This journey of grief is one difficult road that causes so many emotions and changes. I've been struggling with some deep sadness the past few weeks and have avoided a lot of activities because of it. When I leave my house I mentally prepare myself to go wherever I'm heading and prepare to speak to whoever may be there. It's a constant inner struggle between my mind and my emotions. Some days I can walk out of the house with only a slight nagging voice telling me to 'keep it together', yet other days I feel like my body is pulling a freight train to the car. Every step makes me feel weak and overwhelmed. When I see people out at the store or around town it's rarely ever a typical exchange. Many have been very kind and ask how I am doing, offering their condolences and prayers. Others just give me a pain-staking look not knowing what to say. Quit honestly, it's as uncomfortable for me as it is for them because I don't even know what I want people to say to me. I start crying when others ask about Daniel and as they apologize I tell them I'm not crying out of sadness, I'm crying out of joy for them acknowledging his life. Even though I cry when I talk about Daniel, it makes my soul happy to share my son with others. I want to talk about his life and presence because he was here, he existed. Nothing can change his passing and moment to moment I don't even know how I will feel. But, no matter what feelings I am struggling through, I always feel joy for being Daniel's mommy. The joy and pride of being his mommy never falters or fades, regardless of all my other emotions. I go through moments of despair that my baby is gone, moments of happiness and gratitude for his life, moments of longing to hold him, and moments of reflecting on his birth (which is the most beautiful memory of my existence). I go through so many different feelings from one minute to the next each day and never know what small instance will change my current emotional state. I walk into the grocery store feeling positive and begin sobbing at the sight of hot fudge because I ate hot fudge sundaes during my pregnancy. I go to the gym and feel complete depression at the sight of a person's light blue shirt because I lost my baby boy. I avoid so many people and situations while I still work to figure out my new path. I know that I will never return to who I was before Daniel, nor would I want that to happen. Daniel has changed me so much for the better and even if it takes all I can do to take one step each day, then that's what I will do. I'll get through this journey one step at a time and ensure that I positively touch many lives along the way. It's so difficult to explain the ups and downs of these last few months. I often have to remind myself that it's only been a short while, so my crazy emotions are okay. So when I have bad weeks, I need to reflect on the fact that I can't expect unreasonable progress from myself. I need to take one step at a time, one day at a time.
Today is the first day of February and I've had some anxiety lately about Feb 6th coming so soon. It will mark 3 months since we said hello and goodbye to Daniel. The 3 month mark has been on my mind often because it feels like time should have stopped for him. Each day that passes I feel like he was just born, yet it feels like such a long time since he was here. I sit in Daniel's nursery daily reading cards we received, reading the words I wrote for his obituary, looking at his photos, and reading his books. I look through all of his clothes, gifts we were given, and hold his stuffed animals. Holding his outfits from the hospital is the only way I can touch something that he touched. The smell of him on his clothes is gone, but to feel the fabric that clothed his body is a treasure I hold dear. I've been praying and talking to Daniel about my sadness of another month coming to pass. I always feel that he hears me and watch for signs of him. Yesterday, he gave us the most beautiful signs that he's around us and it's okay. At church, the first reading was Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19 which was one of the readings read at Daniel's services. It states how God knows us even before forming us in the womb. Then the second reading was the story of faith, hope, and love from 1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:13. It speaks about the greatest spiritual gifts of faith, hope, and love, yet the greatest gift is love. It made me reflect on how we devoutly carried Daniel with faith and hope, and how the love for him outweighed everything. Bill and I were discussing these readings on the way home from church when a little cardinal flew in front of our windshield from the left to the right side of the road. The bird seemed to move so peacefully across our path and looked no more than a tiny baby bird that's only purpose as to show itself to us. We both felt such a sense of peace from the readings and the cardinal that Daniel knows the pain we are in and wants us to know he hears us. I felt that this was his way of saying, "The time is passing by so you can be closer to seeing me again mommy, not for you to be sad". It amazes me how deepening my faith and sharing Daniel has changed me. My sadness will never go away, yet I can find some peace in the signs that Daniel hears me and comforts me through signs of his presence. I wish no one would ever have to go through this pain, but I hope those who do can find hope in the Lord. My faith has often been the only arms carrying me through this grief. May God bring all of you the comfort for which you seek, and may you find peace in knowing that my sweet baby boy will intercede for you from heaven. When I was pregnant, I prayed daily for Daniel, but now I pray daily to Daniel. How blessed am I to know that my Savior is holding my precious baby in heaven waiting for me to take him in my arms when I greet the gates. Yet the pain in my heart will forever be with me as I walk this earthly life.
Today is a special birthday to celebrate. I've been waiting so many years for this birthday, but the wait was truly in God's time. Today, I celebrate my first birthday as a mommy. It's a different celebration than what I had originally planned when I was pregnant, but it's still an important day for me. It means that because I was born, so now Daniel was born. My birth back in 1985 led to Daniel's birth in November. It makes my birth so much more meaningful and gives me a tangible purpose for life.
As I reflect on the past year, I am humbled that God carried me through it. Last year, I celebrated the big 3-0 and was so excited to see what my 30s had in store for me. I was prayerful that I would be a mommy and last March my dreams were confirmed. Spending the past year planning for a baby, decorating our nursery, and growing in faith are wonderful memories. This past year held so much joy and love, yet also pain and sorrow. My daily sadness for Daniel's passing is imminent, but I don't allow myself to focus on it. Instead, I focus on all the joy from this past year of life. I reflect on my growing belly and how Bill and I laughed often at how big it continued to grow. I think about Daniel's kicks and moves that flopped my belly around and stretched my stretchmarks. I recall the excitement on Bill's face when he felt Daniel kicking for the first time, and how much Daniel began kicking and moving at the sound of Bill's voice each day when he came home. Bill and I often discuss our excitement of becoming parents and making the perfect place for our new baby by choosing the perfect wallpaper border and furniture for his nursery. I can honestly say that my first year in my 30s was the best year of my life; it gave me Daniel. As I celebrate my first birthday as a mommy, I reflect on how blessed and humbled I am that God chose me to be Daniels's mommy this year. Daniel has made this birthday a special one for me because he gave me the best gift I could ever get, him.
When people say "a baby changes everything", it is true in all circumstances. For those parents who have lost a baby, it changes your whole world, or at least it did for us. I look at my empty crib and sit in our quiet nursery each day thinking of this time without him. I read books aloud without a baby in my arms listening to my voice. I look over his clothes laying in his crib with no baby to dress and too much sadness to put them away. Most people have empathy with the suffering pain a mommy encounters, but some unfortunately do not. For some, it is difficult to understand the feeling of loss and pain that parents feel after their baby is gone. And most parents don't want people to feel their pain; they simply want compassion in acknowledging their child's life. The sequence of life events is thrown out of sync when your baby passes away before you. So the only thing to hang onto is their memory and the signs they show you of their presence around you. I look at my son and want people to remember him and his story of hope and faith. I want people to see the grace with which we carried him and respect his life. All I can ask is that others have dignity in respecting him as a beautiful baby that was born to parents who waited so long to hold a baby in their arms. All we have ever wanted is for Daniel to be treated with the same love and respect that every baby receives. We have never wanted him treated differently in regards to how things are done, although we know his life has been so much more meaningful than most babies of his time. No matter what events surround your baby's birth, no one can ever stand in the way of a mommy's love for her child. My love for Daniel is so deep and my love for him will carry me through even the toughest battles. Nothing can ever counter the power of a mommy's love for her son.
In my grief, I have quickly learned that time will not heal all wounds. The wound and pain in losing my baby will never lessen. I can't imagine in the years from now feeling any less sad that Daniel is gone than I do today. In my pain, I have chosen to take a different path than most. I have remained very open about Daniel's pregnancy, birth, and passing as a way of helping others and myself heal. I may not know all of God's plan with my son, but I do know that He wants me to show others love through this pain and plant seeds for Him.
In the past several months so many people have commented on the strength Bill and I have shown. During my pregnancy I thought "of course I have strength, I have to be strong for our baby". But as Daniel's birth approached my view of how I was carrying out his life changed. I had been praying daily for Daniel, and for us, to continue to have the strength to deliver him. I prayed for strength everyday because I felt so weak. My mind was overwhelmed going through all the outcomes and my heart was so fragile. My ability to put one foot in front of the other and face each day was solely from my faith. It wasn't until after I held Daniel in my arms and praised God for his life that I realized how weak I truly am. As the doctor was completing the C-section, I continually prayed for God to give Daniel life, I begged Him for his life. In that moment, I felt so fragile and even though Daniel's life was out of my control I did not have doubt. I trusted that God would provide and my faith in God is what got me through that day and every single day of my pregnancy. I realized after his birth that what myself and everyone else was seeing as strength was not strength at all. My faith is what provided the ability to carry Daniel, not strength.
Today, I prayed with a group of women and during our prayers I kept asking God to continue opening my eyes to the path He's providing for me. I asked Jesus to continue walking with me to where I am supposed to be going. And during my prayers, I reflected on how much their love has sustained me through my grief. I know how weak and fragile I am each day. Some days it takes all my effort to get out of bed and accept that another day has passed since I last got to hold Daniel. Every day I cry longing to have my son here with me in flesh and missing him so dearly. But every day I see God's presence in my life and it makes me realize that my faith has saved me. Instead of being unable to get out of bed, I can get up and praise God for fearfully and wonderfully making my son in my womb. I can praise Him for letting me have the 36 weeks of my belly growing, feeling his kicks, having heartburn, and telling his story. Instead of beating myself down for Daniel's passing, I can praise Jesus for walking with me during my pregnancy and allowing my body to sustain Daniel's life. I can praise Jesus for teaching me to accept my path and carry my cross gracefully. On my difficult days, I remind myself that I must give it all to God and know that He will take my pain. You see, I'm not strong at all. But in my weakness I have faith that sustains me and gives me the grace to carry through. Faith is what I hope to give others who are facing grief and pain, which I will continue to do in memory of my sweet Daniel John.
To our son on your first Christmas,
we wish you were on earth.
But you are in heaven with Jesus,
to celebrate his birth.
We hung up your stocking,
and have pictures of you all around.
We know you are in heaven,
with God and the angels smiling down.
I wrote this poem for Daniel as we celebrated his first Christmas this year. The Christmas we envisioned back in March was very different from our celebration this December. Instead of holding my baby in church singing Silent Night by candle light, I was crying from the grief of losing him this Christmas. Daniel wasn't here in my arms and I will never get to spend a Christmas with my son here on earth. I look forward to the time when I will celebrate with him in heaven since I never got to share the joy with him here. It was a difficult year for me because all my soul could do was cry for my baby. I missed him so much that I left our family celebration on Christmas Eve to visit his gravesite. My heart was broken because he wasn't there with the rest of our family. So I went to him, to spend time where his body is resting. It was healing for me to spend some of the time that night with him.
As soon as we woke on Christmas morning, we went out to Daniel's grave. We cried and held each other wishing him a Merry Christmas and telling him about his gifts. For Christmas, Bill and I gave each other gifts from Daniel and bought him a gift from each of us. I gave Bill a "daddy" ornament from his son and he gave me a spa retreat. In Daniel's stocking we placed his gifts, a mini plush football from his daddy, and a "First Christmas" baby giraffe ornament from his mommy. We cried for a long amount of time thinking of our baby who is not here with us. I prayed, asking God to give Daniel a hug and some kisses from us for Christmas. The only way I coped with not having him here was by crying for him and imagining him up in heaven celebrating Jesus' birthday in the arms of our Lord. One comfort I had was knowing that Daniel's spirit was with us during Christmas. At Christmas Eve mass Bill felt someone brush against his shoulder, yet no one was there. We believe it was Daniel's spirit letting us know he was there celebrating his first Christmas with us. The signs of his presence help give us some comfort by knowing he is surrounding us each day. And having him give us a sign at mass was very special to us. Merry Christmas Daniel John!
I go to Daniel's grave every day or so since it gives me peace. Even though I know his spirit is around me, there is some solace in standing there where his body is at rest. My husband usually goes with me about once a week, which I respect as what he needs to do to grieve. Daniel's grave has a simple, yet beautiful, little wooden cross marking it until we get the headstone once the weather breaks. My sister made the cross to take out when we buried him because I couldn't bury him without something marking his name on his grave. She made it from a wooden pallet and wrote, "Daniel John Dice, November 6, 2015, 89 minutes". Just enough to identify who he was and the miracle of the time we got with him. On each side of the cross I put some Christmas-type flowers so he would have some decoration for the holiday, but I wanted something more. I talked to my husband about purchasing a grave blanket for which he agreed with. On the day I was preparing to call around town for one, he sent me a message saying a student was selling them for a fundraiser. He ordered the grave blanket which was in the shape of a cross, which was perfect for Daniel. When my husband went to pay for the cross, a few days later, he was told that it was already paid in full. One of his co-workers had heard that he was purchasing it for Daniel's grave and purchased it for us. We were both so touched by the kindness shown towards us and our son by this action.
When Bill came home from work yesterday with the grave blanket, I was eager to go out to finish decorating Daniel's grave. We went out this morning to place the pine cross on his grave and I wasn't ready for the grief that came with it. When we got to the cemetery and parked along the road it hit me. We were here putting a "grave blanket" on Daniel's grave, my son's grave. This wasn't supposed to happen like this. Daniel wasn't supposed to die. My mind raced as I walked to his grave alongside Bill who was crying the pine cross. How could it be that for Christmas this year the gift I got my son was a pine cross? When we got to the grave Bill laid the cross down on the fresh topsoil that covered Daniel's grave and we both burst into tears. All we could do was cry and hold each other overlooking our son's grave. After our emotions subsided, we put an angel light beside his grave and attached a little red stocking. I was upset that Daniel would celebrate his first Christmas without any of the normal Christmas items, so I decided I was getting him a stocking for his grave. We finished arranging his things and as we stood back to look at our work the tears came again. I thought about all the Christmas memories that were taken from me when Daniel was taken. So I wept. I wept for my baby boy who would spend his first Christmas and every Christmas that follows in heaven. I wept for every Christmas I will spend here without him laughing, singing, and playing. I wept for Bill who will never get to spend Christmas morning putting together Daniel's toys with him. But most of all I wept for the pain I felt realizing that every year for Christmas,instead of buying items for my son to open, I will be buying a pine cross.
When I found out I was going to be a mommy in early December I was so excited to have my baby here for Christmas this year. I planned in my mind all the "First Christmas" ornaments I could get and what I might buy for presents. Plus, I couldn't wait to pick out a stocking that my baby would hang up year after year with ours. I thought about making little ornaments for our family from our baby's hand and footprints as their gifts and began looking up ideas for Christmas keepsakes. My sister was also expecting her first child so my mind started planning all the things Baby Dice would share with a same aged cousin. It was so exciting to imagine having two new babies in the family for Christmas after so many years of no children. Then, our July doctor's visit sent all those dreams spiraling downward along with my plans for the future. It wasn't until after Daniel died that I fully realized I would not have a baby at Christmas. There won't be piles of presents with Daniel's name under the tree or pictures of him hanging his stocking every year. There won't be laughing and cuddling with my newborn son on Christmas morning or yearly pictures with Santa. There won't be countless photos of us with Daniel at Christmas or tears of joy as we sing Silent Night by candlelight at church. And worst of all, there won't be a baby in my arms because Daniel won't be here. My mind has been reeling over this reality and I don't know how to have Christmas without him.
I kept thinking, how could we do anything for Christmas without Daniel? How do we move forward without our son here? How will we make it through his first Christmas without him? I have realized we need to take our days one at a time to survive the grief especially now. Our tradition has always been to get a real tree, but this year we were lucky to get our fake one, that usually goes on our second floor, out at all. My husband and I began to put up the tree in our living room the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but the pain was unbearable. Once we got the tree set up, we were both crying and couldn't continue decorating. The following day we put all the ornaments on and made Daniel a special part of our tree just for him. We are trying to make Daniel a part of our Christmas so we can manage through the pain. We want him to be part of our celebration because he will always be a part of our family. His stocking is hanging between ours and it will be hung there each year. His ornaments are on the tree and we will lovingly place them there every Christmas. I don't honestly know how I will continue on through Christmas this year without Daniel, but I will pray for strength. I will take each day as it comes and have comfort in knowing that Daniel will always be included in our family's Christmas even though it's not the way I dreamed it would be.
I became a mommy in 2015 to a beautiful baby boy, Daniel John, who taught me the depth of a mother's love and the sorrow of neonatal infant loss.