Giving Hope to the Hopeless

“We never thought in a million years we would have a Chihuahua in our home, much less be hiking all over Colorado with one”

Not long ago we found ourselves looking through posts of animals who were in need of a home. It is really difficult and heartbreaking for us to see so many abused and helpless animals being mistreated and abandoned on a daily basis. We do what we can, but it continues and our resources are limited against the endless stream of animals in need.

One photo caught our eye, we reluctantly inquired, took a trip to our local county animal shelter and found ourselves falling in love with one of the most pitiful sights you could imagine. Scared, underweight and not daring to make eye contact with her empty, lifeless eyes, we picked her up and held her close, something she had never had before. Trembling nonstop and wondering what life had in store for her next, we spoke softly, gave her our body heat and tried desperately to instill in her that the life she had before was gone and one she had lost hope for would be her new reality.

Giving hope to the hopeless is no easy task, especially since the only life she has ever experienced and anticipated were days filled with pain – physically, mentally and spiritually. Sadly, she has known no other way of life. Rescue dogs can be quite challenging and emotionally difficult to deal with, forget the patience needed, there is a vacancy in their eyes that tells a story of the pain and fear they have embedded deep within them. But life for our little Mia would change, did change, is still changing. Each day is new and those negative experiences slip farther and farther in the past, being replaced with love, compassion and safety.

We never thought in a million years we would have a Chihuahua in our home, much less be hiking all over Colorado with one. Months have gone by, it is so amazing to see the transition she has made, though still sad to see the damage that was done and continues to haunt her. We wait, show her wonders and make life as positive as possible for her daily. Amazingly, we are beginning to see that she is full of love, loyalty and affection, she just needed a family to share it with.

Mia, the name she came with, given to her by the animal shelter, has indeed turned a corner. Though she still cowers when she hears loud noises, runs under the bed during storms and is basically attached to us every breathing moment, we see life in her eyes, joy in her little puppy heart and excitement for each new day. She loves hiking with us and runs to the door dancing when we grab our gear. The people we come across on the trail are always taken aback by a little Chihuahua backpacking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. She is a serious bed hog, though an incredible cuddler. When you meet her for the first time, don’t worry about her being a little “ruff” around the edges, before long you’ll have a new friend and possibly a wet nose.

Peace,

MAD

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To the World Their Baby Never Existed

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, Baby Loss, MAD Hippies Life, Miller Harrell, Debbie Harrell, to the world their baby never existed

“They left the hospital, never to mention their baby again. Their tears were shed in private, and they had to bear the burden of their grief and their pain silently. To the world their baby never existed.”

In October Debbie and I went to a Remembrance Walk for our daughter Shira Rose. We had no idea what we were walking into or the experience we would have…we can’t even begin to express our gratitude for the support and love we have felt since, and during, the Remembrance Walk. It wasn’t until this year that we had even begun to “allow” ourselves to discuss Shira and do something after 33 years in her honor. We began writing, started our blog and talking [perhaps for the first time] with each other about our hidden feelings that had been kept at bay, deep within us, for so many years.

We went to the Remembrance Walk unprepared to grieve, to feel and to somehow be those young parents we were so many years ago who had just lost their daughter. It was all so surreal. Cheryl Haggard, co-founder of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, gave a speech that day which hit a special place within us, we couldn’t help but think to ourselves, “thank G-d we came.” Seeing Shira’s name on signs along the route, hearing her name read aloud and releasing a balloon to the heavens was like coming home. Our daughter has a name, she is our daughter, she lives on and will always be a part of us.

Our experience and story was recently shared on the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Facebook page

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Co-founder, Cheryl Haggard met Shira Rose’s parents, Miller and Debbie Harrell after speaking at the NILMDTS Remembrance Walk on October 3rd, 2015. Miller walked up to her and in a hushed tone, voice breaking, he simply said, ‘It’s been 33 years for us…

She had asked the audience to look around them that day.

‘Most likely the person standing next to you experienced the death of their precious baby recently. Within the past 5 to 10 years. They probably left the hospital with a beautiful care package lovingly assembled by other bereaved parents. And hopefully a photograph. Whether that photograph was taken by a professional photographer, a nurse or taken by the family themselves, they were encouraged to, and knew it was ok to create those memories of their baby. They left the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart, but they left with something tangible to remember their baby by. Something to hold onto. They have been told about or ‘googled’ support groups and resources nearest to them. They have shared their baby’s story with family and friends and possibly even the world through social medial. They have found acceptance and support by a beautiful community of bereaved parent’s online and right here, today.’

She then asked the audience to look around them again, and this time to look closer…

‘You could be standing next to a mother or a father whose baby died 20 or more years ago. They might be hesitant in telling you about their baby, because they were told it wasn’t appropriate to mention their baby. If you ask them questions, they might share with you their story of how they were never allowed or discouraged to hold or even see their baby. How they were told it wasn’t worth naming their child, and told to move on…try to have ‘another’ one. Forget about this one. They left the hospital, never to mention their baby again. Their tears were shed in private, and they had to bear the burden of their grief and their pain silently. To the world their baby never existed.’

That is, until now.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep has given parents a safe place to share their baby. Share their story. And even share their photographs. Whether they were taken by themselves or taken by a professional. These parents have read our stories, and seen our photographs. Our babies have given their baby’s a face, and our stories have given these parents a voice. Some parents have given a name to their baby…and they are looking for ways to honor their baby’s memory.

Please share with us, especially, if you are a parent that has experienced a loss 20 or more years ago, your experience and how you think grieving and remembrance has changed between then and now. Was there a certain moment in time, when you decided enough was enough? How did you break the silence?”

Peace,

MAD

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I am the Father of a Stillborn

I am the Father of a stillborn. There are times when we are powerless in our situations and find ourselves losing it, falling deeper and deeper into an abyss where there is little light and the feeling of being alone is quite overwhelming.

I am the father of three beautiful daughters, one of which was born still when we were mere teenagers. It has taken me 33 years to allow myself to even remotely think about dealing with it. Anger, frustration and the emptiness of not being able to at least hold her has haunted me for years. I suppose people move on, but the pain never goes away.

I grew up in a broken home. With no male figure to show me the ropes, I learned what I could from what limited exposure I had to my grandfather. The rest came from reading the encyclopedia, disassembling electronic components to see what made them tick, reassembling [some] of those parts to make new inventions of my own and lastly hanging out at the local natural science museum where I would find a passion for not only nature itself, but the details of what makes the cosmos go round.

Thank G-d for the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, NASA and an early appreciation for music.

Never being much for crowds, I was somewhat of a loner. Not necessarily an outcast, but perhaps by choice. I just didn’t feel comfortable around a lot of people. I didn’t get them and felt they didn’t get me. Though perhaps in their defense, I didn’t get me. I had no “group” to fit into and for the most part dissociated with society in general.

I never put much faith in political, business and religious leaders, much less anyone else in an authoritative role. Not as to be rebellious, I just saw contradiction everywhere.

Trust in humanity was not there for me. I watched, from a distance, and was confused at how people treated each other. To me, the world seemed a cruel and unjust place. I sunk further into my personal self and focused on the natural world. Animals, weather and the universe at large made more sense to me than the typical household union.

I saw patterns in everything from seashells to the planetary orbits and became intrigued by the notion that there was much more to life than what meets the eye.

I spent most of my early childhood this way. Doubtful most people who knew me even remotely knew the personal hell I lived with daily. I learned not to ask questions simply because I never received an answer.

By the time high school came around, I was a complete wreck. I was just sick and tired of society and was becoming more angry all the time. Nothing, if anything, gave me solace. What, if any, real relationships I had with people just seemed awkward. Spending any time in nature, even if that meant climbing a tree in my yard, was good. Music became my outlet and as soon as I could get a pair of headphones on my head I could just close my eyes and slip into a world of musical mystery. I learned the songs and replayed them time and time again, picking out an instrument to listen to at times, and at other times I just focused on the meaning of the song.

Indeed, between the melodramatic sounds of certain bands and the depth of the lyrics that seemed to ask the same questions I had, I had found a place where I could be alone in my thoughts and feel comfortable.

What came next would rock my world to its very core. I felt cold most of the time, emotionally. But when I first laid eyes on my future wife my heart and mind fought an overwhelming battle of wills. I didn’t want a relationship. But little, if any, resistance could be conjured up within me. It was if I had no choice in the matter. Once we talked, I knew we would never part. She was, in a sense, the female me.

Years later I wrote her a letter and said, “You were hauntingly familiar to me when we met. The closer we became the more I felt the sensation that this was not the first time. You were exotic, cosmic and strange, though somehow familiar as your soul, my soul, our soul, was reunited.”

However, as we would both would soon find out, life is full of curve balls. There are times when we are powerless in our situations and find ourselves losing it, falling deeper and deeper into an abyss where there is little light and the feeling of being alone is quite overwhelming. For reasons beyond our control, my wife [then girlfriend] was sent to live with her father out of state. Not long after, she called me and told me she was pregnant.

We knew what we wanted to do, but, being powerless teenagers we were told different. She was kept out of state, and I was told to stay away. I was 16, immature, clueless as what to do, felt I had no rights and certainly without support. She was in similar fashion. Nights and days went by and the walls began to slowly cave in on us both. If that weren’t enough, long into the pregnancy I received a call from her…our baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. It was born still.

To me that was the last link I would have. Somehow I just thought to myself, our baby was the only link we could ever possibly have, and now she is gone. We are gone. I am gone.

There are wounds so deep that forgiveness could never come.

I don’t recall much after that. Time came and went. Days, weeks, months passed as I sought further to dull the pain. I had turned to drugs and allowed myself to sink deep into an awakened coma. Lifeless, angry, numb and without any determination to care if the next day ever arrived, I maintained a very self-destructive pattern. I just didn’t care.

Did I do things I’m not proud of? Unfortunately. Would I go back and change some things? Who wouldn’t. I was young, immature and out of my mind.

The abyss I had sunk into was bottomless, dark and empty.

Every fear and concern that I had growing up for humanity had expressed itself in the most horrific way. I had nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. The only person I had ever given my heart and mind to was taken from me and our child had died. To this day I am jealous of my wife, if for one simple reason, at the very least she was able to feel our baby move within her, something I would never have the pleasure to know or see. Damn humanity for that, and for treating my wife in such a way.

I’m not quite sure how it even happened, but in time she did return and we did, somehow, get back together. We were both an intense train wreck of emotions, trauma and full of anger, pain and emptiness. 33 years later we’re still working on it. The pain never goes away, the intense feelings are still there as if it were yesterday.

We named our baby girl Shira, which basically means [having a voice], something she was never given for the cruelty of man and their madness. To this day we have no reason for her passing. Being the father of a stillborn hurts, I mean it hurts bad. Being helpless is tough, being helpless as a teenage father is tougher. Being the father of a stillborn and watching your wife suffer emotionally is impossible…there are no words.

My wife and I have each other, we love deeply, have had two more daughters, have become grandparents and live out our lives as if there is no tomorrow. Some days are better than others, but the emptiness remains, it will always remain and our questions will never be answered.

I’ve been told talking about our daughter will help. Thus far it hasn’t, doubtful it will. That empty feeling will never go away, I am the father of a stillborn. It’s something I’ve learned to live with, and [slowly] talk about. One thing is for certain, we have given her a voice and her story, our story, will be heard.

I often wonder if she follows us around, walking the trails with us, holding our hands and lying next us at night.

Peace,

MAD

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Why We Are MAD – Our Keepsake Story

Miller and Debbie Harrell

This is our story, the story that made us MAD. It is very special to us, and we feel honored to have Project Keepsake share it, please read Why Are They MAD? A Keepsake Story.

Peace,

MAD

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Letter to My Best Friend [Wife]

Debbie asked me the other day why I think we’ve been married for over 30 years. As I did when we first met, I went speechless. I spent most of the next day thinking about it and composing a letter to her…

Debbie,

We’ve had some pretty cool conversations lately, with all that is going on and the life changes we’re evolving into, empty-nesters, reverting back to being teenagers and now grandparents! What a journey. But then you stumped me when you asked if I could explain how we’ve been together for 30ish years after being married so young, and all my mind could do was conjure up a whirlwind of memories. I sat speechless and helpless reeling for an explanation, the words did not come, only memories of what we were, what we are and what we want to become. All I could think of was for you to jump into my mind and see, experience and relive all those memories, but through my eyes…my perspective…and maybe then you’d understand. Alas, you’re not Spock so I will engage to find an answer that I hope will satisfy.

I’ll try to keep this “appropriate” though let’s be real, it’s what I feel, it’s who I am and it needs to be said. I see little difference in my feelings for you since day one, if there were a change it could only be positive growth in an evolutionary grasp of what love truly means to me and how you have helped me understand that over the years. Find a comfortable position, read on and please don’t laugh at my raw and unfiltered feelings.

I’ve often wondered if you felt what I feel, the sensation of electricity exploding across my body when you touch me. I want you to experience the journey through the cosmos you send me on when we’re intimate. I want you to feel the warm summer breeze that wraps around my heart when I catch you staring at me. When we were teenagers and would be apart, I would ache to be near you. When we were newlyweds, my body and soul were ablaze with an intensity of being able to have you all to myself. As young parents, I wanted to parade you all over town with pride. And now, as empty-nesters, I want you to know what you’ve done to me, what you mean to me and why I even bother getting out of bed every morning, that my life would be worth so much.

And yet I sat speechless in front of you, unable to answer a simple question, if that were true, and express to you how you’ve made our existence [our lives, our children, our relationship] on so many levels an eternal commitment that I never would have realized could be a reality. It’s truly unfathomable to me that I would be so lucky as to have someone in my life that is more precious than my own life, than life itself. How do I pour out my feelings to you and retain in some sense of clarity what only my heart, mind and soul have known all these years? Love is just a word, but my feelings for you are pure, erotic and primeval energy.

My vision of us being somewhat abstract, I keep it all hidden inside. Who would understand? Who wouldn’t laugh? And yet, it’s all so real to me. When we met two worlds collided and a whole new world was formed from the cosmic collision that now has expanded into a universe surrounding the light of our passion and all that we’ve created from the essence of our beings. You were hauntingly familiar to me when we met. The closer we became the more I felt the sensation that this was not the first time. You were exotic, cosmic and strange, though somehow familiar as your soul – my soul – our soul was reunited. I could bore the world with what an amazing person you are. I could go on and on about the friend, mother, wife…you are. I could go on and on about all that you do, seen and unseen. And still I would sit here, no words forming in my mouth, just flashes and floods of memories and the smile of an afternoon daydream on my face.

How exactly has 30ish years come and gone and we’re still two love struck teenagers deeply intertwined and living out the dreams we would speak of back in the day, before marriage, talking on the phone till the wee hours of the morning? I don’t honestly know. It just seems to me that it works. Each day has brought something new and we embraced it together. Even those days we didn’t see eye to eye, those days we’d love to forget, but they happened and here we still are. Seems to me we just grew together, experienced together, choose our lives to be together and never apart. While you might be technically categorized as my wife, you’ll always be my best friend, and who doesn’t want to be with their best friend 24-7?

I still get weak-kneed when you kiss me. My body still shudders when we are close. I can’t explain it. I love your body as much as your mind. Your heart and soul become more and more attractive each passing year. I still love watching you put on makeup, and still wonder why you cover up what is already beautiful. Your energy and compassion for others captivates me, and though I become jealous, I know you must, it’s who you are. I love the way you smell, without perfume. I love the way you look, without makeup. I love the way you think, unscripted, raw and unapologetic. I love that your adventures are my adventures. I love that your dreams are my dreams. I love that when we’re alone and the house is quiet I can still hear music. I love catching you looking at me. I love watching you perform menial tasks knowing you’ve always got my back. I love that you challenge me, and indeed asked me this question and making me contemplate all these things. As the Emerson, Lake and Palmer song says, “…still you turn me on.”

And yet, here I sit, with all my colourful words at a loss, stumped for a clear and concise answer. To my defense, I’ve never needed a reason, I’ve never sought a reason nor have I ever wanted a reason why, 30ish years later, we’re still here living out our lives together. You’ve taught me about love [and a plethora of other things]. And although my layers and walls might have me presumed as a very internal, quiet and stoic person, I am very much alive inside and ever so grateful for, not only the gift of life, but that I would be so blessed to spend it with you. Did I answer the question, I doubt it. One thing is for sure, I can’t imagine being anywhere else in life than with you and am looking forward to an additional 30ish years of raw and unfiltered adventures, experiences and life as we live it. 

Remember the poem I wrote a while back? It still stands…

When we speak without words…
When we embrace without touch…
When we get lost in the moment…When our souls ache to be near…
…I’d walk to the ends of the earth to find you