Welcome to spotlight #4! Every Friday I will highlight one woman I know to be a "strong woman". I believe we are here to learn from one another and be strengthened, so what better way to both learn from and celebrate a beautiful friend than a special blog post dedicated to her? I'll ask questions that I personally want to know, as well as questions I think others might be inspired by.
I know I haven't done this in awhile, but I believe the timing on this spotlight could not be more perfect.
Kristen was the first person who said hello to me in our new congregation in Renton, Wa and one of the sweetest girls you'll ever meet. One year ago this week her second son died a short 22 hours after his birth. With a perfect pregnancy(I was always irritated that she never got sick), this tragedy came as even more of a shock.
Shortly after the memorial service, I wrote this blog post of my experience. It was truly an awe-inspiring event to attend and I will forever be grateful for her example. She is such a strong woman and I am so thankful for her willingness to let us into her life.
1. Your son Cooper passed away suddenly after birth 1 year ago. How have you moved forward after losing a child? Ty has really kept us going. We are so grateful for him. I can't imagine what it would be like if we didn't have him to occupy our time. We also received a book called "Angel Children" that really helped answer questions and brought us peace. Having the gospel and the knowledge of eternal families has helped us to cope. We've also tried to do little things to remind us of Cooper--we bought a special ornament for him for the Christmas tree. We hung a picture in our family room of Christ holding an infant. We visited his grave on Mother's Day, for Christmas, for Easter (which seemed to have even more significance for me this year because of our Savior's sacrifice and resurrection). I recently bought a necklace in memory of Cooper that I wear all the time. I had some cousins give us money to buy a little tree that we planted in our front yard in Cooper's memory. And of course, not only our prayers, but the prayers of others help us immensely.
2. What have you taught your oldest son Ty about him and does Cooper remain a part of your daily life? Ty doesn't understand that he has a brother, although we have told him and shown him a picture of Cooper. When we visit the cemetery, we tell Ty we're going to visit his brother Cooper. And when we leave, we tell him to say, "Bye, Cooper. I love you." That's the most he can handle at 2 1/2. We'll look for little teaching moments as time rolls on--FHE, Primary lessons, Christmas, etc. Cooper is constantly in my daily thoughts, although not really a part of our daily routine.
3. What is your outlook on the "eternal family" and has it changed since his death? I know families can be together forever and I feel more vested in that truth than ever before. I feel like I have an even greater obligation to live righteously so that I can return to our Heavenly Father and be with my perfect son who has already achieved the highest degree of glory with our Father.
4. Many people find it difficult to talk about such a loss. What is your advice for those of us who want to be supportive and say the right thing? For me, it seems that other people might be more nervous and uncomfortable talking about the loss than I am. But I love talking about Cooper. I've learned that everyone mourns differently and it's difficult to know how to support someone who has suffered such a loss. You just need to take your cue from them. Some people don't like to talk about it. So if you ask them about their loved one, and they clam up, you might want to wait a while before bringing it up again. My only worry is that I might make other people uncomfortable if I bring him up. My suggestion would be for others to ask questions about the loved one who has passed giving the person an opportunity to talk unabashedly if they want. Just listen. Many of my friends have had second babies recently, and while that has been a little difficult, I'm grateful for their sensitivity and inclusion. They have acknowledged the fact that I have a second child by asking a question about my birthing experience with him or about my pregnancy or some other related topic. It makes Cooper feel more real and since they brought him up, I know they don't mind me talking about him. I'd also suggest that you check in with the person once in a while to see how they're doing. Let them know that you remember. Cooper's birthday is coming up and it's just nice to know that people remember.
5. Your former profession was a teacher. How did that job prepare you for motherhood? Being a teacher, I love to help kids learn. There's nothing as rewarding as seeing a child "get it" for the first time. I look for little ways to help Ty in his learning. I worked with many children who came from unstable homes and did not receive the support they needed to be truly successful in school. I want to make sure Ty succeeds at anything he chooses. I make sure I read to him and take him to the library and expose him to a variety of situations. As a teacher, I learned that kids learn in different ways and what motivates one kids, may not work with another. Trying to find Ty's motivator can sometimes be tricky. Follow-through is really important in managing a classroom. I try to follow-through with Ty at home, but I find that because he's my son, I might let him off the hook a little more easily than others. Kids are so different. I have to remind myself not to compare Ty to others, but to himself. However, I think that motherhood has really prepared me for when I return to teaching. It has helped me realize that every student in the classroom is someones son or daughter and deserves the patience that I would give my own son.
6. What does a normal day look like to you? My day starts around 7am getting Ty out of bed (although he's usually up by 6:30, I try not to get him out of his crib before 7:00). Brian leaves for work and Ty and I eat breakfast. I let him watch a movie or the Disney Channel while I workout and shower. I make lists of things I need to do each day, and house cleaning items that need to be taken care of. I vacuum, mop, clean the bathrooms, do laundry, etc. when I can during the day depending on whether or not Ty is entertaining himself or napping. We try to get out of the house in the morning and/or afternoon--the store, the park, the library, a playdate. Anything to break up the day. Ty naps from about 1-3pm and I use that time to read my scriptures, check my email, and do anything else that I can't do while he's awake. When he gets up he may or may not eat lunch (depending on is mood). We might play for a while and then I start dinner. We eat at 6:00 when Brian gets home. I clean up after dinner. We play with Ty for a little bit. I read to Ty, we have family prayer, and he goes to bed at 8pm. Then Brian and I either play on our separate computers, or watch a movie together before reading scriptures and turning out the lights around 10:30pm. Gee, normal isn't exactly exciting, is it?
7. Sometimes trials create weakness in a marriage. How has your tragedy brought you closer to your husband? One thing I realized shortly after Cooper passed away, was that Brian and I needed to make sure we shared our feelings with each other and didn't keep things cooped up inside. We both want to be strong for the other, but we need to be strong together. We want our family to be together forever, so we are making a greater effort to read the scriptures together and attend the temple more regularly. We used to eat dinner in front of the TV and now we eat at the dinner table which gives us a chance to talk about our days and what's on our minds.
8. What is your advice to other women who have experienced a loss such as yourself? Also, what is your advice to other women who have not? For those who have suffered a loss, I would say be honest about your feelings and talk about your loved one frequently. I get a little thrill every time I can mention Cooper's name in casual conversation. Pray for peace and understanding. Don't be afraid to cry about him or her in front of others even months after the loss. Try to focus on what your loved one would want you to be doing now. And be grateful for the time you had with them, however brief it may have been. Have faith that what happened is part of a greater plan, even though you may not realize what it is yet. Do little things to help you remember your loved one and honor them.
For those who have not experienced a loss like this, express your love often to those closest to you. Prepare yourselves now, so that when trials come, you'll be ready and will know where and to whom you can turn for comfort, support, and direction.