Wishes

A couple of weeks ago, I was advised by my therapist to write letters to my son, Stephen, who was stillborn at full-term. I agreed to give it a try.

Today, I wrote these words to him. I’m sharing them here with the hope that someone else who is also working through their own grief, will know that they’re not alone.

Dear Stephen,

I’m missing you so much today. The tears keep coming. Julie and your dad are being so loving and supportive as I work through this.

Your dad asked me which of these three days is the hardest for me. It’s hard to separate the grief like that. The 14th is always hard because it was the last day you were alive. Twenty-four years ago, you were happily kicking and moving and getting hiccups and getting mad at getting the hiccups. You were doing everything you were supposed to as the time grew nearer for you to join our family.

I’m just going to admit that I have so many unfulfilled wishes, when it comes to you:

I wish you were still alive here.
I wish I could have seen you smile.
I wish I could have heard your voice.
I wish I could have hugged and kissed and sang songs with you.
I wish you could've been Valerie and Brett's little brother and Jillian and Julie's older brother.
I wish I could've seen you sad or angry.
I wish I could've seen you fall in love, get married, and have children.
I wish you would have had to bury me and not the other way around.
I wish these days of mourning would not have needed to happen.

All that being said though, I don’t wish I had never known you. God could’ve taken you early in the pregnancy. He could’ve taken you before I even knew I was pregnant and I wouldn’t have grieved you at all. That thought brings its own pain.

I am so thankful that God let me carry you for nine months. He let me hold you, kiss you, bathe you, dress you, and say I love you many, many times before I had to say goodbye.

You are always in my heart, my son. I will always love you.

Love,

Mom

Does the pain ever really go away after the death of a loved one? No. It changes, becomes something you can live with day after day. You hide it deep in your heart so that you can function and everyone else thinks you’ve “gotten over it” or “moved on.”

To all of you who’ve been a part of my life and been a source of support and encouragement through the past twenty-four years, I thank you. Your love and understanding, sometimes your shoulders that I cry on, have helped me survive and find hope.

Stephen died. My love for him never will. I knew him best. I loved him most. It makes sense that I would miss him the most, too. He and I have a bond, as mother and son, that has survived this separation and will live for eternity. I know I will see him again in heaven and the pain now will be part of the joy then.

A New Day

I don’t know how anyone else experiences grief anniversaries, but this is how it goes for me. Back in 1996, on April 14th I was deep in nesting mode. The baby was due in two weeks but I had my babies early so, for me, I was due any day. I had worked hard and finally fell into bed around midnight, exhausted. As I tried to relax, the baby decided it was time for calisthenics. (Note: I didn’t know at the time that our baby was a boy but I will use male pronouns for the sake of clarity and ease of writing.) He kicked and rolled, making it impossible for me to fall asleep. I wanted to press my belly into my husband’s back to let him share in the fun but I refrained. One of us should get some sleep.

At that moment, my biggest fear was that I would go into labor right then and not be able to sleep until the next day sometime. My legs and back already ached from all of the housework I’d done and I didn’t want to think too much about the pain of labor and delivery. I don’t know whether I was tossing and turning too much or what made Jay wake up, but at some point he spoke to me. I said “I just wish this baby would stop moving!” Oh, how those words would haunt me. Eventually, the baby workout stopped and I fell asleep. That was the last time I remember feeling him move.

Fast forward one year. As the anniversary of Stephen’s death approached, I struggled to function. I’d managed to return to some semblance of normalcy in the last six months but my heart was far from healed. I was pregnant again, due in June but I’d already talked my doctor into inducing me at 37 weeks. Every step of this pregnancy had been tougher than any of the other three. Fear gnawed at me incessantly. I leaned on Jay and the Lord throughout but it was a struggle.

I knew that April 15th (the day we were told the baby had died) and 16th (the day he was stillborn) were going to be tough. I’d been trying to anticipate it and prepare myself. But the pain of the 14th surprised me. It took me a while to figure out why. It was because that was the last day I knew he was alive and everything was normal. Essentially, that day was the divide between who I was then, and who I would become. The old me and the new me.

Every year since then has been the same. When April 1st arrives, I begin to withdraw. It’s a slow process. I become more introspective. Quieter at functions and even privately with my family. I don’t even know I’m doing it. I realize it when my husband starts asking me over and over if I’m okay. I realize it when my kids tell me that I seem “off.” I apologize and try to reengage. But it doesn’t last because it takes an awful lot of effort. More than I have in reserve. I am thankful for solitude. I go out when I must. Do only what I must.

I cry more. At movies. When I hear beautiful music. Looking at photographs. Talking to people who are so compassionate that it catches me off-guard. My mother gets me. She, too, has buried a child. My sister who died at 42 from a heart attack. We don’t have to say much to each other when we’re grieving. Because we understand.

I try not to do anything major on the 14th, 15th, and 16th. I take time off from work. I stay home. I go through photographs, read the cards I received after Stephen’s death, go to his grave, and mourn.

Stephen was born at 1:39 a.m. on the 16th. It was around 5:30 a.m. when we let the nurse take him away for the final time. I am not usually awake during those hours now. For the first few years, I used to wake up at 1:39 a.m. and some years I stayed awake until I could whisper a Happy Birthday to him.

Stephen’s birthday is spent quietly. I usually post a message, a reminder to all that he lived and that I still miss him. Because people who haven’t lost someone dear to them may not know that I will always miss him. Even after 22 years.

As the day progresses, I start to feel myself returning to normal. The heaviness in my heart starts to lift. I can acknowledge and remind myself now that this isn’t the first year. It isn’t the first ten years even. I have figured out how to keep going. I’ve survived for over two decades now. Not easily. Not because I had a choice. But I have family members who need me. I have responsibilities that call me back.

Today, on the 17th of April, 2018. I can give thanks for the short life of Stephen Lewis Hershberger. I am thankful for how he changed me. He made me a better person. A better wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. A better Christian. One who understands that pain makes you vulnerable in ways you never thought you’d ever be.

Today I am me again. The new me but me nevertheless. I’ve returned from my three-day elegy for Stephen. The outward form anyway. His lament is ongoing in my heart. After 22 years, it is just a part of who I am now. Always his mom too.

So Many Years

Today is the twenty-second anniversary of my son, Stephen Lewis Hershberger’s stillbirth and I am working my way through the grief this day always brings. He was full-term. He was beautiful. His death was due to a true-knot in his umbilical cord.

I remember standing in front of his tiny grave, staring at the mound of fresh dirt and the nameplate pressed into the base. It brought me a small amount of comfort to be there, to be as near to him as I could get. So Jay stayed home with Valerie and Brett and I would go to the cemetery. Pretty much every day, even if it rained. Occasionally I would find myself drawn to the cemetery, unplanned, with Valerie and Brett in tow. I would sit near Stephen, watching his sister and brother play tag or gather dandelions in the green, open section of grass where there were no graves yet. This was our new normal.

That spring I planted flowers and watered them when they needed it. I also watered the flowers that were placed on the other tiny graves of the babies buried beside and near him, reading their foot or headstones, thinking of their families, and wondering about their stories. Some of the graves dated back 40+ years and it touched my heart that flower boxes were still placed on these graves.

It was sobering, knowing that even after all those years someone was making that journey to place flowers on a tiny grave. The years of my grief stretched before me and I knew I would be that someone too. That Stephen’s grave would have flowers for as long as I was able to place them there.

The grave next to Stephen’s was highly decorated. It became an easy landmark for me to hone in quickly on Stephen’s grave. My sister, Sarah, and I nicknamed it the Busy Grave. I could relate to that mom. She also missed her baby deeply. I took care to clean up any wilted flowers from that grave as well as Stephen’s. It was my way of serving that baby’s momma. We’ve never met but I feel close to her after all these years.

Yesterday I visited his grave. It was the first time this year. Snow and ice still cover his footstone. I couldn’t see his name. Spring is late this year. But it is coming. It will finally jump into the 50s later this week. 60s are expected next week. So maybe this weekend I’ll be able to go back. I’ll clean all of the leaves off and make sure it’s ready for the flowers I’ll plant soon. I’ll place the newest garden picks I’ve purchased: a colorful turtle, a vibrant butterfly, and a spinning windmill. They’ll join the other things I’ve added over the years.

Now Stephen’s grave is the Busy Grave. And this thought makes me smile.

Happy Birthday, Stephen. I love you, now and forever. May you rest in peace, my precious son, until we meet again.

A Dream About, and Yet Not About, Stephen

Last night I had a dream. I was pregnant but not huge yet. Probably around 4 or 5 months or so. I was lying in bed on my back and thinking I should probably be feeling movement from the baby by now. At that moment, the baby started moving and joy filled me. I even took my husband’s hand, where he slept beside me, and placed it on my belly so he could wake up and experience it. He did and marveled with me. I remember feeling peace and excitement that we were going to have another little one. The extra thought, and hope, that maybe this one would be another baby boy.

And then there was fear. And pain. And grief. The baby was moving too much! What if he or she fell through a loop and got another true knot in the umbilical cord? What if we lost this one too?

I woke up. Brought out of the dream by the sharpness of that fear. Even in my dreams, Stephen is not far away. His short life and death have changed me even to the depths of my unconscious, dreaming mind. I’m not surprised, really. Just marveling at how deep that change went.

I have never, not even once, seen Stephen in my dreams. Maybe this is because the pain is always there and my brain is trying to protect me. There are many times that I wish it wouldn’t. That I could see him again, like I see my grandmother and others whom I miss. That I could spend a few more moments cuddling his tiny, beautiful, perfect newborn form. Kiss his tiny face. Whisper once more that I love him.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have any memories of him smiling at me or talking to me. No memories at all with him as a living, breathing little boy. Still, those hours I had with him were so precious. When he looked exactly like my other newborns, only much more still. And dark.

He never took a breath so his skin never took on that healthy pink glow. His fingernail beds and his lips were a deep red, like he wore fingernail polish and lipstick. But everything else was just as it should have been. He was warm and soft and so very beautiful with his reddish hair, full cheeks, cute little nose, and pouting lips. I miss him so very much.

He’d be 21 now. A grown man. But it is hard to picture him that way. I try. I compare what he would look like with his brother who is 27. And still I know he would not have looked like Brett. He would’ve looked like Stephen. And some day I will get to see him again in heaven. I will finally get the answers to the missing question of who Stephen is.

So, as mind-boggling as it is to consider, Stephen never leaves me. Not even when I dream. To my deepest core, he is still with me, is a part of me, and will be with me always.

Stephen, my dear son, I love you and will love you forever.

Thank you, God, for sending him to me, even for just a short nine months. What a gift he was and is. ❤

My Favorite Prayer

Sometimes I wonder if God smiles when I say things like “Tomorrow I’m going to spend the entire day at home.” Or maybe he laughs out loud. Because I believe he knows what’s happening around us and I believe he knows what tomorrow brings. Unlike me. I try to make plans and stick to them. But sometimes my day turns out exactly the opposite of what I’d planned. Thy will be done.

And there it is. My favorite line from my favorite prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. I’ve loved it ever since I first heard it as a little girl but over the years it has become more and more precious to me. I trust that God’s will is more important than mine, even when, or perhaps especially when, I don’t understand why he’s allowing things to turn out the way they do.

Like Wednesday. The day I planned to stay home and get some things done. Instead, I ended up driving around 300 miles as I helped my son get a new tire on his car, pick up the spare tire from the tire store that had “forgotten” to put it back in his car when he replaced a different tire two weeks ago, purchase a gas can and gas to get the car to a gas station so I could fill it up, and get the car back to my son so he could get home from work. It was an exhausting kind of day. A day where you spend most of it racing to the next destination so you can get the next thing on the list checked off, while trying to be patient, as all of those things fall into place–slowly.

Brett drives 80 miles each way to his new business venture. He’d made it 25 miles north of town when he had the flat. I’d already driven 40 miles from our home in the country to meet him, then across town once or twice trying to get a good tire at a decent price, then north again to change the tire, get the gas can, fill it with gas, and return to the car again. Then I let him borrow my new car and get to work while I drove his all the way back to town to pick up the spare (the business said they had to have the actual car there so they would know which spare tire went with his car). And while I had his car I wanted to do something to cheer him up so I took it to the car wash, a really nice one that vacuums it out for you and hand dries it with towels, had his oil changed, and bought him new wiper blades since his didn’t work that well. Then I drove the 80 miles north again to his new Herbalife shake shop, swapped out the cars, and drove the 100 miles back to my home in time to pick up my daughter and take her to her RE class at our church. It was a full day.

But it was also a day with unexpected blessings because I spent several wonderful hours with my son. I got to have breakfast with him while we waited for the new tire to be put on the rim. I got to drive around with him as we traveled back and forth to his car so he could put the new tire on and put the gas in. I got to see how beautiful his new shop is and enjoy one of Herbalife’s delicious shakes. I got to meet his business partner, his partner’s girlfriend, and their newborn son. And I got to see his smile when he saw his clean car and I told him what else I’d done for him.

But that wasn’t all. He also had a surprise waiting for me in my car when I got in. Earlier in the day a pack of cigarettes fell out of his coat pocket while he was in my car. He’d smoked in the past but had quit and he was embarrassed that I knew he was smoking again. I wasn’t really surprised. The amount of work he’s put into getting this new business started has been quite stressful for him. And just last week he and his girlfriend broke up. Mom’s know things, kids. Even if we don’t say anything, we still know. So when I opened the door and saw the pack of cigarettes in my seat with a note attached, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The note said: “Help me quit. Throw these away, and call me after 5. Love you, Brett”

I think it’s the best gift he’s ever given me.

I called him after 5 that day and every day since. He hasn’t smoked another cigarette. He knew it was time to quit. His grandmother died of lung cancer in 2012 so our family is acutely aware that they are deadly. He just needed a nudge. And it came from an unexpected day with his mom.

Thy will be done.

Thank you, Lord.

 

My First Horse!!

For most of my life I’ve wanted to own a horse. I know, I know, most little girls (and maybe a lot of little boys?) want a pony at some point in their lives and I was no different, but my desire to have a horse didn’t go away as I grew up. I always had a dream to live out in the country and own horses.

Eight years ago the first part of my dream came true when my husband and I bought 12 acres out in the country. The farmstead was already home to two horses (neither of which came with the property, darn it!) so we knew it was perfect. When the owners offered to sell one of the horse feeders already in the corral, we jumped at the chance. But that was as close to owning a horse as we would come. Until last Friday!

Meet Maximus:

Maximus We transported Max to our farm on Friday, June 19th, and while we were trying to get him stabilized in the trailer before even leaving his previous owner’s farm, he banged his head on a bar in the trailer and cut himself on the forehead. The owner, who was in the trailer with him trying to calm him down when it happened, looked it over and told me how to take care of the wound when we got him to my farm. And we started home.

I was so excited. I’d originally planned to give him a bath when we got him settled and then let him roam his new place. By the time we unloaded him, he was trembling from nerves. He hadn’t been hauled for a long time so it was a hard trip for him. I put some medicine on his wound and we let him go. No bath, he needed to completely heal first.

And so our journey as new horse owners began!

Over the next few months, or maybe it’ll be ongoing even after that, I’m going to try to document our journey. I’ll share our experiences (and will even try to keep track of expenses) so that maybe I’ll help someone else to avoid our mistakes and learn from our adventures with Maximus.

Not a Kid-person

Loved this post and wanted to share! =)

Spero Nest

About a year ago my husband and I were walking through Chicago with our new baby, Gu0627_0190s, when a man stopped us, asking for money for a nearby school.

“You like children,” he inferred, gesturing at the baby.

“Well, we do have five of them,” I said.

“Five?! Whoa, you love kids! You’re crazy about kids!” He exclaimed, shaking his head in disbelief.

I think it’s accurate to say that I love my kids. Sometimes I am crazy about them.  I am not, however, naturally crazy about kids in general. I am not a “kid-person.”  Kid-people gravitate towards children; they are naturally interested in what kids say; they want to give gifts; they find candy, frosting, and balloons desirable; they want to watch kid’s movies with or without children; they enjoy babysitting and are natural smilers.

I am very grateful for kid-people–they make the world a welcoming and bright…

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