Notes to My Younger Self

2019, Family, Home, Joy, Marriage, Parenting

I wish I could go back, 10 maybe 15 years, for a lot of reasons, and teach myself a few lessons for the road ahead.

Pray more. For others. Pray for people that hurt you. Mentally, emotionally, intently, unintentionally. Just pray.

You don’t have to pretend to agree with anyone. You are entitled to your opinion. That doesn’t mean you have to be rude. We all have differences. That doesn’t make it wrong. As long as your opinions or beliefs are not hurting someone, have them. Own them. Be proud of them.

You will go through pain in life that you never could expect. Don’t close your heart from it and also don’t be ashamed of it. We all go through pain. Some people’s pain we see; we know. Others, we often have no clue. But I know when my pain is the most raw, the last thing I need is someone to treat me like I don’t matter. That’s the worst. So don’t do it to others.

You really will find a whole new level of love when you have children. I could write a book on the things I’ve learned about love and pain since I turned 30. Be ready for the love – and heartache, that comes with parenthood.

When you do become a mom, your heart will change. You will find your focus hones in on little faces that remind you so much of yourself, but also have their own personalities, that couldn’t make you prouder.

Just like you may not be someone’s “cup of tea” your children may not be either. This hurts and is so hard to let settle. Maybe don’t let it settle? But, also don’t let it eat you alive. Protect them. Be in their corner. Be their biggest cheerleader. Love them. Tell them – even if they say “you told me that already, mom.” Tell them again. There will come a day when they need all that love and need to remember how much you said it to them.

Even in your 30’s – adults can be mean. They will be mean. All that “stuff” doesn’t stop because you left high school. And you know what, sometimes, it hurts more than you think it should. No matter what you do, you can’t change people. You can however tell them they hurt you and then, walk away. You will feel better.

Stop apologizing. I am not telling you to be oblivious, but if you genuinely know what you’re doing is right, do it. And don’t apologize.

Your parents won’t agree with everything you do in life. And they will tell you that. But, the moment you make your own decision and tell them your “why” they will see that their hard work paid off. That you listened to them, even when they thought you weren’t. And even if you fail, you are still ready to own it. This only happens 1% of the time. Be ready for it when it does.

Give someone a pep talk (even if it’s yourself). Tell them what they’re doing right. Write them a card – just because. Recognize their “give” so they don’t miss it to.

Friends will change. Your circle will evolve, grow, shrink, look really different. This is not a bad thing. All that stuff I said above? It changes who you are and who you will need and want around you. Pick your tribe, circle, framily based on your heart – not on others and not on society. You will be so thankful for that later.

Don’t be afraid to guard your family. This may seem odd, but let me explain. Your children need someone to stick up for them, until they can do it on their own. If they can do it on their own. Be their voice when they need you to be. And don’t let bring you down. Secondly, guard your marriage and/or your relationships. This is hard. It often takes a backseat to your children and it should, but that does not mean it should sit on the sidelines for 18 years while your children grow. It also doesn’t mean that it’s ok for people to take advantage of your vulnerability or weakness. That is just plain wrong.

Pray. Didn’t I mention that before? Pray at night. Pray in the morning. Pray in the shower. Pray on your way to work. Pray with your kids. Pray with your spouse. Pray, more than just when things are bad. You will see a difference in your outlook on life when you pray.

Listen. You don’t always need to respond to something or someone. Sometimes we just need to listen.

And just when you think your heart couldn’t get any bigger – it will. Adulthood brings a lot of emotions and experiences, but it can also bring more growth. Don’t be afraid to grow.

You know the song “Momma said there’d be days like this?” Yea, there are a lot of them. But, there’s also a lot of good.

Find it. Be it. Spread it. Give it. Teach it. Acknowledge it.

ENJOY it.

Finding Our Footing in 2018

2017, 2018, Creating Change, Family, grief, Joy, loss, Marriage, Parenting, Toby

As I sit in our home on the last day of 2017, my heart is fragile. This holiday season has been hard. The reality of Toby being gone, forever, was ever present over the past few weeks. Where many experienced cheer and love, we felt abandonment and sadness.

It is hard to believe 2017 is nearly over. A full year without our son. No hugs or kisses. No first steps. No presents for Toby under the tree. As we stood in the cold on Christmas Day at the foot of Toby’s grave, I kept thinking to myself – I never could have imagined this is how we’d spend our holidays. Why is this our life? I fought like hell to find all the excitement and happiness I could for the holidays, it exhausted me.

We spent the last few days holed up in our house, doing a whole lot of nothing. Surprisingly, it was refreshing. We watched a lot of movies. We played in the snow with Luke, Murray & Theo. I read a lot – posts, articles, and books. I came across a passage yesterday in my reading that has been on my heart since.

Through this past year, while trying to spread Toby’s joy with as many as possible, I have continued to carry a heavy piece of grief with me. It has darkened my days and tested my relationship with God. I have sat at Toby’s grave; on my knees at the foot of the cross; and continually on my drive to work when I’m alone in the car asking “Why? Why would You take Toby? Why did this happen to our family?” This question has become a staple in my devotionals for our family and our healing. I hear this question in the midst of everyday routines. Well knowing that I will never have an answer, until the day I am standing in Heaven with Toby back in my arms.

Yesterday, I came upon this passage while reading:

“We have no right to ask

When sorrow comes,

Why did this happen to me?

Unless we ask the same question

For every joy that comes our way.”

-Philip S. Bernstein

This passage led me back to something that was given to me, by my mom, a few months ago. It is a song title ‘Glorious Unfolding.’ She had given me the CD to listen to. Instead, we Google’d the song and found the video to go with it. This song is emotional, and I can imagine, it can take on many meanings for those struggling – with anything – with death; with illness; with job loss; with financial insecurity; with family turmoil; with marriage struggles; with stumbles you may have had in the past year.

There’s a message for you in this. Open your heart, quiet your mind, and listen.

Glorious Unfolding – Steven Curtis Chapman

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I have no idea what 2018 holds. This past year held moments of JOY that I do not want to let go of. They were moments from Toby, that I know he delivered to us. I felt it. There were moments of pure excitement and happiness with Luke that I thanked God, repeatedly for.

My one hope for 2018 is that I can loosen the grip on this question to which there is no answer – “Why?” And in trying to do that, help us see more of the Joy that God is placing in our path. I have to believe it is there. There is no other choice.

I know that this will not be easy. Grief is hard. It is ruthless. For grieving parents, the reality of a child dying, never goes away.  But life continues to move forward. Things change.

Our path has changed, our journey has been altered. We must now find our footing on this path and keep climbing. I am not sure where we are going – figuratively or literally. And I know this will not be easy. It will not be without hurt and tears. But I pray that on our climb we find places to rest, recharge, grieve, and enjoy our family – all four of us.

Here we come, 2018, with joy in hand. Be gentle on us.

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.

 

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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.

2017 Innovative Educator Award

2017, Dan, Family, Joy, Marriage, Parenting

With Father’s Day this past weekend I was thinking about what I wanted to write about my amazing husband and even more amazing father to our boys.

Last Tuesday, Dan received the Michel J. Farrell Chair in Honor of Thomas N. Southard’s Innovative Educator Award by Shady Side Academy and my excitement and pride for him were the exact words I was looking for to describe the incredible man he is.

For those that have the privilege of knowing Dan, or Mr. Stern, you know how infectious his personality is. He exudes what it means to be a positive role model. The children that he has taught, since beginning his teaching career eleven years ago at Shady Side Academy, have embraced our family because of the support, encouragement, and positivity that Dan has given each school year, each summer at camp, each year that he’s moved dormers back into the dorms, each day he’s stepped foot into school, or out the door onto campus.

This year has been especially hard, having to return to the classroom after our son Toby died, but he did it. Each day and week was not as easy or tolerable as other years, but he persisted, with grace and professionalism because of the gift he has, because of his dedication to his students. He has more patience than many and his ability to turn a situation at a breaking point into the most amazing learning experience is something that I admire most about this man.

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I have had the pleasure of spending moments in his classroom each year and the energy and joyful passion that each third grade class has held, continues to grow, year by year.

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Moving Up Day is always a special one in our house because after the day is done I get to hear about who he saw – what parents stopped in, what students came to say “goodbye” and what lifers came back and spent time laughing and reminiscing in his classroom. Whether we are attending an SSA function on one of the campuses or enjoying the city of Pittsburgh, we are continually stopped by parents, grandparents, boarders, faculty, camp counselors and students who always greet Dan with a hug, and handshake and a smile. “Hi, Mr. Stern!” I can see it in their faces, they are truly grateful for the positive impact my husband has had on their lives. He smiles, laughs, and can remember every single one of their names. Every single one. That is a gift.

moving up day 2017 1

He is a modest man, he will not make a big fuss about this award. So I will. He deserves the fuss. He deserves the acknowledgement. He deserves the “Congratulations.”

Shady Side Academy – to the administration, faculty, staff, dorm community – our friends who have become family – to the families that have supported Dan, the legacy families of SSA whose children have all gone through Mr. Stern’s Third Grade Classroom – Thank You! Thank You for acknowledging this amazing teacher’s talents and for encouraging him to continue with his passion and cheering him on along the way.

Dan, the roles and projects that you have taken on, even started at the Academy, since you began teaching in 2007 are woven into every chapter of our life. I have watched you, year by year, continue to succeed, learn, grow and open the door for others – students and faculty – that you have been a role model for.

graduation 2008

You are the best example of a husband and father and Lucas and Toby are so very lucky to have you as their dad. I am blessed to stand by your side as you continue to “knock it out of the park” and show me how to take chances, go for it, and even if it’s not the right fit – have fun while you’re doing it! Luke will have a million high-fives for you and our precious Toby is looking down from Heaven, smiling, saying “Hey, that’s my Dad! He’s the best!”

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When receiving the award, these words were used to describe Dan, “to be an innovative teacher means to be a motivating teacher.” That could not be more spot on.

Congratulations on the recognition of your excellence, dedication and service to the students of Shady Side Academy and other Pittsburgh families with whom you have crossed paths over the last eleven years!

Cheers to the next decade of teaching!

 

 

http://www.shadysideacademy.org/page.cfm?p=17035

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. 

Blessings, 

The Stern Family 

Katie, Dan, Lucas & Toby 

A New Endeavor

2017, Dan, faith, Family, Lucas, Marriage, Parenting, Toby

I have spend the last few weeks very focused in prayer. That was one of my small goals for the year. It has been normal in these times to also talk to Toby. Tell him what is on my heart and ask for guidance or some sort of sign as to whether or not I should even be carrying whatever it is that is heavy on my heart and mind.

An opportunity presented itself at the beginning of January as a way to help our mission of being a voice for grieving parents and parenting through the loss of a child, while also offering the chance to work with some amazing people. View the video below to see what door has opened for our family (video is ~10mins).

 

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