Thursday, March 29, 2012

For Healthy Babies

Gary, Lydia and I are Marching for Babies again this year.  We've walked this 5K for the past few years to raise some money for March of Dimes.  As you all know, Lydia was born at 28 weeks weighing 2lbs 7oz and 14 inches.  Today, she is 3 feet tall weighing in at almost 29lbs!

If you have donated to our cause before, please consider donating again!  If you haven't donated before, why not this year?  Any amount is welcome and here's the link to donate online:

This past year has been one of healing for our family.  The first two years were miraculous... and they were also rather frightening.  We held our breath every step of the way, wondering what being born 3 months early meant for her.  She has fought fiercely to not only live, but to thrive.  Those who meet Lydia see her as a happy, easy-going girl.  She's smart, funny and, of course, stubborn.  She's an instigator and a bossy boots.  She told me at dinner one evening, 'I'm so frustrated with you.  I don't want to talk to you right now!'  I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or give her the 'serious' face!

It's amazing to have conversations with other parents these days.  We talk about our kids not going to bed, potty-training, their eating habits, and what their favourite toys are.  These conversations seem so surreal to me.  I'm so glad that we're able to talk about Lydia like she's a normal three-year old.  I am always learning how to live, love and laugh from Lydia.

I really feel like we owe March of Dimes and the MUSC Children's Hospital so much; Lydia would not be alive today without their dedication to preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.  If you donate to the March of Dimes, you support research and services that help mothers have full-term pregnancies so that babies can begin healthy lives.  They also provide comfort and information to families with a baby in newborn intensive care.

Please donate to support a worthy cause!  For Lydia, for your children, for health babies everywhere,

Sonia, Gary and Lydia

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Life goes on and my bucket list

It's been 3 weeks since my mother-in-law passed away.  Things seem to be settling down for us.  I wouldn't say it's back to normal; how normal is it to not have your mother around when she's been there for so long?  Gary's Dad seems to be doing well considering he just lost his best friend of forty-five years.  Apparently it's the first time he's lived alone in all of his seventy years.  He's trying to get used to an entirely different way of living.  We're adjusting to the change in family dynamic too.

Thinking about death always makes me think about life.  For me, death has always been an inevitable and natural part of life.  I imagine I still have some changing and growing to do before I die, but I know now that the essence of who I am will remain the same.  For right now, suffice to say I know who I am - my strengths and my flaws - and I continue to work on compassion and selflessness everyday.

I'm not really a bucket list type of person, at least not in the traditional sense.  For me, there are two types of bucket lists.  The first answers this question, 'If you were to die tomorrow, what would you do today?'  The other answers, 'What do you want to achieve and do before you die?'  It doesn't matter what type of list mine would be.  It definitely does not have climbing Mt. Everest or bungee jumping on it.  Oh, I hear you, 'Let go of your fears and take the risk!'  If this is a passionate hobby of yours by all means, go for it.  It's just not on any list of mine (other than the, 'Never in MY lifetime list').  I'd feel like I'm putting my life in danger to say I've truly lived.  Am I the only one who thinks this is a contradiction in terms?!

The bucket list just isn't going to work for me.  It puts the focus on doing things before I die to feel like I've lived.  I don't want to live in fear of not having lived.  I guess I need a Living List, or maybe I just need to live my list and not feel compelled to make a list at all.

I love my life.  I love my family.  I'll start with that and see where it takes me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Life after death through the eyes of a three-year old

My mother-in-law, Jeanette, died on Monday morning.   I was at home with Lydia whilst Gary, his Dad and MIL's best friend, Linda, were at her side.  It has been a roller-coaster week; it began with us thinking she was going to be sent home and ended with her not coming home at all.  

I finally did talk to Lydia about her grandmother dying.  I talked to her on Saturday afternoon when we thought my mother-in-law was closer to the end than she was.  We were at the hospital and I wanted to prepare Lydia just in case she started seeing very upset adults around her.  I remember telling her that Grandma was dying, she was sick - different from a simple cold / broken arm type sick, and how sometimes bodies don't work and people die.  Her response was, 'Okay' and that was the end of that.

Gary, Gary's Dad and Linda stayed at the hospital that night.  When I got home and after Lydia's bath, we were sitting in the front room and I asked, 'Do you know what's going on with Grandma?' Lydia responded, 'Grandma's dying'.  I asked, 'Do you know why?'  Lydia said, 'Because her body's not working and she's hurting and she's dying.  And now she can dance and she'll be happy'.  I stopped for a moment, then I said, 'How do you know that?' and Lydia said, 'Because she likes to dance'.  I texted this conversation to Gary that night.  It really had a profound effect on everyone.  So much so that when my mother-in-law finally passed away early Monday morning, they repeated the story to the nurse and it made her cry.  I posted it on Facebook to my friends and many people have commented on how touching it was, or how it's helped them through their grief. 

Of course, I wonder if it's because kids are quite intuitive in situations of deep grief and loss.  Are there spiritual forces at work?  Is it just another example of pre-schooler thoughts jumping from one topic to another?  For whatever reason she said it, it's helped a lot of people thus far.  If you know my mother-in-law, it's even more special because she hasn't been able to walk for a long time.  Even when I met her she had difficulty walking long distances.  She became wheelchair-bound a few years ago.  By the end of her life, she was completely bed-ridden.  So you see, a comment about her dancing is not just appropriate in general about those facing death, but particularly poignant because of my mother-in-law's physical condition.  

There's a fascination about the end of someone's life, but who she was in that hospital bed was not who she was in life.  I didn't call her Mom very often.  Mainly because I can't say it without feeling like I have to put on a strange American accent.  She really was another Mum to me though.  When I first moved over here and couldn't work, she introduced me to sewing and quilting.  It filled my time and I felt more productive.  It really is how I found a passion for DIY and crafts.  Without her, I would never have thought pinterest was the best thing since sliced bread, or taken up scrapbooking, or sewn things for my friends and family.  Sure, I was creative in my own way, but I don't think I'm naturally creative.  I needed to learn creativity and I learned it from her.  She really introduced me to a whole new world of hobbies.  

My mother-in-law also helped me find my first job.  I was fresh out of college, didn't have any connections and I couldn't work until I got a work permit.  When I finally did get my work permit, I couldn't find a job.  I didn't know where to look or even what to apply for.  My mother-in-law helped me out and called her old boss to see if there were any jobs - the next day I was heading in for an interview and training.  

Today, we went out to the house with my father-in-law.  It was hard to walk into the house without her there.  I was slightly anxious during the car ride which surprised me seeing as I'd been all take-charge yesterday with the funeral arrangements.  Our first task was to clean out the sewing room as Gary's Dad wants to rearrange some of the furniture in the house pretty quickly.  Sewing was her passion and she hasn't been able to sew anything for a long time.  She found that terribly frustrating, to love something so much and not be able to do it.  It was hard for Gary's Dad because sewing became such a huge part of his life too; he was always thinking about projects, helping her choose things for her to make, picking out the threads she needed.

Finding what I love to do outside of work isn't the only thing she gave to me.  She welcomed me into the family and supported me and Gary in our life together.  She always wanted the best for us and always told me I was good for her son.  He's good for me too and I hope she knows I appreciate that.  In my old blog, I wrote that Gary's parents raised Gary to be a kind, stable, honest man.  I said he was a good husband and father and I know it comes from his upbringing.  I know she appreciated my comments because she thanked me for it.  I only wish I had said it more, and more directly to her.  When I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her at the hospital, I told her goodbye, that I loved her, and thank you.  Thank you for my life here, for my husband, for Lydia, for my new friends and family.  She has played an integral part in my life since I immigrated to the USA 12 years ago.

We will miss her dreadfully.  The hospital stay is still so fresh in our minds.  The last few months, even years, were difficult for her and us.  I know that after some time, we'll look back fondly at her life.  We had so many good times and memories together.  There were ups and downs, disagreements and disappointments, but she was always there for us.  She loved fully, lived well and shared freely.  She taught me how to show my love to my child and how to express my love to my friends and family.  Being a part of this family has given me an emotional stability that I didn't know I needed.   'I love you' were not words that came easily to me until I joined the Donnelly family.

I love you, Mom.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Talking to my pre-schooler about death

Lydia's paternal grandmother doesn't have much longer to live.  She's a strong-willed woman who has a sharp wit and a lot of love for her family.  It's strange to think that we won't have her in our life.  She and my father-in-law have been married for 45 years.  They are best friends and inseparable.  How do you deal with a loss like that?  My husband and father-in-law are dealing with immense emotional pain right now.  I have my own sense of grief and loss, but mine is so much more intertwined with how to best support my husband and my father-in-law. 

This is one of the few times that it's been clear to me that my mother-in-law is not just my husband's mother, but his mummy.  She's the one who taught him to love, who was there for him when he was upset, who helped him become the man he is today.  I don't often give her the credit she deserves, although I often remind myself that I'm lucky to have married into an emotionally stable family.  My husband has a calm, soothing temperament; I imagine it's part nature, part nurture, part choice.

So how do we tell Lydia that her grandmother is dying?  For me, death and suffering in all of its forms is an inevitable part of life.  I can pinpoint painful times in my life and how it has shaped who I am today.  Will this be something Lydia remembers when she grows up?  How will it affect her?  At this age, it's not really the death that has an impact, but how we deal with it and talk about it.  

Here are some tips I've found which will help me and Gary talk to Lydia:
  • Be truthful 
  • Stay calm and supportive to encourage any questions or emotions she might have
  • Keep it brief and simple
  • Avoid assumptions about how she might feel
  • Answer questions - be honest if we don't know the answer
  • Avoid saying things like, 'She went to sleep for a long time', 'She was sick and went to heaven', 'Only old people die'
  • Address worries about separation and loss by reassuring her that we intend to be around for a long time to look after her, and there are others who will look after her if we do die
  • Don't be surprised or confront her if she has an unemotional response or if she doesn't quite grasp the concept of death
If you have been through this, or remember dealing with death as a young child, let me know. I'm interested in hearing your experiences.

Helpful resources on how to talk to a three-year old about death: