Mikayla and Chase’s Stocking

We are coming up on the fourth Christmas since we lost our daughter Mikayla and the third since we lost our son Chase.  Bereaved parentsI have expressed how difficult the holidays can be for bereaved parents. I remember that first Christmas all to well, it was so difficult to find joy amongst the grief.

I did find something that gave me hope though, something that gave me purpose…we called it Mikayla’s Stocking.  The last two years, of course, it was Mikayla and Chase’s Stockings, and we hope to do it again this year as well.  This idea helped us  immensely during the holidays and I am sharing it now in hopes that if you are a bereaved parent yourself, it might spark some ideas of how you could do something in memory of your baby.  If you aren’t a bereaved parent, but know someone who is, I hope this will encourage you to reach out to that family during this holiday season.  See the bottom of this post for other resources that may help.

The thought of not having a stocking for Mikayla to hang with the rest of our family stockings was heartbreaking. We could not stand the thought of that stocking hanging there empty on Christmas day…so we decided to fill it with good deeds and acts of kindness in Mikayla’s name that we spent time doing during the holiday season. The idea was inspired by a fellow baby loss blogger, Mattie.

It started by a letter that was sent out to our family and friends inviting them to join us in filling Mikayla’s Stocking with stories of good deeds and random acts of kindness they were inspired to do in her memory.  We then picked out a matching stocking with her name embroidered on it, and each day afterwards we thought of small things we could do to spread joy amongst our community and to help others days be a bit brighter.

Sure, there were lots of tears that first year…and sometimes there still is when I think about how very different our lives could be if Mikayla hadn’t died that year.  But keeping focused on doing things that would make her proud to call me mommy helped me survive those first holidays without her.

This was part of a blog post I wrote about her stocking that first year,

 “Instead of hanging our four stockings on the mantle, with excitement for what little treasures might fill them on Christmas day,  I hang them with tears in my eyes.  Mikayla has a stocking, I cannot imagine it any other way.  I love seeing her stocking hung up with the rest of ours, our little family of four.  Instead of a doll dressed in pink, Mikayla’s stocking is adorned with an angel.  Instead of filling it with toys, I am filling it with letters from our friends and family that we will read on Christmas day to try to bring a little joy to that stocking that would otherwise be empty.”

We asked people to send us notes about what they did in these acts of kindness so that we could put them in the stocking.  We didn’t open them as we received them, we just tucked them inside her stocking.  On Christmas Day morning, we opened up all of the letters.  And that stocking was not empty on Christmas morning….it was overflowing with LOVE.

This project brought a lot of joy to our family during one of the saddest Christmas holidays we have ever celebrated.   We were absolutely awed at the letters and notes that were sent to us to fill her stocking.   I remember going to the mail box and each new envelope labeled with “Mikayla’s Stocking” filled me with such joy….someone remembered, someone cared.  For me, that’s all I really wanted for Christmas that year.  And if by trying to keep the spirit of my daughter alive, it helped brighten the spirit of even one person, I knew it was worth it.  I guess it’s how I grieve.  It helps me to know her short life had a purpose and that it continues to impact others.

It’s now been over two years and I’ll admit I feel a lot less sad about the approaching holidays this year.  We have been so blessed this year, but I do still find myself wondering what it would be like with four little kids running around our house.  I don’t let my mind linger there for long though.  Instead I find myself planning how we are going to honor Mikayla and Chase this holiday season.

Below are examples of our Letter from the first Christmas and also the one we sent the second year.  Please feel free to use these to draft your own letter if you’d like to invite your family and friends to fill your child’s stocking this Christmas.  If you do your own Angel Stockings, we’d love to hear your stories!

{YEAR ONE LETTER}

Dear Family & Friends,

First, let me thank you all for your love, support and prayers over the six months. Thank you for sharing in the excitement of our second pregnancy and in the sorrow of our loss. Today is Nov 14. Tomorrow will be 5 months since we said good-bye to Mikayla. We know each one of you felt our pain during the loss of Mikayla. We celebrate her life and, like a stone tossed into a pond, hope to see some of the far reaching ripples of the good things her life can bring.

As the holidays are approaching, we are excited to spend time with family and friends and watching the excitement in Jonathan’s eyes just overwhelms our hearts sometimes. But, we still feel the need to remember our daughter, Mikayla, this Christmas. Christmas is our favorite time of year and we have been searching for a way to keep it that way, even in the midst of our pain. I found this wonderful idea from another mom whose little girl is in Heaven and was really inspired to do the same thing she did the first Christmas without her baby.

We have a stocking monogrammed with Mikayla’s name that matches the rest of our family stockings, but really don’t want to see it hang empty, so we have decided to enlist all of you to help us. All that we ask is that sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large. It doesn’t have to involve money–just commit a random act of kindness. When you do it, think of Mikayla and dedicate that act her. You can even leave a note saying, “This random act of kindness was done in memory of Mikayla Grace”, but you don’t have to.

Please write down your act of kindness and send it to us and put “Mikayla’s Stocking” in the subject line or slip a note into your Christmas cards to us. I won’t read it. I will print it out the emails and put it in her stocking. Then, on Christmas morning, we will open up all the notes and read them.

Feel free to share this request with your other friends and family. Even if only a few of you do this, we will have a really beautiful thing to share on Christmas in our sweet baby’s memory and someone else (the recipient of your kindness) will benefit by a true example of the spirit of Christmas. I will pray that all of us will be struck by inspiration, that something will come to each of us, some kindness that we can share of ourselves, in Mikayla’s name and in her memory, to benefit someone else. For idea’s and inspiration for random acts of kindness, visit http://www.missfoundation.org/kindness/ideas.html

Thank you so much for your participation and your continued love and support,
Melissa, Mike, and Jonathan

{YEAR TWO LETTER}

Dear Family & Friends,

We are so, so thankful for our family and friends who have supported us over this last year and wanted to invite you all to do some random acts of kindness this Holiday season! Last Christmas we invited many of our family and friends to participate with us in filling Mikayla’s Stocking with Random Acts of Kindness done in her memory, and we have decided to do something similar this year as well. It was such a wonderful experience for us and those that participated, helping us focus on the blessings we do have and the kindness of others.

As most of you know, 2011 started out as the year of {HOPE} as we discovered we were expecting our third child. Unfortunately at a routine ultrasound on April 22, 2011 we were told that our baby had no heartbeat. While we were only 10 weeks along in this third pregnancy, we had already fallen in love with this child and our hearts were broken to know that he had already joined his sister Mikayla in Heaven. We felt our lives open to a whole different kind of loss, because while we felt this life was already our child, there simply wasn’t enough time to convince others how special this baby was or to share our hopes and dreams of this child with them. A few weeks after we lost him, we got the genetic results back that our baby was a little boy who died from Trisomy 22. We have named him Chase Gabriel, and while we never got to hold him in our arms he still remains within our hearts forever.

Last year if you’d told us that we’d be hanging up yet another stocking in memory of one of our children we wouldn’t have believed it. We know this too will be a difficult holiday without our two children, and we are searching for ways to bring joy to our lives and the lives of others again this year. We celebrate the life of both Mikayla and Chase, and hope we are able to continue to find ways in which the lives of others can be touched because of their brief lives touching ours.

This year, we will be filling stockings again and if you’d like to participate, we ask that the acts of kindness are done with both Mikayla and Chase in mind. Sometime between now and Christmas, do something nice for someone, no matter how small or large. It doesn’t have to involve money–just commit a random act of kindness. When you do it, think of our children and dedicate that act to them. You can even leave a note saying, “This random act of kindness was done in memory of Mikayla Grace and Chase Gabriel”, but you don’t have to.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take your neighbor, friend, coworker some cookies
  • Make someone a meal
  • Compliment someone
  • Shovel someone’s driveway or sidewalk
  • Let someone cut in front of you in line at the store
  • Buy someone a cup of coffee
  • Donate money to any charity
  • Donate toys to the Salvation Army
  • Adopt a family with a one year old or a baby (Mikayla would have been 1 1/2 this year and Chase was due to arrive in November)
  • Buy someone who is hungry lunch
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter serving dinner
  • Volunteer anywhere

There are so many ways to spread kindness and cheer this holiday season check out this website for more ideas: http://www.missfoundation.org/kindness/ideas.html

Please write down your act of kindness and send it to us by mail (email me at mikaylasgrace@gmail.com if you need my address) or email and put “Mikayla and Chase’s Stockings” in the subject line or slip a note into your Christmas cards to us. We won’t read it. We will print out the emails and put them in the stockings. Then, on Christmas morning, we will open up all the notes and read them.

There is another way that you can help us spread love in memory of Mikayla and Chase through our Blankets and Babies Book Drive. Many of you have been following our journey with the non-profit we founded in February, Mikayla’s Grace. This organization has grown beyond our dreams and by the end of next year we will have supplied all of St. Mary’s bereavement needs for memory boxes and will have expanded to provide services at the second hospital in Madison. We plan to donate another 60 memory boxes and 50 NICU care packages to St. Mary’s and Meriter in the Spring of 2012 but are in need of many items for this donation. This donation drive is a way you can give back to the families that we serve through Mikayla’s Grace this holiday season.

Feel free to share this request with your other friends and family. Even if only a few of you do this, we will have a really beautiful thing to share on Christmas in memory of Mikayla and Chase and someone else (the recipient of your kindness) will benefit by a true example of the spirit of Christmas. I will pray that all of us will be struck by inspiration, that something will come to each of us, some kindness that we can share of ourselves, in Mikayla and Chase’s names, to benefit someone else.

Mikayla and Chase are on our minds daily and now to see them, instead of opening our eyes, we must open our hearts. We do believe that they both came into our lives to bring us the gifts we needed to continue touching lives through sharing our experience with others. They have taught us about love and about giving. They taught us all of that, and then they left. Through us, and through you, their gifts will live on through the lives of others touched by the mission of Mikayla’s Grace and our acts of kindness for many years to come.

Thank you so much for your continued love and support,
Melissa, Mike, and Jonathan

And our two little angels watching over us in Heaven, Mikayla & Chase

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
–Aesop

There are a couple of other good resources for how to survive the holidays after losing a baby.  These blog posts may be helpful for family and friends of bereaved parents to read as well.  We wish all of our supporters of Mikayla’s Grace a peaceful holiday season.

http://facesofloss.com/real-advice/surviving-the-holidays

http://www.roseandherlily.com/2012/11/remembering-your-baby-at-christmas.htmlIf you are a bereaved parent and have other ideas how you honor the memory of your baby(ies) please share them in a comment to this post.

Mother’s Day: Advice for Bereaved Parents and Those That Love Them

Everyone knows that Mother’s Day is in May, but did you know that Sunday May 6th 2012 is International Bereaved Mother’s Day?

This special day was created by Carly Marie to honor and celebrate mothers who carry some, if not all, of their children in their hearts rather than their arms.  In our modern day society, mothers who are grieving the death of their babies and children are usually forgotten. The traditional Mother’s Day has proven to be an emotionally difficult day for so many mothers around the world.  Mother’s Day is usually a day of celebration, but for many parents who have lost a child it is a day of heartache, pain, and tears thinking about our sweet angels.

To help raise awareness for this beautiful day take some flowers from the flower gallery on Carly Marie’s page.  Post them as your profile image on your favorite social network.  Post them on your friends’ walls on Facebook and let them know they are beautiful mothers.  You can also visit thisfacebook page to join the community honoring this day.

Anticipating and facing Mother’s Day after the loss of your baby can be challenging.  A time when you should be celebrating, becomes a time of remembering and thinking about all the “what ifs” and “should have beens” instead.  Not only is your precious baby not here with you, but witnessing the celebration and joy in other families can make it even more heartbreaking.

Many parents have found that the lead up to certain special dates is worse than on the actual day.  We almost fear that day, not knowing how we will cope; not wanting to feel more pain than we already are.  Through planning the day though, Mother’s Day can also be a beautiful one. Planning ways to get through these special dates may provide comfort and healing to your hurting soul, by giving you some tangible purpose in your day.  Whether you are on your own, or are surrounded by family & friends, this is a time for you and your baby.  Here are some ideas taken from the Bears of Hope Newsletter that  you might like to think about to help you get through Mother’s Day.

  • Release a balloon – perhaps inscribe a message on it before doing so
  • Light a candle throughout the day
  • Write a poem or a letter to your baby
  • Visit the cemetery – place fresh flowers
  • Have a special place to go to for breakfast, lunch or dinner each year
  • Go for a walk – drawing on the beauty of nature to soothe your soul
  • Plant a special flower or plant
  • Buy or create a special piece of jewelry to wear
  • Create a scrapbook page
  • Listen to some music that will offer comfort and hope

If you have not experienced the loss of a baby yourself, but know someone close who has, you may be wondering how you can acknowledge that woman on Mother’s Day.  Here are some ideas:

  • Recognize that they are a mother:  Offer a hug and a “Happy Mother’s Day”.
  • Acknowledge that even if the mother has other living children, she may still be missing the one who’s not with her to celebrate Mother’s Day.
  • Send a card to let them know you remember they are a mother even though their child is not with them physically.
  • Acknowledge they have had a loss by saying, “I know this might be a difficult day for you. I want you to know that I am thinking about you.”
  • Use their child’s name in conversation.
  • Plant a living memorial, like a tree or flower in memory of their baby.
  • Light a candle and let the mother know you will light a candle in memory of their child on Mother’s Day.
  • Share a memory or pictures of the child.
  • Send a gift of remembrance:  Suggestions include an angel statue, jewelry, a picture frame, a library book or toy donation in the child’s name or anything personalized.
  • Don’t try to minimize the loss: Avoid using any clichés that attempt to explain the death of a child. (“God needed another angel.”) Secondly, don’t try to find anything positive about the loss (“You still have two healthy children”).
  • Encourage self-care by encouraging the mother to take care of herself. Give her a gift certificate to a day spa or any place where she can be pampered.

You Knit Me Together in My Mother’s Womb ~ Psalm 139:13

By Dawn Siegrist Waltman. taken from her book, A Rose in Heaven

Mother’s Day.  A day of so many mixed emotions.  A day that takes so much effort to hang onto the hope of heaven, lest I become swallowed in the emptiness of the present.  The emptiness of the day is so consuming I can’t get away from it. It’s everywhere!  Women with newborns in their arms on TV, pictured in store flyers, strolling into church-everywhere!  And whose arms are aching and empty?  Mine.  I should have been one of those women, with an infant in my arms today.  Somehow though, I feel as if the reality of having a baby slipped right through my arms, almost like a vapor.  One day she was a part of me, the next day she was gone.  I want to cuddle that little life, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing to cuddle.  There is a feeling of desperateness in my heart, but it is at this point that I realize I must focus on what I do have.  And I do have something! I may not be strolling into church or appearing in a family picture with a newborn in my arms, but, nevertheless, I do have a child.  I am a mother. The moment conception took place, I was blessed with the gift of a child and the title, “Mommy.”  As Psalm 139 clearly states: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  I am a mother of a “little rose in heaven”, and nothing-absolutely nothing will change that. And although I don’t have “my little rose” in my arms today, I do have the comfort of knowing that a glorious day is coming when I will meet her and together as a family, we will spend eternity with Jesus.”

Dear Friend, This is one of the hardest days to face with empty arms and an aching heart. It is normal to feel overwhelming grief and sorrow on Mother’s Day. My prayer, though, is that you will not become swallowed in emptiness to the extent that you miss the hope of spending eternity with your child and the honor of being a Mother today

March Work Day

Saturday we had over 30 people come to our house to help assemble the donations for this month. We were so touched at all of the family, friends, and Mikayla’s Grace supporters who came to help assemble these donations. So many of the individuals who came to help out are fellow bereaved parents who are happy to help and do something in memory of their babies as well. We feel so fortunate to have met so many amazing people that are honored to help us carry out our mission to help these other families in our community. The mission of Mikayla’s Grace, and all that we have accomplished this year, would simply not be possible without the help of all these people. Here is a video from WKOW from that day.

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

We put together 75 angel memory boxes and 60 NICU care packages which is our biggest donation yet. There were also around 70 gowns with matching hats and booties and 65 baby blankets donated as well.

Something new we are doing this year is donating sibling teddy bears to St. Mary’s that will be given to siblings of the NICU babies. Often these children cannot visit the NICU so this gives them something to cuddle and play with while they wait for their baby sister or brother to come home, which for many of these babies can be several months. We also donated books especially for the NICU siblings as well.

We were also fortunate to have some money left over from the Pepsi Refresh Project grant money to purchase several sets of The Zaky, a positioner specifically designed for NICU babies to help the baby feel like they are being held in their isolette and to help with their healing process.

One addition to the Angel Memory boxes for this donation includes a brochure created by the Mother’s Milk Alliance.  This organization is run locally in Madison and supports women who want to donate breast milk and those who need this precious breastmilk for their babies.  The pamphlet is geared specifically towards bereaved mothers who may wish to donate their breastmilk, and I think it’s such an important resource for families to have if they desire to do this.  It was put together by a fellow babyloss momma, Traci, who donated her breast milk after the death of her daughter Leticia several years ago.

We also added these tins for the lock of hair keepsakes for each memory box.  We’ve always included keepsake cards with a small ziploc type envelope for the lock of hair but this allows parents to open the  tin easier than the bags do.  We still include both, so that parents can choose which they’d prefer or  use both if baby has lots of hair.

There were several local babyloss families that donated special items in memory of their angels. Dannah Kilborn donated 30 of these “Always remembered, always in our hearts” ornaments in memory of her daughter Emily. Jesse and Stefanie Spohn made these healing bracelets especially for other bereaved parents in memory of their son Jameson.

We will be making the donation to St. Mary’s Hospital this Friday. It is our third donation to this hospital and over the course of the last 9 months we have managed to supply a year’s supply of these donations needed for the number of babies that need these services for memory boxes or NICU care packages to babies <30 weeks.

We will be making our first donation to Meriter Hospital next Friday. They will receive 50 angel memory bags, which is almost a year supply for the number of infant losses seen at this hospital. Meriter already has very nice boxes, so we donate items that they do not include in their current memory boxes. These additional items include our pamphlets “What we wish someone would have told us before leaving the hospital: Advice from bereaved parents for spending last moments with your baby” and “Advice on making Burial or Cremation arrangements”, Strong and Tender Father’s grief booklet, Journal, Little Footprints Memory book, 3 D Casting kit for baby’s feet and hands, Baby Record keepsake, and our Resource envelope. Meriter will also be receiving 30 NICU care packages.