I have lived 5 1/2 years without my sweet girl. 5 1/2 YEARS?!
I am often told, "I wouldn't survive if my child died." I didn't think I would either. In fact, I still don't know how I *have* survived the last 5+ years. But, I know that I have gotten up out of bed every day and put one foot in front of the other and suddenly those days, turned into weeks, turned into months, turned into years.
After Ruthie Lou died, I had an epiphany moment; I would live for her now. In the moments that I didn't want to live for myself, I would live for her instead. All of our children (living and not living) come into our lives as such blessings, they truly are gifts. I quickly realized how impactful the life of my daughter was and that I would do her more honor in my healing, than in my hurt.
But it hasn't been easy.
It miss her so much.
I ache for her when I see her brothers doing fun stuff. I am heartbroken when they reach a new milestone or have a bonding moment and a get that twinge of "she should be here" thinking.
I guess it will always be that way.
I have done a tremendous amount of grief work. TREMENDOUS amount. I feel strong. I feel joy. I am grateful for my family. I live a really good life. And I will always miss her.
Five and a half years. I am so grateful for her. I would never have chosen a baby other than Ruthie Lou, with her sweet puckered lips and curled fists. She is my baby. She will forever be my first-born and only daughter.
And I miss her still.
5 1/2 years.
I only hope to do her proud.
This is the year that Reid understands birthdays without understanding it is also the day his sister died. I knew this day would come. I visualized it on the morning I woke up in 2011, when Ruthie Lou was still with us and I couldn't fathom why or how she could actually leave me on my birthday, a day I will now forever share with her. I cried and cried and cried and I could not make sense of it.
A friend told me that someday this would be a gift, to share the day with her. What a painful gift to be given, but he was right. It still hurts and I am not in the emotional space of celebrating my birthday yet, but my son is. We have four birthdays in a 6 week period so he has it down now; decorations, cupcakes, candles and presents, it's all very exciting to celebrate the person we love.
Reid can't wait to decorate for me, he's been talking about it for weeks since the night we decorated for him. And this is the year, the one I visualized that awful morning. I could imagine Chris taking the kids to buy me a present, them oblivious to my heartache that day and us living in the joyous moments with our (living) children, celebrating life not death. I want to be there, each year I get closer and the innocence and excitement of my son helps, but I'm not there yet.
So on that day, please don't wish me a happy birthday. I am happy to be born, it used to be my favorite day, but "happy birthday" will never feel quite right. Please honor my daughter and the complexity of our hearts that day, and acknowledge that yes I was born, but leave out the word happy, it breaks my heart and only tells me that you don't understand.
My daughter should have turned five this year; kindergarten, new school, drop offs, pick ups, picture days, father-daughter campouts and her new little brother. She's missing out on all these things and we are missing her dearly.
I know that sharing this day is a gift, that one day we will be less mournful and more celebratory but it's not here yet. My heart aches, my chest hurts and my arms forever empty. I will love the decorations my four year old displays, I will eat all the delicious food that day and smile with my family, for it isn't any different from every other day that we've survived without her. However, Chris and I will know that our hearts ache a little extra on my birthday because in my being born into this world, our daughter was leaving it for the next life, whatever and wherever that might be. All we know, is it was without us and that pain will never end
The last day I woke up with my sweet girl alive. My birthday. The greatest gift that she could've ever given me, to hold her in my arms on what was my favorite day of the year. The same day one year earlier that I found out I was pregnant, not with Ruthie Lou but with the first pregnancy that made me a mom, the same day this year that I will wake up and hold her brother in my arms.
Three birthdays, three babies.
Life is crazier then we could ever plan it to be.
Last year I woke up on Saturday, September 10, 2011 in bed at George Mark and I held my baby girl and I cried. I cried for her, not for me. I was so sad that she wasn't letting go, that perhaps we were not letting her go, that she didn't feel safe to leave us yet. I couldn't understand why she was holding on, why she was still here, she looked so ready yet I was holding her in my arms yet again that day. A dear friend told me that it would make sense later, that I would see the gift in that day but I couldn't then, it was so hard, it is still so hard.
A year later, so much time to think, to process, to come to new conclusions, to have now birthed her baby brother, I have found many reasons why she waited, she had a few more things left to finish that day and she needed every moment she could get.
With so much joy and love in our hearts, Reid Warren Lands was born two weeks ago, August 26th. It is yet again the greatest day of our life alongside the greatest day that we birthed Ruthie Lou. As I hold him now (we never put him down!) I imagine my birthday for years to come, what that day might look like for our family, for Chris and me, for Reid and his future siblings. I have visions of dad taking the kids shopping to pick out a gift for their mama's birthday, as our dad did for us as a child, or making a homemade gift, crafts all over the kitchen table. As our kids get older, my birthday will be just that to them; my birthday, a day to celebrate. They will know and understand that September 10th is the day their sister left, but the day will also mean it is their mamas birthday and that is what they will focus on, what we will have to focus on with them, for them.
Last year I received a birthday card, one of few that I remember, hardly anyone dared wish me a happy birthday or acknowledge the day after it passed. I opened this card from two dear friends, sisters, and it said I now share my birthday with Ruthie Lou's "special day". I thought it odd at the moment but sat with it, thought about it and determined that if I truly believe that there is some sort of life after this, some realm of existence that we transition to, then in fact the day Ruthie Lou left this body, the one that she chose to sustain her, than her anniversary is in fact her "special day".
It is the day that many look forward to meeting their maker or transitioning to a greater existence, leaving their earthly bodies behind. However, I am human and I am her mama so I would never ever in a million years want Ruthie Lou to leave me, I would give anything to take it all back to get a different outcome, to hold her every day as we are so grateful to be holding her brother, but perhaps September 10th IS her special day and we will celebrate her as if it is. Every month on the 9th, my sister would call first thing in the morning and shout into the phone, "Happy Ruthie Lou day!" and good day or bad, I could always count on that call to come in. Whether I had tears rolling or joy in my heart, those words would always make me smile. Ruthie Lou would have called it her happy day I am sure and I love that my sister did, too. Then the next morning on the 10th, my phone would ring and I would be greeted with the same words, "Happy Ruthie Lou day!" and happy or sad, it would once again bring a smile to my face, reminding me that Ruthie Lou made us so incredibly happy and would always want to be thought of in that way.
I have thought long and hard on how I would spend my birthday/Ruthie Lou's special day and I can't be certain for years to come or even what this year will bring but I do know this, my daughter made who I am today. She changed me, made me better, gave me a new perspective on life, values and priorities. She helped to create a life that I love, one where my heart will always ache for her but now with a heart so full and open and that loves so much deeper than I ever knew possible.
So on Ruthie Lou's special day I want to feel close to her, I want it to be one of my favorite days still, a day to celebrate her, to relish in the gifts she left. She gave me the greatest gift that day, she stayed for me, she let me hold her on my birthday. She looked out for years to come and knew that there was no way possible for me to continually mourn her on this day when I would have little ones that would want to celebrate their mama on that day, too. Ruthie Lou is so wise, so much wiser than I will ever be and I have to trust that there was a greater plan in her special day, September 10th, my birthday.
Thank you for the messages you have sent over the last year. Thank you for the stories you have sent this last month. The plan was to publish the messages, stories and journal entries once Ruthie Lou's year has ended and that is what we will do. I look forward to sharing this book with Reid and his siblings that we may be blessed with in the future. I can't wait for them to learn of their sister through my words and the the words of all of you, those who have met her and those who know her through your own life's experiences this year, it is all so special to us. Thank YOU for sharing Ruthie Lou with them, too. If you have not already but would still like to send a message, please do. I will wait til the end of next week to publish to give you some more time. I am continuing to write as often as I can but will be wrapping up and ending the forum on Caringbridge. What a beautiful gift this website has been from the day I started Ruthie Lou's page. It has connected all of you to her story, helped you to send her prayers, well-wishes and support for our hearts.
Through that site I have discovered my love of writing along with the healing that writing offers and the gift that sharing Ruthie Lou has been. It has connected us with family from afar, some we didn't even know existed and have now grown to love. Caringbridge has been a huge gift to so many of you to meet Ruthie Lou and for that we are so grateful. Over the last year a huge place of support for me has been the Internet. It has been the connections of other mothers who have lost their children and have survived, their stories of hope, faith and love. I read their journeys and feel comforted, they make me feel normal. I have appreciated each and every one of them for putting their life's experiences, heartbreaks and perseverance out for the world to read because it has helped me so much. Now that our journey has taken another turn and this little boy has joined our family, I have started a blog here that you are welcome to follow, one that incorporates both of our beautiful children, now that we have two to write about. It doesn't feel right to write about him too much on his sisters pages but also doesn't feel right not writing about him because we love him so much!
My hope for my blog is the same as what the other mama's blogs have done for me, given me hope, offered me comfort, made me feel normal and not alone. I never thought I would allow myself to be so exposed as we have this last year but it has given me such courage to say, "here we are" this is our journey. I think this was all part of Ruthie Lou's plan, too!
So without a better way to end this, good byes are not my thing. I could say thank you over and over and over again and it would never be enough. You have been my life line of support this last year, I love you all so dearly for loving my daughter and for loving us. We could not have survived this year without you and will continue to need you the next 33 years of celebrating and remembering Ruthie Lou on her special days and every day. Pease continue to speak of her, with her siblings, with us and each other, she will forever be a living part of our lives. We are forever grateful that Ruthie Lou chose us, that will never change and even with the hole in my heart, I would never have wanted her to be anything other than my sweet girl, Ruthie Lou.
As I would read to Ruthie Lou and say to her over and over again....this is not good bye, it is UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN. So much love and respect to you, until we meet again.
I am mama of three beautiful babes; two sons whom I have the privilege of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.