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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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.

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.

The debts I owe

How does anyone begin to repay a lifetime of gratitude?

I have innumerable debts that I know I will never be able to pay back, pay forward, or pay sideways, even if I dedicate my entire life to service.

In the past decade, I have received an organ transplant from a living related donor. My beautiful angel in Heaven received a transplant from a child whose loving parents chose to share a piece of their beautiful angel. I have depended on countless individuals who continue to stand by my side no matter how deep I let my grief consume me, how angry I become at this life, or how impossibly I react to the challenges life deals me.

I have suffered. Maybe more, maybe less, than those around me, but I suffer. And I hurt, deeply, every single day I walk this Earth without my sweet angel in Heaven.

And in that suffering, an immense army of individuals formed who has not only helped, but made me the survivor I am today.

Sure, I can say thank you a thousand times. I can send thank you notes, hand written with envelopes decorated in stickers, to express my gratitude. I can show my appreciation through friendship, love and support, the best way I know how.

And if I were to ask any of these individuals how I might repay them for all they have done, every single one of them would say they did what they did out of love. Purely and simply. No ‘thank you’ needed. No repayment of the debt. No IOU, no guilty feelings, no uneasiness that maybe something is a little off balance because I have been the recipient of graciousness more than I have been the giver.

They just do what they do out of love. Those are the people in my corner. That’s my team.

I had the ability, just recently, to help out a dear loved one with an opportunity. It is rare, so rare, especially in the last few years, that I have been able to offer anyone anything, other than maybe to listen or offer some kind words and support.

But I had this opportunity and I took one very small action that led to someone else feeling gratitude toward me. And what I wanted was the same as all those who’ve offered me unendless support, and favors, and love, and kindness.

I wanted nothing. Because giving, helping, assisting someone with something, anything, feels so good in its own right.

I just did it out of love. An unconditional love I have for this person. And a love I have for being able to do anything, anything, to finally help someone other than myself. To be able to step back, remove myself from my own needs, and just be selfless.

I don’t think there could be anything more gratifying on this Earth.

Messages

It’s no secret that I whole heartedly believe I receive messages from my angel. I read stories all the time of other mommies whose beautiful babies in Heaven send them signs and symbols only meant for them in times they truly need them.

My girlfriend from work just came back from a stressful week of traveling. She had several delays getting to her destination, the event itself was kind of a mess, and she was a ball of stress the entire trip. Upon her arrival back to the office today, she told me the story of how, in the midst of all of that, she also misplaced her laptop while she was across the country.

She explained she had stopped at a local grocer to get a few items needed for her event, and at some point during the afternoon, she realized her laptop was missing. She called the transportation company, the hotel, and the event location staff, none of whom had recovered her computer. She then remembered the grocery.

She called the local number and they confirmed they indeed had her laptop and it would be waiting for her at the front counter.

She stopped by later that afternoon and the store owner was waiting for her as promised.

“I’m so happy I’m able to return this to you,” he said.

He handed it to her and pointed to the white label with block lettering showing her name and employee ID along the edge of the back.

“My wife and I had a daughter who was still born, thirty years ago, and she had the same first and last name as yours.” He pointed to his nametag and she read her last name on his badge.

She went on to tell me that I was the first person she thought of when this conversation between this bereaved dad and her took place. A little part of her knew, through the conversations we’d had, that the angel message received by that man, on this day, that she got to be a part of, was meant just for her.

Maybe to solidify her belief just a little more that we really do have wonderful little beings watching over us. Or maybe to give her a sense that just her presence in that moment gave that father a wonderful reminder of his sweet angel. Or maybe, just maybe, we all really are here for a greater, beautiful, Heavenly purpose.

The grief monster

I’m having one of those days, baby, where the gravity of missing you is pulling me so far into myself that tears are about the only energy my body can muster. You feel so far away.

It’s days like today, when I start to worry about the kind of person I’ve become, the mother I wish I could be, the angel that you are, and the world I’ve come to know, that the weight of your loss pulls on my will to progress.

I have come so far since you’ve been gone. There were days I could do nothing, nothing, but miss you. I asked friends to drive me to appointments, because I was afraid of breaking down behind the wheel. Those same friends walked me to the counters and checked me in so I wouldn’t have to converse with those who may, or may not know you’d gone to Heaven.

But in time, I became independent again. I still rely heavily on a whole lot of people, but I can function on my own. And I’m functioning enough to maintain a full-time job and raise a child who was placed in our lives at three years old after a lifetime of turmoil. He is thriving. I am thriving. I should be proud of my progress.

I had to make a dentist appointment for your brother last week. His first one. I called your dentist and explained he was a new patient but the doctor had seen his brother. “And do we still see your other son?” The receptionist asked over the phone.

“We lost him two years ago,” I replied, and cringed. 

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

Me too. Me too.

I’m so sorry, baby.

I’m sorry that you aren’t here with us. I’m sorry you’re not here to celebrate our family, in its new and beautiful form. I’m sorry that I want to be so happy for the blessings we’ve been given, but that the happiness hurts so badly. Any happiness still hurts so badly, because at the end of every day, I still lost you. I still have to live this life without you. 

I want to tell myself, I want to believe, that I am conquering grief. That I will not let it destroy my spirit or my will to continue thriving. But it is an ugly beast. And it will kick you when you’re up, it will kick you when you’re down, and it will kick you at times when you have no defense against it.

I’ve heard that if you’re ever face to face with a bear, the best defense is to roll over and play dead. Or is it stand up and be as big and tall and loud as possible? I have no idea. I don’t know what my best defense is here, either. 

But I’m so tired of fighting. Fighting the urge to cry in the middle if the day. Fighting the urge to hate everyone for everything. Fighting the pain inside my soul. And fighting this feeling that no matter what I do, it’s never going to be ok. 

I just want it to be ok. 

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.”

 

Grieving gracefully

I have been a bereaved mother for 2 years, 3 months, and 6 days. My sweet baby, my first, and only born son, has been in Heaven for 829 days. These days have been filled with a suffering and a longing I never knew existed, tears I never knew could fall so steady and streaming, and an overwhelming abundance of love and support from those who both knew and loved him, as well as those who never had the pleasure.

My heart has been broken since that day in March, 2 years, 3 months, and 6 days ago. It has taken a conscious effort – 829 times – to force myself out of bed in the morning. I have told myself on 829 consecutive days, “You can do this today. You are strong. You will make him proud.”

If I did not believe, if I did not know, that my sweet angel has been watching, guiding, helping me through this time without him, I would not have survived his loss. He is the reason I continue to tell myself I am strong, I can continue, I will survive.

After two years, life has changed so much, I often do not even recognize the family we are today. We are busy, we are successful, we are blessed. We are happy.

But that happiness, as wonderful as it is, makes me so sad. Because he is not here to enjoy any of it. I know he sees it. I know it’s because of him. But tomorrow, on day 830, I will have to coach myself once again as I try to rise, because all I will want to do is stay stuck in my dreams, where I know I can find him once again.

I have been a bereaved mother for 2 years, 3 months, and 6 days. As time continues to pass, I hope that I find a way to grieve gracefully, and impart some wisdom on others who suffer a similar fate. But for now, I am just going to prepare my 830th pep talk and attempt to wake tomorrow with purpose, and joy.