spring-054Eleanor flung open our bedroom door and pranced unknowingly into my sadness.

Sitting alone, I was letting go of the heaviness which had slowly been building over the weeks and months prior.  My children are not surprised by tears.  They are not intimidated by pain that has no balm – time and time again they gently recognize the hurting of others and somehow manage to balance ache with joy.

“Oh, mama!” she exclaimed authentically while clamoring into my lap. I didn’t attempt to form words… I’ve truly exhausted all my words and I wasnt afraid of frightening her.  Instead, I quietly and deliberately engulfed her in my arms, buried my face in her neck and attempted to take the first of several deep breaths of renewal – re-entry into reality where my daughter exists and my son does not.

However, rather than receiving my embrace and returning my love with a squishy hug of her own, she pushed back. She leaned back and looked me square in the face.  Next she reached up and gently cupped my face in her sweaty hands. Nervously I darted my eyes away and carefully squirmed under her gaze, but she held fast and intently studied my face.

A rush of fear washed over me, suddenly I could see myself through her eyes.  I was acutely aware of my wet, red eyes.  My blotchy, dull skin.  The slouch of emptiness in my demeanor and the scars of trauma carved permanently into my forehead. I was scared for her.

Oh honey, oh sweet child – please – don’t join me in this place. I don’t wish for you a mother shattered and ruined deep inside. Please, dear one… Please, turn away…

But despite my desperate desire to close up my cracks and leaky places for the sake of my little girl, I didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to fix myself up before my daughter climbed undaunted into the depths of me.

Disappointed and self-conscious I breathed in while my daughter quietly, seriously probed my face, entering deep into my brokenness.  She wasn’t judging me, she was absorbing me, even as the wave of excruciating guilt and fear crashed over us.

I wonder if the moment felt dangerous to her.  I wonder if she realized how quickly she could be swallowed up in my pain, left to wander blackened corridors from within the shell of me.

As I searched for words that still didn’t exist, my living, breathing, loving daughter leaned in -my face still in her hands – she touched her forehead to my own and whispered in a sweet, husky voice, “I love you so much.” and then she proceeded to disentangle herself from me.  She carefully exited – the moment… my arms – fully intact.

Left suddenly alone again, I looked cautiously around to realize some of the deadened pieces of myself – now seen by the heart of my child – had somehow come alive again.


IMG_2316I sat in the corner crook of our living room couch, quietly interacting with my busy family in relaxed, easy-going tones. Mindlessly, I laid my head to the left and found myself looking into the eyes of my son. I let myself linger on the photograph, as his smile cracked into the mundane moment.

Suddenly, I felt the chill of a scream – I could actually hear it from within me, “Oh my God!” The panicky words rang through my mind. “He’s gone! Oh my God, he’s gone!”

I could feel my heart thudding in a quickened, choppy pattern as my neck and chest flushed with the release of epinephrine. My soft tummy muscles clenched as a sour taste pricked in my mouth.

I hadn’t forgotten – that we was gone – it had simply been awhile since I remembered – since I’ve been, here, in this place… I can’t possibly live in this moment forever – this place of excruciating clarity, so I don’t – live here.  I’ve wanted to, and I’ve not wanted to… But regardless of my desires, I just can’t. So I don’t… Somehow I’ve been moving through this world without living in this place pulsing with voiceless screams.

But then I turn a corner  and I realize that ‘this world’ I’ve been navigating, is in fact, a grotesque house of mirrors, and I’m staring at MY CHILD trapped beneath glass – Graham, real and not real, lost but right where I left him.

I share space with the echoes of my own misery, shadows that move through me and vomit that oozes from me.

I don’t live here.  It lives within me.


bEleanor leaned in and squished his pudgy three year-old cheeks in her hands.  A sweet string of high-pitched giggly words danced from her lips as she interacted with a friend’s little boy.  A little boy who spent his infancy growing  in tandem with our Graham.  And when Graham stopped growing, this little boy didn’t.  Which of course is heartwarming… and somehow still – horrible.  It’s been years since Eleanor leaned in towards baby Graham, years since she’s actually played with him… and yet in some strange, disconnected way, Graham was there in this moment.

This little boy, smiled back sweetly and gently kicked at Nora with his stinky feet. I watched the two of them with a placid smile empty of energy.  I realized quietly that I recognized the ripples of peace flowing through me… I realized now how grateful I was for the presence of peace, because I was suddenly so very sad.

The moment was simple and fleeting but the massiveness of my son broke through and I ached. I imagine no one noticed.  Maybe they wondered… maybe not. The surface was so still, even as the torrent grumbled just out of sight.

I wanted so badly to reach out to Nora and whisper in her ear, “Do you remember?  Do you miss him too?”  But it seemed so unfair somehow, to break into her joy-filled moment, so I remained quiet under my smile.


Hours later, the little boy was gone, now residing entirely with his own family – no longer straddling the space of Graham’s emptiness. I was hurrying my girls along, grabbing supplies for an afternoon outing, Nora dawdled and complained.  Her whiny tone was wearisome and I began to walk ahead of her, hoping to inspire a rally of attitude… instead, my girl suddenly dropped all of the things she was carrying, threw her face towards the sky and opened her mouth to form a silent wail.

Frustrated, I walked back towards her and as I knelt in front of her she hiccupped out the words, “Mama, I miss Graham.”

The wave of truth hit me full force and I melted into my small daughter…”Of course you, do. Of course.”

I almost missed it.  It didn’t come when or how I expected, but he was there in her heart all along. She discovered him and the hole that resembled him, differently than I had but all the same authentically and painfully, and I almost missed it. Grief these days can be hard to spot, difficult to recognize… But he’s still everywhere and nowhere, always.

“I miss Graham.”  An ocean of truth that can’t begin to touch the magnitude.



“We have a dog too!” My daughters giggled in between puppy kisses given from a stranger’s dog.

“We have Emily and Luke… Luke died. My brother died too. His name is Graham.” Charlotte gushed.
“And Journey!” Eleanor piped up! “Journey is the baby that died in Momma’s tummy. He’s dead too.”
“And my Grandma.” Charlotte added nonplussed.

I sat a few feet away from the conversation, trying to keep my face soft.  I squirmed a little – actually squirmed.  I wanted to insert myself into the moment, offer an explanation, tie together lose pieces, redirect… I wished my children didn’t have such things to share… Sometimes, I wish they censored a bit more…

Instead, I sat quietly, as my brave, effusive daughters continued on – they had something to say after all.  The kind woman listened to the pain of small children disguised as one-up-manship, and offered very little in the way of judgement or shock. She received their story, and together the three of them moved on smoothly into the next vein of conversation.

I exhaled – there was no overwhelming sense of closure or peace – I just breathed in and out once more.


IMG_2101Graham was just a small embryo the last time I stepped foot in a dentist’s office. I still felt nauseous in the mornings but the constant yuckiness was slowly disappearing as he grew larger and stronger within me.  I waited my turn in the lobby, my stomach slowly churning in response to the dental odors wafting through the air. I wished I had thought to postpone the routine appointment altogether – I wasn’t sure I’d make it through without ralphing. Despite my queasy stomach, I did have fun chit-chatting about the small little joy within me and I remember declining the x-rays with a sense of happiness and pride.

When I stopped by the reception desk on my way out, the kind woman behind the counter encouraged me to schedule my next appointment.  I wavered, knowing 6 months later life would surely be more hectic, but the future seemed so far away, so unreal yet… I scheduled my next dentist appointment for March 8th 2013.

To be honest, it didn’t cross my mind again until the moments between the puffy breaths and deeps moans of child-birth. I have a fuzzy memory of the cell phone ringing and Evan stepping away from the action of labor to answer it. “Um, no.  She won’t be making her dentist appointment today… she’s, well.. indisposed at the moment.”

I laughed then, and I cant help but chuckle now.  Indisposed.

The thing is, I never rescheduled. I never went back.

Suddenly I had a squirmy newborn, a goofy toddler, and a rambunctious preschooler.  I had a full-time job and endless loads of laundry… as the months tumbled by, I just didn’t find the time to get my teeth cleaned. Another day, I figured – I’d make it back when life wasn’t so full!

And then of course, Graham died and a place that was never really about him was suddenly all about him. I just couldn’t stomach the thought. I couldn’t imagine going through the motions… the waiting room and the polishing paste… the x-rays.

After three years, I finally made an appointment to see a dentist. Much like waves of nausea, I can feel the rolling power of grief off-center me.  The churning may indeed be subsiding to manageable levels… but even so, I think I might throw up.



I made a few phone calls while cradling the body of my dead son, just a few.

I called Carrie. The woman who loved Graham and carried his dead body upstairs… I imagine he felt heavy in her arms. The woman who called my husband with hysteria drenched information… I called her back, I had to.

I dialed the number and held the phone to my ear. “Kristin,” I heard her gulp expectantly.

I plowed intently forward, “He’s dead. Carrie, he died.” It was a conversation of defeat – there was so little emotion, just a pain thick and pointless. She began talking, gently rambling through her last moments with him… with the body he’d left behind. It was my first glimpse of the story.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that she was surrounded by police officers in that moment. Sequestered in her own home, separated from her friends and family. Alone.

The children, Graham’s friends – my own daughter – left to wander and huddle…

I am grateful for the parents who pushed past the uniformed front of protocol and procedure – even for a moment – to cry out to her, reach out, before being forced away, their arms full with living children. I’m grateful for the mother and father who parked up the street and waited – just waited – for something or nothing. I’m grateful for the love that pulsated in tears and heartache through that home suddenly cold with death and crawling with strangers and accusations…

I’m grateful – but it wasn’t enough – they all deserved more.

All the children were sent away until Eleanor was the only one left. Then Carrie herself was packed up and removed by the police, leaving behind my vulnerable 2 year old. I wonder if the detective even considered my other child?  If she cared?  Apparently my dead son was all she had eyes to see and my living daughter was simply overlooked.  Certainly she deserved more.

I gently invited Eleanor to share her story with me recently and she explained, “Ms. Carrie went away to talk with people, and then I was alone…” she trailed off. I asked gently about Ms. Carrie’s children, about her husband… “Do you remember they stayed with you, right? You weren’t really all alone.”

“Maybe.” she scrunched her forehead in consideration.

I can’t find kindness where I wish it would be.  The way the events unfolded was necessary it would be argued, for Graham’s sake… for ours.  Even so, I can’t help but think – they got it all wrong.

A second detective met Evan and I at the hospital and was generally considerate, although not especially compassionate. I too was taken away – away from my son and my husband – escorted to a small hospital room down the hall to be questioned. I supplied simple answers to direct questions… It didn’t feel like an interrogation but again and again I asked with quiet, submissive intentness, ” Can I go back to my baby, please?”

When I finally walked back in to the hospital room, I found a police photographer had used my absence as opportunity to take evidence photographs.  She was haphazardly stuffing his pajamas into an evidence bag when I arrived.  I remember her silent startle when she saw me, a look of sheepishness flashed across her face as I moved to fill my arms with the child she had left naked and splayed on the hospital bed.

The last question the police investigator asked me that evening was casually pointed. I could tell she was purposefully crafting the question to sound like an afterthought, “If we were to find out that something happened – that Carrie hurt Graham – what would you think?”

This detective who spent her days seeking out blame, discovering fault, seeing evil everywhere… she was extending to me perhaps the only gift she had to give – a place to rest the fury, the heartache, the blame. She was seeking her own sort of redemption on behalf of Graham… for my sake too maybe.

I have heard true horror stories from families with similar stories as ours… Interrogations, sequestering – precious, essential last moments ravaged by accusations and purposeless policies and protocols. No touching, no pictures, no love… I have no doubt that the way the events unfolded – the very fact that he died in a home other than ours – insured us a certain amount of protection.  Which meant there was somehow very little kindness leftover for Carrie that night. I wish I had known – I wish I had leveraged more of myself on her behalf.

I paused, slowly looking up to meet the detective’s gaze before I formed my words…  I made careful, direct eye contact and said firmly, “I wouldn’t believe you.”

They got it all wrong, they got everything all wrong.


IMG_2781We were an entity, Graham and I. He didn’t exist without me. He could have, in the same way I can live without him now, but while he was here we lived in and through each other. Eating, sleeping, speaking, choosing, playing, touching… Everything was connected, layered. The edges of ourselves blurred together… I was Kristin, but not without being Graham’s mom. I was lost in him, and there were days when the fluidness of us welled up in me and I felt anxious… Resentful even? So much love and so little ‘me’ and SO MUCH love… and Graham was everywhere… all of it.

We were more than just puzzle pieces of a story but more like a liquid suspension, mixed up entirely. It’s true that as he grew older he was beginning to sediment from our solution, I could imagine him someday standing apart… I looked forward to it even, until of course I found myself suddenly alone.

Completely separate, totally autonomous. Split wide open and gaping in ugly emptiness.

My daughters were once wrapped up in me and through me in similar ways. Each in their uniqueness, each in turn, and in moments all together, we shared existence. But as time tumbles forward there are a hundred things that demonstrate their separateness from me – their maturity, their individual personhood apart from my life and my love.  I often feel dumbfounded in wonderment and gratefulness.

The thing is, there are still pieces of me that completely fit with the pieces of my girls. In quiet moments, in desperate moments, in simple joy filled moments our fitting pieces find each other and we remember – we connect as mother and child and know who we are and where we are through the life of each other.

I think that we’ll carry these pieces in us forever and I pray that we’ll always have the desire and wherewithal to seek out quiet moments to join our pieces… the remnants of a life lived fully entangled. We carry history inside us, living memory.

I think if Graham were to come back to me today, I wouldn’t be familiar to him. I don’t think we could fit together anymore. What’s left of the edges that we once shared are so disfigured now, so damaged… He couldn’t find a haven.  As I peer into myself, I am resolved in the disappointment that he wouldn’t find anything he needed..

Graham’s mother was demolished. I am still his mother somehow – but the mother of a dead son is nothing like the mother of Graham, because a living Graham is nothing like a dead one. I wonder even, if there’s anything to tie them together at all… Love maybe?

I wonder too, if I am even capable of finding him, could I know his soul in the darkness or has all sense of him been burned away in the disaster. Even now so many of my memories seem flat, a memory of a memory perhaps… I feel such shame to admit it, knowing that my mirror to his light is so essential.

It’s all more of my brokenness.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 4)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This post is the last in a 4 part series.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.


GOD was with Graham, GOD was with Kristin in her office when she heard of the horror, GOD was with Evan when he unsuspectingly picked up my phone call.

I think of him everyday. Every. Single. Day. Every time I jog down the steps and round the corner, I see the place where his pack n’ play used to be. I’ll be crouching down to put some dishes away in the back of the cupboard and remember those frantic last moments of pumping and breathing. I think of him every time I see a copy Barnyard Dance and remember him looping his arm through the hole in the front cover and toting it around like a purse! I think of him in the early afternoons at the time when he and I would snuggle into the sectional, drink his afternoon bottle and play with my necklace.

I wish that day would have been different.

I wish that I would have gone down there ten minutes earlier and scooped up a wiggly little drool monster with a full diaper and a toothy grin. I wish the paramedics would have arrived sooner. I wish that I would have had a few quiet moments to say goodbye. The last time I touched him was chaotic and flustered as the paramedics swooped in. I wish I would have had the chance to hold him once he was gone, to feel the weight of his body against mine, to whisper in his ear and say goodbye. When people talk about needing closure, it’s no joke. I just wish I would have had a few moments with him instead of hours with the detective.

I wish I could have saved him.

I wonder… I wonder what he and his little buddies on either side of him did that last afternoon? Probably what they always did – pull themselves up so they were just tall enough to see each other over the sides of their pack n’ plays. Probably hurling their blankies over the side and giggling. Peering at each other through the mesh siding and poking their little fingers through the holes to touch each other. His last bit of fun before awaking in heaven was goofing off with his buddies. I bet he liked that.


Being with Graham his first year of life was an honor. All the good moments along with the unglamourous ones. We did that first year of life together! This little soul that I only knew for eleven short months will be a tool that GOD will use in my life at every turn. God will continue to teach and minister to me through Graham’s life, forever. I will always be grateful for that. Was this a traumatic event? Yes, but it has led to so much more.

When well meaning friends say things like, “What a awful experience that must have been for you!” they don’t realize that this experience isn’t over. This is something that we will experience until we make our own journey into heaven. GOD will continue his never ending work in me, in Kristin, in Evan through this experience.

This experience never ends.

I was His Ms. Carrie (pt 3)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.

IMG_6741The next hour is a total blur. Calling Evan. Calling my husband. Cops filtering in and out of every room in the house. Fumbling through phone calls to the other parents to come and pick their children up. The kids sensing something was up and just wanting to be near me but the cops saying that they couldn’t.

I held Nora, they told me she needed to wait with the other kids but I said, no. I might throw up. A crime scene photographer shows up and starts documenting the house, room by room. The daycare parents start showing up, most of them with tears streaming down their faces. They won’t let me leave the kitchen, but I keep emerging every time I hear a familiar voice. We hug and I kiss their children and then get told to go back to the kitchen please. The cops take down info from every parent that shows up. I clean up the little puddle of vomit that Graham had left.

And then my cell phone rings and I see that it’s Kristin. Yes! This is the call that I’ve been waiting for – they finished the job of saving him that I wasn’t able to do and he was safe and sound! But that’s not what Kristin and I were able to celebrate.

I remember her voice was calm and strong. “He’s gone Carrie.” Those words rang in my ears and jolted through my body. Kristin kept talking but it sounded like I was underwater. Nothing made sense. How could this happen? He was fine! Just hours ago is was completely perfect!

I heard the welcomed voice of one of my best friends who came to pick up her son. She hugged me tight and naturally assured me, “It’s going to be OK.” I jerked back and blurted “No it’s not! It’s never going to be OK anymore!”

Eventually all the kids were gone, the house was full of uniformed personnel. Nora was still on my hip. I kept asking to go and see Graham but the detective said they needed to take me in for questioning. I clumsily got my coat on and walked out into the frigid air to the detective’s unmarked car and off we went.

Back in that small room at the sheriff’s department, the detective’s questions just kept coming like a leaky faucet. “And so your cell phone rings and it’s Kristin, what happened next?”

“She told me that they were at the hospital and that they had worked really hard but that Graham had died.”

“Oh, so you know that he is dead?”

Why was she surprised that I knew of his death? Did she think that I was under the impression this whole time that he was alive and well? Wouldn’t I have been incessantly asking about how he was doing if I didn’t already know? Then it dawned on me, during these last four hours of being together, she and I had not ever talked about the fact that Graham had died. She was surprised that Kristin had called me herself.

After years of being surrounded by cases like this, I’m sure that it starts to feel systematic and calculated. Lot’s of he said, she said. Graham’s death wasn’t something that happened to Kristin and Evan. This was something that happened to US – it happened to all of us! Her cold, calculated suspicious approach to this life changing moment in our lives was nauseating.

But in the weeks to come, GOD’s presence, braided into each one of our stories, was the key denominator that this detective saw.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 2)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.


And then we got to the point in the day when it all happened.

Every half hour I would make the rounds and check on them – cover them back up, rescue a loved stuffed animal that had made it’s way to the center of the room and make sure all was well. That point in the afternoon had arrived when I could hear the kiddos starting to stir. Random voices and the thud of them standing up in their pack n’ plays and then plopping back down. I crept down the stairs and scooped up three of them, folded their blankets, whispered for them to go upstairs and go potty and reminded them to whisper because some of their friends were still sleeping.

Three of my pack n’ plays lined the wall right next to the stairs, the middle one was Graham’s. It was unusual for him to still be sleeping because he was always one of my first ones up. Standing at the end of the pack n’ play, little fingers clamped onto the fabric covered top and making a large drool mark. He would catch a glimpse of me and grin from ear to ear because he knew I was coming to rescue him from naptime and he was going to get some animal crackers and a bottle.

But that afternoon, he was nestled into the corner of his pack n’ play, on his tummy and had his face up against his blue blankie. This was how he slept, he would bury his face in his blue bankie and Kristin and I would always find remnants of blue fuzzies stuck to his cheeks and in the little rolls in his neck. I placed my hand on his back and made gentle circles across his tiny frame to wake him up slowly.

Three circles. Four circles. Nothing.

I lifted the blue blankie up away from his face and it felt like a flood if ice water just rushed through my veins. A gasp that you only hear when something life altering occurs flew out of my mouth. His face was a pale blue. I lunged over the side of the pack n’ play and grabbed him up.

Now there are parts of this experience that are clearer than others and this moment is one that my body can just go back to in an instant. The motion of thrusting my hands up under his armpits and turning him towards me mid-air and then having his little body arch back limply over my left arm feels like five seconds ago. His heavy head flopped against my hand in between my thumb and the rest of my fingers and I looked at this face that was so perfect, but wasn’t.

Graham, GRAHAM, GRAAAHAM!!!!!! It was a frantic yelpy scream as I bounded up the stairs.

I flew into my kitchen, with Graham’s head cupped in my hand and his little face in my neck, where it had always been…that would be the last time it would be there. I laid him down on my kitchen floor, hand on his forehead, two fingers under his chin, tilted it up and put my ear down over his nose to see if there was any breath at all. His face was warm, but there was no breath. I placed my right palm down on his chest and began to pump up and down. One-and-two-and-three-and-four…..tilt the head back, two breaths, watch the chest rise and fall. Those countless CPR classes feeling more valuable by the millisecond.

Why isn’t anyone coming?!? Wait, you haven’t called them yet! I lept up and grabbed my cell phone off the counter, frantically keying in my pin and dialing 9-1-1, put it on speaker and continue pumping. It rang! And rang…and rang..and rang…and rang…and rang…Why isn’t anyone answering?!

“911, Do you need police, fire or ambulance?”


After a pause that felt like a lifetime, a woman’s voice came on the line and asked for my address and what the emergency was.

“I went to pick him up from his nap and he’s not breathing! He’s not breathing!!! Graham’s not breathing!”

“Are you performing CPR?”

“Yes! Are you sending someone?”

“Yes, they are on their way right now. Keep pumping and breathing and I’ll stay on the line with you until someone gets there.”

Twenty eight-and-twenty-nine-and-thirty. Tilt his head, two breaths, watch the chest rise and fall. Over and over. Tears gush down my face, choking sobs and blurts of, “Graham please! Breath! God PLEASE!! GRAHAM PLEASE! GRAHAM!”

The voice on the phone came back calmly, “Carrie, you need to stay calm for him. You need to focus on what you are doing. You are doing great.” Then I heard a little gurgling sound – rolled him onto his side and a little trickle of his milk spewed out, but that’s a good sign!

“Are they coming?! What’s taking so long??”

“They are almost there, is your door unlocked?”

“No!” I rush to unlock the door and on my way back to Graham, I see them, the three little ones I had sent upstairs to go potty, Nora… leaning over the back of the couch, looking into the kitchen. They knew something awful was happening.

“Why isn’t this working?!? He is warm! His chest is rising and falling when I breath air into him! Jesus why isn’t this working?!?”

It felt like one of those stationary bikes that was connected to a light bulb and as you began to pedal the light would begin to flicker on and off and as you got to your max speed, the light would beam brightly. I was pedaling at 100% but Graham’s light wasn’t turning on!

There was a brisk knock on the door as it burst open and the paramedics rushed in. Thank you GOD, they are here and they are going to work their magic and save him. There were two of them, the man scooped Graham up and began blowing into his little mouth and the woman asked a few simple questions. Little did I know that would be the last time I would have my hands on that sweet baby, if I would have know, I would have kissed him and nestled his head into my neck one more time. I remember reaching up from my spot on the kitchen floor, grabbing her arm, “He’s going to be fine right? He’s going to wake up right?!”

“We are going to the best that we can, little guys are tough.”

I pleaded to let me ride with him to the hospital because I KNEW he was going to wake up. He was going to wake up and he was going to be scared because he had never seen those people before. He needed me to be there when he woke up.

But no, he had to ride alone.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 1)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.


When I look back at Graham’s final moments, they don’t begin on that chilly February afternoon. Although we didn’t realize it, his final moments started months before that. Normal, everyday toddler happenings that were actually moments of preparation.

Toddler teething….drooly and uncomfortable and not to mention the never ending stream of tears! Who knew that Graham’s teething was going to turn out to be such a gift? His little tush fit perfectly in the crutch of my arm, my hand wrapped around that oh-so-squishable chubby leg and his head nestled into that part of your neck that God put there specifically to hold a baby’s head. I can still feel his little fingers, twisting around the back of my T-shirt sleeve and the ever present drool spot on the chest of my shirt. This is where Graham spent most of his days during those last weeks, latched onto me like a little monkey as I went about my daily tasks one handed.

Those teeth were why I held him 90% of the day. Those teeth were why he spent many of his naptimes on my chest watching HGTV together in the afternoons. Those teeth were an immeasurable GIFT of time together. Unbeknownst to me, those teeth were the start of Graham’s and my goodbye.

Fast forward to the early evening of February 11, 2014 at the Douglas County Sheriff’s department. In a small room with no windows, florescent lights, a little round table and two chairs – one of which is suspiciously tucked into the corner of the room – that one’s mine. I kept my winter coat on because the room was ice cold and my whole body felt shaky.

Somehow it felt like the coat sheltered me from these very unfamiliar and unnerving surroundings. It felt like a movie set – the surveillance camera up in the corner, the two way mirror that I know had people on the other side drinking coffee and scribbling notes on their clipboards – notes about me….voice intonation…facial expression…body language… Take a deep breath and don’t flip out.

“Carrie, I want to go over everything from the moment you woke up this morning to us sitting here now. Don’t leave anything out. Every little detail is important. We just want to get a clearer picture of the events of today.”

I could tell the detective was trying to make me comfortable but she was doing an awful job at it. This is not where I should be. I should be at home or with Kristin & Evan or with Charlie and Nora, ANYWHERE but in this room with this woman! Deep breath, you need to get through this.

“Well, the kids arrived in the morning.”

“No, start from when your alarm went off in the morning.”

“Oh sorry. Ok so my alarm went off and I got up and got dressed, made coffee, flicked on the living room lamps and turned on Curious George and waited for the first knock on the door – which would be the Engels. They were always the first ones.”

“Did you look forward to them coming?”

“Yeah, of course I did! I heard the knock on the door and opened up as they shuffled in, along with a gush of wind. The kids were bundled up in thick fuzzy blankets.”

“Why didn’t they have coats on?”

“Uh…umm…because having kids wear bulky winter coats in their car seats isn’t safe.”

“Did the Engel kids ever wear winter coats?”

“Of course they did, but coming in and out of daycare they just bundled them up in the blankets to make it easier.”

“Ok, continue.”

“So, I opened the door and said “Hi! Good morning guys!” in a hushed voice. Helped Nora get her boots off and then held my arms out for Graham. Kristin kissed him on the top of his head, like she always did and he reached out for me and cuddled into my shoulder like always. Then she said “Thanks!” She always thanked me. In the mornings and the evenings. Then she left for work. Nora sat down to watch cartoons and wait for her little friends to arrive and Graham and I got stuff set out for breakfast and I had a cup of coffee.”

“How many cups of coffee did you have? What did you put in it?”

“I had one cup and I drink it everyday…..so the other kiddos trickled in over the next hour or so and they all had breakfast, washed their hands and faces, went potty and then we headed downstairs to the basement to play. The kids played nicely and…”

“Wait, what was each child playing with?”

“Ummm What?!?

“What were each of the children playing with?”

“I don’t remember! Have you ever watched children? How could I keep track of that?! All I know is that there was nothing abnormal about playtime this morning. They all played nicely together and it was just a normal morning!”

We went hour by hour at this pace. What we ate, what we played with, where Graham was when I took someone else to the potty. After a while I began to feel a slight bit of defensiveness because it seemed as though all of her questions were slightly accusatory, pointed and looking for a certain kind of response. Was she trying to put words in my mouth? I don’t know, but it felt like she had an agenda.

Did Graham get dropped at all that day? Did he drink breast milk? Did I hold him when I fed him? Did I rock him to sleep? Did he always sleep with that blanket? Who brought that blanket? Did you check on the kids while they slept? Why didn’t you put your hand on their backs to check on their breathing? Did you sleep at all? Did you get along with the Engels? Where you ever resentful of Graham? Did the Engels co-sleep? Did the Engels spank their children? Did their children go to the doctor regularly? Did you ever witness them endangering their children in any way?

Time felt like it was creeping by at a snail’s pace….and her questions just kept coming.



The other day I talked with a mother who had come very close to losing her small son. Death layered itself on her precious child, forcing this mother to stare into the depth of possibility – to pray with desperate abandon and open her arms wide in total lack of control… She tasted the shocking, ravaging reality that love is simply not enough… not in this world anyway.

But then… her son lived – and continues to live – big and healthy and beautiful.

As I talked with this grateful, shining mother, she echoed back truths and insights that her experience had unveiled. Rich perspective on life and love and God… Suddenly, I began spinning and my cheeks flushed, realizing that I recognized these truths – They were MINE!

The anger welled within me – how did she get what was mine without giving what I gave!?!

My perspective on this world – isn’t it some strange gift I got in exchange for the life and breath of my boy?? Didn’t my son have to DIE in order to be so tremendously enlightened – to understand God so deeply?? Apparently not. For here was a woman capable of the same insights, the same perspectives – and her child lives!  So then, WHY???  Why the hell is Graham dead?

The answer of course, is that Graham didn’t die so I could learn to trust more fully in God. God didn’t take Graham to make me a better version of myself or to reveal a Glory that was otherwise unattainable.  The truth is, there is no reason great enough to exchange for the life of my son, and even if there is – it’s certainly too big, too vast, too spiritual for me to even begin to catch a glimpse.

But the reality is, despite my resolve that Graham didn’t die for some ‘great reason’, I have been scouring this world for the reason.  Answers, gifts, silver-linings amidst the suffering. What could God have been thinking?  How big could his redemptive plan possibly be?  Where is my story in God’s great wonder… where is Graham’s?  Why?

And the thing is, I have seen shimmering slivers of explanation.  Lives that were impacted, relationships forged, infantile hope nurtured and developed into meaningful, massive beauty. But whether I’ve realized I was doing it or not – I’ve been collecting these bits and pieces desperately… and much like a starved dog who was given a bone, I have guarded these treasures with pathetic pride… delirious commitment… They are MINE – earned and not gifted – and if I can only collect enough of the goodness, I could amass something so great, so valuable, so beautiful I might someday be able to offer them as ransom for the life of my son.  Somehow, I will find a way to trade it all in for the only thing I really want.

I can’t, of course.  Get him back. I know this, and I know how pathetic I sound, how broken I am, but the allure is powerful, and I forget… I forget my redemption won’t be found in this world.  I forget.

Until I remember… until I catch a glimpse of myself hovering in the corner, salivating over a bone, numbly fixated.  In this moment of clarity, crazed desperation bubbles up and I claw away at the scarred, scabbed remnants of myself – scream at the tissues to suffer and bleed!  I look deep within and growl with ferociousness, “There is no salve for this – stop looking for it!”

However, as the moment of intensity inevitably passes, I admit that the numbing of pain is a natural desire, it allows me to survive, keep going… day in and day out… a lifetime stretched before me.  Meaning is a balm that gently deadens the rage, and my belief in ‘purpose’ has softened the sting of loss.  However, my dependence on this belief has organically developed into a demon all its own…  And so, I can’t stay here… searching, salivating, contented…

It seems I may wander forever.

“If you had been here…”

IMG_0980“If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Martha dared to look into the face of her Lord and claim this truth. Can you imagine… Her rage and her sorrow? The love and the loss that flowed through her in that moment, standing in the very presence of her God but forevermore absent from her brother.

“If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

She was right, of course. Jesus chose not to travel to Bethany when he heard the news of Lazarus’ illness. A choice that suggests that Jesus himself agreed with Martha’s assertion – If he had been there, Lazarus would not have died, and so Jesus could not come… Did not come… So that Lazarus might, in fact, die.

For surely, if he had rushed to Lazarus’ bedside, the breath of life would have spilled out of him. Jesus saves, he lavishes life. It’s what he does – who he is. We only have to ask – believe – and goodness, hope, glory overflows. Life abundant. Grace sufficient.

But without Jesus’ presence – his power – Lazarus died while his sisters looked on, helpless, and the women buried his body even while pondering the absence of their Lord.  They mourned in a spirit of confusion and disappointment. And so it was, Jesus didn’t come to me either, on the cold day in February when I needed him most.  I asked him to.  I expected him to… but he didn’t come.

“Lord, if you had been here, my son would not have died.”  It’s a bold truth, but one I believe adamantly. Jesus didn’t come that day, apparently on purpose, and he didn’t come the next day or the day after that, and even now – I wait.

I just don’t understand!! If Jesus wanted Lazarus alive, why wait until he was already dead??? And if Jesus is in fact coming again, promising to bring with him eternal life for myself and my son, why did he have to leave at all??

“The purpose of the illness is not death, but glory.” Jesus explains gently. His cryptic words express the intentionality in Jesus’s delay… while his tears express the great cost. Lazarus had to die, in the same way Jesus had to die… and Graham too… It’s not about death at all really… and it’s also all about death, somehow.  I feel confused but also full of wonderment.

I wonder if the very reason Jesus left this earth for heaven all those years ago, was for the same reason he waited to travel to Bethany until Lazarus was already dead and buried… Perhaps he left us here, amidst the confusion and disappointment, so that my son might die… That I might share in the story of Mary and Martha, that I might share in Christ’s glory… so that Graham could too.

Regardless, Jesus has promised to come, and just as he made his way to Mary and Martha… To the remnants of a shattered family… He will certainly come to me, and so I wait in ruin and with expectation, because when Jesus did finally show up, even the filth of decay could not hold back the life that spilled from him!

“Lazarus come out!”

I can almost taste the glory of that moment – of my moment yet to come!


imageOver the past several months my husband and I have been applying for disability and life insurance. So much red tape… I’ve had three separate interviews regarding my medical history, pregnancies, doctor visits, medications… They ask mind numbing questions regarding dates and time periods… The anxiety is overwhelming as I try to give them what they are asking for.

Due dates, death dates, how old, how long, where was I? Who was? Before or after? Happy or sad? Everyone is especially interested in the antidepressants and sleeping pills I took after Graham’s death. I had one final interview to seal the deal… But I’d been putting it off. I hadn’t really thought through the ‘why’, I just couldn’t seem to make the phone call.

My agent kept calling to remind me, sending emails and texts… I felt so humiliated every time I had to tell him I hadn’t done it yet… And I couldn’t begin to explain the truth – I couldn’t articulate my brokenness, I couldn’t begin to understand it myself…

How every date in my life, every experience, every medication is mixed up with the life and death of my precious son… How explaining it all to a stranger who didn’t care was somehow just too much… How I couldn’t physically make myself pick up the phone, dial the number and tell a stranger that the death of my son made me crazy, but I wasn’t crazy anymore… when of course, I am.

Deep in the darkness of my heart and soul, I am fucked up. I can’t even dial a phone number that I actually want to dial. I can’t stomach the fact, that to a faceless voice on the other end of the phone, the whole of Graham’s life is nothing more than a prescription for antidepressants.

And so, the agent kept texting and calling, becoming more and more perturbed. “Your application is being deactivated, you’ve run out of time,” he finally explained. I had waited too long to do this seemingly reasonable thing.

In a rush of humiliation and frustration, I called the number… And began answering more of the same questions. My heart thudded inside of me, my hand quivered in my lap.  As sweat oozed from the back of my neck, my mind went slowly fuzzy.  All I could see was Graham’s face in front of me.

“Would you consider yourself cured?” the stranger asked robotically.
“Yes,” I said dully.
“So, you are no longer experiencing any symptoms?”
“Right, I’m fine now.”
“Well, thank you for your time. That’s all we need.”

I hung up the phone and threw up.

I have come to see beauty in the ugly. Goodness in the suffering. It’s true after all and it’s also just a coping mechanism.

Real brokenness is a fucking shit hole.

Hi, Friend (part 2)


400610_683860053586_1183745968_nHi, Friend. You came back… thank you.  Let’s dig in a little deeper, shall we? There‘s a plethora of opinions and resources on how to handle a child-lost parent, how to love someone who suffers, how to support those who are broken… Do’s and don’ts, advice, how-to’s, tips and tricks, personal stories, etc. etc.  Some tools are great, others are so personal or so disconnected they kind of miss the mark.  So here’s my own personal list of insights, I have no idea how universal my experiences and opinions are – they’re true for me… for right now anyway😉

  1. You can always speak Graham’s name and include him in our family whenever it feels right – it always feels right to us.
  2. You are always welcome to ask questions about my son, and enter into his story in big or small ways.  I love him! I love sharing him! His memory is full of shadows but I promise they don’t diminish the joy.
  3. I’m always thinking of Graham. I’m always aware he’s not here. You don’t have to worry about reminding me or saddening me – I’m already there – whether you can see it or not. More times than not, I welcome a moment to share that burden with someone else.
  4. Tears don’t bother me.  Not your tears, not mine.  I cry a lot. I need to cry a lot.  If you find you’re censoring yourself so as not to make me cry, please don’t.  I know it’s awkward and painful, but it’s real, and I much prefer that to a superficial alternative.
  5. I love children – I love blond boy babies and kids with long legs and round heads, I especially love 11 month olds and 2 1/2 year olds. I love remembering my son, and the vibrancy of flesh and blood help to freshen my memories.  There’s ache mixed in with the enjoyment of other children, but it’s worth it. Your children are worth it and your happiness doesn’t cause my pain.
  6. I don’t have a my-baby-died trump card on suffering and sadness. Brokenness is everywhere -100 different versions of brokenness -I see it all with weary eyes. I can do brokenness.  There’s no need to compare your hurt with mine. I don’t need more of God’s grace than you do, I have all I need. We both do.
  7. Don’t let me fool you, I often come off as stronger, healthier, braver than I really am. I can say things that should rip my heart out but my voice doesn’t even waiver and my eyes remain painfully dry. It’s not that it doesn’t hurt, only that a choreographed version of myself has developed over time.  This stoic warrior persona tends to be my ‘first responder’ allowing me to function in day to day chores and interactions.
  8. I work hard to maintain sincerity, honesty and vulnerability but if you find my tone too mechanical or empty, I invite you to chip away at me – it doesn’t take much to find tender pieces of my heart. However, if you’re going to take me up on the invitation – please be gentle – maybe use a cup of coffee and a quiet moment.
  9. Lastly, a great practical means of meeting me where I am is with the simple phrase, “How’s your grief today?”  With these simple, intentional words you help teach me you’re safe and committed, and that you see me just as I am. When in doubt, hugs work too. Even silence.

Hi, Friend. (part 1)


Hi, friend. Well, we’re not quite friends yet, are we? Perhaps we just met. Maybe you reached out, maybe I did… Did I seem desperate? Awkward? I’m meeting a lot of new people these days. I’m grateful for the opportunity, but the process is often uncomfortable and leaves me emotionally jumbled.

Maybe I seemed a little too eager, a little too happy… a little intense in my commitment to connect, to interact, to be honest but still likable.  Perhaps I seemed a little too sad.

Maybe I found a way to attach words to the ugly in my life, and you came here looking for answers you’re not sure you’re allowed to ask.  Maybe you unsuspectingly ‘friended’ me only to stumble upon my little corner of internet. Maybe you’re curious or concerned. Confused or saddened… Maybe I scare you a little.  Regardless – here you are – peering into the deep darkness of my story.

So, umm… Welcome.  Sorry.  Thank you, perhaps?  I trust you’re safe, but forgive me, I don’t know you’re safe… This is a vulnerable place to be.

You don’t get to know Graham.  In fact, if I hadn’t mentioned him, heaved out a glimpse of our story into your path you would never even know he existed…. I’m not sure I can find the words to describe the injustice and heartache that accompanies this truth.

You also don’t get to know the me I was before he left us… To be honest, I wish we could have met a few years ago instead of now – I imagine you would have liked me better. As it stands now, you will find me entirely incomplete. I am endlessly weak, when I wish to be strong. Empty when I want to pour out, dull where once there was vibrancy. You’ll find that, much like a toddler child who insists scraps of paper or bits of rock are somehow precious – I offer up the broken pieces of myself to anyone who wanders close. I don’t know what I expect you to do with these fragments of me – I’m at a loss most days, myself.

I imagine I might look rather pitiful as I pick through the ruble trying to gift away the bits and pieces… but I hope you see a little beauty too, because much like the child – it’s all I have to give.


2013-12-24_19-01-21Grief is like a hole, dark and deep. I sat at the bottom for long while, nursing the wounds of descent. I laid amidst the cold dank shadows, lost and lonely.

After some time I was able to lift my head upward and believe in the promise of a sun… but I couldn’t see it and I most certainly couldn’t feel it.

Later I began moving and as I shuffled through the enclosed emptiness I soon realized that there wasn’t anywhere to go but upward. If I was to move at all, it was to leave this place… To seek the sun of the promise, and so I did.

The ascent has been slow and tedious… days, month spent on a single step. I have crumpled and fallen, re-injuring delicate wounds. The work is grueling and the moments of triumph are soaked in bitterness and exhaustion.

But the sun did show up.  The fresh air blows free.

I do, however, look downward often, and as I squint into the abyss I realize there isn’t actually a bottom… there was never a bottom. The higher I get, the more vast the darkness becomes. The more expansive the hole. The higher I rise, the more I am certain that I can never escape the hole.  It goes on forever.

For every accomplishment, for every step forward, the sun shines brighter but the emptiness grows bigger. I don’t leave it behind… It grows somehow, and it is always surrounding me, no matter how high I get, how warm the sun… I’m always in the midst of endless, forever loss.

The beauty only demonstrates the destruction. The hope reveals the sorrow. I’m moving forward, onward and upward… But the ache isn’t left behind – it’s not down deep in the shadows – it’s everywhere, all around me… only now there is sunshine too.

I’m Always Sad

imageThe vet tech standing before me cuddled a sleepy Boston terrier while gently but firmly extending its small, furry leg toward me. I reached out and grasped the little leg as I prepared to place a catheter.  The technician suddenly gasped loudly.

“Are you feeling sad today?” she probed intently. We both held onto opposite ends of the little dog’s leg as I paused.

“Are you sad today?” she coaxed again. Without taking my eyes off the dog’s vein slowly growing plump with blood I answered her quietly, causally even, “I’m always sad.”

“I feel it!” she gushed, her eyes welling with tears. “The moment you touched the paw I could feel your sadness move through the dog into me.” she explained earnestly. As my brow silently wrinkled she uncomfortably exhaled, “I just feel so sad…” Tears filled her eyes and began dripping down her cheeks.

Floundering to fill the awkwardness with sound she kept rambling, “This hurts so badly! I don’t know what to do – can I give you a hug?

Without looking up, without making eye contact I gently smiled, “No, I’m ok… it’s ok. I’ve gotten used to it.” I carefully laughed a little, trying to reassure her.

“How can you live like this?” She pondered out loud, wiping away her tears and clearing her throat.  I looked up carefully, still avoiding eye contact and gratefully realized she wasn’t expecting me to respond.

We have worked like this before, each with a hand on an animal’s leg, connecting with one another through the shared touch of someone’s pet… apparently my sadness has never before transferred through flesh and fur and blood. Was I anymore sad today than any other day? No. Maybe… I don’t know.

I haven’t ever given much credence to the concept of a person’s ‘aura’ or ‘energy’…  Although, it’s only lately that I have any real concept of the great magnitude of things which are and also are not… So perhaps the essence of a person, is in fact something real, a thing that can drip and slosh.  Certainly this sadness – my sadness – is powerful. Excruciating power. Maybe it did spill out out of me in that moment… Maybe it was drawn out…

I remember in the early days of my grief literally placing my hands over my heart as I interacted with people – I was trying to contain the gurgly, leaking hurt – the pain inside of me was so very powerful, so very deep – I felt compelled to control it somehow. But despite my inclinations I couldn’t begin to contain it – it kept going and going forever, completely unmanageable… and so it gushed from within me, drenching everyone in my vicinity.

And somehow over time my heart began to scar around the torrent, a layered deformity of containment. Instead of moving through me, it comes along with me somehow. I don’t spew forth anymore… but maybe I still stink of the wreckage, maybe it’s the essence of my gift.

Maybe sometimes it eats through a bit and I barely notice the failure of my deadened tissues until someone suddenly gasps and I realize my sadness has leaked out.

3 Minus 1

IMG_1076“How many kids do you have?”  “Do you plan on having more?”  “How old are your kids?” “Wow, you have your hands full!” “Awe, girls – have you ever wished you had a boy?”

Some consider these types of questions and comments personal and simply not appropriate in many situations.  I get that. Others would furrow their brow in confusion if you tried to convince them of this.

Raising children is undoubtedly a bonding aspect of humanity – one that equalizes every culture and even time itself. So, as a species created for community, it only makes sense that a thing that threads us together is a thing we use as our bridge – our connection into relationship. That being said, humans have an uncanny knack of really messing things up, and what ‘could be’ often turns into something that ‘shouldn’t be’.

Regardless of your version of right or wrong in this case, the only thing we have any control over is ourselves. So, what questions do you choose to ask? Why do you ask them? And how do you answer?


While my mother-in-law was in the hospital, I chitchatted with a very pregnant nurse who was loving our family well.  I asked her lightly if this was her first child, and then was quickly reminded that discussing someone’s children is never really a ‘light’ topic.

“This will be our first living child,” she answered directly.

I was so proud of her. Surprised, yes – even I wasn’t expecting this answer – but she didn’t apologize for the truth she shared, she didn’t even take a deep breath before unveiling a piece of her pain with me.  I asked and she answered.

I gently expressed sorrow and asked a simple followup question about her lost child’s name, just as I would have if she referenced a living child at home. She described her small daughter, now missing from the world, with a resignation of loss and love that I recognized.  We didn’t share a sobfest, no intense or uncomfortable words or silences. Her vulnerability opened the door for me to share a glimpse of my own loss, and together we bridged the divides of humanity in an authentic and meaningful way.  I’m glad I asked and I’m glad she answered.


I wonder if most people, when pressed, wouldn’t have any idea why they’re asking a question about the nature or number of my children, and it probably doesn’t really matter to them if I have 3 kids or 2. But it matters to me, and to be blunt, if you’re going to ask the question, it should matter to you too. 

As for my response, I’m still working on that… Three. Two. Three minus one.  Two living, one dead. Two living with us.  Three, but…

On the occasions I’ve answered with ‘three’ there is invariably a follow-up question.  If it’s their names, I’m in the clear and things can remain simple. But if they ask about ages…. We’ve gone too far and I can’t keep it simple anymore.  I suppose I could try 6, 4 and almost one.  But this feels too much like a lie…

He’s not almost one, he’s dead.

Revealing the secret is often difficult, but invariably it’s the follow-up that proves to be the most challenging.  What subsequent information matters most? The age he was? The age he should be? How long he’s been gone? How do I blurt this all out casually and carefully without losing the natural rhythm of the conversation the overall intent?  How do I package up something which can’t possibly fit in any box?

There is no perfect way of course – and I suppose that’s the point.  My story is a messy one.  It’s shocking and painful… yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The brokeness is mine to bear, and I often remind myself that my pain is not caused by an unsuspecting stranger or even the inappropriate ones – for even if everyone said all the right things at all the right times, I would still hurt… I also try to remind myself that it is not my responsibility to shield anyone from the pain that drips out of me…

That being said,  I do wish that folks would understand that a question about someone’s children is a sacred question, even if we’ve been conditioned to think of it as casual.  If you ask the question in a grocery checkout line, fine, but it is no less sacred, and if you had forgotten that we live in a world where babies sometimes die, where apparently happy people carry brokenness inside them, then perhaps today is a good day to remember…

Beautiful Ugly


During even the darkest days of grief, I had within me a drive to keep moving.  Forward, onward, inward… I shied away from very little.  Church hurt, but I kept going – sat in the front and let the tears flow unhindered.  Shopping hurt, but I kept going – walking to the boy aisles to quietly suffer.  It hurt to share my story with strangers, but I sought out opportunities.  There was very little that didn’t hurt actually, but somehow hurting held a glimmer of hope, a shimmer of aliveness.  If I wasn’t hurting, I would be ‘nothing’… because I certainly wasn’t capable of anything else. Hurting seemed just a little better than nothing (on most days anyway).

I knew the day would come when our family of four would take our first family photograph without Graham.  It was a horrible prospect.  Of course, I could have held off indefinitely – I could have simply chosen to never book a professional session ever again.  I could have at least waited longer… But it was almost because I knew it would hurt, that I wanted it.  I wanted to hurt, to move through yet another horrible ‘first’.  Another ‘normal’ that was suddenly anything but.  Hurting was the closest thing I had to living and I was desperately trying to hang on.


We scheduled a time in early winter.  I wanted bleakness.  I wanted ugly. I quietly hoped that beauty might somehow show up, but I knew it wouldn’t be possible without the barren truth of pain and emptiness.


To be honest, I don’t have much to say about the day.  I remember the kindness of the photographer and the greyness of the sky.  I remember my daughters’ laughter.  I remember the heaviness in my eyes, the first time wearing makeup since his funeral.  The air was heavy with damp coolness.  Autumn’s colors fading away into foreboding winter.


Near the end, our sweet photographer folded up the bulky baby clothes quilt and stuffed it into the small egg basket that only a year before had been filled with a giggly Graham.  A few balloons waved in the wind and his green crinkle monster was reverently placed in the center of it all.  As she snapped a few memorial pictures, I leaned back into my husband’s arms.  My goofy girls suddenly started jumping and dancing from behind the camera’s eye, “Say cheese! Big smile!” they hollered.


“Are you making the monster laugh?” the photographer coaxed, and my girls became even more animated.  The three of them pretended together… they found a little life amongst the wreckage.

The tears finally came and the hurt plowed me over.  The injustice.  The wrongness.  The ugly.

When we got home that evening, I crawled into bed and stayed there for almost two days straight.  Evan cared for our living children and sheltered me while I gave way to consuming nothing.


When the pictures arrived I looked at them but couldn’t see them.  I mostly let them be, toying with plans for a Christmas card, maybe a thank you around his anniversary.  Today I was inspired to try again.

Today I see a lot of things in these photographs.  Mostly I see the beauty.



Photography by Seven Acre Photo