Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bah, Humbug!

I started my day today with a “doom and gloom” attitude.

I woke up on the living room floor in a house that is 98% empty. The last time I slept on the floor was when we found out about Charlotte’s broken little heart --lying there now I can almost feel the same fear that I felt back then.

I looked out the window and there was such a heavy fog that I could barely see past the end of our porch. GLOOMY.

I walked into work, angry about the very fine mist that was falling from a sky full of gray clouds. Anyone who knows me can vouch to the fact that my hair + any amount of moisture/humidity =

Today is the 31st, and like I have said before, this is always a BLAH day. I’m sad most every day, but the 31st makes my heart ache more than usual. That annoying little box on my calendar marked August 31, 2011, just serves as a painful reminder that it’s been another month since I have snuggled my Bear. Three months down and a lifetime of 31st to go.

So let’s see…

1) Floor sleeping

2) Gloomy fog

3) Roseanne Roseannadanna-esque hair

4) Missing my little lady

What else could we throw into the mix?



Tonight will be the last night that Matt, Maybe, Stella and I spend at 908 North Danielle Drive. The closets and cupboards are empty, the furniture is all packed up and ready for a move across town to our new/temporary rental house. I knew it would be hard, but I think that I underestimated my emotional attachment to this place.

Deep breath….It’s just a house. It’s just a house. It’s just a house.

Someday we’ll have a home again.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Over the past 3 or 4 weeks I’ve been amazed at the number of times I’ve had people say to me...

“You look tired today.”

Ha! On one hand it makes me laugh while the other part of me gets a little riled up.

I look tired?


Maybe it’s because I AM tired.

I’m tired of sleeping like crap.

I’m tired of waking up each morning to look at myself in the mirror and realize that I don’t only FEEL tired, but I LOOK tired as well.

I’m tired of packing up our house, our things, Charlotte’s things.

I’m tired of crying.

I’m tired of replying “I’m ok” when people ask how I’m doing. I know that they care, but I also know that most aren’t prepared to hear how I really feel.

I’m tired of wondering “why.” Even though I know that only God knows the answer to that question, it still nags at me almost every single day.

I’m tired of going back and forth with the engraver trying to design the perfect headstone for a one year old angel.

I’m tired of this nightmare and even though it’s been almost three months, I still hope that I wake up one morning to find that my baby is sleeping safely in her crib.

I’m tired of being told how strong I am. I don’t want to be strong, but what other choice do I have?

I’m tired because so much of my energy goes into pretending that things are getting “better.”

I’m tired of being tired.

So each and every day, as tired as I may be, I try to take steps forward. They aren’t always big steps and sometimes they even end up being steps backward, but they are steps none-the-less. I know that I can’t just lie down and give up. I know that I have to keep moving. I know that I have no choice other than to put every ounce of my faith in God and His plan for my family.

I may look tired. I may BE tired. But I’m here…and for now, I think that’s enough.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Drumroll Please!

For weeks I had been driving around Sioux Falls with a little over 100 books neatly boxed in the back of my car. It seemed like A LOT of books, and I couldn’t even fathom what TEN TIMES that many would look like! Lucky for me, I got to see first-hand this past Thursday morning when we made our first official ‘Books for Charley’ drop-off at Omaha Children’s Hospital.

I headed back to Omaha bright and early on Thursday morning. I thought I would have to drag myself out of bed when my alarm sounded at 5 AM, but my excitement for the day’s activities made it easier than I imagined. The three hour drive passed quickly and was filled with conversations with my Bear.  I talked to Charlotte a lot and told her about what was going to happen later that morning.  I told her it was just the first of MANY things that we are planning to do in her name and that her story was going to make a difference. As if she was responding back to me, just as I was pulling into town a string of “Charlotte songs” came on my iPod…all back-to-back…just a little reminder that she was along for the ride!

Tara, her adorable little girls and I headed to the hospital where we met my mom, my sister Jill, sister Lindsey and her kids and my mother-in-law, Mary. I was a huge mess of emotions as I pulled up to that building. I had been so excited for this very moment but was equally terrified at the same time. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I wondered how I was going to hold it together and walk through those doors. Life is bittersweet. I hated that we were making this donation in MEMORY of my baby girl…but at the same time I felt honored to know that so many people rallied behind us and helped make this tribute an amazing one. And an AMAZING one it was.

Are you ready for this?!?!?

Thursday morning we donated ONE THOUSAND THIRTY NINE books to Children’s Hospital (I think that spelling the number out makes it seem even more impressive!) Can you believe it!?  ONE THOUSAND THIRTY NINE BOOKS!!!!  The 100 books in the back of my car were totally dwarfed in comparison to the 900 occupying the back of Tara’s van.

Here’s a picture of us unloading the last few boxes…

And another of the boxes loaded onto a double-decker cart…the bottom bin was stacked two high!

I mean, really….HOW INCREDIBLE IS THAT!? I wanted to open up all of the boxes and spread the books all over the floor for everyone to see, but I’m guessing that the people who actually needed to walk in the lobby wouldn’t have appreciated that!

Here is a picture of Tara, the kiddos, my mom and myself with our 'Books for Charley' donation...ignore my squinty eyes...I'm pretty sure that they were a little swollen from tears!

And another of my cousin Tara and I...  P.S....Tara is a pretty incredible!!

While at the hospital I also got to see some of my FAVORITE familiar faces.  First up was one of Charlotte's heart buddies, Talia and her mom.  It was a very special day for Talia as she was celebrating being SURGERY-FREE for a whole year!  WOOHOO!!  I also got to see my favorite ladies from the cath lab and a few VERY special nurses.  They spent A LOT of time with our little girl and always took the very best care of her.  Thank you ladies for not only taking care of Charlotte, but also for taking care of ME! You could always make me smile when I thought smiles were impossible to come by and I love you all to pieces.

All in all it was a good day...a hard day, but definitely a good one.  The hospital was SO appreciative of the donation and I think that they got a pretty good idea of the amount of love that surrounded Charlotte during her short time here on Earth.  

Many of you have sent messages letting us know that you still have books that you would like to donate.  Please know that its NEVER too late to get them to us (though I might have you send them to me so that Tara can have her dining room back for awhile!)  Sometime in the next few weeks I will be taking another load of books (yes, we still have LOTS more) to Charlotte's cardiologist's office here in Sioux Falls and will continue to make donations as long as books are rolling in. 

Thank you all for your support of 'Books for Charley.' Keep an eye out for this event to resurface next Spring as we continue to celebrate Charlotte.
You heard me right...We're doing it again! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Books Books and MORE Books!

Well, the BIG day is finally here!

Thursday morning at 11 Tara and I (and our special little helpers, Anna and Caylee) will be taking a MASSIVE load of books to Omaha Children's Hospital.  We'll be sure to get lots of pictures so that you can see just how many books have been donated up to this point.  We have gotten so many that we actually ran out of stickers and are going to have to make a second delivery once we get more.

While this is going to be a very special day and I am so so excited, I'm also somewhat anxious.  It will be hard going back to Children's without Charlotte.  I'm sure that every sound, smell and familiar face will test my strength and composure.  Please pray that God gives me strength and an angel on my shoulder tomorrow morning! 


Monday, August 15, 2011

Every Heart Has a Story {2}

Many of you “long-time” readers may remember last year when I took part in my FAVORITE blog event Every Heart Has a Story, coordinated by my friend and fellow heart mom Stef. Last year I had the opportunity to share Charlotte’s story and in the process become acquainted with other families finding their way through this crazy heart world. Any heart parent will tell you that community is of vital importance to our sanity. We learn so much from each other’s experiences and develop very unique and special friendships along the way. While I have never met most of them, I call my fellow heart moms friends. Together we laugh, cry, celebrate, mourn and help each other in any way possible.  Check out the stories of these amazing families by clicking on the link below.

Every Heart Has a Story

Last August marked the very first Every Heart Has a Story blogging event. At that point our Charlotte was just over 3 months old and thriving. She spent her days smiling, cooing and loving the second chance at life that she had been given. By looking at her, you would never guess the challenges that she had met and overcome in the preceding months. Only the perfect line down her chest, already fading with time, gave insight into the story that her little heart had to tell.

On January 18, 2010 Matt and I anxiously awaited the answer to the ever-so-important question “Is it a boy or a girl??” It didn’t even cross my mind that we would get news that day other than “Congrats…it’s a healthy baby ____!” Oh sweet, na├»ve little Kristen. As we sat there staring in awe at the grainy black and white image that was our baby, I didn’t pick up on anything concerning. This was my 1st baby, my first ultrasound, and I knew no different. I didn’t know that it was abnormal for an ultrasound to take that long. I didn’t know it was abnormal for the doctor to come in to “take another look.” I didn’t know that our excitement over a baby girl would soon turn into something so heart-breaking, terrifying and life-changing.

The next pieces of the story are a blur. I retained little pieces of information…
“We can’t see a good view of her heart.”
“You have an appointment with pediatric cardiology tomorrow.”
“Termination is an option…You didn’t sign up for this.”
“Pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum…Hypoplastic right ventricle.”
“Surgery required within days after birth followed by more, which still won’t make her heart normal.”
What the heck was going on?! We cried…no…we sobbed. We became hermits in our own home, not wanting to talk to or see anyone. We relied on each other more than we had ever had to before. We made a pact to be strong—strong for our little girl.

Charlotte Delene Ritchie made a surprise arrival into this world on May, 14, 2010, three weeks earlier than expected. She was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Yes, her heart was as crazy as predicted, but she was here and ready to fight. Our little Charlotte had a BT-shunt placed and a tedious RV fistula ligation preformed at one week old, followed by decompression of her RV outflow tract 1 week later. She was a TOTAL rockstar and came home for the first time on June 10 after a 4 week stay at Omaha Children’s Hospital. 

We enjoyed life at home until Charlotte was eight months old, when we returned for a heart cath, followed by surgery to place an RV to PA conduit and a brand new tricuspid valve. All hopes were that one day Charlotte’s RV would grow, giving her a chance at a whole heart.

Charlotte did very well after her last surgery in January.  We had some ups and downs courtesy of RSV and eating struggles, but for the most part she was thriving.  Follow-up echoes looked great, and other than some mysterious hemoglobin instabilities and all was good.  We celebrated Charlotte’s 1st birthday with a “Cute as a Button” party and spoiled here like crazy.  A first birthday (or any other day for that matter) for a heart warrior is nothing to be taken for granted!  She was such a happy 1 year old...always smiling, laughing and melting our hearts with her gigantic eyes. 

Here is where things get sticky...the part that I never imagined myself having to write.  On Memorial day this year we had an incredible day.  Matt and I each had some special Charlotte time and were enjoying a normalcy that we had craved for so long.  The next day, Tuesday May 31, we headed to the hospital for an outpatient lung scan to try rule-out some pulmonary causes for Charlotte's elevated hemoglobin.  It was a perfectly normal morning, and what was supposed to be an in and out procedure.  Never in a million years did we imagine that we would leave the hospital without her that day.  Her scan went well and we were heading for the car when I had that gut "something isn't right" feeling.  We rushed her back to the nuclear medicine department where the scan took place and anxiously sat by while they did everything they could for our little girl.  Our precious Charlotte Delene earned her wings and went to be with Jesus that morning. 

There is only one word that can even come close to describing the pain that we have experienced that day...a word that I have read on so many other angel momma's blogs...."RAW."  Its a pain you could never describe to someone who hasn't been there.  It tears at every fiber of your being and can drop you to your knees.  It can make you feel like the air is being sucked out of your lungs, leaving you to crumble.  Each and every day I wake up to a world that isn't "right," a world where my arms are empty and my heart is heavy.  I miss my little Charley Bear.  I want her here with me. 

Being a mommy to Charlotte was the best experience I have ever known.  She taught me how to love unrestrained and to give of myself whole heartedly.  She taught us strength and opened our eyes to the fragile nature of life.  NO ONE IS GUARANTEED TOMORROW...crazy heart or not.  I hope that by reading our story that people come to see what is truely important in life --to take a step back and really come to appreciate the gifts that you have been given, even if at times life feels chaotic or overwhelming.

It hasn't even been 3 months since Charlotte earner her wings.  Sometimes it feels like just yesterday, and other times I feel like life is standing still.  I find comfort knowing that my little lady is finally whole--he heart has been made strong and she knows happiness beyond anything that you or I could know here on Earth.  God trusted us, and only us, to take care of her during her short say, and I couldn't feel more blessed for that time with her.  While she may not be with us physically, I believe that God is keeping her close...I can feel her with me and hear her whispering that she is ok, begging me not to cry.

I love you Charley Bear!  Mommy is doing her best to keep your memory strong and your story alive in people's hearts.  This week we are taking a HUGE load of books to all of your friends at the hospital.  I can't wait to see the looks on their faces.  This is just the beginning baby girl!  Your heart has a story and it is very much alive in my heart.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Wow...what a weekend.

I laughed.
I cried.
I'm pretty sure I laughed until I cried.
Lots of up and down emotions this weekend.

Packing is fully under way at the Ritchie house.  As a matter of fact, our first HUGE load of things made its way into storage this weekend.  It was good, but it was hard.  Its a strange feeling to pack things up without knowing when they will be unpacked again.  Charlotte's nursery remains about 95% intact...I just can't bring myself to pack up her things.

In addition to packing and loading the U-Haul, yesterday marked 16 years since my Dad lost his long, hard battle with leukemia.  16 years.  Thats a hard number for me to wrap my brain around.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him and I miss him like crazy.  I saw that the Yankees beat the Rays yesterday 9-2.  I'm pretty sure that Charlotte got to go to her first major league baseball game with Dad to watch them win.  

So that brings us to today.  The house is quiet.  Matt went back to NE to help unload our things at his Aunt and Uncle's house.  Its just me here...wasting away a beautiful summer afternoon by sitting inside on the couch.  Its August 14th...and the 14th always sucks.  Its another month without celebrating.  Another month without a "birthday" picture.  Another month of me wondering what big accomplishments Charlotte would have made in the past 30 days.  Oh baby sweet, silly baby girl.

I have a whole list of memories that I want to share on the 14th of each month.  Today I'm going to cop out and pick the easiest one for the sake of my tired brain!

If Charlotte had an iPod...What Songs Would Be on Her Playlist?

1.  What I Am (Will.I.Am, Sesame Street)
2.  Elmo's Ducks (Elmo, Sesame Street)
3.  The Cave (Mumford and Sons)
4.  Modern Love (David Bowie)
5.  Forever (Chris Brown)
6.  The Hotdog Dance (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse)
7.  Anything by her favorite Omaha "Songstress"
8.  Sing (Travis)
9.  1, 2, 3, 4 (Feist, Sesame Street)
10. Outdoors (Jason Mraz, Sesame Street)

She loved music!  She would eat better when there was music involved (I fully admit that I resorted to Sesame Street videos on YouTube to get this child to eat) and she LOVED when the music would start for our after dinner dance parties!  Here she is jammin' out in the kitchen to a little Modern Love.  

To my little Dancing Queen...I love you with all my heart and I miss you more each and every day.  I have seen lots of butterflies everywhere I've gone today, so I know that you are near.  Happy 15 month birthday!  I hope that Jesus got you lots of balloons for your party in Heaven.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Little More Crazy

Hello all.  I just wanted to write a quick post to update on how things are going here.  To say that things have been crazy probably wouldn't do this time in our lives justice.  I can't quite explain "time" these days. On one hand I look at the calendar and wonder how it can possibly be August already.  On the other hand, I still have that dazed "time-standing-still" feeling a majority of the time.  Like I said in a previous post...I always thought it would be nice to have a little extra time in a day, but now that I have it, I have no clue what to do with it.

Summer here has been pretty quiet until recently.  During the week we work, Matt has tennis league and we both play sand volleyball.  Weekends typically consist of trips to Omaha (and we'll both admit that we are getting tired of 6 hours in the car every weekend.)   

This past weekend we went on a very quick trip to Indiana/Chicago to visit our friends/ex-neighbors the Lemons (actually its the Rickelmans but Rickelman quickly morphed into Rick Lemon which was then shortened to The Lemons.)  Anyway, they moved back that direction about a year ago and we were so excited to see them and their busy little boy James.  We were only there Friday-Sunday, but it was nice to get away from our "routine."  Saturday we spent the day in Chicago, enjoyed Matt's first Cubs game (they actually won!), ate some yummy deep dish pizza and went to the top of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.  It was a good trip, and a nice little break from routine. 

So.......awkward silence.......I've been trying to come up with a creative way to break this next piece of news, but my brain is too tired for creativity these days so I'll just come out and say it....

We sold our house.

We listed it back in mid-June and were told that the average time for houses in our price range to sell was 9-10 months.  Now here we are, not even 60 days later, packing up our belongings for an oh-so sudden closing date of September 1.  Holy cow.  

So, where do we go from here?  

We were lucky enough to find a nice little rental house on short notice.  When I say we were lucky, I mean that I'm pretty sure that God had our back on this deal.  Dogs kind of limit your rental options, and we managed to find a place that 1) allowed pets 2) had a fenced in yard 3) was available the exact day that we need it.  

I won't lie...its bittersweet.  This is Matt and my first home.  We watched it being built from the ground up.  We worked our butts off to get the outside as perfect as the inside.  We got engaged in the living room....the same room which I later told Matt that he was going to be a Daddy.  This is the only home that our Charlotte ever knew.  This is going to sound silly, but she LOVED this house (probably because she spent so much of her time on house arrest this past winter.)  When she was little (little-er I guess) we used to go back to Omaha to visit and she would just be "off"...not her normal, content self.  The minute we walked into our house...I kid you not...she would get the worlds biggest smile on her face.  She knew she was home.

Packing sucks.  I don't want to pack her things away.  I like her room as it is.  It makes me sick that we're taking it all down and have no reason to put it back up again.

Ok, I have to stop now.  I was doing good and now there are tears.

Please pray for us during this crazy, stressful, emotional time.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Crazy Me

Sometimes I question what I should and shouldn't post here.  This post has been brewing in my head since last Thursday as I've wondered what my personal limits will be for putting myself out there.  I'm learning things about the new Kristen that I don't necessarily like, and its hard for me to share those things.  But when I really stop to think about it I remember that this blog is my therapy.  Its a way for me to get out my blahs when I need to...A way for me to decompress.  So here goes nothin'.

Thursday July 21 was the infamous panic over a wasp experience.
One week later, Thursday July 28, was a totally different kind of panic.

As most of you know by now, I work in a building attached to the hospital where we lost Charlotte.  I park in a separate parking lot, enter each day through a different entrance and for the most part have been able to avoid the hospital with the exception of a few meetings in the pharmacy department.  Last week I found the courage within myself to cross the skywalk that connects my building to the hospital.  It was an innocent little walk to talk to another pharmacist...a walk that only required me to walk about 50 feet into the building that I dread so much.  

I got there.
We talked.
All was going well.
Then it happened.

As I was getting ready to head back to the comfort of my office, I heard a familiar sound over head that triggered a fight-or-flight response within myself that I wasn't prepared for...only I wasn't "fighting"like I'm so accustomed to....I was "flighting."  My simple adventure to the hospital was suddenly interrupted by an all too familiar noise overhead...the sound of a code blue.  

I felt every bit of air being sucked out of my lungs in a matter of seconds and literally wanted to drop to a ball on the floor, cover my ears with my hands and cry.  Every detail from May 31 was suddenly fresh in my mind.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to run.  I wanted to do absolutely anything except to be there in that moment.  I somehow got my body to move and did my best speed walk back across the skywalk and into my comfort zone.  Lucky for me I have an incredible co-worker who recognized the look on my face as one of pure terror.  He ran after me and walked me back to my office, making sure I was ok.

I wasn't ok.

I locked myself in my office and sobbed....and sobbed....and sobbed.

Then I left.  I drove home, changed into my pajamas and laid on the couch the rest of the day.  Its amazing how a huge wave of emotion like that can take it out of you...I was exhausted, both physically and mentally.

I went back to work the next day.  I parked in the separate lot and entered through the separate door.  I prayed for strength and knew that I would be okay.

It will be awhile before I get brave again.

I've never requested this before, but this time around I'm asking that no one leave comments to this post.  It was a hard day...I survived...and now I just need to work at putting it behind me.  I love you all!