Crashing Waves

2 Thessalonians 4:13

They say drowning is very peaceful. Many who are saved don’t remember the experience.

My life, until recently, has been smooth sailing. (Hindsight is 20/20, after all.) But just as I saw land on the horizon, I was met by a colossal, crashing wave. It pounded my tiny boat until only pieces remained, floating in the water that is once again still.

From the day of Ryder’s birth up to today, I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I do still feel the pangs of grief, but I know that my anxieties, anger, and fears have subsided much more quickly than is “typical” when loss is experienced.

At first the peace felt terribly out of place. I remember thinking to myself I must be drowning in my grief–losing grip with reality. There is no way this feeling can be healthy. I need to snap out of it.

But eventually I remembered the countless prayers that had been lifted up on our behalf–prayers said for us and by us.

Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And that is exactly what I have experienced. True peace–not drowning.

Praise God!

If you have experienced loss, I know that it is very difficult to put your hope and your faith in God. It feels like he has abandoned you. But I promise he hasn’t. Remember that poem “Footprints in the Sand“? He hasn’t abandoned you; He is carrying you. When you feel like you can’t take another step, let him carry you. When you feel like you are drowning, let him rescue you.

The LORD is close to the broken-hearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” – Psalm 34:18

With hope and love,
Kristen

Due Date

Today was the big day. Or it should have been the big day.

Ryder’s official due date.

I have been anxious leading up to today. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. But it has actually been a pretty good day. Sam kept busy at work while I had a guitar lesson and ran errands. Tonight, we just spent time together cooking dinner and watching movies. Two ladies on a Facebook loss group lit candles in his memory today. It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture.

Ryder Hudson Marshall

Monday the 15th was Ryder’s two month “angelversary”. The day came and went with little to show for it. At the end of the day, I was feeling partially relieved and partially guilty that it had felt like any ordinary day.

The very next day, I found a pamphlet in my purse titled “Handling the Heartbreak When a Baby Dies.” I have no memory of receiving the pamphlet and I had just cleaned out my purse the week before, so surely I would remember someone giving it to me…. right? (If you are the person who gave this to me, let me know so I don’t feel so crazy. Ok? Thanks!) Anyways… The pamphlet contained an article written by Jane Marie Lamb, the founder of SHARE, a group for bereaved parents. Here is the opening quote, which she attributes to a SHARE parent:

“One day you feel together and the next couldn’t be worse. It comes and goes–the shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, emptiness, and aching arms. I crave privacy, yet I can’t tolerate being alone. I often feel angry that society doesn’t seem to accept any grieving that takes more than six weeks… The pain subsides, only to come flooding back again. At times, I even relish it–after all, it is part of my baby[…]”

I felt like I was reading all the things I’ve felt but haven’t had the words to say. Extreme emotions are what typically drive my writing–whether it be an extreme high or an extreme low–so when I’m having a rather “normal” day, it’s hard to find much worth writing about. If I’m not grieving with tears or rejoicing through laughter, I mostly just feel numb. And I don’t like that feeling… or lack of feeling, I guess.

One emotion running rampant in my head these days is apathy. It’s not intentional, but it’s there.

I’m sorry I didn’t sign up on your care calendar to bring a meal after you had your baby. I wanted to, but we were at home having meals brought to us.

I’m sorry for scrolling past your pictures on Facebook or Instagram of your baby’s monthly milestones. I really do want to celebrate with you, but it’s just too difficult to think about. They are milestones I’ll never get to celebrate with Ryder.

I’m sorry that I haven’t asked you how your son/daughter is liking the new sport/activity they are participating in or how summer camp went. I’m too busy wondering if I’ll ever get to spend a summer with children of my own.

I’m sorry I haven’t asked how you’re doing. My mind is running in a million directions and I forget to ask about your struggles sometimes. Just know that I do think of you. I wonder how you are and I say prayers for you each day.

I read quite often about friendships that are lost after the loss of a child. At first I couldn’t believe it. How could friends abandon you in your greatest time of need? But now I understand. I don’t think I’ve lost any “friends” on Facebook, but there are friends who have stopped interacting with me. I guess they’ve either gotten tired of reading my posts about loss or they just don’t know how to talk to me. Either way, it’s sad. I often feel very isolated–like I’m on the outside looking in. But I’ve come to learn who my true friends are and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.

In Sunday School this week, we were asked to watch for blessings in the everyday. Friendship is one of the blessings I’ve put on my list. I have a few very close friends and I cherish them deeply.

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” – John 1:16

With hope and love,
Kristen

Ryder’s Daddy

I want to introduce you to my husband.

{Isn't he handsome???} Photo by Erica Mae Photography

{Isn’t he handsome???}
Photo by Erica Mae Photography

His name is Samuel and I love him dearly. He is my complete opposite in every way. He is funny, he is loud, he is outgoing, he is athletic, he has musical talent, he loves being surrounded by big groups of people, and he seems to be completely fearless.

My handsome 2

We met in 2009 when I came back home to Tyler after college graduation. A new student ministry was getting started and I was asked to lend a hand to help get it off the ground. Our first event was a city-wide scavenger hunt. (You know, one of those where you’re given little assignments and you have to snap a picture as proof.) Well, there was this guy. And he was cute, he was nice, and he was just so silly!

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{“Get your wackiest team member to do something crazy with a celebrity.” His interpretation: propose to a news reporter. Because of course!}

The moment this picture was snapped, I knew I’d marry him one day! He claims it took him a little longer to realize it because he thought I was too old for him and figured I wouldn’t give him the time of day. Boy, was he wrong!

A few days ago, my devotional talked about transformations, and the reflection question instructed me to think about a transformation that I have witnessed. My mind immediately went to Sam.

Watching him transform into a daddy over the six months of my pregnancy was fascinating. He has always loved me well, but adding a baby into the mix created subtle changes in him.

He insisted that he attend each and every doctor’s appointment. At first I felt bad that he would need to take off work to go with me, but I am so very glad he insisted!

He was there to celebrate with me when my pregnancy was confirmed. He was there when we heard the heartbeat for the first time. He was there when the sonogram showed our boy’s sweet face. He was there to hold my hand when we first found out about the CHD diagnosis. And he was there to cry with me when we were told that Ryder wouldn’t make it.

After the diagnosis, he persistently asked questions to better understand all of our options and plans. And he insisted that we seek a second opinion when my hope started to fade.

In the weeks leading up to Ryder’s birth, he talked to him, read to him, and prayed over him. On the day Ryder was born, he held him, kissed him, and cried for him. He was a wonderful coach through all 28 exhausting hours of labor.

I have heard and read many stories of men having a difficult time bonding with their babies before they are born. After a stillbirth, many men have no way of connecting emotionally. Sam didn’t seem to have any trouble bonding with Ryder. I’m sure it helped that we talked about him every day, we felt his kicks and movements as Sam spoke to him in my belly, and we saw his face almost weekly through our numerous appointments. We knew him well.

{Sam spending some time with Ryder}

{Sam spending some time with Ryder}

Father’s Day was tough. It was almost harder for me than Mother’s Day. Not only was I dealing with a myriad of emotions, but I watched Sam ride an emotional rollercoaster of his own. He wasn’t just mourning the loss of Ryder–he was grieving the loss of so many possibilities. The games of catch they won’t get to play, the fish they won’t get to catch, the driving lessons he won’t get to teach. So many hopes and dreams that seem to have vanished.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own grief that I wonder if I’m failing him. Was I a good wife today? Did I love him well today? Was I attentive to his needs today? What more could I have done to help him today?

He is so patient with me. And so forgiving. He has been my rock and he has kept me sane. I couldn’t imagine doing life with anyone else.

With hope and love,
Kristen

Life in Pieces

Groucho Marx

I had such a wonderful week. But today was a different story. Today was just one of those days when I wanted to curl up in bed and cry.

I have many more good days than bad days, but when bad days come, they hit hard. They take the breath right out of me and make me forget all the reasons I have to be joyful.

It’s difficult to feel happy for other people when their lives seem so put together while mine is in pieces. And sometimes I get jealous. (I know that breaks God’s commands, but I’m only human.) And it isn’t really about material things. I mostly measure my life in experiences. Making friends, mission trips, vacations, getting my Master’s, buying my first house, creating a family, etc…

It’s hard to watch friends hit milestones before me. I’ve worked so hard to be where I am and sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. God seems to have hit the pause button on my life a few times. In the two years that we’ve been married, we’ve lost our son and dealt with job loss twice. Only by the grace of God have we survived.

And that’s pretty much what I’m doing. Surviving. Taking one day at a time. I try not to look too far into the past or into the future. The Devil is quick to remind me of the sadness in the past, and tries to convince me that the future will only hold disappointment. Most of the time I succeed in stifling his nonsense. But occasionally he sneaks up on me, lurking unnoticed until it’s too late.

By then, the only resolution is to cry it out. And maybe take a nap. Naps are always good for the soul.

Today I got discouraged and cried and took a nap. Tomorrow is a new day. A new chance to remember the hope I have in God.

With hope and love,
Kristen

The Dreaded Returns

Last night, I finally felt like I was ready to return Ryder’s stroller and some clothes to the store. The idea of returning them really wasn’t the hard part. (Having them out of my eyesight is, honestly, what I needed.) The hardest part was just walking into the store — being in the very place where Sam and I had excitedly made the perfect registry, seeing other mommas toting their bright-eyed babies from one aisle to the next.

It was a big step. I was so proud of myself. My sweet mom came with me since she had been the one to purchase them in the first place. I knew better than try to do it alone. Sam had offered to do it, but I was determined I could handle it. (Yeah, I’m stubborn like that.)

When they asked why I was returning it, I simply said I didn’t need it and they were satisfied with that answer. I thought, “Well, that was easy!” and let out a sigh of relief.

But then they realized the clothes were past their return date since they weren’t a part of the registry. They told us we could still return them as a “no receipt” option, but I know that’s not worth it since you only get the lowest price of sale. My mom asked me what I wanted to do. I broke down. I started crying and all I could get out was “I don’t know but I don’t want to keep them.

The cashiers immediately understood that something was wrong. All I had to say was “I don’t have a baby” and it clicked. They started apologizing profusely, saying they could easily override it and get us our money back. They were apologizing and I was apologizing right back because I felt terrible for making them feel bad that they made me cry. And, of course, my mom was in tears, too.

They could only give me store credit, which really doesn’t do me any good, but…. I quickly realized that I needed to buy a gift for a soon-to-be-three-year-old little princess’ birthday. Perfect!

So it all worked out. Maybe not as smoothly as I had hoped. But it worked out. And I feel better now that it’s done. Whew!

* * *

If you haven’t been through a similar situation, you may think a task as simple as returning things to a store shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is. It is a very big deal. It’s an event that I never once thought about, even after learning that Ryder wouldn’t make it. I was so stuck in the moment that I wasn’t prepared for the future, even the near future.

There has been a constant battle in my head since I came home from the hospital empty-handed. Part of me says, “Get everything baby-related out of the house. I can’t possibly look at it for one more second.” But the other part says, “No! Keep everything! I NEED it! ALL of it!” My brain doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of compromise right now.

When I posted a snippet of this story on a baby-loss group on Facebook, I was told by a couple of mommas that I was very brave. I think I am much more stubborn than brave. As a matter of fact, I consider myself to be quite cowardly. I would most definitely play the part of the Cowardly Lion if I were traipsing through Oz. But, like I’ve said before, life will go on with or without me. So I might as well put on my mask of bravery and fake it till I make it.

{Joshua 1:9}

{Joshua 1:9}

With hope and love,
Kristen

[Side Note:  I’ve heard from many sources that Target is a nightmare when dealing with registry returns. Apparently they don’t extend many mercies in this particular situation either. I haven’t had personal experience with this, though. We had set up a registry there, but hadn’t yet had a baby shower. I just want other loss mommas to be aware and prepared. Never be afraid to contact management or the corporate office if you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly by a place of business.]

Walking with Grief

Since Ryder’s birthday, I’ve found quite a few things to help me as I walk through grief. This blog has helped immensely, but it’s just me and my thoughts. When grieving, you really need outside resources to help you up when you feel so stuck in your thoughts that there seems to be no way out.

People

People have been my first line of defense to keep from sinking into a depression. It’s a lot harder to get stuck in your thoughts when your friends are dragging you out of the house for dinner, to play cards, or watch them sing karaoke. Visitors, even a couple days after Ryder’s birthday, gave me a reason to get out of bed, take a shower, and put on clean clothes. That’s a pretty exhausting feat when you’ve just lost your son. But it’s a necessary step toward healing.

Support Groups

At first, I joined groups on Facebook, meeting women all over the world who have been, or are going through, similar situations. They’ve also introduced me to other bloggers who write about grief. It’s not a fun club to be in, but I sure am glad I’m not in it alone.

This week I attended my first support group meeting. There’s a group in town called Glory Babies for those grieving the loss of a baby during pregnancy or infancy, or those struggling with infertility. You can find out more about the group here.

This week, it was just the founder and me. That made me very nervous. I don’t handle awkwardness well and I’m no good at small-talk. She told me that sometimes there are ten people and sometimes there are none, but that “it is always exactly what it needs to be.” She was so right! We had a great chat. I think I really needed that one-on-one time with someone who has been where I am now. It’s refreshing to know that there is a future. I can make it. She spoke a lot about Ryder’s purpose. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. I look forward to future meetings.

Books

I buy my books like I buy my wine. If it’s pretty, then it must be good. So far, it’s worked out pretty well for me on the book side. Wines… not so much.

Look at this book!

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{Savor by Shauna Niequist}

Isn’t it beautiful?!? Even the inside is beautiful. And I don’t just mean the blue-gilded pages, though that’s my favorite part. I’ve only read a few of the devotionals so far, but I like it. It’s real. It talks about real life. And I like that.

Each day’s devotional is one page long and starts with a scripture. Then, the author shares a story from her life to tie in the scripture. It ends with a reflection question to think on. It’s really great if you journal during your quiet times.

I’ve always been a quitter throughout my life. I’d start a sport and quickly realize I hated it and quit. I’d start a journal, forget about it one day, then get so far behind that I’d give up and quit. I’d start devotionals, only to get too busy…. and quit. You get the picture.

I don’t want to quit this. I’ve never been one to spend oodles of time in the Word. (I know… bad Christian.) I’ve been more likely to just memorize individual verses or read other books that talk about the Bible. I’ve always been a Cliff’s Notes kind of person. That’s why I’ve always loved the idea of a devotional. Hopefully this one will stick!

I’ve also read I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith. It was given to me by a couple of church friends when we found out that Ryder wouldn’t make it, and it was exactly what I needed after losing him. It’s actually a very good book for anyone to read. It gives the reader insight into what someone going through loss may be thinking. Angie Smith’s husband is a member of the Christian group Watermark and they wrote a song called I Will Carry You for their daughter who they lost. It’s a beautiful song and we played it during Ryder’s memorial service.

Yoga

I’m honestly not sure about this one yet. Arizona State University is doing research on how yoga helps bereaved mothers through their grief. It’s a twelve week study and I just started it yesterday. It was an intro day, so I just watched videos on technique, breathing, and props that can be used. I don’t even know if I like yoga. But… I was once that grad student begging for participants for research. (It’s really hard to get people to do something for free. Even if it’s the equivalent to a personal trainer.) So I’m going to try my best to stick with it. (I’m not a quitter. I’m not a quitter. I’m not a quitter…)

This is just a small list of things to help with grief. I’d love to hear what has helped you through difficult times!

With hope and love,
Kristen

Forgiving God When He Disappoints

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As I was driving around town today, Matthew West’s Forgiveness was playing on the radio. For some reason, the thought of forgiving God immediately popped into my head. And then I thought… “Is that even a thing???

Maybe it should be a thing. I mentioned here that I’m not really angry at God right now… but I do blame Him.

Job 14:5 says, “A man’s days are numbered. You know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time You have set.

Ryder’s days were numbered before his conception. God knew he wasn’t going to live here on earth with his mom and dad, but that he would instead live with his Father in Heaven.

God is to blame.

I’m not sad on Ryder’s behalf. I actually feel joy for him because he never had to suffer here. God took him Home before his illness could cause him pain. He’s livin’ it up, partying with Jesus on the streets of gold. What’s better than that?!

What I’m sad about is me.

I’m sad I only got to enjoy my first pregnancy for six months instead of nine. I’m sad I don’t get to feel baby kicks anymore. I’m sad I don’t get to hold my baby boy and watch him grow up. I’m sad I’ll never have his drawings hung on our fridge. I’m sad I’ll never get to embarrass him by kissing him on the cheek as I drop him off for school. I’m sad I’ll never get to dance with him at his wedding.

God is to blame for my sadness, my heartbreak.

And while I trust Him with my life, my soul… I know I need to work on forgiving Him. He let me down. He didn’t live up to my expectations. I need to learn how to forgive Him – not for His sake, but for mine. I have no idea what that will look like, but if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

With hope and love,
Kristen