I was invited to be the guest speaker at a Tree Lighting Memorial Service this year.
Last evening I attended and spoke from my heart about the light and dark side of our loss. About the tragedy we have been forced to battle. About the healing along the way.
It was a bittersweet, warm and touching service. Full of hundreds of faces who bear the burden of grief. Full of love, understanding and unspoken wisdom. I was honoured to share our Nicholas. I was honoured to share the evening with my husband, our boys and Little Miss Sunshine. I was honoured to have my parents by my side. I was honoured to have such an amazing platform to reach out and hopefully help to comfort someone as they walk this road of loss.
Thank you, Buddy, for giving mommy the strength to speak at such an emotionally charged event. You are such an amazing little soul.... I couldn't do any of this without your presence.
After the ceremony, while we all watched in wonder and in anticipation as the grand tree was lit I was approached by many of the attendees. Many thanked me for my words, others just wanted to share an embrace. One man in particular offered a warm hug with only the words "we lost our son just 7 months ago... thank you for your courage"... sigh.... unbelievable.
The following is my speech, if your are interested
Tree Lighting Service - 2011
Good Evening Everyone and welcome,
My name is Leanna and I am honoured to have been asked to speak with you tonight. My family and I attended the service last year and were touched and humbled by the experience. What a beautiful and meaningful way to remember our loved ones. At the end of the evening, when that tree is completely lit in honour and remembrance of our loved ones, it exudes peace and hope and reminds us of eternal love. I truly hope that each and every one of you feels some warmth and comfort tonight as we honour the one’s we have lost and remember their everlasting presence in our lives.
As the holidays approach, many times our grief is amplified. It thickens. It’s deep. It’s raw. The holidays, more than any other time of year, means family and friends together. They are synonymous and it is at this time of year when we are so acutely aware of the void in our lives. Whether our grief is fresh or we are remembering 25 years down the road the pain and the longing we feel, especially on special occasions, can sometimes be unbearable. We are desperate for just one more glimpse. We ache for one more touch. We imagine their faces at each family gathering. We feel them in our souls.
One of the things I have learned on our journey is that there is no right or wrong way to approach the holiday season. Some may wish to follow family traditions, while others may feel the desire to change. Be gentle on yourself. Spend time with the people that YOU enjoy. Include your loved one in conversations and celebrations and follow your heart. Do something for others. Donate in your loved one’s name. Take care of you. All of these things are sure to soothe the soul and comfort the pain, even if just for a moment.
Our journey through grief began just over 3 years ago when our youngest son, Nicholas passed away.
"I would rather have had one breath of his hair..
one kiss of his mouth..
one touch of his hand..
than an eternity without it.."
This has become one my all time favourite quotes. It gets me through the tough times. It helps me to stay focused on the blessings that life has given me. This quote is gently engraved into Nicholas‘ Memorial stone. It embodies our love and appreciation that his life and death have imparted on our lives.
This is our story…..
Three years ago my husband and I received the most devastating, unbearable and confusing news any parent can hear. Our third son, the baby we had planned. The baby we grew with, the baby we loved… was in a desperately grave condition. We were forced to face any parents worst torture ~ the unfathomable reality that our beloved child was unable to survive outside of the womb. The fact that our son’s ultimate fate was death – even before he drew his first breath.
My pregnancy was eventful. At almost 20 weeks I was rushed to the hospital and had emergency surgery to remove an 8 cm cyst that had twisted my ovary. Life-saving surgery for both myself and baby. Several doctor’s, nurses and technicians assured us that our baby boy was just fine. Safe, healthy and totally oblivious to the pain mommy was experiencing. I remember constantly thanking God for that. I gladly took every ounce of pain just knowing that our baby was thriving. As much as his strong kicks hurt my incisions, the tears I shed were those of gratitude. I remember every kick …. Every hiccup and I rejoiced in the fact that we had survived such a life threatening event.
I was released from the hospital and went home to rest. Quite a few weeks later, during a routine scan, my OB requested I be seen by a high risk doctor to rule out any possible problems with our baby’s ventricles in the brain. My OB was fairly certain everything was fine, but with everything we went through to get there, he wanted to be sure. I wasn’t worried. I hardly thought about it. Just an over cautious doctor, which I was grateful for.
In just a few short weeks our lives changed from anxiously expecting another beautiful, healthy son very shortly to living a nightmare in which we would never wake from.
The high risk doctor confirmed that our baby’s ventricles were indeed enlarged. Grossly enlarged…. She immediately sent us to Mt. Sinai hospital where we endured many questions, tests and long, agonizing waits.
I don’t remember much about that day, especially the latter half. I remember being escorted into an office. There were pictures of African animals everywhere…. A trip the owner of the office had taken, no doubt. Pictures of smiling children, happy families… seemingly taunting us. I remember my eyes being glazed over like they have never been before. I remember holding my husband’s hand so tightly.. for fear I would melt to the floor. We sat and we listened through the sobs to the doctors talking about our baby. Our perfect little boy. The baby who we were told was perfectly fine just a week ago. We listened as they told us that his sweet little brain had ceased to develop or it had recessed after my attack, my surgery. All that continued to run through my head was that I deprived my own child the very oxygen and blood necessary to grow…. I failed him. I failed my husband, I failed his brothers who were so desperately awaiting his arrival. I failed his grandparents…his Aunts, his Uncles….. I failed myself.
A week later, at 35 weeks pregnant, I was induced and our beautiful baby boy was born….. sound asleep. I will always remember that overwhelming feeling, just moments after I felt him leave my body, of hoping beyond hope for a cry… that somehow the doctor’s were wrong… that he fought through… I prayed for some kind of miracle as the primal screams of desperation escaped me.
We were able to spend so much precious, memorable time with our boy. We named him Nicholas Warren and he was perfect. He’s still as perfect as ever. He has such a strong presence in our lives. Nicholas is loved, remembered and honoured every single day in our home.
Fast forward to today. I wish I could say that this all makes sense now. That there is some greater purpose of forever walking this road of missing our baby boy. I’m not ready to say that. I’ll never be ready to say that. Today, none of what happened makes any sense to me. I will never accept that our baby had to die for a reason or that God has another plan for him. I don’t believe that. I certainly don’t embrace it. What I do know is that somewhere along my journey I made a promise to myself, my family and especially to Nicholas. I promised that the anguish that resides in my heart over losing him will not define me, but rather, the gratitude and distinct honour of being chosen to be his mommy will soar above all else.
The message I would like to convey tonight is that after surviving the unimaginable, there is hope. There are lighter and brighter days down the road. No matter how far along we are in this journey we must remember to be gentle on ourselves. Be patient. Be kind. Remember. Love and be loved. The sadness, the desperation, the anger… these feelings are all a part of the process. Let yourself go to those dark places, but please, remember the light too. As difficult as it is to accept that time marches on while our world has seemingly come to a crashing halt…. time is our ally. Time softens the pain. Time allows us to remember the good and not always the bad.
I know that I will always physically ache for Nicholas. For his body in my body, his soul in my soul. A mother’s love is endless.
No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you, buddy. After all, you're the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside. ...
As much as I long to have Nicholas here, playing among his older brothers and protecting his baby sister, I feel like the“ache” has transformed. I have learned to allow joy and grief cohabitate in my heart. It never ceases to amaze me how such definitive opposites can co-mingle so gracefully.
A very old friend once said to me; “I am not a religious person, however I have always believed in Guardian Angels. How bittersweet that you got to meet yours”… what a truly beautiful perspective. It’s an image that speaks to my heart.
I don’t remember ever believing in Angels.. or signs.. or the belief that spirits live among us. I never had a reason to. Not until the unthinkable happened and I was desperate to hold on to something that reminded me of my baby. For months after our loss I was paralyzed. Paralyzed by grief. Paralyzed by fear. Paralyzed by guilt. It took everything in me to go down the road for a bag of milk or walk up the road to collect the mail. I found even the simplest of tasks gruelling and impossible to bare. I was angry. How could the world continue to spin when mine had seemingly come to a screeching halt? Nothing seemed fair and everything was a reminder of the horrific pain I was in. I found myself praying for a sign. A sign that Nicholas wasn’t too far away. Validation and reassurance that our baby boy was close by, watching over us..
In the early days I found “signs” and comfort in our living children. Our two older boys allowed me to hold on. Their presence and their unconditional love forced me to put one foot in front of the other.. get out of bed… stay focused on the everyday things that made our family go around. The best “signs” and the most spiritual feelings are when our boys ask about their brother… out of nowhere… just because…or when they come home from school with a family tree with Nicholas playing above the clouds…that takes my breath away. Or when our daughter (who was born after Nicholas) blows kisses to the sky and softly says “Nick”…
For an entire year I grasped at a hundred and one different little things that I could attribute to being a sign from our Angel. However, on Nicholas' First Angel Day there was a particular constant that has become Nicholas’ trademark and our saving comfort.
On the Friday night before Nicholas’ first Angel Day, my husband, the boys and I headed up North to our "Heaven on Earth". We unpacked, warmed up the cottage, had some dinner, got the kids off to bed and tried to relax in anticipation for what the next day was going to bring. I went to the washroom to wash my face for bed and there on the faucet was a ladybug. Beautiful and red and perfect. I called for my husband to have a look, as finding a ladybug, in the cottage, in the middle on November, in Canada, is extremely unusual. It has always been said that ladybugs are a form of good luck. I took this tiny sign as an omen.... we were going to have a peaceful, sunny day for Nicholas' first birthday.
The next day I packed a backpack of water bottles, snacks, mitts and hats to take to the race that our friends were participating in, in honour of Nicholas. Once we arrived, I pulled out my water bottle and found a perfect, sweet ladybug clinging to the side of it. He/she stayed either on the water bottle or on my finger for most of the afternoon. My immediate thought was - now EVERYONE is here, celebrating and remembering...
The next morning my husband and I walked down to Nicholas' stones (as we always do before we leave) and there, on his stones were two ladybugs sunning themselves in the cool morning glow.
I was shocked, moved and delighted all at the same time.
Coincidence? I would like to think that our boy was sending us some kind of message.
A message of love. A message of comfort. A 'sign' to let us know that he is always with us.
Ever since, of course, ladybugs have been a strong source of peace for us. There have been many occasions when one has gently landed on my shoulder at just the right time… or one has joined our children as they play in the yard. Each visit is precious and each sighting gives me a little more strength to carry on. In fact, just recently, as we celebrated Nicholas’ 3rd Angel Day, a ladybug magically appeared in our family room. He hung out for 5 days and provided some much needed solace for our family during an extremely emotional few days. After such experiences I find myself mesmerized by the power of love and gentle healing… It is my hope that you all find comfort and strength in the “signs” that surround you each and every day.
A couple of months into our loss I was desperate for some kind of connection… something beyond the comfort of signs. I longed to bond with others facing a similar loss. I ached to fill the loneliness I felt in my soul...to fill the void that felt so permanent. It was then when I found such a huge and fantastic support system on-line. I began blogging and became involved in one of the most powerful, tight knit communities… A community full of understanding, sympathy, empathy and compassion. At Nicholas’ Touch I document my most intimate, raw and candid thoughts, images and emotions. I can honestly say that writing, reaching out to others in similar situations has been amazingly cathartic for me. I am constantly amazed and humbled by the connections I have made with women who live sometimes an ocean away. I feel like I have given Nicholas somewhere tangible to be honoured. A special place for only him and I. A place where I can pour out my love for my son and maybe help others along the way. A place where our other son’s and daughter can visit one day and learn more about their brother. I feel honoured to have that opportunity. On my worst days, it gives me focus, strength and a spirit to keep on fighting.
Through Nicholas’ Touch as well as through other avenues I have been fortunate enough to meet and support some extraordinary parents who are suffering the loss of their babies. Each story, each experience has inspired me to do more…. to reach out… to offer soft understanding and support to those who have been forced to walk such a horrendous path.
I began creating tiny, simple Angel Wings and sending them out to women who touched my heart. A small bit of comfort from my Angel to their Angel s and it has blossomed into something beautiful and beyond any expectation. These Angel Wings have flown all over the world, to Australia, England, Spain, the States… I find tremendous comfort in knowing that Nicholas’ legacy lives on… that the power of his little life has had the power to touch so many others.
Each request for wings is heartbreaking. Each story unique. Each life lost, precious. I am often asked how I managed to find the light on this dark road… and I hesitate each and every time. I can’t say that my personal journey has always been graceful or kind. And I can most definitely say that it hasn’t been easy. Some days are just plain hard, cruel and messy, but others are full of hope, joy and an abundance of love. I suppose it will always be that way. One feeling trying to overpower the other. Two completely different sets of emotions delicately balancing in my heart.
Each year as we celebrate Nicholas’ Birth and Angel Day in November we try to make it special. This year was no different…we decided to organize a walk/run/stroll through Fairy Lake park and it was magical. The show of love and support from our family and friends was unbelievably humbling. We walked, we remembered, we laughed and we cried, but, most of all, we honoured, Nicholas.
Each year we also invite family and friends to support various initiatives in support of Neonatal Units close to our heart. This year we had a very special vision to celebrate and honour Nicholas. Our family, along with some very generous friends and family, have created some special Hospital Memory/Comfort Boxes for the labour and delivery ward at Southlake Regional Health Center. It is my understanding and my experience that not too much exists in terms of tangible care and support when you are forced to leave the hospital with empty arms.
It is our hope to provide items in these packages to newly bereaved parents that may help in memorializing their babies. When parents are forced to face the unimaginable; saying goodbye to their children, tangible things such as pictures and hand/footprints aren’t often thought about until it’s too late. Our goal is to offer comforting options... options that are not typically thought of in the fresh stages of grief.
I was told the other day that one of the first boxes had to be gifted…. What an intrinsically bittersweet moment that was. I only hope that the family knows how genuinely and incredibly sorry I am that they now find themselves on this journey… one where I have walked and wept. I desire that knowing others have walked through this anguish gives them hope… that they know that they are not alone in what often feels like a very lonely journey. I hope that they can feel my arms around them as I weep with them.
Maya Angelou once said
"When great souls die, our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us. Our minds formed and informed by their radiance, fall away.....And when great souls die, after a period, peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed.... We can be. Be and be better. For they existed”.
This quote provides such a strong sense of inspiration in me. Our lives are forever changed. We forever have grief in our hearts, loss in our souls. We forever struggle with the fact that what we have experienced is permanent. There is no changing it. There is no getting our loved one’s back.
I think that this has been one of the most intense emotions and difficult acceptances along our journey. The permanency of it all. Accepting the fact that our lives have been forever altered. That we have been forced down a path we never once thought we would have to walk. That we will never again see our precious babies again in this life. That we will carry our grief with us forever.
However, I must also remember that we have gone from deep, deep despair and sadness to feeling a sense of strength for enduring such heartache. We have gone from utter hopelessness to hopefulness in bringing a new baby home to our family. We have gone from missing our baby boy so intensely in the ravages of new grief to remembering him, talking about him and including him in our family every chance we get.
The past three years have been intense, unpredictable and full of unimaginable grief, but they have also been filled with hope, inspiration and an incredible amount of healing. Although it is painful to not have Nicholas here with us, his spirit and his legacy have infused our family with indomitable strength and immeasurable love over the past 3 years. We remember him often, we honour him daily, we love him unconditionally. He is forever a part of our hearts and our souls.
I believe that our loved ones are never too far away. They are in the whispers of the wind, the first spring bloom of the season… the fluffy, white snowflakes that melt on our nose…they are in the crimson sunsets and marshmallow clouds…they are flying on butterfly wings and they are in the ladybug that lands and decides to stay for a while. They are here with us tonight… holding our hearts tight and offering sweet comfort as we remember and pay tribute…. They are in the light of our candles as we place our flame on the tree… they are in the tears that fall and they are in the embraces we receive. Where ever you choose to “see” your Angel is the perfect spot… embrace those moments… there are always more to come.
Love and strength to you all. Peaceful healing…