Saturday, September 10, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday, London!!

This past Monday, I was sitting at my desk at school during my planning period when this adorable little 3rd grader came walking into my room with a big tray of cupcakes.  She smiled and said, "Hey Mrs. Tomes, do you want a cupcake?  My birthday was yesterday!!  I'm already 9...I'm almost to double digits!!"  I smiled and told her Happy Birthday and that I couldn't believe she was already 9!!  I picked the cupcake with the most icing (because that's the best part) and gave her a hug as she left my room!  She walked out, I shut my door, and I began to weep. 

She was born exactly one week before London.  As I listened to her excitement for her 9th birthday, my heart ached as I imagined hearing London's voice with the same excitement.  I would love nothing more than to bring cupcakes to London's class for her listen to her Daddy tease her about getting too old, and to plan her birthday party.  Gosh, when I was 9, I had sleepovers and loved make-up and my mom's high heels.  I loved jumping on my Papaw's hay bales in the field and playing in my tree house and eating apples from the apple tree in the back yard.  Life was so good when I was 9! Oh, and I had a mullet when I was 9!  I promise London would NOT have a mullet if she were here! :)  Anyway, as these thoughts filled my mind, I just couldn't hold back the tears.

This is the 9th year that we have celebrated the life and death of our daughter.  It never gets easy.  With every year that passes, it's another 365 days that I miss.  I have lived nearly 3,300 days without my daughter, and it isn't easy.  There are always triggers in daily life that remind me that I have lost a child.  I see or hear things on a daily basis that tug at my heart & my emotions.  With time, I've learned to bite my lip on most occasions and move forward.  However, there are still times when the hurt is too deep and when "being strong" isn't enough.  There's times when kind, but oblivious, people will say, "You all need a girl with these boys!"  I usually spare them the embarrassment of me replying with, "We do have a girl, and she would be 9 right now.  She died when she was 2 days old because of a major heart defect.  Believe me, I would give my life to have my girl with me right now."  However, instead of that, I usually just reply with a silent nod and move on. 

Moving on... it sounds like that's just what we should do, right?  I mean, it's been 9 years already!  Get it together, Ashlee!  Sometimes I feel that way, too.  I feel like I should have this grief thing figured out and under control.  However, time & time again, I am harshly reminded that grief cannot be controlled or figured out.  It comes in waves...even 9 years later.  And sometimes those waves are strong enough to knock me down and keep me under, fighting for air.
This week is one of those weeks. The waves of grief are strong.  Memories are so fresh, and all of the "what ifs" flood my mind and my soul.  It's so easy to focus on what we didn't have...what we've never experienced or seen or heard from our daughter.  I would love to just hear her voice...just to hear her say "Mommy" or "I love you".  I would just love to feel her little body curl up in my lap just because she wants to.  I imagine that she would be a hot mess and super funny like her brothers.  What I would give to just witness her sarcasm and hear her laughter.'s so easy to focus on all of the things I have never and will never experience with my daughter.  However, it wouldn't be right of me to ignore all of the things that I did experience with her.  Let's be honest...I got to feel her little body inside of me for 9 months.  I learned in those 9 months that she was a night owl, that she loved music, and that she was a busy body! :)  I know that in those 9 months that she knew my voice and she heard my heartbeat every second. 
 I know that from the moment she came into this world at 3:02 PM on September 11, 2007, she knew nothing but unconditional love.  She was showered with so much love and kisses.  She heard her daddy sing to her and listened to us whisper sweet messages in her little bitty ears.

For two days, we couldn't have loved her more.  Although my heart will ache for an entire lifetime, I would never ever trade those two days with London.  I would experience these 3,300 days of grief all over again just to hear her cry, rub her cheeks, and kiss her little head.  Nothing in this life could ever take the place of the memories I have of London. 
So, today, we will celebrate her life and praise the One who gave her to us...trusting and believing that His plan is perfect.  Lord knows it's not the way I would have it, but I have learned to be able to say "it is well with my soul".  We will go to her precious grave and send 9 balloons to heaven.  We will put pink roses on her grave and pray as a family.  We will thank God for her and find strength in His promises. 

I always imagine the moment when I get to heaven and see Jesus face-to-face, I think London will be the first person I see.  I imagine us running full speed to each other and holding her in my arms and twirling around and around and around as we rejoice!!  And the best part of that is that I will never ever have to let her go again!
<3 p="">
 Happy 9th Birthday, sweet girl!!  You are so loved!! <3 p=""> 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

8 years...and it still hurts

I really thought that after eight years, I would be able to handle this week better than before.  I really thought that I wouldn't need to take a personal day at work; that I could buy balloons and flowers for her grave without tears, and that I would be able to take a deep breath and move forward.  I am surrendering to the fact that it's just not going to happen that way.  It has been eight years, and I find myself broken.  My scars that have healed are aching as if they were brand new.   

It may seem strange, but although London isn't here with me, she still grows older in my mind.  Each year, I can't help but imagine what she would look like, what she would sound like.  I imagine if she would look like me when I was a little girl.  I imagine what her personality would be like.  Each year, she is older to me...she changes.  It's very surreal to think that she would be turning 8 on Friday.  Eight just seems so big to me.  She would be in 2nd grade.  She would be girly and prissy...and probably rotten like her brothers. :) 

I wonder if she'd want to have a spa birthday or a sleepover.  Her daddy would shake his head at a house full of giggly girls, I'm sure.  Maybe she would want an American Girl doll.  I don't know...I'm not in the loop with all of the girly things. 

Life continues to move on, and with every stage, London is missing.  I know this wave of grief will pass as another anniversary passes.  God is always faithful.  He has restored my heart beyond what I could have ever imagined.  Although I hate grief and the brokenness that it brings, I can't help but be thankful for it.  Grief reminds me of my love for my daughter.  It reminds me of the relationship that I long for and the bond that I know we would have.  Would I really want to be "okay" on my daughter's 8th birthday in heaven?  Would I really want to just treat it as another day and move right along?  Of course not. 

As each year passes, London grows & changes in my mind.  I relate to her differently in the things I wish for and long for.  However, I know that in time, my faith will be sight, and we truly will relish in the relationship and the precious bond that was cut far too short in this lifetime.  Heaven seems so far away right now.  My heart hurts and the tears are flooding my eyes.  Memories are vivid and my feelings are so raw.  I miss her.  I long for her: to touch her, hear her, smell her, to have loud belly laughs with her, to wipe her tears, brush her hair, buy her clothes, take cupcakes to school, plan her party, say bedtime prayers, hold her hand, twirl & dance with her, play dolls and have tea parties and watch her snuggle in her daddy's lap.  I wish her brothers knew her.  I wish I knew her. 

My heart just hurts right now.  However, even the worst pain that my heart has ever endured could never come close to the joy and love and blessings that flooded my soul the moment I saw her sweet face and held her in my arms.  No matter how hard it may be, I am blessed that the Lord chose me to be London's mommy.  Happy 8th Birthday in heaven, precious girl!!  We love you so much!!  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Overcoming the Hardships

Approximately two weeks ago, I was contacted by Cameron Von St. James regarding his own family's struggles with diagnosis, illness and caregiving.  I was honored to know that Cameron related to my story.  Cameron offered to write this wonderful, heartfelt post in hopes that it will help others.  You may read more about Cameron & his wife, Heather, at  Thank you, Cameron! :)
Overcoming the Hardships of Dealing With Cancer Within the Family

My wife and I went through a very difficult time when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She once related to me that she couldn’t even begin to imagine what my experience was like as her caregiver. Although I only spoke to her about it once, I would like to share more with those who are currently battling through cancer, in the hopes that they might find strength through our story.

Our first and only child was born three months before my wife was diagnosed with the disease. It was a drastic leap from the joy and promise of our daughter’s birth to the uncertainty and fear of my wife’s newly discovered cancer. I remember when we were first told the news by the doctors. Watching my wife crying, I felt hopeless.

I was angry about the injustice of it all. Or maybe it was fear, which grew out of control over the following days and turned into anger. Either way, I had a hard time controlling it at first. Eventually I realized that I had to gather whatever strength I had in order to be there for both my wife and my daughter. I began to understand that as scared as I was, I had to be there for my wife, and the last thing she needed was to see my fear. I knew that in order for my wife to be optimistic, I had to be optimistic. This was not easy, but from that point forward I did my very best to be nothing but a stable source of hope and strength for my family.

In addition to being overwhelmed emotionally, I was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of things I had to do in the days and weeks following the diagnosis. I had to make arrangements for travel and work as well as care for our daughter and our pets. Of course, I also had to care for Heather and arrange doctors appointments and medical care, the list just seemed to go on and on. I learned how to prioritize my tasks by order of importance. I received offers of help from friends and family, and I quickly learned that I needed to accept their generous acts of kindness if I wanted to keep my sanity. I can’t imagine getting through it all without their help, and I will be forever grateful to each and every person who reached out to us in our time of need.

My wife mentioned to me that there was a time in particular where she wondered how I was managing to cope: the period of two months after her mesothelioma surgery in Boston. My daughter was staying with Heather’s parents in South Dakota at the time, and after my wife’s surgery she flew out to meet her.  She would remain there for the next two months while she recovered from her operation and prepared for the next phase of her treatment. I had to remain behind to work and take care of our home, which meant I was only able to see my wife and daughter once during this time. That one time was when I drove 11 hours after work through a snowstorm in order to see them. I spent a day and a half with them before driving 11 hours back on Sunday to make it back to work the next day.  It was an exhausting visit, which consisted of more time in the car than with my family, but the few precious hours I got to spend with them were worth every second of grueling travel.

As hard as it was for me to be without both my wife and daughter, I knew it was the best option for us. I wasn’t able to work and take care of my wife and daughter at the same time. Even though it was a difficult choice to make, I took comfort in the fact that I even had a choice.

Six years later, my wife is still here and still healthy. I learned how to accept the help of others and I gained strength in the knowledge that even under extreme challenge, I still had choices that I could make. I hope that any families that are currently dealing with a similar situation can use our story as a source of inspiration.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where I've been...

I feel so guilty that it's been 4 months since I've posted. I'll be honest, I used to post when I needed to vent...when I was having a "moment". I also used to post when I was sharing my boys and all of the funny and cute things that they do! I guess the reason I have neglected this blog is kind of a good thing, really.

First of all, my "moments" are rare these days, so my need to vent is also pretty rare, too. Praise God! Now, let me also say that last Wednesday, I bawled like a baby for hours because I had a "moment" that lasted the entire afternoon, pretty much! That hasn't happened for a very long time, but it just came - sort of like cousin Eddie on Christmas Vacation! Totally uninvited, very inconvenient, and stayed way too long!! :)

At the same time, although those moments suck (to be honest), they also bring me back to London. They make me remember vividly again. When I go "there" again, I remember how she felt in my arms. I remember tucking the soft, fuzzy side of the blanket under her little feet to keep them warm. I remember tracing her silky soft skin with my fingers...rubbing her little forehead and her hair. I remember putting my nose to hers and closing my eyes while I felt her little breath on my lips. I remember her sweet smell. I hear her cry and her grunts. I remember my precious baby girl. So...although those emotions are far too painful to "like", there is something cathartic and cleansing about going there again.

Back to why I've neglected the blog. As I posted before, last year was a year of a new adventure for me and my family. I started London's Bridge Photography - in honor of London. My new business has become my outlet for my grief, and quite honestly, it has kept me so busy that I rarely have time to do much of anything else. I have been so blessed to see how London's Bridge Photography has grown just since March (when I took the plunge and put myself out there). I have been able to feel "fulfilled" through my business by honoring London, sharing her story more often, and also by giving back to charity with every session. I donate 15% of profits to the charity that my client chooses. I know that every person has something close to their heart, so when they get to choose where their donation goes, it makes them feel good, too! It allows them to give back in honor or memory of someone and feel like they've truly "Smiled for a Cause". So, my point is that doing good through London's Bridge Photography has allowed me to progress in my grief. In a sense, I know that I'm honoring London and making something GOOD come out of my sadness and my loss. And again, I NEVER want London to be forgotten, so knowing her name is on my logo, and that her name is being shared with others...well, it just makes me happy!
As far as sharing pictures of my boys...I pretty much use London's Bridge Photography for that, too. Whenever I want to tell about something cute or funny they've done, I usually share the pictures on facebook on my London's Bridge Photography page.

Anyway, I'm sorry for my neglect. At the same time, I am thankful that I feel peace in my heart again. I'm thankful that my tears are few and far between these days. I'm just thankful! And...I'm thankful for you who do read this blog and appreciate my story. I know so many of you have your own hurt and your own story to share. I pray that God will give you peace and comfort. Whether you believe it now or not (I remember when I didn't believe it), "Weeping may endure for the night, but JOY comes in the morning." ~Psalm 30:5

Never lose hope!!

Ashlee :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Happy 4th Birthday, London!!

Four years ago 3:02 pm to be exact...I held my sweet baby girl for the first time. I will never forget the jubilation, the peace, the relief and pure happiness and joy that I felt that day. It's very hard to imagine that London would not be a baby or even a toddler or even a "little" girl if she were here with us. She would be 4...she would be big! She would be independent and full of personality. Oh how I wish I could hold her and love on her and laugh with her and celebrate with her today. We love you, London. Happy birthday in heaven, my sweet "big" girl!!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

I forget how tough...

For the past week or so, I have felt like a pressure cooker. I've been tense, my anxiety has bothered me - more than usual. I have had bad dreams. I have had bad thoughts...thoughts that I would rather forget because they take me back "there". I have been sad and blue and have found myself overflowing with emotions and tears lately. I am just sad. I miss London so terribly. Not that I don't miss her terribly all the time...but, most of the time I can deal with it. Most of the time, I can shake it off and move on and go about my business with a smile on my face. Lately, it's just hard.

It's September 5, and all I can think about it that London would be 4 this coming Sunday. Four? I just can't believe it. You would think that as each year passes, it would get easier to endure her birthday. However, I'm struggling just as bad this year as I did her first birthday. There's just something about her birthday that puts my loss into perspective. It reminds me of what I'm missing. It makes me wonder what she would look like, what her voice would sound like, what kind of birthday party she would want.

When I was pregnant with London, I often wondered how I would manage her birthday and Jagger's birthday being so close ( Jagger's is the 7th). Would we have one big party? Would we party for a week straight doing his party and her party and school parties and family parties?! I've been thinking about that as we've prepared for Jagger's 6th birthday. His birthday is always so bittersweet to me. I know that may sound bad, but I'm just being honest. I try my best to focus on him and enjoy the moment, but I still think about how London is just 4 days behind him...and there is no party for her. There is no celebration. I know I heaven she's celebrating. I know that, and I am so thankful to know that. But...moments like this are hard - regardless of the peace of mind that heaven gives me. I want her HERE...NOW!!

Why is it that the anticipation of something is often worse than the day itself? Tonight as I put Jack to sleep in his room (London's room), I found myself tearing up...again...when I looked at the spot where I fell to my knees and begged and pleaded with God to heal perform a miracle on her little heart. It was just days before she was born, and I was so scared and so excited to meet her, but so hopeful, yet nervous and anxious. I felt everything all at once...but I just wanted her to be okay. Rarely do I ever think about that when I put Jack to bed...but I did tonight.

Tonight, Jack was throwing a fit. He was grumpy and clingy and screaming about everything...just one of those nights...and I just couldn't handle it since I was just emotional anyway. I went out and sat in my car and listened to Third Day and just bawled my eyes out...out loud...and talked to London and prayed to God. I tasted my tears for the first time in a long time. I let them fall without wiping them. I grieved without reservation, and it felt good.

Why would I think about London's little body being in her casket? I did tonight. Why would I beat myself up over leaving her hospital room the few times that I did...not knowing at the time that those were moments I would never get back. I thought of that tonight. I thought of the words I spoke to her in her little ear as the nurses wheeled her into the operating room...the last words I said to her. I thought of the feeling I had when Jonathan, Jagger and I - and our whole family - had to solemnly walk out of Cincinnati Children's Hospital without London. I thought of how I felt when people who hadn't seen me in a while would ask how my baby was doing. I thought about her clothes and shoes and blankets and furniture...still nestled in my parents' basement.

Jagger said yesterday that he wishes he was alive when I was a kid. I didn't really follow him at first. He tends to get really imaginative :) When I asked him why, he said because if he were alive when I was a kid, then he would have gotten to see baby London. Well, regardless of whether his thought makes a lot of sense or not, I know that he just wishes he could have met his baby sister. That's all. And I grieve that. I wish he would have met her and held her and kissed her and talked to her. I just shake my head in complete sadness at that reality. We just didn't know at the time. If only we would have known. Well, if we would have known, then a lot of things would have been different.

I really do promise - as I've said so many times before - that I am doing so well. God had been so good to me. I'm in a valley right now, but I have faith that it's not a deep valley...and it will not last long. I remember a time - a very long duration of time - when I just didn't know if I would ever smile again. I didn't have joy, happiness, laughter, and peace. I doubted my future and God's plans for me. I felt robbed and bitter and betrayed. But God...that's a big statement because it's what saved me. But God...He was there and gave me hope and peace and comfort. He slowly but surely restored my hope and my faith and my trust in Him. I began to smile again and laugh again. That doesn't mean that I don't have my moments - or that I won't have my moments for as long as I live. But it does mean that God has renewed my spirit in a way that I never thought was possible.

I love the Footprints in the Sand poem because it explains exactly how I felt when London died. Now, with hind sight, I realize that when I felt so alone and abandoned by God, it was He who was carrying me and loving me and comforting me. He never left me.

I know this wave of emotions will pass. I will get through this birthday and "angel day" season once again. London was only in my arms for 2 days, but she and I were "one" for 9 months. I knew her habits, her schedule (wild in the middle of the night). I knew how much she loved to hear her Poppy play the piano. I know she knew my voice and she knew I loved her. I know she loved her daddy's songs as he sang them softly in her ear. She knew love. That's all we could ask for. London will be in my heart forever, and I will live my life honoring her and the ONE who gave her to us.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thankful & Blessed

As an elementary teacher, I absolutely love my summer breaks! I love watching TV in my bed head, drinking my coffee, getting on the computer. I love spending time with my two wild and wonderful boys. Well, the fighting, screaming, biting (Jack's latest), and crying does get a little old, but I wouldn't trade the time off with them for anything. With Jonathan and me both being teachers (at the same school, I might add), we get to have a lot of family time in the summer, so I am thankful for that.

Having said that, we just have 2 more days of freedom until another school year begins. I am always reluctant to begin and a little bitter to give up my summer freedom! But...I have to admit that I love my job as an elementary special education teacher. And I also must admit that we - as a family - do better with a routine! We go and blow and spend too much money when we're off! The boys will go into shock to have a bedtime again!

This year will be a bit different. Jagger will be in kindergarten!! Our baby is going to school! He went to the kindergarten open house and kindergarten "kick-off" and loved it! He was actually so annoyed by camera in his face, my licking my finger to wipe the breakfast off his know, all the typical mom stuff! He is ready, and he's excited, so I guess I am, too :) In fact, although it's hard to let my baby go into the independent phase of his life, the bigger picture reveals the many blessings in this phase! I realize that I am richly blessed that my son is here, that he is healthy and happy and independent, and that I can witness this moment. I can watch him spike his hair with entirely too much gel because it's "cool like that". I can allow him some freedom to dress himself and feel like a big kid. I can watch him walk into school with his monogrammed back pack and Lightning McQueen lunch box. I can enjoy his big cheesy grin that's missing 3 teeth already!!

As I type this and think about the sweet blessings of this moment in time, I am just overwhelmed with God's goodness and His grace. I tell you...I never thought that I would get to this point. I never dreamed that I would truly smile again, laugh again, have joy in my heart again after London died. I never thought that I could bask in happy moments without dwelling on London "not being there". I am so thankful to be able to say that - after nearly four years - I really do feel happy. I really do have joy. I really do have a belly laugh again that is contagious! There is finally joy in my heart again and a real smile on my face!

Well, let me say this moment as I type and speak these words to myself, I actually have tears rolling down my face! I feel overwhelmed with thankfulness and joy. Of course, I am sad that my sweet baby girl is not here. Well, she wouldn't be a baby...she would be a little diva who is expecting her fourth birthday! I am sad that she is not bouncing around with her blond hair and big blue eyes - laughing, talking, bothering her brothers or loving on them! The truth is that my heart will ALWAYS ache for her. The void in my heart - the hole in my heart - may be "patched" as life goes on, but it will never truly heal until I hold her in heaven some day. Then, I will be complete.

But, for this life, I am finally doing well. That doesn't mean that I don't have my moments...sort of like today...I was filling out Jagger's kindergarten paperwork, and one of the papers asked about our family and wanted to know how many children are in our family. I hesitated to put "2" on the paper because I felt guilty for leaving London out. But...I did. I realize that life goes on, and I have to embrace life as it is. It is life with 2 boys. Life with lots of dirt and swords and dump trucks and wrestling and lots of blue. It is life with balls and bats and frogs and worms and mismatched t-shirts and shorts. And, you know what? I love my life. I love my boys. I love everything that comes with the territory.

I do wish that we had a pretty princess room in our home filled with pink and purple and bows and dresses and baby dolls. But - I'm finally "okay" that there is no pink in our home. It took me a long time to get here emotionally. And, let me say, it does still put my stomach in knots to talk about it, but I'm okay. I can handle it.

I always meditated on these two verses, and I still love them. The first is "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning." ~Psalm 30:5

The other is "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." ~Jeremiah 29:11

I am a living testimony that God keeps His promises! Trust in Him - in the good and the bad - and your weeping will turn to joy! Never lose hope!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bored boys :)

Jagger & Jack made an attempt to entertain the strangers next to us at our cousin's graduation.

I promise he was being quiet or I would have snatched him up!!

Happy boy!! And very rotten, I might add!

Another happy boy :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

The wounds may heal, but the scars never go away.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Angel Addison

Have you ever felt like God was playing tricks on you? Do you ever feel that he's dangling a carrot in front of you, only to pull it away just as you think you can grab it? When outlooks are grim, we hold on to any glimmer of hope, and it's so disappointing when our hope is shattered.

Yesterday: She's going to be fine. Miracles are happening. She's making progress. We have hope.

Today: She has emergency surgery. Her intestines are beyond repair. There is nothing more that can be done. The family watches as they "keep her comfortable". She's gone.

I've been there when you just want to know "why". I've been there when everything looked like it was going to be "fine", only for the worst and most unexpected thing to happen. I've been there in the dark moments of loss, the shock, the emotional pain that makes you want to just die.

Today, my heart is so heavy for the Blair family today as they say good-bye to their precious 3-year-old daughter, Addison Jo. Since December, Addison has fought for her life against a rare cancer called neuroblastoma. Through her struggles and her story, Addison has touched thousands of people in our community, across the nation, and even in other countries. I am blessed to say that I have known Addison's family my whole life, and work with two of her aunts and one of her uncles. She is truly a hero in so many ways.

I ache for Addison's family - for her sweet, loving, and God-fearing parents; for her baby brother who will only know his big sister through stories and pictures; to both sets of loving grandparents who will grieve for themselves and for their children; for her aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends who were beyond blessed to know her, to love her, and to be loved by her. And for those people who were praying for her daily and supporting her in immeasurable ways. I am just sad.

Regardless of the pain, there is no doubt that God has used Addison in mighty ways, and I trust that He will continue to use Addison's family and her story in mighty ways.

When I get to heaven, I will be sure to ask God why he takes children. I want to know. Until then, I will find comfort in the fact that Addison, London, and all the other precious children who have gone before us, are running and playing and laughing and singing at Jesus' feet. I will trust that one day those questions will be answered, and that we will all hold our children again - with no cancer, no heart defects, no accidents or colds...just perfection and joy and bliss for an eternity.

For that - and even for that alone - I will praise the One who gave us our children in the first place. I will praise the One who shared our sweet angels with us - if only for a little while.

Visit Addison's Caring Bridge page at