I have been thinking about the word “lost” quite a bit lately. “When We Are Lost” is the title of the new book I’m working on and it is something I have felt more than a few times in my life.

When we lose someone we love – our children, our partner, our friends or family – we often feel lost in grief.

When we make major life changes – move across the country, start a new job, change careers, go back to school, etc. – we can feel lost and uncertain.

Sometimes feeling lost finds us – life is moving along as usual and slowly we begin to feel dissatisfied, restless, hollow, unsure if what we have is really what we want.

Lost has been a companion of mine again for a while now. In March of 2016, I picked up my life, my business, and myself to replant myself in a new area of the country. I left an amazing community of friends and a counseling practice to create something new in a new place. I did so because I was starting to feel as if I was losing myself – in old patterns, in old grief, in complacency and fear, in subtle dissatisfaction.

Most of the time, we think of being lost as a bad thing.

I’m not really sure it is.

When my children died, I had to get lost in the grief so that I could find the beauty of living again and remember that love never dies. I had to lose myself in grief for the motherhood I wanted in order to find peace with the motherhood I was given.

There was a point in time when I left my chosen profession of counseling. It was a painful and confusing time. But it took getting lost in order to find my way back to the career I love – supporting those experiencing grief and loss.

When I started to lose myself in my old home a couple of years ago, I had to get lost in a new place in order to find myself again. I can’t say I’m fully there yet and I will admit that I still feel lost much of the time these days. Yet, as hard as it has been and continues to be, I feel more alive than I have in years and I feel truer to me than I have ever felt.

Grief is a time of lostness.
Change can feel like getting lost.
Maybe there’s not specific reason yet we feel like we’re stumbling in the darkness.

And, sometimes, being lost is exactly where we need to be.

Just maybe somewhere in that lostness is exactly where we find ourselves again.

My family died.

My fiancé was killed in a car accident and mere months later our daughter was born still. Here, then gone. Both circumstances completely beyond my control. I had a sweet little growing family and then they were gone and I was left behind to survive alone.

It took me 6 years to ever speak my daughter’s name aloud to anyone, to tell anyone of the existence of her. I carried her memory, her name, and her life hidden inside of me because the pain of acknowledging the loss of her was unbearable.

It took me more than a decade to speak aloud the phrase, “My family died.” I always spoke of them separately – my fiancé died and then my daughter died. Never naming them has my family, never speaking what felt unspeakable – that my family died and I was left alone here without them.

I have always loved words. The way they feel in my mouth. The way they look written across paper. How they create images and rhythms and a sort of music when you string them together. The endless ways in which they can be arranged and rearranged to say the same thing in a dozen different ways. The way in which they can evoke emotions and help us see the world in a new way.

It wasn’t until I spoke what felt unspeakable to me – about the life and death of my beautiful Grace and the loss of my family – that I started to understand the power that words hold.

When I held the words of my grief, my loss, my deepest sorrows inside of me, my life felt blurry. Dulled. Half-alive. I kept trying to revive it, to take the broken pieces and build a new life out of the ruins, but it kept crumbling around me into depression and grayness and a longing to simply not be alive at all anymore.

It wasn’t until I was finally able to voice what felt unspeakable that life snapped back into focus.

“I have a daughter. Her name is Grace. She died.”

“My family died. They died and left me alone and I still don’t know how to do this thing called life without them.”

Words have power. Speaking these words brought me back to life. Was it a miraculous, life is wonderful again in an instant event?

Ah, no.

But it opened the door. And life came rushing back in through that door. All of it – the joys, the sorrows, bitter grief, numbing pain, beauty, color, sweetness and so very much light. The soothing waves, the sharp edges, the warm sunshine, and the bitter winds.

I spent six plus years in numbing grayness. Functioning, surviving, moving through life, and existing but not really living. Not experiencing all that this rich and vibrant life has to offer.

I won’t lie, there are occasions when I wish I could return to that numbing gray – when things are painful, when I hurt, when I am tired of saying good-bye or bone weary of longing for those I love and cannot see or hold.

Then life will do something beautiful again – something I wouldn’t have been able to see in the grayness of that silence and unspoken grief – and I breathe again. I speak again of whatever hurt or wound feels too unbearable to mention.

There is power and freedom in giving voice to what feels unspeakable. Those words hold life in their angles and curves and letters strung together. Not simply the existence of life, but the fullness of life – beauty and messiness, joy and sorrow, grief and light, and every shade and hue of color.

I often ask myself what I am afraid to speak. And then I ask how much life am I missing out on when I’m burying words that need to be voiced inside of me?

The answer is always too much. Too much life. Too much beauty. Too much joy. Too much color and vibrancy. Yes, there is pain and grief and messiness too. Life is all of it. The sharpness of life is always better than the dullness of existence.

If I could, I’d sit with every person on earth and ask them, “What are your unspeakables? What are you most afraid to say?” And I would listen. And I would see life, in all its fullness and richness and vibrancy. The griefs, the sorrows, the wounds and the joys, the beauty, the color.

While I can’t sit with every person on earth, I can ask you –

“What are your unspeakables?”

“What are you most afraid to say?”

I am listening.

It’s that time of year again.

That time when everywhere I look there are aching reminders – commercials, racks of cards, advertisements, special programs, and endless talk of Mother’s Day. When the day actually arrives, social media is plastered with images of mothers and their children, stories of sweet gestures – barely edible breakfast in bed, child drawn cards and pictures, flowers and treats, cute stories of how amazing it is to be a mother.

Unless I hide in my home with no television, no radio, no cell phone and no internet service for last half of April and first half of May, the endless reminders of Mother’s Day are unavoidable.

I don’t really show it much on the outside, but in these weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, I walk around with a heart that bleeds and a throat full of held-back tears. I go to work and talk with friends and go about my life as usual while everything inside of me aches with grief for the children I cannot hold.

The other day I watched a mother and her son in a restaurant and wondered, “Can she really grasp the incredible gift that she has? The opportunity to love and raise and nurture her son here on Earth? Can she truly know how lucky she is?”

I love my mama friends and I love their children. Yet in these weeks before Mother’s Day, I wish none of them would say a word about their kids or their lives as mothers. Any other time of the year, I love hearing their stories about the successes and challenges with their kids. I love them and want to share in that part of their lives.

Yet in these weeks, I can’t bear to hear those stories. I don’t want to know what amazing or funny thing their child did. I don’t want to listen to how hard it is to deal with X, Y or Z as a parent. Every mention feels they are taking a hammer to my heart and breaking it to pieces.

See, I have stories of my children too. Thousands of images and memories of life with my daughters. Endless things I could tell my friends and family about.

But my stories and memories aren’t real.

My daughters died before birth. In my mind, I see them here with me every day. I imagine who they might be, what they would look like, and how life with them would be. They are part of everything that I do and who I’ve become in this world. In some ways, they are as real to me as your living, breathing children are to you.

Except aren’t. They are phantom children. I cannot show you pictures or tell you stories of how sweet or how mischievous they are. They live only in my imagination as possibilities of what might have been. You cannot see them and few would look at me and see a mother.

You won’t find stories of motherhoods such as mine in the commercials or the greeting card aisle or advertisements. Your church won’t mention mothers like me by name – though they may think they are by tacking on an addendum such as “and all those who consider themselves mothers.” There won’t be a brunch special for mothers of dead kids.

I don’t live the socially accepted or recognized motherhood. I’m not the kind of mother most will think of on this day called Mother’s Day.

I will wake to a quiet and empty home. I will make myself breakfast and go about my day as usual. There will be no giggling girls, no tempers to calm, not special “mom” events to attend, no outside proof of my motherhood.

I may not be recognized as a mother on this day called “Mother’s Day,” but I will remember. I will remember the children that made me into this person called Mother. I will remember the lives that grew inside of me and that I love beyond any kind of measure.

My greatest wish on Mother’s Day is that every recognized mother truly knows the gift that she has – a living, breathing child here on Earth with them. Children she gets to nurture and hold and share endless stories of their successes and their challenges.

The gift of Mother’s Day is getting the opportunity to mother your child. I would give up a thousand lifetimes for the chance to mother my girls here in living, breathing form.

I spent a couple hours the other night rocking someone else’s crying baby to sleep. It’s something I do fairly regularly now as part of a new job. Sweet baby smell, aching arms, and that heavy sleeping baby weight in my arms.

On the same day I also looked at pictures of a friend who had taken her teenage son to visit colleges over spring break. She talked about how proud she is of him and how she is preparing herself to let him go off into the world on his own.

Both situations made me want to lay my head down and weep.

Most of the time these days, I handle being around kids or watching other women mother pretty well. There’s always a slight pinch in my heart, but generally speaking it doesn’t rip and tear the way it once did. I’m so used to that pinch now, I barely register it. For the most part, I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t have my children here to nurture and know in this physical world. I have mostly made my peace with being a mother without living children.

Except Mother’s Day is approaching again. Mother’s Day and Christmas are the two holidays when my heart bleeds fresh. I can’t help but feel bombarded with images and reminders of what I didn’t have, don’t have, and will never have – a baby to love and nurture, a child to raise, a teenager to see grow into independence.

Already, I’m seeing ads and commercials, cards filling up the aisles in stores, displays for Mother’s Day gifts popping up everywhere. For most of the last 14 years, my dearest wish this time of year was to be somehow get lost on some deserted island away from all technology, people, and heartbreaking reminders that I will never be a “real” mother in the eyes of the world.

I wanted to disappear and be invisible in the same way that my motherhood has been invisible and generally disregarded all these years.

However, in recent years, despite the fresh bruises on my heart from reminders of what I don’t have, I have chosen to reclaim Mother’s Day. The world may never see my motherhood or find it as valid and valuable as those mothers with living children, but I wanted to acknowledge it and the motherhood of others like me without their children to hold.

And so Share Your Mother Heart was born.

A 14-day journey created specifically for mothers without any living children to honor, acknowledge, and share their experience of motherhood. To bring us together to talk about our experiences of motherhood, pregnancy, and more – to share the experiences that too often others don’t wish to hear about because our babies have died.

This Mother’s Day let us come together and acknowledge each other. Let’s share our stories and honor each other as the mothers that we are. As invisible as our motherhood might seem to the world around us, we are still mothers. Let’s see each other.

Join us and share your mother heart.

(This post is a modified version of 2016’s Share Your Mother Heart post)

Grace Hayden.

My Grace.

Sometimes I say her name in my head over and over again and it brings me comfort. I’ve been missing her more than words can express lately, my sweet baby who would be turning 14 next week.

Grief has ebbed and flowed over these past 14 years – sometimes a quiet ache that lingers in my bones and others a gushing flow of tears and fierce longing that batters my heart. The last few weeks have been more gushing than quiet aching. This new layer of grief has taken me by surprise.

I have spent far more time in my bed, my car, the bathroom at work, choking on tears and weeping as if it was just yesterday that she silently and suddenly died in my womb. It has gotten more difficult in recent years to imagine what she might look like now. I’m struggling to picture how her sweet baby features might have aged into the young woman she would be at 14.

I can’t see her anymore and the loss of that ability to imagine her face has made her seem so very far away from me.

When she seems impossibly out of reach, I say her name. Over and over. Grace. My Grace. And then I try to remember and live what she taught me:

To always seek to find the beauty in the ruins.

When I am lonely, she taught me to look for those who make my smile.
When I feel broken, she taught me to see those who can sit with me in my brokenness and see my wholeness.
When I feel lost, she taught me to look for those people or places that brighten the darkness.
When things appear hopeless, she taught me to look for possibility – not guarantees.
When grief takes my feet out from under me, she taught me to see love in the messiness of tears.

She taught me that no matter how dark and uncertain circumstances can feel, life and hope will always sprout up in the ruins and flowers will bloom again.

She gives me hope, even when she feels so far away.

No matter how powerful the grief, hope always blooms.

My gift from Grace. Hope.

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