Grieving During the Holidays

I posted these reminders in 2017, after our daughter died of a fetal maternal hemorrhage at 18 weeks gestation. Now, in 2020, there are so many grieving across our nation. They are grieving the loss of their livelihoods, their jobs, a family member, a loved one, the loss of so many experiences over the last 9 months, and many who will not be able to be with their families this Holiday season.

So, for all of those in our lives who may be grieving this Holiday season, a few kind reminders:

1. Lower your expectations.Your grieving family member might not be able to do things they “normally” do at the holidays. (Baking, cooking, gathering around the kitchen just to visit, or showing up etc.) Whatever they are able to do, should be okay. Let that be okay.

2. Be willing to change or alter traditions.In our family we usually take turns around the dinner table saying what we are thankful for. For someone who is grieving a loss, this can be especially difficult. We altered this tradition to have each family member have a spokesperson to “highlight” things the family was thankful for. This should also be mentioned in advance, so people are not caught off guard and can prepare.

3. Try to listen without offering a solution.It’s hard to see our loved ones sad. But, sometimes it can’t be helped and it is part of the grieving process. It’s better to just be there and say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” than to say the wrong thing.

Psalm 118 says “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;for his steadfast love endures forever!” I wrote and recorded this little tune of Thanksgiving, based on Psalm 118, a few years ago. Still giving thanks!

3 Reminders that will help our grieving hearts this Holiday season

Thanksgiving 2019
I posted these reminders in 2017, after our daughter died of a fetal maternal hemorrhage at 18 weeks gestation. Now, in 2020, there are so many grieving across our nation. Grieving the loss of their livelihoods, their jobs, a family member, a loved one, the loss of so many experiences over the last 9 months, and many who will not be able to be with their families this Holiday season.  So, for all of those in our lives who may be grieving this Holiday season, a few kind reminders:
1. Lower your expectations.
Your grieving family member might not be able to do things they “normally” do at the holidays. (Baking, cooking, gathering around the kitchen just to visit, or showing up etc.) Whatever they are able to do, should be okay. Let that be okay.
2. Be willing to change or alter traditions.
In our family we usually take turns around the dinner table saying what we are thankful for. For someone who is grieving a loss, this can be especially difficult. We altered this tradition to have each family member have a spokesperson to “highlight” things the family was thankful for. This should also be mentioned in advance, so people are not caught off guard and can prepare.
3. Try to listen without offering a solution.
It’s hard to see our loved ones sad. But, sometimes it can’t be helped and it is part of the grieving process. It’s better to just be there and say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” than to say the wrong thing.
Psalm 118 says 
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, 
for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!” 
I wrote and recorded this little tune of Thanksgiving, based on Psalm 118, a few years ago. Still giving thanks!
Below, is the original post, written 3 months after Mary-Linda passed away.
 

It’s personal, y’all.

We know this in our hearts. Deep down. And, yet, when we see a friend grieving we want to tell them it will be okay.
Life will go on.

The earth will keep turning.

But, for your grieving friend, it will never be “OKAY” again.
The deep loss can’t be replaced. In my personal experience, the loss is a child. But, I have many friends who lost their homes and sense of safety and security in the floods during and after Hurricane Harvey. Their “loss” is also one that can’t be replaced.
Life is such an emotional rollercoaster.

The highs so high and the lows, very deep and low.

Several weeks ago, one of my childhood friends (who knows the deep loss of losing a child) texted me that a friend of hers had lost a baby at 39 weeks. The next day, another dear friend of mine was in labor with her seventh baby. I spent the day deeply invested in the outcome of her labor and delivery and in prayer. Her baby was safely delivered in her own hands Tuesday evening.
I received two hope boxes when we lost Mary-Linda. What would I do with two hope boxes?

Hope boxes are a ministry of “Hope Mommies

I soon knew that my extra Hope box was meant for this other mommy who I didn’t know, but I now grieve with. I added a couple of CDs of hope and mailed it right away.
I went to bed that week bawling. I’m sad for my friend’s friend. And, I’m joyful for my friend who just gave birth to her seventh child. (Her rainbow baby)

And, so, I grieved.

Heavily.

It makes me so sad when a family loses a child. When a mommy loses her baby.

I’m also sad as I experienced the joy of my friend’s birth and later grieved that I’ll never experience that joyous birth with our Mary-Linda.
Please don’t tell me that I should be okay because I have four living children.

Please don’t tell those who have lost their homes, that it’s just stuff. It isn’t just stuff.

I know you love us and you want us to be okay.

But, Sometimes we are not okay.

I believe that I am way better than I would be without my four living children, but that doesn’t mean I’m okay with losing a child.

I held my daughter’s lifeless, tiny body in my arms for hours. I couldn’t let her go. She was nine and a half inches long. She was beautiful. She was lean and seemed strong. She was born with her legs crossed and her eyes closed and her head turned to one side. She looked at peace. But, she’s not alive on earth. She’s gone. And, I’m devastated.

I don’t know how I will grieve through the holidays. Or through Mary-Linda’s expected due date.

All I know is that whatever I feel is what I feel.

Life After Loss. 3 years in.

I recently read a description of grief. It illustrated grief in the beginning as a giant ball bouncing around in a very small square. Something we can’t get away from. Every time we move or even breathe, the grief hits us. I’ve also read grief described like furniture in the middle of a dark room, where you can’t see anything, but everywhere you move, you bump into it and you can’t get around it. In both scenarios, the grief changes. In the first, the ball eventually becomes very small, but it is always in the room. It still hurts deeply when it hits you, but it isn’t a constant. In the second scenario, the furniture eventually moves to where you can see it and get around it, finally settling as a painting on the wall- always there, but not something you are constantly bumping into. 

I can relate with both of these descriptions. I know they aren’t meant to be that simple. Grief is complex. But, I think it can give others imagery to relate to and understand our grief. Grief is always there. In our case, as is the case for many, we don’t get over losing a child. It’s not that simple. But, we learn to move forward, and find a way to live while being in the room with the grief. We still bump into it all the time, but it’s not all consuming everything we do. But, it’s there, like that huge painting on the wall. And, maybe it’s beautiful now. Maybe, it’s like our Mary-Linda, bringing light and hope to others in their time of grief. Maybe, just maybe? 

On August 16th, 2020, we marked 3 years since our Mary-Linda was with us. It feels so surreal. These last 3 years have been brutal and beautiful. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. So much heartache. But, again, I know that God was with us and is with us. So, we will keep on keeping on. 

much love, 

El Momma

Below are photos from our celebration of Mary-Linda’s life, 3 years in. And, photos from the day we all got to hold her. We will all forever hold her in our hearts until we can hold her in our arms again. 

Celebrating my sister in heaven

On Wednesday night we celebrated my older sister’s 51st birthday. It was her first birthday since she went to heaven. My momma, brother, and all of our families gathered in the front yard and had a “socially distanced” gathering with 🎈,🍕 and 🎂 as we talked about our Melinda. It’s really hard to lose a sibling. We talked about this with our families that night. Your sister/ whom you’ve known and loved your entire life. Your family. Your first best friend. Your biggest fan. Your everything. Your comedic relief. Your demanding sidekick. Your love.  It’s hard. We know she’s happy and she’s with so many loved ones. I never met another soul who would tell you they wanted to go to heaven more than Melinda. She had some of her favorite people go before her. I sometimes wonder about the effects of losing my dad 11 months before she died. They were so close. And her grief was deep. It took her a long time to admit that my dad had gone to heaven. But, she finally did and I know she wanted to go and be with him. On Valentine’s Day, after having a stroke, Melinda went to heaven 💗💗 she was literally surrounded by some of the people on earth that she loved most 💗💗 And, she went to be with Jesus. It was Incredibly peaceful. We know know know that she is in a better place. BUT, it sure is hard to be without her here.

Letter I sent to the Houston Astros today…let’s get our favorite Astros’ fan out on the field to throw out the first pitch this season!

Update: On March 19, 2018, I sent this letter to the Astros. After I shared this letter on social media, Many friends and others across the web shared this letter. On July 10. 2018 my husband threw out the first pitch at Minute Maid Park. People from near and far joined us at that game. PS It was a strike down the middle! 

 



March 19, 2018

Dear Houston Astros,

First of all, a huge congratulations from our family to yours on the 2017 World Series Championship! We couldn’t be happier for our favorite team!

I wanted to reach out to tell you a little bit of our story. My husband, Moustapha and I both grew up Astros fans and returned to Houston after getting married in early 2004. Attending Astros games with my brother and his wife, quickly became part of our regular routine. In 2005, we welcomed our first son, Bakri (now, almost thirteen years old) and started off his journey to become a lifelong Astros fan. Even taking him to a World Series game dressed as a bumble bee!

Over the next five years, we would add three more Astros’ fans to our family- Maddux-11, Trinity-9 and Leeland-7. Each of our children loves the Astros, but especially our Bakri, who can hardly wait for the season to begin again each November. Bakri was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at five years old, when we had four children under the age of 6. It has been a challenge for our family and especially for Bakri. However, he’s met the challenges head on and has already excelled beyond many of our hopes and dreams. He’s a seventh grader at the Meyerland School for the Performing and Visual Arts concentrating on Vocal Performance and Piano. He’s a member of the Houston BoyChoir Chamber Choir and has been absolutely delighted to sing the National Anthem for two Astros games!

Early during the 2017 season, we found out we were expecting our fifth child! We even had an opportunity to do a photo shoot at Minute Maid Park- on the field and in the dugout, as a surprise for Father’s Day for Moustapha. In July, we learned that our fifth child was a baby girl. We celebrated and our four other children were beside themselves happy. In mid-August, our daughter, Mary-Linda, was stillborn in a Houston hospital. We were and are devastated. It has been the most difficult thing we’ve been through as a family. Within a few weeks, Harvey hit and our friends and family were hit hard. We continued to mourn and look to our Astros for an outlet. They were struggling and we just wanted them home. Going into the playoffs strong, meant the world to us. Moustapha made sure that he and the older boys were at MMP when we clinched the pennant. A dream come true.

We made it to every home playoff game and as the ALCS series was returning to Houston after being in NY, we were nervous. So Dad, aka Moustapha, called a family meeting and we decided that as fans, it was our job to help the Astros get their bats going. So, that is how the clapping batting helmet fan (87 million views on his GIF) was born. All six of us attended game 6 and we were so excited to get that win! Moustapha would wear his batting helmet and gloves every time the Astros batted and take it off when we were fielding. We felt like, as fans, we were part of the Astros success.

For game 7 of the ALCS, we only had four tickets and Bakri had a Houston BoyChoir concert in midtown at game time. We decided to split up- Dad would take Maddux and I would bring Bakri later. During the Houston BoyChoir concert break, I went out to check my phone to see a ton of messages alerting me that Moustapha had been on National television. I thought it was cool, texted him, but didn’t think it would be as major as it was. Memes, and tweets, Instagram posts, and articles popped up during the game, all talking about this amazing, intense, clapping, Astros fan. By the time Bakri and I arrived to the game, the internet had exploded. Over 70 million views on the MLB gif before we left the game. And, the Astros won! Off to the World Series we go! Our family needed this so much and now Moustapha was experiencing another piece of it, with this sudden Astros Fan fame.

It couldn’t have happened to a better guy at a better time. What happened after, was a storybook tale. News story features, articles, and a Law and Order type scene for MLB Network! And, after attending home games of the World Series, the ending was the best of all.

It’s easy for outsiders to empathize with a mother’s loss of a child. Even so, It’s difficult for some to understand, because they feel as though we didn’t know her or we should be happy because we have four other children. Not understanding that losing her and holding her little body in our arms, forever sleeping, is one of the few experiences we got with her. We mourn that she’s not on earth with us. We mourn that she’s not going to grow up with her brothers and sister. We mourn. People understand that more easily for a mother. But, our sweet Moustapha has mourned very deeply. He lost his dear baby girl and this has been a very sad time for him. This experience with the Astros, gave joy back to our family, when we needed it most.

I respectfully request that the Astros organization honor this special Astros fan during the 2018 season. Specifically, by calling on him to be recognized as an amazing Astros fan by having the honor of throwing out the first pitch at a regular season home game. Our son, Bakri, will be singing the National Anthem again with the Houston BoyChoir when the Astros take on the New York Yankees on April 30th. Wouldn’t that be a perfect game? But any will do and your consideration is deeply appreciated.

So, again, on behalf of the El-Hakam family, thank you Houston Astros! You are our favorite team and your win came at a perfect and much needed time for our family. We love you.

Rebekah Maddux El-Hakam

LOVE NEVER FAILS

Our year was full of JOY as we anticipated the arrival of our daughter, Mary-Linda Elizabeth (expected in January 2018)

and as we were able to celebrate our favorite team, the Houston Astros, winning their first World Series.

Moustapha even became the Most Famous Fan in the process. (87 MILLION views on his GIF & an awesome acting performance on the MLB Network!)

However, in mid-August, at 4.5 months gestation, our Mary-Linda went to be with Jesus.

We are deeply saddened that she is no longer here with us on earth. We have great hope that we will be reunited with her one day.

And, we thank God for the joy her life brought to our family. Thank you to each of you who have expressed your sympathies. We do not walk this road alone. May the joy and peace of Christ Jesus be with you and yours this Christmas and always. Wishing you hope and peace in 2018.

HOPE REMAINS

Getting through the Holidays and finding moments to be THANKFUL for

Warning. This post discusses loss. 
Our daughter, Mary-Linda was born sleeping at nearly 18 weeks gestation. 

It’s personal, y’all.

We know this in our hearts. Deep down. And, yet, when we see a friend grieving we want to tell them it will be okay. 
Life will go on.

The earth will keep turning.

But, for your grieving friend, it will never be “OKAY” again.  
The deep loss can’t be replaced. In my personal experience, the loss is a child. But, I have many friends who lost their homes and sense of safety and security in the floods during and after Hurricane Harvey. Their “loss” is also one that can’t be replaced. 
Life is such an emotional rollercoaster.

The highs so high and the lows, very deep and low.

Several weeks ago, one of my childhood friends (who knows the deep loss of losing a child) texted me that a friend of hers had lost a baby at 39 weeks. The next day, another dear friend of mine was in labor with her seventh baby. I spent the day deeply invested in the outcome of her labor and delivery and in prayer. Her baby was safely delivered in her own hands Tuesday evening. 
I received two hope boxes when we lost Mary-Linda. What would I do with two hope boxes?

Hope boxes are a ministry of “Hope Mommies” 

I soon knew that my extra Hope box was meant for this other mommy who I didn’t know, but I now grieve with. I added a couple of CDs of hope and mailed it right away. 
I went to bed that week bawling. I’m sad for my friend’s friend. And, I’m joyful for my friend who just gave birth to her seventh child. (Her rainbow baby)

And, so, I grieved.

Heavily.

It makes me so sad when a family loses a child. When a mommy loses her baby.

I’m also sad as I experienced the joy of my friend’s birth and later grieved that I’ll never experience that joyous birth with our Mary-Linda.
Please don’t tell me that I should be okay because I have four living children.

Please don’t tell those who have lost their homes, that it’s just stuff. It isn’t just stuff. 

I know you love us and you want us to be okay.

But, Sometimes we are not okay. 

I believe that I am way better than I would be without my four living children, but that doesn’t mean I’m okay with losing a child.

I held my daughter’s lifeless, tiny body in my arms for hours. I couldn’t let her go. She was nine and a half inches long. She was beautiful. She was lean and seemed strong. She was born with her legs crossed and her eyes closed and her head turned to one side. She looked at peace. But, she’s not alive on earth. She’s gone. And, I’m devastated.

I don’t know how I will grieve through the holidays. Or through Mary-Linda’s expected due date.

All I know is that whatever I feel is what I feel. 

So, for all of those in our lives who may be grieving this Holiday season, a few kind reminders:
1. Lower your expectations. 
Your grieving family member might not be able to do things they “normally” do at the holidays. (Baking, cooking, gathering around the kitchen just to visit, etc.) Showing up might be all they can do and that’s okay.
2. Be willing to change or alter traditions.
In our family we usually take turns around the dinner table saying what we are thankful for. For someone who is grieving a loss, this can be especially difficult. Check out this short video by my friend and Houston Bible teacher,  Kathy Phillips of Prepare for Life Ministry on a great alternative to this tradition. Click this link https://vimeo.com/244088687
3. Try to listen without offering a solution.
It’s hard to see our loved ones sad. But, sometimes it can’t be helped and it is part of the grieving process. It’s better to just be there and say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” than to say the wrong thing. 
Psalm 118 says 
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, 
for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!” 
I wrote and recorded this little tune of Thanksgiving, based on Psalm 118, a few years ago. Still giving thanks!

If Grief comes in Stages…I am still very near the beginning

Warning. This post discusses loss. 

Today has been all about guilt and regret.

Over the last couple of days, I have begun to have memories. Memories of times just a few short weeks ago when I was worried. I remember wondering if my baby’s heart rate had slowed. Was it too slow? Was something wrong? I googled “Normal fetal heart rate” and found that my daughter’s heart rate was in the normal range for her gestational age. But, I remember worrying. I let it go, but I worried. When was this?

I took the time to look at my search history today. I guess so I could regret even more. I found that I did the search twice. I searched on Tuesday, August 8th…when my daughter was still developing and alive. And, I searched again on Monday, August 14th…when my daughter’s heart had already stopped beating and I didn’t know it.

I regret googling on Tuesday, August 8th and stopping there.

I regret not calling my doctor and going in for a checkup that week. I don’t know if they would have caught what was happening with my daughter then, but I could have given her a chance. I am not a big worrier. I walk around with a lot of “peace that passes all understanding.” I thank God for that. But, right now, I can’t shake this regret. Not now. I wish I would have given my baby girl every opportunity to live. I can’t tell you that the outcome would have been different.

Chances are, I would find something else to regret, if I would have gone in to the doctor’s office that week.

But, for now. I regret.

I regret that my baby is in heaven and not growing inside her mommy.

I regret that I am sitting in the rocker that we were given 13 years ago to rock all of our babies.

I regret that I didn’t sit down in this rocker once while my Mary-Linda was still with me.

I regret that I didn’t take my children in to see the 13 week ultrasound when Mary-Linda was dancing.

I regret that I didn’t live every moment of this pregnancy like it could end.

I’ve read that it’s good to go through every stage of grief. That it’s good to feel all the feels. The bad and the bad and even the good. I guess what I am doing is “good.” And, I’m talking about it here, because I planned to talk more about my experiences as my baby daughter was growing. I didn’t think it would end up like this. This wasn’t the plan. But, I am still talking, because, as I have sadly learned, we are not alone in this. Many of my dear friends have experienced this and come out the other side. I feel very alone and I feel so much better when I am with someone who listens or shares or just sits with me. I know there is hope for me. Hope for us. We have this beautiful, lovely family full of kids that are home with me because of Hurricane Harvey and who frankly are driving me nuts.

But, this timing must be perfect, because it’s the timing that it is. I can’t change it. And, no matter how much regret covers me, I can’t change that my baby daughter is in heaven. So, for now, I’m super sad.

Meanwhile, I shared a song at her memorial service, which we had for the 6 of us with our pastor at Church of the Apostles Houston just before Harvey made land fall. I recorded it in my living room, after the storm, as a song of hope. You can tell I am in a state of shock still, because I recorded it with no makeup on and didn’t care one bit. One day I will probably laugh about that and regret it too! But, for now, that is not one of my regrets.

In case you didn’t see it and would like a song of hope in your storm. Here it is.

Save Me, Oh God by Rebekah Maddux El-Hakam