Parenting after loss is no freaking joke

“Lillian why are you sad?”

“I miss my sister Ava.”

This routine has been going on for months now.  Perhaps she loses a toy or is told “no” for too many times in a row and then I will find her sitting down by herself somewhere and sad.

“I miss my sister Ava.”

At first I thought it was legitimate.  At first I crumpled to my knees and we would sit and talk about missing.  I tried different techniques of recognizing her grief when these moments would come and she would never say more than “I miss my sister Ava.”

It was then that I began to wonder if it wasn’t her sister that she was missing but rather this was her way of getting my full and undivided attention to talk for a moment.  That it was her cue to tell me she needed my attention and it was to hit the biggest emotional button we have.  Kids they can be jerks sometimes, they realize your weaknesses and hone in on them.  So the next time she did the whole “I miss my sister Ava” thing I redirected her and once she was redirected her and I would sit and play together.

And the “I miss my sister Ava” stopped for a couple of weeks, much to my relief in many ways.

Several weeks later I was dropping Lillian off at school and I was chatting with her friends there.  One of the girls bounded up to me and said,

“We are playing big sister and little sister! I am the big sister and she is the little sister.”

“That is nice girls,” I replied, before kissing Lillian and I went about my day without much further thought.  That is until I picked Lillian up from school that day.

I arrived and I saw her playing from across the classroom and she was not her smiley self.  When she spotted me instead of running across the class shrieking my name and talking as fast as the flash about her day she ran over and wrapped her arms around my neck and said very sternly,

“Mama. Can we go home now?”

We went about our usual routine.  We walked home and we chatted quietly about her day, she wasn’t very forthcoming but she often isn’t. I am the mother that pelts her with questions about her day and I am lucky if I get one story or detail.   I brought her snack to the table when we got home and she sat and stared at it.

“I am sad because I miss my sister Ava”

“Okay, love.”

“No!” She shouted at the top of her voice and knocked over her snack bowl, staring at me fiercely and angrily. “I have a sister Ava!”

At this point I was confused as to what she was even trying to convey.  I had dismissed her, was she now upping the ante?

“You do have a sister” was all I could think to reply.

“Yes! I do!” She was still yelling and tears brimmed in her eyes.

“Why are you angry Lillian?”

“I do have a sister! I do! I have a sister.”

I suddenly remembered the girls this morning, playing Sisters at school, was this part of this puzzle?

“Yes. You have a sister. Her name is Ava and she died.”

“Becky and Michelle said I did not have a sister.  Anna has a sister and Michelle has a sister.  Becky has a brother.  I said I have a sister and Becky and Michelle said I do not have a REAL sister!” She put her head down on the table and cried the hardest, saddest cry I think I have ever heard.

“Oh my darling girl” I pulled her onto my lap.

“You do have a sister.  You do.  I am so sad that they said you don’t have a sister.  Ava is hard for some people because we don’t see her with our eyes, we only have pictures and love in our heart.” I couldn’t think of any way to explain things to her.  How do you explain to a three year old why other kids would see her sister as illegitimate?  How is it that we are already having this conversation?  Already having to explain her sister to others in this way?

“Why did she have to die Mama?”

Here comes the question I have been dreading.  It is question I do not have an answer for.  I do not know why Ava had to die.  I have read thousands of HELLP stories where the babies live and their Mama’s were as sick as me.  I know she died from placental abruption, if we want to get technical but that abruption is caused by  many things and I do not want to fall into that wormhole.  I figured the best way to answer her was complete honesty,

“I do not know darling.  Some babies just die and we do not know why.”

We sat curled up on the kitchen floor for the better part of an hour.  At three years old I am having to have complicated conversations about death far before I ever imagined.  I could explain to a seven year old why other kids would say that she does not have a “real” sister.  At seven I could talk to her a bit about HELLP and that sometimes bad things happen no matter what you do to stop them or even if you are a really good person.  But at three, at three all I could do was reflect her pain and sorrow to be rejected in that way, her pain that she wishes Ava was here (something she also says damned near daily) and help her through the confusion of it all.  I do not know the best way to help her through this.

Naturally that night I bought 4 books on amazon about talking to kids about death and supporting through crisis.  Because, what else can I do?

Parenting after loss is no freaking joke.

Robbed

Lillian was in the bath.

Matt was washing her hair.

I was doing what I do, laying out Lillian’s jammies, collecting her dollies to be in bed with her and putting away laundry from the day.  I felt my phone buzz in my back pocket and I absent-mindedly took it out and glanced down at a shared post by a friend on FB.  It was an article about the power of birth and the connection between mothers and birthing daughters assisting in the birth of their grandchildren.  Professional photographs in glossed perfection of soon to be grandmother’s wiping the brows of their daughters, their connection through teary eyes and the agony of birth.

Suddenly I found myself on my knees staring at these pictures.  Sadness gripped my chest, tears biting the back of my throat screaming of all the things I have been robbed of.

I remember my mother’s face when she heard the word “expired” come out of the Doctor’s mouth.  She was standing in the doorway of my hospital room, it was 1 am after we had been fighting for our lives for hours before.  I remember the knowing look in her eye as she realized her 5th grandbaby had died.  I remember it all. I remember begging my mother to bring back my baby the day after coming home from the hospital.  I remember her tears as she bathed me and minded my scars, taking care of me post-op when I could barely stand.

When I was pregnant with Ava I had dreamed of it being so different.  I had dreamed of me leaning on my mother as Matthew applied pressure to my back getting through the heady pain of another contraction.  I had dreamed of putting Ava in her arms being forever bonded by the incredible experience of birth, 3 women, 3 generations. Ava wasn’t born that way.  Ava was born into silence in a chaotic crash surgery.  She was born alone, no mother reaching for her, no father cutting her cord.  Ava was robbed, too.

I have never had the birth experience that I thought I would.  In the early days of grief I would be gripped with a blind rage when women with perfectly healthy, living children would openly mourn their birth experience.  I remember begging for physical torture and trauma in exchange for Ava’s return.  Life does not work like that but make no mistake, I would gladly sign up for physical hell to be given one more moment with my daughter, as all loss Mama’s would.  It wasn’t as if Lillian’s birth was able to provide the catharsis that so many find in their birth after trauma.  Lillian was a planned c-section in the midst of a medical hurricane gripped with fear, anxiety and terror.  She came out screaming and perfect and alive.  She is here.  On the day of her birth I got to hand her to my mother and see the joy and relief in her eyes.  I have absorbed her, the moments of her sleeping on Matt’s chest, raising her and getting to love on her every day of her life.

And I was still robbed.

I was wrong about those mother’s that I judged for having a living child and mourning their birth experience. They are grieving.  And standing in Lillian’s room, staring at those beautiful photos I was gripped with grief of the loss of yet another thing that slipped through my fingers  when Ava died.  No number of babies I could have, in whatever means I could have them would grow back my innocence I lost that day.  I will never be able to trust my body and trust birth like that, maybe women with traumatic or unfulfilled birth experiences get to find it again but I know the  innocence I lost can never be regained.  Perhaps that is what sets loss mama’s apart, that loss of innocence.

I can’t say I have made sense of it as you can probably tell by the jumbled mess of the above paragraph.  It never fails to surprise me how grief sneaks in and grabs a hold, reminders of my former self, the dreams I had and how they sucker punch me when I least expect it.  If grief is the price I pay for loving her then tonight I will spend some time with the love I have for my girl and the life I wanted so badly for us.

 

The Exorcism of the Borje Ikea Chair

My arch nemesis lives in my home.

The Borje Ikea dining chair.

So comfortable, sleek, easy to wipe and small for narrow dining spaces. Seems perfect except for one large and crippling downfall.

The ridiculous chair covers that will not wash well.

We bought our dining set before we had children.  I foolishly thought since the chair covers come off, that I could launder them regularly and although the white was unrealistic and fussy, we could make do with them.  I was very, very wrong.  That would be the case if the chair covers would launder well which they do not.  Consequently  I have spent the last 6 years stain cleaning, scrubbing, hand washing, delicate washing, dry cleaning, hanging, line drying, blow drying and losing my ever loving mind over these chair covers.  The result?

 

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Does that look clean to you? Mercilessly zoom in if you need to because trust me, it isn’t clean.  It is filthy, stained and downright obnoxious.

I cannot sew.  I am not a sewer.  I was never taught to sew and I have very little patience and skill in that department.  Don’t get me wrong. I would love to be able to sew and I daydream about being able to make Halloween costumes by hand and sew beautiful pillows for the living room, perhaps I would even know how to hem pants to assist with my vertical impairment as well.  Alas dreams aside I was going to have to find a solution to this problem without a needle and thread.  It  would, however,  still require a trip to the fabric store.

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Yes. I took this while in the fabric store.

Let me start by saying it took 2 weeks for me to summon the courage to enter the fabric store without a guide.  I felt like a new-of-ager at the bar for the first time, desperate for no one to realize I knew nothing about what I was doing and just trying to order the only drink I knew.  I just wanted to get in and get out without anyone asking me any questions about anything that would scream “SHE IS A SEWING VIRGIN.”  After only 10 mins of searching I managed to find the area in the store I was looking for, outdoor fabrics and upholstery.  I wanted a durable and WASHABLE fabric that would be easy to wipe off, repel spills and be very durable.  Oh and preferably affordable so when I decided in a year that I was sick of the pattern I could change my mind and do this lovely adventure all over again.  After sending several pictures of fabric to Matthew to make sure I wasn’t going to buy 40 dollars of nonreturnable fabric to only have him say,

“I hate that”

I chose the one we liked the most and got out of the store before I would found out to be an imposter.

Oddly invigorated by my purchase of fabric that evening I set to seeing how hard it would be to reupholster the chairs after I put Lillian in bed.  How anyone does these sort of projects during kid waking hours is beyond me because as seen in the photos, Josie was enough of a “help” to the situation.

Luckily the Borje chair pad is easy to remove, almost as if they knew that they were making a heinously impractical and impossible to clean item.  Four screws and the cover pops off, I then removed the stained chair covers and debated burning them in the yard in a message to chair covers everywhere but instead opted to keep them in case Buncha Farmers Stain Stick comes out with an extra strength version.  I cut the fabric roughly to size and then trimmed it down to be exactly the correct size before stapling.

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Fabric cut roughly to size but not exact.
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My helper

It was at this part in the process that Matthew came downstairs from singing Itsy Bitsy Spider with Lillian and asked if he could help.  Josie felt he needed supervision.

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The final result was amazing!  Wipeable, durable, stylish and cheerful.  They add a playful pattern to that part of hte house which is mostly grey, white and dark wood.  I usually have our table setting to four instead of 6 as it makes less clutter in the space but with the new chair covers I love it bright and cheerful the dining area is now.

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Finished!

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Supplies:
2 meters of  outdoor patio fabric – 1.8 yards for my American friends, this covered 6 chairs with some spare.

Staple gun and staples – placed the staples every inch and a half

Extra padding if needed (mine did not require extra padding.)

The Suckitude of February: Message Received

This month has been hard hitting and at times downright cruel. It is February.  It is to be expected.  Ava is five and she is not here.  As disappointment, heart break and earthshaking moment has gone through me time and again this month I have reminded myself as ever,

“it is February.”

It seemed a natural explanation for our annual trip away for Ava’s birthday being cancelled.  Or for Lillian getting a 6 day fever at 40 Celsius, followed by a misdiagnosis and re-diagnosis.  For Matt getting a sinus infection and cancelling our re-booking of Ava’s birthday trip. And for the news of the impending loss of my long beloved family dog.  Time and time again as bad news poured in it chugged through my brain like the clacks of train tracks,

“It is February…it is February… it is February…”

Last night driving home after a long overdue night with a friend it occurred to me that this February has reminded me of all the lessons of Ava’s death.  The immediate lessons of her death.  The ones I found myself thinking about lying in the blur of those night hours with her still in my belly. The lessons about the things I had shaped my life around until that point and the things I thought mattered.

What car I drove.  How much money we had in our emergency fund.  If my career was on the “right path.”  Plans I had made and felt so in control over (a complete illusion of control).  The things I used to get angry about like carpet being poorly laid in the basement or poor customer service I received just the day prior.   None of it mattered with her dead and my life hanging in the balance with blinding liver pain and a syndrome taking my life over moment by moment.  It just did not matter any more.

And it never mattered the same ever since.

Or so I thought.  Life crept in and took a hold.  Somehow in the last five years I thought I had control again.  I thought I knew how to “manage” grief and I had a plan.  It wasn’t as if I did not believe in her lessons, in fact I could recite them and yet somehow I had forgotten that they applied to me.   All the crappy things this month weren’t in fact examples of February’s profound ability to suck and be the very worst month on the planet.  Rather the storm served as cruel reminder (after reminder after reminder) that I was missing the point entirely. Instead of railing and grieving and blaming the universe for it’s big gigantic magnifying glass of heart ache on my life I needed a shake.

A shake and a refocus on what matters.  And an ego check that plans are simply an illusion.

Message received Ava, I will never forget again.

 

 

Preeclampsia Foundation of Canada

I am delighted to announce that the Preeclampsia Foundation of Canada is now up and running.

http://www.preeclampsiacanada.ca/

As a Canadian I have gotten very used to things only being available in the United States.  Whether that be a version of Amazon where anything can come the door or Target that actually has stock on the shelves, Canadians are used to getting the raw deal sometimes.

In 2011 when I began to research and figure out the post Pre-E life, I realized Canada did not have it’s now Preeclampsia foundation that I could turn to for resources, support and validation.

Thanks to the hard work of the survivors behind this initiative we can now say we do and I am very much looking forward to participating and lending any support I can.

Birth and Beyond 2016

I have the esteemed pleasure of being asked to return to the Birth and Beyond Conference in October 2016.  I spoke at Birth and Beyond in 2013 and 2014 and each time left me changed as a person.  Birth and Beyond, in part, brought me the opportunity to write my book, it launched my speaking career and has been instrumental in connecting me with those that need to hear our story.

Birth and Beyond 2016 promises to be an entirely new experience to the years before.  Shawn, the intrepid leader and creator has lead a group of her closest friends and wisest birth workers to act as her aids in designing each and every moment of the conference.  It promises to be engaging, challenging, profoundly moving and gets down to the nitty-gritty of those issues in birth work today.

A new venue, a new format and you can forget the fancy conference carbohydrates, Birth and Beyond 2016 is a brand new feel for an entirely new experience.

Please join us!

http://us6.campaign-archive2.com/?u=7b7574d0539de3a31f8c77a3e&id=ce6d910290

The Fifth Christmas Eve

This year was our fifth Christmas without our eldest daughter.  Christmas serves as the wind up into grief season for us, with the familiar thoughts, memories, tastes and smells that bring back 5 years ago so potently.

Some days are better than others over the season.  For myself, Christmas Eve is the pinnacle of the worst of days.  I walk through the entire day in a fog, attempting to manage and most of the time not doing so at all.  For me the worst of any grief lead up is always is the day before the day.   Christmas Eve is both the day before and the day of.  My family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve and it is THE day in my family of the entire year.  It is the day I remember most as a kid, celebrating with all my cousins and family.  It is the day most steeped in tradition, a sacred day filled with the very soul of our family.

It is on this day I took this picture with Ava,

Christmas Eve 2010, Matt and I. I am giggling...
Christmas Eve 2010, Matt and I. I am giggling…

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My Ava girl and I.

We have tried our best to include Ava in our Christmas Eve traditions, to ease our aching hearts and show her how much we miss her. We usually get all dressed for dinner and head over to her tree.  It is tradition that we hang bells on the tree at Christmas, at first they were just the ones we liked most and slowly they turned into tradition.  It was commented by a fellow blogger friend that she would be able to hear the bells ringing for her.  And it stuck.  We take pictures and then go over to my family for presents, traditions, fondue and togetherness.

This year, however, the tradition at her tree just didn’t feel right.

This winter (or until two days ago, lack thereof) has been very mild.  So mild in fact that when we went to her tree on Christmas Eve I thought, why not just all go in play clothes, let Lillian run on the climbers and have fun with it.  I do not want Lillian to think that going to Ava’s Tree is negative or sad, that is why we chose it’s location to be where it is.  So off we go, intent to have fun and take a moment with Ava.

Except when we got there I had forgotten that a three year old does not want to take a minute and hang bells on a tree if there is park equipment to play with.  And that the mild weather would bring out all the pregnant ladies, their big bellies and all their conveniently 4-5 year old children to the park as well.  My entire grief heart space of taking a moment with her was shattered as Matt had to run after Lillian who was running on the wet play equipment as I stood, bells in a hand, alone.

Matthew seeing my tears and desperation to have any sort of moment together with Ava, dragged Lillian back over so we could put her five bells on the tree together.

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It felt forced.  It didn’t feel as it had in the past. It just…wasn’t as Christmas Eve should be.

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No filter…pure Christmas Eve sun
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Josie is such a sucky dog…spot the kid?

So we hung her bells and I tried to avoid eye contact with all the pregnant ladies.  I cried behind my sunglasses and declared this the weirdest of all Christmas Eve’s without her.

We came home and got ready for my parents with all it’s fanfare including a little girl super excited for her Christmas dress.

Our Lily, the brightest thing of all.

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In her Christmas dress

 

The year 2015

As I have the last number of years I am joining Brooke in completing a review of our year, questionnaire style.
1) What did you do in 2015 that you had not done before?

Published my book, had a book launch, got a big dog (Josie- golden lab) began my teaching career at Fanshawe College, got a hatchback.

2) Did you keep last years New Year’s resolution and will you make any this year?

Last year this is what I wrote:

I think for 2015 I want to publish Ava’s book and maintain the joy.

Last year I did both of those things.  Ava’s book was published and we maintained the joy we have again since Ava.

As for resolutions this year, I have decided to keep it simple.  Matt and I are horrible at taking time for us.  We went on a total of 3 dates in the entirety of last year.  Yes, 3.  And one of which was an overnight for a wedding and I was horridly ill with an infection at the time.  Pretty slack-ass of us.  So this year we both have vowed for monthly date nights.  To get a sitter and make it happen.

3) Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes and many, many upcoming in 2016!

4) Did anyone close to you die?

Charlie, our beloved beagle passed away.

5) What countries did you visit?

The United States and Canada (home) this year.  Same as last year.

6) What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

Control over Lillian’s Reactive Airway.  We have had periods of control but not enough.  To have us get through 2016 with no emergency room trips for her, that would be a blessing.

7) What dates will be etched upon your memory?

February 8th 2015: Ava’s 4th Birthday. We went for brunch with friends and I spent the afternoon in the kitchen cooking food for a friend that was just released from hospital.  Her birthdays are always ever on my mind.

March 2nd 2015: Saying goodbye to Charlie
June 8th 2015: First day of my new part time job (yes the 8th)
Summer vacation August 2015: Spending time with brother at his farm on the lake.  The joy, the grief, it all culminated into a mixture of a day I will never forget and will be grateful for the rest of my life.
October 8th 2015: The official book publish date.  Of course, it is the 8th.
October 9th 2015: Taking Lillian to the Wiggles
November 4th 2015: Welcome Josie!
November 28th 2015: The book launch

8) What was your biggest accomplishment this year?First and foremost, being Lillian’s Mama for another year.  Advocating hard for her health and well being, a warrior Mama, her safe place and a cornerstone of her world.

I published the book this year, began teaching at FC and took a part time job as an advocate.  The balance of work and Lillian has been a dance this year, and one that I consider a huge accomplishment.

9) What was your biggest failure this year?

Same as the last three years, some things are not for blogging.

10) Did you suffer any illness’ or injuries?

Many, many virus’ with Lillian but thankfully nothing major.

11) What was the best thing you bought?

There were a lot of big ticket items this year.  With my returning to work part time and Matthew’s car accident in early 2015 (that prompted the purchase of the Rio) we had both the availability and the need.  The deck and the car are probably tied.  I love my itty-bitty car (even if Matt says it makes him feel like a giant) and the deck has added such a huge quality of life in how we use our home.

12) Whose behavior merited celebration?

I took a lot of risks this year, I stood out of my comfort zone a lot and changed for the better in many ways.  This year was mine in more ways than I can think of.  A new career path, new friends, to putting our story out there, 2015 was my year of change.

13) Whose behavior made you appalled or depressed?

The continuation of terror and hatred in our world.  As I stated last year, I believe love will prevail.

14) Where did most your money go?

The deck, the driveway and the car.

15) What did you get really excited about?

-Lillian’s 3rd Birthday
-Welcoming Josie
-The book launch and that first quiet moment of opening my first box of books
-Any vacation time with Matt
-Taking Lillian to the Wiggles

16) What song will remind you of 2015?

Alan Doyle’s Let’s Go album

17) Compared to this time last year are you?

Happier or Sadder?: Happier
Thinner or Fatter?: Exact same
Richer or Poorer? : Richer

Damn.  That is pretty good!

These were last two years answers and I do not need to change them, again.

18) What do you wish you had done more of?

I wish I wasn’t so busy.  So, so busy.  I wish I had not worked quite so hard and then means I was not enjoying life as much.  This year I need less work, less busy, more enjoyment.

19) What do you wish you had done less of?

I wish I had just done less.  Three jobs plus a kid is a lot.  Less of it all and more quiet.

20) How did you spend Christmas?

Christmas Eve was at my parents with my family.  Christmas Day was at home where we let Lillian enjoy her toys.  I made a turkey and we watched movies and snuggled.

21) Did you fall in love in 2014?

Yes! With Josie and again and again and again with Lillian and Matthew.

22) What was your favorite TV program?

Brooklyn 99, House of Lies

23) Do you hate anyone that you did not hate this time last year?

Same answer as the last three years. I do not hate anyone.  I do not believe in it.

24) What was the best book you read?

The books of our year this year were Chatbooks.  Chatbooks are fantastic!  They take your IG photos and turn them into 6×6 photobooks.  I began ordering them last year and we love them.  Lillian adores being able look at her the family pictures and it is so seamless.  I take all photos and post them on IG, and chatbooks simply notifies me when the next book is complete, and I order it.  6 dollars per book and we now LOOK at our family photos all the time.  Completely worth it.

25) What was your favorite music discovery?

I rediscovered Alan Doyle this year, his new album Let’s Go was fantastic.

26) What did you want and get?

A steady part time job, a group of caring, compassionate and lovely coworkers and another year with Matthew and Lillian.

27) What did you want and not get?

Always.  Ava.

28) What was your favorite film of the year?

The Martian (I know.  But it was so good!)

29) What did you do on your birthday and what age were you?

We don’t really celebrate my birthday post Ava.  Matt got me a bottle of champagne and we ordered in Thai food.  Good enough.

30) What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

True management of Lillian’s reactive airway.

31) How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

Same as last year, tunics, skinny jeans and scarves.  And whatever was on sale and actually fits.

32) What kept you sane?

Same as last year.

Matthew.  Matthew is my anchor. My confidant, my best friend, my soft place.  Always.  He was steadfast in managing Lillian’s illness’.  He advocated for me to rest and take care of myself, let me vent and trusted my instincts, teaching me to do the same.33) Which celebrity did you fancy most?

Still Kate Middleton – 4 years running.

34) What political issue stirred you the most this year?

The Canadian election

35) Who do you miss?

Always. Ava.

And Kate.  Why is Australia so far away.

And Keleen.  I cherish our friendship and wish she wasn’t so far.

36) Who is the best new person you know?

MR isn’t a new person but I have gotten to know her much better this year.  M married our good friend J and I have relished getting to know her this year.  M is simply one of the finest women I have know, with integrity and a heart the size of the world.  She opens her heart and her home graciously and is one of those people that makes those around her better.  I am a better person for knowing and loving her and I am very excited for 2016 with her.

37) Tell us a valuable lesson you learned in 2015:

This year I learned the lesson, twice, to trust who someone is when they show you the first time.  Twice this year I was hurt by someone I knew had hurt me in the past and I let it happen again.  When someone shows you who they are, believe them and unlike me, do not forget it.

38) A song lyric to sum up the year?
Watching the sand fall
Gets you nothing
Like the hands on the clock wall
Oh I love it when you’re standing up so tall
And all you are is all aglowHere we are in our own space
And I believe in
Every bright smile that I’ve faced
Keep’em coming
‘Cause I’m feeling the same way
Turn it on and off we goWe’ll run till we fall
And the closing bell’s calling
We’re only here for so long
We lead and we follow
Tonight till tomorrow
We go and we go till we’re gone
So Lets Go

The long road’s behind us
And we made it
To this bright night that finds us
All together
What has long been denied us
Could be ours to know

And I can see you moving
Let me hear it
When you whisper I’m losing
And I can feel it
When your heart beats the truth
And it’s the only thing I know