Frisco mother Jenny Hander has lived through the unthinkable: the loss of a child. Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, a rare condition in which the blood flow of twins is abnormally connected inside the womb, struck twin daughters Alysa and Alexa, claiming Alysa’s life just 28 days after the babies were delivered early by cesarean section.
Through her inextricably entwined grief and joy, Hander wrote A Place of Peace to share her dark journey back into the light of family living.
What prompted you to go public and write a book about such a personal experience? So that others could see exactly how I was able to overcome my daughter’s death. After my daughter passed away, I quickly realized that the loss of a child could ruin a person forever — but I’ve refused to let that happen. I want my experience to give hope to those suffering in a similar situation.
Tell us about the ways you reach out to other parents struggling with loss. I have found that writing is not enough. I speak not only at grief support group meetings, but also to different church, women’s and mother’s groups.
I also collect new and gently loved stuffed animals on behalf of the SAFE organization (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies) and distribute them to local children’s shelters and hospitals for children in need.
How did you pick a pathway through your grief? My Christian faith is pivotal in my ongoing journey through grief, because it gives me the promises I need to sustain my hope for the future. But even as a follower, I had a hard time trusting my faith after my daughter passed away. I felt as though I might rot away if I kept the feelings of anger, bitterness, betrayal and sadness over my daughter’s death inside any longer. Writing was therapeutic for me because it allowed me to get my true thoughts and feelings out.
Tell us about your 2-year-old daughter. What’s going on in her young life these days?
Alexa was born three months premature, weighing less than 2 pounds, but is now completely caught up with her growth and has no apparent developmental delays. Alexa and I were practically on house arrest for the first two years of her life due to health concerns with her underdeveloped lungs, so she has really enjoyed herself this past year, as we’ve finally been able to get out and about.
Do you talk with her about her twin who didn’t come home? Yes. I still have a few pictures of Alysa in our home, and Alexa knows that Alysa is her “other sissy.” If you ask Alexa where Alysa lives, she’ll point to her chest and say “in my heart.” And on the twins’ birthday, we send Alysa our birthday wishes by releasing a pink helium balloon into the air. Though I expect that Alexa will have some challenging questions for us in the future about her and her sister’s experience, I believe it is important for Alexa, and each of our subsequent children, to know of their sister Alysa.
Is there something that’s come out of writing about your experiences that has taken you by surprise — something you were not expecting to feel or think or do? The biggest surprise is the fact that I have now had the opportunity to share my story with so many people. In the beginning, I didn’t start with the intention of writing a book — I wrote for me. But after capturing my journey through grief in my journal, I felt compelled to share my story in the hopes of helping others.
How do you balance writing and promoting your book with family time? Taking care of our two sweet daughters (Alexa, 2 ½; Addison, 18 months) is full-time work, and it is a job that I place at the top of my list of things to do. So, thankfully, my writing and book promoting are tasks I can usually do from home. I fully utilize every minute of naptime by working on my book or upcoming speaking engagements (my daughters are usually good sleepers and allow me two to three hours each day). I almost never work in the evenings, because I cherish the one-on-one time with my husband (Lex). I am a bit of a neat freak, so I try to fit housework in either on weekends or during the day — with assistance from my little helpers, of course!