I am a sucker for pretty papers and notebooks. I have been for as long as I can remember. I got a Rifle Paper Co., 2017, spiral-bound planner for Christmas from my boys. It’s crisp, new and feminine with its flowers and coral background. Along with my iPhone calendars, it helps me keep track of our lives. Ezra, haircut, 10am. Michelle, OB appointment, 11:30am.
I am pregnant again. Three babies in three years. I am 32 weeks along with our fourth baby, our second girl. I have reached that point again when weekly testing begins and the doctors keep a close eye on the baby and me. This is the point when my fears escalate. This last stretch always feels long and emotionally heavy. I go back and forth between moments of calm, deep breaths, normal life, and panic, eyes shut, just wake me up for my due date.
As I flip open my planner, I see it approaching, recorded in gold ink on January 28th:
I can feel the baby kicking right now. I can hear the boys playing with Shaun outside, and I can hear the neighbor kids playing outside too. Life is happening.
“Outside! Football! Play! Golf! Hit it!” Ezra was born with a yearning for sports and the outdoors.
Oliver is all about super heroes. He is wearing a batman shirt and batman gloves and he just flung open the door and ran past me, up to his room, to grab his lego super hero sweatshirt that he happily scored from a sale rack one day while he and Shaun were shopping at H&M.
Oliver is almost five-and-a-half and Ezra is approaching two. What would Lucy be like at three? What would she sound like, playing outside right now with her daddy and brothers?
This morning while I sat at my desk and worked, the boys sat on the steps close by and I overhead their brother conversation:
“Sister, outside!” (Ezra points out our backdoors)
“Yes Ezra, those are Lucy’s chimes outside. She is your big sister.” (Oliver is such a sweet big brother.)
“She is my little sister, just like the new baby will be your little sister. And the new baby will be my little sister too”.
* * *
Today is Lucy’s birthday. It has been three years without her here with us. Three years since we held her. Grief warps time. I can’t believe it has been three years, while simultaneously feeling the fatigue and heartache of the now more than one thousand days that grief has been with me and Lucy has not.
January doesn’t let me forget the awful feelings that accompanied saying goodbye to Lucy. It’s dreariness, it’s gray skies and cold, wet weather always feel like a slap in the face, a harsh reminder. It feels like that day again, the day we celebrated her life with friends and family as it poured down rain outside of the chapel. It feels like that day when we said our final goodbye to our baby and buried her on a bitterly cold, quiet, gray day in West Nashville. I hate cold, gray days.
Grief feels just the same as it did three years ago, just not as intense. It elbowed it’s way into my life, never leaving me; but it has, for the majority of the time, loosened it’s grip as time passes. However, in January grief feels so close to me. Sometimes I think I am fine, but then something unrelated happens, and my reaction reveals that my emotional string is so much shorter this month than it is the other eleven months of the year. I feel myself in tears in an instant, mad at little things, grumpy, just wanting to be at home or be alone. At first I don’t connect what is happening, and then I realize that it is not all of the things currently happening on the surface, but the underlying emotional strain and weight that feels constant in January. It is all happening underneath. Meanwhile, the lunches don’t stop needing to be packed, the diapers needing to be changed, and the laundry needing to be done. Life continues happening, as grief sticks closely beside me, claiming January, the month we became bonded for life.
This morning we took the boys to our favorite place in our neighborhood to eat breakfast. They colored and played, we ate and talked, and it felt nice. I keep waiting to feel depressed or overcome with emotion, but this year, for the first time it hasn’t come; I feel more peace. There is no doubt that I am still sad, but with time comes acceptance of what is.
We headed to the cemetery to visit our girl after finishing breakfast. It’s a bit of a drive across town, and for me it’s always laced with dread and anxiety. I don’t love going to the cemetery, but the more I have gone, the more I have learned that the build-up is always worse than actually being there. Once I am there and I see her spot, I am happy to be there beside her. I see her name, Lucy Mae Tomczak, in bold letters and I feel proud, because she is ours, we love her, she matters and this is her spot.
After visiting Lucy, we headed to our favorite cupcake place in town because that is what we do for all of our birthdays, and she is one of us. We stopped at a drum shop and a guitar shop and soaked up spending the morning together as a family, with Lucy on our minds.
As much as I miss Lucy, miss the memories I should have with her, the chance to be her mom here on earth, when I look at my boys and feel the sweet little girl growing in my belly, I miss Lucy so deeply for them. It is heartbreaking that they are not growing up with their sister. Because she died, Ezra won’t know what it feels like to grow up with a big sister. The new baby, may never know what it feels like to grow up with a sister at all. Lucy isn’t physically here to make an imprint on our lives, and us on hers, and that hurts so badly. She is a missing piece in our family, a piece I will always want back and a piece that I will have to accept will always be missing; a vacant spot between Oliver and Ezra in every photo, a missing teammate in girls vs boys, a missing sister when her little sister needs someone to talk with about life and all of the girl things.
Even though the kids will not have a normal sibling experience with Lucy, it is our goal for them to always remember her and recognize that she is their sister and that we love her very much. It is important to us to have our yearly tradition of taking the day to celebrate her, and having the kids release a white balloon up into the sky in her memory.
Remember that emotional string I was talking about earlier in the post? Well, it ended up breaking at this point in the day. It was cold and windy outside and we were trying to take photos of the boys with the balloon before they released it into the sky. We always capture the release in photo and on video and keep watching the balloon until it floats so far away that we can no longer see it. But Oliver let it go early, so we missed it all, and I immediately just lost it in tears and booked it back into the house to be alone and cry. Shaun immediately brought the boys in the house and walked right out the back door to go buy another ballon. He returned promptly, saving the day with the second balloon. (Have I ever mentioned that he is the best, smartest and most sensitive husband ever?) There is not a lot that is for Lucy, but this is one of those few memories that we can make in honor or her. I wanted it to be perfect, and it was the opposite. As I sat alone, crying, I realized a few things. First, that my calculated ability to see what is coming next is a major factor in what helps me keep it together. We lost Lucy in a super shocking and traumatic way. I count on my perceptiveness and thoughtfulness to be in tune with things, to see things coming, to be prepared for what might come. The unexpected can break me, especially when there are expectations attached. Second, that I had no clue that I could get that upset that fast. Sneaky grief. It does that, lurks under the surface, and can rear it’s ugly head in an instant, even to my own surprise. Third, that each year something happens in which it feels like God is saying, “Just let go. Don’t be afraid to grieve.” Then come the tears. Fourth, that even though I can be really open and honest about my feelings to a point, I do not like to lose control and ugly cry, even in front of my husband and kids. I prefer to keep any meltdown/ugly cries to myself, which points me back to my third realization.
I spend my days chasing and nurturing two amazing little boys, with their loud games and heaps of muddy clothes to wash. Life keeps it’s pace. I work from home three days a week. We spend time with family and really great friends. We are so blessed and our lives are so full and so good, but my heart always misses her.
I think about Lucy every day. I wonder what she looks like, what she is doing in Heaven right now, and what it might be like if she was here with us, in our cozy little home in East Nashville. And how we’d have princess dresses in equal numbers to super hero costumes.
Grief does the same thing to me every January, but each year, little by little, and by the grace of God, it feels less intense. The tough moments don’t linger as long anymore. The heavy moments do not outweigh the light ones. I have the same feelings, reactions, memories, heightened emotions; but they hit at a different speed and a different intensity. There are still waves and I still feel them crashing into me. It’s still exhausting and hard but it’s not quite the “tsunami” of year one or the “hurricane” of year two. This year it feels more like a “thunderstorm”, with me white knuckling my umbrella, waiting for the storm to pass. Each year, the rainbow at the end shines brighter than the year before. Who knows, maybe one day the sun will shine in January.
I couldn’t do any of this without God and His unwavering love for me. I would be a constant, anxious wreck; a complete disaster. He has patience in abundance, and His mercies are new every morning, not just for me, but for everyone. He is my rescuer, and Lucy’s too, and because of that, I will see my sweet girl again one day. This is the hope that I hold onto.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who do not have hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13