Sunday, December 10, 2017
Some of the parallels between our two families are uncanny, especially the changes to both of our families' composition over the past year...
I lost my Mom last year on November 23rd, 2016.
Vivian lost her Mom November 30th, 2016, just 7 days later.
We lost Rowan (10 years old), the baby of our family, two weeks after that, on December 15th, 2016.
Charles and Vivian lost the baby of their family, Olivia (6 years old), only 5 months later, on May 19th, 2017.
Rowan and Olivia's bodies are now buried just ten feet apart in a beautiful cemetery in the Texas Hill Country.
So much loss. So much change. So much emptiness.
But so many memories. So much that we can relate to each other about. So much to still be thankful for.
I don't even think I can adequately explain in words (yet) how much our two families have needed one another. We have leaned on each other, prayed for one another, attended grief share classes together, broken bread together, shared wine together, cried for one another, and yes, even laughed with each other when we didn't think we ever could again.
Charles and Vivian have two beautiful teens, Alyssa and CJ. We have our two gorgeous older kids too, Zoe and Ian. When we get together with each other, sometimes it's the laughter of those kids that wakes us up, gives our hearts hope, joy. It is one of the most beautiful sounds a grieving parent can hear... the sound of their other children able to laugh again. Don't get me wrong, we have watched and heard them cry together (and separately) too. They miss their younger siblings so much. They want them back just as we do. But their ability to heal and laugh, is God-given, and helps us heal as parents in the process.
Now, as for us parents...
It's not as easy.
We say it all the time, sometimes one of them, sometimes one of us, but it usually goes something like this: "No offense, but I would rather have never met you all, known who you were, or built this friendship with you, if we could have Rowan and Olivia back...but since that isn't the case, we thank God daily for you in our lives."
We decided shortly after Olivia passed, as we did our best to help their family through the initial process of making funeral and burial decisions, that we should spend the holidays together this first year, especially Thanksgiving. We decided it would be best to just be together, where we all understood or "got it". So we invited them to our home the day before Thanksgiving for more than a "Friends-giving", for a true family "Thanksgiving", because they are family now. You can't go through what we have all gone through together in the past 12 months and not become family.
I knew I wanted to do something special to represent our missing loved ones at the table this year, but the thought of setting an empty chair for all four of them was gut-wrenching. If I did four empty chairs, one for Rowan, one for my Mom Debbie, one for their daughter Olivia, and one for Vivian's Mom Lupe, 1/3 of the table would be comprised of empty chairs. Eight of us would be seated. Four places would be empty. It sounded too overwhelming. Unreal. 1/3 gone. I couldn't do it.
So I changed gears...
Instead of empty chairs, I planned and set a "Heaven table" in the kitchen. Our kitchen table seats four. I bought a nice table cloth, got down our Monet Mikasa wedding china (that probably hadn't been used in fifteen plus years), I made a beautiful vintage teal and orange pumpkin centerpiece to match the china, got ceramic pumpkin place card holders, wrote each of their names on them, designed flowers for the table (with oranges and purples of course), and framed photographs of our moms and babies who were dining in Heaven with Jesus this year.
I wanted it to be a surprise...it was.
And I think it turned out perfect.
I was even finally able to put up seasonal window clings in the kitchen windows again (something Rowan and I looked forward to doing every holiday).
Now, the rest of the family did eat together at our long dining room table (except for Zoe who had to work until later that night)...
...and we did set one single empty chair at the head of the table there. Pippy Lippy, Olivia's special stuffed poodle sat in the same seat that she sat at last in our home, when we made all of her favorite foods.
(The creamed corn was closest to Pippy, because it is one of the last foods Olivia ate in that very seat:)
At the end of the day, I knew without a doubt that both of our families were still
...that it was still indeed a
...and I was reminded that I love all of these faces, as well as each of these broken hearts so very much.
God is healing us each daily, but together we are stronger.
Charles and Vivian, your shirts alone summed up the spirit and feeling of that day... when we once again broke bread, shared wine, grieved with Hope and remembered that we still have much to be thankful for.
Like the time we actually did get with all four of these precious members of our family... our Moms, and our babies...
We are one day closer to joining you.
Thank you God for aligning our families years ago, before we ever knew how much we would actually need to lean on each other.
The "empty chair" custom is wonderful! I am in no way discounting that heart warming tradition, of representing your loved ones who have died. And I realize that I could have set just one chair that represented all four of them collectively. But, this Heaven table just felt better, at least this year, at least for me, and I hope for their family as well.
I thought they each deserved to be recognized, honored, remembered, represented and yes, even grieved, separately...but seated together, as we imagined them in Heaven. This Heaven table worked for us...but to each his own. Do what you feel led to do, what helps heal your heart. This is just our Thanksgiving story...this year.
Friday, December 8, 2017
I'm sure everyone here in Texas that received the pre-Christmas miracle of last night's snowstorm was blessed and amazed by it. I know we were here at our house. Last night I posted pictures of the Texas "blizzard", the gorgeous blanket of pure white snow that resulted from it, and the special heart shaped holes where the grass was still peeking through in our back yard.
Then, we awoke to a Winter Wonderland this morning (and a treasured two hour school delay:).
Then, as if that wasn't enough, as I walked out to the car, this lone orange flower was peering through the rocks of our front pathway, against a fully blanketed 3 acre yard of snow.
I knew instantly that it was yet another sign from our angel Rowan.
I had a lot of plans today, but that beautiful orange flower made me push them all back an hour or two, because I knew immediately that I wanted to drive out to the cemetery after taking Ian to school, to see what it looked like covered in snow. I was afraid to go after all my appointments and errands, because as we know, this is Texas, and our Narnia-like snowfall could be gone in mere hours, if not faster.
When I arrived at the cemetery, in the already gorgeous hill country setting, my breath was taken away. It was so serene, so pure, so heavenly. I was the only one there. There were no footprints yet. There was only a cloud-like cover of pristine white snow covering the entire grounds. I cried instantly. I felt like I was seeing what heaven looks like. When I got out of my car, I felt like I was actually there.
It wasn't actually snowing anymore, but the wind was blowing the snow from the large trees, making it "flurry" down all around me.
I went to Rowan's grave first of course.
I cleaned up his marker a bit, thought about what this must look like from Heaven, and prayed that he was enjoying the view. I wished he was there with me to make snow angels. I remembered how he had "go somewhere where the snow is up to my knees" as one of his bucket list items. Of course we didn't get THAT much snow, but it made me smile to think about it anyway.
I visited each of his friends sites that are also buried there, and I messaged their parent's pictures of their children's resting places, covered in snow too. I knew they would love to see how heavenly it looked too, how peaceful.
I drew a heart in the snow at Olivia's grave and sent it to her Mom and Dad.
Her Mommy messaged me back that her sister had wanted to skip school this morning to go build snowmen for them. That inspired me. So I made a personalized snowman for each of them.
Rowan's of course had a heart shaped leaf on his chest.
Olivia's had a leaf for a bow, because she was never without a bow in her hair.
Justin loved spider man, so I tried to carve a web on his snowman's chest (but it was melting so fast it's hard to see).
Cristabella's was a little baby snowgirl, swaddled in a blanket, because she was so very young when she passed.
The hearts in the snow last night, the single orange flower in my yard this morning (that survived the rare Texas snow storm), those were all wonderful, welcome signs...but the peace and love that I felt in that small cemetery in the Texas hill country this morning, alone in the snow... that was more of a miracle than any of it. I felt the closest thing to happiness, the nearest thing to joy, that I have felt in over a year.
Thank you Rowan.
Thank you Olivia.
Thank you Justin.
Thank you Cristabella.
Thank you to all of Rowan's many other angel friends, buried elsewhere.
Thank you Jesus... Thank you God...