Capture Your Grief – A Self Portrait.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook know I attempted to take part in the ‘Capture Your Grief’ project.  Capture Your Grief is an event hosted in the month of October which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. There are 31 subjects, one for each day in the month of October.  After day 11, I found I could no longer participate. 

Today is day 27 as it is the 27th day in October.  Today’s theme of Capture Your Grief is ‘self portrait’.  No picture suffices because my real grief – it’s too ugly.  Instead I can paint a picture of one moment in time that lasted approximately ten minutes.  Ten minutes of my life today.

I got up from my desk this afternoon and locked myself in the restroom.  I coupled over in pain, not just from the weight of my empty arms, but from the cramps of my menstrual cycle.  I held my head between my legs and cried so loudly that it was silent; just like Sam’s birth.  Tears flooded the floor and my breath slowed as I was gasping for air as quietly as I could.  I sat in the bathroom knowing I had limited time to feel this way as I had to pick myself back up and go back to work.

I don’t know if it’s todays rain but I know my tears have outnumbered this shower.  I don’t know if it’s the guilt I sometimes feel because your heart stopped beating but I know it feels as though mine has along with yours.  I don’t know how five months escaped me but I know time won’t stop.  I don’t know how I am only 28 but I know I feel ancient.  I don’t know how life keeps going but I know that it does.

What I’ve learned is that grief cannot be captured.  Maybe for a moment.  Maybe in small snippets that I can hesitantly share with you here.  But grief doesn’t stop.  It grows with us.  Loss is a part of us forever.  It’s our responsibility to feel it and then to pick ourselves up off the bathroom floor and keep moving because we have to.  I may want to hide under my covers all the time – and I do – but I know that I cannot.  Not all the time.  The world just doesn’t stop when you feel like yours has.  When you’re the one grieving that’s a hard reality to accept.

I have spent 156 days, 7 hours, 25 minutes and 25 seconds without Sam.  That’s five months and three days.  22,085 minutes.  I’ve missed Sam in every one of those moments just as hard as the ten I have shared with you here.

Grief cannot be captured no matter how hard we try.  My sadness and love for Sam grow equally each day.  A bereaved Mama friend shared with me today a quote by Elizabeth McCracken, “Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of grieving.”  But for those of you who are still listening – who are still reading – who are still “liking” – who are still thinking of Sam – who are still praying – who are still pouring love when I don’t think I could ever match – there just aren’t words.  Thank you.  Thank you for walking beside me.  Thank you for loving Ted.  Thank you for loving Sam.  Thank you for loving me.

I keep thinking over Pastor Tony’s words at Sam’s funeral.  “God measures life by love.”   If that’s true then there are two things I know for sure: 1. Sam’s life is greater than I can imagine 2. How immeasurable my life is because of my husband, my baby, my family, and because of you who are still grieving with me.

CAPTURE YOUR GRIEF PROJECT

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DAY 1 – SUNRISE

I start out my month of capturing my grief in Sam’s room. A most sacred place to me and his Dad. As I write and wait for the sun to rise I think of all the dreams I had for my son to rise early in the day, after morning naps and multiple times at night, in this room. Like the sun’s heat, it is a warm place where I am able to surround myself in and with Sam. I stare at the black out curtains I had handmade for this room. I thought it would help Sam sleep in a little longer as he grew. Now I ache to see the sun shining in on his sweet face. As I drink in my coffee, I drink in this room. Every detail of it designed with Sam in mind. The room is a mixture of old and new. So many unopened books, toys and clothes wait in the same spot as they did when we left the house the night of May 23rd to go to the hospital. Now I see a new Certificate of Birth, unsigned by our Doctor. A floral card holder from the flowers we received at Sam’s funeral. An embroidered baby blanket with Sam’s name that I often cuddle at night. His footprints resting in his crib. A box containing flowers that laid silently on his casket. Toys that his Grandmbo leaves every so often at his grave. And pictures, I surround myself with picture of Sam everywhere I go, but especially in this room. It’s your room, Sam. It’s my favorite room. As the run rises you should know my sweet Sam, you illuminate my life.

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DAY 2 – INTENTION

I intend to let myself fully feel my grief in honor of my precious child. Every day this week I have driven home from work with a tear-streaked face. I have sobbed in my car – to the point where I can’t breathe and I can only slightly see. I sit in my garage and wail. When I muster the energy to walk inside my house, I crawl into bed with my Sam Bear and hold him as if I were holding Sam. I rock him back and forth. I swaddle him in Sam’s blanket. I talk to Sam Bear as though I were talking to Sam.

My grief is real. My grief is raw. And I am not ashamed. I feel as though if I were ashamed of the depths of my sadness, I would be denying how important my sweet baby really is. I would be denying the truth that his life matters. I would be lying.

So I intend allow myself to fully feel my grief of Sam’s death. I intend to allow myself to fully feel the love that has been poured into me, Ted and our family. I intend to allow myself to fully accept grace; from myself, from my husband, from my family and friends, and from God. I intend to fully feel happiness when it presents itself. I intend to fully feel life for Sam because he cannot.

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DAY 3 – IN HONOUR

As Sam’s Mama, I am capturing my grief in loving memory of him. My sweet Sam Benjamin Newton, was born {still} on May 24, 2015 at six pounds, one ounce and 19.5 inches long. I was thirty-six & a half week pregnant. The moment I was told my Sam was {still} my life became {still} and a part of me has felt {still} ever since. Sam was our first baby. He and his Dad own my heart. There aren’t enough words to tell the world about Sam in one day of capturing my grief. As any Mama, my hopes and dreams for Sam were endless. I’ve found four months into my grief, my hopes and dreams for Sam are {still} endless. Because of Sam’s life, I have changed. I am a new person.

I know now that in my journey of grief I am not alone. Over the last year and one month, some of my now very best friends, have also lost their babies. It is a world that I never knew existed. It is a silent {still} world. Because of Max, because of Owen, because of Declan, because of Mae Mae, because of Penelope, because of Evan, because of Bo, because of Vivian, because of Benny, because of Webb, because of Georgia, because of Eloise, because of Theo, because of Harper and Georgia, because of Samantha, because of Nova-Lee, because of Sam, because of Zachary, because of Reagan, because of Taylor, because of Kitty, because of Lydia, because of Bode, because of Sam – I will not be silent. I will not be {still}.

I will be fearless.

I will be strong.

I will be honest.

I will forever love their Mamas.

I will honour them.

I will be loud.

In honour of Sam, and all of our babies, I will live.

4
DAY 4 – DARK + LIGHT

Grief is dark and lonely if you let it be. I decided to wait to write today and see how my day played out. It has been full of light and equally dark. Let’s start with the dark. I told Ted while we were riding in the car this afternoon that most of the time I feel completely out of control of my emotions. The tidal wave of grief comes crashing in and encompasses my entire body. I get violently thrown by the waves of my emotions. Eventually, like the tide, it recedes. I work so hard to keep my head above water. I try so hard not to drown.

This afternoon Ted and I visited Sam to find that yet again, someone stole the lights from his grave. The second set of solar lights that keep his grave lit a night. A set of lights that comfort my Mama heart. A second set of lights that give me peace when I sleep to know my baby’s body is not in the dark. A second set of lights so he is not alone. A second set of lights that have his name, the cemetery name and my website written in permanent marker on them.

If grief and darkness have shown me anything over the last four months, it is that they are unpredictable and so painful; heart wrenching and cut to the core of your soul. Grief and darkness are inevitable. I found myself on the first cold day of the month yesterday, in tears, covered in a blanket and asleep for most of the day on my couch, just trying not to drown.

That’s why I am so thankful for the light. I need it to survive. Today my family and I participated in Norton Healthcare’s Walk to Remember. We wore shirts in honor of Sam with his initials and a sweet elephant on the front. Written on the back was his name. The day was beautiful and full of love. We celebrated the lives of babies who were miscarried, stillborn and passed as an infant. We remembered them. It’s so important to remember Sam. It’s so important to recognize his life.

We walked for Sam. We let him live in each step we took.

This week we received some of our NILMDTS photos in color. It gave light to what was a dark week. It gave life to my baby all over again. In light there’s love. I choose to live in light. There may be moments of darkness but I refuse to let it win. Sam lives in light and so will I.

6
DAY 6 – BOOKS

Books have always been such an essential part of my life. I love to read. I have loved reading since I was a little girl. My Mom always told me before I could read I would flip through magazines as though I was reading them but I would actually just be staring at the pages. One of my Dad’s favorite stories includes him potty training me. I was too afraid to use the restroom until he gave me a book to distract me and then I didn’t care.

So it’s not surprising that the first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant was order the classic “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. Instead of reading the book as my pregnancy progressed, I sat down and read it almost in its entirety. I couldn’t wait to know everything there was to know about being pregnant. I posted a photo to Instagram the week Sam was born of Ted’s side of the bed. He had fallen asleep reading “Be Prepared” and “A Dude’s Guide to Babies”. Both made my heart shine. We made a trip to Chicago to visit my sister-in-law who supported my obsession and gave me every book I could possibly imagine on being pregnant. I spent my nights reading “Baby Bargains” Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy” and “Parents” Magazine. One of my favorite purchases was “Give Them Grace”. I even bought a book entitled “Shitty Mom” because I knew I wasn’t going to be perfect and I was thinking in advance to the day where I’d need some back up support that I wasn’t a crazy person.

I remember a few weeks after coming home when Sam was born and I could finally walk around somewhat comfortably by myself; I looked for all these books. In a frantic state the night Ted came home from the hospital to grab a few things before returning to me and Sam, he had hidden all of these books. He knew in advance they were just the first of many tiny deaths that I would experience. When I found them again, I looked up Stillbirth in the classic What To Expect only to find two pages of the hundreds it contains.

Some of the first gifts we received when Sam was born were books. Our OB immediately connected me with her friend who had previously lost their baby Parker in a similar way to Sam. Both my OB and her friend were lifesavers in those first few days. I savor the words written in “Holding on to Hope”. On advice from some friends we ordered books like “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart” and “A Grief Observed”. I cherish the thoughts of “Safe in the Arms of God” and I’ll Hold You in Heaven”. And maybe the best I’ve read, and most applicable, “Healing Your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth”. Yesterday I frantically searched through each before I left the house to go pick out Sam’s headstone with no avail. Some things don’t come in books. Each of these spoke life to me in those first few weeks. Each of these continue to speak life to me as I read them over, and over again.

On a few occasions I was handed the same pamphlet on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. A beautiful program she sponsors where she sends your child a book every month from birth until they are five years old. I couldn’t wait to sign Sam up. It sounded like the perfect way to build his library. When I went to do so, I re-read the pamphlet to see something to the like of “you can only register your child once he/she is born”. What a silly rule, I thought to myself. I suppose now I know why. Sam’s library is small. A lot smaller than I ever intended it to be. It only started to grow within the last few months of my pregnancy. But I love his books. They are so dear to me. When I was pregnant, I received Sam’s first book, “On the Night You Were Born”. I sat down on my couch and read it to Sam, rubbing my belly, with tears streaming down my face. It is the only book I ever read to him. Now I have a hard time reading the books that sit unopened, waiting to be read to Sam. My favorites include “Love You Forever” Llama Llama I Love You” and “Give Me Grace”. Just last week a dear friend to me gave me “Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You”. She told me she wasn’t sure if it was even appropriate but she can rest assured – nothing mends my soul more.

It’s odd how I still want Sam’s library to grow. I still yearn to read to him. I dream of the day where I have the strength to visit his grave and read to him the sweet words of Robert Munsch and Nancy Tillman. I wonder about the upcoming holidays. How there won’t be presents for Sam. I want presents for Sam. I want him to have books. I’ll buy him books. I want his library to grow. I want our family to grow. Maybe one day I can use my pregnancy books again. Maybe one day I can read Sam’s stories to his brother or sister. But right now, my heart can only grasp the words, little by little, of the books on grief that now cover Sam’s changing table.

7
DAY 7 – MEMORY

It’s interesting the moments your memory will allow you to recall and the times where your memory fails you. There is so much about May 24th that I remember and just as much that I can’t. I don’t remember waking up that Sunday, but I remember drifting asleep on Saturday night. I don’t remember waiting for my anesthesiologist to arrive, but I do remember prepping for surgery the night before. I don’t remember my spinal, but I do remember asking for anxiety medicine before my c-section.

I don’t remember much pre-surgery but I do remember Ted.

I remember Ted in every moment before Sam was born. I remember Ted cuddling me on Saturday night and crying with me. I remember Ted promising to hold my hand the entire way and I remember staring at him during my entire c-section. I remember asking him “if it was over yet” and telling him “not to look”.

I remember the curtain falling and I remember seeing Sam.

He was cradled in the arms of a nurse off to my right. They were wrapping him up just perfectly before they brought him to us. I remember saying to Ted, “Is that him?” I remember how my heart felt the moment I laid eyes on Sam in Ted’s arms. I remember saying I wanted to hold him. I remember touching him for the first time.

And then I don’t remember.

I don’t remember me and Sam being wheeled into our room with Ted in trail. I don’t remember my parents walking in and seeing Sam for the first time. I don’t remember our time with Sam in its entirety. Sometimes it feels like I don’t remember much.

But I remember making the choice with Ted when it was time to give him away.

I remember my emotions most of all. I remember being so afraid before my surgery about all of the unknowns. I remember being afraid of my first real surgery. I remember being afraid to see my baby who had already passed away. I remember just being afraid. But I remember my joy, too. I’ll always remember the moment my heart stopped when I laid eyes on Sam and how my heart instinctively told me I needed him in my arms. I remember our photographer showing up. I remember watching Ted change Sam for the only time in either of our lives with the sun beaming in from the windows. I remember kissing Sam’s forehead. I remember insisting on his hat being off to show off his hair that my heart burned for. I remember the new kind of love I felt that day, a deeper love than I’d ever experienced before. I do remember.

Now I remember in photos. Now I remember when Ted remembers for me. Now I remember when my parents tell me. Now I remember when my brother and sister-in-law love on me.

Now I remember each time I look in the mirror, each time I undress, each time I shower. I remember because I have Sam’s birth so clearly written on my body. My scar speaks volumes to me. It’s proof that I am a mother who lives without her child. To me, it’s the most beautiful part of me.

I remember so much and then I remember so little. I want to always remember. Sam is my favorite memory.

8
DAY 8 – WISH LIST

Almost five months into my grief journey it still blows my mind that the day after Sam was born, less than twenty-four hours after cradling him in my arms, Ted and I were planning his funeral. I lay in my hospital bed and welcomed the funeral director and then our pastor into what felt like sacred space; my hospital room. Ted and I had so many important decisions to make. We had to write his obituary. We had to pick out flowers to be displayed at the funeral home. We had to select readings for his funeral. We had to choose his casket. I vividly remember lying in my bed scanning through the tiny selection of tiny caskets. Just looking at them made me want to vomit.

Today’s word is “wish list”. What are my wishes for this grief journey? What do I need from others? What do I want to learn or gain from this experience of Capturing My Grief?

To be honest, I don’t really know. I’ve talked to my Mama friends and we all agree that capturing our grief, and sharing our hearts so openly, has been somewhat emotionally exhausting. We’re crying harder. We’re crying more. But we’re being loud about our grief. We’re being brave.

I think that’s the point of my capturing my grief. I’m not being silent. I won’t let Sam’s life be still like his birth. I’m capturing my grief to spread awareness of how real and painful child loss is.

But my main wish – it’s that I weren’t capturing my grief at all. My wish list includes one thing – Sam alive. Not just in our hearts but in my arms. Sam sleeping in his crib. Sam at almost five months old. Sam smiling at his Daddy. Sam rolling around on the basement carpet with his puppies. Sam following his big cousins, Rhett and Will, Hank and Charlotte around. Sam sleeping over with Grandma and Grambo. Sam wearing his clothes. Sam going to fall festivals. Sam experiencing Thanksgiving. Sam with his Great-Grandma Hale. Sam having Christmas with his Layman family. Sam crying. Sam screaming. Sam hungry. Sam having a dirty diaper. Sam blissfully dreaming. Sam living. Sam alive.

9
DAY 9 – Family
11
DAY 11 – Glow in the Woods
Ted & I did a lot of hiking this weekend. On Saturday, we took Sam with us. A lot of peace came from carrying around his picture while we carried him in our hearts.

Sam is our glow in the woods.

 

3 thoughts on “Capture Your Grief – A Self Portrait.

  1. Abby and Ted, I am still grieving and mourning with you … I have deep respect for you Abby for sharing so authentically … I’m quite sure you don’t want it to be this way, and, it is such that you and Sam and Ted are teachers for so many, in loving, in grieving, in living …

    I lit a candle for Sam Benjamin Newton this evening at our semi-annual Candlelight Service of Remembrance at our hospital. Surrounding you in the tears, love, and peace that were present in our chapel tonight … Jude

    Like

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