The Story of Our Lives

Pretend for a moment that you are the author of your own life’s story.

What kind of story would you write?

What would be the most interesting parts of your story?

Where would we find your life’s story if we were browsing a bookstore…

Is it a raucous comedy? An inspirational love story? A heartrending tragedy?

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about stories.

The cake in question 🙂

This weekend we celebrated what would have been Hudson’s eighth birthday. Every year I make an elaborate birthday cake for Hudson… and we gather with our closest family to contemplate the impact her sweet and short life had on all of us. I say elaborate because it has become my own form of therapy to make birthday cakes that are just outside of my comfort zone (in terms of recipe and design). One particularly elaborate year, I made a 5-layer cake with a hazelnut meringue crunch disk between each layer, coated with rainbow-colored buttercream pedals.

Every year I scour Pinterest, and review my mother’s recommendations, and make a determination based on a mix of my own abilities, the deliciousness factor, and how much time it will take to secure any off-the-beaten-path supplies.

This year, I chose to also consult with my children.

Now, if you have children of your own then you know how ill-advised it is to have your children chime in on anything related to a party. You end up with weird mish-mashed themes, unrealistic expectations, sweat and stress! But the kids chose the theme for their Daddy’s birthday cake this year and got a taste of that power, so when word was out that a cake was in the works, they did not hesitate to chime in.

Plus, Zeb’s cake adorned with a tableau of him punching a shark out of a wave turned out too good for me to not at least take the kids’ ideas into consideration.

They took the task seriously. Anson asked me “What did Hudson like?”

She liked it when Zeb and I would read to her.

I don’t have much in the way of physical evidence to support this – in Hudson’s three days, she gave little indication that she knew what was going on in the world around her – but she did hold my finger, and her heart rate would react to our touch, and reading to her was about the most normal parenting thing we got to do with her in those three days… And at the end of the day, I just believe in the magic of parent-child connection enough to not even hesitate when answering.

She liked it when Daddy and I would read to her.

“Let’s make her a book cake!”

And so it was decided.

Every weekend I’ve been running a 5K and donating what I would have paid in race fees to the Forget Me Not Foundation in Spokane. On each run, I’ve tried to be intentional in my thoughts – focusing in on a theme I want to contemplate while putting one foot in front of the other. The first run, I thought about leadership. And this weekend, on Hudson’s 8th birthday, I thought about the story of our lives.

I am writing this on the 8 year anniversary of the worst day of my life. Eight years ago, I held my baby daughter for the first time… as her heart slowed to a stop. This is the tragedy of my life. The unequivocal worst day. There was disbelief and bargaining and anguish and hopelessness.

This should not have happened to her. This should not have happened to us. Life isn’t supposed to be like this.

For weeks after, I would show up with a brave face during the day and crumble to uselessness at night. I remember one particularly awful night I thought I felt Hudson kicking, which led me to weep silently on my side until Zeb realized I was crying and turned to hold me. “I just want my baby” I explained.

Eight years later, and I’ve felt three more strong and incredible babies kick. I’ve held each of them within the first moments of their lives on earth. I’ve watched first steps, marveled at first words, been simultaneously delighted and frustrated by them.

And I’ve read them thousands of books.

On the morning of Hudson’s birthday, I asked Zeb over breakfast “Eight years ago, did you ever imagine life could be so great?”

“No way.”

Our story has some sad, sad pages. But our lives are filled with joy. Joy that is made even more beautiful because of the sad parts.

Hudson’s book birthday cake was designed to look like an open children’s book. I used fondant for the first time ever, and wrote in my most careful storybook cursive the words “She Believed She Could… so she did.” These words were on the walls of Hudson’s nursery that she never got to come home to – they are on the teeshirts for Hudson’s heroes runners … and they’ve come to symbolize that indomitable spirit of a 7 lb. 14 oz. redhead whose eyes never opened but whose life changed the world.

At Hudson’s birthday celebration this weekend, my grandma – GG – asked me, “What do those words mean to you?”

Those words are a rally cry for me.

She believed she could – so she did.

– if there is a dream on your heart, it is a belief that you just haven’t put action behind yet.

Even short stories can be life-changing.

None of us get to choose how many pages the story will have. But with every new page we have an opportunity to choose where to take the story next.

The Hudson’s Heroes teeshirts have the dates July 11 – July 14 printed on them – and under the dates of her short life, the words “The best three days ever.”

Looking back, I have to say that July 11-July 14 were probably NOT the best three days of my life but they are some of the most pivotal. They are a major turning point in my story – marking a turn of the page from what I expected life to be for me and what I needed to make life for myself.

No one’s life can be characterized by one genre of story. I opened this by asking if yours was a comedy, a romance, a tragedy. But my life is all of those things, and a thousand more. As I look at where I’m at in my life’s story, Hudson reminds me that you do not need 37 years or 100 years to make an impact. She reminds me that every single day is a page in the story and we can decide anytime we choose to make that story a lifechanging one.

ANYTIME. Not just when something amazing happens. Not only when bad things happen. Any random Tuesday, you can choose to change the story, to play the hero instead of the victim, to become an adventurer, a conqueror, a lover, a fighter, a champion for yourself and for others.

The most interesting parts of a well-written story are not the things that happen to the hero. It is the choices that the hero makes, the actions the hero takes, who the hero becomes in the process.

Your life’s story is being written right now. Choose today to make it epic.

….

Follow our family’s story by subscribing to the Work Hard, Mom Harder podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

And then, there were seven

Today started with hot, fat tears.

I had meant to send a note of appreciation to the social worker who was such a pivotal part of our experience with Hudson at Sacred Heart. I accidentally stumbled upon an online gallery of photos taken of Hudson on the night that she died.

Seeing that beautiful face, through the lens of our experience now, was bittersweet and heartache-inducing.

Anson, Maddox, and Marlowe are there. Maddox’s determined brow. Marlowe’s ridiculous lashes. Anson’s little butt-chin.

They’ll never know their big sister, not in this lifetime. But they’ll know a life with truly joyful parents.

Losing a child is a disaster. A life-wrecking event. Unrecoverable.

And yet.

We have joy.

We find it.

We create it.

It’s in Anson’s frantic, kinetic dance moves. It’s in his breathless laugh when he’s wrestling Daddy. It’s in his pensive expression when he needs an extra snuggle. The way he helps out willingly with “keeping Marlowe entertained.” “Who’s the best baby in the whole wide world? YOU ARE!”

It’s in the silly facial expressions Maddox makes when she’s talking about bird poop. The way she requests “Spicy Man” soap during bathtime (that’s Old Spice). Her exuberant “I love you in the whole wide world!” (no, I’m not accidentally leaving out words there)

And it’s in the weight I savor as I lift Marlowe out of her crib. The softness of her baby skin and the way she throws her head back into me when I pretend to chew on her ears, the gooey smiles she’ll give you in return for a high pitched, overly-expressive hello.

I don’t get to hold Hudson’s hand, braid her hair, take her to her first day of the 2nd grade, teach her to ride a bike, listen, work hard, or project from the diaphragm. These aren’t privileges I get in this life.

But I had her for three days, and she changed the way that I’ve looked at life these last seven years.

We’ve started a new tradition of bringing a Mylar balloon to Hudson’s stone at Veterans Memorial Golf Course on her birthday. Each of the “big kids” gets to pick one out. This year, Maddox chose (or perhaps, I chose for her…) a large unicorn balloon. Anson chose a butterfly.

Unfortunately, the unicorn untethered from its string and floated into the sky while we were loading the kids back into the car to head to Hudson’s stone. We tried to make the most of a bad situation, encouraging Maddox to look out the window and spot the balloon as it floated up to heaven.

Maddox moaned and cried, exclaiming “It’s my fault.” Her brother comforted her by saying, “Maddox, it’s okay. That balloon was for Hudson, and now she has it.”

When we arrived at Hudson’s stone, Maddox eagerly “planted” the roses we’d brought out and then asked if she could water them. Then, she asked, “Why don’t I see Hudson?”

“Because Hudson died, sweetie. We won’t get to see her in this life.”

It’s around this age that Anson started to understand death, too. 

But at bedtime, Maddox requested that I sing “Happy Home” and that I include Hudson in the song. “With Hudson in the family, happy happy home…”

“Hudson’s mybig, big sister!” Maddox said, trying to keep her heavy eyelids open.

“Yes, my darling, she is.”

“I love her in the whole wide world.”

And that about sums up my feelings about her, too.

Though the day started with tears, it ends with a heart full of joy. What gifts we have, when we choose to see them. What joy we can create, when we are mindful about creating it. And what a life we can build out of the ashes of tragedy, when we see how much life can be lived in just three short days.

 

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What six years without you look like

Well, Hudson… another year has passed.

Another year of missing you. Another year of having a thousand things to be thankful for, and one gaping hole where you belong.

A lot has changed since you would have been 5…

Your little brother Anson is a dashing, charming, big-hearted ball of boy, who is curious about you, who loves his little sister and his Mommy and Daddy and really just about anybody he’s ever met. Today, I told him I would get him from “school” early so that he and baby sister could pick out balloons to bring to your memorial stone.

“Why?”
“Because, it’s Hudson’s birthday.”
“Again!?” (We had cake for you with our family this weekend)

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I just caught a glimpse of a little white butterfly who fluttered up against the window to say hello.

Your baby sister, Maddox, is not so much a baby anymore. She’ll be two in October, with a head full of red hair just like yours, a mouth full of new words that she surprises us with from time to time, and a heart full of spunk that I think she also got from big sister.

Your Mommy and Daddy are pretty excited that you’ll have one more baby brother or sister this November!

Your family is really, really, incredibly and genuinely happy.

But we miss you.

I got an email from a photo storage service today: “Your memories from this week six years ago!” Guess whose face I got to see?

Yours.

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Your beautifully formed little face, sweet girlie. A face that never smiled at me, eyes that never opened, but a heart that changed my life. 

Last night, your Daddy and I went on a date. We got to talking about you, because, we love you and miss you daily, but think about you an extra lot this week in particular. Even though we miss you, and this world isn’t right without you in it, the resounding theme in our conversation wasn’t of sadness and disappointment, but of gladness, of hope, of happiness. How lucky we are that we had three days to spend with you, even though we would give anything for even a few hours more.

Even though life isn’t perfect, we are still abundantly happy.

Even though we lost everything the day that you died, we somehow have ended up with more than we imagined we could ever have.

Six years go by fast. I remember the agony as we waited for weeks to pass, months to pass, how far I wanted to get from losing you even as I mourned how far I was from having you. And there is comfort in time. The years have gone by, and filled with moments and memories and whole new human beings that we love with a fierceness that probably gets an extra touch of intensity because of you.

That’s right, Hudson. Because of you, Anson and Maddox get loved on extra hard. Because of you, I look at people as miracles who deserve to be respected and honored and heard, who deserve to be seen, who deserve to matter. Because of your life, I’m living mine with more intention and focus. Because of you, I became a Mommy and I found a new place in my heart I couldn’t have imagined.

That new place in my heart made it hurt much more to be broken.

It also helps me to love even harder, and to feel love more deeply.

I miss you so much, Hudson. I yearn for the life we would have had these last 6 years, for the milestones we never got with you, for a world with you in it.

I’m also thankful for the life we have. For the world as it is, broken though it be, and for the amazing people in it because of you.

I guess what you need to know is, we miss you, but we’re happy, cherishing the love you brought to our lives and looking forward to our family being as complete as it ever will be come November. We don’t know what life would have been like with you in it for longer than those three days, but we know what you’ve helped to make it in six years.

Beautiful.

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…still in the family

Five years ago today, we met our firstborn.

It feels like a thousand years ago, and yesterday, all at once.

This past weekend, we celebrated Hudson’s beautiful but short life with close family. I want for Hudson’s brother and sister to always associate July 11 with celebration instead of grief, so every year, I make Hudson an elaborately decorated birthday cake and share it with those who shared those three awful/wonderful days with us in Spokane.

We have very large pictures of Hudson on the walls of our home, and have never been shy about talking about Anson’s big sister. Now three years old, Anson is beginning to have some small concept of mortality. While decorating Hudson’s birthday cake this year, Anson asked who the birthday cake was for. I told him it was for his sister.

“Baby sister?”
“No, this cake is for your big sister, Hudson.”
“When is she coming over?”
“Oh honey, Hudson isn’t going to be coming over.”
“‘Cuz why?”

Ugh. I quickly contemplated the various forms of response that I could serve up to my 3-year-old to explain where Hudson is and why she can’t come to her own birthday party. She’s in heaven crossed my mind as perhaps the rosiest of responses, but instead I just shot him straight.

“Because, Anson. Hudson died.”

No sugar-coating or fairytale-ing it.

Anson looked at me for a moment as if he knew this meant something important, then returned to decorating the frosting patch I had given him to distract from decorating the real cake.

During story time before his nap, Anson looked up at me and said “I’m so disappointed that Hudson died.”

Me too, buddy.

At bedtime, it felt important to include Hudson in our night-night tradition of “With — in the family, happy happy home”. A heavy-lidded, PJed Anson interrupted me mid-verse:

“Hudson’s not here anymore, but she’s still in the family.”

Well put, my wise little man. While Hudson’s not here anymore, she is still our first-born, the first to make the Hubs and I parents, a true heartbreaker who didn’t get much time with us, but somehow still managed to change the world.

My sister-in-law has a grandmother who is turning 101 while we celebrate what would have been Hudson’s 5th birthday. Think of what Hudson could have accomplished with 101 years. She moved mountains in just 3 days.

And while she’s not here to blow out the candles on her rainbow layered birthday cake, to rule the house and boss her little brother and sister around, to sass and dance and skin her knees and sneak a lick of frosting from the bowl, she’s still in the family. I see her in the beautiful blue eyes of her siblings. I hear her in their belly laughs. She’s the extra squeeze in our goodnight hugs.

She’s in those moments when we stop doing what we think is important and focus on what is truly important.

Happy birthday, girlie.

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Hudson’s Sister

I have been silent here for so long, it almost felt like sacrilege to sit down and write again.

But Hudson has a baby sister, and I think that might be the best way to close the journey we share here.

Meet Maddox Debbie Sue.

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Yes, her hair is red.

She’s our little unicorn baby, with her sweet disposition, her little buddha belly and her love of the camera.

The only way life could possibly be better was if Hudson were here to show Maddox the ropes.

 

If I had a Three-Year-Old Today

…She would be sticky stinky campfire smells.

…She would need a bath. Now.

…She wouldn’t want to go to bed. Ever.

…She would test her Mommy’s patience daily.

…She would shout “No, I love YOU” and laugh from her belly.

…She would be soft and sweet and droopy eyelids.

…She would be told every day how much she is loved.

But my three-year-old daughter only lived three days, and I have missed out on every day with her since.

It has been three years since Hudson died, and today I am melancholy for all the things we are missing.

We won’t get to teach our three-year-old daughter her A, B, Cs or her 1, 2, 3s. We won’t get to teach her right from wrong, left from right, her colors or her shapes, the names of her dogs or the names of her siblings. We can only wish for these things now, and cherish every second we have with her baby brother.

Because it’s all we get, I’ll live with it, and I’ll be thankful for it. But every once in a while, and especially on the 14th of July, all I wish for is a world where things went differently.

I wish I had a three-year-old today.

So much gratitude

Of course the obvious subject of today’s post would be Anson. My heart is juicy, oozy full of love and gratitude for our son, this incredible little being who made the Hubs and I parents again.

DSC_0891My husband would make another excellent subject for today’s thoughts on gratitude. After all, he has kept me sane through life’s trials, he challenges me daily to be the best version of myself, he is a tremendously thoughtful and engaged father, and he is not too hard on the eyes.

img_033Being a family with these guys is pretty damn swell.

But there’s always the one that got away: Our sweet girl, Hudson.

And today, I am thankful for the family we are because of her.

I have had a difficult time writing lately. I haven’t had the energy, the creative juices, the subject matter, frankly.

This blog was intended to be a place to share my sometimes comical musings on pregnancy and parenthood.

Tragedy struck, and this blog became something entirely different.

I have felt like what I want to write about now is…

,,,Superficial.

…Trite.

…Too much sunshine and rainbows.

…Lacking in profundity and thus unworthy of being shared here, where Hudson’s life is captured in as much detail as I could muster.

So I don’t write for weeks, months. And when was the last time I cried because I miss my daughter? Is this moving on? Getting over it? I am no longer awash with envy at every new pregnancy announcement.

I almost feel guilty for how happy I am.

Hudson made me a mommy, put life in perspective, broke my heart and somehow still makes every day of my life better simply by having lived at all.

And so today I’m thankful for legendary red hair

for a little girl with a big name

for strong arms to hold me when my empty arms ached

for a little boy who completely owns me

for family.

Prayers for my son

All the parenting books say you need to get your kids into a bedtime routine.

So, we do a few things every night before we put Anson down in his crib.

Bath Time is most certainly Anson’s favorite.
Story Time is next: sometimes just one book and sometimes a few, but ALWAYS “Sleep Tight, Sleepy Bears.”

Then songs: sometimes just one song and sometimes a few, but ALWAYS “With Anson in the Family, Happy Happy Home”

And always, before I put Anson down in his crib for the night, I say a prayer for him.

We all have dreams for our children. We know we want the best for them, and we want them to be the best they can be. That’s the big picture. But there are these little prayers:

“Tonight, my prayer for you is that you have good friends in life, the kind who look out for you.”
“Tonight, my prayer for you is that you always see the good in others, even when it isn’t easy.”
“Tonight, my prayer for you is that you like getting a little exercise.”
“Tonight, my prayer for you is that you learn to push yourself.”
“Tonight, my prayer for you is that you aren’t afraid of things you haven’t tried.”

And on and on.

Usually they just pop into my head as I’m putting him down, but there are some that are a little more profound.

Like how I want our son to know about his sister, and how I want her to be a part of his life, without him feeling like he has anything to live up to.

We have two very big pictures of Hudson hanging on the wall of our staircase. Anson is often fixated by his sister’s face as we walk up and down the stairs. I like to think he knows that face is important.

Next to the big recliner in our living room (where I have often nursed Anson since he was brand new), there is a picture of the skyline taken from Hudson’s Hole at Vet’s golf course. It was given to us by Grandma and Grandpa Dub on Hudson’s 1st birthday. Ever since Anson was a tiny baby, he locks in on that picture, cranes his neck to get it just right in his view. I like to think he knows that place is important.

I wear a necklace every day with Hudson’s name and birthstone. Sometimes when I’m holding Anson, he’ll get a look of intense concentration and grab at the little round part with her name on it. I like to think he knows that name is important.

While the pain of losing Hudson is pushed to a small corner of my heart to make room for all this crazy elated joy over watching her baby brother grow, I do still feel that pain. I’m glad that as a mother, I can see my son and share the experience of raising him with my husband and not be overwhelmed with the “What We’ve Missed”. And I guess that’s just one more prayer for my son:

“Tonight, my prayer for you is that you focus on all that you have in this life, instead of on the things you don’t.”

Because even though his big sister isn’t here for him to grow up with, she is a part of his life every day.

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Sky full of stars

Hearts break every day, but there’s something about the loss of a child that does something different… not better, not worse, just a deeper impact on the heart. There is this new connection I feel to other mothers and especially to other mothers who have lost a child. And every time I hear about babyloss, my heart feels that deeper-than-a-break stab, my throat tightens, I hurt from missing Hudson.

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine lost her toddler in a freak accident. She has an older son who now sees his baby brother in the stars.

And of course there’s this Coldplay song.

Catchy hook, easy to remember lyrics, the perfect song to belt in my car with the windows down in the summer sun. And I can’t hear that damn thing without thinking of my friend’s baby boy, his big brother looking out the window at the nightsky and exclaiming that he can see his baby brother.

And I belt it anyway.

And I send a little love across the universe to my friend, and her family.

You know when you’re singing and you start to cry?

When I belt out “I think I see you-ooooooooooo” I think of Hudson’s beautiful little face too. I think of her as a star in the nightsky: maybe a little wistful that she didn’t get to spend this life with us, but surrounded by such beauty, contributing to the awesome sky-scape with her own unique light, eager for the day Anson looks out the window and shouts to Mommy and Daddy that he can see his big sister in the stars.

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It’s the 2-year anniversary of the worst day of my life

On Hudson’s birthday, we celebrate. Today, I do my best to ignore the date, not to think about the early hours of July 14, 2012. The day my heart broke. My record-setting tears day. The day we went home without our baby.

There were several other Worst-Days that followed, but July 14 was the day that our daughter’s heart stopped beating. We’ve spent every day since missing Hudson, wishing that there were some time machine that could take us back to the early hours of July 11 and change everything.

Hudson changed everything for us, and in so many good ways that I chose to focus on instead of the few wrecked ways that I never could control.

So on the 2-year anniversary of the worst day of my life, I’m going to stay busy. I’m going to enjoy my son, my precious Day-Maker who changed everything AGAIN when he arrived on the scene. I’m going to appreciate my wonderful family and my amazing husband.

And I’m going to ignore the date.

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