For me October has extra special meaning. This is the month one year ago that we received Jacob's fatal diagnosis. It is is also the month that we lost him to Trisomy 13.
I plan on celebrating my love for my baby all month long and I hope you'll share in this journey with me...parts of it might be painful as we look back to where all of this began, and on the difficult times...but then other parts of it will be joyful as we see how far I've come--as far as so many mothers come who have endured this grief. I will also be sharing how much I've learned and how much love I still have for my son. I'd like to think that most of my blog this month will be joyful as that's all I feel for my son--joy and love--no regrets. The last year was definitely not something I planned, but it is something that I have grown from and something that I thank God for.
I hope you'll keep up with my blog this month and if you're not a follower, please add me! I will be unveiling a new blog look later in the month (so excited for that!) and I will be sharing some of the baby remembrance events that I am participating in and coordinating as well. If you are participating in baby remembrance events of your own, I'd love to hear about them and to share some of them here. Please leave a comment so I can reach you.
Because this month is so special to me, I also will be having some giveaways throughout the month. These are just a small way for me to thank you -- each of you for taking the time to read my blog, to follow it and for offering your supportive comments, thoughts and prayers throughout this past year. I cannot tell you how much it means to me. Look for my blog posts to be approximately 3-4 times per week during the month of October. Giveaways will be sprinkled throughout the month so keep an eye out! The very first one will be on Thursday, October 6 and will be a copy of Richard Paul Evan's book, The Christmas Box (read below for why I chose this book). If you don't have this book, it's a very inspirational read! Even if you have the book, consider entering anyway as it would make a great gift. Please just post a comment below this post to enter! I will randomly draw one name on Thursday at 11:30 PM EST.
I couldn't have asked for a more special way to kick off this month of remembrance. We participated in the HEAL Walk to Remember Sunday afternoon and this was our very first remembrance event to attend for Jacob. HEAL stands for Helping Endure A Loss and is sponsored by the Atrium Medical Center in Middletown, OH.
While the Walk to Remember was very emotional for all of us who attended, there was also much beauty and love blooming in the Children's Memorial Garden yesterday. You could feel it all around you. I have included several pictures of the event below and I hope you can feel the beauty that I saw and felt too. Even if you never lost a child, I think there is something that makes us all stronger by sharing in a remembrance ceremony like this.
We got to the Atrium Medical Center at about 1:40 PM on Sunday. I was feeling very anxious. While I was really excited to be doing this for my baby and with my family, I also felt nervous about arriving to the walk on time and getting signed in. The walk was to begin promptly at 2:00 PM and I was worried that we might arrive late, not get a balloon or other memento items. I know it sounds silly, but those things were important to me.
Once we found the event (after being on the wrong side of town) I dashed up to the event sign-in while Alex got the boys and stroller out of the car. I had plenty of time, of course, but still wanted to make sure I made it through all of the stations to do and get what I needed to.
The first station: Welcome
I am so proud to say that HEAL put on an amazing and wonderfully organized event. I know how much planning these events can take and you could tell from the very first step that you took into the event area of the parking lot that they didn't leave any details out. The first table you went to was clearly labeled, "Welcome". Here I received a beautiful program. I had no idea there would be that much structure so felt even more excited at what was to come in the ceremony. The women at this table directed me to the next table to get name tags.
The second station: Name tags
Well, here is where I lost it. A dark-haired woman wearing a beautiful baby photo button instructed me to fill out a name tag with Jacob's name and to wear it on my coat so everyone could see my son's name. I don't know if it was seeing her baby or perhaps just writing Jacob's name on a light blue name tag with a butterfly on it, but somehow right at that moment I couldn't speak. It was the type of tears that suddenly come out of nowhere to choke you while you talk.
I think I spit out that there were four of us so as the lady counted out four name tags in blue and green colors (since Jacob was a boy), I looked up at her and said, "I'm sorry. I was doing fine until I got here." I don't know...was it that she was so kind to get all blue and one green name tags since that's what I originally requested? Something so small and seemingly insignificant brought me to tears. Seeing Jacob's name followed by the heart that I drew on it, knowing that everyone would see my precious baby's name on our coats...well, I just couldn't stop the tears from coming. It was as if they had a mind of their own.
The lady took my hand and said, "It's okay. That's what we are here for today." I don't remember what else she said but she gave me two extra packs of Kleenex from a basket, our orange and yellow, "Free to fly" bracelets, and purple buttons with the same logo. I quickly scooped up my items and went to the next station.
Because my nametag wouldn't stick to my coat, I wore Jacob close to my heart...
The third station: Backpacks
Again, who would have known we would be given so much stuff today? Here I picked up a black and orange backpack with the HEAL and Walk to Remember logos. I didn't look inside right then but found handouts later that talked about their support groups as well as a Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony for our babies in December...oh, and more Kleenex!
The fourth station: Butterflies
I think I was still weepy at this point. I couldn't say anything to the women working behind the tables. The wind was blowing, gentle music played on a loudspeaker, and here I was writing with love and pride, "Jacob Alexander Villalva" on a lavender butterfly while tears continued to force themselves from my eyes. I love to write Jacob's name.
I think all of the women working this event knew what the mood might be. No one pushed you to talk, no one forced you to laugh or smile...there just seemed to be an invisible support net that you felt caught in from the moment you entered the registration area of the parking lot. Here was a safe place to be yourself and to let your emotions out if and whenever you needed to.
I looked towards the car and saw my hubby taking his time getting the boys extra coats and hats and then the stroller so I kept making my way through everything. It was starting to get more crowded as 2:00 approached.
The fifth station: Kids.
Wow. I cannot believe that this organization cared so much to plan goodie bags for kids! They were beyond generous! They had bags for kids 3 and under and 4 and up. Each bag was full of little toys, a pinwheel and animal crackers. It was so sweet to see that butterflies were a common toy item--butterflies are symbolic in the baby loss community and I thought it was so touching that they included this symbol for our children. Kids were also given rocks with butterflies on them--I took two and was told I could have the boys place them in the Memorial Garden or I could take them home. Well, no doubt about that! These rocks were coming home with me! I am going to have Sammy and Benny decorate each of them around the butterfly and then date it for this year. Can't wait to do that special craft with them.
The sixth station: Balloons.
Big purple and orange balloons with alternating colored ribbon were provided for our balloon release...and you didn't just get a balloon. You got to write your sweet baby's name on a card marked, "Precious Child". More tears. Yes, I kind of assumed that I would cry today but I didn't think they would give me so many opportunities and so early in the event! :) At this point though, I never know when it will hit me. My emotions are right there it seems, just waiting for a moment to escape. And of course, this month is probably just a tad extra heavy on emotions due to Jacob's angelversary approaching so I guess I need to be ready for it.
I fought the wind to tie Jacob's card, marked "Jacob--Mommy loves you!", onto the balloon ribbon. Once I secured my card to the ribbon, I wrapped the ribbon around my fingers tightly so it wouldn't blow away. Again, it probably sounds silly, but I felt that I just couldn't lose my balloon. Even when Alex brought Sam back from the bathroom (you probably could have guessed that!), and we were looping the other 3 balloons on to the stroller, I had a death grip on all 4 strings. The wind was pulling so hard and every once in awhile you'd see a balloon fly away. It wasn't long before I felt my left hand cramping but I didn't mind, as long as I didn't lose my balloons.
Our Walk to Remember...Jacob
Finally it was time to start our walk. I gave Alex my camera since my left hand was busy with the balloons. He did a great job capturing the setting and us starting our walk. We started in the middle of the group so had a lot of open space around us. Then we caught up to the mass of people ahead of us, while another large clump trailed slowly behind us. I didn't realize it until I saw the photo below, but I guess my emotions were quite easy to read just by looking at me.
As we walked up the hill, I saw an event photographer take our picture. I wondered what we said to him as we approached...what stories did our faces tell? Could he see a mother's loss and longing to hold her son? Could he see innocence on the boys'? Could he see a quiet uncertainty on my husband's?
We came to the Children's Memorial Garden and found a spot on the grass since the circular bricked area in the middle was already full. Alex guessed that there were probably about 200 people there. Two hundred people came to remember their children on this cold, blustery day. I saw grandparents looking like children themselves as they held the brightly colored balloons. I saw little kids posing by memorial plates for their lost brother or sister. I saw young couples--childless and clinging to each other. I saw people like us. Some families wore shirts to honor their loving children. Others wore photo buttons. All of us proudly wore our baby's name tags. I wished I would have had time to ask about each name that I saw. I'm sure everyone would have shared a beautiful story about their child.
The coordinator opened with a few comments about how we were all connected on this journey through grief. We are a family. Last year when Jacob died, I would have never thought that I would be joining another family and yet...I have. We have. We belong to the baby loss community now. We are forever a part of this very special group of people who have lost a child...a child gone too soon.
The coordinator then prepared to read the list of names from the butterflies that we filled out earlier. She spoke lovingly of her son, Mark, who passed away 19 years ago. "Even though it's been 19 years, my heart still leaps with joy when someone says Mark's name out loud. I will never hear his name at a football game. Or at his graduation." I will write more about this in a later blog post, but for those of you who have not lost a child, hearing your child's name said aloud is a treasure that long echoes in our ears and our hearts.
As she read each name from the pastel butterflies, another volunteer stapled them to the orange ribbons that were blowing on a wreath. When Sammy heard the name, 'Jacob', he said, "Mommy, that's Jacob!" I said that that was a Jacob...but not our Jacob yet. I counted one family had lost 5 babies. A couple lost 4. Some lost three and many lost 2. My heart breaks for them. One volunteer we met later had three baby girl names on her name tag. She told me there were triplets and she lost them at 20 weeks and only had minutes with them alive. She now has twins. :)
Finally our Jacob's name was read and our last name mispronounced. :) Alex and I just smiled at each other.
After the reading of the names, it was time to let the tears flow once more. A soloist sang the song, "Precious Child" by Karen Taylor-Good and I don't think I was the only one wiping my face. This song has been one of my favorite songs since I found this community. If you have never heard the words to this song, or if you are in the mood for a good cry, click on the link at the very bottom of this post and watch the video. The words speak so gently to your heart.
The Balloon Release
After the song, we were instructed to walk up to the next garden in more of a clearing so the balloons would launch more freely and not get caught in trees. A few had already popped or blown off but HEAL was so prepared that they had volunteers with more balloons so you wouldn't feel left out.
We made our way to the inner part of the garden circle this time and stood on the bricks. Alex worked on untangling our balloons and I kept hoping my loose one wouldn't blow off that close to our release. We untangled mine first. Then Sammy's. Then his and Benny's which had twisted together.
The song, "Somewhere Out There" was played and everyone turned slowly around to face the outside of the circle towards the open sky--almost as if on cue. As I turned, I saw the balloons going into the air from behind me. The wind took each one of them up into the open sky, far from any trees or buildings. I felt the string that I had held so tightly around my fingers loosen...and I let Jacob's balloon fly away to join those of his angel friends. I was so happy to catch a picture of it--it's the orange one in the middle of the picture, (closest to the camera) and you can see the tag hanging from it. :)
Sammy let his go (the orange one in the bottom right corner of the picture above) and finally Alex and Benny. Again, I was able to get a picture of their late release as their purple balloons followed the rest of the already far into the sky. Not only could I hear the timeless melody still playing, and cameras clicking, but also sniffles from all around. We all watched the orange and purple balloons dot the clouds in the beautiful blue sky and dance in the breeze. They all flew off in the same direction--together.
I heard a sniffle to my right--it was Alex. My dear, sweet husband who for so long has held his emotion in, let it out freely during the balloon release. We leaned on each other which of course made me sob some more. I longed for my baby to bundle up in the cold. I wished he was riding in the stroller with a cute little blankie wrapped around him tight. I know I haven't talked a lot about my husband's way of dealing with grief in this past year but have truly respected how we have shared our grief together and yet in very different ways. Seeing him moved that much during the balloon release...well, it's hard to hold it together when you see your husband cry. I was so grateful that he could spending time with his son in this way. For just those few moments, everything stopped around us--schedules slowed down, there was nothing else for either of us to do but to mourn, remember and love our baby.
I blew several kisses to Jacob, waved and gave him my "heart". Sammy and Daddy gave Jacob hearts and we then made our way back to the Children's Garden for pictures.
It's hard to explain the emotion that you see and feel at an event like this. Tears? Sure. Many eyes were red and many cheeks were streaked with eye liner. Many sunglasses hid the depths of pain their owners felt. Many words go unspoken but a hug can between two moms can capture it all--just like the woman at the name tag table who took my hand earlier. I couldn't say much, but looking into her eyes through my hazy tear-filled ones, I knew she knew and felt what I felt. That was enough.
But back in the garden after the balloon release, there were also feelings of love and hope that were shared amongst all of us. I think everyone felt a little bit lighter. No pun intended referring to the balloons, but it's as if the balloons lifted some of our sorrow and let it fly free and far away from our souls. Our love soared to our children and then, I think our grief went too. I think many of us felt a sense of peace settle in after being part of such a beautiful ceremony. Families took pictures of their child's marker or of their kids placing the butterfly rocks in the garden. Others photographed the wreath of names like we were about to do.
I went up to the wreath and remembered that Jacob's butterfly was lavender. Something about the softness of that color spoke to me today and so I wrote on that one instead of looking for a blue one. Because the wind was so strong, it was difficult to pin down the ribbons and to see some of the names which were twisting all around. I'm smiling as I write this because you know what? The very first lavender butterfly I flipped around was my Jacob's. :) There is some significance here and I had a similar event happen years ago when I lost my grandparents' graves in the snow. But, that's another story.
I held his butterfly in my hands and kissed it, just as if I would have held and kissed him had he been alive today.
We walked back along the curvy road and I too one more picture of the crowd who remained to enjoy the Children's Garden.
No matter what, I am clinging to one thing on this journey. It's what's gotten me this far in the last year and what I know I will need as I walk on my journey...hope. Looking forward to spending this month with you, to sharing our tears, our joy, and of course, our hope.
With love to my precious Jacob...
Don't forget to check out the link to "Precious Child" and to post a comment for the book!
Here is the link to "Precious Child"