Uncontainable Light: A mother’s love letter from her daughter’s funeral

Oh, beeba.

Brooklyn, Brook, Brookie, Beebs. Beeba-leebs, Beiber, Leeber, Beezel. Sweet B. B. One name couldn’t contain you, but that’s your story, your light was not meant to be contained.

I can’t believe you’re gone.
I can’t believe I am standing here so soon.

Again.

Actually, I can.
You always did things your way and on your time.

I know you missed your brother, just as much as you loved being with Ellie. Seemed like the day Jayden left, Sanfilippo started in on you. It was a long eight months B, and I know it wasn’t easy. Seizures, GI issues, walking….

I’d like to say you did it all with a smile on your face, but anyone who knows you knows I’d be lying. You did it like I would-honestly. Kicking, screaming, crying, and sarcasm. Lots and lots of sarcasm. Deep down you understood that brokenness hurts and you weren’t afraid to say it, but you also didn’t let it defeat you.

You were a girl who knew what she wanted and I love that about you. It’s why I am less worried about you in heaven, I know you’re settling in just fine. 

I hope someone recorded your arrival so I can see it one day. I bet you ran to Jesus. You probably grabbed Jayden’s hand and lead him all around Heaven that day. And when you got your chance to sit alone with Jesus, I bet you sang to Him your favorite Barney song, “I love you, you love me…” 

I can’t believe we were camping. This whole summer we made memories and I am so grateful for them. I will always find you amongst the trees. 

I can’t believe I was kayaking with you on my lap, and 3 days later you were gone.

Actually, I can.
There was no way you were going to die any differently than you lived. 

I leaned in and listened, B.

Just the way your brother taught me. And you said, “quickly.” So I said, “come.” I let people in, just like you wanted, even though I wanted to keep you as long as I could all to myself, but it’s not your way. 

You were meant to be shared. It was hard not to horde your light, but you almost seemed more radiant the more I shared you with others. Lord knows if you were with your Ms. Vicki, your teacher at Laremont, there was no way I could keep you to myself. 

There were so many people that loved you, Brooklyn.
Your light was magnetic, impossible to contain.

Ever since your were little people were drawn to you. Remember going to the store and listening to women swoon over your “baby doll” face, your perfect curls, and big eyes? People couldn’t get enough of your light. 

Your smile was so big your eyes couldn’t even see it. They would disappear as your squishy cheeks would rise and your smile would take over, many times with your hands clasped up towards your face. 

Your life helped people see Jesus.
It always will.

When I think of you, I can’t help but smile. In fact the last few days, I think I’ve smiled more than cried. Not because I don’t miss your physical presence, but because my joy for you is outweighing my sadness. And just like your brother paved the way with everything else, he has taught me how to find you still.

You bring me great joy, B. Great joy, and lots of physical pain. 

Remember kicking me every time I changed you?
Biting me when I would feed you?
Pinching me when I was doing your hair?
And, you always did it with a smile.

Stinker.

Can we talk about your hair?

It was you. Big and beautiful and terribly difficult to control. 

You hated me touching it. I remember dropping you off with Ms. Liz, or Ms. Heidi, or Ms. Brittany- hair all sort of a mess- and you’d come home with triple french braids. I don’t know how they did it without sitting on you like I did, but I feel like it was yet another way you reminded me that you are my daughter. 

For better or worse B, we are cut from the same cloth. If you would have made it to 16, we would have had major problems. You probably would have moved out to live at Ama’s.

And your feet?

You hated shoes. It was a mean game you’d play every morning when the bus would come. I’d put them on, you’d kick them off. The only shoes that would fit you, that you struggled to kick off were high-tops. And of course, the brighter, the better. Even in the winter you refused to wear the one pair that fit your big-ole feet. Your feet were as wide as they were long. But my favorite thing you did with your feet, besides tucking them under your butt when you sat, was how you made everyone sitting near you your footrest.

My favorite time with you was when you would relax into my lap, the weight of you on me. I knew if I held you, you’d pull away, so I would lean back and wait for you to grab my hand. Even touching you was on your terms. You’d play with my fingers, and I would sing every nursery rhyme I could remember until you’d move away. You’d still bop your head to the beat even when you lost the words to sing along. One time you sat with me so long I started singing the national anthem because I couldn’t think of a nursery rhyme we hadn’t sung.  

Your entire life was a song, B. A medley of beautiful sounds and moments. A song that everyone liked to hear. 

There’s no such thing as normal, B. And, there’s no going back. We are forever changed by you.

The last few months your presence helped us remember J. You both were a package deal. Our lives are completely different with the both of you not physically here.

I feel like your fire, your joy, has crawled into me since you went home. I feel limitless now that you are with me in Spirit, no longer limited to a broken body. You are cured, free, completely restored, with Jayden, with Jesus, and I get to see you again. 

But until then, I am trusting the unseen. I am trusting in the eternal, in the promises that Jesus offers through faith in the saving work of the Cross. Jesus is who He says he is, and the deepest pain of losing you doesn’t change this truth. 

When I was watching your life, knowing since you were 3 months old this day was coming, I realized like everything else about you, a picture couldn’t contain you. It’s why I have more videos of you, than I thought. You were something to be experienced. And everyone that experienced you is forever changed by your light. 

B you are so very loved.
I am so proud of you.

I will look for you in the sun, in my birds.
I will look for you in pictures and stories people will continue to share.
I will look for you in the lives you changed, in the people you’ve touched.

For to see you is to see glimpses of God-His light so bright in you.

B I will spend the rest of my life, finding you. I will take you with me, wherever God takes me, until I see you with my own eyes again. 

I can’t wait.

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Everlasting Joy: A father’s reflections from his daughter’s funeral

Right after Brooklyn passed, a family friend printed off some pictures from when Brooklyn was younger during a season Justin volunteered with One-on-One, a inner-city Zion basketball camp. During camp, I would bring the kids up and they would run around and make friends with all the coaches and players. Jayden would dribble balls and shoot hoops, Brooklyn would dance and sing.

One of the pictures, now a bookmark in Justin’s Bible, is a picture of B wearing a shirt that says, “My heart belongs to Dad.” Sometimes, I find him fighting tears as he looks at it. They sure share a special bond.

I am not sure if this is true of every family, but it feels true for us. There’s just something different about the bond shared between a mother and a son, a father and a daughter. Not better or worse, more or less, just different. A boy needs his mom and a girl needs her dad. (I know both need both, but you get it.)

Maybe it has to do with protection. A dad protects his girl and raises his son to be a protector. A mother protects her son and raises her daughter to be a protector. Maybe it’s simply because Jayden was like his dad, and Brooklyn was a lot like me.

I don’t know why, I just know it was true for us and impacts how we are grieving.

Justin’s words about his sweet B that he shared at her funeral are so precious and the lessons he learned from her are really lessons for us all. Lessons about living life to the fullest, real heroism, love, and joy.

 

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Continue reading “Everlasting Joy: A father’s reflections from his daughter’s funeral”

I can’t believe you’re gone.

I just want to be with you, B.

I can’t believe your gone. It’s a wave of panic that comes over me every time I let myself go there. Go to the place of full acknowledgement, full awareness, fully present to the weight of your physical absence. 

I am trying, B.

Trying to take one grace-filled step after the other. I am making my bed AND feeling sad. I am showing up and doing hard things. When you are newly bereaved, again, even simple things are hard.  

I keep telling people it’s like finally being shot in November after knowing eventually I would become a target, starting the rehabilitation process in a hospital, only to be shot again as I was relearning how to walk. I wasn’t even discharged and sent home.

Days are like walking through mud. Even turning the corners of my mouth up to a smile is heavier. Life is heavier without you.

I thought about these days, even craving them a bit, if I’m really honest. The caregiving was so heavy, heavy and holy, but not nearly as heavy as grief. I realize I just wanted a break, not you gone. I wanted to hit pause, not stop. I just want you back and I am sorry for ever wanting a moment away. Because now, I’d give anything to have you play with my fingers or sing you a song. But I refuse to get trapped in regrets, because I know no matter how much I had of you it would never be enough.  

The house feels empty. Even the silence that once brought comfort in the chaos is now in need of redemption.

Did I mention, I can’t believe you’re gone?

I changed your bed. Did you see?
A twin mattress that doesn’t need sides anymore.
A big girl bed.
A nine year old bed.

Your sister thinks your room is her office because I have turned your playroom into mine. We keep the dutch door of the playroom open now, because you’re not here.

Because I don’t need to keep you safe anymore.
You are eternally safe.

I painted the walls white. Nothing stayed white when you were here. Do you remember all of the dents you and your brother made in the wall? Hundreds. Every one my finger felt this week served as a reminder of where you were that you are no longer.

But I needed reminders that remained.

I kept the now distressed window trim, full of toy hammer dings and a few bite marks. I kept the mysterious blue blotch on the ceiling from some ball- a reminder to look up. A reminder where to find you.

I needed the reminder that nothing is perfect, not even a white room, and plan B is where I am meant to stay.

My desk is the table that held your urn at the funeral.
The same table your brother’s urn sat on nine months ago.

I can’t believe he is gone.
Last year, today, you both were here.
You both got off the bus.
Just. Last. Year.

But the desk? Writing on it is trading ashes for beauty, my small act of redeeming even the darkest of things.

Every decision to change a space or leave it, is hard.
Every space an invitation to remember.
Every space an invitation to move forward with you.
Environments matter desperately to the grieving.

I chose white walls because to me, white is sacred. Holy. Light. All the things you point me towards. I was going to put chairs in the room for people to talk but decided against it. We will continue to gather on the floor like you taught.

“Get low, mom,” I hear you still inviting us.
“Never forget you must begin there each day.”

I knew it was too painful to see the room lifeless so I decided whatever came out of it had to honor the beauty that has already taken place in it. Words and life, tears and laughter, full of you and your brother and everything God continues to teach me.

Share.
Share.
Share.

So I will. My simple, tear-soaked offering to the world, full of light and love.

Keep teaching, B.
I am learning.
Learning it all for the very first time, again.

I can’t believe you’re gone.

 

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Lessons from our little girl: Aunt Angie’s reflections on life, love, and an unexpected calling

To say that we have been blessed by Angie’s love and presence in the life of our family wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface. If there was one person I’d change my “5” tattoo into a “6” for, it would be her. She has been present for every high and every low we have walked – from baby showers to funerals, from youth group to small group, from hospitals to hotel rooms, from green rooms to stages, from vacations to Tuesdays. Some of my best laughs and ugliest cries have been with her. She has easily become a welcome fixture on our couch and in our hearts and I couldn’t imagine doing this journey without her.

Many times we’ve prayed that Angie would marry and fulfill the desire of her heart to love and be loved in that type of relationship. We still do. But she would be the first to tell you that a person isn’t defined by their relationship status or their work, but by their Savior and by their heart.

Would we have chosen our stories at first glance — Singleness or Special Needs? Nope.

But looking back, I would choose it again and again. I would stand at the front of the line begging to be Jayden’s and Brooklyn’s mom, and I bet I’d find Angie, standing right next to me begging to be Aunt Ah-gee, too.

Many times we think our plans and timing are best, but when we change our focus, we can see that God has been up to something much better, all along.

Ang, you may not have chosen “Aunt Ah-Gee” over marriage if God dangled them both in front of you 12 years ago, but I am so glad He knew better than to give you a choice back then. We both would have missed watching you live out your purpose for the season J and B were physically present. We all would have missed the blessings.

We should talk about this more, shouldn’t we? Friendships, Plan B, singleness, purpose in pain….

Ang, let’s hit the road!

Seriously though, Angie. Justin and I will always pray for God to find a match for you, but we will also pray, no matter what your relationship status is, that you feel loved, that you know you belong, that you live into your purpose and calling — whatever that is in whatever season you are in — and that you know, deeply and profoundly, you matter to us. We feel honored to be sitting in the front seat to your life just as you have sat in ours.

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Here are Angie’s words from Brooklyn’s service:

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What do we do on Monday after the funeral?

I am so tired.
I feel how Jayden looks-smashed and buried.

This weekend, I think I experienced every emotion God made.

First grade doesn’t stop for my youngest just because her sister died. I thought I missed her open house, but it’s tonight. I thought I missed the bus time, but I remembered they post it online. I thought school started today, but it’s tomorrow.

I’m all screwed up, but God knows.

What do we do on these days?
The days after the funeral?
The days when everyone else seems to move forward and we are left picking up the pieces of our shattered life?

What do we do when the cards and casseroles stop?
When people stop saying her name? His name?
How do we answer, “How many kids do you have?”
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Blue Jays and Laundry: What Grief Looks Like One Month After My Son Went to Heaven

“This is what the things can teach us:
to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke-

One month.

One month since Jayden has been gone.
One month closer to seeing him again.

My mind is just now beginning to clear, or maybe it’s returning to fog. I am still not sure which is more foggy, the months before and after a crisis, or the days lived in between life’s defining moments. I think it’s the latter, because every decision surrounding Jayden’s passing was so clear to me.

Continue reading “Blue Jays and Laundry: What Grief Looks Like One Month After My Son Went to Heaven”

Jayden’s Service Part 3: A Mother’s Love Letter

Thank you to all of you that came to the funeral service and for helping us remember Jayden’s influence this Thanksgiving by posting what your are thankful for using #JBThankful. We are so blessed by our community and tribe, and everyday, we find out how far reaching Jayden’s influence continues to be.

Here are my words from Jayden’s funeral:

Continue reading “Jayden’s Service Part 3: A Mother’s Love Letter”

Jayden’s Service Part 2: A Father’s Love

Dads, get out your notebook. Study his ways. Justin is worthy of being emulated. He is one of the best dads around. Selfless, affectionate, and willing to change diapers with his rough, callous hands from doing man’s work outdoors, providing for our family. He is equally gentle as he is strong. Listening to him talk about Jayden on Saturday was awe inspiring. I am so proud of him and the way he seeks to bring glory to Jesus in all he does.

Jayden loved “my dad” fiercely. This picture was taken days before he passed. Justin had stopped in from work for a few minutes, and received one of the greatest gifts, one of Jayden’s last smiles.

Perfection.

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Here are his words from Saturday:

Continue reading “Jayden’s Service Part 2: A Father’s Love”

Jayden’s Service Part 1: Samuel’s Impact Story

Dual blessing. 

It’s what I call our relationship with Sam. I will never forget meeting him on a youth retreat his Sophomore year of high school. He actually came with a different church youth group but ended up in my small group. I am not one for stealing kids from other youth groups, but technically he didn’t have a church youth group home so I didn’t feel that bad. I liked him. He was just a pretty cool kid and he got along with all my other misfit teenage boys.

He just fit.

He joined Impact, our youth group, where he used his gift of music and led worship. Right away he joined our small group that met during the week, so we became real close to Sam, seeing him twice a week.

But everything changed the day he called. There were things we just had no idea he was carrying. His call changed everything. Sam’s family and our family would journey to some very dark and heavy places behind closed doors over the next few years. And Sam went from being a kid in youth group we enjoyed, to family.

My office and my couch became a refuge for him. My son became his hero. Without using words, Jayden would change his life. Jesus used my son’s presence in Sam’s life to save it. And let’s be clear, it was Jesus that did the saving.

Sam is such a brave, talented, wise young man. He is already influencing his campus at Purdue with the love of Christ. He is making his journey back to an authentic, thriving, beautiful communion with his Savior, and I am so thankful Jayden played a part in his story.

We asked him weeks ago, before we really knew Jayden was going to pass, if he would share at his funeral and he agreed. Thank you, Sam, for not only sharing your words so powerfully, but for the honor it has been to be a part of your journey. Dual blessing for sure.


Here are his brave words from that day:

Continue reading “Jayden’s Service Part 1: Samuel’s Impact Story”

Gray

Gray. It’s my favorite color, but not when it comes to knowing. When it comes to knowing, I want answers. I want to know when. I want black or white.

But dying, like living, is full of gray.

…..

As I type, just got an email notification from the middle school Jayden would have been attending if he didn’t have Sanfilippo. It was a reminder about the school dance tonight.

As I type, I listen to the rhythm of his breath. In the background, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse plays.

 

I can’t believe it’s snowing.

I can’t believe it’s November.

I can’t believe my son is dying.

Continue reading “Gray”