Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Salmon Chimichurri Salad

A year ago when I was pregnant with Hadley, Max made our favorite salmon dish. I loved that meal, I couldn't wait, I took one bite of it and that bite came right back up. Salmon officially repulsed me from that time on. When I was pregnant with Hudson I didn't really have many food aversions, fish certainly didn't bother me, and we always had salmon once a week for those omega 3's.

After Fishgate 2016, I honestly didn't know if I'd want to eat salmon again. Once Hadley was born, it took a while for me to want to eat fish at all. It didn't sound appealing until more recently. I started slowly with sushi and then one day, I really wanted salmon. Maybe it has to do with springtime and gravitating towards fresh greens and fish, but I'm loving this salad and we are making it weekly. It is filling enough for both of us and a quick/easy make!

Yields two servings

For Salad

  • 2.5 cups of Hearts of Romaine lettuce, chopped  
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup red onion, chopped 
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • Zoe's Salad dressing - I used to make my own red wine vinaigrette and that was great and all but for ease, my favorite salad dressing is from Zoe's. Pick up a bottle and use it on everything!!!  I toss just the lettuce in about 2 tbsp. of it. 
For Salmon Chimichurri

  • 2 salmon fillets (I like 4 oz, Max likes 6 oz or more)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste (I like a hearty sprinkle, it plays well off the red wine vinegar!)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2-ish cup of olive oil (pour yourself 1/2 cup, you may not need to use it all)
1) We like to cook our salmon on our Green Egg but I will defer to you on how you cook it. Either on a grill (grill 3-4 minutes on each side), a Green Egg (get to 350 degrees and cook for 15 minutes, do not flip), in the oven (400 degrees for 12-15 minutes, do not flip), on a skillet (high heat, cook on each side for 3-5 minutes). So we will call step one, MYOS (make your own salmon). I don't do anything to it, don't put anything on it, just let it cook naked. I also love to cook my halved cherry tomatoes. I make a little "roasting pan" out of foil and throw them on the Green Egg as well. 

2) While the salmon is cooking on your designated method, make the chimichurri by combining all ingredients except for the olive oil, in a mini food processor. Pulse, pulse, pulse it and then add in the olive oil a little at a time between pulses. Using the full 1/2 cup will give you a pretty runny chimichurri but some people prefer that. Use however much olive oil to reach your desired consistency. 

3) Once chimichurri is done, assemble your salad with the lettuce, red onion and feta. If you roasted your tomatoes, keep them set aside for now. If they are going in raw, add them to the salad. Pour 2 tbsp. of dressing and toss. Plate the salad. If you did roast your tomatoes, add to the plate once salad has been tossed in dressing.

4) When salmon has reached its desired doneness, when pairing it with a salad, we like to remove the shiny/scaley side. So using the spatula, just run it slightly above the bottom scaley side, lifting the fillet up off of it. Set on your bed of greens then using a spoon, top the salmon with the chimichurri. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter People

Our babies on Easter Sunday

Last Easter, March 27, was 10 months from the day we met and said goodbye to our son. Last year on Maundy Thursday my mom sent me an article with the theme that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world and that hit home to me. This year, I saw many more articles and interpretations of this message, but the one I read specifically pertained to a grieving audience. I wrote Hudson's 10 month letter with that on my heart.

"Sweet boy, we've experienced our own Good Friday in losing you. It has been dark and sad, we were angry and in deep pain. However, God's promise allows us to be hopeful Easter people. Hopeful of new life and that our sorrow will be resurrected. Today, we are Good Friday people, but we are also Easter people who are hopeful. We will celebrate new life and everlasting life with the promise that we will be reunited again someday in Heaven."

Last Easter was a somber time and it hit me much harder than I expected it to. I remember sitting in church and all around us were little ones who would be close to Hudson's age. My heart hurt and I yearned for my own son who should have been sitting in our lap, fidgeting, too. While my heart was heavy, it was also full of hope because we were 8 weeks pregnant with Hadley. I had bought the softest little stuffed baby chick and it was part of my first "belly pic" that morning. After church, we shared that news with family, which was also my parent's 34th wedding anniversary.

After church, we went to their house for brunch and before extended family arrived, we gave them their "anniversary gift" presented in an Easter Basket. There were three large plastic eggs filled with different candies and a message in each. Egg 1 wished them a Happy Anniversary and said "We are EGGcited", with chocolate eggs as the candy. Egg 2 said "To spill the beans" filled with jelly beans. Then egg 3 was filled with skittles and a picture of our 8 week sonogram taken a few days prior with a message that our Rainbow Baby would arrive October 2016.

What was really special and unique is that the traditional anniversary gift for 34 years is an opal and the opal happens to be the October birthstone. So in essence, we gave them their opal for their 34 year anniversary! 

This year Hadley turned 6 months on Easter weekend. I saved that stuffed chick and it was in her Easter basket. She wore the same dress that I wore for my first Easter. We were 22 weeks with Hudson for Easter 2015. We were 8 weeks pregnant with Hadley, missing our baby boy who would have been 10 months old for Easter 2016. This Easter, we have a precious 6 month old baby in our arms and a 22 month old in our hearts. We know that because He died for us, we will live eternally in the kingdom of Heaven. We are missing a piece of our family, but we will reunite again when our time on this earth has come to an end.

As I stood in that pew yesterday and recited the Apostles Creed along with the rest of the congregation, I knew this is the way we would teach the Easter story to our children and that message started yesterday with Hadley when we visited Hudson after church. Jesus died for us, he rose from he dead, he is seated at the right hand of the Father and will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is through Him and Him alone that we have eternal life. It is because of Him we will see our Hudson again, and it will be a glorious reunion when that time comes. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Oh My Gosh Goulash

Recently, Max and I were reflecting on our Germany and Austria babymoon and found ourselves pining for one meal in particular. While in Salzburg, I enjoyed the best bowl of goulash soup in the whole wide world - according to me and my limited range of goulashism. In the moment while enjoying this bowl of greatness at the cutest little Austrian pub, I filed that one away as something to make again during the winter.

Here in Texas, we aren't having much of a winter, however, we can pretend. This was easy guys and as much as you can buy from the grocery store pre-chopped, the less amount of time it takes you to do, which in my book means even easier. I started this dish when I got home from work, was able to accomplish changing clothes, changing Hadley, nursing Hadley and decompressing while watching an episode of Grey's Anatomy (yep, started that one from the beginning again) - then viola, dinner was ready. It is a great meal to make when planning to have leftovers to eat throughout the week. I researched various Viennese versions and created a combination of a few different ones, including my Beef Goulew shared last year, with ingredients I thought would work best - and they were perfect together. Enjoy!

Yields 6-8 servings
  • 2 lb. sirloin, cubed (1 inch)
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. sweet Hungarian Paprika, divided in half
  • 1 tbsp. garlic granules
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 packet of onion soup mix
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine (I like to use a Merlot - it enhances the flavor and the guy at the wine store told me that Merlot and Bordeaux are better to use over say a Cab because of the acidity levels - and I'm sure there was more to that explanation but I claim baby brain.)
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 tsp. parsley
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce (I use gluten free tamari)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 cups chopped carrots (I like to get these pre-chopped to save on time)
  • 2 cups potatoes, cubed (small, like half inch)
  • 1 tbsp. Cornstarch (optional)
  • Water (optional)
  • Sour cream (optional garnish)
1.) Combine the flour, 1 tbsp. paprika, garlic granules and salt & pepper in a large mixing bowl, stirring to combine. Add the cubed meat and toss to coat. In a dutch oven, braise your beef in about 2 tbsp. of oil on high heat, browning on all sides. Remove and set aside.

2.) Lower heat to medium and add onions. Saute until translucent, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and the bell pepper.

3.) Add beef back into the dutch oven. In a small bowl combine the onion soup mix, broth, tomato paste, red wine, remaining 1 tbsp. paprika, parsley, Worcestershire, and soy sauce. Whisk together then pour into the dutch oven. Set the timer for 90 minutes and walk away.

4.) 90 minutes later, that beef should be nice and tender, the flavors melded together beautifully, and your kitchen smelling phenomenal. Give it a good stir and then add the chopped carrots and potatoes. Allow it to cook another 20-30 minutes until both carrots and potatoes are easy to pierce with a fork.

5.) At this time, you can also choose to either thicken the liquid or leave it as is for more of a "soup" like consistency. If you would like to thicken, that is where the cornstarch and water comes in - which I learned was called "making a slurry". For a dish of this size, I use 2 tbsp. cornstarch in a small bowl, then add 2 tbsp. water, mixing to form the slurry. Once combined without any lumps, add it to the pot. Let it simmer to continue to thicken. Repeat this process 1 tbsp. at a time to reach your desired consistency.

Max likes his goulash with sour cream, so you can add a dollop or eat it plain!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Something in the Water

A month ago we baptized our baby girl.

We baptized our son in a hospital room. We believe he had already entered the kingdom of Heaven but we wanted the memory of being able to baptize him together as a family. It took place in the early hours of the morning with the pastor who married us. He came to the hospital, my family members and our nurse gathered around the bed in a circle, Max and I held one another while holding Hudson. The holy water was in a styrofoam cup. It was tragically beautiful. There wasn't a special outfit or family traditions, it was the best we could do at the time. For the very limited amount of time we had with him.

Before Hadley was born, we started planning her baptism. We had wanted to baptize her as an infant for various reasons, but the time of year was also really important to us. The holidays were so brutal for us a year ago when they should be a time of joy and celebration. We clung to one another as we "celebrated" our wedding anniversary and everything that had made up our marriage to that point with the devastating elephant in the room that we had become parents but didn't have a child anymore. We hurt. We were broken. We had experienced a time of for better and for worse early in our marriage. Coming up on this fourth anniversary we had talked about how special it would be for us to make that weekend about Hadley and to baptize her in the same setting that we were married in. To have that healing from the year prior. The baptismal gown that my great grandmother made was worn by my mom, her sisters and their female cousins. It was worn by me and my cousins. Now we had a third generation to wear it and needed to do so before she outgrew it. I wore that gown at 8 weeks old and so did she.

The church altar was covered in poinsettias the way it was when we stood up there together last. This time, two of the poinsettias were donated in memory of Hudson and in honor of Hadley. This time, we stood up there with our baby girl and our son was represented right there with us. The baptism took place at the beginning of the service and we stood at the altar together, surrounded by our family and some of our best friends, like we were four years ago for our wedding. This time the words we echoed back were an I Do to raise her in the church and nurture her through faith in Christ our Lord. She was baptized and we all laid our hands on her and prayed. The Reverend walked her down the aisle to introduce her to the congregation. The sermon was about brokenness and I found myself clinging to every word as my husband held our sweet girl and she squeezed my finger. Christmas carols were sung by the choir and congregation, then at the very end we happened to sing one verse of Silent Night, my Christmas lullaby to Hudson.

At the conclusion of the service, we walked together as a family to visit him at the church's columbarium, taking Hadley for the first time. Emotions poured over as Max held Hadley, tears in both of our eyes, and he kissed her little hand to then put on Hudson's niche. Our extended family members joined us and for some, it was the first time to see his resting place. A baptism was one of the only memories of something we had done with our son, and here we were with his sister on her baptism day, yet he was there too.

We celebrated her back at our house and we continue to make precious memories with her each day. I can't believe she will be three months old in just a few days. The time has flown by so fast and I know it will only continue. I remember a friend telling me that her babies' baptisms were two of the most special days. The way both my babies' baptisms have occurred, though very different, I have to agree. Thank you to our families, our church family and the special friends who were there to take part in this very special day for us!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Comfort and Joy

I started writing this in early December. Writing has been a huge part of my grief expression and sometimes the words just flow and it's an immediate release of my emotions. Other times I have to hit pause and come back over and over again because I need to process what is in my heart. In December, I had a lot going on internally that I needed to process. This time, I needed to hit the pause button a few times.

This holiday season was beautiful. A complete 180 from the year before. However, my grief changed that month. Instead of dealing with it the way I have over the past 19 months - 19 months, he would be 19 months right now - I put my grief on the proverbial shelf. In a closet. Locked on the other side from where I wanted to deal with it. I extended myself to others in their grief and was able to be a solid structure, there to provide support like those who did for me for those walking their first holiday season without the baby they thought they would have, but this year I wouldn't let myself go to my place of grief. I would feel it start to come on but then felt guilty for that sadness because of what we had this year, our daughter, so I wouldn't let myself go there. I had felt it stirring when we put up the tree hung his ornaments, when I got new stockings because I didn't have enough and needed him to still have one, when we took Hadley to visit Santa. When I went to buy gifts for the Angel Tree little boy in honor of Hudson and I stood there in the aisle of Target in a catatonic state, numb and frozen, looking at the things that should fill our home because of the little boy we would have, had the terrible thing not happened. I longingly thought of how the family traditions we were starting should be in their second year, not the first.

After we opened our Christmas Eve family package of pajamas, a book to read together, and a dish set for Santa's Cookies and Milk, I sat by the tree with our little blessing in my arms. What I haven't followed up with here is what we found out about my placenta abnormality. At our 6 week post-partum check up at the beginning of December, my doctor told me that it was actually a blood clot. A blood clot that wasn't detected in the 20+ sonograms we had and was the likely cause of the cord high blood pressure, not the marginal cord insertion, and that it could have been fatal to her and detrimental to me. Our doctor told us she needs to look into this more because I didn't present with any of the usual causes for this such as placental abruption, and my blood work wasn't consistent with a blood clotting disorder, gestational diabetes or a deficiency of some sort. She said we will discuss it more when I come back for a follow up at 8 months postpartum. She said let's enjoy Hadley right now because she is our little miracle. That most likely the clot was a fluke, but it is concerning to have two flukes with both pregnancies.

So I held this baby, the baby we longed for, knowing she could have not made it as well, but she did. I held her with just the light of the tree illuminating the room. Everything that had been building inside of me since around Thanksgiving just came out. I sobbed into her as she slept on my shoulder and Max came over to the couch to hold me. I couldn't verbalize everything in my heart out loud but I simply was able to say that I am so thankful for her and I wish Hudson were here too. I wanted to have our family in its entirety. The days leading up to Christmas, I kept thinking about last year. We did what we could do to try to enjoy the most wonderful time of year, but we did what we needed to survive it.

Surviving Christmas. That was our grief reality last year. That's what many people's realities are when they are missing a loved one for an important holiday. Outside of his due date, this was the beginning of the milestone round of firsts to conquer and they were wrapped up in the holiday season, the most family-centric time of year. We had made the month of December all about baby the year before as we spent the month slowly sharing with family and friends that we were expecting and dreamed of the following Christmas with a third member of our family. A year later that little one only existed in our hearts. He wasn't with us, it was a time of joy to the outside world around us while we were stuck in deep sadness.

So in order to try to comfort our hearts, we escaped to try to find joy. We went somewhere that the magic and message of Christmas still existed but we escaped the version that made us sad. We needed to be vacation us.

Vacation us is carefree.
Vacation us says yes to adventure and opportunities.
Vacation us wants to experience everything we can.
Vacation us is whoever we want to be.
Vacation us is a happy couple who were not surrounded by the every day reality that their son died and all the grief that accompanied it.
Vacation us is not sad.

So we were vacation us, escaping Christmas memories and of what we had already imagined, for something new and different when our hearts couldn't take the reality of the season. However, it did make me sad, I didn't want to have to skip Christmas, but trying to do it the way we always did hurt more. Escaping was the lesser of two evils.

I didn't write about it last year because it was laced with dark humor. The nutshell version is that when we tried to escape our grief, we ended up lost in a cemetery on Christmas Day.

Here's the full version. We woke up on Christmas Day in Montreal and it felt blah. We had attended a breathtakingly beautiful Christmas Eve Mass at the Notre Dame Basilica and the experience was too much for words. I described it some in my seven month letter to Hudson but even reading back through it with tears in my eyes, it still didn't do it justice. It was emotionally draining but at the same time, a highlight of our trip.

Waking up on Christmas Day we had sweet messages from friends and family who were thinking of us and wishing us peace. When I plan trips, I plan a day full of things to do. Going into that trip, I didn't know what to plan for Christmas Day. I didn't know how we would feel, what we'd be up for, if we'd order room service and just lay in bed all day allowing waves of emotions to consume us, or if we'd need distraction. So I looked into what was open and had created a list just in case. I made a spa reservation and a dinner reservation but the rest of the day was up in the air with ideas if we needed them. There was an emotional hangover that morning and we decided on distraction. Out of all the things, we had read that Montreal was known for its bagels and there are two spots that compete to be the best bagel. So we decided to go check out the dueling bagel shops. We asked our uber driver on the way there about Mont Royal. We read it was filled with park space and tourist opportunities, it boasted the best views of the city from a scenic hike and a chalet at the top. We had our bagels - which were completely unimpressive if you were wondering - then went into a coffee shop to actually eat them since both locations were line only. The owner of the shop elaborated on the reviews and told me Max would propose there. I told him we were already married. He then said he will propose again because it was so romantic. He told us it was walkable and gave us the scenic route but that it would take 45 minutes. We used the GPS on our phones to come up with what we thought was an alternate route and quicker, since we had massage appointments later that afternoon and had about 2 hours to spend before we needed to get to the spa.

Taking "short cuts" we followed French signage to Mont Royal but what no one told us was that the lovely oversized hill/small mountain was 85% cemetery. No exaggeration, I found that percentage AFTER the fact when we got back to the hotel. So we had taken this vacation to get away from our holiday sadness due to the fact that our baby had died and wasn't with us, but here we were lost in a cemetery. The dark humor in us found it rather comical at first. But after 30 minutes of trying to find our way out because headstone after headstone finally became enough, coupled with my own guilt that I was stuck in a Jewish Orthodox cemetery of strangers rather than visiting my own baby's final resting place on Christmas, it reached a breaking point of get us the $%!& out of here.

We followed a chain linked fence up a steep hill, trying to catch a view of what was below us. Max then spotted an opening in it and we decided that was our shot. We had already walked so far into it, this seemed like the fastest option out. I was sweating at this point and had taken off my coat, scarf and mittens in the 34 degree weather. Holding all of this, I followed Max as he crawled through the hole in the fence. We saw a road with human life form and the famed lookout points below us. Once we got through the fence, we found ourselves on a slope we had to get down carefully and then onto a bit of a landing patch before another slope down to civilization. From the top of the fence hole, this looked pretty simple. However, as we were doing it, we realized it was much more steep than we thought.

We carefully sidestepped our way down the first incline reaching the landing where, to our right there was an easy way, a gradual decline to the sidewalk. However, I kid you not, a fox was sitting in the middle of it staring at us. Have you ever seen a fox in person? I had never seen a fox in person. They are smaller than I thought and actually really cute. If I wasn't so angry at that point in time, I think I would have liked to cuddle it and it's beady little eyes taunting us. Instead, I was ready to throw something at it (calm down PETA, not hit it of course) to startle and move him out of the way. Max told me if I wanted to be attacked and get rabies, that was a solid plan. To our left was our other option - a very steep, about 8 foot drop off. There were some tree roots we could see through the leaves and Max used those almost like a ladder to get down. When it was my turn, I threw down my purse, my coat, gloves and scarf and used the excellent traction of my Ugg boots (heavy sarcasm here if you can't tell) to scale down. My legs were too short to scale it the way Max did. So another small detail was that it had rained heavily the day before. Under the leaves we could see was a ton of mud we couldn't see. My foot slipped out from under me and I went down the incline on my rear, using my hands to try to slow the fall. I reached the bottom on my butt, hands covered in thick mud, Max looking at me wide-eyed and trying to gauge an appropriate reaction. There were two college-aged girls with luggage at the tour bus stop right at the base of this opening who turned around and looked at us in horror. I looked up at them and simply said we got lost. The mud was caking onto my hands and I asked Max to dig through my purse to get the kleenex packet from the church service the night before. We were now in the tourist area of Mont Royal, there were people, and lookout points but I was so over it. Max found one spot and we ventured out onto the rocks as far as we could for that incredible view. I was still wiping mud off my hands and my sweet husband lightened the mood and asked, so do you like, want to get married or something?

We finally found the chalet and went inside to warm up a bit and I had a chance to wash the remaining mud off my hands. Then it came time to heading back down. We could take the road or there were steps built into the "mountainside" and we did a combination of the two. The massage appointments we had immediately following at the Scandinave Les Bain Vieux were more appreciated than we could have imagined. That evening we sat by candlelight and enjoyed dinner at a popular Jazz bar in the Old Town of Montreal. I remember eating that dinner thinking it's almost over, we've almost finished escaping Christmas. We went to bed that night exhausted and the same thought echoed through my mind that had for every holiday since Hudson died - surely, just surely, we will have a baby in our arms at this time next year.

This year, his little sister was in our arms. Grief still existed, though I tried to escape that this December instead. I wish my son was learning how to be a big brother to his sister. I wish they both were in the picture of visiting Santa. I wish we had Christmas gifts for both of them under the tree. I wish he was the toddler he would be, more engaged in the holiday than he should have been the year before. He will always be missing, I'll always picture him there with our family, among the cousins, next to her. Last year at that midnight mass I cried my eyes out to Silent Night, a song that now had an entirely different meaning to me. Sleep in Heavenly peace. It is hauntingly beautiful to me. This year, I couldn't hear that song without crying still. I don't think I ever will.

We all find our comfort and joy in different ways. As a parent of loss, I will seek the comfort needed to experience the joy there is.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cornbread Chili Bake

We were in an Eatzi's a few weeks after Hadley was born when I saw a chili and cornbread bake and my mind was blown. Sure they go together like peanut butter and jelly but I had never thought to combine the two into one dish. You guys, this was revolutionary. Don't just serve your cornbread with chili, serve it IN your chili. The next day when shopping at the grocery store, I found what I needed and in three easy steps, I had a really tasty meal in under 30 minutes. 

This has been a great meal to easily make and take to others, to serve a group, and we have loved it just for the two of us to have then reheat for nearly a week of leftovers. You can make your own chili and use that, or you can do what I did below! 

(Yields 8-10 servings)
  • Cookwell & Company two step Chili mix (I've also had their green chili mix and highly recommend it)
  • A honey cornbread mix, I use the Central Market Honey Cornbread and whatever ingredients the cornbread needs according to the box. 
  • 1-1.5 lb ground meat (I've used both ground beef and ground turkey)
  • Garlic granules, to taste
  • Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed (optional, I like to add for additional protein, iron and fiber)
  • Shredded cheese (flavor of choice, I do a mild Cheddar or Monterrey Jack)
  • Green Onion (optional)
  • Sour Cream (optional)
1.) Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees or whatever your cornbread mix says. While oven heats, brown your meat in a skillet and season with garlic granules. 
2.) While the meat cooks, grease a large casserole dish. Mix your cornbread in a bowl then pour the mix in and spread to even it. Cook for 10 minutes. 
3.) Once meat is cooked through, add to chili mix in a bowl and kidney beans if you opted to include. Spread on top of the half-cooked cornbread, top with cheese and pop in the oven for 10 more minutes. 

Remove when timer goes off and serve, garnishing with green onion and/or sour cream! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanks in a time of Grieving

Last night, our little family sat on the couch. Tired after a long day/night, we enjoyed the quiet moments together. George was nuzzled between us, Hadley was asleep on my shoulder post-feeding. Max and I were trying to figure out the best way to move her into her Dock a Tot without waking her up. Suddenly his face lit up and he mouthed "she's smiling!" Then a series of coos and squeaks began. In those moments of sheer joy, memories flooded back of last year at this time. I was in such a dark place. I was grasping frantically for something to fill the void, but was missing it altogether. I wanted our Hudson so very badly, a life with him was all I could think about. I was lost, deeply sad at all times, and very broken. A year ago I didn't see hope. I didn't see happy again. I was just submerged in the sadness. I felt so isolated and alone most of the time. I can only imagine how hard I was to be around because I started to give up on camouflaging it with others. I had found my rock bottom of grief at this exact time last year.

Last night I had this precious baby girl on my chest with her sweet noises and sleep smiles. All of it filled me with emotion and I cried. Max thought I was tired and exhausted, he hugged me and told me to go get some sleep, he was going to take night duty. I looked at him and just said that I was emotional because of where I was a year ago, depressed and so unhappy, but now here we are, with her. Last year I struggled to find thankful, to be grateful. I found thanks that Hudson was ours, though not the way that we would have wanted, because we were without him. This year I'm not emotional because of what feels empty, I'm emotional because how full we feel. I have become accustomed to the piece of us that despite the fullness, feels like there is someone who will always be missing.

Last week the One Wing Foundation held its final fundraising event of the year, our Wine & Dine dinner. At that event, we had a representative from the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas speak. She did a beautiful job presenting on a difficult topic, grief. One thing that struck me is that the most common misinterpretation of grief is that the first year and its milestones are the hardest. As a grieving person, I knew we would grieve Hudson as long as we lived but I didn't think that it could be more difficult outside of that first year. What she's found is that the second year can be just as if not even more difficult. It hit me hard because for us, our second year has not been more difficult. As we prepared for Hadley, of course there were intense emotions and a wish that we would be introducing him to his little sister, however, we've found a healing and peace in this second year without our son. I know that's because of Hadley and what she has not only restored to our life but also the new pieces of life she's brought us. Not everyone has that. However, what I take from her talk was that people - both grievers and non-grievers alike - underestimate grief as a whole. We had a very hard first year but grief is never ending. It will be difficult at different times, for different people. Though this second year hasn't been as hard or harder for us, for others it very much may be. Though we aren't experiencing it right now, that doesn't mean we won't as time goes on. The grief is always looming and it may become more difficult at another time. When I went to bed last night, I was thinking about this and I found myself crying for Hudson and my wish to have both my son and daughter here with us this holiday season, a time of year that is centered around family. The looming grief found a vulnerable time to invade my heart and mind.

This morning as I was having time with Hadley, I thought about how two years ago we were pregnant with Hudson and we were trying to hide it from family on Thanksgiving. Next week when I go in to see my doctor for my six week check up, I thought how it will be the same week we went in for our first sonogram with him. We will celebrate our four year anniversary weekend this year by baptizing our sweet baby girl, when last year we were mourning not having our baby boy with us. I feel there are so many things that have come full circle throughout the last two years.

I had a conversation via text yesterday with a friend who is in a season of grief herself. We were discussing this holiday season and went back and forth about the platitudes offered and how most people cannot simply exist with another person in their grief. It is our nature to try to fix when most of the time, a grieving person wants someone to justify their feelings or have someone to just sit with them in it. We live in a grief illiterate society, but people do mean well and there are ways to "help fix" that are better than others.

This holiday season, you may know people in your life experiencing a Thanksgrieving or a Blue Christmas. If they have lost someone close to them whether it's been a few months or a few years, the holidays will be difficult. I challenge you that if you do have someone close to you in a season of grief, let them know you are there. Don't tell them things will get better, don't tell them anything that equates to what has happened is God's will or everything happens for a reason. Justify where they are with their emotions instead. Tell them this sucks. Tell them you hurt with them. Say their loved ones name. Share a memory of their loved one with them. Sit with them in their grief. It makes them feel like they are understood and someone else recognizes their pain. This can be more uplifting than any platitude or well wish.

As you prepare to send your holiday cards, if you know someone who has lost a loved one in the past year or seem very raw in their grief, don't send them the card everyone else will receive of your beaming family. It intensifies their pain and is like a fluorescent blinking arrow of what is missing in their life: a husband, a wife, a child, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister. Instead, when you are at the store, pick up a thinking of you card and send that instead. It's heartfelt, it's personal to them, it is so appreciated. For those who may be more removed from grief, that may not be necessary but I would definitely stay away from it if you can sense they pain is raw.

For the grieving family members, find a way to incorporate the loved one's memory into your holiday traditions. Maybe it is a stocking with their name, a family tree ornament representative of them in some way, a tradition surrounding the one who isn't there, or setting a place at the table to show they aren't forgotten. Maybe talk to those grieving hard - if they are parents of loss, a sibling of loss, a child of loss or spouse of loss - to ask them how they would like their loved one's memory portrayed in the family celebrations so you can know what they need.

To those grieving, create a plan for your holiday season. Know that you are not alone. Know that though it's hard sometimes, there is thanks and giving to be found and that there can be joy amidst pain. Do what you need to do to make it through this next month of watching the world go on around you when yours may feel halted. Practice self-care and whatever that means for you right now, during this season of grief.

For us personally, we needed different. Last year we had to host Thanksgiving to keep ourselves busy. It needed to be a different setting than what we did each year because I had already envisioned that setting with our son and it was too hard to do it without him. We needed a change up. Christmas was especially difficult, it was the time we had told our families the year before that we were expecting. Those memories were too glaring and the pain without him was too raw. I couldn't be around expecting family members while we were struggling to get pregnant after experiencing the death of our baby. It was too hard to be around other parents experiencing Christmas with their little ones. So we escaped. Travel is something that is special to us, it connects us on a deeper level being able to see and experience new things together. My husband needed snow because that represented the holidays to him, so we chose a Winter Wonderland in Montreal and Quebec City. It was what we needed to get through not having our son for Christmas.

We've all heard of the 5 love languages and you may or may not know your personal language style of giving and receiving love. If you don't, try this. Here are some ideas of ways to express that based on your personal love language.

  • If your love language is through gifts, send them a thoughtful way to include their loved one in the holiday, like an ornament for their tree. Last year it meant so much to me to receive ornaments in Hudson's memory. Our Christmas tree tells our family story and now Hudson was able to be included in that. Etsy makes some wonderful remembrance ornaments, Pier One has these beautiful angel wings, LaurelBox makes these ornaments for grieving loss. If they do not celebrate Christmas or you would like to do something else meaningful, consider a donation in memory of their loved one to an organization that may mean something special to them. That simple gift helps a grieving person feel like their loved one lives on or has left a legacy, no matter how big or small.  
  • If your love language is through words, send them a text, an email, a card or call them. When people are deep in grief, many times they do not want to talk on the phone, but they will appreciate your attempt even if they don't answer or return the call. A text or email may illicit a response they are more comfortable with, but if they don't respond, know they are grateful to hear from you. You can say you wish (loved one's name) was here with them, too. You can simply say you wish them comfort today. It doesn't have to be profound or a novel. Sometimes the more simple the better. 
  • If your love language is through service, take them a meal, mow their lawn, offer to help them around the house, or grab them some essentials from the grocery store just because you were thinking about them. Many times, help is offered but a grieving person may not be able to or know how to accept help. Sometimes you just need to show up and do it, or proactively stay on top of them to say today I'm coming over to do x, y or z. 
  • If your love language is through time, like with service, stay on top of them and arrange time to spend together. Offer to take them to visit the resting place of their loved one with them, to go on a walk or another fitness activity they may be too inhibited by grief to try to do on their own, go to coffee or lunch, or have a movie marathon at their home. 
  • If your love language is through touch, never underestimate the power of a hug. 

As a grieving person, you can also use the 5 love languages to express your grief in a way that honors your loved one.

  • If your love language is through gifts, if your heart is ready, adopt an Angel from an Angel Tree who would be the same age as your loved one or hold a baking day with friends or family and take those baked goods to people as a gift. Last year I found a snowflake poem that made me think of Hudson. I found snowflake ornaments and gave those to others in Hudson's memory. This year we will adopt a 1 year old boy from the Angel Tree and as a family, we will honor Hudson by giving another little boy a special Christmas in Hudson's name.
  • If your love language is through words, use writing as a form of expression. Write them a letter, story or narrative. You can scrapbook special things that makes you think of them. Connect with others on your path and go to coffee with them to talk about how you are feeling or text them when hurting most. I found myself writing and meeting with other loss moms a lot during the holidays last year and it was a great band aid for my heart to use my writing and conversation to help heal. 
  • If your love language is through service, use a volunteer opportunity to serve those in need at a food kitchen on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Create bags of food for families who can't afford to feed the mouths around the table. Organize toys at a local hospital or shelter for kids who don't have anything can bring healing to your heart. Maybe it is connecting with others walking your path through a support group care package or ornament exchange. 
  • If your love language is through timesurround yourself with family or special friends who make you happy. Plan out activities to fill your time when you think you may be sad. Spend time at a nursing home talking with someone who may not have anyone to visit them. 
  • If your love language is through touch, don't be afraid to ask for a hug or someone to hold your hand when you need it. Another way to fulfill that is to go to an animal shelter and cuddle those animals who don't have owners to love them yet. 
Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Know there is a community ready to embrace you if you are in need. Seek out your tribe and find the support you need to get through this difficult season. If you can't make a list of what you are thankful for this year, that's okay. Maybe you can find thankfulness it in the one you wish were here. A thanks that you had them at all, even if just for a little while. Sending you love, comfort and peace during this season.