Heart heavy

I found out today that a mama, who I really don’t know well, but who was instrumental in helping match us with our beautiful angel on Earth, lost one of her children recently. I don’t know the details, or the circumstances, only that she and I are now connected, as sisters-in-loss, mothers parenting children in Heaven, carrying a weight heavier than any burden a woman should ever need to bear.

The news came during the beginning of the same week, that three years ago, my sweet angel was diagnosed with his terminal illness and began fighting his five-month battle for his brief, beautiful, bountiful, three-year life.

My angel, my baby, my perfectly created soul, began his journey to peace right around this time three years ago. Three years it has been since he got sick. Three years is all the time I got to have him on this Earth.

How cruel, and how ironic, and how amazing this lovely life is, that I am about to celebrate the fourth birthday of my new beautiful angel on Earth in this same month I mourn the beginning of the loss of his brother. This perfect boy whose been mine for less than a year, but who belongs with me as much as his brother did, and who forces a strength and resilience in me that compares only to that in which his brother’s loss forced me to find.

These two boys, who stir a hurricane of emotion in this mama from minute to minute, a battle between grief and gratitude, and a hope for a future where positive memories coexist with positive reinforcement, have left me satisfied.

Satisfied with my story. Saddened by my fate, but thankful for my blessings. Grateful for my lessons, but yearning for understanding. And hopeful for the future. Because I see a bright boy with nothing but potential. And an angel just waiting to guide him toward it.

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A prayer for the expecting mama

I called a little angel by his name today
And I said ‘I need you, son’
I need you more today than most
To help fight a battle that needs won

I’m hoping that you’re listening
I know I ask an awful lot
But this mama has a heavy heart
And could use the magic that you’ve got

She’s carrying a previous gift
One we all look so forward to meeting
And I know the moment she arrives
It will be the most celebrated greeting

So I ask you dear, if you wouldn’t mind
From your spot in Heaven above
That you look over this mama and baby
With a little extra care and love.

With a little faith

I don’t write to express political beliefs or comment on the state of our nation. I do it for me, to heal, to convince myself that I am ok, and that this wonderful life can continue even after tragedy.

But this last month has been really tough. Tough for a lot of people in many different ways. Our country alone has been hit hard by some terrible, devastating events. And here I am, still crying over my baby lost, while trying to raise my baby gained, and clinging onto some hope that it just must get better than this.

So tonight, after three days of a little one with a fever, missed days of work, too much daytime news, and quite a bit of frustration, I told my sweet little man to pick his two books to read before bedtime.

He’s feeling pretty terrible, and a little extra whiney, having eaten very little in the last few days, and still running a temperature, so I said, “Buddy, for a special treat tonight, let’s go downstairs to pick your two books.”

He was very excited, as usually his two books come from a big bin on his bedroom floor full of board books he can keep in bed that we’ve read twenty five times each. The books downstairs are those we rarely see, that are put away on shelves, ones Mommy wants to be careful not to ruin because they were given to his brother on a special occasion, or have sentimental value, or may still have some scent of my little angel left on them.

We walk downstairs and he scans the shelves. He wants the biggest book he can see, which is our Children’s Bible. I can honestly say it has maybe been opened once, and I’ve never read a single story in it. The other is ‘Curious George.’

We snuggle in on the couch and the TV mumbles in the background while I open the big book. He sees pictures of animals and asks for that story. I begin reading ‘Noah’ to him and we look at pictures of the arc and the animals walking two by two. At the end of the story, I begin reading how God sends a rainbow, and immediately think of my sweet angel and how he sends his Mama rainbows. At that very moment the TV shut off. I kept reading and my little man said, “Mommy, you see rainbows?”

“Yes, baby. I do. Your brother in Heaven sends them to me.”

‘Oh!’ He exclaimed and smiled.

I put the book down and open Curious George. On the first page, one that hasn’t been seen for almost 5 years, is his brother’s name and the date we gave him that book while he was growing strong in the NICU.

Thank you, angel, for showing yourself and restoring my faith. We know you’re with us and will always welcome and watch for your little ‘hellos.’ We know, because of you, to keep loving this life.

A common theme

It’s no secret that I am a grieving mother, struggling every day to balance a busy life while remembering my sweet angel in Heaven. That struggle has been tougher this week as I’ve had longer, harder, busier days. My angel on earth has tested me a little more and is showing his independence in new and challenging ways. And my sense of responsibility for doing it all grows with each day that passes.

I am constantly searching for guidance in this world I’m learning to navigate. Today I read the following article:

13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do

Now, not only am I trying to be a sane human, but I’m striving to be a “mentally strong” parent. I want to be the best version of everything to everyone all the time. Realistically, I know that’s not always possible. But, the version I’ve been this past week, to me, is less than acceptable.

Today, as I sit here writing while my little man sleeps in the other room, I am reviewing the activities of our day and am counting the times I could have reacted better, showed more patience and understanding, empathized with this little man who is still finding his place in my world.

I see him interact with his peers and so often he loses his patience, reacts with emotion, or uses his body to show he’s upset, or frustrated, or just plain tired. While he’s only been ‘mine’ for less than a year, and I know that the age of three is often a time when little ones will test their limits, their boundaries with others, and assert their independence, I’m scared that his negative reactions are truly a reflection of my behavior as his mother.

The most important quality I feel I can instill in him, along with respect for others, is a sense of empathy for those around him. This is such a common theme in all I do, including my relationships, my work, and now my parenting. I want him to really grasp, and feel what it’s like to be in another’s shoes. And as much as I try to lead by example, as I truly feel the only way to ‘teach’ empathy is to live it, when it comes to my dear sweet son, I am failing him.

I constantly think of his brother in Heaven and what he thinks as he watches over us. Did I give the correction I should have? Was that consequence I settled upon appropriate for the behavior? Am I treating this child with the correct amount of discipline, and more importantly, do I show him enough how much I truly love him? Even when he doesn’t listen. Even when he makes a choice I’d rather he didn’t. Even when his behavior is less than I expect, or even demand.

Is my parenting enough to raise a confident, empathetic, sweet and independent, driven man, who at the end of every day, truly knows that he is loved?

I know I need to live the expectations I have for him. And only then will he be the very best version of himself. But am I capable of this, nearly impossible feat? Only time will tell.

The weight of it

In the last two months I’ve lost almost 15 pounds, but I feel heavier than I have in many years. The weight of responsibility in a world where I am now in control of my body, my emotions, my feelings, my little family, is absolutely, terrifyingly suffocating.

The world that consumed me just months ago was one where my grief, my loss, my living day to day without my baby, was excuse enough for anything. A missed phone call, a late arrival, a day off work, a forgotten appointment. I had a ‘free pass’ because I was in the throes of grief. My pain, my mere existence without my baby, was reason enough to excuse my failures.

But today is different. I have accepted a new reality. I have taken charge of my family, my career, my finances, my health, and I am making it work despite my pain, in conjunction with my grief, with the presence if my angel watching over and guiding me.

And I am proud of that. I was meant to be this person. A person who does not accept defeat. Someone who makes the best of a rough situation, and a mama who, every day, aims to make her angel proud.

So now, on days like these, when the heaviness of all this pressure, all the responsibility, all the life, feels like it’s just too much, I want to just crumble. I want to scream to the heavens and say, “Come back, baby! Whatever this life is, it’s nothing without you!”

But I don’t mean that. I am proud of who I am, what I’ve done, how I’ve evolved, and where I know I can eventually be. But, lord, would it be so much nicer to be celebrating all of this if he were here with us. If I were making a stop at kindergarten before I stopped at preschool. If my calendar were filled with two sets of curriculum nights, and two PTA invitations, and even more insanity and craziness than fills the calendar now.

I love the life we are creating and continue to grow. But it’s always just missing something. Something, even in the fullness, is always a little empty.

Emotional capacity

As a bereaved mother, the parent of an angel, I have an emotional reserve no bigger than a thimble. Yes, the amount of stress, duress, conflict, it takes to fill me up and tip me over could fit inside a cup no bigger than the tip of my finger.

I have worked extremely hard to try to eliminate triggers, reduce stress, minimize conflict, over the past two years since losing my son, so that I could try and utilize any and all emotional reserve that may remain for love, compassion, and empathy.

But life just doesn’t cooperate with my plans. It’s tough, and mean, and spiteful, and nasty. And I have made choices that I am proud to defend. But those choices have led to conflict, and turmoil, and tension that have both tested me, and resulted in some growth of my emotional capacity.

In my life, I play a number of roles, the primary of those being a mother to an angel, a mother to a growing boy, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a professional. In the pie chart that is my collection of roles, there is only so much space for emotion. And while I’d like to hope that I give a little to each somewhat equally, the truth is, grief, still, two years in, still swallows a majority of that pie.

Almost one half, or just about the rest of that emotional pie, goes straight to parenting. The emotions that parenting requires takes me on a rollercoaster so many times a day, I’m either dizzy or close to nausea just about 24/7. It’s constant fear, and guilt, and pride, and joy, and worry, and elation…and words that don’t even exist.

So that leaves about three percent of my emotional capacity left for everything, and everyone, else. Is it fair? Absolutely not. Would I like to give my husband and my parents and my friends and my siblings and my work the emotions – the true heart – that are consumed by parenting and grief? Absolutely.

But that is a balance I am going to figure out how to master. Because right now all I can do is try to raise the most confident, kind, and strong tiny human possible, while simultaneously grieving the sweetest, bravest, and happiest little angel ever born.

Managing

I had the pleasure of talking briefly about my angel today to one of my doctors, who also happens to be a dear friend. I’d gone to see him after a week of suffering a terrible cough I was convinced had turned to fatal pneumonia. Turns out it was a virus with some bronchial irritation, and I will live, but I got to chat with him nonetheless, which I always enjoy,

He was telling me he had just made a slight faux pas with another patient who recently lost her husband. “I told her the sun will shine again.” With that he kind of giggled and we talked about the current cloudy day and simultaneous solar eclipse.

But it’s true, I told him. The sun will shine again. I believe I am proof of that.

Two years ago, all I could manage was my grief. After just months since losing my only son at age three, I was lost, broken, abandoned on an island where I thought no one would ever find me.

Today, I thought, leaving his office, my mind swims at the end of every day with all the tasks and responsibilities I somehow seem to manage. I am managing a high dollar account at my job as well as multiple employees. I manage a household and a marriage and (sometimes) a wild three-year-old. I’ve somehow managed to maintain some friendships with those who’ve continued to love me despite my flaws and faults and insanity. And I’m managing to survive. I am managing to survive this life without my beautiful baby. Because he is in Heaven, and I am his mama, and that keeps me going.

I am not perfect. I am mostly a mess. And I screw up multiple times every single day. But my wonderful, kind-hearted, well-meaning doctor was so right in his message to that grieving widow toady. The sun will shine again. We will all manage to get through whatever raging, violent, terrible storm decides to trash our doorstep. If we just have faith that we are stronger than that storm and our sweet departed angels are right there with us, safely keeping the wind and lightening at bay. We can all weather the storm and find our sunshine.

Big brother

Time heals. So they say. My heart will never truly heal from the loss of my only born son.

But since his loss, I have gained.

I have gained the love and admiration of friends and family for the way I have handled his loss. I doubt this, often, and I tell them so. But they keep it coming, every day, and for that, I am grateful.

I have gained a strength and resilience I would not have not know had I not said goodbye to my sweet boy. Only a mama who can fight off boulders, get hit with a lightening bolt, and be run over by ten thousand trucks, can survive the loss of her baby. I am that mama. And I am not alone.

I have gained a bond with my husband, his daddy, that will never break. We lost our baby. Our only baby. We share an angel in Heaven. An angel that shows us he is with us in the most precious ways, at the most magical times, in only ways the two of us can see. We are broken, but we are bonded together in a way only we can know.

I have gained an angel. That angel on Earth was the mightiest, bravest, sweetest boy a mama could ever know. But that angel in Heaven is one special gift to this world. He works a magic on those of us who love him that not one of us can explain, but each of us treasures in our own way.

And I have gained a son. My beautiful angel is now a big brother. And even though he never knew his little brother on Earth, his little brother knows him. He talks about him, he sees his picture, and he told me, in his sweet, innocent, three-year-old voice, “I love him, Mommy.” He loves his big brother in Heaven.

That sweet son I have gained, and that sweet angel I lost are the two greatest gifts this mama could ever receive. Lord knows, I would give anything to have them grow up together on Earth. But Lord knows, I would not have one without the other.

And I know big brother in Heaven will always be watching his little brother on Earth, and hearing when he says, “I love you.”

 

Call it what you want

History or legend, fact or fiction, there are millions of stories written in books, told through generations, shared through song, that help solidify beliefs in a higher being and an afterlife.

I read or hear or watch people’s journeys with faith, and to be honest, I often judge. Every person’s belief system is their own, and truly a choice and feeling only oneself can truly know and understand. But when those who choose to make their faith public or make statements about others based solely on religious doctrine, I cringe with distaste.

Call it God, call it faith, call it what you want, but in the end, it’s all the same.

We all want, yearn, need to know that there is more than this. This life, this path we are navigating, this journey full of treaturous obstacles and endless heartbreak just has to lead to something more. This just can’t be all there is.

I have a very good friend who has a very dear mom. They are a source of support and compassion for countless people, and they have a faith that rarely wavers and always leads them to treat others with kindness, follow their hearts, and live their lives with passion and adventure.

They have a saying when it comes to decision-making, and they’ve shared it with me many times when I’ve reached a crossroads or felt my pain had become insufferable.

“This is not a dress rehearsal,” they tell me. We get one chance, one life, one shot. So do it big, make it grand, give it everything and regret nothing.

While I truly appreciate the sentiment, and totally agree with the YOLO craze, I fear my sweet angel in Heaven has me believing something different.

Maybe this is the dress rehearsal. Maybe my sweet angel, your sweet angels, all our beautiful departed loved ones are looking at us from above and laughing, while eating ice cream for breakfast and Oreos for dinner, saying things like, “Good effort, Mommy! You can slip and fall, and make mistakes, and do it a thousand times over. I will still be here, waiting for you, loving you, no matter what.”

So, I will keep practicing. I will keep falling and I will continue failing. I will get bumps and bruises on my already sore and burdened heart.

But that’s ok. Because this is my dress rehearsal. And I’m nowhere near opening night.

I was made for this

I was remembering today all the times someone stopped me in the hospital, randomly on the street during walks, in the middle of the mall, and even on the beach. People, just wanting to stop, look, and admire my sweet angel.

Sure, he was tiny and cute, and started wearing glasses at just ten months old. But there was some kind of magnetism about him that just drew everyone to him. He was also always smiling, and that didn’t hurt.

I’ve concluded that his big purpose in this Universe was evident from the minute he entered this Earth. It was apparent, just by looking at him, that he would make a huge impact, even in just three short years.

And now, I have this new little soul, with big, blue, telling eyes, much like his big brother. He too, is a warrior. He too, faces a world of uncertainty with a warrior spirit I’ve only seen once before. My boys, my warriors, somehow made it into my arms and into my heart.

When I look at him, though he’s so different in personality, no relation by blood, born to another family altogether, I see the same fight, the same resilience, and the same unconditional love I once saw in his brother.

And I think, for just a short moment, between my grief and my overwhelming awe at the blessing that is this life, that maybe, just maybe, some of those wonderful and unique characteristics embedded in my boys, could have come from me.

Maybe, through the heartache and pain, the joy and laughter, maybe it’s true that these two boys were meant for me, and only me. A mama who could get hit with a boulder and somehow still stand to face another day. A mama who knows a sadness that crushes her soul, but will work tirelessly to find the happiness in spite of the hurt.

A mama, who works to be the best wife, the best friend, the best daughter a woman could be, but above all else, strives to be the very best mama to her baby in Heaven and her baby on Earth.

Maybe, just maybe, I was made for this.