One Year

As I sit down to reflect on this past year, I'm shocked that it has been, indeed, one year.  If there's one word I would use to describe this year, it would be 'full'.  This year has been full of sorrow, full of bad days, full of sadness.  My mind has been full of trying to comprehend, trying to heal, full of thoughts and memories.  But this year has also been full of so many moments.  Moments we have just stopped to dwell on and soak in.

The weeks and months following her birth, I honestly can't say I remember very well.  My head was so cloudy.  Every little task seemed so much harder.  I spent a lot of the first weeks on the couch, as my body healed (physically).  I picked up crocheting, and as I crocheted, I processed.

Someone told me, in those early days, "the first months will be full of bad days.  If you find you're having a good day - or even a good moment - hang on to it and just soak it in.  For the bad moments will far outweigh the good moments."

I found this to be oh-so-true.  Day after day, I would crawl into my bed at night, exhausted from the grief.  I would say to myself, "today was a bad day.  I can only hope tomorrow will be a better day."

A new day would come, and as I lay in bed, watching the sunrise, waiting for the girls to wake up, I would think about Rose.  About losing her, about that horrid night, and my sad heart would swell.

Throughout the day, the sadness would not go away.  I prepared breakfast for my kids, drank my coffee, made the beds - all with such a heavy heart.  I was going through the motions, but I felt like I was drowning in a furious river and it took everything in me just to keep my head above the water. 

One of the first good moments I had was on a Sunday, and my sister-in-laws came all the way from Peterborough and Toronto - just to visit for the day.  We went on a short walk through the woods, came back and made pizza together, and knit and chat.  I took a photo of all of us, because I remember thinking, "This was a good moment.  And this is a moment I want to remember".

In the early weeks, I felt God was so near, but as time wore off, I couldn't help but thinking, "What the heck, God?" and then, "How could you, God?"  It was tough to swallow, that the God that held the universe, could allow such devastation to happen.  I was so confused, so lost.

"This world we live in isn't God's perfect world", friends would tell me.  "God is holding your heart; He is weeping with you."

These basic biblical truths - that we long for God to redeem our world again, into a world where there will no longer be pain and sorrow - these truths are so much harder to grasp when the brokenness is all surrounding.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Losing a baby was not the first grief that Mark and I have been through.  Dealing with infertility was a long and difficult road that I don't wish for any couple. I guess there was an element of being able to do something about it - as difficult as it was - that brought some hope.  With Rose dying, there was nothing we could do to bring her back.  She was gone.

I would be lying to say I handled grief in a composed manner.  It often came out in anger.  I was so frustrated with the situation, and I didn't know what to do.  My identity as a 'mom of a newborn' had been stolen from me, and I felt lost on more levels than one.

In mid December, we went out for a night in Toronto with all of Mark's siblings.  It's a tradition we've started to just have a night in the middle of the business of Christmas to enjoy and celebrate each other.  I remember having no idea how to enjoy the night in the midst of such sadness.  That day had been a bad day, and as soon as I saw my sister-in-laws, I remember saying, "can I tell you about my bad-awful day, so that we can then move on and have fun?"  I told them about whatever awful thing had happened that day, and after talking with them about it, I felt so much better, and then we proceeded to enjoy the night.  I didn't feel like I had to put on a fake happy front.  If I wasn't laughing at jokes, I knew they all understood.  But it was the first night, in a long time, that I remember my heart feeling happy.

I learned how to become a 'transparent' person.  It became impossible to bottle up the grief, the hurt, the difficult days.  Instead, I learned how to voice my emotional needs to my community.  "I need someone to knit with tonight," I would e-mail out to my church friends.  There were always brave souls who would come and knit with me, and just let me talk.

After about 3 months, as my body began to recover, I started to run.  I've always hated running.  It was like I needed to do something that I hated even more than grieving.  I pushed myself, a few days every week, to run.  I ran outside, through the woods on the Bruce trail.  Because it was winter, I was alone and I could run and cry all I wanted.  The frigid air burning in my lungs began to clear my head.  It was like the pain from running was the first time that I FELT something, once again.  I had felt so numb for so long, and it felt so good to feel something. 

In February, I went for a long drive out to the Georgian Bay bluffs.  It was just for a day, just to drive and look at the world in all it's winter glory.  I took Hannah with me, and we went for a hike through the forest.  These days really helped me to just lose myself to my thoughts.

Somewhere during this time, I found it was helpful to start focusing on projects. My counselor encouraged me: don't do projects because you feel like you have to get back to work.  Do projects because you would like another focus and because you enjoy them.  This is what I did.  These are some winter planters I made for my house.  I collected everything from the forest during my runs.

 As I began to focus on things outside myself, I found the days starting to get easier.  I began taking on bigger projects - furniture, even house projects.  I want to take a minute and share about my husband Mark.  He came into this grief journey from such a different persepective.  On November 5, he lost his third daughter, but he also almost lost his wife.  I think it shook him up quite a bit.  Mark is a proactionary griever - meaning - he handles grief by doing.  He acts on his grief. So, Mark got a tattoo.  He got a picture of a rose across his forearm with the words, "Rosalie Joy 11.05.15"  He started helping out his friends with their renovation projects.  He committed times and days of every week where he would go help someone else rather than work for himself.  

Many people would make comments to us such as, "I'm so glad you have your twins.  They must bring so much joy to your lives."  And while it was true, being a parent through grief is really difficult.  Your temper is shortened,  your heart is elsewhere, and they just don't get it.  Nor can they, or would we ever expect them to.  They are children, after all, and they continue to love every minute of life that they can.

Slowly, I realized that, instead of trying to focus elsewhere, when I was at home with them, they need my focus to be on them.  Not all the time, but they had to become my first priority.  As I began to realize this, I began to do activities with them, just for them.  That last picture was a cake we made - and instead of making just regular cream cheese icing, we made half of the cake pink, and half of it purple.  They were just so delighted.

At some point in March we started having a conversation about selling our house and moving back downtown.  Our whole community - all our friends - live downtown.  We were constantly making the drive downtown and started to feel pretty isolated out in the country.  After going to the True City conference, we left feeling like we were totally missing out on everything awesome happening in the city.  Everyone cautioned us: Don't make big life decisions during the first year.  So, we did just that.  We spent the next couple weeks getting our house ready for the market.  To be honest, I think the distraction, the work, the focus, the having to work together to get it done - was good.  It was a lot of work to finish the house, but we did it.

We listed in April, and after 10 days on the market it sold.

To say goodbye wasn't actually that hard.  There are times when I really miss the peace that country living brings, but it comes and goes.  We just feel like we're where we're suppose to be, and that's a good feeling.

The spring brought new life into my soul.  Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn".  We, as Western affluent Christians are really good at rejoicing.  And, truth be told, there's a lot of rejoicing to be done.  Our friends Marika and Aaron were married in April.  This is a relationship I had initially encouraged, so to see them be married brought so much joy to my heart.  Our girls were asked to be flower girls for the wedding.

This winter brought a train of babies born into our small church community - six in total.  While we celebrated with these families in welcoming these precious gifts, it was difficult in ways I didn't think it would be.  Every time a friend would approach her due date, my heart was filled with anxiety for her.  I never voiced it, but I would have nightmare's and moments of panic for the upcoming birth.  After the baby was born, I couldn't remember the baby's name.  My mind would block out that detail.  With every baby this happened.  Then, I would set distance between myself and the new baby for a few weeks, then initially get over the hump of holding the new baby, meeting him/her, learning the name.  After that I began to enjoy the new baby, the snuggles, the smiles, the warm little body.

My friends were so gracious towards me.  "I don't want to assume you want to hold her - but before I offer her to anyone else, I thought I'd ask to see if you wanted a turn..."  I remember in December, my friend Lindsay had just had her baby boy.  Their first morning at church she approached me, newborn in hands, tears streaming down her face.  "I don't know how to do this," she cried.  This whole tension of being around my peer mom friends with new babies was difficult for all of us.  I found myself gravitating towards my friends with older kids.  It just seemed easier to enjoy time without the constant reminder of a newborn.  Again, it was the transparent way that I had learned, to be honest with my friends about how I was feeling.  I think having the ability to be honest made it easier to be around those babies that much sooner.

We still own our first house that we ever bought.  Our tenants gave us notice that they were moving out just before we sold our house, so it worked out well.  We decided to move back to our first house.  It needed some work, of course.  When we bought it, the house was set up as a duplex.  We spent the spring converting it back into a single-family house.  And, well, just making it into a lovely house again.

I pretty much packed up our farmhouse on a Friday (with help from Mark and my friend Cheryl), and on Saturday morning we had a crew of friends to help us move.  We were pretty much done by noon.  We're pro at moving by now.

Stopping for shawarma on moving day.  Hello, downtown Hamilton, with all your fabulous restaurants!  How we've missed you!

 Once we were moved back to the city, life really switched for us.  We diligently sought to slow down, and to fill our hearts with things that make us happy.  For us, that is time spent with each other, our girls, our families and our friends.

We started this by going on a week-long camping trip in the end of July to Algonquin with our friends, the Brand's.  On one of the days we went on a canoe trip through a chain of lakes.  I was paddling in front of the canoe, Mark was in the back, and our friend's daughter, Nella, was in the middle with Caroline.  For hours, they chatted together, playing with their barbies in the water, talking our ears off.  The day really was glorious - it wasn't too hot, a little overcast, and the views were out of this world.  At one point Nella said - in the middle of a string of chatter - "This is an almost-perfect day.  The reason why it's not perfect is because of Rosie.  If only she hadn't died.  Then this day would be perfect".   As I continued to paddle, the tears welling up in my eyes, wondering how a 9-year-old could sum it up so well.  How could this glorious day, filled with good friends, good food, good conversation - be made absolutely perfect?  If only Rosie was there.

As the year wore on, I began to start notice these special moments.  At first I didn't notice or appreciate them as much.  Then, I started to stop myself when they happened.  To just stop and dwell in a moment can be such a beautiful, life-giving experience.  The moment can be big, it can be small.

This was one of the first good moments for Mark.  We had just moved, and it was the closing day on our farm house.  We were pretty overwhelmed - it was hard to believe that we had actually sold the farmhouse.  Mark took the day off and went on a bike ride with his friend Casey, and all of the kids, across the city.  They stopped for a moment at GrandDad's Donuts, and the kids were all giggling and just fantastically happy to be on such a special outing with their dads - and eating a monstrous donut.  

In the beginning of August, Mark is a co-director for a week of boys camp up at Joy Bible Camp.  The weeks is lots of fun and very busy - there's lots of setting up program, cleaning up, delegating, running errands etc.  During the week there are older girls there who watched my girls a lot, so I was able to really focus on helping Mark with running program.  When I got home, I felt like I had blown through a whole week and felt like I really missed having time to dwell on Rosie.  So the day after I took a drive out to her grave, and discovered that while we were away, her grave stone had been placed.

I broke down and cried hysterically when I saw it.  I have no idea why.  Maybe the shock of seeing our last name on a grave stone, or the finality of it all.  Or that I just hadn't had a good cry in a while.  A verse that has resonated so deeply with me this year is Proverbs 3:5 - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  It was there where I prayed my first real, deep, heartfelt prayer since Rose had died.  My prayer was simply this:  "Lord, help me to learn how to trust you again".

Our girls made a little tradition now, every time we get roses, we dry some and then bring them out to Rosie.  They like running around the graveyard, and hearing me read the inscriptions about who died.  Which, by the way, I find interesting that there is a number of graves for young men.  Like, mid to late 20's.  The biggest, most well kept graves, are for those who died in their 50's, and their spouse's name is on the other side of the grave, with the date left incomplete.  Then there is a little angel cemetery - there are a few graves for infants or children.  Our baby is buried on top of my Grandparent's grave.  It feels so safe and protected there.

I don't allow the girls to step on her stone or any of the graves, which is hard because they are such climable things.  But they try to get as near to the stone as they can, surrounding their baby sister with their love.
In the end of August, we decided to take one last summer vacation - and went on a road trip out east.  We visited Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia (Cape Breton), and PEI.   We were gone for almost 2 weeks.  It was hard to come back.  I think just having the mental break from regular life for a bit was healthy.  We stayed in 5 different Canada Parks.  They just built these new O'tentiks, where we stayed.  

They're like cabins - they have beds, heat, BBQ's, dishes, etc.  It was glamping, but hey, we were dry, slept like babies, and showered.  It was a phenomenal trip.

There was definitely some breath taking moments.  And while admiring God's creation, all I could think was, "how much more beautiful are my girls' faces".

You know you have a good life when you're looking forward to getting back to life after a vacation.  This fall brought a big change in our house.  You see, my baby girls are 4 - which means they started JK this year.

I was nervous about how my role would change once they went off to school.  For the first week, I was kind to myself.  I puttered on projects, went out for lots of lunch dates with friends, and even watched some day-time television.  What!

After the first week, I felt good-to-go and jumped into a good project.  I tore apart our rotting front deck.

It was so much fun.  I took it all to the dump, bought new lumber, and screwed in the new boards all by myself.  Mark worked on replacing all the windows and flashing.  Here's a B&A of our house.

Mark found a big shop space that he's renting, which is working out really well.  It's good to have a separate space away from our home to work.

We love working, and that's a good thing.  We love being productive and not being stressed out.  The opportunity came to go on a backpacking trip to Killarney, and of course we couldn't resist.

At first I wasn't going to take the girls - but in the end they landed up coming.  They adore camping, and if I can brag about them: they really are champion kids.  They squat to pee like champs.  They sleep like rocks and they don't really complain all that much.  They play well with each other and especially well with other kids.  They can lose themselves in play for hours.  They are a complete delight.

On the second day we went on a hike up Silver Peak.  It's pretty much a 5k hike straight up a bouldering mountain.  It's not an easy hike for experienced hikers.  All the kids did it.  It was ever so rewarding.

As the year wore on, the difficult days seemed fewer.  Life seemed to settle down, and our hearts became lighter, once again.  There are still moments of sadness, but they are not as intense as what they once were.

The day we arrived back from Killarney I found myself back in the hospital.  I had been pushing myself all year, and on this trip I pushed myself too much.  I had an incredible encounter with the intake nurse.  After going through my history - including the c-section last November - she asked, how old was my baby now?  I said, she would be 11 months on Saturday, we lost her.  I find in hospital settings, the doctors and nurses generally give out a certain measure of compassion, such is their job.  This nurse was exceptional.  She stopped writing the form, and we had a lengthy conversation about death, God, and heaven.  She encouraged me to stay strong, that my baby was in heaven, and she needs to see that her momma's faith stays strong!  She held my hands and cried with me, at the unfairness of all I had been through.  The doctor who tended to me that night also had an exceptional amount of compassion.  He asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling, and gave me options to chose from.  Being in the hospital again was, no doubt, tough, but it was another moment, an incredible moment in time, that I will remember.

In October, Mark and I both turned 30.  Most of our friends and sibilings are in their 30's, so we felt like we finally caught up.  We spent our birthdays with friends and family.   That sounds so lame to put it that way.  How do I write what was on my heart?  After this year, I have so much LOVE in my heart for my family, and my friends.  I want to spend time with them, just enjoying life, enjoying each other, appreciating who they are.  So often in life we get caught up on petty differences, or little annoyances we have with each other.  We tend to dwell on the negative attributes of our friends and family.  My friend Chris Land said one Sunday in a message he gave to our church: "When we dwell on the negative attributes of people, we miss out in appreciating them for all they can be, who they are".  How simple, yet how profound.  This is something that we need to choose to do, and the rewards are extraordinary.  Life is so full, so full of love and beauty and spectacular moments.  It is only by our own choices in our attitudes that we miss it.

Through this year I've had a handful of key people walk with me, beside me, giving me an oar to paddle when I was struggling to swim.  Little messages or texts sent my way through every milestone - every 5th of the month, every holiday, any day I may have been struggling - consistently and so thoughtfully.

"Thought of you yesterday as Rose would have been 10 months and then today as you usher your kiddos into school.  Hugs Jen.  Cannot imagine the conflicting emotions you go through.  The highs and the deep and dark lows.  Praying that you find direction and peace in the months ahead.  Loved to see your pictures on fb from out east.  Chat soon".

To all my people - you know who you are - you have been my rock.  You have allowed me to acknowledge the difficulty of losing a child.  You have given me space to cry hysterically, scream, laugh until my sides hurt, drink - all without judgement.  You have let me be a terrible friend - forgetful and selfish.  Most of all, you have inspired me.  Inspired me to be a better friend.  To bravely ask the direct and honest questions, no matter how uncomfortable it may make me.  No matter how emotional the response.  To not shy away from other people's tragedy, but to give them the opportunity to share, to talk, to process.  To be there for others - even if I flounder or crash and burn - I must always try.  Know that I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for you.

And finally, to my husband Mark, what a shit storm of a year.  I never would have imagined we would need to learn how to grieve together.  I always assumed that would come naturally.  This year we have made so many mistakes and have failed each other, time and time again.  If it wasn't for forgiveness I don't know where we would be.  I'm not going to lie and say marriage was easy this year.  Nothing about this year has been easy. But honey, I love you more than life itself, and that'll never, ever change.  I love your enthusiasm for life.  I admire the courage in which you approach situations.  I'm thankful for the way you provide our family with more than we could ever wish for.  I hope and pray that this year will make us into stronger people, and a closer family.  That we will always take time to enjoy the beautiful moments - big or small.  That we will always make time for the things that really, truly matter.  That we can approach life with vigor and embrace it for all it has to offer.

God, you are my life.  My rock.  My hope.  I can face uncertain days because I know you live.  I don't always understand your ways, but you are God, and I am not.  You create life; you make all things new.   All of these difficult days ordained for me you knew before they came to be.  And I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
  Your works are wonderful, truly wonderful.

In the words of Julia Bayer, in spite of this turbulent year, I can truly look at life and say: "He has been good to us."  Indeed, he has.  Blessed be the name of the Lord


  1. Jen, I read your post with tears poring down my face. I have checked into your blog every month to see if you had a new post, so I would know how your doing. Now I know. You write it so beautifully, so honestly, so raw and so courageous. I have lived with infertility and different losses from yours and cried out to God with the same questions. I am so glad to see you have walked through the dark night and have now found joy in daylight. It is a journey, there are no short cuts even though we wish there were, but in the end as we look back we can see His hand and see where He carried us.