Monday, June 27, 2011

Anticipating our angels birthday....

In a few days time it will be Savannah’s twelfth birthday. The feelings this week aren’t foreign to me now. The wishing she was here….the sadness that comes and goes and the flash backs to when she was here. And it’s like for the next few days I have to go to that place where I don’t want to go. Like the dentist to get a tooth ripped out, or to get a painful injection. I can’t avoid it or put it off or just cancel it out with a phone call.

I’m aware I should be celebrating Savannah’s birth and how through her death I have found new meaning in the world…how, because of her existence, she has morphed me into a better person. But the reality is my stomach churns at the thought of Thursday. No matter how hard I try to alter the ‘what is’ and the ‘if onlys’ in my head. And that’s the reality.

                              Me and my God Mother of Mum's best friends, in Australia

On Saturday a card arrived for us from my God Mother in Australia, Jan.  Inside the card she’s written... “Thinking of you on Savannah’s birthday. Many others whose lives she touched will be thinking of her also.”

Jan’s words weighed heavily on me….these ones in particular…” lives she touched and thinking of her.” And apart from thinking how special it was of Jan not to just write “thinking of you” I considered exactly what those words meant…..

I thought how every year those who knew Savannah always call, or email, or text or do something in her honor….just as if she was alive.  And that gives me comfort….to know she’s made an impact on my friends and family.  That maybe, she’s shaped their lives in a positive no matter how small, tangible way.

I think her time both here and in heaven has taught them how fragile life can be….like a broken heart…. and how important life and love is and stuff money can't buy!   How to take nothing for granted......and, how our children are gifts to be treasured and nurtured and loved…for they can be taken away in a second!  I had to learn that the hard way.

Our last lot of visitors left on Saturday. So I feel I’ve had a small hiatus from my usual obsessive sad thoughts about Savannah’s upcoming birthday.  Like I’ve had my pause button hit for the past few weeks. But yesterday the clock started ticking again. 

And I rang my Dad to tell him about Jan’s card….his advice; “What I do is just not think of it…or try not to anyway because it’s just too sad.”   I wish I had my Dad’s resilience.  But I don’t. I just can’t shut it out.

                Demps writing on her sister's balloons on Savannah's 7th birthday.  It's tradition now...

Dempsey too reminded me this morning that it’ll be Savannah’s birthday in a few days, and she added; “We have to get twelve balloons this year to let go to heaven for Savannah Mummy!” And I did wonder how we’ll get 12 helium balloons home in 100 degree heat in the back of my car without some of them popping? Dempsey can’t wait…..but I can.

I know in the next few days I’ll go into a bit of a fragile state…..but I’m ready for it these days.   I just have to let go and work through the hard bits.  And I know Friday will be ‘just another day.’  But until then, I’ll think of my God Mother’s card, and her words, and how lucky I am to have family and friends that will always remember Savannah….that she was here and that she made an impact in her time on this beautiful earth.

I know I’ll survive her birthday as I do every year. I’ll find the strength inside BECAUSE of the support I have around me. And those family and friends will never understand just how much I love them for that.

Savannah's 3rd birthday....the last one when she was well enough to enjoy it

But I’d still rather be shopping off a list, for a beautiful twelve year old blue eyed girl….maybe I’d be buying her first bra….or a Justin Bieber shirt…a pretty handbag or some make up. Instead I’ll buy her a card, as I always do, and write in it as if she was here….and put it with the pile from previous birthdays, that seems to be getting bigger….like she would be if she were here........

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A dream come true!

"If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse."  -  Walt Disney

Inside our letterbox on Saturday, wrapped in a plain white envelope, was one of my dreams come true…..I ripped open the cardboard…..and out fell a book!

The book is from The Open to Hope Foundation. A foundation established by Dr. Gloria Horsley, PhD, MFC, RN, and Dr. Heidi Horsley, PsyD, LMSW.  Both are bereavement specialists who started the popular website which has scores of articles, a radio show and many priceless articles from different authors....all who’ve experienced grief and loss and hope.  It’s a ‘go to for grieving people” and a site I regularly submit articles to.

When they contacted me about submitting one of my stories I couldn’t really believe I would be privileged to be in the pages of this wonderful resource for others who are desperately searching for hope after losing someone beloved.

I remember when we were told Savannah was going to die…I was panicked, lost, confused and helpless at how uncertain and out of control our life had become.  My total belief system in life had been rattled….I wanted to read how a mother survives the loss of a child…how you keep going?  How you learn to find meaning in the senselessness of it all?  How, after my daughter was no longer here how my world would have any value ever again?  I wished for a book just like this one.

Wrapped inside each story is the same theme….HOPE….like a promising hug!  From others who have been to that place where I once was….trying to find strength and determination and the courage to go on after being clobbered by grief.  To find answers to questions from those that have lived through the heartache and understand..and have survived!

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would one day be writing to help others survive one of the most profound experience in a person’s life.  Or that I’d have my name in a book alongside the likes of Katie Byron, or Mitch Album, or acclaimed Doctor’s…..or simply others dealing with hope.  I know I’ll never be the next J. K. Rowling, but this is a start…an encouraging one. :)

This book would be a wonderful gift to someone who has lost a loved one…when flowers don’t seem appropriate, or you don’t know what to say.  This book will help them. And for that I am grateful, honored and thrilled to be part of such a fantastic project.

I can’t even begin to describe my excitement as I flipped through the pages and found the article I had contributed.  WOW WOW WOW! And people say dreams don’t come true! :)

I wish my mum was alive so I could phone her and scream down the phone line about how excited I am…
However, Saturday afternoon Dempsey again reminded me how truly fortunate I am.  Watching me flick through the pages she asked,  “Can I read your story Mummy?”   I did contemplate for a second if it was appropriate reading for an eight year old….but Dempsey has been on this journey too…..and I don’t sugar coat it.  I watched her sit with my book, on our stairs and read my words.  I took a mental photo of it to put away in my proud moment memory bank!

And after she’d finished, she looked up at me, smiled and threw her arms around my neck. “That’s a good story Mummy…..can I read some of the other peoples stories later?”   “If you want to Precious!” I replied with a smile, feeling sappy and teary eyed.

And with that, Demps handed me back the book and rushed outside to join our visitor’s boys in the Jacuzzi. I joined them too…with my feet up on a chair, reading some inspirational stories that filled my blue cup with sunshine….

I watched Dempsey giggling and splashing in the water and amongst the commotion and ruckus of the kids innocently enjoying ‘life’… hit me that Dempsey is a survivor too!  And I pondered over what her dreams will be in the future?  However, I know amongst the chaos of living and the unpredictable moments we are dealt with…that dreams can and do come true. 

I hope one day to have my book published about my journey..about the loss of my sister, mother and Savannah...and I know through this experience, anything is possible!  If you can dream it, you can do it…….

Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss

P.S;  I don't get any financial gain from any sales of this book, however I would like to give a copy away to one of my readers who leaves a comment...I'll get Dempsey to draw the name out of a hat! :)

The book is available on at bookstores nationally or through the website

Monday, June 13, 2011

The drips of grief like a leaking tap!

The last two weeks our home has been like one of those revolving doors at a posh hotel, that seem to go round and round and round!

We’ve had visitors from Japan and Australia staying with us. And it seems as one zips up their case and lugs it to our door, there is another friend arriving with a fresh case of clothes and hello hugs. It’s been fun……exhausting, but fun to have our house filled with friends. And it’s taken my mind off the fact that it’s only 16 more days until Savannah’s twelfth birthday.

One of our visitors from Oz...Trishie with Savannah...she was like her second Mum.

Demps at 5 with Trishie...

                                        Demps 4 years on in the same spot..Dempsey calls her "Mummy Trishie!"

I’ve had the usual longing for Savannah since our visitors departed, however while they were here it’s been like a respite not to have my thoughts consumed with her upcoming special day.

Dempsey as usual, has lightened my mood and made me thankful. She had her last day of third grade on Thursday. And as I stopped the car at her school, all I seemed to see was 6th graders laughing, dressed in pretty dresses, walking through the school gate under a bunch of billowing green and gold foil balloons. And I thought of our angel Savannah, how it’d be her last day of Elementary school. How she’d be graduating…..

I wondered what sort of dress she would’ve chosen, and how proud I’d be to watch her mark such a massive milestone. And just like that, the drops of grief started dripping like a leaking tap. But not for long as Dempsey’s infectious enthusiasm at finishing her last day…along with straight A’s snapped me back to the present.  

After school I took Dempsey and her BFF Marlee to our local outdoor mall and watched them giggle and run through the fountains that shoot out water like magic, in tune with loud music. Sitting on the mall bench, waiting for the other mums, I found myself grinning. Grateful for Demps and her happy spirit!  Alive... dancing silly moves, dodging the water, oblivious to any self consciousness....

Yesterday, Peter and I sat anxiously on uncomfortable wooden chairs, amongst rows of other Mums and Dads as we listened to Dempsey perform at her first ever piano recital! She hit every note perfectly……and of course I applauded louder than any other parent in the room! :)

I think after surviving grief your joy is so much more intense…the small moments so much sweeter than before. And at the end of the concert, Dempsey proudly accepted her first certificate from her Russian teacher to say she’s passed level one of piano…..beaming at Peter and I and finishing the day with an eager beaver bow!

Dempsey with her Piano Certificate...and me, proud Mamma! :)

However, yesterday afternoon, high on life after the concert, we headed to a friends birthday party. Sitting at the kitchen table, with a few other mums, the conversation turned to a few deaths that have hit our community. One was the death of a jogger, who left behind two children, the other, a teen suicide. I was heartbroken to hear of these families and what they must be dealing with because of their loss…their pain fresh and intense……

But, as I listened to one of the mums keep saying over and over “How sad!” and “Gee, that’s so tragic” I began to feel weird, the comments hit a nerve. I felt like a freak, and I wondered why they didn’t mention my losses. It was like there was a huge elephant in the room, namely me, the mother of a dead child, who DID have an idea what it felt like for both the mother of the girl and also how the husband and children of the jogger have just had their lives ripped apart!

And the more the girls chatted, the more my destructive self pity seemed to grab hold. I sat there jiggling my leg under the table, wanting to escape. And I kept telling myself to “Stop it Dee!” But I couldn’t, I felt hurt that no-one acknowledged Savannah! And just as I was about to make a run for it, out to the naive men outside around the BBQ, my gorgeous friend Mary must’ve sensed my awkwardness. She smiled at me and said, “It’s Savannah’s birthday in a few weeks isn’t it Dee? June 30 right? I imagine the next few weeks will be hard on you guys.” My eyes started to blink quicker and quicker, to hold my tears… “Yes, it is Mary, thanks for thinking of Savannah.” I said. And there it was – acknowledgement that someone understood that all the chit chat about children and death is still difficult. It always will be. But I appreciated the invisible rope Mary threw me, her compassion…….

And unlike a dripping tap that can fixed, I can’t call a plumber to stop the constant drip of tears or grief that I know are just simmering under the surface in the next few weeks. But I’ll try and stay busy…..and try not to have a pity party, however I know if I do slip, it’s ok. It’s normal. And that’s something I didn’t understand before.

I also know this afternoon we have a fresh family of Aussies about to invade our four walls. I’ll be at the door to welcome them tonight with a smile, knowing that the noise their two boys and Dempsey will deafen us with will sidetrack the drips and the pangs of pain. They’ll be a welcome distraction...they'll help put sunshine in my blue cup…and plug up the drips....for now anyway! :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Be happy with what you have." :)

The old saying “Be Happy with what you have” was my mantra today!

This morning I went to our filing cabinet to find an old email regarding insurance and came across a bulging file labeled “Savannah/IVF”......I wanted to read the emails in that file!  And I knew it might be like ‘curiosity killed the cat’ however, I know when to pick my battles these days…I felt strong enough to open up a piece of my past.

After our daughter Savannah died, Peter and I tried to have another child through IVF pre-genetic diagnosis.  So for a few minutes, I stared off into space and imagined what our family dynamic would be like if we had Savannah here with Dempsey and maybeeeee, just another one or two kids?  It wouldn’t be Brady Bunch perfect, but it would be different to my present reality.....the house wouldn’t be as quiet, my saucepans bubbling with more food, and maybe the dinner table a scene of sibling squabbles.

We had 6 attempts at IVF in Australia.  And I am grateful for the opportunity.  You see through some sheer chance of fate…Peter and I share a faulty gene in our DNA…the same one!   What are the chances of meeting another person with that same faulty gene, of falling in love with them and marrying them and having a one in four chance of producing a child with a deadly disease because of one shitty rogue gene?  Well it happened to us. And I’ve given up looking for the answer as to ‘why’…I’ll never know.

One of the many letters I found in the file about 1 IVF attempt.....

Before Savannah died, the pre-genetic testing through IVF wasn’t available anywhere in the world. So we were fortunate to have had Savannah’s DNA tested so the Murdoch Institute in Australia could determine exactly what her DNA chain was made up the IVF lab could create a probe to test our embryos for her terminal disease.

I remember sitting in the geneticists office a few years after she died like it was yesterday…..and being told with such sterility that I gave her this faulty gene, and Peter gave her that faulty gene….and I remember the burning in my throat and my eyes and the pain in my heart at the tragedy and my guilt of it all….how through an instant at conception, Savannah had been doomed because of two faulty genes we’d given her.  I felt like a failure as a mother…why Savannah?   Why couldn’t she have only 1 faulty gene, like Demps does? But I’ve found it destructive and exhausting to mindlessly go over and over the ‘whys.’ All I know is the ‘what is.’

And for anyone going down the route of IVF, it’s a rollercoaster ride.  It’s a foreign way to try to be blessed with a baby.  You’re pumped full of drugs and injections and invasive ultrasounds where they stick probes inside you to study how many eggs your ovaries are dripping with……like some alien grape vine. But it’s worth every second of pain and heartache if you are one of the lucky ones!

But for some reason another child wasn’t to be for us….. and there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough, no more tries, no more wishes….just an impossible dream that you have to accept.  And decide to be happy with what you have…

So yes, I’m at peace now that we tried to give Dempsey a sibling….however, there is often a twinge of regret and envy when I do see families of 2 or 3 or 4.   I know how lucky we are to have Demps…things could be different and I could be grieving the death of both my children. I saw desperate mothers at the IVF clinic with medical files as big as a bible….and still no baby!

At our last IVF attempt, two happy, attractive young scientists entered my cubicle to show me a Polaroid of the two embryos they would implant….they pointed out Savannah's mutations on a graph in my medical file and compared it with the embryo's, which were different.   And it hurt me that they saw Savannah as some data on a piece of computer print out.  I mulled over and over it for the next hour while waiting in that cubicle.  And when it was time to leave I asked the nurse if I could see those same two pretty young  scientists….from out of my wallet I handed them a photo of Savannah.

                                              This was the photo I showed the scientists of Savannah

And I told them with tears how she loved books and swimming and honey on her toast...that she had such a happy spirit!  I told them in hope that next time they deal with an anxious Mum, as they study the mindless medical DNA, they see a little girl or boy, who was precious, who was on this earth and made a difference in their short time here.

However my reality now is I do have Dempsey, and she is enough.  She will always light a spark of gratitude inside me of just how blessed I am.

                            Love her......

Being alive is full of risks and maybes!  However, being happy is connected to learning to cope and accepting life as it is….like a connect the dot drawing in one of Dempsey’s coloring books. To make the best of it!

Yes, “Be happy with what you have” often whispers to me like a long lost friend. However, I can always imagine……as long as I’m content with our little family, just the way we are!