A Tour of Jessica’s House

Children’s Grief Awareness Day

As I write this, it is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Our family has had our share of grief, as many families have, some monumentally more than others. 

Grief never really goes away. Like a companion, we learn to live with it. Just as your love for your child never really goes away. It only changes. 

In an interview between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert on the podcast “All There Is” Cooper plays a clip from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” with Andrew Garfield. On it, Garfield discussed his grief, “So if I cry, it’s only a beautiful thing. I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her.”

A teen room at Jessica's House

Grief is unexpressed love. 

The new companion does not come into our lives easily. But if we are willing to make a space, and allow it to pull up a chair at the table, grief becomes the mode through which we stay close to those who have died, through which we feel the nearness of those lost.

Often children grieve when their caregivers are also grieving. I first toured Jessica’s House in 2018, when the grief around my heart was still raw. The mission of Jessica’s House is to provide “support in a safe place for children, teens, young adults, and their families, at no cost, because no child should ever grieve alone.”

The volcano room at at Jessica's House

No child should ever grieve alone. 

In that same interview, Colbert referenced this act of “going down with that person into their grief.” 

Cooper said, “the loneliness of grief is extraordinary. And just someone acknowledging that you’re going through it is a consolation.”

Jessica’s House began in 2012 to bring grief support to the community through peer support groups for children grieving a loss.

In 2021, Jessica’s House opened its new permanent home in Turlock in 2021. Jessica’s House currently supports more than 800 individuals from 38 surrounding cities through nine specialized peer support groups as well as a school group program at various school sites in Stanislaus and Merced counties, including in Hughson Unified School District.

Grief Support Groups include parent loss, sibling loss, hope after suicide, hope after homicide, hope after accidental overdose, COVID-19 loss, grandparent loss, HeartStrings (pregnancy loss, infant loss and stillbirth), and groups offered in Spanish. 

A sensory room at Jessica's House

A tour of Jessica’s House

Approaching Jessica’s House, one walks up to an expansive wraparound porch, a welcome open door and seasonal decor. Inside the door, a wall of hearts dresses the wall. On the other side of that wall stands the circular talking room, the heart of Jessica’s House where groups open and close their evenings, inviting attendees into a vulnerable safe place where they can share without judgment or stigma about the loved one who has died. 

I took a tour with Natalie and Colleen. At the mention of a loss, they pause, make space, and ask the name of the person to whom I referred. The tone is loving, respectful and makes room for conversation to go where it will, but still with a gentle plan in mind and guidance in place.

The tour began with that Circular Talking Room, where the roundedness of the space creates an architectural challenge and wonder in how it affects those sitting in the room. It feels safe, somehow, where even I on duty felt free to participate honestly in the check-in they modeled for me. 

After the Circular Talking room, which feels a bit like a hug, they showed me the many play spaces, art spaces, dramatic spaces, outdoor spaces, music spaces and so much more. Each room is designed intentionally from its colors to the objects that inhabit it and how they are stored to create stability, beauty and predictability for children whose home life may be caught up in the chaos of grief. 

Groups begin with checking in.

But beyond the spaces is the philosophy that acts as the structure of this house. Jessica’s House approaches grief with a companioning model. “It’s an invitation for them to share about their person and for them to honor their person and keep their memory alive by being here and having that safe place to share about,” Colleen said. As peers facilitators and staff reflect back the words said by children and parents during group sessions and activities. “There’s a lot of healing power and having a witness,” Natalie explained. 

We grieve in community

I can do hard things poster at Jessica's House

We grieve community, they explained, and so many activities are designed to act as a metaphor that help teach these lessons, in a place where the children and families know someone will hear them and walk with them.

To learn more about these resources, contact us at (209) 250-5395 or info@jessicashouse.org.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is the fourth book of our Literary Lenten Book Club. In this process of exploring literature during Lent, we’ll ask ourselves first, how did Ivan Illyich encounter transcendence? and second, how did he respond?
Cover of The Death of Ivan Illyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia and his sufferings and death from a terminal illness. It was published in 1886 by Leo Tolstoy, written shortly after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy

There is no question what this story is about. Tolstoy gives us the full portrait of the life Ivan Illych led and the world he left behind, connecting the dots of how he arrived at that point. 

Those he left behind feel entirely superficial feelings about the thing. 

Tolstoy shows us the trajectory of his life, spelling out the increasing superficiality in Ivan Illych’s relations with those around him, the superficial nature of all that he takes pleasure in. In fact, Ivan Illych’s goal in life before this point was a pleasant life, free from disruption or disquietude.

Literary commentary links his illness to this lifestyle and a symbolic demise. It is a reality he sees himself in his final weeks. “It’s as though I had been going steadily downhill while I imagined I was going up,” he thinks.

Three Revelations Before Death

The first revelation

The first revelation is the realization that he is mortal and will die. This illness, though linked in Ivan Illyich’s mind to his fall, was most likely pancreatic cancer, and at the time, incurable and most often uncommunicated to patients by their doctors.

The second revelation

The second is that human connection alone brings some relief. Those in his life will not look at his suffering in the face. They look away. Gerasim, the butler’s assistant, “was the only one who understood and pitied him. And for that reason, Ivan Illyich felt comfortable only with Gerasim.”

The third revelation

The third revelation is about his life, whether or not he lived well. “Perhaps I did not live as I should have, it suddenly occurred to him. But how could that be when I did everything one is supposed to do? He replied and immediately dismissed the one solution to the whole enigma of life and death, considering it utterly impossible.”

This question continues to present itself to him. Ivan Illyich defends himself against the accusation. “And there was nothing left to defend. But if that is the case, he asked himself, and I am taking leave of life with the awareness that I squandered all I was given and have no possibility of rectifying matters, what then?”

It acts as revelation, it comes to him as he wrestles with it. He approaches but does not grasp it.

He receives the Sacrament. 

Ivan Illyich pities those he leaves behind, finding peace and a willingness to accept death in the love of his son and sympathy for his family.

And he dies.

Much of the reflection on death itself, the superficiality of a life spent doing what one thought was expected of him socially, Tolstoy lays out for the reader. 

It’s clear that Ivan Illyich encounters something transcendent because he is facing the end of life as he has lived it. 

But does it change him? 

Does he respond to it? I do not know. I find the ending unsatisfying, but probably quite realistic.

Ivan Illyich can never answer this question, “what then?” 

The issue is one of facing reality. He could never go back to being the person he was, never enjoy the things he enjoyed as freely as he enjoyed them. He is now too aware of what is real. 

But alas, as Ivan Illyich discovers the truth he does not discover Him who is Truth. He does not begin to think about God. The Sacrament is just what one does. Rather than encounter the one presenting in the Sacrament, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he hopes again for physical recovery and falls back into the same despair.

The only plane then that God can reach him is through the natural, paternal love of the child who loves him, too, whose childlike honesty does not hide from suffering but instead would examine it dwell over it and remain so entirely present to it. Ivan Illyich’s last act is to feel a little love and a little pity for perhaps the first time since he was the age of the son before him. 

In this brief glimpse, he sees that he squandered what he had, including those chances at love, so he desires to say “forgive.”

Perhaps this is the moment of power, to look at another’s suffering and not look away. To experience one’s gaze, when one is suffering, and to feel seen.

The novella remains a personal and social commentary. Instead of “forgive,” Ivan Illyich says “forget.” Inwardly, he knows, and he knows that God knows. This is is what matters most now. In this he can rest.

Head of an Angel, after Rembrandt
Vincent van Gogh
Date: 1889; Saint-rémy-de-provence, France

Someone knows him and sees him. Someone understands.

Ivan Illyich dies with little more understanding of that Someone then he set out with, but he knows something, and with this knowledge, he can stop fighting.

Outwardly, his wife will forget, his children will forget. They may not dwell long enough on his life or actions to even consider the need to forgive. 

It was just what’s done.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have another thought to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Check back next week for our discussion on the poem, “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne.
For more information about our Literary Lenten Book Club and the schedule of readings click here.

To explore reflections from the first and second week, click the links below: 

Love in The Gifts of the Christ Child

“The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald is the third book of our Literary Lenten Book Club. In this process of exploring literature during Lent, we’ll ask ourselves first, how did the main character(s) encounter transcendence? and second, how did he respond?

To chasten, according to Merriam-Webster, means to discipline, to correct by punishment or suffering; to purify, to prune of excess, pretense, or falsity, to refine; and to cause to be more humble or restrained. In “The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald, this word become an important foundation to the entire story. Sophy, who calls herself Phosy, and the purity of her love will be the mechanisms on which the action pivots. 

In her childlike logic, she prayers that the Lord would chasten her, for whomever He loves, He chastens. MacDonald tells us right away her life has held suffering and lament, if she only knew how she had suffered. 

MacDonald steps back to tell us the story. 

Sophy is pure, innocent, and neglected. Her virtues and attributes go unseen. It is not she who will change in this story but those whose lives work around hers in the periphery. She is neglected and she sees them move in and out of view, but they never see her.

Her mother died, but her father did not grieve too terribly. He remarried an immature woman for the odd selfish end of forming her character to be as his , to make her in his own image. Augustus’ fall from an interesting man to a man who has given up on life is summed up thus,

“He had given up reading poetry.”

The man who once read poetry and stops has stopped living. The interest in business, the disbelief in an ideal, takes away his ability to be present and delight in the moment. This, of course, is exactly what we encounter in children. Good material and fortune, in the absence of delight, erodes the spiritual side of himself.

Then we have their servant, Alice, whose poetry is John, the man she loves. In the face of good fortune, she wholeheartedly embraces the pride of position and rejects John, who appears to us a good man, in all respects.

This is the story. 

George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) was a Scottish author, poet and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of modern fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. In addition to his fairy tales, MacDonald wrote several works of Christian theology, including several collections of sermons. He influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein for his ability to make real both the physical world and the spiritual or phantasmic world.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis wrote,

“I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow.”

It is on this plane that Macdonald brings us the transcendent. 

Rather than a goblin or a fairy, we enter into the imagination of a lonely child who longs for love.

Modern readers often shudder at reading stories that involve the death of an infant. They are indeed the most heartbreaking. I recognize that. It is a common theme for MacDonald. The infant is innocent, an undeveloped character in the story of life, and yet our complexities and stories swirl around the loss of life, our hopes and dreams, our past traumas, and for the mother, the most primitive, integral love she can offer is intimately bound up in that child. When a mother loses a baby, she loses part of herself. When a father loses a baby, he loses part of himself. And so there may be no clearer way to see who we are than to see ourselves as broken open as we are in the sight of an infant who has died.

Macdonald, who himself knew sorrow in fatherhood, explores the power of redemption not just through suffering, but grief. The utter purity of Sophy’s love is a revelation of the love of God. She is almost not a true character at all, but some incarnation of God to reveal himself to Augustus and Alice, according to Jessica W. H. Lim, who explores Sophy’s role in “Sacramental Grief: Embracing the dead infant in George MacDonald’s short stories.” 

The reader is carried along Sophy’s steps and actions. We know who she resembles as her halo and mantle are identified. We gasp with horror, the sobbing, revelatory horror of death when she cries, “Jesus is dead!” And if we have allowed our hearts this far into the story, we feel the light shine into the heart of Augustus as he folds Sophy into his arms. The moment of transcendence is neither remote, nor obscure, it comes brazenly into the lonely and longing hearts, hearts dulled by a life that seems to never change nor promise the ideals we once had, and a life of humility that idolizes prestige. 

Through this, on this vertical plane, God makes himself known. 

God is Love. Through this incarnate image of himself, this image of love in Sophy’s tender care and her unspeakable grief to discover the child is not alive, God reveals his father’s love for us. With a violent love, it breaks into the hearts of Augustus and Alice. Suffering and pain already exist in the world. The Lord need not send those. But it is through love itself, through the sight of love, the through love that burns in their hearts, that they know Him.

The scales drop from their eyes. They are transformed, loving and repentant. 

It is an act of God, a miracle; it is the answer to a prayer.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have another thought to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Check back next week for our discussion on “The Death of Ivan Illych” by Leo Tolstoy.
For more information about our Literary Lenten Book Club and the schedule of readings click here.
For explore reflections from the first and second week, clink the links below: 
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
  • “The Enduring Chill” by Flannery O’Connor

It’s Advent! What do you have to wait for?

The season begins with its rich sounds, smells, flavors and traditions. Now comes the change, with stores and social media working overtime to sell us on the holiday spirit. Now comes the new flavor of excitement for children. Christmas excitement. Winter break excitement. The excitement of getting and hopefully, at least a little, the excitement of giving. Now comes the overloaded schedules, the to-do lists, the decades of collected recipes that make the familiar holiday meal what it is.

With the passing of Thanksgiving, we begin a season of anticipation and preparation. The almost-here but the not-quite-yet season.

And we call it Advent.

The word “Advent” means arrival or appearance. It is a season of waiting. They told me as a child, “it’s good for you to wait. Patience is a virtue.”

On the farm, expectation comes with the territory. Our little one-acre plot has flowers at one end. I plant the seed, wait for it to sprout, transplant and nurture the little seedling into full growth. What I did not know until this year is that it can take a full 25 days from when I first spied the dahlia bud for it to bloom. We wait.

At the other end of the farm are the birds. My husband came home in spring with a chirping cardboard box nestling five little chicken chicks and two turkey chicks. The turkeys grew and grew, waddling this way and that. The children introduce the turkeys to all our friends. This one is called “Thanksgiving” and this one is called “Christmas” indicating the holiday on which we would thank the Lord for their life and our bounty. Only the female remains now. The male, in its 39.2 lb glory met its Thanksgiving fate. We waited.

Three years ago we first parked our car beside this house and fell in love with its decorative trim and many buildings. We moved in three months later and got to work. A project here, a project there, some requiring expert assistance, others in the DIY realm. There are so many dreams and ideas, but we can tackle them just one at a time with minimal overlap. So we wait.

The expectant mother.

The parent at their child’s hospital bedside.

The quarantined relative.

We wait.

How full of waiting life is. How many times do we look ahead, full of excitement or full of dread, and allow that anticipation to rob us of the moment in front of us right now? Or how caught up we can be in the moment that we forget to wait at all. We grow anxious, impatient, and want it not now. Or we forget to look ahead at all. The big moments of life come and go, but our hearts are not stirred like they might have been. We did not wait. We merely went with the flow, unaffected, caught in the current.

Life is meant to be a gentle balance of attention to the present moment of anticipation, that is, hope, in what is to come. We wait well when we grow a little when we take a deep breath and stay calm. We wait well when we look ahead and allow ourselves the excitement that children live by.

But what have we to wait for?

What is Christmas but so much sadness when the ones you love are in the grave or far away or relationships are fractured and traditions reevaluated in light of so many changes?

Even if you have lost something this year or last year or the year before that, even if you are broken in heart and spirit, there is something worth waiting for. It may be the small, quiet moment of joy. It may be kindness from a stranger or the thoughtfulness of an old friend. It may be the cheerfulness of others less worn down by the storms of life. It might be the unadulterated happiness of a child. It might be heaven. It might be resurrection, coming to life again, a time when things will be healed and made new. It might be the gift that you are to others. It might be the friend you haven’t yet met, the conversation you haven’t yet had, the reconciliation you never thought would happen, the forgiveness you are not ready to give.

There is something worth waiting for.

And so we wait.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Name Your Grief: Miscarriage and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

gray textile hanging on brown wicker basket

My Theology 101 professor, Dr. John Boyle has a lecture that can be summarized by this, “when you name something you have power over it.” The power in a name, “it has the power to stop someone dead in their tracks across the quad.” Names matter and they have power.

One of the greatest lessons I learned is the importance of naming my grief. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Ronald Reagan designated it so in 1988. October 15 was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

There are three common types of grief involved in pregnancy and infant loss. These represent a common experience. Individual experiences will naturally differ.

First

The first is the loss of the dream or expectations. With a positive pregnancy test comes a vision of the future. A girl or a boy? Nursery decor may be picked out. Names were chosen. Plans made. This loss varies depending on how hoped for the pregnancy was.

Second

The second is the loss of the particular child. It is this child whom the parents grieve, the child who can never be replaced because any other child is not this child. They may never have had the opportunity to see him or her, but the deep awareness between mother and child builds the connection. Here, she feels her arms or belly empty where it once felt full.

Third

The third is the loss of security and fear for the future. What does this mean in relation to the woman’s ability to bear children, to bear healthy children? Could she have done anything differently? Will there be children in the future? Is this her lot in life? Scientific knowledge does not always assuage these fears.

For each other these, the power of the name can come and facilitate healing.

First

Identifying and naming what the dreams were, no matter how small or petty or cliche they might seem. I wanted to dress a little girl. I wanted my name carried forward with a boy. Giving voice to these hopes can help us identify those that might still be possible, or to find other ways to fulfill our dreams. No matter how unimportant they seem in the face of the other types of loss, they matter and should be named.

Second

To give the child a name. Even when the situation is complicated, grief can be felt and to be able to identify the child you lost by name can help carve a place for that child in your memory and the memory of your family. It need not be announced publicly, but there is value in having to a name you can call this child when you allow yourself to say, “I wish you were here.”

Third

Name the fear. I’m afraid I’ll never have children. I’m afraid I can’t carry a child. I’m afraid I’ll never be a mother or a father. Sometimes there are medical answers, in the case of late-term pregnancy or infant loss. There may be progesterone shots or folic acid supplements that will help in the future. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes, the answers are worse than we imagined. But we cannot learn to work out the problem, help prevent the problem, or accept the reality of things as they are if we do not first name those fears. “Let’s put away the ‘shoulds,’” my counselor said to me, “maybe the fact that this is on your mind tells you this is something you need to think about.”

If you are not the one who experienced the loss but want to reach out, I encourage you to be aware of these different types of loss involved in the grief. Phrases like, “you’re young, you’ll have more in the future,” might speak to the third type but insults the second.

The power of a name. For those on the outside of the experience, using the name reminds the person in grief you have not forgotten. It helps us to know, to contain in some small way the idea of the thing in our mind, and in this case, help us take a step in the path to healing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Can we still find refuge in the Catholic Church?

 

The image is a pelican, a mother whose children will starve, so with her beak, she opens her breast and allows them to drink from her blood, that they may survive.

 

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In the selflessness of a mother, Christ’s heart is pierced on the cross and, pouring his blood out for us, he saves our lives.

 

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This sacrifice continues in the mass. “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…Do this in memory of memory…” We must not ignore those words.

 

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Since July, I have felt at odds with the men on the altar. I heard nothing. From across the country, priests were speaking out. Women in Facebook groups shared how their priests preached on the crisis. Hours of reparation were scheduled. But not here. One parish here, but not where I attend.

We are split between two parishes. One did not even include the statements from the bishop in their bulletin. No mention. No words. Happy-go-lucky music. Was it even happening? Is it business as usual while the faithful who are up on Church news feel broken, alone, lost, abandoned by their shepherds to the thieves who disguise themselves as shepherds?

I heard a priest could choose to dress in black on such an occasion as this. Sackcloth and ashes.

Fed up, I contacted a priest who I knew had preached on the crisis. And by preaching, I don’t mean a passing comment for a few words connecting what he is preaching on to the news and back to the topic at hand.

 

No, I mean it was the focus.

 

They have no excuse because the readings have been all about the failure of the shepherds who choose to shepherd themselves. Even now, Augustine’s sermons on pastors fill the Office of Readings.

We left town for the day to the hills of Sonora, to mass at St. Patrick’s were a pipe organ fills the back wall, a few miles from Indgeny reserve, our destination for the afternoon. There were saw Fr. Sam. He looked deeply into the eyes of those he passed by. He bends down a little to do so. As his gaze grazes the congregation, he stops from time to time. He sees them.

And he preaches to them, to us.

In the reading, he said Christ exposes a great error we fall into, to think we can adapt God’s will to our will. He points out Peter being rebuked publicly by Christ, “get behind me Satan.” It wasn’t private, it wasn’t soft, it was public, it was telling. He pointed out that Peter went onto become Pope. The pope is infallible on the teachings of morals and doctrine, but he can still make mistakes, still make grave errors. We have seen it in history, we are seeing it now.

It doesn’t mean the Church has failed.

The exposure to the light is good. We need that.

He said all that…and more.

 

I felt seen. I felt heard. For over two months I’ve put my heart into the effort to feel it is not us (the laypeople) against them (the establishment of men either committing crimes or men afraid to rock the boat by speaking the truth, by preaching God’s word). I have felt desperate to hear this word, desperate to hear from the representatives of Christ, in person.

Last week reeling, this week refuge.

Forging new paths

Three months and one week since we last walked through the sliding glass doors of sterilized air and woodless surroundings at UCSF.

Three months.

That seems to be all it takes.

In a moment, one day, earlier this week, I felt space in my lungs, I felt relaxed, I felt free. Peter was tired, keeping his eyes closed and I said, “he’s probably okay.” He never felt especially warm. I never took his temperature.

One week before the three-month moment, all the same circumstances, I checked his temperature three times that day to “monitor him.” Before three months, I am half mother/half nurse, weighing him weekly, eyeing him suspiciously. After three months: “he is probably okay.”

Tomorrow it will be one year and three months since I held my Celeste, since I last felt her move. I no longer feel entangled by grief. I no longer feel bound by a sadness bigger than I can understand.

Yet, all this change, all this relief, all this rest makes me feel a little lost. I leaned into home.

We finished our hall bathroom remodel.

 

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A room I once avoided because it was dingy and gross now feels fresh (hello new toilet) and attracts my eyes to glide over the textures of linen-like tile, matte ceramic and high gloss drawers.

I headed to the kitchen making whole grain blueberry muffins and homemade granola bars.

 

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I sank into education orchestrating my daughter’s end-of-the-year review. Even though there is still talk about my husband being the primary teacher, I grow more skeptical each day that this is really the arrangement.

I dug into reading for hours each night when the kids are in bed, immersing myself in Le Morte d’Arthur retold by modern master T. H. White. I reset my evenings after long and sometimes lonely days with the kids.

But still, I am searching. Still, I am not entirely sure where I am or where I belong. Still, I cannot see the path below me clearly. Not knowing what else I am moving towards, I focus on the moment.

The moment lives as this short space around me. What happens beyond the moment? At one time I was surviving the hospitalization, at another I was preparing for her birth and death, preparing for a baby, surviving the newborn days, surviving the grief.

It is a new phase. I’m exploring (sometimes with my eyes closed) the space around me, stretching out my arms, feeling my way. My children grow older. My babe-in-arms says, “No, mommy!” if I cuddle or kiss him too much, then skips off to be like the big kids. I could have a career but I know in my mind I am called to attend to my first vocation as wife and mother. As much as I’d like “writer” to be my first vocation, it isn’t.

I cannot think of clever posts to write every day. I cannot imagine how to engage a tribe. I cannot do what it takes to get the numbers to please the publishers to print that book.

And I have to be okay with that.

So what then?

There isn’t an answer to that question and the search is not particularly depressing. It is just life. Aren’t we all walking around wondering what is the next right thing, the next right step?

I know it starts in the home; I know it starts in community.

What I don’t know is if writing about it is particularly interesting to others because I cannot install Google Analytics on a WordPress.com site without paying more money each month than I want to commit to.

You’ll have to tell me…if you want to.

But if you don’t want to, that’s okay too.

In this space, I’ll be working on another reflection booklet or a mini-liturgy for the home for those souls aching to reach into Heaven barefoot and during the baby’s naptime. I hope you’ll keep walking with me. We are all trying to find our way, whether out of grief or into life. Nobody has it perfect, nobody has it down, and that’s okay.

How to celebrate motherhood for what’s worth

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Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

 

I want to celebrate motherhood for what it is. I want to be aware of the trials and the heartache and that not everyone is a mother (some are men). Some women chose not to become mothers and maybe they are satisfied or maybe they are lonely or feel regret once the time to change their minds has passed.

Some women are mothers but do not know it because of an abortifacient in their contraception, or some women chose to abort their children, “terminate their pregnancy,” or some women had to choose to leave their 8-year-old boys to fend for themselves as they all starved and moved through the mass of bodies as refugees. Some women still grieve their miscarriages, some refuse to acknowledge their miscarriages. Some women are mothers by surrogacy, either her own child that another woman carried or carrying a child who genetically and contractually not her own.

 

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Some women are mothers because they loved and devoted themselves to a child whose biological mother and father betrayed them by drug use, abuse, neglect or abandonment.

I want to celebrate motherhood for its wildness, its recklessness, its boundless love. I don’t want to grieve, though I probably will because it wasn’t Sunday when I wrote this. I’ll probably start out fine then get all bent out of shape because I am ignoring that inner force that pulls me to the cemetery on every important day.

 

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In my first year of marriage, I wanted to stand up in mass indicating that I am a mother. I wanted that recognition. I got that recognition.

Not every woman does.

But lots of women do.

 

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Photo by Julia Janeta on Unsplash

 

Let’s celebrate that gift of self, no matter the outcome, whether you held your child or not, whether you held your child only after she passed, whether you held your child the night before her wedding, whether you held your child as she grieved the death of her child.

We aren’t just celebrating how great motherhood is, we’re celebrating how great mothers are for all they do, for all they sacrifice. We’re publically recognizing you because you are a mother, whether or not the world knows it, values it or rewards you for it.

Because for those who were blessed to change a million diapers, we know recognition is not inherently part of motherhood. Sacrifice is.

God bless you, mothers.

 

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Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

 

Thank you, mothers.

Life after death: a garden path out of loss and trauma

Our lavender crop was booming. Like the growth of the year, much of this lay dormant last year, hardly producing a single bunch. There were blooms, but the harvest was quiet, individual and hung in my closet to be later put on my nightstand.

This year, the kids gathered around as I cut handful upon handful from one bush. They watched as I carried it to the picnic table and after some moments of quiet work, I invited them to join. Together we cleaned the stems and Miriam stripped the buds from the too-short-to-bundle stems for shortbread cookies and lavender lemonade.

Mother and daughter separating lavender buds from stalks

It was fragrant, beautiful and messy.

bunches of lavender on a picnic table

Much like this year.

photo of suburban herb garden
detail of suburban herb garden, lamb's ears and onions
photo of blooming herb garden

Like my garden, I am finding my way.

1

I joined a launch team to promote a book called Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker.

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2

I attended and reported on Sienna’s Walk, part of the 1 in 4 Stillborn Still Loved awareness campaign. It was an honor to hear the stories of women there, and a blessing to experience the sense that I am not alone in our experience, that the mess of complicated emotions, joy with sorrow, are felt by others, too.

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3

I published my first ebook, a book of reflections on the holy rosary for women who grieve. This project remains close to my heart and every time I get a notification that another person has signed up to receive it, I feel a spark of light in my heart. I pray my writing is a gift for you and communicates to you that you are not alone. Whatever life’s trials, there is a way forward.

If you haven’t had a chance to see it, click the link here to have it delivered for free to your inbox.

4

A piece I wrote was published on Blessed is She, “a community full of women just like you that seek support in their relationship with the Lord and want to connect together with Scripture.” The piece, titled “Believing in Beauty” shares how the contemplation of beauty kept me grounded and maintained my vision throughout the darkest times of grief.

5

Over the weekend, I led a committee for the Young Ladies Institute (YLI) who hosted a Mother’s Day Tea. The tickets cost $1 to ensure that anyone who wanted to come, could afford it. Members volunteered to create centerpieces for an eclectic and beautifully diverse setting. With the increasing numbers as the day passed, I grabbed the chance to decorate three tables.

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During the afternoon, I gave a short exhortation on the call of motherhood. It was my first time public speaking in years, and the first time I acknowledged for a group of people, “I have four children on earth and three in Heaven.”

It was not meant to draw sighs or sadness, but to let those mothers present know that when I talk about the trials of motherhood, and a mother cries for a moment in her heart at what she has endured, that I see her.

I do not know her, but I see her.

I will not speak about motherhood blindly. All that love comes with the cross.

The shape of this year is more than I could have expected and not at all a standardized answer to the question, “what will life look like?” But like the garden, as I carried Celeste under my heart with her heart beating, her body, growing and alive, I prepared, I cried, I built safety structures around me to bolster my heart when she left.

I leaned into grief.

And with all that planting, when she died and we laid her to rest, after the dormant period,

things began to grow.

Review of Adriel Booker’s Grace Like Scarlett

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss helps women lean into grief

I am ever on the hunt to find new resources to share with you. You have read about the stages of grief and coping skills for anxiety, fear and building blocks for the good life. Today, I share with you a book I encountered that may be useful in your life or in the life of someone you know: Grace Like Scarlett.

Photograph of book cover for Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker

It is about miscarriage.

We do not usually talk openly about miscarriage in society. It seems like a private thing, a woman’s thing, a family issue. That privacy that surrounds this tragedy often exasperates the grief those who have experienced miscarriage feel. They do not know where to turn. They do not know how to mourn.

My miscarriages took place long ago, in a far-a-way life before the present concerns of my world existed.

But I remember miscarriage when was felt all the way to my bones. It opened up a world of fear, what if I cannot have children or carry children? Then my firstborn came and she was perfect. I thought that was the end of miscarriages for me. When it happened again, I felt the wild grief that Adriel writes about.

As part of the launch team, I read Grace Like Scarlett

As I read, I thought of my experiences and the women I have known since then who miscarried, while reading, images of women I knew who bled and suffered flashed through my mind. Women who had no more children following a miscarriage, women who were afraid to name their babies as they ran from their grief, women who lost their faith when they lost their child, women who went on to have other children and, surrounded by that blessedness, dwelled little on the little ones they lost.

This was the first book I have seen that addresses this topic. She does so, unapologetically from a Christian perspective. In times of crisis, one’s values become sustenance. They either strengthen or fall away. Even for those who do not hold a Christian worldview, she offers poignant insights on the nature of grief, shame, comparison and jealousy worthwhile to behold.

We cannot know exactly what someone is experiencing it, which makes it nearly impossible to prescribe what the person should do with her grief. Adriel’s approach is to walk alongside and share about her three miscarriages. She emphasizes how important is not to compare our grief to another person’s grief, either in order to pity ourselves more or minimize our suffering.

Adriel dives in. Her language is direct and gritty in those early chapters. The particulars of trauma stain our memories so deeply that her bluntness resonated with me. It mirrored the way I experienced my experiences, but in ways not generally shared in polite society. Her writing softens after that because it would be far too much intensity for an entire book.

Suffering is normal

but Adriel preaches that at the heart of God is love for us and a desire to help us. She identifies that God works with us to help us, the key word being with. It will not happen magically without us leaning into our grief.

In Chapters 6 and 7, Adriel brings in the testimony of women she interviewed, universalizing the message to fit the many shades of grief.

When discussing shame, she gives voice to the irrational jealousy that accompanies loss. This jealousy gets us nowhere, but it does point us back to ourselves to see which wounds hurt most.

In the end, she writes the path I walked.

These times of crisis are opportunities for grace. An open heart’s capacity is to feel the full range of emotions. That is what it means to be fully alive. To shut off or run from the bad means, eventually, we will no longer be capable of fully experiencing the good. Grief must be leaned into, or as Adriel put it, we must duck-dive, head first, into that wild world of emotions. Only then, can we find healing.

For more thoughts on Grace Like Scarlett, check out my review on the Blessed is She Blog.