her in sweet smelling lotion and done her hair up in ribbons and bows. I should have gone through her new back pack, making sure all the necessary supplies were there. Each item with the name "Jalayne" carefully penned across it in black marker. I should have placed that backpack over her shoulders and stood her at the front door for pictures with her siblings and some of just her. I should have put her in the car, video camera in tow, and driven her to the school. I should have sent my little girl to her first day of kindergarten with kisses and hugs and "have a great day." I should have stood with other mothers, watching the line form and then the children filing one by one, through the school doors and out of sight.
I likely would have felt the sting of tears. But they would have been bittersweet tears. Tears of "I can't believe she is so big" and "I'll miss her at home all day" and "I am so very proud of her." They would have been tears that mark one of a child's greatest milestones....the first day of kindergarten. Instead my eyes burned today with tears of raw, gut wrenching agony. They were tears of missing her in the depths of my soul, of not having held her for three ruthlessly painful years.
I went about my day as if nothing were wrong in my world. I sent one off to our local college, 2 off to high school, along with our foreign exchange student. I sent Moise to his first day of middle school and moved Jamee to her new apartment at SLU. I sent 6 beautiful people off to school, all the while, keenly aware of the one I was not sending. This reality has hung, heavy and burdensome, upon me for several weeks. I felt it as I bought the seemingly endless amount of school supplies, as I met with teachers, and signed papers. This morning like a vice around my heart, I felt the glaring truth that Laynee will never attend school. She will never ride the school bus.
Earlier in the week I gave in to the need to purchase a backpack for her. I chose one that I knew she would love, pink with princesses on the front. I also bought new crayons and markers and placed then in the backpack. I bought them, not because she needed them but because I needed them. I needed to smell them, to touch the tips of each new crayon and feel the weight of the pack on my arm. I needed to see her lovely name printed upon that bright pink fabric. I needed the satisfaction of buying something for my little girl. I needed to remember what should be and forget, just for a moment, that all is not well, that life is incredibly, brutally painful. I took it to the only place that feels like hers........her grave. I hung it there and hope that it tells the story that she cannot, that she is a big girl now, big enough for kindergarten.
She should have started kindergarten today.........but she didn't.
It's that time of year again. I can smell it in the mature corn that surrounds us, feel it in the morning dew and in the chill of the evening, hear it in the sound of the cicadas, see it in the steam rising from the pond in the early morning. It is there in the nervous excitement of back to school and in the daylight hours that grow ever shorter. It is that time........the time of year that Laynee died. Memories of her life and her death seem to permeate the very air that we breathe.
Sometimes I marvel at the human mind and how the senses have so effectively captured and preserved the memories of those days before the accident. It is as if somehow, instinctively, my soul knew that my time with her was drawing to a close and so the senses grabbed and clung to every possible reminder. There are times, still, when I forget. I expect her to come running around the corner, to hear her soft bubbling laughter. I wait for her. But then.......then I remember. Then the pain crushes, once again.
Last week a piece of mail came. It was addressed to Jalayne, not Holmes, but her birth name. It obviously came from a long outdated mailing list. But still, it was for her. It was her name, that beautiful name, Jalayne. It brought a jolt of painful reality and disrupted the act of carrying on that occupies every moment.
It hits me most in the peaceful, early mornings when the world awakens to sounds, all the sounds except her jabbering in her bed. And in the evenings, as heat begins to leave the earth and quietness begins to settle around us, I think of all the should have beens. And late at night, shrouded in darkness, I awaken to her name on my lips and the crushing, sometimes unbearable, weight upon my heart. That's when it hits me most.
I still wonder "how am I supposed to do this?" I have asked that question an infinite number of times but have yet to hear the answer. Some may say that I AM doing it, but my heart......my heart just can't stop hurting. Jade's words from three years ago, reverberate in the very depths of my being....."It's never going to be okay again."
They say time heals all wounds,
but that presumes the source of the grief is finite”
Yesterday the girls and I ran for the children of St Jude. Brock, though not old enough to run with us, went as a volunteer for keeping the runners hydrated. It was an incredible, emotion filled day. If you are unfamiliar with St Jude, is internationally recognized for its pioneering research and treatment of children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Ranked one of the best pediatric cancer hospitals in the country, St. Jude is the first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Their main hospital is in Memphis, Tennessee but we are honored to have the St Jude Midwest Affiliate just minutes away from our home at OSF Children's Hospital. St Jude funds treatment and research for children with cancer. In other words, what insurance does not cover of the astonomical cost of cancer treatment, St Jude pays for.
Each year, thousands of runners come together to raise money for St Jude. Some run all the way from Memphis to the Midwest Affiliate, here in Peoria, Illinois. Others, like the girls and I, run from our own communities to Peoria. We ask people to sponsor us as we run and together. Millions of dollars are raised for St Jude children. This year was an especially heroic year as temperatures across the nation soared into the triple digits, making hydration and safety a very real concern.
For myself, the day started out with uncertainty as I awoke to what felt like early signs of a bladder infection. I wrote it off as perhaps nerves and not too big a deal until after our first running segment, when there was no denying it. I had a wicked, full blown bladder infection. I became uncomfortable to the point of needing to sit on the bus for two of the segments. But after a few phone calls to my doctor and pharmacy and thanks to parents who are always there when we need them, I was soon equipped with medication. After chugging 24 ounces of cranberry juice and two bottles of water, with the help of the meds, I was ready to run again but with considerable more caution then usual. I was fully aware that dehydration would be the worst thing I could subject my bladder to.
Running all day in the scorching heat is uncomfortable, no matter how you look at it, even for well trained runners. Yet that discomfort reminds the runner of why we are running and the discomfort of so many children who fight against cancer. As we ran, we received honks and hollers of "Thank You's" and "God Bless You's" but it is not ourselves but the children that we want others to think about.
At the end of the run day we stood, with hundreds of other runners and families, along the street and welcomed the Memphis runners. My eyes stung, my throat swelled with emotion as I tried to comprehend what these runners had just done. One does not lightly commit to running from Memphis, TN to Peoria, IL. They run in segments for days, with very little sleep. These people have true grit, stamina and endurance. As I watched the weary but enthusiastic runners finish their course, I wondered. How many of them have been directly impacted by childhood cancer? I suspect that for most, if not all of them, this level of dedication and passion is born from watching their, friend, sibling, cousin or, worst of all... child... battle cancer. Their devotion is well beyond admirable.
As the evening wrapped up and we finally entered an air conditioned building, my eyes, for a brief instant, made contact with those of a mother, whom I know watched her son die of cancer. Nicholaus was Jamee's kindergarten classmate and should be 19 years old today. I merely smiled at Yvonne as I passed by her but in my heart I felt an aching stab that comes from knowing that her pain, even after 14 years, is great. I don't pretend to know what it was like for her to watch her child struggle and suffer and leave her. I know that she, in turn, would never pretend to know what it is like to find my child in a pool of blue water, to fight with everything in me to save her, and to know that she had left us. But we both know what it is like to hold a lifeless little body in our arms, to watch them be lowered into the ground and to wake up every morning, for the rest of our lives, without them. I know that she knows that the pain never ends, that it goes on and on, raw and unrelenting. I know that she despises the word "cancer" in the same way that I despise any form of the word "drown." We both know also that we go on and that we live and love and we find joy and contentment but time does not heal all wounds.
As we prepared to start our run, our youth pastor was there to send us off with a few words and a prayer. Pastor Doug is familiar with the cancer battle as his daughter, Jada, is now in remission. He spoke of healing and hope and how they, in a sense, go together. I thought of his words at different times throughout the day. As we entered the large room filled with people last evening, I studied the poster sized pictures of St Jude children. These children had shining heads that spoke of illness and large, shining eyes that spoke of courage and hope. These children do have hope but sometimes we have to stretch our minds to see it. As little children, they have hope of healing, whether on earth or in heaven. As for the parents who are left behind, well, there is hope of seeing them again but there are some things that just cannot be healed on this earth.....the death of a child is one of them. We know long suffering, perseverance, endurance, and even hope..... but not healing.
The 2012 Tremont to Peoria St Jude Team
Thank you to all who donated this year to St Jude, those who ran in the merciless heat, those who fight the battle. And to those who have been forced to say "good bye," in spite of the fact that you weren't ready, there is hope that there will be healing in heaven.
This weekend we have had two little visitors. I think of them as Laynee's friends, but in reality, they never had the pleasure of meeting her. I met RK, her husband and her girls, Braska and Kinlee, through blog world after Laynee died. They lived fairly close to us. We met. We hit it off and they have been a part of our lives ever since. It seems unfathomable that Laynee never knew them. RK and I met up Friday morning, half way between our home and theirs, so that the girls could come spend a couple of days with us. We've had a great time but my heart squeezes frequently as I realize how much fun little miss Laynee would be having with them. We have done fun things, things that I know Laynee would be loving if she were here with us. I will continue to think of them as Laynee's friends because it is only because of her that we have grown to love these two beautiful little girls. And I know that someday.......someday they will, indeed, be friends in heaven.
I've not been here to write in quite some time. That is due, in part, to the fact that life is busy. We go on living, even without our sweet Laynee Grace. But the fact that I do not write as often does not mean that I miss her any less or that my heart no longer aches. And the fact the life is busy simply means that we have learned to make room for the aching of our hearts.
This post has been on my heart for several weeks. I have struggled with whether or not I should share this publicly or if I should keep it private, between my God and I. It is something that I have pondered in the very deepest part of my soul and still, I wonder if I can really give words to what is in my heart, but I will try.
When I reflect upon the days, weeks, months following the accident, so much of it is a blur. It was a horrific time. A time when I could not retain a single thought. A time of running on "auto-pilot," of not knowing and not caring what came next, just putting one foot ahead of another and getting by. It was a time of functioning because the clock told us what to do next, of ministering only to the most basic needs of our bodies. I don't remember much, but as time goes on I am becoming increasingly aware of how we managed to get through those days. It can be summed up with just two words.
Only Jesus. It is something that we experienced in that time of our lives but since then life has happened, life has gotten in the way of truly experiencing "only Jesus." Though I would never choose to go back to relive those days following the accident, I wish that every day of my life could be spent knowing "only Jesus." However, I have come to understand that the only way the human heart and mind can truly experience this is to be completely and utterly broken, to be in the midst of crisis or devastation, to lack the ability to make sense of anything except that we have Jesus.
All of us are familiar with the old poem "Footprints," where a man dreams of two sets of footprints in the sand when times were good, but only one set when times were difficult. He asked his Lord, "why did you leave me" during the difficult days. The Lord simply answered, "My child I never left you, there is only one set of footprints because it was then that I carried you." I don't have to ask my Lord where he was during that time. I know it, as sure as I know that I breathe, I know that my Lord carried us through those days. He was there, never leaving our side, carrying us every step of the way. There is no other explanation for the fact that we are here today, without having been devoured by anger, bitterness and depression.
I have not, for quite some time, been able to recapture that sense of closeness with my Lord. Responsibilities, expectations, schedules, and basic wayward thoughts get in the way experiencing "only Jesus." But I remember that time. I know that conscious prayer was not needed because every painful breath was a whispered prayer, every groan a plea to my Lord. In that time I experienced no sense of self reliance or self sufficiency, I was keenly aware of my own dependency on Jesus. The last thought of each night and morning's first coherent thought was "Jesus, help me." I knew that I could not do one single thing on my own. I knew that no other human being could help me. I knew that I needed only Jesus. Any barriers that separated me from my Lord were torn away. I had nothing, I knew nothing ............except Jesus. My only hope.....was Jesus.
Jesus has not changed, he is there today in the same capacity that he was there during our darkest time. But I have changed. By way of necessity, I have gone on, established new routines,
committed to new responsilities and in so doing, I have regained some of my own sense of self reliance. The broken pieces of my heart have been put together, albiet, not in the same way. Jesus is still there, he is not letting go of me, but I am not as acutely aware of his constant presence, my aching need for him. Still, I reflect on those days and I am grateful that I know what it is to truly experience "Only Jesus."
It is, once again, time for
the St Jude Run.Last year Karol and
Jamee joined a team of runners in the first Tremont to Peoria run.This year Jade will be joining our team.The three of us are teaming together to raise
funds for St Jude.100% of every dollar
raised will go toward the research and treatment of childhood cancer, and for
the care of children who fight this deadly disease.
Childhood cancer first left
an impact on Jamee’s life when, in kindergarten, her little friend, Nicholaus, lost
his battle. Since then there have been
several children in our community who have fought against cancer.Lexi, lost her battle several years ago.Brock
a student in the class ahead of Jade, has also battled and survived this mighty
disease.Most recently, Jada, the
daughter of our church youth pastor was diagnosed of Clear Cell Sarcoma of the
Kidne.As the three of us run, we will
do so with these three in mind, remembering their fight, their courage and
their valiant spirits. Running from Tremont to Peoria is no small task but it
is nothing compared to the fight that so many children have against
The death of our beautiful daughter and
sister, Jalayne, nearly three years ago, has made us painfully aware of the
unspeakable sorrow of saying goodbye to a child far too soon.We cannot prevent all childhood accidents and
death but we are determined to do our part in joining in the fight against
The three of us are looking
forward to joining the many other St Jude runners in the race against cancer on
Saturday, July 21st.We will begin
running in Tremont and will run the back roads to downtown Peoria.We will run in memory of Nicholaus and Lexi
and in honor of Brock and Jada, knowing in our hearts that our sweet Jalayne
will be cheering us on from heaven.
We understand that not
everyone can donate monetarily. Still, we ask that you remember us and all of
the runners on this day. Most importantly, remember and pray for the little
warriors, those who have lost, won, or are still fighting against childhood
cancer.It is for them that we run.
Mother's Day has come and gone. It was a day filled with myriad emotions as I focused on my children who are living, but remembered my child who is gone. I awoke yesterday morning to the ever so comforting thought that all of my living children, the ones that I worry about, were all right here, under the same roof.
On Saturday, Jim and Jade headed to Saint Louis with my dad's truck to move Jamee home.
I spent all of Saturday at Brock's sectional track meet but received several texts throughout the day, telling of me of the "moving home" progress. When I arrived home, one of the first things out of Jamee's mouth was "ummm, I need help." Just in case I ever entertain the thought that I'm no longer needed by my soon to be my 19 year old, she laid that thought to rest. She took me back to her room and said "I have so much stuff and I don't know what to do with it." She did have a lot of stuff, indeed. But within a few minutes it all found a home for the summer months, months that I know will pass far too quickly.
Jamee's room for the summer is actually what we have, for years, referred to as Laynee's room. During the short breaks that Jamee has been home in the last year, we quickly discovered that sharing a room with Jade does not work quite as well as it once did. Last week we changed the bright pink flowered walls of Laynee's to a soft and comforting green. I had wiped out the dresser drawers and the closet shelving and was surprised to find that there were still a few things left of Laynee's, a few baby clothes hangers, some unused socks and swim diapers and a couple of blankets in the bottom drawer. Saturday morning, before heading to Saint Louis, without a spoken word, Jim dismantled Laynee's crib and put it up in the attic. My heart squeezed at the treasured image of a little girl standing, chattering, waiting to be lifted from the bed each moring. Words were unnecessary, we all knew that it hurt, we all knew that it was time, and so it was done. And just like that Laynee's room has been transformed. Jamee will use the room for the summer months and in August, just as Jamee is leaving, a young lady, Anna, from Finland will take her place in that room as she spends her foreign exchange year with us. Though it hurts to wipe away another of the traces of Laynee, I know that this is good and if not good then, at the very least, necessary . I am so glad that Jamee is home and my heart looks forward, with nervous anticipation, to meeting sweet Anna, whose name is already written into the story of our life. So much gladness and yet...........
Tonight Jim and I attended the Tremont High School senior awards night. I, along with several other parents, presented scholarships that have been set up in memory of our children who have been taken from us far too soon.
The nominees for the Jalayne Laynee Grace Holmes Memorial scholarship are selected by a panel of school faculty members. They are nominated for being excellent role models, having positive attitudes, service to others and for their demonstration of compassion and kindness. The nominees are asked to write an essay detailing their attitude toward the word "retard" as used in name calling. Our family chooses the recipient based on the content of the essay. This year there were 12 students nominated and it was difficult to choose between the essays.
It is with a bittersweet feeling that I spoke tonight to our community about the offensiveness of the "R word." I am delighted to have this oppurtunity to reach a large group of people and hope that at least some of them will really hear what I am saying and commit to ending the deragatory use of the word. While I am grateful for the oppurtunity to keep Laynee's memory alive through this scholarship, my heart aches from the fact that there is a need for a memorial. I wish that she, herself, with her squishy hugs and radiant smiles were here to continue touching lives, not just her memory.
This year's recipient is a young man that I know will prove himself worthy of this scholarship. He is a friend of Grant's, one of strong character and values.
As I stood looking at the calendar this morning, taking note of what this week entails, todays date jumped out at me. Five years ago, April 23rd, was a very significant day in Jalayne's life. It was the day of her open heart surgery, a day that we had dreaded, yet looked forward to from the day we brought her home.
Laynee was born with a very large Atrial Venticular Septal Defect. I have always been thankful for this defect for it is because of this that she was born in Peoria and found her way into our home. Her mother was unaware of the fact that she was pregnant. When she went to the emergency room with severe cramping, she learned that she was in labor and would soon deliver a child. An ultra sound revealed that the baby had a heart defect. Laynee's Down Syndrome was not detected at this point. Because of the defect, birth mom was flown from her area to OSF Saint Francis in Peoria in order to deliver in a hospital that had a NICU and surgeons who could perform surgery immediately if needed. Jalayne was delivered by C-section and spent several days in the NICU before coming home with us.
We knew from the start that surgery was imminent. They really hoped that the surgery could wait until she was at least 5-6 months old. We saw the cardiologist frequently and kept a close eye on her. She was pretty weak those first few months, eating was difficult and her coloring was poor. Then, on April 19th, just shy of three months old, she was sleeping in her infant seat when she started making little squeaking noises. When I went to take her from her seat, her lips were blue and her skin had a sickly gray palor. I was scared, to say the least. In moments she went from sleeping peacefully to looking as if she was fighting for air. Moise was home with me at this time and I knew I needed to get her to the hospital fast. I called my friend Karen, and she happened to be close by my house, she stopped by within a few minutes and was also worried about the way Laynee looked. Karen and her daughter, Jenna, stayed with Moise and I loaded Laynee up in the car and headed to the hospital. I had called her cardiologist and thankfully they did not make me go through the ER but I took her straight to the office so that she would not be exposed to any viruses in the ER. It was quickly decided that she would not be able to wait until 6 months for the surgery. She was in congestive heart failure and needed the surgery soon.
With surgery scheduled for the next morning, I took her home with the prescribed Lasix to keep the fluid from around her heart. I sat up with her most of that night, too afraid to be away from her, too afraid she would stop breathing. We checked into the hospital early and waited, and waited and waited. Our friend, Matt, came up and sat with us most of the day as we waited. The hours slipped away and finally, late in the afternoon, they came and told us that the surgeon was working on an emergency cardiac patient and we would need to reschedule for Monday morning. Poor Laynee was starving as they wouldn't let her eat anything before surgery. She was never keen on a pacifier but that they she sucked on it as if she might swallow it whole. After giving her a bottle, we went back home to wait two more days. I was terrified that she would pick up a virus and would not let anyone in or out of the house.
Monday morning, on the 23rd, we were back at the hospital and this time she was taken immediately to surgery. How well I recall the fear as Jim and I handed our beautiful baby over the nurses. We knew she was in good hands but we knew also that she was very sick and that things don't always go smoothly. Jim and I alternated between sitting and pacing for several hours before the surgeon finally came in to talk to us. The defect was large and she couldn't have waited much longer but it went off without a hitch.
Then began the long road of recovery. We had been told to expect her to be in the Peds ICU for about 4 days. Four days came and went but the rhythm of her heart would not synchronize. I watched that monitor hour after hour, day after day. I had a couple of dear friends who took turns going to the hospital and holding her so that I could spend some time with my other children. Laynee appeared to be healthy, her color was much better, her appetite was good, her breathing was good. Still, the numbers on that monitor told an entirely different story.
I recall standing over her bed as the doctor's came in on their rounds each morning. They were clearly at odds over the best course of action to take. The cardiologst wanted to wait it out, the surgeon wanted to go ahead and place a pacemaker in her little heart. I was afraid of the idea of another surgery and pleaded with the monitor to give us the numbers we needed to see. Finally, after two weeks, the chief cardiac surgeon came in and with a tone that pracitically dared someone to argue with him, announced that "this little lady needs a pacemaker. What are we waiting for??" Just like that, it was settled. They would cut into the same incision the next day to place her pacemaker just below her sternum.
I had committed to being a chaperone for Jade's fifth grade class trip on that day. While I am sure her teacher would have understood my predicament, I was unwilling to miss it. The fact was, I needed to be in two places at the same time. The surgery was scheduled for the afternoon so that morning I followed behind the school bus knowing that the trip home would be much faster by car than bus and every second would count on this day. After spending the day with Jade's class I sped home to arrive just in time to see Laynee off to surgery again. This surgery was quick and as soon as she was back in her room it was easy to see that the pacer had worked a miracle, her heart's rhythm was perfectly in sync.
Two days later we brought Laynee home and she never had any other problem's with her heart. Each month we would do a check to make sure the pacer was doing it's job and send the results to the cardiologist by phone. All in all, it was not nearly as big a deal as I thought it would be to have the pacer. The only problem was that our busy little lady loathed sitting still for the few minutes it took to check the pacer. She sported a scar that ran down the center of her chest. It was angry looking at first but in time it faded until it was barely noticable.
As I look back at this day five years ago. It hurts to think of all that she went through, only to be taken far too soon. I've questioned God a million times on this matter. In my mind, I imagine that any death would have been easier to take than drowning, and so I ask, "Why God?" "Wouldn't it have made more sense to have her pacemaker quit working?" Yet in my heart of hearts, I know that there is no such thing as "easier" in reference to the death of a child. There is no good timing, no good way to say "good bye" to the little ones we hold so dear. Laynee was a fighter, a brave girl who feared nothing. I cherish those days when we fought with her, when there was something that we could do to help her, to live out, on a daily, hourly basis, our love for her.
Yesterday I participated in a half marathon in Saint Louis, an unprecedented experience for me.You can read about it here . It was one of the experiences that can only be described as wonderful and awful at the same time. Throughout the weeks of training, and again during yesterday's run, I have pondered, on many occasions, the question "why am I doing this?' I know also that there are many others who wonder the same thing. The question does not have a simple answer but there is, indeed an answer.
I have always enjoyed running, or rather, the feeling I get from running. I don't think that any runner really and truly enjoys the actual act of running, especially distance running. For years I have been an off an on runner, running when time and circumstances allowed. During the years that I was bringing up small children, I wasn't able to run much. But when Laynee died, I suddenly found myself with extra time on my hands. Time that I did not want, time that I had no idea how to fill.
As expected after the death of a child, depression seemed to be constantly trying to suck the life out of me. My doctor suggested anti depressants, which I tried, and they helped to an extent but I didn't like the way that the pills made me feel. I was terrified of the prospect of becoming dependent on medications. Because of my profession, I have come to learn that medications are widely misused. It is so easy for people to just pop a pill. I see countless patients who are on cholesterol meds and/or anti depressants. While I absolutely believe that some of these patients truly need the prescribed meds (my intent is not to shed a negative light on medication) I know also that proper diet and exercise would go a long way in helping many of our patients to feel better. Reality is that, in today's society, people like instant results and taking a pill is easier than exercising.
Depression creates a vicious cycle and I recognized this cycle in myself. After Laynee's death I didn't want to do anything. Too often I would find myself sitting, doing nothing, staring into space. The less I did, the less I wanted to do and the less I did, the deeper the depression......an ugly, vicious cycle. One that needed to be broken. I took the meds for a while but they made me feel disconnected and tired. I tried different meds but they gave me a complete "I don't care attitude." I didn't like the way I felt. And so it is that I decided to get off my rear end and get serious about exercise. A few walks and a run here and there were not enough to battle the degree of depression that Laynee's death was causing. During the winter of 2010-2011, I did a 13 week, intense exercise program called P90X. I was committed to this program and I did complete it but I can't say that I enjoyed it. Then, in early spring of last year, I committed to run in the first Tremont to Peoria St Jude run. I started increasing the length and frequency of my runs. The St Jude Run in August was a beautifully motivating experience, in addition to being for the cause of beautiful children fighting a beastly disease. The running made me feel so much better physically, emotionally and spiritually. It causes me to crave better, healthier foods, it clears my mind and helps me to sleep less fitfully at night. I suppose that I could be accused of using running as a form of "self medicating" and that's okay, I'll take that accusation. After completing the run, I began to notice that it was easy to skip out on running from time to time. Without the motivation of something to strive for, I became a "fair weather runner". Around the time of Laynee's birthday this year, I felt the depression starting to creep back in. The holiday's, her birthday, and the winter weather seem take their toll on me. I am a purpose driven person. I needed something to strive for, something to force me to get out and run. I began to entertain thoughts of running a half marathon.
I was used to running 3,4 or 5 miles but 13???? That was some serious mileage and I had no idea how to train for it. Sitting at one of Jamee's track meets with her former high school coach, I told him what I wanted to do and a couple of days later an email appeared in my inbox. It contained a half marathon training program and said, in essence "I've done my part, now you do your's," which was to say, "get out there and run." So I did.
Yesterday's half marathon was likely one of the most physically difficult things that I have ever done in my life. Running and it's many challenges closely parallel life. I will share more on this later but for now, I leave you with a challenge. If you struggle with depression, get up and do something. Commit to something that's hard. I know that you don't want to but do it anyway.
Two years, seven months and seven days...........that's how long we were blessed with the pleasure of holding our Laynee. And now, today, we have lived two years, seven months and seven days without her, with that vacant feeling in our hearts.
It is incomprehensible. The fact that she is gone, that she's been gone so long, that time keeps rushing on, that the aching never stops, that we had her such a short time, that our "bigger than life girl" is no longer here...........it is incomprehensible. There is just something about this that seems so incredibly unfair. I didn't want to give her up so soon. I never wanted to be this long without her.
This morning I woke to the early morning light just beginning to filter through the windows. My first thought, as it is every morning, was that Laynee is gone, that it will be another day without her. My second thought was that it is Easter, a day set aside to remember the death and resurrection of our Lord and his amazing gift of salvation to all mankind. I lay there in the morning light with a grateful heart, knowing that it is only by this gift that I have a hope of seeing her again one day. My heart felt heavy as I thought of Mary, mother of Jesus, as she watched her son die in such a heinous way. My brain cannot wrap around the joy there must have been on that resurrection day. So much emotion, for all who loved him, must have been packed into those three days and the days that followed.
Since Laynee went to heaven, Easter has always been an especially emotional day for me. It is a day filled with gratitude but also a day of intense longing for her. I wish for pretty dresses, new shoes, dye colored eggs and excitement over Easter Egg hunts. I have Easter Baskets filled with candy and other good things for all of my children, all except one. I fill her basket, and will take it to her burial site. A green rubber duck, a stuffed bunny, a chocolate bunny and plastic Easter eggs fill her basket. I do it because it fills an inherent need to remember my child. I do it because to not do it feels like forgetting. I do it, knowing that in a few days I will go back and get the basket and that it will remain untouched. I do it, even though it hurts, because to not do it will hurt as well. I do it because the missing her continues day after day without relenting. Yet, even as I hurt I know that because of this, because of Easter, because of the resurrection, one day the pain of missing her will end. One day, because of Jesus, she will run into my arms again. But until then............
Jamee was home last week for her spring break. It was lovely having her home and bittersweet as she left. After a bit of a rough start, she has adjusted well to college life and I am proud of the choices she has made. Jim drove her back this afternoon and my heart ached a little as I kissed her good bye, hating to see her go but glad she will be back soon for the entire summer.
I saw her out back door and then headed to the front porch to wave one last time as they drove away. As I did this I was struck with a Laynee memory, and as usual, it hurt. On school mornings, Laynee was always heartbroken when the kids left without her. In the beginning of that last school year I would try to ease some of her sadness by rushing with her to the front door to wave bye bye. She loved this and after just a couple days, it stuck. Without prompting, each morning as the kids left, she would blow kisses from the back door and then, tears streaming down her face, she would tear through the kitchen and living room to the front door. Without fail, this simple act would bring laughter and joy back to her face. As I stood waving to my oldest, this memory of my youngest rushed in bringing a smile to my face, tears to my eyes, and a vice around my heart. The only words to sum up what I felt are "I miss her." I miss her so very much.
After reigning in my emotions, I was reminded of a conversation with a couple earlier today in church. They spoke of how they are going to be heading west to see their children in Sioux Falls. Their excitement was evident as they discussed different events in the near future that will give them oppurtunity to see their children who have moved away. They miss their children and will always look forward to reuniting with them. If their children stay away for 5 or 10 or 30 years, they will still miss them. They will still want to be with them.
It is normal parental instinct to miss our children when they are away from us. So it is that for however long it takes, 10 or 25 or 100 years until I see Laynee again, I will miss her. It may not be as socially acceptable to talk about my child who has died but I miss her all the same.