An unwanted guest with muddy shoes

20130904-230615.jpgOn September 4, 2013, our son died. I held his lifeless body in my hands and said, “good-bye” for the last time. I wept. I sobbed. I screamed. I then became empty. I felt like I was in a dream… no a nightmare. Life went on. People moved on. Everyone kept living, moving, just being. For some time I did not know how. I did not know how to go back to life before Owen. I did not know who I was before Owen. I did not know who to be, period. The truth is there will never be life before Owen. Owen changed me. He changed me in a huge way and each day I am discovering more and more how he changed me. I am discovering who I am in this new different every day. Some days I like who I am. The mom, the wife, the employee, the daughter, the friend, and the positive woman that believes that last “good-bye” was really a see you later. Other times I hate who I am. The impatient, frustrated, sad, angry, hopeless, broken woman who believes he is gone forever.

Brody the hippo5 weeks after Owen passed away I went back to work. Two months later I found out we would be expecting our second son. I was going to be a Mom to our second child. He would need me. Work needed me. My husband needed me. Business was good at work. I had a healthy baby boy growing inside me. I had a few friends that I spoke to regularly and a family that provided endless support. Life went on. My life went on. I was learning how to fit in with the new different.

But in so many ways life hasn’t moved on. The motions have continued. The rhythm of the day has gone on. Wake up, drink coffee, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to bed, repeat… Yes, there are days that provide some excitement and the weekends provide some variation, but for the most part, day in and day out I do the same thing and that has provided comfort. I have avoided so much that is out of that comfort zone because of… well, fear. I have stopped working out. We have not vacationed. We rarely go out and not just because it can be a lot of work with a 7 month old, but mostly because routine is safe. Life is safe. There are few tears in the mundane. I know what to expect. It is safe.

photoToday, this all changed. Today, I realized all of the above and today grief and God gave me a serious smack down. I’ve spoken many times lately about how the second year of grief is hard. It’s hard because life goes on. The first year everyone else’s life had gone on; in the second year I realized my life had gone on too and I don’t think I was ready for it. I have been standing in its way. I have an incredible second son who is turning 32 weeks. He has lived TWICE Owen’s lifetime and will live so many more. This scares the crap out of me! I have an amazing husband who stands by my side and would stop at nothing to give me the world if I asked for it. My life is blessed. But, I get in its way. My pain and the stages of grief stop me from so many things.

Today I decided to go head to head with grief without even knowing it. Today I decided to focus on me. To fall in love with the new different woman I have become and get to know her. Today I went for a run. It’s been a long time since I have put on my tennis shoes, walked out the front door, and just started moving. Today, I battled all of the excuses and I just went…. Phew! Now I remember why I have been avoiding it. It’s a scary place to be alone in my head. I begged God to show up. To let me know he was there… God created my playlist for my run and picked my foot up for every step. He filled my lungs with the breaths that Owen never got to take and he told me it was time to feel. In that moment the tears started. They poured out of me. Sobs came out without any control and I allowed myself to grieve. The stages of anger, denial, depression and bargaining poured out of me. God said, “It’s time for me to help you live with acceptance.” The 5th stage, I am not ready for…

a29f96651daa5b4babbdc1a302acb493Grief is a funny thing. It’s heavy; very heavy. Today I felt the true weight of grief that I have been carrying and it was much much more than the 20 lbs of baby weight I was hoping to run off. Grief does not make an appointment. It does not warn you when it’s coming over. You cannot bury it no matter how hard you try. You cannot ask it to go away. Shoot you can’t even screamed expletives at it and force it to go. It’s an unwanted house guests that makes a huge mess and refuses to leave and right in the moment you think that it’s gone it stomps through your house again with filthy, muddy shoes and sits back watching you as you clean up after it. Lovely right!?!?! You cannot run from it. So, today I decided to run with it.

Today through the sobs I realized how scared I can be of life. A song came on while I was running and the lyrics said, “death leaves you black and blue”. When you have had death in your hands you realize how definite it is here on earth. It is so scary to live. I had 4 months of life with Owen. I have four months of memories. Four months of smells. Four months of the hardest and most beautiful days of my life. Four months stored in my heart and my mind. Four months that I will never get back. Four months that I am so incredibly afraid to lose. Some days I fear that there is only so much room in my heart and my mind for the joyous memories. They are both quickly getting filled with moments with Brody and how lucky we are to have him. But, there is only so much space. I need grace. I need grace for the birthdays I don’t remember, the weddings I can’t attend; the anniversary’s that I forget. I need grace for the funerals I can’t go to. I need grace for the days that sometimes are just hard. The days that I am the person that sometimes I hate; the days that I am not ready for new memories because they are memories without Owen. I need grace as God helps me work through this.

Please hang on with me through this second year of grief. It’s not pretty. It’s full of sloppy, snotty, loud sobbing tears but I know that they are all leading me to a place of healing. I know there are many that are following our journey that have just lost someone, or are in the same place as us, or are years into their grief and have turned to other things to get them by. Please do one thing for yourself today. Fall in love with you. Your loved one wants you to. It will hurt like hell but you deserve it.

imagesW716M7MDThis May 17th we will be celebrating Owen’s 2nd birthday at the 2nd Annual LionHeart Owen Gift of Life Blood drive. What better way for us to face life than through gifting it to those who need it. Please save the date and stand with us as we give life for a life taken far too soon!

I will also be challenging myself to run a 10k in honor of our boy. I am trying to find the perfect one. Stay tuned. When we announce the date and location we would love to have you run with us! I challenge each one of you to face your excuses and your fears and get out there. Today was so hard in so many ways. But with each step I felt the weight of grief being left on the pavement and the light joys of Owen filling their space.

18 months without Owen

IMG_7736It’s been 18 months since we said good by to Owen. Some days it feels like it was just yesterday, other days it feels like a lifetime. We see him daily in so many ways; beautiful sunrises, majestic sunsets, tiny yellow butterflies, courageous lions, our second son’s smile, and many more… We are thankful for these visits but long for him to be in our arms.

Until then, we hold on tight to the blessings we have been given in sweet Brody. They have a bond that is evident in each random giggle, babbles to the Heavens, and in his crystal blue eyes… They have an invisible string that connects them for eternity. Brody will forever look up to his incredible big brother and we know he will always be looking down and watching over him.

IMG_6771My dearest Owen,

18 months ago I held you in my arms for the last time. I spent the day studying the sound of your tiny beating heart, memorized the sound of your breathing, and savored every sweet sound you made as you cooed up at me. 18 months ago I kissed you for the last time from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. I took in every curve of your perfect body and got lost in your deep blue eyes. I curled your soft blonde hair in my fingers and breathed in your perfect baby smell. 18 months ago I said good bye, I said the words that I never wanted to say but desperately knew you needed to hear.

IMG_7856You have blessed my life more than you will ever know, sweet boy. Thank you for the things that you have taught me. Thank you for each and every way you show up each and every day. Thank you for watching over your brother and being with him in everything he does. Thank you for making me a Mom. Thank you for teaching us kindness, patience and a love deeper than words can explain. Thank you for reminding us not to take anything for granted. Each day… Each breath is a blessing and I owe each one to you.

This life here on earth is but a blink my, dear son and I can’t wait for the moment you are back in my arms. Until then I will meet you each night in my dreams and hold you safe in my heart.

IMG_6564I love you my precious, perfect, first born son. You are my everything. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

Xoxo

Mommy

NOW Proud Recipients of Amazon Smile

Lionheart Owen Foundation

Every time our hearts are heavy and we feel Owen slipping further and further away from us, he shows up in the most unexpected ways! He is constantly helping us spread his legacy and pay it forward through his foundation. Last night we got an exciting letter in the mail that let us know HE is HERE!!!

LionHeart Owen Foundation is now a proud recipient of Amazon Smile. This holiday season giving back and paying if forward is so easy! Simply buy your holiday gifts through Smile Amazon. All items are still available as they would be directly through Amazon.com and your prime memberships will still work… Only 0.5% of all eligible purchases will be donated directly to LionHeart Owen Foundation! How cool is that!?!?!

Need to finish your holiday shopping?!?! Click the following link to start today!

http://smile.amazon.com/ch/46-3949595

Amazon Smile purchases can be made year round! Please add this link to your favorites and remember Owen each time you shop!

The perfect gift… One year later

20130723-183337.jpgA year ago today I sat drowning my grief at the bottom of a bottle. My heart was broken and the wine numbed the pain and blurred the reality that our precious son was gone. We were going through the motions, coexisting, and doing everything just to hang on. Daily I would be sure to keep a smile on my face and do the best to act as “normal” as possible. I learned a long time ago that if I appeared put together on the outside no one would see what was truly happening; I was falling apart on the inside. No one would ask, no one would show pity. If I acted like everything was ok everyone would do just that, act ok. The truth is a year ago today I was broken, mad at God and desperately wanting the answer as to why Owen had to fight from the second he was conceived? Why did he have to die just 16 short weeks after his birth? Why his short life was filled with so much physical pain and why were my husband and I powerless to fix it? Why? you are my sunshineA year ago today my world was sad, lonely, desperate, and my sunshine was gone. Darkness was in its place and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

As with every stage of our journey, when I felt the Lord was furthest away that was when he was actually closest. “For I know the Plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans for Hope and a Future.”  Jeremiah 29:11. IMG_9423One year ago today, I decided to take a pregnancy test. I felt in my heart it would be negative but knew that in order to have the next glass of wine, I needed to know the truth. The truth was the Lord was gifting us with our Hope and our Future. The Lord was gifting us with our second greatest creation and giving us back sunshine. The Lord was showing us the light for as long as we were here on earth and the Lord was placing in our hands a gift that would save my heart, my soul, my marriage… Me. A year ago today Owen spoke to God and said, “I have the PERFECT gift for my parents. Lord can we bring Christmas to their hearts early?” A year ago today Christ was put back into my heart and Christ was definitely in CHRISTMAS!

DSC_0064I am incredibly thankful for Brody. What an incredible gift he is and a tremendous blessing he has been to our family. I will still ask the questions why but for now my heart is comforted and busy with Brody. The questions are content to wait until I am holding both our sons in the most beautiful place. And something tells me when I see Owen again and hold him in my arms the joy will wash all those questions away and the only thing I will be able to say to our God is, “Thank you.”.  

DSC_0051Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Owen. Brody is perfect!

It’s Giving Tuesday

IMG_8237.JPGIt’s Giving Tuesday and we would be honored if you chose the 2nd Annual LionHeart Owen Foundation Holiday Bookdrive as your way to be involved! The children at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are counting on us and I know together we can hit our goal of 5,000 books!

Click the link to start your Giving Tuesday right!!!
http://www.lionheartowen.com/events

If you are local, we have partnered with some incredible businesses. You can drop your NEW books in any of our drop boxes around town!

Sacred Heart Church and School
Gerald Ford Elementary School
Shadow Rock Church
Starbucks on Jackson and I10
Capstone Fitness
Julie’s Hallmark at both locations (Washington St. and Westfield Mall)
Third Corner Wine Shop and Restaurant

Thank you everyone for your support!!!

Let’s start giving!!!!

111 Days with Brody

photoThere have been moments in this journey that words are so hard to come by. I stare at a blank screen begging the Lord to give me the words that my heart and soul are feeling. Tonight is one of those times. There are two boys that have come into my life that have forever changed me. They have flipped my world upside down, taken everything I thought I knew and blown it out of the water, shown me a version of love that no one could ever explain and given me a title that I wear boldly and proudly… Mom!

Tonight I weep for one of those boys and I rejoice for the other. 112 days… 16 weeks… An entire lifetime… Such a short time yet such a long time when that’s all you’ve been given. There is no way to articulate the depth of emotions running through me as I hold our perfect, healthy, 111 day old, second son in my arms. 111 days. 1 day short of a lifetime. 1 day shy of all the moments Owen lived here with us.

There have been so many milestones for both of our boys that have given us so much joy and provided such beautiful memories. To know that tomorrow Brody lived Owen’s entire life here on earth and his journey is not done fills my heart with an inexplicable fullness. In the same breath knowing that from tomorrow forward every moment Brody experiences will be a first and Owen was robbed of those moments here on earth shatters my soul.

From tomorrow forward we embark on a new world of firsts with our second son. A world that Owen never got to know… His first 113 days on earth, his first Thanksgiving, his first Christmas, his first new years, eating solid foods, etc. We will treasure each of these firsts and celebrate every breath that he takes here with us. We will celebrate with grateful hearts that the Lord has gifted us a healthy son and heard our prayers for 16 weeks plus one day with Brody. We will be forever thankful for the gift of Owen and the gift he continues to give us in Brody. We will never be the same because of these boys and I am so thankful for that. My eyes are open, my heart is full, the world is darker and more beautiful than I have ever known and my soul is content.

I will never stop loving you, Owen and I am so grateful for an adventure of firsts, Brody.

“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him.” 1 Samuel 1:27

A message from our family of four

IMG_1324They say that the second year of grief is the hardest. The first year you are in a fog anticipating the firsts. The first holidays spent without them, the first time you are asked “how many children do you have?”, the first time you reach for them and find that they are not there, the first time you realize that life here on earth is moving on without them. The second year is different. Grief surprises you. It sneaks up when you least expect it. Folding a onesie once worn by our son, dusting the candle lit to honor him, celebrating the milestones our healthy second son has achieved, being approached by a stranger that embraces you with tears in her eyes as she tells you that Owen made her a better Mom and that she thinks of him every day.

3 months ago I stopped writing. I set down my laptop and picked up Brody. I occasionally updated on Facebook and launched the bookdrive but I walked away from my voice. I set it down because my hands became very busy with our precious boy but also because I didn’t want to see the things my brain and heart were feeling. What feels like a long time ago, Jeff told me to be raw. When I write I am raw and I was not ready to see my thoughts in print. I’m not dealing with post partum and while some things I could categorize as PTSD, I think I am mostly dealing with a torn and broken heart. A heart that is struggling with an enormous “O” shaped hole that continually gets squeezed by a “B” shaped joy. My heart was not ready to acknowledge the world it had been thrown into and the degree of emotions of love and loss.

DSC_0659On August 5 at 8:26pm, Brody Aaron Vatter was born. At 7 lbs 6 oz and 20.5 inches long, he came into this world pink, screaming, and ready to be placed in our arms. From the second he took his first breath everything we knew about being parents was different. The brutiful world we were introduced to with Owen was overshadowed by the “normal” experience of a healthy birth. From that second, unless we hired one of the MANY relatives and friends waiting to babysit, we would never be separated. He would not need to be “taught” how to eat or breathe, he would not need monitors or nurses/doctors to tell us he would thrive, he would not need regular medications and interventions to make it another day, he would just live. As a heart mom this was incredibly foreign to me and frightening! What do you mean I would not have rounds every morning telling me that I was doing it right? What do you mean it’s okay to let him cry for a bit and that it wouldn’t stress out his little heart and in fact was okay and strengthening his lungs? What do you mean I could pick him up unassisted and dress him in clothes that didn’t have to work around lines and breathing tubes? What did you mean you were trusting us 24/7 for the rest of our lives to raise this child and live life each day just the four of us? What do you mean that he is healthy and there are no specialists that we have to meet with to confirm this? WHAT!?!?!

DSC_08233 months later, a lot of tears, a lot of laughs, a LOT of laundry and NOT a lot of sleep, I’m happy to report we are doing it. We are the same team we were in the walls of the hospital, only now we have a few less team members, we are a little stronger, a little more confident and everyday finding a tiny bit of balance in the “new different” as parents of two boys both with healthy hearts, one in heaven and one in our arms. We question ourselves often but hear that’s “normal” for parents to do and we celebrate the normalcy!

Although I haven’t been writing, I have still been sharing our story to anyone that will listen. The second year of grief also brings a huge absence of the one you lost. People stop asking about him, stop bringing him up, are scared to ask how you are doing, and some even feel that at this point we should be “healed of our grief” and think we should be “over it”. DSC_0726Recently I spoke at Southwest Church to an amazing group of women about gratitude. I struggled on what to say. How do I convince these women that despite our circumstances, I am truly grateful? Despite our sadness and occasional anger we are in fact, grateful? I procrastinated on what to write and how to put words to what we felt. One morning, I looked at Brody and realized that gratitude looks so different to each person. That I am not grateful for what Owen had to endure or the battle he had to fight but I am grateful that God chose me to be his Mom; that I was entrusted with this incredible soul and am forever changed by his 16 weeks here on earth. I am grateful that through Owen’s life thousands of people around the world were reminded to have patience, to have gratitude for their healthy children, to love them just a little more and to hug them just a little tighter. I am grateful that Owen and God gifted us with Brody and that he has only needed to see his doctor for his regular vaccinations. I am grateful that I was gifted with an amazing husband who is the strongest and best partner to face these struggles with. I am grateful that Owen made me a better friend, daughter, sister, and mother than I could have ever imagined. I am grateful that God chose us. I am grateful that He never stops showing up and meeting us in our sadness. I am grateful for His plan for our family and that He is not finished with us yet. I am grateful that He has given me a voice and that our story is helping others that He has given a similar path.

DSC_0699I miss writing and I miss talking to all of you. I have been reminded lately by many people on how much my writing has helped them as they go through similar situations and I need them to know I am not giving up on them. I won’t be writing everyday and I won’t be sharing much about Brody. This blog/website was designed to draw awareness of congenital heart defects and then childhood cancer and now what it looks like to lose your baby. We will maintain Brody’s privacy and allow him to write his story and be the man God plans for him to be. We will continue to raise awareness of CHDs and childhood cancer through the LionHeart Owen Foundation. You can visit the events and donations page at anytime to see what is happening with the foundation. Also, the Foundation is now a tax exempt 501c3 and we have exciting plans for it as it continues to grow! We will be changing the face of the website soon to make it more user friendly as well!

On September 4th, we launched the Second Annual LionHeart Owen Foundation Holiday Bookdrive and the link to purchase books can be found on the events page or by clicking here. I will continue to update everyone on the progress and so excited to reach our goal of 5,000 this year!

Thank you for welcoming my voice back and being a part of our continuing story.

Note: If you would like to continue to receive regular blog updates please sign up for email updates at the bottom of this page. You can also visit our facebook page at www.facebook.com/lionheartowen or find us on Instagram @lionheartowen.

Update from Brody

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Hi Heart Family,

I asked my big brother, O-Dawg if I could write on his website and he said everyone would be happy to hear from me. Mommy and Daddy went to the doctor today and got some really great news.

I’m doing REALLY Great! I’m average with every measurement and right on my due date for everything they checked! I weigh about 5 lbs 7 oz and the doctor said he thinks I’ll be about 7-8 lbs! I’m a healthy growing boy! Mommy and Daddy are thrilled!

I love you all and thank you for loving my family back! I sure am glad that God and Owen picked me to be my mommy and daddy’s second son and get to know all of you!

Love,

Brody

10 months without our firecracker

photo 4It’s been a while since I’ve written. All of you have stood by our side and encouraged us to continue to share our story and have allowed me to shed my heart and be raw. Thank you for continuing to show up and giving us this place to heal. Writing was once an outlet for me at the end of the long day to share our victories, thank God for the milestones and plead for prayers from all of you that our son would receive the miracle of healing. Friday marked 10 months since Owen went Home to Heaven and I find myself in an emotional turmoil. As I feel the weight of 10 very long months without Owen I also feel the anticipation, fear and joy of 40 days until we hold our second son in our arms. As I’ve stated before it’s a lot to carry especially when you’re just trying to function in society with a barrage of third trimester hormones! God bless my husband for riding this roller coaster and laughing with me. He has encouraged me to start writing again so, here I am showing up with all of you… Broken, tired, huge, and kind of like a Fourth of July firework display!

 

Fourth of July 2013, my Dad (PeePaw) and Stepmom (Nan) were traveling from the east coast to meet their grandson for the first time. Owen was on the road to extubation and I was thrilled that they would get to see him without all of that tape all over his face. Jeff had gone back to work for a few short days at the beginning of that week and was desperately missing his wife and son but was thrilled at the prospect that Owen was on the upswing and we were headed toward the “h” word (home). photo 1I spent the days with Owen in my arms, studying every angle of his precious self and “planning” our first Fourth of July together. I couldn’t wait to celebrate this holiday with him. After all he had been my biggest surprise firework yet. Owen was fast asleep napping so I took the opportunity to race to Party City to get all the things one would need to give their son the best first Fourth of July celebration ever! I quickly returned and started planning out every detail, of course, when I wasn’t lost in awe staring at my tiny miracle. Then it was time to decorate! At one point I thought I may get in trouble with the nurses due to all of his lines and the oxygen I was carefully relocating for my decorations, but they allowed all of my antics. I may have gone a little rogue because Owen may or may not have gotten lost in my “Macy’s day parade” float! However, when it was done it was a hit and I felt like the crafty Mom I love to be! I will never forget the look on the Attending’s face when she came in to check vitals to start rounds. For a moment in those ICU walls we all celebrated our freedom, prayed for Owen’s freedom and forgot about milestones needing to be reached and obstacles needing to be overcame. We celebrated the day and most of all we celebrated another day with Owen.

IMG_6820Not surprisingly Nan and PeePaw fell head over heels for their grandson the second they met him and they enjoyed an incredible time visiting and getting to know him. Owen had an instant bond with his PeePaw and reached up to grab his finger out of a deep sleep. My heart melted at how many times they would hold hands together in the future. Working on his old car, discovering things in the woods in Vermont, chopping down firewood, and I’m sure my dad would have been the one to give him his first beer! They chuckled at the grand Fourth of July display I had created but were also thrilled that I did not let the hospital walls stop me from being me and giving our son an “outside” perspective.

photo 2Unfortunately, I think Owen was too excited to meet his Nan and PeePaw and he did not get extubated until they had left and their plane took off to take them back to Vermont. That was the first and last time they would see their first grandson alive. Typing those words shatter my heart and I think about how much was taken from each member of our family when Owen went to live in Heaven. We are all thankful that he is no longer here in pain and fighting a body that failed him from the second it started to grow but in the same breath we miss every second with him and witnessing the tiny miracles that God graced us with by giving us Owen for 112 days.

God continues to grace us with Owen even though he is not physically here. I remind myself to see him in each and everything. In sunrises and sunsets, tiny butterflies that visit me each day, lions that I find randomly in my travels and some that I had walked passed a million times have so much more meaning now. Most of all, I see him each time I feel his brother kick and grow inside my belly. Brody is truly a gift from God and he has brought us a healing that I do not know would have been possible without him.

imageI have struggled with sharing about Brody because this blog was created and centered around Owen, his CHDs, childhood cancer, and grieving the loss of a child. The blog and website were designed to educate, draw awareness, and assist other families as they embarked on this journey. Jeff and I have talked a lot about allowing Brody to have his own identity and finding that balance. Just like we never wanted Owen’s conditions to define him, we don’t want Owen’s conditions to define Brody either. But at the end of the day, Brody was gifted to us by his brother and Brody will know his brother! And we want all of you to know Brody too! It is part of our grieving process and I know sharing the journey of welcoming our “rainbow baby” (the term that is often used for the baby following an infant loss) can help many families. As John Lennon said, “we were busy making plans when life got in the way”. So, hang on… we are all about to embark in another wild adventure!

And you don’t want to miss out on the fun things coming from LionHeart Owen this fall! Owen’s one year celebration in Heaven is happening September 4, 2014, which is also the launching date of the 2nd Annual LionHeart Owen Book Drive, October 4, 2014 we will be walking again with 2014 OC Walk to Remember, a Forever Footprints event honoring and remembering all of our babies who have left us too soon, and in November will be hosting the 2nd Annual LionHeart Owen Bunco Night! We will be updating the website and the blog in the coming months and making it much more user friendly! Stay tuned for details and feel free to email us should you want any more information or would like to participate in any of the above events.