365 Days: Love, John Karl

365 days. 52 weeks. 1 Halloween, 1 Thanksgiving, 1 Christmas, 1 New Year’s, 1 Valentine’s Day, 1 Easter, 1 Mother’s Day, 1 Father’s Day, 1 Fourth of July. 2 family vacations. And now, 1 Birthday. These are all of the things I (we) had to do this year without our son. That sweet boy whose heart beat for the last time while he was in my tummy. It was hard. The hardest thing I’ve had to endure thus far in my life.  I still don’t know how I’ve done it. I wish there were magic words to share with anyone who may have had to do this. God be with you. It. Is. HARD.
John and I repeated over and over after each big milestone, each “first” as we called it – “We did it. We will be ok.” I’ve said it 100 times over the last 24 hours. I’ll say it at least 100 more, I’m sure.  I’ve learned that in the first year of grieving, each time you do something for the first time, it’s the hardest. (At least I hope, I haven’t done many things twice yet.)  It is difficult to navigate through the grief and make decisions you never thought you would like, “Do we hang a stocking for John Karl?”, “How do we include him in family photos? Should we?”, “What do we do for his birthday?” Figuring all of this out the first time around just made my brain hurt. Every thought becomes more complex and overthinking is greatly multiplied!
I won’t lie, the last 365 have been some of the most difficult and most strange days in my life.  What happens in a mother’s head after losing a child can best be described by a snowglobe.  Shaken. Hard.  The snowflakes swirl all around and nothing seems in its place. Nothing makes sense. But then things settle to the ground for a bit and all seems well…until someone comes along and shakes it up all over again.  In my case, it wasn’t usually a random person that shook my snowglobe. It was me. One thing you should know is that, in my opinion, a grieving mother doesn’t want you to avoid talking about her child.  She loves and treasures every ounce of that memory and she’ll share it with you in a hot second if you ask her too.  Be ready to listen to what she is comfortable sharing, what she needs to share. Ask the questions you need to know, but be sensitive and know that she just might not want to answer. That’s ok. Maybe when the snowflakes settle and things make sense she can tell you more. The mother of a dead child has the same amount of pride as the mother of a living one. 
I have shared his story, our story of his life and death, more times than I can count in the last year.  I shared it with all of you – see my previous blog posts. I shared it with family, new friends, old friends, doctors, counselors, and sometimes strangers. I know it sounds crazy that I’ve shared with strangers. I don’t care. Sometimes that was easier, sometimes it was necessary, and sometimes I felt like God was leading me to share a part of the story.  This gave it purpose.
I look back on my journal from this past year and the theme running through it is PURPOSE.  I settled on this because I spent a lot of time asking – Why? Sometimes I asked God nicely. Sometimes I went to him humbly. Other times I screamed and cursed and stomped and shouted.  None of these gleaned an audible response, but they did lead me deeper into Scripture and searching for my own answer. 
When someone you love dies others direct you to read the story of David and the story of Job.  David and I never really connected. However Job and I found a nice cozy spot together.  You should know, I read this story at least 6 times before any of it sank it.  I learned that God didn’t take from Job. Eventhough Job credits him at the end of Chapter 1.  God allowed these things to be taken from Job, but He didn’t actually do it.  Job spends a whole chapter asking God – Why? I’ve come to see that there are some things we just won’t know on this side of Heaven.  Quite frankly, that answer doesn’t sound good enough. But it is. Job didn’t know what was happening behind the scenes.  Spiritual warfare. God was at war with Satan and Job was in the crossfire.  I’m sure Job rejoiced later knowing that he had served God’s Heavenly purpose.  I hope that is true for us someday too.

We have survived this year. The last 365 days. I’m still standing – though, honestly, there are some days I don’t want to be.  I am standing in strength that comes from the other side of Heaven. That’s the only explanation I can come up with. The trouble is, I’m not in Heaven. I’m here on Earth. I want John Karl’s life and our loss of him to serve a purpose now.  I think that purpose will probably change over time.  But here’s what I think so far…at first, I think the purpose was openness. I was able to be open and vulnerable when sharing John Karl with others when talking, praying, or blogging.  I believe that action gave purpose to others. Whether that was understanding or empathy, thankfulness, or comfort. The purpose doesn’t stop there. I think the next purpose for John Karl’s little life is – kindness. 
A friend recently shared an amazing gift with me that she and her husband collaborated to create together.  The gift is so precious! I beautifully cut heart-shaped birthstone. It is such a treasure. What I most loved about the gift were the words she shared with it.  That hearing our story helped her love even more…and SHOW that love even more to others.  We never, ever know what someone else may be going through. I remember a time when I snapped at nurse who was only trying to help, but it was because the sad was just too much that day.  That poor thing had no idea what was swirling around in my head. Be kind.
Today we are going to spend some time in John Karl’s garden, enjoy a thoughtful dinner with our “framily”, bake a birthday cake, and send some hugs to Heaven with balloons.  Here is my request to you.  Celebrate John Karl’s Birthday with us.  Do something kind for someone else. Doesn’t have to be big, or cost money. Though it can.  Spend a minute in silence and do what is on your heart. Give in to that gentle nudge that is asking you to pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive through, or smile at the mom who is a hot mess in her yoga pants at the grocery store – tell her she’s lovely, it will make her day.  Find something kind to do today. Help me love my son, and give him purpose. Share it with me, I’d love to see him celebrated in your kindness. #loveJohnKarl

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