I had the honor of interviewing a good friend of mine, Amie Lands, a few weeks back. She is an accomplished author, founder of the Ruthie Lou Foundation and a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. As we near the holidays, her most recent book, Perfectly Imperfect Family, comes to mind as a wonderful gift idea for loss families. It is a sweet book for our children who are learning to live their lives without one of their siblings.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your family. My husband and I have been together for 18 years. Together we have 3 children; Ruthie Lou (8/9-9/10/11), Reid (age 7) and Adam (age 3). My husband owns a barbershop and loves his work, I am a culinary teacher and I love food. Our sons are wild and crazy, intelligent little boys and they (along with their sister) are the loves of our life. We also have a 9-year old dog who has walked all parts of creating our family and sometimes I wonder how he tolerates us!
Would you share with us about Ruthie Lou and your journey through loss? Ruthie Lou was born after a beautiful pregnancy. She was my firstborn baby after a pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage so I had the direct experience that being pregnant does not always equal baby. However, as the pregnancy progressed I settled into the hope that she would come home healthy and alive. However, once born, it was determined that Ruthie Lou had a chromosomal abnormality and could not survive off of life-support. For 3 weeks, our daughter lived in the NICU and never left her hospital isolette. As parents, my husband and I had to make horrifying decisions and plan for her death while she was still living. Ultimately, we were given the unique privilege and opportunity to be transferred to George Mark Children’s House, a beautiful pediatric palliative care facility in San Leandro. We lived 12 days there together as a family. We had the care of a child life specialist, counselor, aquatic therapist, music therapist, the best nurses, and a chef in the kitchen. Our every need was taken care of so that we could best take care of and spend precious time with our daughter. After Ruthie Lou died, our lives were shattered. It was devastating to return home with an empty car seat, to her nursery that was set up and waiting, to a life that expected a baby only to have empty arms and a broken heart instead. We didn’t know how to exist in the world or survive that heavy pain. It took a long time and lots of therapy for my husband and I to move through our grief, both separately and together. We went on to have two more children, little boys, and while they helped us have hope for life again, they are their own little people and do not replace their sister. Instead, with them, we celebrate Ruthie Lou’s brief life while missing her immensely every day.
What inspired you to write your first book, Navigating the Unknown? I was inspired to write Navigating the Unknown because for the first 5 years after Ruthie Lou died, many moms reached out or were referred to me. I realized that they had many of the same questions, fears, worries, concerns and heartbreak that I did during my early days of grief. By this time, my life had found its footing again and joy had crept back in and I had the strength to give beyond what I was then currently doing. I wanted to give hope to these families that there is hope for a beautiful life. But in the early days of grief, it really is one foot in front of the other, and before one can even think about the future, logistical decisions need to be made such as how to plan a funeral, what to do with breastmilk, how to return to work, what to do with baby’s nursery, where to access support, and so forth. I really wanted to help all the moms who came to me, but I thought a book could reach even more moms facing this loss.
Navigating the Unknown is an amazing resource that I wish I would have had when I first lost my son, can you tell us a little bit about it? Navigating the Unknown is the book I wish I had when Ruthie Lou was born. It is a guide to help with all the logistical and emotional aspects of having a baby die. The sections are separated so a parent can use this resource regardless of where they are in their journey by simply flipping to any specific chapter and bypassing what does not apply to them. It understands that we all have different experiences and that this book may be found at different points in the journey. Most importantly, this book is about holding the hand of a grieving parent trying to survive this unimaginable loss, how to find their grounding again, how to make impossible decisions as best they can at the moment they need to, and how to cope with grief, all while honoring the child they so dearly miss.
Tell us about your second book, Our Only Time. After writing Navigating the Unknown, it occurred to me that if parents have access to exceptional care during their experience at the hospital or with care providers, they hold the most chance for healing through their grief. So, the next logical step (in my writing) was to help offer support to health professionals. Even without experiencing a loss themselves, medical practitioners are the experts to our experience because we look to them to help us find our way when facing the death of our child. They really hold so much power and our time spent with them can either positively impact our time with our child or devastate it further, both which directly impact our grieving. Our Only Time focuses on sharing stories of family’s losses from infertility to SIDS and every type loss in between, then revisits the themes with support resources and suggestions to help honor families and their baby. It is researched and evidence-based as well as personal, from the parent themselves. My goal for this book is that all health professionals learn from the parent’s perspective on how to best support bereaved families giving them the best chance of surviving their grief when they return home without their beloved baby.
Your most recent book, Perfectly Imperfect Family, is cherished in our household. Both of my girls love reading it and love how they can relate to it. After writing books for adults and medical professionals, what made you want to write a children’s story? Perfectly Imperfect Family was actually the first book that I wrote, but publishing it was overwhelming so I held onto it for years as a “dream”. When my son was an infant I feared our daughter would be forgotten while simultaneously worrying about his understanding of his sister, I didn’t want to traumatize or impose upon him my grief. It was so important to me that our daughter continue to be included in our family and equally important that we allow my son to determine his level of comfortability, understanding and relationship with her “in his life”. So, with a baby on my chest, I wrote the book from a young boy’s perspective of having a sister who died, a sister that he only knew through pictures and stories. As he has grown older and our second son since born, we continue to honor their sister on our special family days and every day.
Where can we find more of your writing? I love writing and have found it to be quite therapeutic for me as well as helpful to others, so I try to publish in as many places as appropriate. Besides my 3 published books, I offer 2 free ebooks, Tending to Your Heart and Tending to Your Holiday Heart to support families in remembering that their emotional health is so important. I have been an ongoing contributor to Still Standing Magazine, an online space for families who have experienced the loss of a child and I continue to write when inspired on my blog at amielandsauthor.com. I have been published in other publications and anthologies and will continue to do so when the opportunity arises. All my work is listed and updated on my website.
What are some of your favorite books for bereaved parents and families? For me, books are my lifeline and after Ruthie Lou died, books for bereaved parents were really limited and many of them were outdated. But now, there are so many resources to choose from which is AMAZING! I am so excited to be part of this movement that normalizes and supports bereaved families. It’s near impossible for me to choose favorites, but my absolutely, would not have survived books from each category listed on my website are any book by Deborah L. Davis, PhD, as well as It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand (Megan Devine), An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (Elizabeth McCracken), You Are the Mother of All Mothers (Angela Miller), From Father to Father: Letters From Loss Dad to Loss Dad (Emily Long), These Precious Little People (Frankie Brunker & Gillian Gamble), Joy at the End of the Rainbow: A Guide for Pregnancy After Loss, Amanda Ross-White), Something Like Magic: On Remembering How to be Alive (Brian Andreas). But truly, each person is looking for something different and I have listed dozens more beautifully supportive books on my resource page.
If there was one thing you could say to a grieving parent, what would it be? “I am so sorry your child is not here to hold and watch grow. As impossible as this sounds and no matter how much we don’t want to believe that this is true; you will survive this loss. Your life will never look or feel the same, but you will find joy and purpose in living again. Your child will always be loved and missed and you will always have a perfectly shaped hole in your heart where they should be, but you will survive and someday you will thrive again.”