Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Our Family" by Ella Anderson

Zane, Daddy holding baby Sully, Mommy and Ella wearing crowns
April, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A final post

I have packed for my trip. I fly to meet Brad tomorrow for our retreat from the world. I have done the last load of laundry, run the dishwasher, put everything the kids will need by the door. And then, for my last child, Sully, I went through all of the things that have been at the foot of my bed since he died and I packed them, too. I needed to do this before I left. I needed to come home to them placed carefully in the lovingly hand-crafted vessel made just for this purpose by Sully's grandfather. I knew it would be hard. I purposely turned on Dancing with the Stars just to have the life and the energy of all that dancing in the room with me as I walked through my memories of Sully and touched the sweet little things that once touched him. Even with all that country and river and ballroom dancing, I still cried. It will be the same with the playground. Even with all the laughter, I know I will still be caught by tears.

I went there today, to the playground. I wanted to clear out the falling balloons and soaking ribbons. I have been sick since the day the playground opened. But I had to go because I feel like the personal keeper of this sacred space. I saved the ribbon we cut for Sully's box as well as one of the deflated balloons. They are tucked away with that first handful of dirt I took away with me when construction finally began. As I left, a robin perched right up on the fence in my direct line of vision. I just watched him and smiled and ached all at the same time.

A friend wrote me to assure me that no one expects the playground to be the nice clean bow to happily tie off this story. She recognized that my grief would continue, that it would always be a part of my story - forever. I told her how I had been sick and almost glad for it because it somehow gave me the excuse to just be miserable in my bed. I so rarely allow myself that. But maybe God knew that I just needed to lay there, miserable as I was, and physically feel as terrible as my heart sometimes does.

It rained on Sunday, just as we cut the ribbon. As the kids poured in the rain poured down. They didn't seem to mind. In fact, I think it even made the slides faster and more appealing to them. I loved that they didn't care and that parents didn't seem to either. This one time they allowed them to play in the rain because it was right. I didn't mind the rain either. It seemed fitting and symbolic of the bittersweet cup we have been given to drink.

I think more on that tidy red bow idea and remember something written by Anne Lamott in that book of hers I just read (Traveling Mercies). She talks of a woman who was always cheerful until "she started going blind. She had a great deal of religious faith, and everyone assumed that she would adjust and find meaning in her loss - meaning and then acceptance and then joy - and we all wanted this because, let's face it, it's so inspiring and such a relief when people find a way to bear the unbearable, when you can organize things in such a way that a tiny miracle appears to have taken place and that love has once again turned out to be bigger than fear and death and blindness. But this woman would have none of it. She went into a deep depression...the elders took communion to her...but she wouldn't be a part of our community anymore. It must have been too annoying for everyone to be trying to manipulate her into being a better sport than she was capable of being. I always thought that was heroic of her, that it spoke of such integrity to refuse to pretend that you're doing well just to help other people deal with the fact that sometimes we face an impossible loss."

I've gone back and read that so many times. It is true, the playground has made it easier for people to face us, to engage with us. I could have gone the way this woman did, I still may, who can say? I find that everything that has happened has come from hands of grace, hands that have molded each event just so, that have made us able to even fathom doing what has been done. And, if those hands take me down a road like this blind woman, will they still not be the same capable, steady hands?
I hope in those hands I will also have this blind woman's "integrity to refuse to pretend."

I received an informational letter the other day from the state of Virginia informing me of the care that was available to us for our son. Obviously, the state of Virginia does not know much about our son. I suppose it is a letter they are required to send out. But, I did learn that each year, in this great state of Virginia, there are about 7 babies born with Trisomy 18. Seven. That's it. So, we are one of those families this year. We are the statistic. I wonder about the other six families who live in this state with us. I wonder if any of those families have found out in the past month or two they are pregnant and don't know yet that they will be joining us in the tragic class of 2008. It makes me ache for them. But it also makes me want to know them, to meet them and tell them that I am so sorry, that I wish things could be different.

I have one more thing to do before I go to bed. I want to write my son, Sully, a note to place in his special box. Perhaps it is another part of saying goodbye. I want to write to him how much I still love him, how I do still miss him. I want to thank him for giving himself to us for six days, for letting us bask in his sunshine for those tenuous hours and days. I want to tell him how he will always stay my valentine, a love that I will shelter in my heart forever. I will tell him that he has changed me more than anything else in my life, that he has given me softness and illumination. I suppose he knows all of this already, but I think he would still like me to write.

Sully's poem

by Beth Dye

I see him swinging first.
For a child who was rocked so sweetly
Would remember the gentle feel of back and forth.
Those are his favorite
So close to his mother's gentle rocking.
Leaning back, arms outstretched, and then kicking out his legs
Pushing forward and landing on strong legs
Crouching, balancing, with arms steady
Taking his time looking down at the ground.

Next would be the slide
Because nothing invites a child more.
But he would take his time.
Climbing up to survey,
Then sitting, inching forward to get just to the edge
(A little nervousness before the plunge)
And down he goes, feet landing with a hard
Plunk in the mulch.
Perfect heart now beating fast.

And why not the rest?
Running to each piece
Climbing up and climbing down
And doing it all over again.
Sitting on the ride-ons and feeling as though
They could take him anywhere.
Grabbing in the mulch, throwing it up
Letting it land all around him and in his hair.
Shaking it off and running again.

This boy is real though I only know him in dreams
But the place is now becoming real.
And the same Spirit lives in me
Who abides with him and with this place.
The same Spirit who never left, will never leave,
Encircling, covering, surrounding
Breathing joy and contentment
To all who run and climb and jump.

Could it be that He made another first?
Perhaps it was waiting when he arrived
And ours is merely a reflection
Of a heavenly place built for children
Taken too soon?
Surely the children know it,
They feel the beauty and joy of His presence.
And a weary world where our Sully could not stay,
Is blessed by a tabernacle where children can play.

A new total

Our new total for funds raised for the playground is just over $61,000! I am amazed! Thank you for opening up your hearts to us and all of the children who will enjoy this place. Your generosity has created this beautiful, beautiful playground!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Celebration!

Just a few snapshots of ours...

You can see Paula Burgoon's professional slideshow by visiting clicking on Clients and then typing the password Sully.


This is the day where it all comes together. This is the day we cut the ribbon and officially open what was once just a thought. I hear the birds singing this morning and that always makes me smile. I tell Sully how excited everyone is to open his special place.

I have been thinking this morning and the past several days on William Blake's words: "We are here to endure the beams of love." I wonder if that is what these past months have been all about. I think today certainly is. Is not everything about this playground full of love? But in the height of this love and joy there is the depth of the sorrow of losing a baby. Is that what it might mean to learn to endure the beams of love.

I would never wish what has happened in our lives onto anyone. But, I would not trade you my days with Sully, even the hardest, most agonizing moments, for anything. I am proud of my boy. Honestly, I am proud of myself. Is not carrying this special soul the greatest thing I have ever done? I am grateful for the willing spirit God has given me which has surely sustained me. I know I could have chosen a different path and God’s love would have been there down that road with me, too. But I prayed the psalms, begging for a willing spirit, and he gave it and gave us the grace to walk a very difficult path. And in walking it, crawling it, lying down and crying in it, there was the tenderness of love, of a grace in my weakness that I have never known before the way I knew it then. God was near. I did nothing. I could not do anything that I normally thought could win his nearness. Yet there He was. He was in your cooking, your phone calls, your e-mails, and your letters. He was in the idea of a playground and a Christmas wish. He was in the bird song and the early mornings and late nights of writing. He was with me as I cried in my bed, cried in the shower, cried in the car and cried in your arms. And He continues to carry us, to be with us in our joy and sorrow.

Today, we will dedicate a playground that is so much more than just a playground. It is a reminder that God is with us in our brokenness. Would I rather have my little boy healthy and whole? I am human and a mother. You know that answer. But this space will always remind me of God’s great love for me, for my family, for this community and for my boy, our boy, Sully.

I just walked outside and there is a rainbow stretching from one end of the sky to the other. It takes rain and sunshine to make such a beautiful sight. Yes, it is going to be a very good day.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Planting day

Today a host of volunteers gathered to put the finishing touches on Sully's playground. They worked fast and diligently and before we knew it every plant was in the ground, the mulch was spread and the concrete cleaned for tomorrow's grand opening. Thank you to everyone!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A private cutting

I took the kids back up to the playground this afternoon. I wanted to check out how everything looked now that the fence was finished. It is beautiful. There is so much room now for the kids to play but with the safety of secure boundaries.

With the alotted days having passed for the concrete to dry and make the playground thoroughly safe, we had our own private cutting of the caution tape. The kids loved pulling it off and having the freedom to climb all over their baby brother's gift to them. I am in awe of what is before me, of a God who cared enough about me to give me this place, enough to move in so many hearts to create it so quickly. It truly is beautiful, just like my boy Sully.

Brad's songs

Brad has always had a thing for music. He loves to lay in our only carpeted room with his head close to the speakers and just absorb the words and sounds. I've come to learn that when he says he has a new song to fully enter into it with him, to lay down beside him on the carpet and just be still and listen. The other night this was his song he shared with me. It is called "Doubting Thomas" by Nickel Creek.

What will be left when I've drawn my last breath,
Besides the folks I've met and the folks who know me,
Will I discover a soul saving love,
Or just the dirt above and below me,

I'm a doubting thomas,
I took a promise,
But I do not feel safe,
Oh me of little faith,

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face,
Then I beg to be spared 'cause I'm a coward,
If there's a master of death I'll bet he's holding his breath,
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power,
I'm a doubting thomas,
I can't keep my promises,
'Cause i don't know what's safe,
oh me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth,
When I'm scared I'll find proof that its a lie,
Can I be lead down a trail dropping bread crumbs,
That prove I'm not ready to die,

Please give me time to decipher the signs,
Please forgive me for time that I've wasted,

I'm a doubting thomas,
I'll take your promise,
Though I know nothin's safe,
Oh me of little faith

As always, Brad is right on. The words pierce me because they ring so true in my own life.

more progress

The crew arrived this morning to install the gate. The helium for the balloons arrived. The benches are being put together. And, the beautifully designed signs for the playground arrived. It really is all coming together.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

plotting the resurrection

Yesterday, as spring was working it's way into warm, I took the daffodil bulbs from Sully's service, an easter lily given us in his honor by our babysitter, and all of the other plantable flowers given us by so many and began to "calmly plot the resurrection". That's what kept repeating over and over in my head as I dug up the earth and tucked each bulb and plant away in hopes that they would return next year. I can hear my friend's voice reading to me E.B. White's words about his dying wife: "There was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance…the small hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection." I wonder what that next Spring was like for White without his wife. I wonder how he felt as he watched her garden resurrection.

My mind goes back to the Andrew poems, to another mother who, like me, planted her easter lilies and tulips with a certain madness in her method. There is comfort in thinking that there will be life again, to think that these bulbs and plants that bloomed while my Sully lived and breathed here on this earth will bloom again. Somehow that makes me feel like I will have a part of Sully again on this earth. Just a bloom, is that really all I'm hoping for? No, it surely is more. I am hoping for my very own garden resurrection and the reminder of what will one day be.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April 15th

Yes, taxes are due and the playground is completely installed!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Circles of light

I picked up Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies the other day after a friend mentioned she was reading it. I've found a safe nook in Lamott's unconventional ways of explaining her faith. She writes at one point about not knowing what to do next, which way to go. Since God doesn't dole out the kind of answers we often want, she prays for direction and then "one spot of illumination always appears just beyond her feet, a circle of light into which she can step." From there, she steps into another, then another until bumbling along she ends up where she should be.

I think about that now that I have been asked a couple of times what I will do with myself in the fall. Already people have questions. Will Zane go to school? I guess Ella started at this age, but I am not ready to let him go. Perhaps in the new year. And then what will I do? Will you go back to work I am asked? What work? Why so many questions? Why do people expect an answer? Uncharacteristically, I say, I don't know. I seem to know less than I've ever known before. I have no plan. I don't see a big picture or a purpose for the days ahead. I didn't plan on being where I am finding myself this soon. I thought I would be caring for an infant this fall. Yes, if things had gone according to my plans, Zane very likely would have started preschool in the fall. But everything is different. And the pool of light I want to step into is to keep my living son close to me. Is everybody OK with that? Can I be spared questions about what my plans are for my life from here on out? I don't know my plans. I don't know what I will do when the playground is complete. I'll probably cry. And then I'll look for the next circle of light into which I can step.

Slide show of Tumbles

You must see this. Jessica Riehl who photographed us with Sully came to the Tumbles event and put together this phenomenal slide show. It captures the day perfectly. The last image says it all for me. Thank you, Jessica.

Jessica also has a blog where you can make comments if you'd like:


This morning was chilly and drizzly but the installers pressed on. By lunch time we found a huge mountain of mulch and more equipment up.

When Brad got home we took another drive up to see what progress had been made with the arrival of afternoon sunshine. The mountain of mulch is now more of a small hill, and the play structures are almost complete!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

a HUGE Success

Wow - the tumbles event was absolutely incredible! I was stunned by all the people who turned out for the day to play and bid (thank you to all the donors of the wonderful auction items!) The grand total of funds raised and donations given is, drum roll please, five thousand, seven hundred ninety one dollars and fifty cents! Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who made this event such an incredible one!

Friday, April 11, 2008

A day's work

When Brad got back in town we loaded up in the car with our neighbors (who just happen to be family) and met some friends up at the church to check out the day's work. We parked on the side opposite the playground, and I can't tell you how great it felt to see even just this first glimpse as we rounded the corner.

Can you believe all they've done in just one day?
The kids love it already!

Come Tumble for Sully

Some incredible ladies have put together an awesome afternoon full of tumbling, silent auction bidding and a raffle with all proceeds going to Sully's Playground. Join us tomorrow from 3-6pm at JW Tumbles (330 W.22nd St. Norfolk) for a great afternoon! (You can check out the flyer and see a list of just a few of the many auction items at

"It looks like a circus!"

Look at this! See what brings an eager giddiness to my heart. I feel like a child, like Zane and June who clapped to see the colors of fun arrive to the prepared canvas.

I sat down to post these pictures and heard a knock at my door. I was surprised to see the gentle face of a stranger with a bag full of dinner delights. I learned that she is a mother who lost a dear one also. After she leaves I tear into the bread of her kindness and think on what one of her daughters said that morning. She saw the playground equipment being delivered and exclaimed, "Mommy, it looks like the circus!" She and her mom talked about how Sully was giving this playground to her and other children to enjoy. "Mommy, that is a very nice thing for him to do," she replied.

Yes, Sully, it is a very nice thing for you to do, a very nice thing for this community to lovingly create in your honor and memory. Yes, as a mother, I would rather have you whole and well for a lifetime and swing you on that old tire swing. But that is not what I have been given. I was given you with all your imperfections for a short time. But you proved that your heart really was big! Because of you, I have known such love and grace and care, such kindness from even strangers. You have shown me a side of life I may never have seen because I was too busy rushing into nothingness. Perhaps, in this beautiful space, I can always pause, take a deep breath, and remember what you brought to my life. I like that I will continue to hear your name said years after our story has faded. I imaging children and parents continuing to say "Sully's playground" just as your brother and sister do every time we drive by or walk up to look at the progress. Will it reach you in heaven, sweet boy? Will you hear all the mothers and fathers saying, "Let's meet at Sully's Playground." Will you hear all the happy children saying your name?