Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

One Month in Heaven

Today marks one month since Agnes passed from this earth into the eternal kingdom. It’s hard to believe one month has passed already; it feels like we lost her only yesterday. On the other hand, we have kept ourselves busy with guests, and home buying, and projects, and it’s hard to believe only one month has passed; it feels like a longer interval has passed.

I still miss Agnes every day. Sometimes a random little thing will remind me of her. Like yesterday at church while I was singing in the choir, I looked at one of the other singers while we were chanting and I remembered a conversation I had with that singer on the day of Agnes’ funeral. Bam. Sad about Agnes. Or walking around a department store I may happen down the aisle where baby clothes are displayed. Bam. Or driving towards downtown Akron on the road we always took to get to the hospital. Bam. Or scanning the obituary page of the newspaper and I see the name of the funeral home that handled our arrangements. Bam.

The other hard thing is not unexpected: now that I have recently lost a baby, every lady everywhere has a baby, or is about to have a baby. Many of my friends are expecting new babies. Many of my friends currently have adorable infants. Babies are everywhere, and my arms feel empty without my baby. I go back and forth between desperately wanting a replacement baby, and being terrified to ever have another baby ever again. And of course, once in a while, I am actually at peace with the current status of my children.

This is actually a "dry sink" but the plastic changing pad fits perfectly!

This is actually a “dry sink” but the plastic changing pad fits perfectly!

Jeremy and I are trying different ways to keep Agnes’ memory alive, especially for Stephen. We have photos of Agnes displayed in the house, and of course Stephen has his own little photo in his room. Plus we always mention Agnes at bedtime for him, saying that she’s with Mary and Jesus watching over Stephen and protecting him. Plus I wear my cool necklace with my three kids’ names, and I show it to Stephen when he notices it. We also felt inspired to make a donation to our church in Agnes’ memory, so we purchased a diaper changing table for the bathroom at the church. There was no convenient space for baby diaper-changing except on the floor, plus the parish is trying to find ways to attract more parishioners. Jeremy and I thought some family-friendly additions might help along those lines. So, now we can remember Agnes every time we use the bathroom! And she can help bring new young families into the parish!

It’s a daily struggle to find peace and joy, but we are doing okay. We will always be marked by this process of losing a child, but I don’t think it will take us out completely. We are carrying on with life and finding ways to fill our days.

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Happy Anniversary!

Today marks one year of blogging for me. One year ago I was living in Rio Rancho, NM and struggling to find satisfaction in my life as a housewife and mother. I started keeping this blog as a way to be mindful of the little blessings in my life, and as a way to process disappointments with some detachment. I’ve always been somewhat volatile as far as elation/sorrow are concerned, so a place where I could take a step back was helpful. I think this blog was a very important factor in my life this past year, with all the ups and downs of carrying a baby with an uncertain medical future, moving across country, giving birth to Agnes who turned out to have enormously complicated medical requirements, then ultimately becoming the mother of a deceased child. I wrote a post a while back about my family’s struggles during the past couple years, with the closing remark that hopefully the next year would prove to be less trying. I don’t know if that has happened, but I’m certain this blog has helped me to bear up under strains and trials that most people would consider to be unbearable. I’ve had my moments of weakness, as you know if you have read my blog, and my moments of strength and clarity. I won’t say I’m grateful for what this past year has brought me, but I will say this past year has shaped me into a different sort of person and taught me about what I value in my life. There have been many many blessings that came about because of the suffering my family has endured; blessings enough to make the suffering worth the pain.

At this point in my life, I am nowhere close to what I expected my life to be even four or five years ago. I never imagined I would have two out of three of my children in heaven. I never imagined that I would be living in Ohio under my parents’ roof. I never imagined that I would find fulfillment as a homemaker. But this is my life, and it does nobody any good for me to regret past choices. In fact, I do find fulfillment in my work at home, and the journey I have taken so far has made a person I can respect.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.100_2019

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“No I’m Not Like a Hobbit”

Earlier this week: (L to R) Me, Jeremy, Jeremy's brother David, Stephen.

Earlier this week: (L to R) Me, Jeremy, Jeremy’s brother David, Stephen.

My precious little boy, Stephen, is really bringing it lately in the verbal department. His thoughts are complex. His pronunciation is good. His vocabulary is impressive.

Tonight I made Stephen a grilled cheese sandwich to eat at 5pm because I knew we would order a pizza later and avoiding toddler meltdown is my primary goal in life. So, Stephen ate a sandwich at 5pm. He also ate some pizza at 7pm when the adults sat down for dinner. My mom remarked, “Stephen, this is your second dinner. You’re like a hobbit!” Stephen became visibly upset and choked out in his crying/whining voice, “No, I’m not like a hobbit; I just had a sandwich!” The rest of us did what we could to refrain from very visibly laughing while I reassured Stephen that being like a hobbit was not a bad thing–no. That it was actually kind of a cute thing for grandma to say…

I don’t think he was convinced.

He has demonstrated some other impressive feats. Little dude can count to twenty. “1, 2, 3, …., 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 11-teen, 19, 20.”

He can compare concepts such as big vs. little. “I’ll give you a little piece of pizza,” I might say (hypothetically). “Stephen can have big piece of pizza,” he may (hypothetically) counter.

He knows all the colors. He doesn’t understand the concept of favorite yet, though.

Stephen can hold a conversation. “Stephen,” I say. “Will you help eat the purple sauerkraut when it is ready?” He replies, “No [wimper]. I’m not eating sauerkraut…[wimper wimper].”

I say, “Stephen, it’s time to come upstairs and take a bath.” He replies (again, this is a hypothetical situation), “No! I’m not going upstairs [sob] I’m going downstairs in family room! [sob].” Or alternatively, on days like today, “Go to bed. I’m not taking a bath. Get animals and go to bed.”

He does use contractions, and for the most part they are correct. His grammar is really very good; he just struggles with some pronunciation. That is mostly just the cutest thing you ever heard. My favorite is “leaves” becomes “weebs.”

So, I’m done bragging about my genius child.

Water kefir. The "grains" are sitting at the bottom of the jar full of sugar water.

Water kefir. The “grains” are sitting at the bottom of the jar full of sugar water.

The other neat things right now are my fermentation projects. My cousin Karin sent me some water kefir starter and I’ve been working with that. These things are weird, let me just say. Apparently the kefir starter is a colony of yeast and bacteria that you can submerse in a jar of sugar water, the kefir grains (called “grains” because that’s what the look like) eat the sugar, leaving you with a fermented beverage. After the grains have done their thing, you strain them out and ferment the water again with a splash of juice or whatever you want. This second ferment can be an opportunity to build up carbonation, making the stuff taste like soda. My first batch was just okay and flat, my second batch failed for whatever reason, and my third batch looks promising. It is in the second fermentation stage right now. I put some fresh ginger in with the stuff so I’m hoping it turns into something like ginger ale flavored water kefir soda.

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My virgin batch of sauerkraut. Red cabbage and carrot shreds.

I also started some fresh sauerkraut yesterday. So far it is looking good! All you need to do sauerkraut at home is some cabbage, salt, a large wide-mouth container, and time. You shred the cabbage and salt it, then use your hands or a handy kitchen utensil to bludgeon the cabbage until it releases moisture. You want to get it as wet as possible. Then you tamp it down in your container and weight it down with some rocks on a plate or a jar full of water. The goal is to press out all the brine so it covers the cabbage. I did end up adding about a cup of extra salt water brine just to get all my shreds submerged. My kraut is already burbling and starting to smell. I guess that’s good! Personally, I don’t even currently like sauerkraut but I know the fresh stuff is pretty close to the best food for healthy digestion because of all the probiotic cultures. I want to add that kind of thing to my diet, and I’m hoping the taste of kraut will grow on me! Honestly, it was one of the easiest kitchen projects I’ve ever done. I hope it works out!

That’s what is going on around here. Thanks for popping in!

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Charity and Entitlement After a Family Tragedy

There are a million things to worry about after the death of your child, and you have to deal with all of them through a fog of grief possibly mixed with anger and guilt. Your family becomes quite an easy target for sympathy, and honestly, it is welcomed. If someone wants to cook you casseroles so you don’t have to make dinner, great! If someone offers to play with your other kids so you can lie abed and be sad for another hour or two, awesome! Someone offers to help pay for your deceased child’s funeral expenses. Someone offers to buy you a load of groceries or some gasoline. All these people are very nice and trying to express their support and how much they care for your family.

It is not easy to become someone who can graciously accept charity. No one likes to admit that they need help, and when folks offer to do something for your family–and it fulfills a requirement that you actually couldn’t have filled on your own–it is a little embarrassing to be so frankly grateful.

And after a point, so many people are doing nice things for you, that you stop expressing gratitude every time. How can you possibly be verbally grateful each and every time a person does something for you? It’s exhausting! And then, it becomes almost expected. “My baby just died, so it is only natural that someone would offer to bake a pan of lasagna for my family.” But you have to keep being grateful, and all the people who do nice things need to hear you say, “thank you,” even if it’s the 249th time you said “thank you” this week.

It is really nice to see so many warm hearts and people moved to be charitable and helpful, and to support a family in need. It is nice that what could be a tragic event has also served to give many people an opportunity to perform works of mercy and find grace through giving of themselves. But this is also an opportunity for my family to find grace through humility, receiving gifts and giving thanks, every single time.

We have been extremely blessed by the generosity shown to our family and the outpouring of support after Agnes died. Several people have given to us enormously and a meager “thank you” isn’t even enough to express our gratitude. We can give gifts back as a way to express gratitude, but the whole point of charity is that you don’t expect a gift in return. On the other hand, it is good for generosity of heart to go back and forth, back and forth. What is the right thing to do? We are finding our way and trying to do the right thing and sometimes we make a mistake. Just know that we feel so overwhelmingly blessed by everyone who has supported us so far. And we hope to repay the kindness over time, and again and again.

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My Blog is Not Dead, I Promise

I guess I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with the blog since Agnes died. I’m not apologizing but I do feel as if I have been neglecting this page. So, this is my first entry back into the world wide web as a blogger.

We’ve been busy around home playing with Stephen and hosting Jeremy’s parents. It has been nice having them here to help out and Stephen is just over the moon to have “grandpa and grandma, and new grandpa and new grandma” around. He is getting lots of attention. We’ve taken him to the library a couple of times in the past week or two and that is pretty much the most awesome place ever! Stephen adores picking out a stack of books to bring home. We pulled out a special basket for library books, to keep them separate, and Stephen is excited about his stash of books.

We’ve also been busy stepping up our efforts to buy a house. Jeremy and I are poor so his parents are graciously lending us their credit credentials as “non-occupant co-borrowers” so we can qualify for a mortgage. We found a beautiful home in the perfect neighborhood, and we made an offer that was accepted! It will probably take a month or so to get everything worked out, but we are already very excited about our new house. It was built in 1918 and still has original woodwork in the whole house; it was painted over in only one of the bedrooms. There are gorgeous hardwood floors in most of the house, a full basement with a workroom, and a finished attic. There is a good mix of move-in ready with some projects we can complete as we wish. The kitchen needs updating and the back porch is not great, plus the usual cosmetic type things (wallpaper in a room or two, paint colors). We are excited!

We’ve also been busy diving into handiwork. Jeremy is back at the books studying for his nursing degree. Luckily he was able to work ahead before Agnes died, so he didn’t actually get that far behind in the past couple weeks. As for me, I am exploring the boundless wonders to be seen on Pinterest; I’ve even started a project! I’m braiding a rag rug. It will be so pretty when it’s finished!

We’ve also been busy talking about how we can improve our diet and lifestyle to be healthier and to better reflect our desires for our family’s life. We want to start making kefir and kombucha, and culturing vegetables, and I want to bake more bread. We want to eat more vegetables and less meat. We want to be more intentional about menu planning and grocery shopping. There is a lot to think about.

Salzburger Stiegl. Braukunst auf hocheter stufe. Es muss ein Steigl sein!

Salzburger Stiegl. Braukunst auf hocheter stufe. Es muss ein Steigl sein!

Two final small exciting things. First, last week we went to the Mustard Seed Market, which is an organic/whole foods type of place. I found bottles of Stiegl beer there! This is a beer I drank while I lived in Austria for three weeks one summer during college. I have never found in the U.S. Never. I was so surprised and excited to find it at Mustard Seed!

Second, one of Agnes’ nurses had a pretty necklace with a charm on it for each of her children and I mentioned that I liked it. Apparently a hospital employee makes the charms and the nurse offered to hook me up. Unfortunately Agnes died before my charms were finished, and I thought that was the end of it. But a couple days ago I got a nice letter in the mail from that nurse with the charms attached. It was so sweet.

So, we’ve been keeping busy and occupying our minds and hands. We still miss Agnes and it is difficult to adjust to being a family of three again, but we are staying busy to help. It is helping.

One charm for each of my children.

One charm for each of my children. The rings are for J.M. and Agnes, both in heaven.

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