Letters for Ana

These are letters that have been written to my 15-year-old sister. She committed suicide on January 2nd of 2008. She left nothing but questions and the details that started to unfold after her death are a bit fuzzy and hard to understand. I am sharing them here because I want a place to save them, as they have previously been posted on social media. Surprisingly, I only wrote three. Her death is hard to discuss because it makes people uncomfortable and as a family we don’t talk about her much either. It still stings and always will.

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January 3, 2008

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I cannot sleep. I suppose that is normal given the circumstances. I have so much to say to you and ask you; it’s hard to know where to begin.

I feel like there is a lot that I never told you before and in retrospect I wish I had. I have known you since you were 4 years old and even though we are sisters through marriage, you are my sister nontheless and I love you just as I do Jamie. Maybe I never really showed it or said it enough but it’s true. I always felt bad because right around the time that Jamie was really starting to get to know you; you know the age where you were beginning to blossom and and we could actually have conversations with you; well just when that started happening, I moved to Grand Rapids. I feel cheated out of time spent with you.

I tried to be as much of a big sister to you as I could. You and Jamie were closer though and I was okay with that because at least I knew you were talking to someone. I will never understand what you did or why you did it. There are so many unanswered questions that will remain that way. I keep thinking that I must have missed something. I checked your myspace profile frequently just to make sure you were staying out of trouble and I saw that you’ve been sad and I read your headline, and while I was concerned, it seemed to be typical teenage girl angst. Why didn’t I say something?

I didn’t see this coming at all. When I saw you on Christmas Eve(which looking back now, thank God Jamie did lose her job and could make it) you were a little withdrawn but that was typical of you, espeically being around all adults. But what is strange is you seemed excited about some things. Like the ring you got for Christmas, Tanis’s pictures, you were showing us how the keyboard works. Everything seemed normal. I wish you could have said something to someone….anyone.  I never thought I could feel this much pain. Over the past 5 years, there’s been a lot of tragedy in the family but nothing compares to this.

You took away your pain and left us in so much more. My heart aches; my whole body and being aches. Where are you now? What are you doing? Did it hurt? One thing that I would like to make sure of is that you watch over your mother. She lives and breathes for you and now that you’ve taken that away from her, we don’t know what will happen.

I was so excited for you to be an aunt. You still will be, just in a different form. I miss you more than words can explain. Forgive me for being mad at you right now though…I cannot help but feel some anger towards what you did. I think I am more hurt by the fact that you did not even realize how many people love you and are affected by your death.

I can only hope that you feel pain no longer and that you are peaceful. Please remember to check in on us from time to time.

I love you more than you could ever know.

Your big sister,

Courtney

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February 3, 2008

It’s been over a month now since that horrible day. I still cannot believe that you are gone. A month usually seems like such a short amount of time but in this case it feels like we’ve already had to live too long without you in our lives.

I dream of you all the time but they aren’t the dreams I want to have. Jason tells me it’s too soon for you to come to me in my dreams but I wish you would anyways. The only thing I dream of right now is your death and I wake up crying every time.

Part of me is still mad. I am not really sure who to be mad at anymore though. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s God, sometimes my father, myself  or just anyone. None of this is fair and I know how childish that sounds but it’s true. I mean what the hell was God thinking when he took you from us? Didn’t he know you had plans and a life to live yet? And then my thoughts go back to what the hell were you thinking when you did this to all of us??? How could you? I read an essay that you wrote just a little over a month before you killed yourself and you had goals. You wanted something from life and wanted to make a difference and instead you hung yourself from your parents basement. I don’t understand any of it and I will never have my questions answered and that makes everything so much more difficult. You left us all with a piece of our hearts missing. I know mine will never truly be whole again.

Ugghh! It’s all so frustrating and none of it makes any sense. I keep trying to put pieces together as if it were a jigsaw puzzle but nothing fits quite right. I know that you are at peace now but unfortunately, we are not and I am not really sure if we ever will come to terms with your death. It’s too hard.

The tears don’t flow quite as often anymore but the hurt still remains. Everytime I look at your face I reach out to touch it as if it were really you. I miss you. I am so scared that I will start losing pieces of you in my memory. Please don’t let that happen. I love you. I hope you know that.

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January 2, 2013

5 years ago my world was turned upside down. 5 years ago you left us in such a hurry that you didn’t even say goodbye.

The grief consumed us whole in a flash flood of tears. I can still recall every detail about when I found out that you had died. I couldn’t believe it was true. Surely, it was a mistake and someone would realize it. But no one called to say it was a mistake. No one could save us from the pain of our hearts breaking.

People said that time would make it better. I wasn’t sure how it would be possible for it to ever be better and maybe better is not the right word, easier and less painful perhaps. That first year was especially difficult. Tanis was born shortly after you died and I struggled with becoming a new mom and dealing with the hurt of you taking your own life. I would find myself crying over anything that brought me joy, like a sunny day, because it didn’t seem fair that you weren’t around to feel the joy of daily life anymore.

But as people did say, time helped. Eventually I started to heal. Though, I mourn for you knowing that I missed out on getting to know an amazing person. I mourn for the 20-year-old woman that should be here today. I think about what you would look like. I see the pictures of your friends and it seems cruel that they are getting older, while you are forever frozen at 15. We have all learned to cope with your death in our own ways. Our hearts may have broken but when we healed our hearts grew bigger, though still scarred.

I wish you could have met your niece and nephew. You would have absolutely adored them both. They are pretty amazing kids. Tanis is a spitfire and hilarious. Jacobi is more laid back and always on the move. You would have enjoyed watching them grow.

One of the hardest parts about your death is suicide is a dirty word in our society. People don’t want to talk about it; maybe because they are afraid. It can be frustrating because others don’t want to hear about it. But for those of us that have lost someone to suicide, we need to talk about it and we want to remember the person we loved so dearly without the stigma.

Oh, Ana. There is so much I could say to you and wish that I did say when you were still alive. You were such a sweet girl and so loving. I wish I could have shown you the amazing person you were before it was too late. You are forever in our hearts, Ana. I love you and miss you.

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Lost: Finding and Leaving Benjamin

When I arrived on Benjamin Ave, I was completely lost and broken. I was only 25 years old, married for just over a year and on the verge of a divorce. My 15 -year-old sister, Ana, had killed herself just a year prior and I was still learning to grieve her loss. I was a young mom of a very high-maintenance (though quite lovable) toddler and I had never felt so alone in my entire life. It felt like the weight of the world was crashing down upon me and so my husband and I separated and I moved to Benjamin Ave with our daughter for a fresh start. I didn’t know it then, but that  house on Benjamin would become my refuge – the place where I learned how to be whole again and the place where I learned how to love myself.

Benjamin

Benjamin

The first year I lived there, I remember how big and empty it would feel at times, especially during the lonely nights and days that my daughter spent at her dad’s place. It felt like there was a hole inside me. I started taking classes to fill up the time and the process of finding joy began. Enrolling in these classes gave me some intellectual adult interaction that I very much needed and also reminded me that I am passionate and there’s a much bigger world out there to care about, too.

It was on Benjamin that the tradition of Thursday night dinners began with my best friend. We had been friends since my freshman year of college and used to see each other and talk all the time. Yet as adults, we found life would often get in the way and so we blocked out every Thursday night. Those nights were a truly healing force as we made dinner together and often drank too much wine and stayed up talking way past our bedtimes. We helped each other through some pretty rough patches thanks to Thursday night dinners. Eventually, we opened up the dinners to others and soon it became a gathering of friends. It was pretty amazing for a couple of years. Life changed, my friend moved across the country and my daughter started playing sports and schedules became more chaotic for everyone so the tradition ceased. But those nights will always hold such a special place in my heart and I will forever miss the one-on-one conversations with my best friend in that yellow and brown kitchen on Benjamin.

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My friend reading to my daughter after a Thursday night dinner.

My husband and I found our way back to each other during that year and after a full year of separation, he moved in with us. It was by no means easy but marriage never is and we were able to figure it out. I had started to heal some of those gaping wounds and soon ventured out into the community. I met more neighbors and formed true friendships with these amazing people. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to end up on Benjamin and find myself amongst a group of so many like-minded and wonderful individuals and amazingly enough, many of these neighbors also had kids and they became my daughter’s playmates. I found a community where I felt well connected and whole. I filled a hole in my heart and found peace that had been previously lost.

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My husband and daughter in our front yard

First day of preschool

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Together on Benjamin

We have spent 5 years in this place where my daughter has grown into an amazing and boisterous 6-year-old and where I’ve grown into an adult content with who I am and where I am in life. But it’s time to move on. We’ve packed memories and trinkets into boxes and my husband and I are creating a home together now.

You see, Benjamin has always been kind of mine. My husband moved in because that was one of the conditions of ending our separation but his complaints of the place never really feeling like it was his home are valid. After all, I created this space and allowed the healing to begin there without him. It was what I needed at the time and I do not regret a second of it, not even the separation but the time has come to leave.

We have bought a house, not too far from where we live now, and we will move next week. We will move into a home as a family and make it ours. I will not lie and say I am not sad. I have cried as I’ve placed pictures into cardboard boxes and sifted through our belongings. My heart aches when I think of the little girls next door that we have grown to love and my daughter plays with on almost a daily basis. We will miss the organic flow of the girls traversing back and forth between houses. This place means more to me than anyone will really know and I will remember it quite fondly. But I am also incredibly happy because I know what this move means to us as a family. We will start this new chapter whole – complete and happy, not lost and broken. I can’t imagine it getting any better than that.

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Peace at last

 

Intentional living in the context of your neighborhood

The Eastown Community Association encourages neighbors to intentionally connect through its programs and events. Last year, the ECA constructed raised garden beds with the purpose of renting them out to community members. This garden has given residents the ability to not only grow plants but to grow relationships by getting to know one another through the day-to-day activities that go along with gardening. People are finding common ground with others they never would have even met before. This simple act of cultivating food in close proximity to others creates a bond that would be missed if one chose to merely use their own backyard. The garden additionally brings volunteers together a couple times a year for landscaping and a garden walk.Image

Another event that brings everyone together is the Annual Picnic. Each year dozens of volunteers join in to spruce up the parks in the Eastown neighborhood. After the park clean-up, families come out to enjoy food, music, games, and company. There is something for everyone. This is another example of neighbors intentionally gathering. Watching neighbors come out of hibernation to greet each other after a long winter and new friendships form each year is one of my favorite parts of living in this urban setting in my opinion.

The Eastown Community Association works as a great catalyst for intentional living in our neighborhood through its initiatives and events. Intentional living refers to every action taken being done with purpose, a conscious intent, and fulfilling core values through those actions. When I chose to live in Eastown, I chose it with purpose and a commitment to raising a family in close quarters with others and also with the knowledge that I would have the opportunity to extend my family to my neighbors.

I sometimes ponder if I could move outside of the invisible walls of the village my neighbors and I have constructed for those things that some claim we are missing out on in the city– bigger backyards, neighbors further apart, less noise. But then I would miss out on walks to the local park where everyone seems to gather as soon as the sun starts to shine, children running in, out, and between houses on the street, open doors with open invitations, and community bonds.

I moved into Eastown with the intention of becoming a part of a close-knit community and with the hopes that this community would become like a family. I volunteer with the community association because it brings me closer to that purpose. I become friends with my neighbors and get to know them deeper than a superficial level because it provides nourishment for my soul. We all have our own way of connecting. For some it may be reaching out during hard times and for others it may random acts of kindness shown by mowing the neighbor’s law.

Whether by simply gathering together on front porches with a glass of wine in hand, participating in the events that are organized by the ECA, or coming together as a community unit when a neighbor’s house catches on fire, each person here intentionally choses to connect with each other in one form or another. When a person choses to live in Eastown, they aren’t just buying a house, they are buying into a community.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls and a quantitative change in our lives.” So now I ask you, what changes are required of you to intentionally connect with your neighbors and build a stronger sense of community?

 

This article was published on April 29th, 2014 at therapidian.org 

 

Updates

I have a couple of posts I will be adding within the next week that are unrelated to pregnancy loss and then I will share everything that’s happened with testing since I lost the last pregnancy in November. The short of it is, I’m still not pregnant and it may be a longer road for me than for others but I’ve found my happy again. Yes, we are still trying just not so hard at the moment. We are getting ready to move in a couple of weeks and have had lots going on so I’ve been pretty absent here. I’ve appreciated everyone’s love and support over the past few months and I’m looking forward to reconnecting soon. :)Image

Remembering Grandpa

ImageTen years ago today, our family lost one of its pillars – my grandpa, Robert F. Welch. To many he was a hard ass and he earned that title but he softened with age. He was the man I looked up to the most in life. Grandpa taught me the value of an education and hard work. I remember sitting around my grandparents’ kitchen table after school and working on my homework. He would make me not double check my math problems, but triple check. If there was a word that I wasn’t sure about, his response was so frequently, “Look it up,” that I learned to keep a dictionary next to me while doing my homework.

Every afternoon at 4:30, he would sit in his chair and watch Jeopardy. I loved that show because of him. He knew so many of the answers that I always thought that he should have been on it. To this day when I watch Jeopardy, I think of him.

My grandfather never went to college, which always amazed me because he was the smartest man I knew. His shelves were filled with books, mostly about history. Grandpa was also probably the only person that I could have a conversation with in our family about aquifers and he would actually find it interesting. 

My grandfather’s love for learning was so great that he found the time to teach my cousin, who suffered from dyslexia, how to read. That was no easy feat for either my cousin or Grandpa. A few years later, he started tutoring children at a local elementary school in reading. He may have been slightly cantankerous at times but the school and the children grew to love him the same way we all did.

ImageThere are times when I find it hard to believe that my husband never even met him or that none of his great grandchildren will know him. I do know that I am eternally grateful that I had the chance to really get to know him, which wouldn’t have happened if my mother hadn’t decided that we should move to Illinois from Georgia when I was in 5th grade.  So thanks, Mom, for giving your daughters the chance to know your father. It was an honor.

 

We love you and miss you, Grandpa. Image

Still a family of three. Another loss.

Still a family of three.

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I lost another pregnancy this week. I’ve had a hard time articulating into words how this one has felt. When I lost the baby in March, it was completely devastating. I became obsessed with gaining some sort of control over the situation because the grief was so great. I counted weeks and knew when all of the milestones of the pregnancy would be. I felt the need to take charge of my body. I analyzed everything and started charting, researching, and looking into every possible reason on why it happened in the first place. I became obsessed with getting pregnant before the baby’s due date arrived.

Then over the summer, after a heart-to-heart with Jason, I  learned he wasn’t ready. My heart broke again. How could we not be on the same page? Didn’t he know that I needed to have another baby? I knew we couldn’t replace the one we lost but I couldn’t bear the thought of not even trying to fulfill the dream of having another child. But I also knew that I had to respect his feelings and allow him the space to grieve for the baby that would never be. I relinquished control. I stopped charting. I allowed myself to have other dreams and set new goals. I accepted our loss. I accepted the reality that we are a family of three and for all I knew we may always be.

I had, also, decided that although we weren’t actively trying that I would make an appointment with the doctor at the end of the year and talk to her about some of my concerns to see if they were valid. I started charting again so I could have some evidence and basis for the conclusions I had come to after the miscarriage. Then, miraculously, out of nowhere, I found out I was pregnant again. No appointment necessary. I cried out of joy when I first find out. Shortly after, that joy turned into fear. Fear because if what I suspected was correct there was a real chance that I could lose this one, too.

I called my doctor and was told there was no reason to think anything was wrong. After all, 15-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. I was just unfortunate last time but there was no reason to think this wouldn’t be a completely normal and healthy pregnancy. I didn’t entirely buy that so I called another doctor. He said the same thing. I gave myself hope.

But something didn’t feel right. I knew that. I told my husband that I just didn’t feel pregnant. But I kept the false hope because it was all that I had. I called another doctor but deep down knew it was too late. So I woke up early on Tuesday morning and went to the pharmacy to buy pregnancy tests. I didn’t hold out much hope anymore. I could barely see the positive lines on them. Once again I called my doctor and was referred to the lab to check my levels. They called later in the afternoon to confirm what I already knew, my levels were incredibly low and I was likely going to miscarry. And I did.

I am not devastated like last time. I am at least grateful for that. I am numb. I am frustrated. I am mad. I haven’t really been able to cry for this one. I can’t even say I lost a baby. Instead I refer to it as a pregnancy.

After two miscarriages in eight months, I will now be referred to a specialist and be considered high-risk and diagnosed with fertility problems. There’s always the chance that I was merely unfortunate twice in a row but it doesn’t really matter. I’m not ready to think about that yet. I’m too mad. Mad at the universe though, not the doctors. I am mad because I had finally let myself move on and accept my family of three. I was happy again. That has been taken away from me and I’m pissed. So for now I will take the next few days to myself and try to process this anger and frustration. I don’t suspect that will go away anytime soon though.

 *Disclaimer. I appreciate everyone’s support and concern and I love you all. However, please keep comments about how it just wasn’t the right time or how we can always have another baby to yourself. Thanks for understanding. xo*

Conscious Conception (reblogged)

Conscious Conception (reblogged)

This post is a reblog from Thegodmolecule (http://thegodmolecule.tumblr.com/post/48146343226/here-is-a-tribe-in-africa-where-the-birth-date-of). I had to share it. The idea of a truly conscious conception is a new one to me. I never tried to become pregnant before. Now that I am trying, I find myself taking the time and space to visualize and prepare. I am looking forward to a whole different experience in preconception.

17 weeks.

17 weeks. It doesn’t seem like a long time. Image

I remember that when I was pregnant with my 5-year old, I found out I was having a girl when I was 17 weeks along. I should be 17 weeks pregnant now. I should be finding out the sex of our baby. I should be planning. Instead, I am trying to figure out what went wrong. I keep searching for answers. I have spent hours paying attention to every small detail of my body and researching. I even have a couple of theories, unfortunately it also means that I have convinced myself that I will have a difficult time conceiving again.

Looking for answers and monitoring my body has given me back a sense of control over this helpless situation. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about how much I really wanted this baby. This pregnancy was completely different than my last. Everything about it felt different, including my own personal emotions. Physically, I felt different and had a gut instinct that something was wrong very early on but didn’t say anything because I thought it was paranoia. Emotionally, I wanted this baby more than I had ever wanted anything before. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted my daughter when I was pregnant with her but she was unplanned and a huge surprise so I was scared more than anything else. This time I was able to revel in the idea of a bigger family. I knew it would be okay and that I wanted to be a mom of another child. This baby was loved and dreamed of before I even knew I was pregnant.

I imagined myself pregnant during the summer, holding a newborn baby in the fall, baby-proofing in the spring. I imagined my daughter as a big sister. I imagined my husband as a father of a second child. All of these things were real in my heart.

When I found out the baby didn’t have a heartbeat during a routine ultrasound, my heart broke. I was devastated. Nothing about that day will be undone. I prayed for a miracle, knowing it wouldn’t come. Then I prayed for peace and solace. I found that in my friends and my husband. My husband has been my rock during the miscarriage. He has given me space to grieve, holds me when I cry, and most importantly understands the depth of this loss. I have found support in places I didn’t even know I would have it. Strangers from church. Friends across the country. Family I’m not in contact with often. People who heard my story but didn’t really know me. So many have reached out and offered their condolences, offered words of support. This is how I know that at the core of humanity is kindness and love for all.

Prior to having a miscarriage, you hear of it happening to others because that’s what it is – something that happens to others. You think of it in those terms even though statistically it can happen to any woman. It’s a sorrowful tribe of women that you never think you will join. Maybe this is in part due to not talking about it. I’m not entirely sure why there is a culture of silence surrounding miscarriage but I know it makes it more difficult to grieve. Breaking the silence and putting my thoughts on “paper” provides a cathartic outlet. I can’t imagine I am the only one that feels this way. Our stories are all that we have. Our stories carry the legacy of our babies that can’t be with us today. I am willing to share mine because it is really not just my story. It is OURS.