Double Whammy, I Survived.

By Kate Morrow

Friends and family often comment on this past year saying, “I don’t know how you did it. You and Cam have been through more in a year than most go through in a lifetime.” 

 

I remember being eight-years-old and going to the beach with my family. Growing up in Savannah, our Sunday tradition was always the beach. My mom would pack a cooler full of treats, sandwiches, sodas, boiled peanuts, and we would spend the day there. Swimming, collecting shells, capturing sand dollars with our toes. If you grew up at the beach, you probably swam in the ocean frequently like I did and experienced the terrifying moment when a wave took you down. Tumbling beneath the ocean, sand in your mouth, saltwater up your nose, and holding your breath, you would hope to make it back to the top. As soon as you did and took a deep breath, another wild wave took you down. 

 

That’s what this past year has felt like as I experience two of the most traumatic experiences of my life back to back.

 

Grief-is-like-the-ocean-it-comes-on-waves-ebbing-and-flowing.-Sometimes-the-water-is-calm-and-sometimes-it-is-overwhelming.-All-we-can-do-is-learn-to-swim.-600x600

This past year I was thrown into a micro-preemie twin mommy life, spending 76 days in the NICU and another 200 in medical isolation, being forced to resign from my career, and then losing my father suddenly as soon as I was healing. I moved forward from this past year in a blur. I somehow told myself that if I got to a year, I would be okay. I felt so strongly there was healing at a year. There would be peace at a year. Life would presume normally at a year. 

 

As March 13, the anniversary of my dad’s death approaches, I realize I am so wrong. So, so wrong. The pain catches me nearly every day. I jetted out of a Target at 10:00 p.m. on December 23 and ugly cried in my car after it hit me that I wouldn’t be buying stocking-stuffers for him. I full on lost it at my best friend’s wedding in January and wept as privately as possible as she danced beautifully with her father. Dancing with my father at my wedding was one of the best moments of my life. Songs on the radio, memories— hit me out of the blue. Ironically, I was fine on the major holidays. It’s the little moments I have not prepared myself for that hurt the most and come out of the dark unexpectedly.

 

Having to experience amazing firsts with my one-year old twins while simultaneously havingIMG_0489.JPG to experience my sad firsts without him is cruel. It’s indescribable. 

 

But somehow, wildly, I am stronger. Not stronger in a “I don’t get sad anymore kind of way,” but stronger in a “I am wiser beyond my years kind of way.” I feel so different than many of my close friends. I have experiences many of my best friends have never experienced yet, and I hope they never experience, but that is what makes it so tough and such a lonely grief journey. 

 

I’ve experienced what it is like to watch your child suffer and the many scary thoughts that run through your brain while your child is in the NICU. What if I have to say goodbye? What if they make it but are mentally or physically impaired, and I have to come up with the strength to become a parent to a child with disabilities? What if I can’t keep them safe once we leave the NICU? 

 

I’ve also experienced watching an ill parent. I spent so much time letting my dad know he was loved and hugging him extra tight because I knew his health wasn’t the best. Then I lost him when I didn’t expect it at all. I was prepared and unprepared all at the same time. I was the very first and only of my close friends to lose a parent. 

 

I surrounded myself with NICU mommies who got it and my parents’ middle-aged friends who knew what it was like to lose their beloved mother or father. 

 

As I started healing, I started realizing we all have our own journeys: some the same as others, some having lonelier journeys like me.

 

I am learning to adapt. I am learning not to resent others just because their life has gone differently than mine. I have learned not to be angry or jealous about the hand I was dealt. I have learned others have it rougher. I have learned some have it better.

 

I am not perfect every day, but I am trying. I am finding strength. I am finding peace. I am finding my inner fight. 

 

It has been a year since my life forever changed, and boy, has it been a year since my life forever changed. 

 

While I am not quite where I thought I would be at a year, I think to myself, “Double whammy. I may not be healed, but I survived.”

Music Therapy

music-isnt-just-music-its-therapy-quote

By Shannon Boatwright

Music does so much more than connect people, allow an escape, fill hearts with passion, take individuals on journeys to past moments in time, instigate smiles, movement and singing along…

Music literally can benefit your health in many ways and create healing.

It’s a beautiful thing, the powers of music. I’ve written other blogs about this priceless, glorious thing that is music and I recently keep coming across information that proves that music is indeed therapeutic. The benefits of music are so good for our health that it can help us to heal and keep us healthy.

There is a connection between music and dopamine. The impact of music on the brain is substantial, such that immediate improvements can take place. Research shows that music taps into many areas of the brain, opening opportunities like no other. For example, when Arizona congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, survived a near-fatal gunshot to the head, it was music therapy that helped her regain her ability to speak. She firmly believes music therapy is what helped her to regain the skill to speak.

Another beautiful example of the power of music is the effects of music therapy on those suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  With many of these patients, music therapy helps to soothe their anxieties, give them great comfort, joy and even can lessen their need for meds.  I’ll never forget going to visit my grandmother in a nursing home as she was in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. She had no idea who I was. It was heartbreaking. But man she could still sing “Jesus Loves Me” and she sang it with pride and joy in her heart, knowing every word. It was an odd, yet fascinating thing to witness.

Music therapy can be used to help people with PTSD, brain injuries, asthma attacks, anxiety attacks, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and even pain management, just to name a few.  In many cases one can communicate through music, without ever having to speak. It’s an amazing thing.

Music

I remember when I was a junior in high school, I’d had surgery to have my tonsils taken out.  After surgery, my throat was fine, just felt like another sore throat. But I was in incredible pain – like can’t think straight, constant pain – in my jaws. Apparently when they performed the surgery, they had opened my mouth too wide and over-extended my jaws! Now I have a big mouth, but that was ridiculous. In an attempt to deal with the pain, I remember I would play the soothing, passionate music of Yanni as I took a bath and would hold my head under water such that only my mouth and nose was above the water so I could breath. I would focus on the music and the sensation of the water and visualize my jaws healing. The music would take me away. The music allowed me to escape the pain.

To think of it now, what an incredible thing. There is such power in music, if we only allow ourselves to access it!Music-Washes-Away-From-the-Soul-

When I start any new class, I always give the students a questionnaire. The questionnaire is meant to be fun for them – a moment to think about their favorite things, forcing them to consider the things that make them happy, giving them an opportunity to compliment themselves and think about their passions. The assignment also acts as a fabulous way for me to get to know them. Some of the questions involve music – asking who is their favorite singer, their favorite band, what is their favorite song this week, etc. When a student answers, “I don’t really have any favorites, I don’t listen to music.” – my heart breaks. Seriously, it’s like a blow to my core. This kind of response is rare, but it happens. I want to take that child under my wing and introduce them to the wonders and beauty of music. I feel like they are a lost soul that needs to be found and have the opportunity to connect on that magical level with the powers of music. I can’t help but think, shame on this kid’s family for not allowing them to be exposed to the wonders of music. I know every individual’s circumstances are different, but my heart aches for any child that is not exposed to music. One does not have to be wealthy to experience the glories of music. So when I come across any individual that seems to have no connection to music whatsoever, I honestly worry for their well-being.

Music TherapyAnyone can look up the benefits of music, the healing powers of music therapy, and see for themselves all the research and proof. My hope for anyone reading this is that you allow yourself the opportunities to connect to music that moves you. Find the music that fills you up. Experiment with different types of music that speak to you, take you away, give you peace and strength. And the next time you’re struggling on any level, whether with pain, fears, heartbreak, anxiety, whatever it may be, please remember to seek out the magical, healing resource that is music. And if you are trying to help others, remember that music therapy is a beautiful tool that can be used to create healing and comfort.

Strengthening Saturday: A New Addition to My Toolbox

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

“It was great! No cleaning, no responsibilities and no guilt. Just rest and relaxation.” That’s how I described a recent overnight stay at a health facility following a vocal cord procedure to my friend/counselor/life coach, Nancy.

Recently, we talked about how I could replicate that without having to go to the hospital. Twenty minutes later, I’d devised “Strengthening Saturday,” one day each month dedicated to rest, renewal, rejuvenation and refreshment. (If only Saturday started with an R!)

Following are the terms of “Strengthening Saturday:”

  • Designate the fourth Saturday of each month as Strengthening Saturday. (That week is usually a busy one for me each month.)
  • Sleep until I wake up; maybe go back to sleep even then.
  • Have no “to do” list for that day; only do the things I want to do including, but not limited to, watching Netflix; creating something; reading; and/or catching up on my writing.  
  • Unless there is something I WANT to do outside of the house and need to be presentable, stay in my PJs or lounging clothes all day.
  • Eat foods that are low-prep and healthy. Unless I want something sinful, which I’ll totally allow during a Strengthening Saturday.
  • No social media allowed. (Lumosity and Words with Friends, yes; Facebook and Twitter, no.)
  • Tell Mom and Sister not to include me in any plans on a Strengthening Saturday.
  • Maximize my senses. Play music I love or listen to a podcast; have some flowers or other beautiful thing in my room; light a candle; take a long hot bubble bath or freshen my bed clothes; eat wonderful food; cuddle with the cats; etc.
  • Will put the guilt of not “being busy” aside, just for one day.

As I continue to grow, build and yes, even still heal a little, I think Strengthening Saturdays will be a game changer. I can’t wait for the first one!

Endurance

By: Jordan Tateenduring pain

I honestly remember the day I became sick of hearing the word “endure.” I had been reading so many articles about motherhood and grief that the word itself became a frustrating concept that nagged me for days on end. Hearing it made me cringe and I could never pinpoint why. I finally figured it out, but let me rewind a little bit first.

My husband and I have the type of classic love story like the kind people write sitcoms about. We were next-door neighbors, and then we fell in love. We ran into each other in the hallways, shared flirty banter, and slowly but surely transitioned from a purely platonic friendship to spending every ounce of our free time together. Soon after that we got engaged, and then we got married. Our desires and dreams were like those of most of our peers; we hoped to fill our home with little feet and live to serve the people around us as we built our family.

I was on my way to motherhood a year and a half into marriage when we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. It was a girl and her name would be Ellie and she would have been our sassy one, I just know it. The problem is that she never got to live past her birth day because she was given a fatal diagnosis at our twenty week ultrasound. She would live until I delivered her and then she would take her first and last breaths within moments of each other.

This was not how it was supposed to be. The last half of my pregnancy was filled with a will to endure. I would endure and press on and try to nod and smile when strangers verbally noticed my belly in public, never knowing she was unwell. Never knowing I was unwell. If I could just endure through the pregnancy, if I could just make it to the next step… these were the thoughts that filled my mind those last four months. But the next step was just as challenging, as I knew deep down it would. Saying hello and goodbye to your first child all at the same time requires more than endurance. It requires mercy and grace and the steadfast love of the Lord to keep your mind from falling away. But we did survive. We survived and we endured and we cried gallons of tears. All of the sudden, the reality of my life was different than the one I grew up imagining. It was now tainted with death and a life’s worth of robbed memories with my little girl.

 

We are not promised a life void of pain, but what I do know from experience is that if we let it, every unexpected trial can be used to tell the story of a life made stronger.

 

My marriage now had a layer of grief and sorrow that was never present before all of this. But people continued to encourage us to endure and to hope and to seek joy. And we did. Slowly but surely we lived through each day without our Ellie. Always missing her but always looking to the good ahead. We took great solace in the fact that all of our doctors knew Ellie’s condition to be an anomaly, at least based on all of the evidence at hand. Nine months later, we got to the point where we could dream about another baby, a healthy baby, and we conceived during our first month of trying. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified after my first experience with pregnancy, but I pressed on and I dreamt of the blessing our second child would be after such great loss, knowing I would never take this little life for granted.

All of the sudden, we found ourselves at our twenty week appointment with baby number two, and we stared forward with blurred vision and shattered hearts as the doctors repeated the exact words we had heard the first time around, “Your baby cannot live outside of the womb. Her diagnosis is fatal.” I will spare you the details of the next four months and what it was like to say hello and goodbye to baby number two after thirty-six challenging hours of labor. What I will say about it, was that it was full of inexplicable pain.

So back to the word “endure.” Can you see why I was sick of reading it, hearing it, and thinking about it? What was life even like before I was enduring this kind of hardship? I honestly couldn’t remember. So one day, in my frustration, I looked up the definition of endure. It’s almost humorous. We think sometimes that to endure means to stay strong and to pray and to put our best face forward as we trudge through the mess. But the definition is actually much more simple:

(1) to suffer patiently

(2) to tolerate.

That’s it.

It may sound pitiful, but that definition brought me so much comfort. Because you could not have paid me enough money to muster up any amount of “strength” in this. People kept telling me I was strong, but I felt the opposite. What does it mean to be strong in the midst of loss and heartache? I mean, I didn’t opt out of living, so there’s that, but I wouldn’t consider that fact to be a marker of personal strength and great endurance. What I could do is just be. I could tolerate. People would tell me I was strong and courageous for walking through this, and that they could never be strong enough to face such loss, but that never made sense to me because there wasn’t a way I could snap my fingers and turn off the suffering or change the outcome. I was merely surrendering because I had no other choice. I didn’t ask for this. I had no way out. We don’t get to decide we aren’t strong enough to handle something and then have that situation not happen to us. The pre-infant-loss version of myself could never have fathomed I would watch my children die, but what that really means is that I didn’t ever want to imagine a life where that would or could be my reality. But now that I have experienced it, I know that we, as human beings, are capable of staring fear and loss and heartache and devastation in the face and not having it wreck us. Nobody welcomes hardship or pain to take over their lives. We live in a broken world where all is not as it should be. But what if we were more aware of how capable we are of walking through the valley and still being alive on the other side to talk of our battle? I don’t mean that we should invite danger and reckless behavior into our lives to test our ability to survive, but rather that we live bravely and boldly, unafraid of what lies ahead, and unafraid that our reality may look different than the one we grew up imagining. We are not promised a life void of pain, but what I do know from experience is that if we let it, every unexpected trial can be used to tell the story of a life made stronger.