Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Happy birthday, little boy

April 28 was a beautiful day.

The air was scrubbed clean and it was shining like polished brass.

The rain that came to us over the weekend washed all of the pollen-dullness away and the grass and trees fairly vibrated in their green dresses, and bride-white flower petals sparkled, and sky-blue lightheartedness danced all around us.

Purple prose. I do acknowledge that I am overstating it…

But it was good. It was really beautiful outside. There was a lovely breeze and all the colors really were that pretty and Don spent the whole day mowing the lawn (the back yard was covered with wild-as-my-fourth-period-class wisteria for a little more than a generation, and we tried to pull a ton from the trees a few weeks ago, but dang) and I cleaned the house that I love so, so much, and we both felt the Lord visiting with us. Every once in a while, I would glance out the back windows to watch Don working and a rush of gratitude would wash over me: I miss Ben, but look at what I have. Look at this precious man that I have. I was happy when it was just us, before Ben was even a thought—even if God chose to never bless us with another, I still have this man who makes me laugh and think and who sometimes makes me mad, but always keeps me company in the most profound way. I love him. I wish our son was toddling around with us, but I love his father and I never want to look back at our life together and wish that I hadn’t wasted this moment or any moment.

People brought us things. Mom remembered that I always forget that I love peonies, so she brought me some to plant. Others brought us hanging baskets, and vases of Publix flowers (a flower is a flower is a flower— I loved them so shut up, MC). Chocolate. Sent cards. Called. Mostly, I think, people prayed. The whole day was filled up with goodness.

I had asked Don to get the bag of stuff from the hospital down from the attic. This is the bag of the most special of Ben’s things. This bag sat in his crib until we took it down—I wasn’t trying to be maudlin about it at the time, but it was the best place for it in our tiny house. We bought our “new” home about four and a half months after Ben’s passing and I had left his nursery up the whole time… I just never could decide when the “right” time to take it down might be… it was sort of my last connection to his reality in our lives and I couldn’t bear to say that final goodbye. Dear women who had gone before me told me to take as long as I needed— hearing their words set my heart at ease. I don’t know when I would have taken the nursery down if we hadn’t moved. If you’re reading this and you’re just now walking through it, here’s what I think: you leave that nursery up for as long as you need to. At some point, you’ll need to walk on…but not soon. If you need six months, take six months. The people who love you will gently lead you, I hope, when it has been too long… but for me, I am so grateful that my husband was alright with letting me have that time. I’ll tell you, though, he was happy to take it down when we finally did.

Anyway, we took showers and sat down on the bed, all scrubbed and clean and we got out each item: his little footprints (did I say little?? I had forgotten how big his baby feet were!), and the length of measuring tape with his 19” marked off. There was a smudge of cord blood on the measuring tape and I could feel the peace in my heart begin to move…a piece of him. I’m so grateful that the nurses left me that blood.

We looked at his little hospital bracelet, and at ours. “Mother” and “father” and “baby Swaney.”

We looked at the blanket they wrapped him in. I unfolded it for the first time… another spot of cord blood…my son had so recently been alive when they wrapped him in this blanket. I gasped slightly. His blood. My baby’s blood. He was alive, alive, alive, and he had my blood running through his little veins and he was mine. Ah, God, he was mine.

We opened the ziplocked bag that held the onesie and undershirt that they had put on him. I had saved it-- it has never been opened since the nurses put it in the bag and last year, I resisted opening it. I wanted to save touching it for the first time for his first birthday. We both cried as we looked at his little things, at his little marks of life, his footprints, his hair clippings...

We prayed together that the Lord would somehow let Benjamin know that his parents love him and long for him and that we have not forgotten him and that we won't. And that there are lots of other people who will remember him, too. And that if it was possible, could You hug him for us, Jesus?

And then we put the bag away and held each other and went to sleep-- missing him, but okay.

And I think that's how life is going to be. I'm going to miss him, but I'm going to be okay.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day Twenty-seven of the First April Remembering

Writing this post right now is a dangerous thing. In about 30 minutes I am going to be sitting on a stage beside a bunch of other teachers because one of my precious girls is a genius and she is going to be honored tonight and she chose me as her "honor" teacher. I am so blessed and proud and thrilled to have been honored by her in this way-- she is one of those children who earned my respect in class with her insight and dedication and integrity. To be respected in return...well, that is an awe-inspiring thing.

So I can't cry when I write this, but I want to write because I'll be too tired later.

Today is Tuesday. It's not the date of his death, but it's the day. Tuesdays were ugly, ugly for so long. And today was Tuesday all day long and all I could think of was that tomorrow was the 28th.

But this exact day, this Tuesday, one year ago, I was completely out of it right at this moment. I was in hell and I was on drugs and I was in shock. It had been three hours or so since I held him for the first and last time. My husband was doing whatever he could to make things keep going, but neither of us had ever walked that path. Our parents and our friends and my doctor and midwife and the nurses walked us through it all. Oh, and our Beloved Jesus.

But if I think of this date as the day before he died, a Monday, I remember that right about now I was getting my stuff together to go to the hospital. I had spent another hot afternoon lying across the bed with the fan blasting across me, singing to Ben and crying a little because I couldn't wait to hold him. I was so deeply full of peace. I remember that I was irritated with Don because he was taking forever doing something... I can't remember what... and mainly because I was just irritable.

We felt so unprepared.

Sometimes... sometimes I wonder if we knew that it wasn't going to happen. If somewhere deep inside each of us, we knew. We didn't even have the car seat installed yet. Don was going to get my brother to show him how to do it the next afternoon in the parking lot. His room wasn't decorated-- one of my sweet friends on Facebook told me that it didn't matter, that the baby wouldn't care :)-- but his bedclothes were all clean and the bottle stuff was where it was supposed to be in the kitchen. I hadn't yet gotten the breast pumps from some friends of ours and I hadn't interviewed a pediatrician or even given it much thought. I mean, I had a name, a short list, but still.

It was like... I knew.

Of course, I'm also the kind of girl who sort of throws things together after I've been stewing on them for months and it just sort of works out perfectly. I don't know how that works, but it does. It's how I will think and think about a painting or a little picture and then take 30 minutes to execute it and it's almost exactly what I wanted. So the whole "not being prepared" thing might have just been a "Don and Samantha being themselves" thing, too.

But our hearts were 100% ready. Oh man. I never had one doubt, not one. I mean, we had HOPES that we would be good parents, but no doubts that we wanted him or that we were simply called to be his parents. My confidence lay in the fact that I knew that we were going to love him and raise him to be a godly man and that he would be a worshipper and that we would always do our best to make him know that he was deeply, truly loved and admired and... just fantastic.

The 27th of April can be compared to the day before my wedding, or even the morning of the wedding-- thrilling, full of hope and nerves, but so much like standing on the bow of a great ship as it took off for adventure. The adventure of a lifetime. If the 28th of April was the darkest day I have ever known, the 27th was one of the brightest.

So there. I did it.

I have no idea what tomorrow will look like. I don't know what I'll do. What Don and I will do. I have a few plans.

Oh God, this year has been so long, and so incredibly short. It is amazing what a person can walk through. I'm both happy and sad to see tomorrow-- happy because it is a significant date, something I can share with my little boy, even though he's not here to share it with me (is that weird?? I don't know). Sad because it puts me farther away from him-- he will no longer have died just a few months ago... he is outside the parenthesis of one year-- on Thursday, he will have been gone a year and a day, and it begins again... year two without him. Somehow, that seems sadder.

But it's hard to put into words, these feelings. It's like trying to describe color sometimes. How do you describe orange? I mean, it's bright and fiery and sweet and tangy... but that could be yellow, too.

Ah, Lord. We wait for you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day Twenty-six of the First April Remembering

Psalm 31: 19 -24
What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
You hide them safely away
from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
you silence the poisonous gossip.
Blessed God!

His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
"Out of sight, out of mind," I said.
But you heard me say it,
you heard and listened.

Love God, all you saints;
God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
those arrogant enough to go it alone.

Be brave. Be strong. Don't give up.
Expect God to get here soon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day Twenty-five of the First April Remembering

This is the week.

This is it.

I just went back and read this one post and had forgotten about the water running down Ben's little cheek after our pastor baptised him. I wonder how much I have forgotten....

And I read the last line, where I wondered how long I could live, feeling that grief... and I can honestly tell you that, one year later, it's not the same. It aches. It hurts. But it's not the same raw, stormy, violent grief that I was experiencing on May 19. It's manageable, maybe. I can compartmentalize, maybe? I don't know. I'm going to think about it more later, but my testimony is this: it's possible to laugh deeply these days. It's possible to sigh and feel completely content some days.

I also find myself wrapped in a quilt, weeping on my front porch, calling my dear friend in Alaska who lost three babies and now has three beautiful children on earth. I call her, sniffling and gasping for breath and in the background, her precious children squeal and scream and rush around her house and I know that there is hope... there is hope.

I remember when she lost her son, Josiah. Winter was seven months along and she was one of my first close friends who had had a baby, as an adult, and my first close friend to lose a baby like that. Josiah had anencephaly and we had believed God for a miracle for four months, since she and Scottie had first found out that the baby had that disorder. Winter had suffered through two miscarriages and I remember the day that she pulled our friend Amy and me into a bathroom at the school where we taught and told us breathlessly that she was pregnant and we praised God with her. When we found out that the baby was sick, we just decided that we were going to believe for a miracle. Winter held on to that hope until the moment she delivered and she knew that the Lord had not chosen to heal Josiah. My heart ached for my precious friend when she called me from England, where she delivered the baby while at The Factory at the YWAM base in Harpenden. I wanted to hold her, to weep with her in person, to brush her hair back from her face, but instead we just cried and cried on the phone.

Seven years later, she has done the same thing for me repeatedly. This time, we were pregnant together and she delivered her third son about three weeks before Ben was born. When Don called from the hospital room to tell her that Ben had died, she was shocked all over again and she told me that she thought it was the worst joke she had ever heard-- it just couldn't be. She told me that she felt her loss all over again. Later, she told me that she laughed out loud when I sent her one of the close up pictures of Ben's little face...she laughed because he looked so much like Don and was just so beautiful. It was so unreal. So impossible. She has picked up her phone to my tear-choked voice countless times this year and she has dropped everything, every time. 

If you've ever wondered how to be a friend to a woman who has just lost a baby, I will tell you this: listen to her tell the story over and over again. Never tell her that you heard her say something before. Be honest about the grief you're sharing with her-- I can't tell you how affirming it has been to me when my friends shake their heads and say that they just don't get it, that it's just not right...and that they trust God still.

Virtually all of my friends have been that kind of friend this year. I am so blessed. I can call any number of women at any time of the day and they will listen to me. They will come to my house. They will meet me anywhere and continually pursue me, even when I don't answer the phone sometimes or respond to invitations to baby showers that they wrestled over sending to me but didn't want to leave me out of...

Oh gosh, how loved I am. Jesus, Jesus, you have poured out Your love over me a thousand times in the wet embraces of women who know my secrets and those who only know my name. All have blessed me and held my heart. Oh Lord, You have ministered to me through Your body, the community of believers all over the world-- from women who have never had children but whose hearts are full of understanding and so creative and can only imagine the horror of the loss, and so full of empathy, who are willing to sit in the darkness and feel as much as they can with me. I have felt Your embrace from mothers who have never lost children but who can imagine the horror of it (how can I name you all? If I name one, I have to name forty... I cannot bear the idea of leaving any of you out... you have been a better friend to me than I ever deserved-- you are so selfless, dear women-- P and T and M, R and D and P and T and M and D and C and S and G and K and K... see? And that's not even close to the start). I have felt Your sweetness in the words of women who have walked this path before me, whose testimony is that it always hurts like hell but that it does get better and that there is hope and who tell me to keep talking, keep talking, keep talking... and who keep listening, keep listening, keep listening.... I have never been alone, even if I have felt it. I have been husbanded by a husband who loves me as Christ loves the church and I have been mothered by my mother and pastored by my father and gently held by my brother and nurtured by sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. My mother-in-law has gently reminded me with her tears that she loved him, too, and that she longs for him, too, and my father-in-law has answered questions about what he thinks about eternal things in the light of our little boy being there, and I have remembered that this boy was part of his lineage, bearing his name. I have been shown friendship by my friends because Jesus is real and He has never abandoned me.

And He never leaves, even when I question His goodness...because I still question His wisdom in all of this, often. But there's a thing called "acceptance" that I am only beginning to understand.

I am crying out for something special on Ben's birthday.

This time last year I was getting the nursery ready. I was packing my bag and making my list and getting ready to leave on Monday afternoon. I was excited. I was scared of the pain of labor, but I did not think anyone would die. This time last year, I lay down on my bed, burning up hot, and talked to him... told him that it wouldn't be long now. I think I sang him a song. I had two afternoons like that-- today and tomorrow are the one year anniversaries of the last time I sang Ben a song.

I didn't have any idea how precious those memories would be one day. What a treasure those moments that felt so slow and heavy and hot were. Oh God, I wish I could go back and tell myself to pay more attention. I wish I could tell myself to make sure to tell him everything and poke him and feel his little body squirming and make him feel your hands pushing against him and make him hear your voice saying, "I love you, I love you, I love you-- mommy loves you, baby."

But I keep thinking that he knows. Right now, he knows. Wherever he is, he knows.

It's almost your birthday, baby. My God, how I miss you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Overheard: You betta move

Conversation overheard between two young men in my classroom (scene: "Breon" just came to talk to me at my desk and "Dante" took the seat he vacated. Breon just walked back to his seat and wants Dante to move. "Frankie" is admiring Breon's new-found eloquence).

Breon: Oh, oh, young man, why do you continually put yourself in this predicament? Why must you force me to discipline you? I will be gratefully appreciative if you will just get your sorry a… out of my seat, sir.

Frankie: Ooooh, look at B using good etiquessy. Them was some big ass words you was using.

Dante: Spell what you just said. Serious. Spell it. I ain’t doin’ it if you can’t spell it.

Breon: Boy, you betta move.
Dante: You know why Jason was tryin' to kill all them people in that movie? Cause they was tryin' to take his weed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day Twenty-two of the First April Remembering

Here are some things I wish he knew about me:

That I wear rose perfume that smells just exactly like roses and I smell it everywhere, even though I chose to not bring it to the hospital when you were born because they told us that the baby needed to just smell my unperfumed scent. At the time I thought, That’s cool. I’ll wear it as he gets older and when he’s an old man, he’ll remember that his momma wore rose perfume. Now, it always reminds me of you.

I wish you knew that I love to sing and that I had been singing to you while you were in my tummy…hm. Maybe you knew I would sing to you, then. And that when I was pregnant with you, I was overcome whenever I sang. So much emotion. My heart so full of love for you that sometimes it made me feel like I could break apart with weeping.

I wish you knew that I loved to paint and draw and that I had already bought you a book by my favorite children’s author. That I had daydreamed about fingerpainting with you and making crazy looking cookies for your grandparents when you were old enough to be able to do stuff like that and still young enough to not take yourself too seriously. I daydreamed about making a painting of you while you slept.

I wish you knew that I had an amazing childhood and that your father had one, too, and that I had so many hopes for traditions we were going to make for you.

I wish you knew that I had dreamed about nuzzling you right under the chin. Kissing your nose and forehead. Memorizing the smell of you. I wish you knew that I didn't mean to not do that... I wish I could go back to those moments and shake off the drugs, and this time I would hold you and hold you tighter, kiss your face, undress your tiny, perfect body and memorize every line of you. I wish I could tell you that.

I wish you knew that I have horrible luck with cars but that your dad doesn’t, and that your dad was going to teach you how to fix them. And how to fix lawn mowers. And how to fix anything he could think of. That Don was calling you his “little partner” and that he would have made you laugh every day.

I wish you knew that your mother is a woman deeply loved by your father and that I wanted you to be like him. I wish you knew that we are so happy, even though we miss you, and that we are deeply blessed, even if we do sometimes feel like we're walking around a gigantic crater blown into our lives that has "April 28" written on it.

I wish I could look into your little baby eyes and know that you see me and that you can feel the love that still sits in my heart for you, that rocks back and forth and feels desperate for you. I wish I could sing you a song and put you down for a nap and wake up to your laughter.

I wish you knew about me that the day you were born became one of the most important things anyone could ever know about me.

I wish you knew so much.
Maybe you do.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day Nineteen of the First April Remembering

Being a high school teacher can be so much fun. Often, it's hilarious. Don't get me wrong-- it's crazy hard work and you're exhausted when you get home (can I get a witness? I know from your notes that there are more than a couple brothers and sisters-at-arms out there :)). I've been so lucky to have some seriously funny kids-- and it's usually about this time of year that I start getting sentimental about them. They're getting ready to leave me, all in various states of "undress" as it were... some are so totally not ready to be sophomores in any way. Some are still very much middle schoolers. Some started out sweet as babies and are ending the year tough and hardened. Some started off quiet and withdrawn, and are ending the year with the confidence of pop stars. I love teenagers. They're so complicated.

Probably because they are led by their emotions in so many ways, and we all know how complicated that can be.

One of my favorites (and I have quite a few this year) is a young woman from New York. She has this incredible accent-- she tells me that it's a Brooklyn accent. Honestly, I could listen to her talk all day. She sounds like she's 45 years old. She must live with her grandmother, too, because the stuff she says... she's such an old soul. Every day, I'm listening for something for her to say so I can post it here. More than once, she's done it...but I don't write it down and would rather have nothing than misquote her. But I'm on it.

In other news... As I was cleaning my home (um, have I mentioned that it's such a gift from the Lord? And that I am so grateful for it? And that it is beautiful but modest but also the home of my dreams? :) God is faithful) this weekend, this show that profiles Lotto winners came on TLC. One woman's story just struck me.

She said that she wrote a specific number down-- like 12.1 million or something crazy like that, folded the paper in half, and slept on it for a certain number of days. A bunch of details I do not recall came next, and then the next thing you know, she has hit it big for the exact same number... Really?

I mean, I'm sure she wasn't lying.

But dang.


So, how many of us immediately have a laundry list of things -- specific things, as specific as her number was-- that we would love to "sleep on" and welcome into our lives days later? Both hands raised here.

But it makes me wonder... you might think this is a weird connection, but there is a horrifying movie from the '80's that I see in a whole new light since losing my son: Pet Sematary[sic] (that's how King spells it in the title). The family buries their precious son in the pet cemetary after he is killed because they have discovered that whatever gets buried there does not stay buried. Baby Gage comes back, but it's not the baby they said goodbye to.

It's been so long since I saw the movie (I don't watch scary movies any more-- at all), but I have this one image seared into my mind-- the father is sitting on the floor in his kitchen, having lost everything to the grave, having tried to get everything else back in his own power, and the moment was so profoundly lonely and desperate.

I remember feeling that way last year. Desperate to wake up from this horrific dream. Desperate to say some magic words and make it all be different. A dear friend told me about her faith, in which there was hope that my son's spirit would come back in the body of my next child, and even though it is wildly at odds with my own faith system, part of me wanted that...but it felt like Pet Sematary. God allowed this and took him to His arms. I can't force him back in any way. No medium, no ghosthunter, no hokus pokus. No list printed on parchment and buried under my pillow.

But the desperation claws. How to change it, change it, change it.... It's why I haven't really felt a desire or really even a need to ponder the details of the mystery of his death. I have a couple of ideas, but my midwife is a close friend of mine who would discuss any part of it that I want and I haven't felt the need to bring it up. "Why" doesn't matter so much, still. But that longing for a re-do.

I have a short list of immediate desires. I won't list them here or put them under my pillow, but here is what the Bible says...

As a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23:7)


...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phillippians 4:8)

Remember that old worship song?

Jesus you're true
Jesus you're good
Jesus you're pure
and you are lovely
we will fix our eyes on these things...
Jesus, who is like You?

So I will dwell on the goodness of the Lord-- He knows my hopes and dreams and desires. He knows where and how and to what extent I still long for my son, and always will. He knows my heart more than I know it myself.

So I will stay my mind on Him.

He is lovely.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day Thirteen of the First April Remembering

Today, I long. But not with despair.

Psalm 13

A David Psalm

1 -2 Long enough, God— you've ignored me long enough.
I've looked at the back of your head long enough.
Long enough
I've carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.

3 -4 Take a good look at me, God, my God;
I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
or laugh when I fall on my face.

5 -6 I've thrown myself headlong into your arms—
I'm celebrating your rescue.
I'm singing at the top of my lungs,
I'm so full of answered prayers.

(The Message)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Call for prayer: Baby Joseph

Please pray for little Joseph Martin, son of Scott and Laura Martin. He is a six month old little guy who is fighting hard to live. His mom and dad are completely exhausted and need prayer-- will you agree with us in prayer for them? Please go to their blog for the full story:

Our Journey Through the NICU....

Bless you, dear friends...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Day Eleven of the First April Remembering

A list:

*the most servant hearted man alive is my husband. This man amazes me all the time. When he's not pissing me off :)
*Azaelia bushes, gifts from precious friends (Debbie and Renee.... you guys bless me all the time). They told me that they wanted to give us something that would bloom every year around April and would remind us of the beauty of Ben's short life here. Oh wow. How fantastic.
*Friends who volunteer their sons to help plant the bushes-- thank you Bryan! :)
*American flags
*Grey paint, white trim, soon-to-be black shutters.
*my father and my father-in-law: helped Don paint the house-- they were alternately in heaven and agony. It was a perfect week. Rained one day. Perfect spring break.
*Rocking chairs.
*being southern. Thank you Lord. :)
*Paige's plant expertise
*Friends with interviews at cool colleges (if you think of it, throw up a prayer for my friend J. He'd be fantastic at this position and deserves a BREAK!)
*Dinner outside with new friends
*friends who share cuttings from their yards (dear Delynn!!!! Thank you!!!!) and share their hearts, too.
*White linens. Not the perfume. Actual linens :)
*Our families
*the squeeky front door

There's so much more-- our jobs, our schools, our kids at school, our precious friends...

I'm remembering that I miss Ben, but that my life is still tremendously full. Nothing, no one, can replace him, but this is still a good, good life. I still have so many complicated longings in my heart and the ache is always, always there, right at the surface of my chest, and I could cry at any moment, but I'm happy. We're happy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Day Six of the First April Remembering

Here are some things I saw yesterday:

-The view from my bedroom has virtually exploded in color. Where I was once worried that our new maple trees were not going to thrive, suddenly overnight they were covered in leaves! It is incredible how quickly things can move and change in nature. I should take this to heart more often.

-Many days, people unknowingly drop messages from God to other people on the path as they go. I was pushing my cart through a grocery store, worrying about things which have been weighing heavily on my mind, when I saw a man with his little girl. She was squirming and he said, "Hey, Daddy has you-- he's not going to let you fall." That man didn't know it, but it's like his mouth opened up and the Lord spoke right through him, right to my heart. Thank You Lord.

-The old guy at the emissions testing place was cool. He had spiky grey hair, a glass eye, and was wearing yellow tinted horn-rimmed glasses. He looked like a middle-aged indie musician who was getting ready to make a music video which was set at an emissions testing site. He even smoked his cigarette funny. And who knew that mechanic's shops are still open for indoor smoking? Or maybe he was breaking the law? Yeah, he was cool like that.

-Turns out, I like the color of grey we've gone with on the house. I wanted to keep it white. LOVED the white. But D really pushed for the grey with white trim and black accents. I miss my white house, but admit that this is going to look sharp. Plus, he promised me that he would paint the whole thing white for me if I hate it. And that man of mine is a man of his word. He would do it for me if I asked him. But I won't. :) As I drove up to the house yesterday and got a look at the side of the house, already covered, I knew it was going to look good. Almost time to plant shrubbery! Anybody want to donate shrubs, I'm looking for gardenias and azaelias and something green (do people divide shrubs?? see how little I know about planting stuff??).

-I was driving along on the most gorgeous day of spring so far when I drove down to the roundabout, which always makes me happy but also takes way longer than just turning past the library (well, it depends if you are going "to" or coming "from," doesn't it?)(if you're from here you know what I mean). I looked across two yards and down the sidewalk and I slowed waaaay down when I saw the woman with the stroller. I've heard about this woman, but until yesterday had never seen her. An old African American woman with a funny sun hat on, she was pushing an empty stroller (baby carriage), holding a plastic bag of something in her right hand. I could tell by the way she was walking that she was not a young woman, but I couldn't estimate an age by looking at her face. I noticed as I looked, though, that she was talking, and I realized that she was addressing the empty stroller.

I looked again at the stroller and it was indeed empty. And my heart broke.

I don't know exactly what was going on. Maybe she's a grandmother and she was on her way to pick up her grandbaby. Maybe she's homeless and that stroller is the only thing she has to carry her stuff in.

But that's not what it looked like. The stroller was clean and she didn't look homeless. Her eyes were tired and focused somewhere else-- weary. Haunted. Where is the baby that was supposed to be in that stroller? Who was she saying, "Just hush now, honey" to? And what does she do when she gets where she's going and she leans in to pick that air-baby up? Does she crumble? Did she ever weep over the lifeless body of a baby son or daughter? Did God weep with her, but she never heard Him? Or did she never conceive? I cannot imagine which is worse....

Oh God, my soul cries out, let me never fall into such despair. I cannot imagine losing my mind, but I know that if there was any event in my entire life that had the power and capacity to push me over the edge, it was the loss of my baby son. God held my mind in His hands and I am well, but I wanted to hold that woman when I saw her...and I wanted to run away, too.

For day six, I plan on painting. I cleaned house all day yesterday, but today I am going to paint something for my kitchen. And I'm going to finish cleaning out the ancient shed in my back yard. And wash these cool mason jars with glass lids that I found.

And breathe deep. And listen for God's voice.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day Four of The First April Remembering

It's warm out.

My friend Paige and I went and wandered around a local nursery, trying to decide how many of the lovelies I wanted to pack up and take home (a PLANT nursery!-- how crazy do you think I am?? :)). You should know that I have a, well, pretty bad history with plants. I just sort of... forget about them. At one point in the early grieving process, when I was trying to figure out what I did that made God "take" my son from me (I know, I know-- bad theology, but the brain wants reasons for things, and it will try on even the most ridiculous theories), I thought for the briefest moment of seriously-on-the-edge-of-comic despair, that He took him because of my bad track record with plants. Yes-- how can I be trusted with an infant when I can't even keep a fern alive?

There. I've said it. I killed a fern last year.

That takes a special kind of crappy gardener right there.

Anyway, I bought a little orange tree. I've wanted one BAD since I saw this article in a Martha Stewart magazine years and years ago-- I was a missionary at the time, so I didn't have my own home or a spare dime so I tucked it away in the back of my heart and always thought, you know, I'm gonna get me an orange tree as soon as I have my own house.

I have a whole list of plants that I want to have a go at, but I'm going to start slow. We have dark, rich soil to plant in and I have a big, big yard, and a list of things I want to try. Oh, and I am also surrounded by gifted plant people. Which is good.

Right now, I'm listening to Don and Joshua, my 19 year old step-son, sitting on the front porch and laughing their heads off. I'm about to head out to the back yard to tend to my other prize from yesterday-- a tiny gardenia bush.

I wish Ben was here, but it's okay today. I'll carry that ache out to the yard with me and try to imagine what heaven must look like to him. Imagine what it will be like to join him before the throne one day, many, many years from now. Imagine that God lets him know who we are. That he knows that I suck at keeping plants alive, but that I would have remembered to feed and water him :). That he knows that he is deeply loved, even if we didn't get to know each other. Flesh of my flesh-- what more is there to know?

Praise God for His resurrection. Only He can resurrect the broken heart. Only He can resurrect life from death. Only Him. And He is good.

Bless you today, dear friends.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day Three of The First April Remembering

My last post was so sad! And it was exactly where I was at at that moment-- that whole day, actually.

But grief is, as I have become accustomed to saying, weird. It's sneaking up on you or hiding from you or letting you know that it's waiting patiently in the next room for you to come visit it-- not forcing itself, just waiting.

Today is gorgeous.

My husband is tending to his new obsession: the grass. I am about to clean my dream house. We haven't turned on heat or air conditioning in two weeks-- I am excited about the next electric bill (you should know that for the last couple of years, Don and I have had a little competition to see how long we could go without turning on heating/AC at the intro to each season. The world of Facebook has expanded said competition to some other cheapskates  good stewards and it's become kind of fun-- my friend Lori totally lost the AC competition this season, though. It's sad that she's already out-- I miss her! I was planning on pushing this one pretty far, but her gentle southern sensibilities simply cannot tolerate these blistering spring days... :))

At any rate, life, as they say, does go on.

I kind of hate when people say that.

But it's just true.

I had one of those eye-opening moments that just sort of hits you out of nowhere yesterday morning-- that phrase just came alive for me.

I was walking toward my classroom and one of my most precious students was walking toward me (I'll call her "M"). She's this beautiful, willowy girl-- all linen and graham crackers and she is the kind of beautiful that does not have a clue about it. Don't you love that kind of beautiful? She's so kind to her friends-- she is mild and peaceable, and she looks like she just stepped out of a catalog, but she is completely unaware that she is so pretty, so she is totally unaffected and humble. She is, truly, a breath of fresh air.

And she feels things deeply. She and another of my favorites came to Ben's funeral last year-- the funeral was packed with people and I was medicated so I don't remember everyone, but I do remember my students in those lines of precious people (oh Ben, did you see all the people who came to honor your brief flash of a life? Did you see that the church was packed and people who had never held you wept with us over your goodbye?). Anyway, both of those two girls were so gentle with me-- so red-eyed and anxious to help.

But when this sweet girl came up to me yesterday, I could see new grief in her eyes. Our community lost two fantastic young people a week ago Thursday. It's stunning in its sadness. Outstanding students, this brother and sister were on their way to school when they were involved in a car accident. They weren't doing anything wrong-- maybe driving too fast, but no drinking, texting, knocking over mailboxes with a baseball bat. The boy was a recent Eagle Scout and his sister has won the county science fair for the last three years in a row. He had been accepted to Georgia Tech and she was headed, from what I understand, to a prestigious Magnet school for Mathematics and Sciences. They were the only two children of their parents.

Oh my God in heaven, how do you live with such grief? These parents have been so heavy on my heart-- will you pray for them? Ah, Lord, they need prayer. I have no idea what to ask for-- I only pray what I prayed for myself most often in the days after my different loss: "Help."

I asked M how she was doing and she winced a little and I immediately thought of her friend (the brother had been a senior and an active member of the band-- if there was ever a reason to put your child in band, outside the pure goodness of being IN music, the tightly knit community it provides for your child could be reason number one)-- for a moment, I had forgotten, but she hadn't. I realized, as I asked it, that of course she was not alright.

She told me that she was okay but that it was weird-- that she wants to be "normal" but she's not done grieving the loss of her friend (plus, I think it just freaks teenagers out when someone their age is suddenly taken from them-- that's so outside the realm of possibility for them. For all of us, I think, but especially for them, in the bloom of life). She said that it was just kind of...weird... how people are just sort of going on with things. "He was in my section in band and yesterday, someone had already moved to his chair. It bothered me for some reason. I was all, that's Karl's chair. Are we already forgetting him?? I mean, I guess I know that life sort of moves on, but it doesn't feel right yet...."

She's so healthy.

And are there any words to fix loss?


And those parents are nowhere near moving on yet, but his peers have to. They just do. They have final AP exams and summer jobs to get in place. They are anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters (congrats to JE for your acceptance into UGA-- that's a BIG, BIG deal). They are getting sentimental about their soon-to-be alma mater. They're shrugging off their early youth and moving into young adulthood.

Life goes on, with or without all of the people who walked this way with us for any length of time.

Today is beautiful. My husband is sewing grass seeds where the earth was tilled up during our remodel and old daffodils are popping up in unusal places-- we thought they were dead, but they were just misplaced. Or maybe old seeds were just rejuvenated, if things work like that. But there is a newness, this spring.

It's day three-- 25 days until the first anniversary of my son's birth and death-- of a month I have dreaded all year, and how lucky am I that is a month so full of rebirth? It is the month where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and King-- where we drape the cross in mourning cloths while we remember the days his body spent in the tomb, and on the third day we remember that this is not all there is-- that death is not the period on the sentence, that He has conquered the grave and there is nothing to fear. That He came to lift my son to His bosom and I can trust Him that He held and comforted Him because He knew how weird physical death is...because He has been there. That His Spirit comforted my wounded mother's heart because He had a mother and He knew her grief. That He did not disappear into the black beyond, but instead burst forth into majestic, permanent Spring. Death lives here only-- there is none of it in Heaven.

Bless the Lord, O my soul-- I am commanding you to do it, soul-- for He is the author of life. Bless His holy name.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


This is it.

This is the month I have been thinking about for 11 months.

This is the one year mark.

Has it really been a year almost? Have I really been this new person for a whole year? Has Benjamin Joseph Swaney really been gone a year? Was it really just this time last year when I felt like I was going to explode, when I was folding little baby clothes with my mother, when it was really starting to hit me that I was going to have this gigantic new responsibility...and then it was snatched away?

How can it have been a year? Sometimes I feel like parts of me are still stuck in that week in the hospital. Every day, this same memory comes back to me (one of many, but this one is the most precious and the most painful):

I am surrounded by friends in a room that is kind of dark-- it is early afternoon on a spring day and the blinds are mostly closed. Someone hands me my son-- was it my mother? My husband? I can't remember-- and I can feel the precious warm weight of him against my chest. He is sweetly heavy, but so little-- just the right size at almost 8 lbs. I look down and -- am I only imagining that I could see his head? I think he was bareheaded-- I see the most precious little nose. I see the rosy glow of him, all pink and beautiful, and I can see the pores on his skin. I can see strawberry blonde hair across his scalp, and I see his little fingers. I touch the tip of his nose, just like I would a live, sleeping baby, and I can't believe that he is mine. I splay his fingers across mine and they are precious, just like any live, sleeping baby, except that I think they are starting to darken. And I can't believe that he is mine.

I want to keep holding him but I am so loaded up with drugs-- I've just come out of an emergency C-section and my head is still so foggy I can't focus and I'm afraid I'm going to drop him. I ask Don to take him because while I'm holding him I go in and out of consciousness.

It is the only time I remember holding him.

And he was mine.