The Forgotten Kindergartener.

It’s back to school time.

Backpacks are filled up. Kids are excited to meet their new teachers and see their friends. Parents are watching their kids grow and learn. The elementary schools are getting a new group of students: kindergarteners.

They’re giddy and so cute. Moms and dads are snapping pictures with their kids walking into their school, in front of the door, or the school sign. It’s how it’s supposed to be.

Kindergarten teachers see their classroom fill up. Every desk is filled. They start to remember their students’ names and smiling faces. A huge classroom full of kindergarteners exactly where they’re expected, needed, and wanted.

But, I have the forgotten kindergartener.

There wasn’t a school list sent out to me. I didn’t get to prepare him to be away from me all day. No first day of school pictures or the last hug goodbye. There will never be ay more growth or learning or anything.

We don’t get to meet his teacher or have them remember his name or smiling face. He won’t get to run to my car in the pickup line and tell me all about his day.

He won’t wake up the next day and join his new friends for day two, three, or ever.

Because I have the forgotten kindergartener that I’ll always remember.

As much as I’m happy to see all the smiling back to school pictures this year, I’m really sad the one little boy’s pictures I want to see won’t be there. I’ll never get to see his smiling face or hear him talk.

Every day I know this fact, but it’s days like what was supposed to be his first day of kindergarten that it just hits a little harder.

Child loss and the grief that comes along does not just go away with time. You get stronger as a person, but it still is the most pain I’ve ever felt. Especially when you remember all that they should be and what you wanted for them.

Even though I didn’t really know how much I’d feel before Jensen’s first day of school, Mila and I did some positive things in his name.

We actually got the kindergarten supply list. A few days ago, we went out and bought what was on the list to donate a backpack. Mila helped pick out the different supplies and knew we were donating them for Jensen because some other little boy might need those supplies.

I packed them up with care, with Mila’s help and we went on our way to donate the backpack.

As hard and sad as it was, I’m always thankful to do things to honor Jensen and his life. This is definitely one that I hope to be able to do every year for him.

No matter what or how many years it’s been… I’ll always remember my baby boy.

My Everlasting Flowers.

I always dreamed of Jensen picking flowers for me. We’d have a house filled with dandelion and wildflower jars.

Although I do have a house like that now, it’s not from Jensen. Mila brings as much love as she does flowers into our house. Our life is happy, but we will always be missing a piece.

For a long time, I’ve wondered how I could get the dream of flowers from Jensen. Then I got a random tattoo.

After that tattoo, I talked to the tattoo artist about Jensen and how I’d love a bouquet of forget-me-not flowers on me. I wanted to always carry them, just like how he always walks with me.

So, we scheduled another tattoo session.

In a couple hours, I have my flowers picked by my Jensen. Every time I see blue forget-me-nots, I think of him. Now when I look at my arm, I think of him and the countless amounts of flowers he’ll have for me.

It felt a little radical to get a tattoo on my forearm that can always be seen, but I love it.

He and these flowers are a part of our story.

Most of my tattoos are in remembrance of Jensen. I love knowing that even though he’s not physically with us, I can always see him in my body. No matter if it’s on my foot, wrist, or arm, I can always catch a glimpse of him.

By the way, Mila likes this tattoo way more than the one on my ankle. She loves counting them and telling me how blue is for her brother.

What’s your favorite tattoo that you have? Or if you don’t have one, what would you get if you did?

Jensen is FIVE.

I always need a few days after Jensen’s birthday to collect all my thoughts.

Five feels really big. He should be half a decade old. That realization is hard to wrap my mind around. Then I remember, I have to live the rest of my life without him. It’s a mix of seeing Mila grow older and knowing five holds so much that really brought me to a dark space this year.

Not that every year isn’t hard because having your child die really sucks.

Anyways, Jensen’s actual birthday was everything it needed to be. We still celebrate his birthday and I probably always will.

This year, I wanted to do an activity a five-year-old would love to do. So, we went to the zoo.

I want to go over how much we loved the Cleveland Zoo in a future post, but it was a huge part of Jensen’s fifth birthday. It would be silly not to share the highlights of the day.

My favorite part of going to the zoo was that all the animals were out. Since it was a cooler day, they were playing and being active. The big cats were all out and not napping. Even the bears were out of their caves and showing off.

Honestly, I thought of Jensen’s birthday eve book. We read On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman. In the book, the animals were all dancing the night the baby was born. It felt like the animals were out at the zoo for Jensen. I know that sounds silly, but those little connections are my only ones to him.

As with anything during child loss, I also wondered what animal Jensen would like seeing the most at the zoo. At five, he’d definitely have a favorite. Part of me felt like he’d have liked the red pandas the most. I wonder if he’d want his face painted too. Just those little things that constantly pop up.

I’ve finally realized it’s okay to have those sad moments in a happy day. Grief and happiness coexist in the strangest way, especially on their birthdays.

Of course we had dippin’ dots at the zoo!

After the zoo, we went out to eat.

There were a few birthdays that got celebrated and it was hard because Jensen didn’t get that. Mila is at an age where she wants to sing along with everyone else’s birthday celebrations when we go out. Yet, we didn’t get one for her brother at the restaurant.

I often wonder what Mila thinks of those types of things. It’s just our life, but it’s just something I think about.

When we got home, we had family over to celebrate Jensen and his birthday. There was ice cream cake, singing, and bubbles. Everyone said his name and that will always be the greatest gift of all.

Just knowing Jensen is remembered and loved brings me such happiness.

Throughout his birthday, I received so many birthday messages and love. I can’t thank everyone enough for that. The love that surrounds him and his memory is so beautiful.

I don’t know what this year of grief looks like. Whenever I try to plan something, it feels like it gets a little derailed.

One thing I want to do in honor of Jensen this year is a backpack drive to donate to a local school. Since he’d be a kindergartner this year, I feel like that would be a beautiful way to honor him. The closer we get to the summer, the more details and information I’ll have on this.

What I do know is that as we dive into year five, he is still so loved and missed.

I think about my little boy every single day. He is the reason I keep going forward and shapes the way I parent Mila. Jensen is a part of our lives in all ways. Even though he isn’t here with us doesn’t mean he isn’t in our hearts.

No matter how many years pass, I’m so proud to be his mom.

The Blanket of Grief.

Almost five years after losing Jensen, grief feels like a blanket of snow.

It comes out of no where and all of the sudden. There’s a sense of beauty to it mixed with the coldest you’ve ever felt. Once you start to get used to it, it melts away and the season changes. Grief is complicated and is always reshaping itself.

I’ve never thought of it as snow or the winter season, usually just the ocean waves as it comes and goes. This year feels different though.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like all this time has passed. Maybe the weight of time and the part of life I’m in has made me feel this way. When I saw Jensen’s angel covered in this literal blanket of snow, I somehow felt the instant beauty and cold at once.

Grief, for me, has its seasons. I can tell when I’m close to important dates or I’m beginning to feel it more heavily now with his upcoming birthday.

It’s beautiful to look at the love I will always have for Jensen. Mila adores talking about him and seeing his picture. The way he touched our lives in such a short amount of time will always be so touching. Love and grief are so intricately intertwined.

Then when it all comes down and lingers, the weight of the cold and loss settles.

His absence is so heavy. I cry knowing I’ll never have him again or Mila will never be able to play with her brother. Then, five years feels like such a short amount of time compared to how much longer I have without him.

These thoughts make me feel cold and alone. There’s no real protection from the cold and snow. You can put layers on or go inside, but it’s still out there until it’s time to go away.

Just as you start tackling it, the sun starts to shine a little. The world gets a little warmer and the weight of that season of grieving lightens up. Grief is always there. Always. Somehow you get stronger and can carry it through what’s going on then.

You always remember the sting of the cold, but you can live in the warmth of summer.

At this point in my grief, I go through my seasons of heaviness. I think about his loss and the hurt surrounding it. When I can move forward through the coldness, I still always carry him with me. I think about him walking through life with me and picturing his smile. He would want me to smile when I think about him.

I miss Jensen every single day, but the love and guidance he brought me is something I’ll always treasure. Five years later, and I’m just starting to get to this new season of grief.

It takes time and a lot of work, but summer will be here again. Then you don’t have to feel the constant, overwhelming weight of the blanket.

Grief: Four and a Half Years Out.

Why does it seem like every time I come to write here it feels like forever since the last time that I have? Maybe because it has been.

In the last few weeks, I’ve turned a whole year older, started back college classes, and am working full time. So, technically I haven’t had a lot of time to write, but I’m missing it. My goal for twenty-seven (how old I am) was to blog three times a week. Guys, I already failed! But, you can always start fresh.

The last time I wrote, I shared that I started back with therapy. I’m still going strong with it and it’s been helping in a lot of ways. In others, I still have a lot of work. Rome wasn’t built in a day though. Therapy has given me a lot to think about: past traumas, my grief, and my future. I should say, it’s given me constructive ways to think about all of it. Anxiety forces you to think of all those things, but I’m starting to see how I can still function and think about those things too.

Two weeks ago, I sort of had a full circle moment. My therapist and I are going through my trauma timeline. It sounds a lot more… scary… than it actually is. It’s still a little scary though. On that particular day, we talked about Jensen.

I found out… it’s still really hard to talk about the events of that day and the weeks following.

Duh, right? You don’t just wake up one day and are completely healed when your child dies. It doesn’t work like that. Shouting that to everyone that thinks it does. I’ve told Jensen’s story to so many times: out loud, writing it down, and in my head. Earlier in my grief, I was getting more comfortable with used to talking about his death and all my emotions after to other people. It’s been a little while since I have and I didn’t realize how big of a difference it was.

When my therapist asked if I was alright sharing about Jensen, his death, and how I handled things after, I told her yes with no inkling that I would be… weeping during it all. Yes, weeping.

I told her about my pregnancy and how hard it was emotionally on me. When we got to the day we found out he died, I went into detail about how my stomach just dropped and it felt like I was dead inside. I skipped around on the actual details of the birth because I felt my throat closing up. The post emotions of his birth and funeral and life after were hard to talk about too. It was just so difficult to bring back all those feelings and put myself back in that place again. That talk and just thinking about how traumatic his death was and still is has really.. re-affected me?

So many times parents are told they’re going to be better with time after losing their child. I’m not going to disagree in the fact that everyday life gets easier. It does. Your routine changes and life still goes on. That sounds harsh and I wouldn’t have wanted to hear that in the first few months after, but it’s true (for me). I think when outside people see parents after loss reemerging into their routine or job or whatever, they think it’s all ‘better.’ On the outside, they’re complying with society and not being outwardly upset.

For me, I can see my switch. I have to do what I have to do to work and do school and parent Mila and whatever else may need done. When I’m out in the world, I’m not as quick to snap that my son’s dead to people that say things. I’m more aware that the world isn’t really… sensitive to dead babies or uncomfortable grief. It’s not a settling thing at all, so I get that. I don’t bring Jensen up in every conversation anymore. When someone leaves him out or forgets him, I internalize it. I still feel the hurt, but I try to make others feel.. better.

BUT (!!!) it still hurts. I’m functional, but I still miss Jensen with every ounce of me.

I can tell you certain comments sting and having someone not mention or forget about him feels so awful. Talking about it all with my therapist made me realize what I (and so many people) went through was the worst thing ever.

The silence. The decisions. The hollowness. The tears. The solitude. The grief.

I think I got into the routine of being a mom to Mila and life, that I put those emotions on the back burner. I let the outside, ‘it gets better,’ get to me. Letting everyone else be comfortable in my child dying has put my real emotions, trauma, and heartbreak in an unaccessible place; until it has to come up.

Through the teary session and the last two weeks, I’ve definitely given myself more credit for all I’ve endured through losing Jensen. Our minds try to protect itself from all that pain. I’m thankful for that, truly. I guess I just wanted to say through this whole thing is I miss him and I’m proud of where I am today.

I think it’s also been a productive thing to feel all of these emotions again. Jensen would be starting preschool this year, which I haven’t talked about with anyone. I’ve been suppressing a lot of things lately (thanks exhaustion). Sharing Jensen with someone new and showing my love for him and how I care for him now has helped this stage of healing. I know I’ll always feel this emotional response when talking about him and it’s okay. It’s okay to be sad he’s not here, just like it’s okay to celebrate his life.

There isn’t a rule book about losing a baby or child at any age. If you haven’t been through it, you know nothing about it. That loss and hole in your heart doesn’t get easier, it just gets lighter to carry through time.

Here’s Jensen’s story if you’ve never read it or would like to read it again. I wrote it in 2016 and have been thinking about rewriting it again to see how I remember it almost five years out. If I do, you can bet I’ll share it here.

Dear Fellow Bereaved Mothers,

I feel like it’s been awhile since we’ve talked, but I see all of you and your babies gone too soon.

Whether this is your first Bereaved Mother’s Day or fiftieth or somewhere in between, I want you to know that your child and the way you mother them is not unseen. I know some days are harder than others and maybe you’re in a long line of hard ones, but you are doing the best you can do. Please reach out on this day or any of the difficult ones you have. There are so many of us here to remember our babies with and to lift each other up when we need it most. And if you’re having a good, gentle day, I’m so happy those moments are here for you. You are so deserving of them.

I’m so sorry that we know this deep of a loss and the tidal waves of grief that comes after. There’s nothing quite like it. On the other hand, there’s love. That love you feel for them, oh, it’s so powerful. This love powers through death, not that anything could tear apart the love a mother has for her child.

Like everyday, say their name. Share a memory about them with someone who knew them or someone new. I know how proud you are of them. They’re proud of you too.

So today, and everyday, I want you to know, I see your motherhood and your child matters and is loved by many. And you, beautiful mother, for as much love as you pour out, there is so much coming your way.

Love,

Danielle

Forever Jensen’s Mom

April… We Meet Again.

Amidst everything happening in the world and the personal things too, I’ve not been looking forward to April. It’s the fourth one since everything changed. That feeling of grief climbing out of my chest is present.

Some part of me thought this April would be different with the coronavirus, Mila being a lively almost two year old, and dealing with things happening closely to me that I can not control. Yet, here I am. The last few days, it’s weighed on me more heavily. I just can’t believe it’s been another year without him.

I’m trying to be positive, but it’s just unfair. All the things I ‘should’ be doing for Jensen are more present around these days. I keel thinking about how much different quarantine would be with him. Life in general just would be… different. It’s so hard to explain. There’s no word or explanation that would make sense to other people. Here we are almost four years later and I can’t quite find the words to describe how sucky it is to not have your kid with you.

Mila helps. I’m weary of typing that because it’s unfair to her and parents who can’t or choose not to have more children; but she helps me. She makes me smile and I remember April is her month too. Jensen wouldn’t want her to be sad or for us not to celebrate how beautiful this month is even though it’s filled with sadness too. I know Mila senses the sadness. She’ll come over and flash her smiles, stroke my face, and just give me a kiss. I know deep down he picked her out for me.

One thing I’ve learned through it all is we’ll make it. Somedays you just have to take it second by second, but we’ll survive.

Like I’ve said in the past, the days leading are always worse than the actual day. Grief makes anticipation feel like dread. This past weekend, Mila hasn’t felt well and I was scared that it’d roll into April. So when she woke up fever free and happy, I knew it’d get easier.

We actually went and picked up a picnic table/bench that we’ll probably use frequently in the next few months (social distancing was practiced). She’s immediately taken a liking to it and it just makes me feel better. Finding happy moments when everything feels heavy makes the day a little nicer.

I’m hopeful April’s will get easier. I’m hopeful that I’ll start celebrating them again. I’m hopeful that Jensen’s day will be seen as happy and I won’t be as sad. I know I’ll always carry the grief and heaviness of losing him, but I’m getting to a part in my journey where it can coincide with happiness simultaneously.

Today I’m just grateful for Jensen, Mila, and watching her cheesy fingers throw Cheetos to Max. I’m hopeful for peaceful April’s and breakfasts our on our new picnic table. This year, I’m ready for April and going into year five of grieving.

New Adventures in Parenting After Loss.

Parenting after loss is full of ups and downs. There are a lot of days I think of the what if’s and wish to see Jensen and Mila playing together.

Lately, Mila’s been more explorative in how she plays. I showed her how to make a tent by putting a blanket over her little table and she thought it was the coolest thing ever. She’ll play under there for so long and evening puts her animals to bed under there. It’s the sweetest thing ever.

In the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking of Jensen’s teepee I got for him. It was supposed to go in the corner of his room for a little reading area. Since it never got to be put up, it’s been packed away in my basement. This morning, Mila was begging me to get under her little kiddie table and with her, the dog, and I, the table wasn’t cutting it. I decided to be strong and go in Jensen’s corner of the basement to get the teepee.

Honestly, it’s hard. It’s hard to see his stuff that’s never been used and is just there in boxes. Knowing that there’s a live that should have been lived in a corner in my house, truly breaks my heart. I don’t think I’ll ever have the right words to describe what it feels like. But I bet a lot of loss parents know the feeling I’m talking about.

Anyways, I got into his corner and knew right where I was looking. Mila and I brought it back upstairs and I sort of just went into mom mode. Her and I put together this huge 5 foot tall teepee in the middle of the living room. She was shocked to see it and as soon as it was up, she ran right in. Her smile was so big and it just warmed me up.

It turns out Mila, Max, a hundred stuffed animals, and me all fit in this big tent.

Any time Mila has used something of Jensen’s, I’ve never felt regret doing it. She wore some of his clothes, has his crib up, and used his car seat and stroller too. On the other hand, there hasn’t been anything super sentimental she’s used yet. We changed that today and I’m happy to have done it. I let her know this was Jensen’s tent too and he would’ve loved playing in it with her. She nodded and said Jensen’s name, then continued playing.

Jensen will always be her big brother and I’ll always be both of their moms. I don’t think being a loss mom will ever get easier, but I hope learning how to juggle both will. I don’t want Mila to ever think bringing Jensen’s name up or asking questions is a bad thing. Or I don’t want her to be afraid to look at and use his things makes me upset because it doesn’t. It’s just another part of this journey that I’ll figure out.

For now, I’m so proud of the little girl Mila is becoming. She has a brother who will always guide and protect her. Although he might not be here to physically play with her, I know Jensen’s spirit flows through our home. I’m just happy to be here through it all, learning to be the best mom I can.

Parenting after loss isn’t easy, but I’m thankful to be their mother.

Adventure on Mila Rae. There’s so much to see.

Family Portrait – Capture Your Grief

This is my family: Mila, Jensen, and I.

Our family portraits will never look ‘normal,’ but they’re perfect to me. They’re still full of love and an actual representation of who we are as a family.

Story time.

I was being brave today. This whole month I’ve felt exhausted. In the middle of potty training Max AND Mila (yes, I will post those adventures soon), doing school work, and trying to get back in the swing of subbing, plus everything else, I found myself neglecting what actually means a lot to me… Capture Your Grief. Every October I’ve done my best with it and this one, I just have been doing what I can do.

When I saw today’s prompt, I told myself I was 100% participating and going to get a picture of us. I picked out Mila and I’s outfit and Jensen’s bow. We grabbed our fall stuff and a big blanket to take outside. For like 15 minutes, I was in the backyard finding the perfect spot while rigging a stand up for my phone to sit…

I wanted it to be perfect with a fall background and all of us looking in the camera. Let’s just say… that didn’t happen.

Toddler’s aren’t the best at taking direction and Max wouldn’t sit still and Mila kept taking Jensen’s bow off and it seemed impossible to run back and get us all set up in time in a matter of ten seconds.

Did I feel a little defeated? Yes. But, I looked at Mila and held Jensen bear close to me and realized the most important people in my life didn’t care about a picture. They cared about me and know I’m doing my best. I let grief and stress and feeling like a bad mom get the best of me. It happens to all of us and that’s okay.

After my moment, I squeezed Jensen bear again and got Mila to come sit with us. I was going to get this picture no matter what and what’s wrong with a selfie?

This is our life. It’s three and a half years of grieving and a year and a half of parenting after loss. It’s one full of love and craziness. One that the only thing I’d change is having Jensen physically here with us.

I love our little family portrait today. My littles are in my arms and close to my heart. I’m smiling and everything is going to be just okay.

Kisses for Jensen.

Distractions.

My body knows April is approaching.

Honestly, it’s like I have this internal clock that just relives these last weeks I had with Jensen. They’re all happy memories, but the build up to the big day is still so dreadful. It feels like something else bad is going to happen or my body and mind dealt with the worst trauma during this time that triggers everything to be… weird.

I can remember in the early days, I always heard how everything would be better with time. A part of me wanted to believe it. How could someone live with that intense of grief for their entire life? Another part of me thought it’d be awful to lose that connection with Jensen. It’s not that I wanted to be a zombie like I was, but I didn’t want to let go of any of the pain. So, where are we almost three years out? It’s not better. It’s different, but not less. I wonder what he’d be doing or looking like everyday. It’s hard when people ask me if Mila has siblings and I’m unsure if I want to see the look of horror on their face or not. Losing a child isn’t just a thing that happened in someone’s life, they carry it with them everywhere they go.

Lately, I haven’t been sleeping. It’s sort of a new March tradition in my life. Near his first birthday, I had a lot of nightmares. I don’t remember if I wrote about any of them here, but they still haunt me. I’d wake up in a cold sweat and would just not go back to sleep. I haven’t had a nightmare about Jensen since then, but they were awful. It had to be a mix of not knowing what to expect on his big day and just the fear of time moving on. Then last year, when I was pregnant with Mila, I didn’t sleep for like an entire month. I would only get like two to four hours a day. I was processing another year without Jensen and trying to manage my grief with this new life inside me. Then I was in constant fear of her dying. I kept reliving how it felt when he died in my stomach. Anytime I felt like she had gone limp (she was probably sleeping), I’d nudge her and just tell her to move so I could relax for five minutes. I hope she never has to feel that panic or fear in her life.

Somehow now I’m three years out and still not able to sleep. It’s almost one now and Mila’s fast asleep beside me as I type away. Since last week, I felt myself staying up longer and waking up through the night. I think deep down I’m terrified of those nightmares coming back. It’s been two years since I had them and I can still see them play out. I’m also trying to be so positive with her first birthday coming up. She deserves a happy mom and I am a good majority of the time. I just hate knowing my child died and there are days when her smiling face doesn’t even put a dent in how badly that hurts. It’s a terrible feeling and makes me feel like a bad mom to them both.

Now that I think of it, it’s not like I’ve been physically tired during this time when I haven’t slept. My body just turns on autopilot and does what it needs to. If only I could figure out how to do that with my thoughts.

Anyways, I wanted to write today because noticing the lack of sleep and realizing I was distracting myself from thoughts made me realize this is how my depression/grief plays out. Every year, it’s the same. The only outlet I’ve had is this right here. Instead of making something for Mila’s party tonight, I’ve been trying to connect and do what’s best for my mental health… easier said than done.

I don’t know about other loss parents, but finding an outlet and some healthy distractions have helped get from day to day. Writing has always helped me. That’s why I have a stack of journals beside my bed and I’m writing now. When I heard that Jeremy Richman, a dad who lost his daughter, Avielle, in the Sandy Hook school shootings, committed suicide this morning, I just felt it. It being his pain and just feeling out of control. I feel for his wife and other child. My friend, Amber, actually told me about what happened and to check out his haikus too. I read through all the ones he had pictures for and they just echoed through me. Like, how many people just suffer and feel like they’re losing grasp of it? I mean, I do. If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be awake right now and distracting myself even further from going to bed…

There were three that stuck out to me the most, you can find all of them on his Facebook page, here. I’m going to copy and paste his words. I didn’t know this person, but I don’t think he’d mind if I shared his words on here (mostly because they were public on his page, but I think he’d like to know his thoughts really made an impact on someone who is also grieving).


Untitled on July 4, 2014

Miss my hummingbird

She is everywhere I look

But nowhere I am

Untitled on August 22, 2014

The mirror reflects

A face I don’t recognize

Have you seen my ghost?

Untitled on August 29, 2014

Another first day

Lost in empty yellow space

Haunted by echos


Since Jensen’s been born, I’ve always said I wish I could live on an island with a community of people who’ve lost a child. Everyone would understand. There would be someone to always listen if you needed and if you were having days like the ones I’m having, they’d be patient and help you get to the next day. I know that’s impossible. Maybe this online community is our virtual island where we get to do our best from afar.

And maybe, I’m just distracting myself from feeling what I need to feel and giving my body the rest it deserves.

Mila reading her big brother’s book. She helps heal me in more ways than she’ll ever understand.