Posts tagged “salvation”.

Three Years Later

This was just four days before we lost this sweet face forever. We never did get to hear that laugh.

A lot has happened since we lost Anna three years ago today. We were still reeling from one failed heart when we had to start working really hard to save another. In many ways, our grief for Anna flowed uninterrupted into saving Ethan — all of it buffeted by raising Henry and Nora.

Only hours after we lost her, I curled up with my lap top in my bed and tried to figure out what it all meant. In those very dark hours, I realized that Anna taught us to love without limitation, cherish each moment and lean on our friends. I still believe those things are true, but it doesn’t mean they are easy to turn into reality. I’m still working on them. But in the three years of grieving and growing since then, I’ve learned some new lessons from that sweet soul, and the others that surround me.

Grief does not go away. It does not get smaller, it does not dissipate. The only way through it is to grow your life around it. We had to make our lives bigger, we had to love more, to make the grief fit. There are times when losing Anna still buckles my knees and sucks my breath away. But there are also times when it makes me stronger. I am better at my job now than I was before, because workplace drama is nothing compared real life. I am more balanced, more patient, and more empathetic. Trauma can break you down or build you up — you choose.

Life is full of hurricanes, and rainbows – and the only difference between the two is how you experience them. Although she didn’t know it at the time, Nora sang Firework at Anna’s concert last month because in December of 2010, when Ethan was still in the NICU, I was driving home in the small hours of the morning after a long, harrowing day not knowing whether or not Ethan would survive. And there was Katy Perry, pop diva, singing that song on PLJ. And it was just right.

If you only knew what the future holds,
After the hurricane, comes a rainbow.
Maybe the reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you down the perfect road.

So I thought, “OK. We had a hurricane and Ethan is our rainbow.” And then I thought, “Maybe Anna was the rainbow and Ethan is the hurricane.” And then I realized: Life is stormy. And it will never stop being that way. I pictured the sky over the Hudson the day Anna died. We had a panoramic view from the ninth floor at Columbia. It was sunny, it was stormy, it was cloudy, it was still – in random order throughout the day. So that’s it. Life is stormy. There will be hurricanes and rainbows and the only thing that makes one different from the other is how we experience them.

Just one more thing. I have so many happy memories from our spring and summer with Anna. No school, no work, abundant sunshine (even in the rainiest June I can remember) and lots of friends. There was something magic about that time. But it wasn’t magic. It was a miracle. This is the last thing, and I know it’s a little clichéd: I learned to believe in miracles. It started with the rainbow that Nora and Henry saw the moment Anna left us … then there was the row of white flowers in which one turned pink in the days after she was gone. There are butterflies and bunnies that show up at just the right time.

But here’s the biggest one: when Anna died, I immediately felt like our family needed one more baby. Not to replace Anna, but to complete the Podoll Super Six. But even in the fog of our grief, we had enough sense not to make any major life decisions. So we decided to wait six months before deciding about baby number four. Then, exactly six months after Anna entered heaven, Ethan was conceived. So Anna’s biggest miracle is Ethan. She was the baby we were meant to have, and Ethan is the baby we were meant to have. And Nora and Henry? We couldn’t have started this party without them.

So here we are three years later. We are living the life we were meant to live – storms and all.

Today, we are celebrating an “I’m a Fan ‘a Anna” day — trying to turn our grief into something joyful, so that Anna’s lasting gift is not grief … but joy. We are posting flyers and papering cars (hmm … I guess this particular celebration is not Earth-friendly) and slipping notes into library books and menus. Check out www.schellpodoll.com if you want to download flyers and help with the effort. Or just spread a little love today: give someone a compliment, say something kind, pick up some garbage. Do something to make the world — and yourself — a little better. Do it because of Anna.

Visceral reaction

This was written one sleepless night July 29, 2009 at 3:45 a.m., three days after Anna went to heaven. It has been edited to make a few parts make sense. Please note, this may be difficult to read. -Steve

I miss my baby.

Now I’m fine.

Now I look at her picture and I’m no longer fine. I get up and life seems ‘normal’ with the bustle of things to do. Shouldn’t I be changing a diaper? Who’s holding Anna? When will it be my turn to hold her. Monday I woke up to feed the cats and didn’t fall back to sleep. I was exhausted but the sleep didn’t come. I re-lived the events in the hospital. The terrible ones … not the peaceful beautiful ones. I remembered the chest compressions to keep Anna alive while they tried everything they could to help her. This lifesaving gesture, although necessary, is not the gentle bounce that would normally help her over any discomfort. I remember calling people to pray. To pray that my baby would return to my arms exactly as she was before. That she would sleep soundly on my chest … that I would say to her once again, “Let’s take a walk” … that we would walk around inside or out–despite the time of day–to calm her cries and help her find sleep.

All of the rules have changed. Last week I wondered if Anna would be teased in high school. Pondered whether or not she would have any delays … mental or physical. I wondered what our days would be like when Henry was in school. I thought about where I would take her in our time alone while Nora and Henry were at school. I considered whether or not she would like to play by herself while I took a call for work or if I would sit with her and play while on a conference call or would I need a sitter. I thought about things in the near future and in the far off future. I mused about details of her life that no-one could know. What type relationship would the three kids have? Who would be closer? The girls? One of the girls and Henry? Which one and why?

I wrote a letter to Nora when she was born. It took me months to get to it. I don’t know where it is right now but it’s somewhere. I didn’t ‘get to’ Henry’s letter yet. It’s started but it is more notes and ideas than a final draft. These letters are comments to an infant that I have just met but for whom I have so much to give. Perhaps it’s me projecting myself on them a bit. Maybe I’m trying so very hard not to expect them to be what I want them to be, but rather to simply give them the freedom to become who THEY are and want to be. It’s the dreams and aspirations that they have that I want to buttress and yet step back from and let them stand on their own. These things are what these letters are about. Now I am faced with another letter to write that I didn’t fit in. A letter that I know the end to. I read the last chapter. Now how can I start over and enjoy the book? I don’t want the last chapter to come. I want to bask in the glow of the incredible story. I want to drink in the delicious tale and savor it’s sweet relaxing taste. Yes, I know the ending but I want to forget it … until it’s time. There will be a time to remember the last chapter. Right now it is ever present in my mind.

With the exception of sleeping, my body works just fine. I can do everything that needs to get done for the funeral. I can work if I needed to or run errands or whatever. But every once and a while, the slightest thing will suddenly well up inside of me and bring me to tears in an instant. There is no warning, no formula. There is only tears. Drops of salt and water and an inability to speak for a moment or minutes or more. Sometimes fleeting and sometimes lasting but each time …. painful. Not bodily but somehow worse. There is no aspirin or ice pack or band aid that can help. Hopefully with time this will heal. I want it to stop.

I want my baby back. I would take her place. I would spare my family the pain that is losing a baby. A baby that has been here for such a short time that one might forget after the baby things are put away. One might forget if it was just ‘stuff’ that you didn’t need anymore. Yes, one might forget the stuff or the cries or maybe even some of the details but I won’t forget that little smile that would creep across her face to welcome us to the day. The occasional grip of my finger … even though she wasn’t into gripping. The quiet breathing as she slept on my chest … becoming one with me as I breathed with her. The quiet moments when I held her and she wasn’t doing anything but in that moment I knew that I loved this little, tiny bundle with all of my heart and soul. A connection that I suddenly “got” after having kids. I understand why parents are so crazy regarding their kids. You can’t quantify the immeasurable joy that children bring without “doing” anything. I’m sure psychologists have ideas as to why that is but there isn’t anything stronger than that connection. That need to be near, to touch, to help, to lift up, to protect, to sacrifice all things for this child that is part of you.

And then she was gone. And now what? I don’t know how to do this. I can’t find a website that has the answers for me. Everyone tells me that nothing can be said to help. “How are you doing?” “I’m so sorry.” “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” There aren’t words. There aren’t answers. Luckily, I know that my little angel, Anna is quietly resting in heaven. No, maybe not. She’s probably walking … or maybe even running. At the very least she is sitting up passing out smiles to anyone who wants one. She is making heaven a better place as she did here on earth. She’s happy. She’s filled with complete joy and peace. She might look down on us but it is through the veil of the blood of Jesus that takes all sin and sorrow away. She doesn’t see us mourning her death. She sees us living in remembrance of her just as we remember the life and resurrection of Jesus. She sees a celebration of her life. Memories of her smiles. Memories of how wonderful it was to hold her little frame. To support her head and body as she wasn’t quite strong enough to do it herself. She didn’t expect it of us but she really liked it. She would sleep in the crib for us but she’d rather stay in our arms. “Why don’t you just hold onto me a bit longer. I’ll go with you, Daddy. I’ll be good. Take me with you.”

I miss her so much. I miss that beautiful girl so very, very much. I want to take all of Jenn’s pain away. I would rather it crush me completely than to have it hurt even a little for Jenn, Nora or Henry. I will be strong for them. That might mean being strong enough to cry with them. Strong enough to hold them when it simply hurts all of us so much. Strong enough to laugh through life. To take all that good that Anna shared with us and channel it into being better. Better from the pain. Better for the world. To live and remember her without the pain … most of the time … and to focus on the amazing 80 long days that we enjoyed as a family of five. All together, everyday. To enjoy the photos of each and every day that capture the personality and charm of our little one and the memories they will share with anyone who will really listen to them.

These months later

by steve

Steel yourself. Easter’s here and you remember what happened at Christmas. Holidays are hard. That’s what they say. I have to be ready in case I don’t enjoy the bunnies and candy and egg dying as much. The resurrection might not be as glorious this year. The hymns less triumphant. Wait for it.

<Silence.>

The Easter holiday wasn’t bad. It wasn’t that much worse because Anna wasn’t here. Maybe that’s not true as evidenced by the tears running down my face as as I type those words. Tears that make it hard to breathe and almost impossible to cry out loud. Maybe I didn’t miss her as much as I did at Christmas. Maybe I missed her in a different way. Maybe I didn’t miss her enough last weekend. Maybe it was ok to wait until a few days after the holiday to miss her this time. To break down and sob out loud while home alone. To cry in a way that affirms how much I do … these months later … miss that child. My child. OUR child. That precious, smiley bundle of love that I had already dreamed a life for.

Nora and Henry help every day. They are incredible children (and I am a proud father who, without any doing of my own, is so thankful for their incredible talents, personalities and the joy that they bring to me and the world.) They are a source of inspiration and joy that helps to fill the void that Anna’s life has left. To watch them grow and learn and smile and love and just be … to simply exist, satisfies and fulfills the soul. Concurrently there is a little pang of, “what if Anna …” It’s a quiet voice. A murmur that persists in a very subtle way … usually in the quiet times of life. My answer to that is simple: What if Anna had died in surgery or another way two weeks or two years or two decades later? What if there was blame to be laid that would drive apart our family instead of entwining our hearts and souls even more. There are many dark places that question could lead. What if? What if Anna was meant to be with us a little while. To encourage us and challenge us and help us to grow. To inspire us to be better and then, without suffering, to pass on to a perfect place. A place where we can look forward to being reunited with her.

The hundreds of bulbs that were planted last year the day Anna was interred were all just about to bloom with a few rouge daffodils opening just before Easter Sunday. The spring weather shining down–painting the “before” picture of a hundred flowers blooming … as Jenn planned … for Anna. Welcoming her memory to the season she was born into. This is Easter wasn’t so bad. Not because I’m pain free and “over it.” But because the resurrection, the triumph over the grave will allow me to someday join my Anna angel again. That’s what the words “He is risen!” meant to me this Easter.

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Deep in the night on Christmas eve

I had grand ideas to go back and organize my thoughts, notes and memories into blog entries that would be chronological with the intent to show any progression that might have been there. I’ve been meaning to upload something since February but haven’t gone back even to that point. Instead, I’ll simply publish them as I re-finish them. -steve

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_our_angel

Twas the morning of Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring but my iTunes and mouse. I wrote the following thoughts, blurred by tears, in the first hours of Christmas morning after attending and singing at the midnight mass. Finding the Christmas spirit and cheer was difficult our first Christmas after losing Anna.

Christmas wasn’t right this year. I couldn’t get into the mood or find that merry groove. Something weighed on me … especially today. “They” say that holidays are the hardest times but I was feeling good about Anna being in heaven, a better, perfect place. I thought I would be ok. Today I overreacted and yelled at Nora. I spoke harshly to some strangers who were talking during church. I didn’t want anything to do with the material side of christmas. Gifts were purchased and wrapped but without the joy of that Christmas should bring. Yes, I miss my baby and I found a little blackness in my heart. I can feel the tears inside me waiting for the right time to surface. I don’t like it but the time hasn’t been right to cry. I’m planning Anna’s concert or I have to sing soon or something. Music moves me more than anything … it always has. It could simply be an amazing moment singing a masterwork or being moved by a text, a performance or a memory. Music is powerful, delivering any emotion. More recently it could be “Abide with Me” or another hymn or anthem … especially those we sang at Anna’s funeral or interment that will suddenly close the throat and squeeze the tears suddenly and unexpectedly. We miss her. I miss her. And some music will always be, and others music will become, associated with her. 

_Jenns_childhood_angelWell, tonight I found Christmas in a song I had the privilege to sing at church. The church was packed and I was worried about my cold and the making sure I had the right notes and whatever. In the moments before I sang I decided to “just sing the song” … not focusing on vocal technique or “breathing in the right places.” So I sang it. And it went OK and I felt a peace come over me as we all shared that moment in the darkness of Christmas eve. And as I sang the refrain each time … Christmas finally came to me. Not in the form of MY child but as the child in Bethlehem. “Oh come let us adore Him.” I was so focused on my loss, on MY baby that I didn’t leave room in the inn for the baby in the manger, who came to redeem us all. That babe who was born only to die so that he could welcome our Anna to heaven, with the heavenly host–praising God with song. Oh come let us adore him. Just imagine that heavenly host appearing to the shepherds. Imagine them now … singing still … only now he’s not in swaddling clothes but instead triumphantly holding my Anna as they look down on our Christmas celebration. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem… Joy to the World … Hark the Herald Angels Sing … Oh Come Let Us Adore Him. Oh come let us adore him–Christ the Lord. It’s not the presents that make it Christmas it’s the chance at new birth. A time of new beginning as we remember a gift given that inspires us to decorate our homes, businesses and towns and to spread cheer with a smile or a gift.

Christmas to me is a tree with lights, the people that you love and some Christmas cheer shared with friends and strangers alike. Usually it only takes a few Christmas songs to fill me with Christmas cheer. This year it came quietly through a song deep in the night on Christmas eve.

BlurryTree

Henry: Souvenirs

DSC03978 Henry Anna Crib sq />Souvenir: [soo-vuh-neer, soo-vuh-neer]

–noun 1. a usually small and relatively inexpensive article given, kept, or purchased as a reminder of a place visited, an occasion, etc.; memento.

Henry will not remember Anna. He was two years, 11 months and ten days when she died. The best I can hope for is that there will be so many pictures of Anna and she will be so much a part of our family lexicon that he will feel like he remembers her.

I have some early childhood memories that I do not know if I really remember or if the “memory” is because of a photo. We have a picture of every day of Anna’s life. Dozens of Henry and Anna together. Perhaps the pictures will knit together memories for Henry.

My earliest memory is of trauma. I was at my babysitter’s house and my brother, Scott, and I were racing to the rec room. I distinctly remember running around the corner into the kitchen, then around the corner again to the basement stairs. I was laughing the unique shriek/chortle of a child being chased. Scary! Fun!_I have her mama sq

Then I remember sitting on the blue-green basement carpeting, wailing. I had fallen down the stairs and hit my forehead on the corner of a stone mantle.

Next I remember sitting in the babysitter’s kitchen. She offered me grape Kool-Aid. I remember thinking: This is way too serious for grape Kool-Aid.

I ended up with some seriously sloppy stitches on my right temple, and a lollipop that had a plastic owl in the middle.

Here’s the crazy part: I was two. But I still remember it so clearly.

Maybe this distinct trauma, this epic loss, will crystallize Henry’s memory of Anna. The little sister he liked to hold. Who he called “gorgi” and “little girl.” Maybe he will remember always tipping his head so it touched hers and closing his eyes. The way he kissed her feet. How he stood on the pink step stool to help change her diapers and get her dressed.

If anything, he will probably remember her funeral. The crying of those he loves and rarely sees in that state. Mommy. Daddy. Nora. (OK, he does see Nora cry quite a bit.) The strange places: funeral home, cemetery, crematory, columbarium … the strange activities: wake, funeral, interment.0520091020 Henry Anna Kiss sq

Maybe, he will remember family camp, just two-and-half weeks after we lost her. Maybe he will remember her interment and tree-planting, on October 10. Maybe he will remember hanging angels on her blue spruce on (what would have been) her six-month birthday. And we will keep remembering her – formally and informally – so that at the very least Henry will have remembrances of Anna. His whole life, he will remember remembering her.

In French, the word for “to remember” is “se souvenir.” That’s the origin of the English word souvenir – a reminder, a keepsake, a token. Throughout Henry’s life, we will give him souvenirs of Anna; tangible ones like his Anna Bear, who hold a heart with a picture of Anna, and intangible ones, like celebrating her birthday and reminding him that he is a big brother.

Henry will probably never know, until he is old enough to read this himself, how he saves me from the brink of grief every day. How his warm, open, loving nature – how he likes to cuddle and hold hands – fits perfectly inside my grief.0522091136 Henry Anna Point sq He truly knows when to crawl into my lap, when to climb into my bed. He innately understands that comfort is not just emotional, it’s physical.

One morning the week before last, it was rainy and dark. With the shades drawn and no sunshine, Henry must have thought it was very early or still night time. He sleepily walked out of his room with his nonnie (pacifier), bee (blankie), and Twilight Turtle. When he saw me getting ready for work he started crying.

Henry: But I wanted to get into family bed wif you!

Mommy: Go cuddle into my bed, you can watch a show.

Henry: Noo wif you!

So I put my pajamas back on, knowing I would be late to work, and cuddled with my boy in our cozy family bed. And it was good. And it helped … me.

Earlier that week, it was All Saints’ Day. I was not prepared. I went into church late because Henry did not want to leave me and it so it took some convincing to get him to stay in Sunday school. I slipped into the pew next to Steve and opened the bulletin. Right, All Saints’ Day. Right … they’re going to read Anna’s name. Right … the hymns are all sad.

Just as the grief was beginning to overflow, I felt a warm hand on my leg. I turned to see Henry’s sad little face. He did not make it through Sunday school. It was as if our little guardian angel hustled him out of there and into my arms, just at the moment I needed him. I sat down and held him, and he held me, for a long time. And it helped … me.

DSC02680 Henry Anna HeadsHenry still does not fully comprehend what happened to Anna. I still think that if we brought her in the door today (oh that we could!), it would take a day or two, and then for Henry it would be like she was never gone.

But though he does not fully understand her loss, Henry is critical to our family’s healing. We will help him remember … he will help us heal.

Nous nous souvenons.

The Luxury of an Uncertain Faith

_daddy handFaith is a luxury before you lose a child. Worship … belief … salvation … they are just words – nice words – until you need specificity. I am sure of my savior. I am sure of my salvation. I am sure the Bible contains the word of God. But the exact details? What is heaven precisely? How much of the Bible is literally true? I have no idea.

Or, at least, I had no idea.

Now that a precious part of me has joined our savior, I have to be positive that heaven exists as a physical place that I can get to. That it is perfect and beautiful. That she is safe and loved. That we will be reunited. That I will see her again. I have this reoccurring vision of sitting down with Anna as a young woman. She has long ashy blonde hair and is perfectly at ease. She has natural beauty. She is telling me all about herself. And she is happy. I can see this so clearly. I have to believe it’s how our heavenly reunion will be.

Right after we lost her, I had a strong sense of Anna being held by her great grandma and namesake, Maxine Podoll. I saw her in Grandma Maxine’s arms, and my grandma, Adele, looking at Anna right over Maxine’s shoulder. They are smiling. Anna is smiling.

Was it what my brain needed to believe? Was it a projection of what I expect heaven to be? I do not know. What I do know, however, is that this vision was very clear, as are others. I see my friend Angela’s kitty with Anna. My sister-in-law’s friend Shiloh lost her brother, her sister, and her father. I can see her brother and sister there with Anna. My grandfathers are nearby, and there are other men – who I think are Steve’s grandfathers – there too. Although I haven’t seen it, I hope one day Anna finds baby Emma.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I went to the Episcopal church with my dad when we were at his house every other weekend. I remember Sunday school and being an acolyte. On the Sundays I was with my mom, I would find friends to go to church with. I mostly worshipped with the Methodists (with my neighbors) and the Presbyterians (with my friends Kendra and Kerry), sometimes the Catholics (with Jen). I don’t know why I felt so drawn to the church. My dad stopped going regularly when I was around ten years old but my faith, though immature, was already steadfast.

Throughout my childhood, I felt a powerful, loving and present God active in my life. I did not pray often but I clearly remember feeling from an early age that God answered my every prayer. Once, I think I was 15 years old, I was riding my ten-speed home from town. I was tired and still about a mile from home. I looked down the road ahead of me and thought that I would see if I was right, if God did answer my every prayer. So I prayed simply that the end of the hilly road I was on would come sooner. Then I crested the hill and felt the full force of God’s active presence in my life when I realized that I was not as far back as I had thought, and the end of the road was right there in front of me. I turned left, and coasted the downhill the rest of the way home.

I always had a sense that God was looking out for me, drawing me into his presence. (This is not to say I had a blessed life. I didn’t. It was some good, some bad, pretty much like everyone else.) I thought God probably had to work harder to reach me, because I was not raised with an active faith at home. I started going to the Lutheran church in high school and decided I wanted to be confirmed, so I signed up for adult education classes (most kids take confirmation classes when they’re in seventh and eighth grades). I was confirmed in the Lutheran church when I was 18.

Then I went to a Lutheran college. I married a pastor’s son. Looking back at my life now, I can see a bright line of faith back as far as I can remember. There is no earthly reason that I went to church with my friends when I was as young as six or seven. Why did I decide to get confirmed? Why did I keep going to church every Sunday, even after my friend went away to college?

There were many times I would go into church – both when I was in high school and as an adult (Steve sings at a different church on Sunday mornings) – and sit by myself. Worship would begin and then I would feel a sweep of air as a friend coming late sat down next to me, the coolness of the outdoors still clinging to their coat. And a part of me that I didn’t know was tense, would relax. That is how I began to surround myself with a community of faith. Because that sweep of air didn’t just happen at church. That part of me would relax whenever I came across the right person. Salty people, as one friend says.

This feeling of God always answering my prayers has never left me. Had never left me. Even as Anna was dying in front of my eyes, I thought, God always answers my prayers. And I prayed. Intensely. “Please save her. I need her. Please heal her. Please help her. Please … please.” And God did answer my prayers.

But the answer … was … no.

And in the days that followed, I was completely devoid of prayer. I was empty. I never knew what “emptiness” was until then. There was nothing inside of me worth sharing. Anna had left a gaping, endless hole. And I could not pray. What was there to pray for when I had lost my beautiful Anna? I texted my pastor: “I haven’t prayed since we lost her. I don’t know what to pray for. She is gone. Feels selfish to pray for myself.” And he sent me the most gentle reply, the exact words I will get wrong, but it was something like: “It’s ok. Your heart can pray without your head. God knows what you need. It is also ok to pray for Anna. Let others do the praying for you.”

And so I prayed for Anna. I prayed she was safe. I prayed heaven was real. I prayed we would be reunited.

Now I see that God was taking extra special care of me throughout my life. My whole life, God knew Anna was coming. God knew it would be short. God knew I needed to be prepared. So God built my faith upon a rock. And God surrounded me with a family of faith. And when the foundation of my very being was shaken to the core, I was not alone. And I am not alone now.

We will commemorate Anna’s interment in the columbarium outside Village Lutheran Church on October 10, at 10:00 a.m. 10/10 at 10. After the simple service of prayer and song, we will go back to our house to plant bulbs (in my grief, shortly after Anna was gone, I bought nearly 300!), so the yard will vibrate with color on what would have been Anna’s first birthday. We will also plant Anna’s blue spruce tree. Anyone is welcome. I know many of you will not be able to join us for that day, so we’d like to ask you to join us in spirit. At 10:00 a.m., please take a minute to remember her, pray or honor her in whatever way is meaningful to you.

Four days later, on October 14, it will be 80 days without Anna. It will be hard. We will need all the salty people we can get.

Life After Anna

_wow_shes_cute_17squareIt has been thirty days since we lost Anna. Tomorrow, August 26, it will be one month. It is still hard to say — or write — “she died.” “We lost her” is all I can manage. How are we doing? I don’t know. When we are able to step outside ourselves for a moment, we can acknowledge that this tragedy has not only brought great pain, but also great love, great generosity, great faith. We have experienced the support of our friends, family and colleagues as we never imagined possible … and never imagined necessary.

The progression of our grief over the past thirty days has been momentous. In the first days, we were truly in a fog. The grief was debilitating. When we weren’t crying, we felt Anna’s absence emanating from every inch of the house. At one week, we went to Target. (We bought car seats for the kids, because amidst all the activity, they inadvertently got delivered to Goodwill.) At two weeks, my pain at having to suddenly stop nursing abated (although the milk is still not gone). At three weeks, we could sing again. Last Saturday, I dreamed about Anna for the first time. Steve was holding her and I kissed her. I awoke feeling peaceful. Yesterday, we went for a walk, our first without Anna. Still a family of five, but only four on earth.

There are times we can laugh. I have learned that laughter — true, unexpected laughter — feels like breathing in sunshine. Light, clean, beautiful. It probably always felt that way, but I only just noticed because it stands in such contrast to my prevailing emotions. There are times we can forget for a moment. Or, not really forget but rather place our sadness to the side … move around it. But it is always there. This is hiding-around-every-corner grief … punched-in-the-stomach grief. Losing Anna is physically painful. My heart literally aches. In the first weeks, for a just a millisecond before I could stop myself, my arms would tingle and I would feel an adrenaline rush thinking, “Oh no! Who has the baby?” Because as mothers we are biologically programmed to protect our children … and my circuits were misfiring.

The morning after we lost Anna I picked up a card we received when she was born. It related support for the tough time we were having with Anna’s health. And for a moment I thought to myself, “Why were we upset before? Why did people feel bad for us?” For that second, I honestly didn’t remember. Momentous loss instantly puts life in perspective. Instantly. But that reaction also was an indicator of how Anna had already changed us. She truly taught us to love without limitation. We were beyond the pain of any diagnosis she had received. We were ready to care for her for the rest of our lives if that was what she needed. We were getting her early intervention services and tackling her issues one by one. We loved Anna completely, completely as she was. And to lose her in that moment was — is — excruciating.

This experience has also fundamentally changed our outlook on life. I have lived my personal and professional life knowing there is a solution to every problem. Steve is the same way. Nothing was impossible. And now we are stuck in the middle of an agony we never could have imagined. And there is no solution. There is no way to get her back. There is no end to this suffering. Except to wait for it to abate. That’s the only hope we have. That this pain will subside. That bit by bit, normalcy will regain a foothold. But at the same time, we do not want to feel less pain at her loss. Though it is not the “right” response, part of me feels that Anna deserves our total devastation.

It’s hard for me to speak for him but I think Steve and I are about in the same place, which is to say we’re just stumbling through this darkness from moment to moment. He is strong, I am weak. I am strong, he is weak. Sometimes, we’re both a mess. And there are times when life almost seems normal for little while. An old friend wrote to us the other day to say that she is praying for us, and specifically praying for our marriage. I like that. Because while Steve and I are doing fine, I can see how either of us could easily become lost in our own grief. The anger and frustration at being caught in such despair could easily be misdirected at each other. I know I have been less patient, even though I try not to be. The kids end up on the receiving end of that, too. It’s hard. So we appreciate the prayers.

Nora and Henry are each handling Anna’s loss in their own way. Nora really absorbs the emotions of Steve and me. She cries when we cry and is sad when we are sad. But that’s not to deny her own experience. She misses Anna. The other night, I went into Nora’s room because she was crying. She asked me to tell her again who is in heaven with Anna. I told her about her great grandparents, the dogs I had growing up, my friend Angela’s kitty. Nora listened to all this and started crying again. “But now Anna won’t match.” I said, “You mean her healthy body in heaven won’t match the one she had here on earth?” “No,” she said. “No one will dress her to match me.” It is small, but for Nora it is big.

It’s harder to know what’s going on with Henry. Steve and I discussed in the early days how little Henry truly seems to grasp about the whole situation. We thought that if we brought Anna in the door tomorrow, Henry would probably ask a couple of questions and then go on like she had never left. That was reinforced last week when Henry watched the Anna video with Steve. I asked Henry how Daddy was doing. Henry said, “He’s sad about Anna. But it’s OK. She will be home soon.”

In the beginning, Henry was just trying hard to process everything that was going on around him. He wouldn’t talk about Anna, but he liked to watch her video. He has also reverted to his previous separation anxiety and would not go to his last two dance classes. Yesterday, we stopped at the playground halfway through our walk. Nora and Henry were on a big tire swing. This was their conversation:

Nora: We could fit one more person on the tire swing
Henry: Yeah, like if Anna grew up
Nora: That would be good.
Henry: Yeah!
Nora: Yeah, but she’s in heaven … too bad, right?
Henry: Yeah.

And they went on swinging.

We thank God every day for Nora and Henry. They get us out of bed. They make us laugh. They make us make breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And several snacks. They want to play. They want to go to the pool. And always, Henry wants to go to the zoo. So … we do. And just by the mere act of doing normal things, we become a little more normal. New normal. Normal that encompasses loss. Normal that does not forget but does function.

Eleven-and-a-half weeks with Anna was not long enough. And yet it was so long. The words Steve used to describe Anna’s life in her eulogy ring in my ears, “Eighty long days.” I can imagine people thinking that maybe we didn’t really know Anna. That she was so young … that her personality had not emerged. And that is my biggest fear. Because we did know her. She was a real person. A unique person. She was sweet and smart and funny. Our lives realigned around her. And we loved her. And she loved each of us.

Her life had meaning because she was part of this world. She was part of our goodness. Part of our tragedy. Anna was — is — part of each of us. I said in my last update that Anna changed the world. I said that when our immense sorrow faded, we would be united in goodness. We need this to be true. So we are specifically asking every person who reads Anna’s story to add to the goodness in the world. Magnify your talent. Eliminate a vice. Help someone. Make sure the people you love know you love them. Say something. Do something. Be something. Do it for Anna.

Steve created a Web site, www.schellpodoll.com, and soon you will be able to record there how Anna changed your life. We hope she did.

I said in the beginning that we are overwhelmed … awed … by the strength and generosity of our family, friends and colleagues. We can never, ever thank you enough. You truly sustained us in this first month. We’re going to need you for a long time. Amid this disabling grief that we never expected, we feel oddly blessed, too.

Love,
Jenn, Steve, Nora & Henry

Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

P.S. For the next year we’re going to write a weekly blog that can be accessed through our site, www.schellpodoll.com/blog. I hope that in some small way it will help us get through this. On our site, you can also see Anna’s whole story, pictures of the small miracles we’ve witnessed since she went to heaven, and other things from our life with her.

P.P.S. We also have two ongoing projects. One is to fill our yard with natural tributes to Anna. We received a magnolia tree that is planted in the side yard, there is ivy from a flower basket growing in the back and we planted the hydrangea tree we bought for her memorial service on the fence line. Many of you have asked about giving us money for a tree or something else to plant. Because we have a small yard we would like to pool those donations and plant a blue spruce or another evergreen in the corner of our yard. I envision decorating it every Christmas, and hiding eggs under it every Easter. (I realize the kids will catch on pretty fast.) So come visit the yard — and us — any time.

The other project is the card map. We have been supported and uplifted by the sheer volume of condolence cards we have received. We were humbled that first day when Steve opened the mailbox and found a dozen cards. And then they kept coming and coming. It is a testament to the power of one small life. The stories and messages of support from friends and even strangers is amazing. It started us thinking that maybe we have gotten a card from every state in the country. We’re going to create an online map on our site this week to record all those letters. Take a look. And if it turns out that we’re missing a state, would you forward Anna’s story to someone you know there? I know it is small, but somehow the process feels therapeutic.

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