Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Grief at Christmas

Those moments of heartache can hit you at any time, but during the holiday season it seems to happen more frequently. With a Christmas tree, gifts, and family time, there are extra triggers coming at you. I think the worst part is knowing that the "whole" family will be together, when really it won't be. Someone very important is missing and we cannot FaceTime or make a phone call to help fill that void.

Today it is a rainy, gloomy day; just like it was after Tenley died last year. I am home alone while my husband works. I had many plans for the day but couldn't bring myself to do any of them. I felt unmotivated and lazy. Finally, I decided to get up off the couch and get ready to run some errands and  enjoy this time to myself. As soon as I thought "enjoy time to myself" I was paralyzed with sadness. I froze in my tracks and tears started to flow. I sat down and cried for the rest of the afternoon.

I am spending another Christmas without my daughter. She should be here getting into the wrapped presents, crawling all over the house, and keeping me busy. But instead I am home alone, childless.

I try very hard to make the most of the situation and be grateful for my alone time or time with my husband without any distractions, but I would trade it all to have my little girl here with us.

This time of year brings on the what ifs, we could've, and it should be's. I know there are so many people who have a loss that is triggered this time of year, just like me. I pray those of you who need a little extra hope and joy in your stockings this year. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tenley's Birthday

November 22nd was Tenley's birthday. It marks a year since I was blessed to meet my daughter, watch her fight for her life, and let her go. 

To celebrate her life we decided have a memorial for her with our family and closest friends. Because she had died so suddenly last year, we couldn't bring ourselves to have a service for her. This seemed like a good time to bring together our biggest supporters to celebrate and grieve Tenley's life. 

Our family set up some beautiful pieces to represent Tenley, as well as candles and flowers. When I arrived at the house I was overwhelmed at how beautiful everything looked, and how sad this day was. "I am spending my daughters birthday at her memorial," is all I kept thinking; this isn't how it should be. As people began to arrive I was sick to my stomach. 

But as I began to visit with my family and friends I felt grateful that on this difficult day we had asked all of these wonderful people to surround us with love and support. 

We then shared a few words with our family and friends about how our precious little girl changed our lives. She taught us how to come together as a family in a difficult time, how to persevere in a difficult time, and how to look to God for comfort and healing. 

My dad shared 1 Corinthians 13:12 MSG: "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!" And and to that he added, "When that mist has cleared, we will see clearly our Tenley Grace and know her as if we spent a lifetime together. And there will be a reunion like no other." 

After we took some time to share, we continued a little tradition that I started on her half birthday, and blew bubbles to heaven to celebrate Tenley. 

I have learned this last year that there is hope; my hope is in God who will make all things good again. We were not promised a life without pain and tears, but if we look to him we are promised an eternity without pain and tears. And my tiny Tenley is doing just that. So I celebrate not only her 30 hours of life on Earth with me, but also her eternal life with a loving, healing God. 

Happy Birthday baby girl. Your mommy loves you more than words can say. I look forward to day that we reunite in heaven. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Little Pumpkin


Although it is very hot still in California, Fall is definitely in the air. Everywhere you look there are pumpkins; pumpkin lattes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin patches, pumpkin everything! I used to love Fall with all that pumpkin goodness, the weather changing, and Thanksgiving. It was my favorite time of year. This year I face a different Fall season filled with grief and heartache.

It was this time last year that I was pregnant with Tenley. We carved pumpkins about her, took pictures my belly weekly, dreamed of all her life would be and looked forward to meeting her in March. I remember telling Brendan how excited I was that we would get to take her to a pumpkin patch next fall and dress her up as a ladybug for Halloween.
Oct. 2014

Each season brings a new set of things that I grieve. Because of this it feels like there is no growth or change in my broken heart. This cycle becomes very discouraging. I know it has not even been a year yet, but surviving eleven months of this pain has been so hard and seeing no progress makes it even harder.

This Fall pumpkin carving, pumpkin spice lattes, or bright red leaves can't make me happy. Not without my my little pumpkin here...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tip of the Iceburg

The struggles that people see are just the tip of the iceberg; underneath there is much more.

Grief brings many struggles. There are the obvious ones like missing the person that is gone, wishing you could see them one more time, and accepting that life will never be what you had hoped and dreamed. Then there are the other parts of grief that people don't usually see, mostly because those of us grieving choose not to show it. 

One of the more obvious struggles I have... babies, babies, babies. Everywhere I look there are babies. I cannot avoid them! And when I look at those babies I feel broken hearted and robbed. I never got to experience my baby like most people get to experience theirs. Seeing a baby makes my heart ache deeply and makes me begin to ask the impossible questions again: Why did she have to die? Why couldn't I save her? Why us? And the list goes on. 

Another challenge is with friendships. Not only am I missing and grieving my daughter, but I am losing friends because I cannot bear to be around them while I am in this pain. So many friends have or are having babies, but this causes a separation between me and those friends. I cannot relate to them, we have nothing to talk about...there is an elephant in the room. That elephant is that you have a healthy baby and I do not. Some people clearly think I just need to get over it and deal with it. They talk about their baby, show pictures, and don't think twice about the pain it causes me. Other people are sensitive and kind. But even if they are sensitive and kind, what are we left to talk about? I cannot handle talking about their children, I have no children (and in the back of my mind fear I may never have children), and I do not always want to talk about my loss and pain. So we are left with small talk. 

The other big struggle I have is feeling like I am letting down the people around me because I am not able to be who I used to be. As I have written in previous posts, I have learned to smile and laugh in the pain. I have also learned to show my true emotions and share my experience with people. But there are times when I cannot socialize and visit with friends, I cannot laugh at jokes, and I cannot be my usual outgoing self because the grief has paralyzed me. I often worry that people are uncomfortable or disappointed with how I have changed. 

As I analyze and process my struggles, I must remind myself of the hope that there is for healing and hope for the future. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

It Comes in Waves

It has been almost seven months since I held my daughter and kissed her for the first and last time. I have thought about that moment at least 50 times a day since then. What an impact her tiny, short life has made. My world has been turned upside down. 

Last month was Tenley's half birthday. The grief was heavy that weekend, but my husband and I vowed to celebrate her in our grief. Being a teacher, I have shared Tenley's story with my students and their families, so I decided to include them in the celebration by blowing bubbles up into the sky for my girl. I was overwhelmed by the joy of my students and how excited they were to celebrate Tenley's life. 

This past month we have had many ups and downs. There are days when I miss her so much that the heartache becomes all consuming. There are other days that I try very hard to ignore the pain and sad reality of our situation and keep busy. And then there are days like today, when I think "I can do this... I can survive this."

At this point I no longer cry every day, most days, but not every day. I call that growth! I have been able to talk about Tenley without crying...more growth! And the biggest one... I found hope.

Before Tenley came God was good. He had blessed me, I loved him, He loved me, we were cool. After Tenley I had many questions and so much doubt. How could a loving God leave me in world to suffer without my daughter? Why didn't He save her? Where is He? Does He care at all, or just sit back as God of all and watch? I was so angry.

I do not have those answers, and as long I am on this Earth I will not have them. But I know that God has been present during this time. I believe that He has brought specific people into our lives during this time to support us and encourage us. He has given us the strength to get up every day and keep living. Most of all, I believe that He has wept with me. He is not sitting back watching with a straight face, he is watching me cry and feeling my pain with me. He did not want this to happen, but He will make good of this. The good will never balance out the pain, but there will still be good. Tenley's life will make an impact, God will be sure to do that. I still believe God is good, he has blessed me, and I am not alone.

I write these words to you on a good day. Not every day do I feel hopeful or blessed. It comes in waves (I never really understood that until now). That is why I write; so that on a bad day, when a big wave has hit, I can read this and remember that there are better days, I have hope, and I am not alone. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Not Your Average Mom

Today is Mother's Day, but I keep telling myself it is just a Sunday. That's hard when Mother's is plastered over everything. It is all over social media, television, the radio, and in the stores. Even if it weren't all over the place, it is stuck in my head. Today most people are celebrating with brunch, BBQs, and family time. I couldn't bring myself to do any other that today because it is not the Mother's Day I dreamed of when we were pregnant with Tenley.

I am a mom, but don't get to BE a mom. Those two things are very different. I had a child, I am Tenley's mother. But I do not get to do the motherly things that other moms get to do. I do not get to tuck my girl in every night, give her baths, hold her, kiss her, or sing to her. That's what I ache for today and every day, doing mommy things with Tenley. I'm not your average mom, I'm a grieving mom.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Always On My Mind

This last month has been very difficult for us. Tenley was due March 14. On that day we went away just the two of us to distract ourselves and try to relax. The day was better than we thought it would be; it the was the next day that things took a turn. When we got home from our overnight getaway the reality that we were arriving home without a baby set in. I was no longer "supposed to be pregnant". Now I was supposed to be home with a newborn.

Ever since that weekend we have grieved for her as if she died just yesterday. We ache for her and the life we should be living with her in it. People have told us that the hard times come in waves. This wave is a long one. I wake up every day hoping the pain will be less than the day before, but so far that has not happened. 

One of the hardest parts about this time of grief is that it has been a few months since her death and in those months people have begun to forget about what we went through and what we are still trying to get through. All around us people are having fun and sometimes they expect us to be able to do the same thing. Impossible. I am a grieving mother; my daughter died only 4 months ago. How can I be expected to go out and have a good time and forget that? When we try to go and have fun there are always things that trigger the pain and that is when the fun becomes impossible. 

I know it won't be this way forever, but as of now I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just have to trust what others say when they tell me that it will get easier. It's that magic word... TIME. Everyone tells us that is what we need to give ourselves...TIME. I'm sure it's true, I won't deny it, but man how much?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Three months

Yesterday marked three months since Tenley was born and today marks three months since she passed away. I cannot believe that three months has gone by. It seems like just yesterday I held her in arms and kissed her sweet face as she drifted to heaven. 

Most parents take pictures of their three month old babies and post them online saying how time has flown by. My heart aches that I will never do that with Tenley. Instead of taking pictures of her, loving on her, and gushing over how much she has grown, we missed her and I cried for her.

My husband and I decided that we needed to take a few moments somewhere peaceful to remember her. We went for a drive not too far from our home and found a beautiful spot to spend a moment commemorating her life. We climbed a little hill that overlooked a small valley and the mountains all around. It was the greenest I have ever seen California hills; the birds were singing, flowers blooming, and the sun just peeking through the cloudy sky. It was perfect. There we spread some red rose petals and a single rose for her. Although it was a painful moment, it felt good to do something for her. We have spent so much time grieving that we haven't celebrated her life since she has died. And her life is well worth celebrating, because it has changed ours forever. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Truth Behind the Smile

Every day is different for us and we can never predict what kind of day it will be. Some days I can barely contain my tears, and other days I am numb to everything around me. Brendan has days where he is so angry that he struggles to make simple decisions, days when he seems to be okay, and other days he is numb. The pain is still as deep and awful as it was the day Tenley died. We are beginning to accept that this pain is something we will have to live with for the rest of our lives. Whatever the future may bring, it will not bring Tenley back. The whole in our hearts cannot be filled.

I can best describe the grief as a thick blanket of fog that lays over us. It makes it hard to see things clearly, to make decisions, and worst of all it makes it hard to see anything good around us. We have found that we can easily pick out the bad things going on in this world and struggle to see any good. We have learned that Earth is a place of pain and sadness. I know there can be happiness, but we cannot see it through the fog right now.

We have gotten to the point where we can get up every day, get dressed, and go to work. We have learned to smile and laugh when we talk to others. I can even say, "Have a great day," to people now. The smile is genuine, but know, that when you see us doing these everyday things, it is not because we are healed, happy, or moving on. That is us getting stronger. The more we live, the stronger we become. Each day we make a conscious decision to act in a way that will make us stronger as individuals and a couple.

Underneath what you see I am aching for Tenley. From the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night, she is on my mind. Some nights I even dream of her and how much I miss her. Every day I wonder why her life had to be so short. I know I will not have the answers until I am with her and our creator in heaven. Until then, I will smile, laugh, and function as I should, but behind what you see, the grief remains.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What is happy?

I feel like part of me is missing. Even in the moments when I am not thinking about Tenley and all that happened, I still feel this deep ache. It's exhausting living this way. Every day I get up and go through the motions. People ask me how I'm doing. I fake smile so people don't feel uncomfortable. I wish I could say... Horrible! I'm aching inside. It feels as though my heart has been ripped out of my chest. I have to try to function each day with this emptiness. The only word I can think to describe this is torture.

I don't remember what it feels like to be happy. It's been so long since I've felt it. I don't know what "having fun" is. I try to be more social and do things, but that doesn't make me happy. When I'm doing something I used to love I think about how easy it used to be to be happy. Now, happiness seems impossible. Sure I have calm moments, I can smile, sometimes even laugh. But it doesn't last long. A few seconds of numbness from the pain is all it is. 

I miss my girl. I want to hold her one more time. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Sundays are difficult. Tenley died on a Sunday, so each Sunday I count the weeks since I last held her in my arms. Seven weeks today. Every day I reflect on all that has happened, but Sundays I am consumed with those reflections. I think back to when we first discovered we were pregnant. We celebrated together that night. When we told our parents we celebrated with them at a dinner. We celebrated when we announced to our family and friends that we were pregnant. We had a celebration when we learned that it was a girl. And we celebrated when she was born. After she died these celebrations seemed so silly and sad. But today as I reflected I realized they were not. We celebrated Tenley's life from the moment it started. And we will continue to celebrate it.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Never Will

There are moments when the grief is so heavy that I feel like I cannot breathe. Those moments usually come after I have felt "normal" for a little bit. And the pain hits me like a block of cement. My chest gets tight, my heart aches, and I feel lost. Then I start to question the world around me and wonder how I got to this point. The pain is still so raw, as if she left me just yesterday, but it's been about seven weeks now.

I not only grieve the loss of Tenley, but also the dreams I had for her. While I was pregnant I would daydream about how our life would be when she was born. I imagined walking into her room in the mornings and her being excited for me to pick her up. I thought about how when she was hurt she would want me, her mommy, to comfort her. I was going to read her endless stories, teach her to sing songs to daddy when he came home, and do silly things just to make her laugh. But.... I will never see her smile or hear her laugh. I won't know the color of her eyes or if her hair was curly. I will never know if she was outgoing like me or quiet and thoughtful like Brendan. I don't get to go into her room each morning and greet her with a smile.

I torture myself with impossible questions- why us? Why did she get sick? Why couldn't anyone save her? Why didn't God intervene? While on Earth I will never have the answers, but I can't help but ask them. What mother wouldn't?

It's really amazing how someone so small who lived such a short time has impacted me so greatly. Being a mother, even for such a short time, is life changing. The love that I instantly had for Tenley is like no other I have ever known. That love is the reason that this pain runs so deep. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tenley Grace's Story

Tenley Grace came to us earlier than expected, and left us too soon. This is her story...

I was six months pregnant when, after a seemingly routine ultrasound, the doctor told us our baby was not growing as she should be, and we needed to check into the hospital right away. We had no idea that the next few days would change our lives forever.

At the hospital they found multiple complications with Tenley. She was a few weeks behind in her growth, there was not enough amniotic fluid, her bowels looked obstructed, and the cord seemed to be restricting blood flow. The doctor gave us different scenarios for possible outcomes- she may not make it to birth, she might make it to be birth and have brain damage and other disabilities, or she might make it to birth but not live long because of her health. I cannot express how overwhelmed we were listening to the doctor that night. We, wailed, like we never had before. What did I do wrong? How can this be true? Will I ever hold my daughter? Just a day ago we thought that everything was going to be okay, how wrong we were.

We both agreed that we would do everything we could to give our baby her best chance to live. That night I was up most of the night doing tests and they began monitoring her. The doctors said that this would happen until her birth, which could be months or hours away. But I was willing to do what ever it took to give my baby the best chance to survive. Every four hours I was strapped up with cords and monitors so they could track her heart rate. Each time I heard her heart rate drop mine did as well. I spent that night crying, praying, and talking to Tenley in my belly. I told her we could do this, we could fight together to get healthy so that I could one day take her home with me.

The next day brought more doctors, more bad news, more "worse case scenario" warnings, and more tears. Tenley's heart rate began to drop more often, but each time it would recover quickly. At this point I was beginning to accept the fact that I would be spending the holidays being hopeful in the hospital.

Saturday morning the specialist came by to check on us. He looked at her heart rate patterns from the night before and became very concerned. He decided to do an ultrasound to check her movement and heart rate. We found a steady heart rate, but she was curled in the fetal position and did not move for 45 minutes. Her best chance to live was if we did an emergency c-section, and had doctors watching over her around the clock in the NICU. Within minutes I was crowded by nurses and doctors prepping me for surgery. I was crying to them, telling them, "It's too soon, she needs to grow inside of me longer. She isn't ready... I'm not ready." They did their best to calm me and reassure me that everyone would do everything they could to save my baby girl. As they took me out of the room and we headed to the operating room I began to calm down. I realized that freaking out would not help her, me, or my husband. Brendan was with me the whole time, probably freaking out inside, but he stayed so calm and composed.

The surgery went well, and Tenley Grace Spencer was born on November 22, 2014 at 1:58 PM. Miraculously, she was able to breath on her own for more than a minute before they hooked her up to the machines. She surprised everyone by being the smallest baby ever in the NICU at that hospital. We called her our tenacious Tenley as she fought for her life. She was kicking and moving a lot and seemed to be doing so well, despite how shockingly small she was.

The doctor warned us that there is usually a 24 hour honeymoon phase before the complications begin. Despite our hopes that she should prove them wrong, they were right. For 24 hours Tenley did really well, and then the struggles began. They discovered that the bowel obstruction was so bad that her digestive system would not work properly. This meant that they could not feed her. Then she got an infection. She was so tiny and weak that she could not fight it. When we were with her on Sunday night she was no longer kicking and moving, she laid there sick and uncomfortable. It was so awful to see, we desperately wanted to take that pain from her. We felt helpless knowing that there was nothing we could do to rescue her from this. Her oxygen levels were going down rapidly and we needed to make yet another difficult decision, do we leave her hooked up while she lays there sick and dying, or do we hold her in our arms. We didn't know what to do. I felt like if we unplugged her, we were giving up on her and not giving her a chance any more. While taking some time to make the hardest decision of our lives, Tenley was making the decision for us. Even the best machines and doctors could not keep her alive anymore. We looked over at our tiny, frail baby girl and knew she was going to leave us.

Our parents joined us in the NICU to meet her, love her, and pray for her. Then came the best, and worst moment of my life. I held my baby in my arms for the first and last time. During the next 30 minutes we had with her, alive in our arms, we told her stories, I sang "Isn't She Lovely" to her, and we constantly told her how much we loved her. I kissed her face and whispered to her that she could go to heaven to be happy and healthy, and we would see her there one day. Then my baby, my precious Tenley Grace drifted to heaven while in my arms.

I wanted to take her pain...and I did. She is now happy and healthy in heaven, and I am left here with a deep pain that will never leave me.