The memories. The grief. OUR journey.

2018, faith, Family, grief, Joy, loss, Toby

Today was a hard day. Pregnancy after loss is so hard. There is hope, yes, but the moments that need to happen before a Rainbow arrives are so challenging.

I’ve talked before about how Toby’s room has remained the same since the day he died.

Today, much of that changed.

This is our choice. This is part of our promise to Toby, and to ourselves. To continue to move forward, but in a way that carries Toby with us, as well as we can, as if he were here.

We are about 10 weeks away from our third baby boy’s arrival and have held out until now to do these hard things. This morning we emptied his crib and took it apart. We stood around it for some time crying, gripping the rails. His fox fitted sheet still on the mattress; his binkies in the corner of the crib; his sleep sack still lay in the center of the bed, open and unzipped, ready for bedtime routine the night of August 24. A routine that never happened. Two years. Never moved.

When we lifted the mattress to pull off the bedding, this onesie was under the mattress in a ball. We both looked at each other in shock.

How did that get there?” Dan asked me.

I just shook my head as I cried, my hands shaking picking it up.

I flipped it over and the saying says “Bright Future” in Orange. Orange. The breath was sucked from my lungs. I stood there holding it, crying.

I took the bedding and laid it in the hallway. When it fell to the floor, something bounced sideways from the air under the material and caught my eye. I looked down at the floor – it was a feather.

Dan turned the crib and started to take it apart. I sat in the spare room across the hall on the floor watching him with a bin of baby clothes in front of me that never made it into the drawers of Toby’s dresser.

Theo came up the steps and walked into Toby’s room, sniffing the crib and standing next to Dan. He turned and looked at me, walked out into the hallway and laid down across the hallway, looking into the nursery as Dan worked. Theo is Toby’s guardian. He was his protector from the day Toby came home. He would sleep beside the bassinet or his crib during nap time, especially if we were doing something at home and left Toby to sleep, that’s where you’d find Theo. After Toby died Theo would lay in the hallway outside his room at different times. He would go in and stand beside the bed or lay on the carpet. If you asked him “Is Toby here see you Theo?” He would whine or come to your side, wagging his tail. Those moments gave me goosebumps at first, now I just smile and carry on with what I’m doing.

I moved back into the room and asked Luke to help me do something. I took a box into the room and set it in front of the dresser. “Buddy, can you take the clothes out of this drawer and put them in this bin to help Mommy?” He grabbed them handfuls and threw them in the bin. I watched these tiny pieces of clothes be dropped in the box and I felt grief consuming me. I cried. I sat there with clothes all around me, but they weren’t clothes, they were memories.

Fourth of July. A day at the museum. The only long pants we had on him, ever. His sleepers. Each one smelled like Toby. I could feel my heart breaking.

I looked up into the hallway, Theo was standing over the crib bedding, putting his head into it. “Do you smell him Theo?” He came right to me sitting on the floor and stood next to me, over top of Toby’s clothes.

I pulled the small bin out of the drawer with all his socks. I didn’t want to go through them. I started to dump them into a bin and at the last second looked inside. On the top was a pair of Fox socks right below them, the pair of white with blue lines at the top that he wore many many times.

As I sat there on the floor, in a half empty room, Dan put his arms around me as I cried, emotional too. Luke came and stood beside me, leaning in to kiss my nose. “Toby is with us,” he said. “He’s always with us, Mommy.

Each thing we did today there was a reminder that Toby was here, right beside us.

We are in the process of having a wooden hope chest carved for Toby. It will hold all of his items that we have saved; pieces that have sentimental value to us; pieces that will always be his for us; as well as things that we may be given in his memory or pick up along the way that remind us of him. Many of the things that we went through today will be placed in this chest, which will have it’s own place upstairs in our home, just for Toby.

This is just one day of hard moments we have to go through over the next 10 weeks. Then we will start another chapter that will have it’s own trials of grief that we have yet to encounter. As much as I would like to emotionally and mentally prepare myself for this, in my heart I know from two years of grief, you cannot plan. Grief comes out of nowhere. It consumes the moments you are in; the day you are having; it is still very good at robbing me of joy that I’ve had that day.

Some of the time, there is strength to fight through and not be sucked back in, but those are still few and far between for me. I have found that sometimes I need to just let grief and the reality of Toby’s death BE.

Sit with it. Pray through it. Cry while I hold it in my empty arms. Let it drain me dry till I have no more tears. It is after those dark moments that I am able to see some light peering through. It is after each of these that I am reminded by Toby that he is here. That he will never leave me, or Dan, or Luke, or his baby brother, or Murray or Theo. That each day through this journey of grief is one day closer to holding Toby in my arms again.

My Battle With The Beast

2018, faith, grief, loss, Toby

August holds my fear. It holds my happiness and feeling of wholeness. August is where ‘who I was’ lives and ‘who I became’ appeared. August holds my sons last breath. It holds my whole heart. August holds captive my sons future and every motherly wish I could ever have for him.

As I stand on the doorstep of another anniversary, I have started to wander into the past, hoping to pull with me each and every moment, no matter how significantly small, from our final weeks with Toby. But, as it does in a grievers soul, the terrifying fear and stillness, that lives inside the 24th of this month; the demons that guard the door back into my life two years ago growl and snarl looking directly into my face, almost taunting me. “Come in. Step through that door again. You think you have more armor, better armor, this year? Give it a try.” Taunting me.

There have been moments over the past few weeks when I can feel the anxiety of battle manifesting in my bones. Like my body knows what’s coming, but my mind, it is trying to focus. Realign. The ache inside my bones. The heaviness inside my arms – 9lbs of happiness, to be exact, it’s there. I feel it. My heart beating so fast in my chest, I am afraid that because it is shattered it’s going to break lose inside me and I am going to lose the little pockets of hope that I have been digging for, forever.

Have you ever thought about your heart? I don’t mean what the science tells us. I mean really thought about how big our hearts get when they are filled with love – real love?

How do our hearts get that big?

It’s almost as if the happiness, joy, thankfulness, wonder, awe, pride, excitement – it all seeps out into our pours and tells us “This is happiness. This is what you were made for.” Have you felt that?

I have. I did. Two years ago. Toby was 12 weeks old. I was in the car. Sitting at a stoplight, talking and singing with Luke. I sat and watched both of my boys in the rear view mirror – Luke laughing and Toby looking across the back seat at his brother with curious eyes. My heart swelled. I looked at them and thought “My God. They’re so beautiful. I am so lucky to be their Mom. I couldn’t love them more.”

I am caught in that moment. That was the morning of August 24. Those were the final moments I had with Toby before I dropped him off for work.

How in Gods name could I have left him that day and not known how our lives would change?

I can still feel that feeling, except now when it comes over me, tears flow from my eyes so heavily and they don’t stop for a very long time. My breath is sucked out from within and I can feel all the brokenness inside me.

That’s where my happiness lives – inside the early hours of August 24. When I thought I was living my dream. What I had prayed for, longed for, worked for, wished for – my whole, beautiful family. Literally my pride and joy. Were right beside me and in an instant, gone.

That is also where the deepest pain and sorrow, pain I didn’t even know existed, came alive. It was awakened. Its rumbling that day, its pressure to get out of those places it was locked in, and melt my soul, it succeeded.

That pain is like lava, it is so fiercely hot, paralyzing, it melts every other feeling away. It turns every feeling to stone. It molds your heart into a shape that is unrecognizable and also leaves you feeling just the same – “Who is this? Who am I looking at? What did we do to deserve this? Where is my life?”

Where is my son?”

August is my month where all these demons come alive. It is the worst month of the year for me – where I have been climbing to get to for 24 months has to wrestle with the Devil and where he wants to drag me back down to. Where my faith is tested every second of the day and where the pain of becoming a grieving mother never dulls.

Pray for me, as I go to battle with this beast. Remind me, in any way possible, that our beautiful Toby is still alive inside all those million pieces that my heart has been broken into. Show my family his love and joy can make a difference in someone’s day. Those are what I arm myself with as the knob turns to open the door on this horrific month.

August holds my son & my heart.

God help this broken mother make it through.

Learning to Live

2018, faith, Family, grief, loss, Parenting, Toby

Life is hard. Grief is harder. It gets worse before it gets better. This makes everyday challenges & situations sharper and hard to not take directly to heart. I look around the world some days and then I look at Luke and think “Am I doing this right?” Honestly, some days I’m not sure.

My heart has been very heavy lately. Some days I feel like I’ve been pulled back into the first few weeks without Toby. It’s scary. It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking. There have been a few days that I’ve felt so consumed with grief that I questioned how I have made it for 18 months. I don’t know. I don’t know that I ever will.

I sat on the floor the other evening after folding a load of laundry, with Toby’s picture book in my lap, crying. Crying because I didn’t have laundry for him. Crying because in 18 months I haven’t opened the drawers in his room, except for once. And the one time that I did, the sight of clothes he never got to wear and the smell,his smell, made me so ill I shut it and haven’t dared open it since.

I cried for at least a half hour. I could physically feel pain inside my chest and the tears on my face. It hurt, but felt like my body was unloading emotion that I couldn’t hold anymore. I’ve had so many of those moments since this year started.

When this year started I promised myself I was going to try a few [different] things to try to manage my grief. I started to read the Bible. No specific book or part, just random, open up and start reading. Yes, of course, I am searching for something in what I’m reading; some sign of Toby; some direction for our family’s path; some sign that God has a plan for us. Something.

To be honest, I don’t always find that. But, on the mornings that have followed, there have been devotions in my prayers for things that are not among my daily thoughts or things weighing on my heart. I don’t have a sure sign of where they come from, but I am starting to think that maybe it’s God’s way of using my pain.

There is a spot in the events of the day that Toby died that causes me so much pain. This spot is a place, outside our home, that I have to see and face daily. And everyday I sit there, with the heartache, the pain, the death of my son, staring back at me. I’ve succumb to its presence in my daily routine. Some days I cry. Some days I stare. Some days I have to close my eyes and remind myself to breathe because PTSD kicks in and the sounds all come rushing back my head. Some days I stare, as I sit in my car by myself and say “Why?”

About a week ago I was near this spot and the one thing, the one physical thing that always brings the emotion back, had been blocked, by a pile of dirt. I looked at it and was genuinely surprised that the pain that I expected to feel, that I felt daily, wasn’t there. “Huh.” I heard myself say. “A break?” I was asking God.

We all have those moments. Those moments when we plead with God for a break. Or a sign. Or an answer. When we’re in the midst of frustration or disparity. When we haven’t had a day go right.

These moments are more devastating for a grieving parent. These moments are faced with unending questioning of how strong we are; how much we can handle; how misunderstood can we be; how rude and uncompassionate people can be; how quick to judge society is; how much more can our heart break; before enough is enough. It is a continual test, to which the answer and the Judge is not in this world.

I have a lot to learn in life. Some things, through the years. Some things, through experience. Some things, through prayer.

A lot of the weight I am physically carrying is because of fear.

Fear of no control.

Fear of the unknown.

Fear of my heart not having any more ways to break.

Fear of not being able to save those most important to me.

Fear that I may forget. Forget anything.

Fear of disappointing my parents, or worse, my children, because I’ve been so handicapped by grief that I can’t give it my all.

These are all worth fearing, but do you know the ultimate fear of a grieving parent?

Fear of what will never be.

Fear of having to carry that pain – – for the rest of my life.

There is no “getting over” the loss of our son. It pains me that anyone would even think that would be possible for a parent or family dealing with any kind of infant or child loss. There is no timetable for grief.

What I’m struggling with is learning to live with grief and without Toby.

God’s Timing

2018, faith, Family, grief, loss, Parenting, Toby

I lay in bed last night listening to the rain on the windows of the house. The wind blew so fiercely it felt as though it was something swiping through the air, grabbing, lifting whatever it could – then it was gone. I listened to it for a few moments. It happened two, three, times. It felt like I was having a déjà vu moment. I closed my eyes tightly trying to recenter my thoughts, away from the weather outside, then the rain hit again. When I opened my eyes, it hit me. I hit the home button on my phone and Toby’s smiling face appeared; I scanned to the date – the 23rd.

17 months ago Toby was asleep in his crib. 17 months ago this morning I could have looked at him on the monitor and he would have been right there. 17 months ago I could have walked down the hall ten steps and been standing over him. Today, if I walk 10 steps, everything’s still there – except Toby.

For the past 17 months I have honed my “selective hearing” powers. Although well intended, more often than not, a cliche phrase hurts me, more than someone saying nothing at all.

He’s in a better place.

God needed another angel.

Everything happens for a reason.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

…Yes. Yes, actually he can. He did. I was given more than I could ever possibly handle. Our son was given to us – healthy, beautiful, thriving, sweet, handsome, funny, loving – absolutely perfect. Exactly what we prayed for. Then, after 12 weeks and 5 days on this Earth, in one strong swoop, like the rain/wind last night, he was taken from our arms and given his wings.


It rained the night of August 24. I remember sitting on our living room couch, staring at the wall, listing to the rain. It was pouring. I literally could not wrap my head around what was even happening. I thought “Why would Heaven be crying? They gained the most beautiful angel this evening. They have Toby – why would they cry?”

I’ve had many different discussions with people over the last 17 months having to do with our control in life. My realization thought 17 months of grieving the death of my son – we have no control.

We can do everything possible. Reroute our days; change our schedules; plan for everything; stress over the ‘What if’s?’ It is not in our control.

Matthew 24:36 says:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

We think that we have time. Time to get healthy. Time to take a trip. Time to move across country. Time to take a job you’d never considered.

We think that we have more time. I’ll call my parents tomorrow. I’ll apologize in a few days. I won’t say something like that next time. I will stick up for them (or myself) next time.

What if there isn’t a next time?

We are on God’s watch. Here on Earth.

During the first few weeks after Toby died I walked around in a fog. I’d replay moments in my mind and guilt would set in – What if I didn’t do enough for him? I’d literally drive myself into a paranoia. Until one day, I was so deep in grief and angry with everything and everyone. I stood in our empty house, at Toby’s crib, with my hands gripped on his bed rail – yelling anything and everything to the Heavens.  “Are you listening? We are good parents and we love our boys with every breath we have.

I sank to the floor, crying, repeating “Why did you take him! I don’t know how to do this without him! I can’t do this without my son!

This dark day forever changed my relationship with God. No, I did not receive an answer from Him. I will not have an answer until the day I stand before his thrown, Toby in my arms. I have accepted that. I have not yet accepted His timing. I have not fully placed my trust in His Plan.

This is what I am working on.

There have been numerous times over the past few months where I’ve veered off course. My light has gone out and I’ve had to stop and re-center my thoughts. Sometimes this takes days. I deal with anger, despair, loneliness, emptiness. It is very heavy and dark. But I fight for the light.

We were having a really hard time a few weeks ago. I cried every day. I withdrew from anything that wasn’t necessary. I felt like I was sucker punched with another round of grief. I was fighting for light. I stood at our kitchen sink looking out the window. The ground was blanketed with snow. The sky was grey and I thought “This looks like my life. I never thought this would be my life – no color.” I blinked and to my amazement, right down on our fence post sat a cardinal. There it was – my light. I’ve held onto that moment for the past few weeks – it’s been my center. I am waiting patiently for the Lord. I am working to be brave and courageous.

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To our sweet Toby – I hope your days in Heaven have been beautiful. For every day that passes, I am one day closer to seeing you again. You are our light and Luke is our rock. I will never have a prouder moment than being your and Luke’s mom. I love you to the moon and back, baby boy.




Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out.

—Ruth 3:18

2017 Stuff-a-Truck – Success!

2017, Creating Change, faith, Family, Joy, The Little Fox | Toby's Foundation, Toby

It has taken us a few days to come down from the incredible high that we were on from each and every person that helped make our 2017 Stuff-a-Truck event a HUGH success!

The temperatures weren’t exactly on our side when we woke up on Sunday, but we piled on the layers and when Dave & Rachel pulled up in front of our house the adrenaline kicked in and that was all we needed. I remember walking around the side of the garage and seeing the truck – I got a lump in my throat and as I walked up the driveway I had tears in my eyes. There was a gigantic truck sitting there and the reality of what we were about to do was sinking in. This is BIG.

We started loading up everything that was in our garage – donations from our professional connections, North American Martyrs/St. Michael’s Parish, neighbors and friends. Standing there watching boxes and items go into the truck, my mom stood beside me. We looked at each other and she said “You may need another truck.” Again, another overwhelming moment and feeling of determination. You may have heard it in my voice in the video below – we were going to fill that truck. I had no doubt in my mind.


Don Farr Moving Truck Arrival

Volunteers arrived at Dad’s Pub & Grub at 11 and we got everything set up. We had nearly a dozen people that stayed the entire time to help. There were 8-10 people volunteering each hour and you’d never even know there was a “changing of the guard” because these amazing people had things moving like a well oiled machine.

Donation drop-off started at noon and by 12:40 – the truck looked like this:


By 1 o’clock there was a line of cars out on Northern Pike waiting to pull in to donate. It was amazing to see!

traffic line

Around 2PM two things happened that brought the tears – (#1) Channel 11 showed up to video what was happening. They asked us about Toby’s story and Play it Forward and where all these donations were going. Talk about a proud parent moment. At one point, I looked over my shoulder and a van had pulled up and they were opening the back doors. (This is thing #2) Triangle Bar & Grill from Swissvale was delivering 10 (TEN) NEW BIKES! Volunteers helped them upload each bike and set them up to the side of the truck. I stood there looking at them – with no words. This was incredible and gracious.

triangle bar

Channel 11

Not only were there lines of people outside – Dad’s was packed inside, too with families that came to drop off and then when in for lunch. And everyone rocked their Steelers gear for the game that evening!

Our event was scheduled to run until 3PM and by 2:45 – our 26ft truck – was STUFFED!

It was incredible. By the time the volunteers place all the big items – train tables; large doll houses; picnic and water tables; a few pieces of furniture; and then put in all the bikes that were dropped off – there was just enough room to close the door.

Can you believe that? I stood there looking at the back of that truck as they were finishing and heard this little voice “We did it, Mommy. Just enough.”

How did that happen? It happened through the hope of a grieving family. It happened because Toby’s JOY is meant to be a part of many lives.

Full Truck

We even got to have a little bit of fun during the day and enjoy our time with everyone that came out. Although, Luke was a little chilly.



A few shout-outs to some key players that helped us bring this event together –

  1. Dad’s Pub & Grub – Northern Pike in Monroeville. If you haven’t been there, get in to see Dan and his team over the holidays. The food is amazing and they have great beer, too. We couldn’t have done this without the prime location and there amazing support and encouragement from the very beginning.
  2. Don Farr Moving – Dan, Rachel, Frank and the rest of the team from Don Farr that provided the truck; the packing supplies; and the labor to fill the truck to the brim. Then, on Monday, they delivered the truckload of donations to the Convention Center downtown Pittsburgh to kick-off Play it Forward Pittsburgh’s Toy Donations.
  3. Simmons Farm – a part of our extended family, Simmons Farm served as a “pop-up” location for donations the week leading up to our Stuff-a-Truck event. Their efforts from donors in the South Hills area loaded another truck to deliver to Play it Forward.
  4. Every Volunteer – there are WAY too many to name, but please know we are thankful for every minute and every way you were able to support us during the past month. We could not have done this without your support.
  5. Grandma, Pup, Nana & PapPap – First, thank you for watching Luke so he didn’t have to brave the cold temperature. Second, thank you, and our immediate family members, for continually supporting whatever crazy idea we dream up, especially the ones that support keeping Toby’s memory alive and helping our dream of The Little Fox | Toby’s Foundation come to reality.
  6. Last, but certainly not least, Play it Forward Pittsburgh – Heather & Amy – Thank you for allowing our family to contribute to this beautiful and amazing cause that you have created here in Pittsburgh.  It has been an honor to support Play it Forward, in memory of Toby, and see the amount of people who want to get behind it in the future. You both have created something amazing – we are glad to be able to be a part of it.

Dan & I were able to volunteer on Play it Foward’s Shop Day – Saturday, December 16 at the Convention Center downtown Pittsburgh. Leading up to that day, Shady Side Academy’s 3rd Grade class took a field trip and helped sort toys. Then, the following day, my company, A. Martini & Co., volunteered in the afternoon. We are lucky to have the support of our colleagues on this journey.

third grade

AMC Volunteering

Here are some photos of the set-up on Friday, prior to the doors opening on Saturday morning. There were people lined up outside on Friday night at 8PM to shop Saturday morning – it was incredible.

PIF Convention Center 2PIF Convention CenterPIF Volunteersshop day

Play it Forward Pittsburgh’s Shop Day started at 8AM and by 3PM the tables were completely empty. (See below)

before after 2017

Also, Play it Forward was able to offer some statistics on the 2017 drive – please take a look, these are incredible:

infographic_2017 PIF


Thank you – Thank you – Thank you! To every single person that contributed to this cause. Whether it was through our Stuff-a-Truck event or another donation location. Your time & toys helped give toys to 4,500 children! What an incredible way to GIVE this Christmas.

We are grateful for the opportunities that have come our way in 2017 that have allowed us to continue telling Toby’s story and spreading his JOY, not just across Pittsburgh, but across the nation. They have given us strength to continue. We truly believe that his story is far from over. It is up to us, as his parents, to carry his legacy.

We stand at the door of another year – without Toby in our arms. But their are pieces of my son everywhere I look. I hear them; I see them; I feel them. Thank you for helping us make it through 2017 with joy in our hearts.

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and JOY for 2018!


Dan, Katie, Lucas & Toby

toby 2

My Faith in God

faith, Family, grief, loss, Marriage, Parenting, Toby

This has been a difficult week for our family. Grief is hard. It’s exhausting. It comes from nowhere. No warning. And it stays, for as long as it likes. You can have a good moment and the next you are crying. That happens with me a lot. Your body can ache from the physical pain of grief, not just pain from your heart.

We pray for strength. We pray for understanding. We pray that Toby sees every tear that we cry, not because we want him to see the pain – there is no pain in Heaven. Our prayers are that he see the love. The love that comes with every break of our hearts and every tear we have shed over the last 14 months.

I am sharing this because we have said from the beginning that we want to educate people on what it is like to be grieving parents. To have our infant son, die. This is what it is like.


Image may contain: grass, plant and outdoor

Today I read a post from another grieving mother reflecting on what she feels when she visits the cemetery. She talked about experiencing peace and a connection with being there with her child. I envy her perspective. I envy this amazing trust she seems to have in Gods plan.

Today, while it started off well, quickly turned difficult. My arms ache to hold Toby, to hear him laugh with Dan or Luke, to feel his hair and see his bright blue eyes.

I drive home past the cemetery most days and most times I need to stop. But today there is more anger here. I hate that the ground has fresh cut grass – that reminds me of how long it’s been since we buried him. I hate that the leaves are falling – a reminder of a season that I used to love, but now holds my broken heart. I look at his stone and want to pull his name from the marble. I don’t want there to be an end date etched in there. I don’t even want to be here. As I start to descend over the hill to this hand-picked spot, I can’t make it past the last stone before his, before tears stream down my face. Every time.

I want to have faith in God’s plan. I want to have joy in knowing Toby is in Heaven walking in His Kingdom. I want to take heart in knowing that he felt no pain – that his heart will never break, like mine or Dan’s.

But as a grieving mother, sometimes my faith in God is shaky. My vision in his goodness is blurred by days of tears, wishing for my Toby to be back here, on Earth, with us. Sometimes, even falling to my knees to pray, my heart still feels heavy and my arms empty when I get back up.



Do not be afraid to ask about Toby. Do not be afraid to ask how we are feeling. And also, on a day when we may not want to talk, please understand and do not hold it against us. You do not know what we are struggling with. You do not know the memories that are flashing through our minds. We understand that too. We only pray for patience, consideration and respect.

We are parents of two beautiful boys, who are our world. They are loved unconditionally and they make us very proud.

Easter Morning in Heaven 

2017, faith, Family, grief, Home, Joy, loss, Lucas, Marriage, Toby

Last Sunday as we sat in church for Palm Sunday mass, I was overcome with emotion thinking of what Heaven would be like for Easter and what beautiful sites Toby would see this week. 

Can you imagine, seeing Jesus’ face on Easter morning? I cannot, but the thought of my beautiful son having the honor to be in His presence this morning, it takes my breath away. 

We were gifted a tree in rememberence of Toby in the fall and planted it in our front yard. It has grown a few inches through the winter and the past few weeks the buds have been forming. Yesterday, a few of them bloomed. I thought it was so fitting that the flowers on his tree first bloomed during Easter week. These magnolia flowers, with maroon, pink and white on their petals are simply beautiful and to me are a glimpse from Toby of the beauty of Heaven. 

This is Luke’s third Easter and each year I’ve enjoyed buying him a cute tie for his Easter outfit. I cried shopping this year because I wished I was buying two ties. I should have just bought two, and I was mad when I got home that I didn’t. When I was pulling Luke’s Easter basket out of the closet I found his tie from his first easter, so I took that out for Toby. 

We had bought Luke a basket with his initial on it for his first easter. This year I grabbed a small basket from Target for Toby, but when I was putting them together last night, I was again regretting not having one made that was special for Toby. I remembered that I had fabric I had found through the winter, but had not used yet. It matched the basket I had for him, so we improvised and made him his own. Fox and all. 

Yesterday while walking back from the park, Luke picked a dandilion and immediately said “Toby’s really going to love to see this.” We looked down at him, smiling. Yes, he will, buddy. He loves to see you playing and having fun. 

Our one son is not here and my heart breaks daily to see his sweet face and smile with him. We try to do things to make him a part of everything that we do and fully present in those special days and moments. I can’t imagine not including him in all these moments. Maybe, in a way, they comfort our hearts. But my hope is that he can see us and smile at what we are doing for him. 

With Luke being sick this weekend, he was up before the sun again today. But, sitting in the living room, with only the tv on this morning, I was able to watch the sun rise outside our window. It rose through the two houses across the street, but more beautifully, from where I was sitting, it was directly above Toby’s tree in the front yard. 

This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was truly beautiful. Another sign of Easter Sunday. 

While we are all celebrating, singing hymns at mass today, or praying in our homes, there are many empty chairs around our tables. Those that have just left their families and those that have been gone for some time, but are missed just as much. Our hearts ache for them to be here, but remember, they are at the table with Him today. They get to see His face first this morning. Wow, can you even imagine what a beautiful sight that must be? 

He is not here. For He is risen, as He said. –Matthew 28:6

Wishing you and your families a beautiful, healthy, and blessed Easter holiday. 


The Stern Family 

Katie, Dan, Lucas & Toby 

Little Pieces of Light & Peace

2017, faith, Family, grief, loss, Toby

As Lent began, I searched for my focus for the next 40 days. I was looking for something that I could “do” that would help me in my grief, but also something that would help provide little pieces of light and peace. When we moved into our house last year there were two cardinals that would fly into the tree in front of our window in the family room. Every time we saw them we’d always hurry to the window “do you see them?” we’d say to Luke, as one of us was holding Toby in our arms. It was a moment of the day that made us smile. Last week I was sitting on the couch and something caught my eye at the window. I looked out and it was a cardinal, by itself, sitting in the tree. I hurried to the window to get a closer look at him, there for a split second, and then he flew away. There are many articles that say cardinals are visitors, angels, from heaven. It made me wonder, were the two that visited us over the summer watching over Toby? And the new visitor, this spring, is he alone for Luke? Or is that Toby visiting us?

We went away to the beach a few weeks after Toby died. In the mornings, the sky had these beautiful clouds with strong rays of light streaming down and reflecting on the ocean. Looking at it made me wonder what that sight was like from Heaven. How beautiful that must be. Can you imagine being able to have a seat and see any spot in the world? I cannot, but just the thought of that takes my breath away. Being able to have a place to sit in Heaven and look over your entire family? That is truly amazing.

I picked up a prayer book from church at the start of Lent. It has a short daily reflection and a few excerpts from Jesus’ journey to the cross. The focus of this prayer book is just that, prayer. How we pray. What we say to God. What we ask of God. His expectations for us.

Through these reflections, the Blessed Mother’s journey through this time have been front of mind for me. She is a grieving mother. She is a strong mother with the utmost faith in God. How did she do it? Through these first 20+ days of lent, I’ve found my focus. The Blessed Mother. I am laying my grief, anger, tears, sorrow, emptiness, loneliness, a longing to hold my sweet Toby in my arms and kiss his face, and the missing sound of TWO sets of tiny feet running through the hall upstairs, or our sons innocent laughs that we will never hear because they can’t play together. All of this. I’m laying at her feet for Lent and trying to join my grief to hers.

This 24th of March marks seven months. Those of you who have continued to follow in our journey through grief, through the loss of our beautiful son Toby, I am sure you are able to see some of our highs AND lows. And while there may be more of the latter, I continue to work on finding more of the former. It is so hard. Too hard to put into words. Too hard for many to understand the struggles we face, daily. The judgement, not said, but felt, to be happy, trust, move forward, accept. It is intense and paralyzing. I know, indisputably, we do not take a thing for granted anymore. I will be the first to tell you that prior to Toby’s death yes, I did take things for granted. So while I may not look like the most grateful person when you see me, I may not smile as much as I did, the depth of my gratitude for everyday moments runs deeper than you know. For I know, more than most, how quickly my greatest blessings can be taken away. How one, “Have a good day” kiss or “I love you” can be the last. I know the immeasurable pain of being robbed of ONE of the TWO greatest joys of my life.

As the seventh month anniversary comes at the mid-way point of Lent, I am noticing a change in myself. A loss of the pause when a stranger asks me about my children, because I don’t want them to be uncomfortable. The urge to be able to talk more about our loss and our joy with Toby for the time he was here. The desire to find ways to shed light on grieving parents and the societal pretense to “not talk about it” because it’s too uncomfortable. The bad days are still so dark and the worst moments still come at the drop of a hat. I continue to work on the acceptance of that. My prayers are different and the way I talk to God has completely changed. I continue to pray that when Toby sees Dan and me, he knows that the tears we are crying or the anger that causes us to curse at the sky is because the hole in our hearts for him is so big and each day without him is so hard. That there are just no words – only tears. I continue to hope that one day, through my actions, rebuilding, and finding a purpose on this journey I did not choose for our family’s life, that I can proudly say “Let me tell you about Toby. He is the one that showed me how to love beyond all measure. How to survive the unimaginable. How to live life for him.”

I am not there yet, Toby, but I’m working on it. Continue to hold my hand and my heart, sweet boy.

Not a Cloud in the Sky

2017, faith, Family, grief, loss, Toby

There are some days I can stop here and have a million things to tell you and there are others when all I can do is cry. This grieving process is such a roller coaster ride. 

I went to get my haircut today and the lady asked me “what happened to your hair? It looks like it’s regrowing? Were you sick?” I frowned in the mirror. Yes, I lost a lot of it postpartum and then my son died, and I lost even more because my body couldn’t deal with it all. So it’s just starting to grow back. And then she said “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Is this your son?” And reached for Toby’s locket around my neck. “Yes, that’s Toby.” Her response made my proud. “Tell me about Toby. He is as beautiful as an angel.” I talked for awhile today, to a stranger, who genuinely wanted to hear about my son and our family. It was wonderful. 

The last two days have been so nice outside. There are many small things that I pay attention to now. The morning my grandfather died in 2004, the rain poured. It rained for hours and the sky was black, even at mid-day. I remember my mom saying “It’s heavens tears. We weren’t ready for him to go.” The day that Toby died, the thunderstorms that evening were so strong. The thunder loud, cracks of lightning and the wind. I remember sitting there listening to it outside and now when I think about it, I feel like that was all my emotion happening inside me, but portrayed through the weather. I was in such a state of shock and so vulernably helpless. But I remember the way that storm made me feel, to this day. I think I always will. 

Our family lost an amazing lady this week, my grandmother. Friday morning there was this beautiful sunrise on the way to work. I remember sitting at a stop light and looking around at the sky and it was this beautiful blue color. Not a cloud in sight. Just clear, calm and beautiful. And then I thought “this is for Grammy.” She is now at peace, in a place where there is no worry or anxiety. The sun always shines, there is nothing to cloud your mind. 

Grammy holding Luke on his first Christmas

It is remarkable to me how when you really start to replay moments in your life, good ones and bad, there are many little things, details that we don’t notice at the time or we think have no impact, but they truly do. We all see and feel and believe in different ways. That part of this human life is truly amazing. Many do not realize it and I think some only do when they experience something that really causes you to slow down and watch what is going on around you. 

I am someone who did not do this until Toby died. Slow down, that is. There are many times now when I find myself in the middle of the grocery store just watching people. Thinking about them. Or listening to conversations I overhear and really reflecting on them. It is amazing how oblivious we are to so many things. It’s incredibly sad. People are missing so much of life and of people they love, because they’re rushing to the next thing. 

Dan and I have learned through the most heartbreaking experience that the next moment is not promised to you. Whether you are 89 years or 12 weeks. Our time here, with the people we love and who love us, is completely out of our control. What is in our control is the way we spend the time we are given and what we do. Take the trip. Make the call. Go visit your grandparent. Play the board game. Say your prayers at night. Talk about the weather with your children. Eat dinner together. Take your child to story time at the library in the middle of the work day. Believe me, you will be so happy you did. 

As I was leaving the cemetery today I had this vivid image in my head of Grammy sitting on the beach and Toby was in her lap. Toby always loved the water. 

I’m sure they will be spending a lot of time at the beach. Maybe take Toby to see the carnival lights at night, Gram. I have a feeling he would love the carousel. ❤

All the Love

2017, faith, Family, Home, Parenting

To the new mom who is running on two hours of sleep; no shower in a few days; same clothes you slept in from the day before; three week old baby asleep on your shoulder and the living room in front of you a mess from toys your two-year old has been playing with – I’m praying for you.

To the new foster mom in line at the store. Your cart not only filled high with food, clothes, winter jackets, hats and gloves, diapers, formula, soap and juice, but the two little girls that you just opened your home and heart to – I’m praying for you.

To the women in line at the pharmacy, holding a pregnancy test, your stomach in knots because you don’t want to go through the heartbreak of yet another miscarriage but yet you want a positive test; to be able to carry a healthy baby full term; and finally hold your child in your arms – I’m praying for you.

To the grandmother who has raised a family, watched her children marry and now have families and children of their own. Who have silently grieved while being strong for your daughters and sons as they have endured miscarriages, deaths of children, infertility and continual longing – I am praying for you.

To the mother who is now caring for her own mother. A women who adored her family and yet today no longer remembers who they are or who is caring for her, but loves you anyway and smiles as you brush her hair or sing her a song – I’m praying for you.

To the women who has done everything possible to conceive; ate all the right things; taken every pill or shot they’ve prescribed; prayed 1,000 times over and yet nothing is working and you feel like you’re body is failing you; preventing you from being the mom you always wanted to be; from your husband becoming a father; your parents a grandparent – I’m praying for you. 

To the grandmother who is now raising her grandchildren, for whatever the circumstance may be. Who has opened her home to the laughter and tears, long nights and fights over what everyone wants for dinner, but goes to be each evening thanking God for these little blessings – I’m praying for you.

To the stay-at-home mom who would give anything for a night out, even if that just meant a trip to Target and a coffee on your own. Who was up before her family to finish laundry and pack lunches and who will have toys, books, craft supplies and dinner to clean up after bath time tonight – I am praying for you.

To the working mom whose alarm went off at 5am so you could get a workout in before the rest of your family was awake, worked a 8-5 day and only stopped to go to the bathroom once and whose lunch consisted of a pack of crackers and a diet coke. Who is on pick-up for daycare this week and would give anything for her email to stop while she’s watching just one episode of Mickey Mouse with her toddler before bedtime – I’m praying for you.

For the parents who have one child in the hospital and one, or more, child(en) at home. Who haven’t been in the same room with each other for weeks because they are focused on making sure each child is taken care of and feels like everything is going to be ok. Who take shifts sleeping and working, just to pay the medical bills and buy groceries, and sometimes don’t know what day of the week it is – I’m praying for you.

To the father holding the weight of the world on your shoulders so that your wife and children do not have to bear it. Finding all the right things to say when someone asks “how are you?”; defending and protecting your family with every ounce of strength you have that when you hit your knees to pray, all that comes are tears – I’m praying for you. 

To the women and men who teach and care for our children while their parents are at work each day. Who comfort them when they are sick or skinned their knee playing outside. Who discipline them, even when you don’t want to, and show them how to share and pray. Who high-five them when they ace their spelling or math test and say “wait till you tell Mom & Dad” – I’m praying for you.

To the mother and father who’s weekly routine involves multiple visits to the cemetery, either before or after work, because you’ve suffered the loss of one or more children. Who spend time each week telling your children about what you wish you were doing with them, here on Earth, instead of them watching you from Heaven – I’m praying for you.

To anyone that reads this and can relate to any of these circumstances, I admire your ability to do it every day. I have seen each of you over the past few months and if it wasn’t for the death of my son, Toby, which caused me to look at life in a different way, I may not have seen you, or recognized how hard you are trying. I admire the patience you have, your ability to face each day and your dedication to those that depend on you. I wish you grace and peace for whatever road you are on. I know that you want the children in your lives to feel important and loved. And no matter what anyone says, they DO and that’s because of YOU. You do it best. You love them best and the exact way that they need to be loved.

I am praying for each of you this month because I have seen you and you’ve made an impact on my life, without knowing it, and how I look at every situation. Know that someone is praying for you and wishing that, if even for one moment of your day, you can see yourself and think “I am brave” or “I am doing my best.” 

You do not feel it at all, I know. I’m right there with you. But you are. You are brave, and you are wise, and I hope you feel loved.

I found this leaf on the ground yesterday morning as I dropped Luke off. A little sign from our angel, Toby.