Unexpected Blessing

It was Thanksgiving 2018 and Danny and I were trading in the normal Heppes Thanksgiving for hockey holiday going to a tournament in Pittsburg where we would stay with some of our favorite friends. My family was trading in normal holiday in Haley court for a mountain retreat. As it turns out we spent Thanksgiving in Hopkins Hospital with Danny and I missed out on both. It was a holiday full of lost visions for what I had expected. Needless to say, my emotions were running high. So when my parents called on one of their check ins and to give us an update on the holiday – I was checking in a lot hoping to enjoy through their long distance updates- they shared another piece of news “we bought a house”. They were celebrating the holiday in a mountain vacation spot not too far from Charlottesville, an area they were exploring for retirement. Already I had mixed emotions – the loss of my childhood home and my parents being 2 hours away, but retirement seemed pretty far off so I had shoved the worries and sadness aside for future and just enjoyed now. In fact after a few bumpy years with my siblings, it was a blessing to be worry or drama free and just enjoy each other. And then somehow on this holiday things had changed … it was not what I envisioned.

First Thanksgiving in the New House November 2019

One of the hardest things was the idea of my future kiddos not being able to go to my childhood home. For both my parents I was very familiar with where the grew up – my mom’s parents still lived there through my adulthood and my dad’s were local enough I had spent time in the neighborhood. It felt very comfortable… an extension of home for me. Especially my mom’s family – we spent summer days at that neighborhood pool and winter nights in my grandparents basement dance floor. I loved it…. so many of my favorite most kiddo like memories are filled with being at these places with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents… I wanted that so badly for my own future family. And when you get beyond the structure … I wondered if my kids could be close to my parents. Would we still gather there enough as siblings and our families? I currently lived less than 7 minutes from my parents and would drop by often… now it would require planning and maybe even an overnight bag.  I was really sad and was thinking I had lost one of the biggest visions I had for my future.

Our First Night In Charlottesville and the Cousins Meet April 2020
Our First Night in Charlottesville April 2020

We found out we’re expecting in July 2019. It was a really exciting time and we planned both the coming up soon and the long term visions. All I can say is neither involved a global pandemic or a second transplant. None of them included Danny not being able to be a partner or a parent for a significant amount of time. Most of our parenthood experience and 2020 have been full to the brim of losses. But there were also some gained things and living at my parents home in Charlottesville from April though August and then again October through November were one of the pretty awesome ones.

First Smiles Coming Out in My Parent’s Living Room May 2020

After the two week quarantine required following our time in the hospital, Mom, Shannon and I returned to Charlottesville to await the next step in Danny’s transplant journey and to help care for us. The timeline got longer and longer and eventually when my maternity leave ended, it made sense for us to just stay. So much of that time I remember feeling it was all about logistics…. but deep down inside it was also about me being in a place I felt comfortable, safe and supported. And what happened was in this place that I was so afraid of because it would never feel like home, I experienced one of the most significant shifts in my life: becoming a mom and I did it alongside my family. Now this house is part of who I am and who Shannon is. I am trading “see where mom grew up? For “this is where you and mom stayed”. Suddenly a place I was worried would not mean something to my kids, was Shannon’s first true home.

The Crew Having a Picnic on UVA Grounds May 2020

The milestones (Shannon laughing and being vocal, or my learning to bath her on my own), the lessons (balancing work and being a mom, how to set up a schedule and when to live by routine), and the comfort (going through a transplant by phone was horrific, but doing it with my family was important and probably the only way I could do it and postpartum life simultaneously) are things I will never forget. But it was the memories that gave my heart the healing from the pain and loss it so desperately needed. Making my morning coffee and being able to chat with my dad or hang with my niece and sister. In the evenings having my mom help comfort and keep a not so sleepy baby moving towards sleep while I grabbed a hot shower or sent off another work email. We developed patterns that made life work…. but also gave me a deeper love and appreciation for my family. Those days aren’t what we planned but in a weird way were a gift I had wanted just a few years back.

Starting back to work in the room that became nursery/office June 2020

And the ending of this chapter is probably as significant as the rest of it. My family has been the ones to help me feel confident enough to return to my life. My sister Katy helped me find the babysitting care and has been my local support if I need anything physically, while also being my mental cheerleader. My sister Bridget has been the one to laugh with me when it is going all wrong. My parents are the ones to let me lose it on a regular basis, but also the ones to push me to continue trying when I don’t want to . And my brothers are the ones that keep the reminders going that it isn’t normal and easy and that I should be proud of myself, while they have shown they are proud of my efforts.

Cousins got to spend everyday together… July 2020

As we begin to see the rays of sunset reaching across the sky for 2020, I have found a few of these lessons bubble up to the top. It has been a strong reminder that what we may feel is lost or forgotten for good, especially in these unique times, may have a way of coming back as a blessing in the future. Do not give up or grow weary – God is working on our behalf right now and we should try to focus on the wonder of what could be…… that we may not even be able to imagine…. hopefully an unexpected blessing.

And then were happy to be reunited in the fall October 2020

Thank you so much for reading and remember to make it a great day!

2 thoughts on “Unexpected Blessing

  1. Jackie, thanks for sharing another piece of your incredible story. You know that you and Danny are always in our thoughts and prayers. I just read this posting from the Shalem Institute: What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present and hope for the future. (Agnes Pahro). I’m confident that this resonates. Christmas blessings!


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