May 26, 2014

Memorial Day (is Not Veterans Day)

Today is a day to honor, remember, and pay tribute to those who gave their lives in service to our nation. It is kind and honorable to thank Veterans and to acknowledge their service, but today is not the day for that. A good analogy I saw recently stated that it would be like thanking all the fathers on Mother's Day. Sure, fathers deserve praise, but they have a day for that. Just as Veterans have their day in November. But today is for the fallen. Today is for those we cannot thank in person, but we can honor them and never forget the weight of their sacrifice.

Our hero, Daren - KIA 20 Feb 2011
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I wanted to share this beautiful speech my friend and West Point classmate Mel Levey gave today at a Memorial Day Ceremony in his hometown of Merced, California where he is a candidate for the 16th Congressional District.

Memorial Day Is Unique
Remarks delivered by Mel Levey at the Merced District Cemetery, 26 May 2014
Good morning, I am humbled to speak here today.  To our Gold Star Families who are here with us, THANK YOU.  Thank you for allowing us to share in honoring and remembering your sacrifice, and may our presence here bring you comfort in knowing that your loved ones have not, and will not, be forgotten.  
Unique among holidays, Memorial Day is nearly timeless.  Unlike most aspects of our world, Memorial Day remains mostly unchanged since its inception in 1868.  Were a war widow from those post-Civil War years to find herself at this cemetery among those of us gathered today, she would understand our purpose here.  She would empathize with our emotions and she would grip hands with us in remembering our dead.  This 19thcentury woman would likely not recognize our technology or our fashion styles, but she would recognize this ceremony.  She would know that we assemble here, as Americans do in cemeteries throughout our country today, to lay flowers and make speeches in hopes of remembering the sacrifice that the bravest among us have made.  This Civil War widow would know that war has touched us as it has every generation of Americans and she would grieve with us for loved ones lost in Korea and Vietnam, Kuwait and Afghanistan and Iraq, and many other places, just as she would have gathered in 1868 to remember her love lost at Shiloh or Petersburg.
Unique among holidays, Memorial Day is painfully silent. It is a day when black bracelets feel a little tighter and dog tags weigh a little heavier. Whereas other holidays are defined by a journey home, complete with a reunion of family and friends, Memorial Day is void of these cheers and hugs; the jokes and the laughter. Instead, this day is marked by its loss; by our collective loss—by reunions that will be incomplete in this life but so steadfastly hoped for in the afterlife.
Unique among holidays, Memorial Day is overwhelmingly melancholic. Unlike those holidays that we eagerly await and then lament for having been too short, for many, Memorial Day does not pass cheerfully or quickly.  Rather, many of us gird ourselves for the emotions we are sure to feel today—sadness, loneliness, perhaps guilt.  Above all, however, we know that on this day each year, we will be enormously grateful.  Grateful to be here to remember the lives and the sacrifices of the best people many of us will ever know.  Grateful for the chance to have met and served with those who are no longer with us.  
Unique among holidays, Memorial Day is continuouslyrenewed. Unlike other holidays, today we do not celebrate a single date or life in history.  We honor the millions of men and women who died fighting for the values of freedom and democracy that define our nation. We do not honor only a single greatest generation, or a single battle; rather, we remember the greatest of every generation in every war in which this country has fought.  For every generation has had its call to arms as well as its own roster of heroes who have valiantly answered it.  Today we remember the young Americans who have put our survival on their backs and carried us as far as life’s breath would allow.  
Unique among holidays, Memorial Day is profoundly different to each and every one of us; for those who have sacrificed, and their families and friends, and for those who have helped to bear the pain of the suffering on days when the loss seemed too great to handle.
While some days of remembrance fade into history, Memorial Day cannot.  Each generation feels its pain; expresses their gratitude. But flowers and speeches on the final Monday in May each year cannot be our only expression of gratitude. We must pick up our fallen comrades’ packs and continue the march to a better, more peaceful, place.  We, the ones who remain, must continue to strive and work in hopes that one day there may be a generation of Americans who honor our war dead without ever knowing them.  That is a blessing thus far elusive, but one which our fallen demand that we seek.
On this Memorial Day, we remember our friends and battle buddies, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives.  Today, we remember our sons and daughters, taken too soon so that we may live on.  Lest we forget.
May God continue to bless the United States of America.  Thank you.

May 21, 2014

Do Small Things with Great Love

I have a friend, Julie, who is hoping to adopt. She shared this on her facebook page, and I just wanted to share it here as well:

The world has changed. No longer do many women walk into an adoption agency to say their thinking about adoption for their baby, no longer is there a list of families just waiting for their name to come to the top of the list, and no longer are closed adoptions commonplace. These days most adoptions occur through word of mouth, technology, or however a recommendation or good word can be put in for a hopeful adoptive family through a trusted person who knows the birth family.
Please do look at our website and if you feel comfortable, Oh Please Do share us with your friends! You never know. Maybe it's your friend's friend or relative who's meant to be an integral part of our lives, and us of theirs.
Thank you so much!! 
Julie and her husband Brad have already been though so much turmoil to build their family. It is a small, very small, thing for me to take two minutes and share their story here. But it is with great love (and admiration) that I have for Julie and her family that I share her link here in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it helps them bring home another much wanted child, who will undoubtedly be on the receiving end of so much love.

May 15, 2014

Return to Zero

I got an email this week from a woman who lost her daughter just days shy of her due date. Days. It's so heartbreaking to hear of new loses and to know that this tragedy still happens and sometimes when I do hear of a new loss I think, "I can't even imagine..." And obviously that's silly for a few reasons. Because of course I can image. I lived it. I know exactly what it's like to lose your child. To be so close and have your dreams and your plans shattered. To have to deliver a lifeless baby you so desperately want to bring home. Of course I can imagine it. It's a horrific reality I know all too well.

Often when we hear of other people's tragedies we say "I can't imagine," in response to their experience - I've heard that many times when people learn of Cale, and I'm sure I've said it many times in response to others stories. But really, what we should say is "I don't understand your pain, but I'd like to try to understand it a little better." Because we want people to imagine. We want them to be willing to try and imagine what it's like (whatever "it" is). Because in doing so you show your humanity and your compassion.

The people who haven't walked in our shoes, but try to imagine what it must be like - they are true gems. They are the people you grab hold of and surround yourself with. They are the people who deserve to share in your joy because they don't shy away from your pain.

Awhile back I heard about a movie that was in the works called Return to Zero. It's based on the the director's true story of losing his son when his wife was pregnant and their journey as they navigate life after loss.

I pledged $35 through Kickstarter when the film was raising the funds necessary for production and as a result would receive frequent updates during the filming and production. The day before filming, the director, Sean Hannish, sent out an email welcoming people from the baby loss community to share their thoughts with the cast and crew. He wanted to read them aloud before filming took place. I thought it was a powerful thing to do and so I sent him this email:

Dear Cast and Crew of Return to Zero -
Thank you for giving your time, energy and part of your hearts to the making of Return to Zero. You are doing so much more than making a movie. You are giving a voice to a community of grieving families, to a tragedy that isn't spoken about as often as it should, and most importantly, you are giving a voice to those who are not here. Our children.

Cale Harrison Hidalgo is one of those children. He was seven pounds even with dark brown hair. He looked like his Daddy. He had big chubby hands was perfect in every way except the most important one. He passed away as I went into labor. Our much wanted, much loved first child. So much hope, so many dreams, so much love.

The hope and dreams for his future died with him. But the love. . .our love for Cale will always be there. I wish I got to share him with the world, but I do what I can to still be his mother. To tell others about him. To be his advocate and share his story and his brief, but beautiful, life. 

Thank you for also being my son's advocate. Thank you for your willingness to tell this story. 

Wishing you the best of luck - may this be a successful and meaningful journey for you all.

Cale's Mom

 And sure enough, I got a response back from the director thanking me for my words and offering his condolences over the loss of Cale. I have no doubts that he wrote everyone back and no doubts that he took to heart each and every message he received.

The movie, and independent film, went on to get enough funds (I suspect in large thanks to the baby loss community), but could not get a distribution deal in theaters. Minnie Driver (who I've loved since Circle of Friends and now love even more) stars at the mother to the stillborn baby and has done some wonderful interviews raising awareness of and promoting the film. She mentioned in an interview recently that part of the reason the movie could not get a distribution deal was because it's too sad. No one wants to see such a sad movie, no one wants to talk about such a sad subject. Fortunately, Lifetime picked it up, and this Saturday at 7pm central, Return to Zero will air for the first time. I'm thankful that the people at Lifetime were willing to take on a sad movie and willing to show something so that maybe others can imagine what it's like. Viewership is important for films like this as the more people that watch, the more times it will get replayed. The more times it is aired, more awareness will be raised.

I have see clips of the movie (the trailer can be seen here), and while I'm sure it will bring up lots of emotions, I'm excited to see it. I'm excited that there will be people talking about stillbirth and excited that this will help break the silence that surrounds far too many infant loses.

If you've never experienced the loss of a child, especially if you've never experienced the loss of a child, I encourage you to watch the film. Help break the silence.

May 9, 2014

Mother's Day

Last week as we were waiting for our stuff to arrive at our empty house, I was laying on the floor with the kids. Roscoe, who was probably the only member of the family not to mind the lack of furniture, happily came over to join us for a snuggle.

I grabbed my phone to take this picture, although it looks as though Finn were the photographer. Of course Mary, who had been smiling moments prior, decided she would make this adorable stink face for the picture.

It's hard to see, but I'm wearing a necklace with a little gold disc that reads, "cale." Miles got it for me last year for Mother's Day. It's a beautiful necklace and if I'm not wearing it, I'm usually wearing a silver one with his name or one with his initial my sister-in-law gave me. But almost every day, I have some sort of Cale jewelry on.

But I wish that instead of pretty necklaces symbolizing my first child, that the space in the bottom right of that picture was occupied. There will forever be an empty space in our family that I wish was filled with the immeasurable, yet massive, absence he left behind.

I miss him.

I miss him as Mother's Day approaches and I can't kiss his sweet face and look into his brown eyes and thank him for making me a mother. And I miss him on days that are sunny and beautiful and I can smile and laugh and hold my two other children (and fur baby).

I will miss him on Mother's Day and I will miss him always.

Mother's Day will always be bittersweet for me, as I know it is for so many. And to be honest I don't want the day to be much different than any other day because of the emotional complexity it brings. Today I saw some beautiful hydrangeas at the grocery store and sent a picture to Miles as a hint for a last minute gift idea. Seriously, Miles - you could just get me a plant and I'd be thrilled. Typing that out is just another reminder how much I am turning in to my own mother. Which I suppose is fitting given the topic at hand.

This Sunday I suspect will be like all days, and like all Mother's Days. A little sad, mostly happy, and also sort of exhausting. If the weather cooperates we plan to go tot he beach (because we live near a beach now and I plan to continually remind my friends and family of that fact to lure them in for a visit). And I will enjoy the day and our two kids, one who probably won't sleep through the night, the other who probably will sit in time out at least once. And I'll miss their brother with a little extra tug at my heart on the day I can claim as mine, because of him. So this Mother's Day, if your heart is heavy and your missing your own mom, or one of your kids, or your chance to have ever been a mom - I hope the day is a gentle one. And hope someone buys you a nice plant.


May 6, 2014

Mary's First Beach Trip

Over the weekend our stuff was delivered to our new home in Savannah, Georgia. Boxes literally filled our house and there were about a million and one things to take care of, but on Sunday the weather was beautiful and we decided that a trip to the beach was a much better way to spend our time than unpacking.

We started our Sunday by going downtown for mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which is where Mary will be baptized next month, and then out to eat at our favorite breakfast place J. Christopher's (I know we've only lived here all but one week so it's a little premature to claim some place as our favorite, but in all our visits to Savannah over the years, we always would make a stop at J. Christopher's - it's amazing. Come visit, and we'll take you).

After breakfast we drove out to Tybee Island which was Mary's first trip to the beach. Finn has her beat though as his first beach trip was when we was two months old when we visited Destin, Florida. He also had already been to Tybee Island, but not since he was 11 months old. I was a little worried that at nearly three he would be scared of the ocean, but he could not get enough of it. He loved playing in the water with Miles and even when he was shivering he would say he wasn't cold and wanted to go back in. He also had a great time playing in the sand with his construction vehicles. Because of course.

It was a perfect Sunday and I can't wait to take them back again next weekend and can't get over the fact that we can take them back next weekend because we live so close to a beach! Visitors welcome!


May 2, 2014

Daddy's Home

Alternate Title: The Day Mama Became Chopped Liver.

In early January when Mary was only 20 days old, Miles moved to Savannah, Georgia where he signed in to a new unit and got his fifth free airline ticket to Afghanistan. His unit was already deployed, but thanks to Mary's timing, he was able to remain in Texas for her birth and deploy a little later. Because he was set to deploy as soon as he arrived in Georgia, we decided it made the most sense for me to stay near our family and friends who live in Texas. I'm so glad we did that too - because while it was a fairly short deployment, it was so nice to live near so many supportive and helpful friends. It was nice for Finn to have the people he knew nearby (especially his cousins who are his best buddies) and to stick to his usual routine in the midst of a new baby arriving and his daddy leaving.

About a month ago Miles returned home from his deployment. Mary and I flew out to Georgia to welcome him back and to house hunt while Finn remained in Texas with my mom (who was on her spring break) and later his Aunt Jenny who looked after him until I returned.

I'm not going to lie - it was nice to get away for a little bit and for me to miss Finn for a few days. Mary and I got to Savannah two days before Miles arrived so it was nice for us to have time together and nice to just not have to worry about taking the toddler to the bathroom, putting him down for naps, putting him in timeout when he got sassy, making meals, giving baths, laundry, cleaning, playing, etc.  Being a single parent for a few months with an infant and a toddler just got a little exhausting at times. I fully realize that it could be much worse - and Miles was only gone for a short time, but it still is just draining and I have crazy respect for the single parents who do it day in and day!

We decided it was best to just tell Finn that I was going to Georgia to look for a new house (since I was!) and leave out the part about Daddy coming home. I didn't want him to think that Mary got to go see Daddy, but he had to stay put - that would have been hard for him.

While the trip was a quick one, Mary and I were thrilled that we could be there when Miles returned:

After the weekend, I flew back home with Mary while Miles inprocessed back with his unit and waited until they were on block leave to return to Texas and help us move.

A little over a week ago Miles arrived back home. His flight got delayed (because of course) so instead of bringing Finn to the airport with me to pick Miles up, I put him to sleep at his cousins house where he would wake up the next day to his Daddy being home. When he did wake up the next morning (nearly two hours earlier than usual!) he was a bit confused as to what was going on. I took him to the bathroom and told him I had a surprise for him. I asked, "do you want your surprise?" to which he replied "uh huh" and I told him Daddy was home and we walked around the corner to see Miles waiting there for him. He just kind of stood there and stared at him for a minute trying to process it all. But within no time he was bringing Miles books and climbing all over him and has been his shadow ever since.

It's been so nice to see them together again and I'm so grateful that Finn has not had any issues readjusting to Miles being home in the sense that he hasn't had to warm up to him and they have been able to just pick back up where they left up. The one area we have seen some impact of Miles' absence has been with Finn's anxiety about him leaving again. Miles will walk out of the room and Finn will immediately ask me "wanna see Dadda, please?" or will just follow him anywhere he goes. When Miles was loading up the UHaul for our big trek to Savannah he closed the door behind him and Finn came in the room crying asking me where he went. He does not like it when Miles goes somewhere, even when he get out of the car to pump gas!

It's so sweet that he loves his daddy so much, but a little heartbreaking to know that he's worried about Miles leaving him again. Just something we will need to prep him for later this year when deployment #6 rolls around (sigh).

The other not-so-sweet side of it is that he wants nothing to do with me anymore! He wants Dadda to read the books and sit next to him. He wants Dadda to hold his hand and put him to bed at night. Don't worry kid, I only did everything for you for the last four months, I don't need a little love or anything you ungrateful jerk! 

All kidding aside, Finn has always been a Daddy's boy and I'm glad that despite a (short) deployment, he still totally is.