Saturday, November 27, 2010


The bugs love their cousins! What a whirlwind 30 hours where they got to play with all of them. So while they played, Daddy went to work and I shopped with my Dad, My Sister and my Niece. My Dad and I shop every Black Friday together. Our tradition since the day Eric was hospitalized.

Our next tradition after the shopping, is to start decorating for Christmas. I love Christmas time. I love the way our house looks, I love the excitement and anticipation. I love the twinkle in the bugs eyes. I love how we whisper plans and dream about all our traditions. It's amazing to me how much of last year I don't remember. I tried to remember where we shopped last year. Blank. I tried to remember my birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Allan's Birthday. Nothing. I know that if someone tells me, I'll remember it. On my own? Nothing. I was noticing this as we unpacked some decorations. I don't remember putting them out or puttting them away last year. I also don't really remember where some came from either.

This year, as with the Christmases directly following Eric's death, I am trying to get there. I want to feel that anticipation of the celebration of Christ's birth. My love language is totally in line with the holiday. I love to give gifts just as much as I love to receive them. (And I'll tell you, I L-O-V-E presents). I will get there, I can have Hope and Joy. I like to.

What I notice this year is that it is hard to find the "thing" to give as a gift. I feel a little like, "what does it matter, it's just stuff." That being said, I wouldn't feel like that if Allan came home with something in the diamond category or a ... Dyson, or some Wusthof knives.

The things of this world are not that important. Our relationships are. Times together and ever our very traditions. The things that seem to store the memories that are treasures, painful and poignant. The routines that touch our very souls and make us feel connected to the ones who have gone before and connect us to the ones who are within reach. This year the bigger bugs are remembering all the "things" we do at Christmas time. They are remembering the traditions we started and missed last year and are asking to reinstate them.

I love that they remember all these things. But I don't love that we didn't do them last year. I don't love that Elaina does not know how "we make pie" together and the Bigger Bugs don't know that I "know how to make bread" (..."But Mom, is THAT how Grandmas does it?"). So I think I need to do those things more with them. I need to dig deep, stop feeling sorry for myself and remind them that we do love to bake.

Tonight we decorated our Christmas tree. I cried, as I do every year. I miss my kids. I really do. My Bugs let me cry without getting upset about it. They told me that it was going to be ok. I got a back rub and Teddy came to give me a hug. (To think that last year when Santa visited Ava at the Hospital and dropped off that bear and I thought 'oh great now what am I going to do with another stuffed animal'.) I simply told my Bugs that I just cry, because I just miss those babies.

So there is another tradition. I don't think that it will end anytime soon. I'm not sure if I'm ready for it to. Neither Eric nor Ava made it to Christmas. But they do have their own ornaments. Our Christmas Tree is one of the few places that I get to have a representation that we are a family of 7, not 5. We all hang our own ornaments, and we all share the responsibility of hanging Eric and Ava's. We remember that if Christ was not born, we would not be reunited. That's a pretty good tradition too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Prep

There is a lot of pressure during the Holiday season. There is pressure from the family to get together, there is pressure from the stores to spend our money there, there is a palpable external pressure to be Happy. Today is such and such Holiday. I MUST be happy.

I tend to be a happy person. Seriously though, why do I have to be happy the 4th Thursday in November and on the 25th of December. I am the same me I was on the 2nd Thurs in Nov and the same me will be around the 27th of December.

I decided that I can't try to make this holiday season the "best" for our bugs and for ourselves. I am going to let it just happen and unfold the way it must; with all it's glamour and ugliness, with the trappings of joy and sorrow we feel. I don't want to force our bugs into thinking they have to feel a way that they don't.

Sitting in a room with family highlights who is missing. Not being able to talk about it and keeping a stiff upper lip is isolating. Family pictures are not for us. I know we need to celebrate the family we are and the family we have. The snap of the shudder with us "all together" is a misnomer.

Don't get me wrong. We want to have fun. We don't want to mope. But we just may not be there on the prescribed day. My experience notes it's the exact opposite. If I HAVE to feel a certain way, the pressure becomes too much and the exterior crumbles.

We all have someone we miss at the holiday table. It's ok to miss them. It's ok to cry. It's ok to smile and have fun too. It's not ok to expect- to expect grief or joy. Those two emotions are intertwined.

We don't have to put on a air of grief so as not to dishonor those who've died. We don't have to put on an air of joy to make all around feel safe. We are who we are no matter what the calendar dictates.

After Eric died, I made it my mission that I would not let the timeliness of his hospitalization (the day after Thanksgiving, 7 years ago) and his death- Dec 16, 2003- affect my enjoyment of the holiday season. It was working.

I haven't had the time or energy to think that far ahead this year. But I do know that we celebrate these holidays for a reason. One that is much bigger than the deaths of my children. Thanksgiving is a way to remember the beginnings of this great country that allows me the freedoms I enjoy and take for granted. Freedom to worship my God and to live to Blog about it.

Christmas is at the right time for the Benton Family. What better way to remember why we have Joy and Hope? We celebrate the birth of the WHOLE reason that I can get out of bed in the morning and face the day. The WHOLE reason that I can deal with my pain and shoulder that of our bugs.

Last year we knew our sweet baby girl would die sooner than we wanted. We hoped that she could recover. We pressed on with our traditions and balanced time with our four little ladybugs. It should have been a bad Thanksgiving. But how could it have been? Got to kiss my 4 sweet baby girls. I got to hang out with the love of my life too. Sure it's a haze, but I do remember those things. I am so thankful for that.

7 years ago- we did not know how our lives were about to change. We were caught up in hosting Thanksgiving and brining a bird. I had a pair a big blue eyes look at me with adoration. I heard Eric's belly laugh for the first time Thanksgiving night. Good memories I think.

Someday we will be over involved with the Holiday hoopla and get all excited and bent out of shape about the dumb things that annoy us all. This year we will take a step back and just let it be and see what forms out of the shadows of our experiences, knowing full well God is walking us down that path and is casting the light so we can have a shadow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blooms and Bugs

The big bugs are 6. I can hardly believe where the time went. I look at how much they've changed and grown since the first time I saw them, 6 weeks before their due date and only 5 pounds 1 ounce and 4 pounds 9 ounces. I am in awe.

In all honesty, their birthday was bad. They were both so sad the whole day and the days leading up to it. Last year, Ava went to the hospital on their 5th birthday. On the Sunday before their birthday I talked with Allan about a new approach. When dealing with tough issues I am from the "let them approach it with you" school of thought. We were all going down hill fast. Then I realized, if Allan and I are feeling this way and are taken aback by the root of the emotion, how the heck would the buggie boos be able to identify what is happening in their little minds?

So we had a family meeting at lunch. We were talking about what traditions are in the days preceding, so we continued on the theme. We have bookmarks in our memory about what happened last year, we all do. Right now through the end of the year, all those bookmarks are in pages of not great images of Ava, us not being there for them, others caring for them, and for Allan and myself lots of negative flashbacks regarding her care by a few physicians. (We try to balance them out with the images of those who cared for her very well too, but the bad sometimes takes over). We talked about how hard this is for us as well as them. We talked about how OK it is to feel all the jumbled up things we are feeling inside. We remembered that even during the bad times of Ava in the hospital, we have some precious memories of her too.

Armed with that knowledge- we muddled through the first marker of what will most likely be a rocky time in the Benton house. We tried to have fun together. We went out to lunch and they got free dessert and a song. I just cried because I was not home last year to sing to them. I cried because they were so sad during the song. I cried because they were there, with me and they made it another year. I peered their image in the rear view mirror and saw the long faces. Alexa simply stated, "We're having a hard time, Mom." So we just made a 4 Benton pile on the couch and snuggled in front of the TV for an hour. Megan and Mrs. B coming over to give love and Daddy coming home early to go watch them in gymnastics class helped turn the day around.

After they went to bed, I hit one of the lowest lows I've had in quite a long time. I could not feel how awful I felt. I couldn't put words to it. I knew that there was no possible way I could make it through the end of the year. All forward just seemed black. I asked Allan what he does if and when he gets that way. He answered, "I think of all the good things". Honestly, I could not think of a good thing. All my good things were over shadowed by a black cloud of grief too.

I sometimes wonder how anyone can understand the horrific grief we feel. The 2 cards we get from the hospital offering condolences, and offers to light a candle. The two letters from the cemetery wanting to know if I want to put a wreath on the graves of my 2 babies I will never hold here again. The two letters from the funeral home wanting to know if I want to light a candle. I really don't want to do any of it EVER. I just want them. I just want a baby to hold and love. I want my bugs to not be so sad. And I really really wish that we weren't called to the Joy-Hope Foundation for I wish that there was not a need to help those who truly do understand.

My bugs are all dealing in their own way and somewhat the same as even Allan and me. They don't understand. They are hurt that "everyone else" gets to have a baby to love and we can't. We write letters to Ava, we write down anything we remember about her. We ask poignant questions. We snuggle. We pray.

I pulled myself up by me bootstraps and fed off of Allan's determination to let them have a good day at their party. We talked about the outside games and if they wanted it to be the same as last year. Emily told me that it would help her. They did have a really good time, tempered with a couple emotional outbursts and sad faces. Alexa's theme choice was interwoven with Ava which proved to be hard when Teddy's image had to be cut so we could serve the cake. The Happy Birthday song was sad, because last party, Ava was there to help "sing". Over all though they have happy memories.

The bugs and I talked that the happy memories will help next year. Yet it's OK if some hard stuff about Ava pops ups, even when they are 80. It's a big deal I tell them. They were afraid of turning 6 because they didn't want to get further away from Ava. We decided that she is always in our hearts.

We've had frost a few times. My former single stem yellow rose in the front now boasts new growth and 2 buds. At Emily and Alexa's party, we all found ladybugs on our legs, backs, necks. In the car yesterday they asked why there were so many ladybugs at the party and none now. "Because God loves you so much and knew you were having a hard time, He gave you ladybugs." Then we imagined all that happens in the world in a day. We are that important and that loved that He just gives us some bugs and blooms as a reminder of who is Sovereign. As a reminder of how we are not forgotten, nor are we a lone. He compels friends to tell us that we were prayed for because they felt compelled to, without the foreknowledge that we were a drowning bunch. He allows us to feel that blackness, so we can move to the light. Sometimes it's a slow process, but the process is the most important part of the route.

So we enter the 6th year, full of grief but in the process of healing. With a realization that we are on the horizon of big emotions of the everyday kid who isn't focusing on the death of a sibling. (You know- he called me "stupid and dude and batman in gym class). With Him, even if there are times that we don't think we can feel His presence, we pull it all together.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When Teddy Bears and Sea Horses Collide

I can't believe that my big bugs are going to be 6 next week. We are in the middle of planning their party. One that I hope will help fill their minds with positive memories in comparison to last years birthday. I know that I can't take the memory of their sister going to the hospital on their 5th birthday away from them. Yet I still want them to feel extra special.

I can't express how grateful I am to at least have them to hug and love on their birthday. Sometimes I can't believe that I get to keep them. Of course then there are THOSE days.... I struggle with how I waffle between feeling amazingly blessed by being able to earthly Mommy my three living bugs and how robbed and angry I feel that I have 2 not here. Then I get mad that others get to have "another" baby. Like I'm not good enough. Then I see my girls and feel guilty that I ever think that way.

I don't want them ever to not feel like they are enough. They are so wonderful and make our family what it is. I grapple with what I feel- my joy and love for them are separate from the loss and emptiness I feel without Eric and Ava. They know that it is what it is. I try not to put on them a need to fill any voids I have. I worry about that.

There are so many people that talk about wishing they were five when all they had to worry about was what to watch on TV and what to color. I would give anything for my five year olds, soon to be six, to have that be the awareness level in their lives. Heck , I wish it was my awareness level too.

So for their birthday (s) I go over the top with a party, probably gifts too. Maybe it's my way to celebrate what I have and who they are. I used to think that I wouldn't be the 'let's have a party every year' type Mom. Here we are, having one every year. The lives of my children are worth my celebration. We all survived this year. We have each other to hold on to. I think that calls for a party.

Of course, it's going to be an "Under the Sea/ Teddy Bear Picnic" party. Which leaves me to wonder how that will work. But that's OK. I'll probably figure it out the night before the party anyway.

For now I think of all they accomplished in the the last year. I can say that I am one proud and blessed Mommy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Trick or Treat

For Halloween we had an Angel, a Kitty and a "Flamingo" Dancer. We were joined by Cleopatra, a Pilgrim and Hermonie. (Honestly I don't care about Harry Potter, so I don't know the name. What I do know is that you better not tell my niece that she was Harry Potter. She REALLY didn't appreciate it. Did you know Harry wore glasses? Her character does NOT.)

We had our ultra healthy Halloween dinner- baked potato soup and hot dogs. We went to every house that had a porch light on. We celebrated my sister in laws birthday with cake and presents. We gave everyone their 2 pieces of candy, shoved them off to bed, sorted the candy and had our 2 pieces as well.

The kids had a great time. I hope my sister in law had a good birthday. I know that my brother did not have a good time as he slept on the couch and tried not to infect all of us with his mysterious hot fever.

I can say that I did it. I find I retreat and become apathetic when I don't want to face something. Halloween, as it turns out to be, is one of the first "marks" in a string of crap that the sentence "last year" begins with. I am starting to notice that talk of birthdays, turkey and that guy in the red suit are becoming unavoidable.

My matching bugs will be 6 in a week. I have so many mixed emotions about that. I was realizing yesterday that at least I get to hug them on their birthday. I am thrilled about that. This birthday is highlighting how much I hate that I missed their birthday last year. They talk about their dinner and what they got. If I was around for some of it, it's all gone. That just makes me so mad. The reason I wasn't home makes me pretty mad too.

I struggle with how to embrace all the festivities on the horizon. How to make them fun and enjoyable for the bugs. How to make them feel special for us as a family. Instead I just remember all the horrible things my baby endured and the time we were trapped in the hospital with her. My mind is filled with how crappy the doctors were to her. And how I have trouble making them hear me about how you treat a patient. Seriously, I can get lost in that. It would only take 2 seconds for me to spiral down that emotionally difficult and dark path.

I think of my Angel, Kitty and "Flamingo" dancer and their smiles that brighten the night. I hold on a little tighter. While I may start to boil on the inside, the heat is turned down to a simmer. I put one foot in front of the other and my hot angry tears can give way to the warmth of love I feel for my bugs. It doesn't fix it, but it helps and sometimes just that is what we need.