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.

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.

A heart big enough

You know those flashbacks you get from the photo sites? The ones that will sporadically email or alert you with a little message, “Flashback: Here’s what you were doing last year on this date.”

Super fun. Maybe, for some. But for me, I keep getting them at inopportune times. And for some reason, they always pick this day four years ago. This day four years ago was filled with photos of my then 18-month-old son, now my angel in Heaven.

This day four years ago, we were vacationing on the beach with a little man who was finally free of oxygen tanks and tubes, healthy enough to travel, who was learning to roll over, and feeling the sand in his toes for the very first time.

This day four years ago I was navigating a new normal of first time parenting, loving and caring for a child recently discharged after ten months in NICU, and walking a fine line of over-protecting, and keeping a fragile, near-infant-blossoming-toddler safe, happy, and healthy.

Four years ago today.

Today, here I am, raising a new, tiny human, who I never could have imagined in my most wild predictions would have been a part of my world. A new little man in my life. Not my first born. Not mine by birth or blood. But mine, all the same.

Today, I am loving this little man with a heart I never thought would be whole again. 

Today, my broken heart, torn by the loss of my first born, is growing every day with a love I never knew was possible. A love that has taken every day to nurture and grow since this little man was placed in my care. A love that is not easy, nor natural even, but takes immeasurable strength, patience, and gratitude to accomplish.

A love, that this heart – this broken, battered, and beaten heart – is big enough to hold. Because of my angel in Heaven, and because of my angel on Earth.

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.

How can I not be?

I am a neurotic parent. I worry about everything. I take the phrase ‘helicopter mom’ to a whole new level. I am a psychotic, overbearing, strict, insane parent. How can I not be?

I’ve been trying to figure out another way since the day I was blessed with my second child. He is a beautiful, healthy, smart, and independent three-year-old. And I am driving myself absolutely nuts trying to be the perfect parent.

I push him to use manners, because I want a polite child. I encourage him to dress himself, brush his own teeth, use the potty, even if he is not quite ready, because I want him to learn independence. Yet, I get angry when he disobeys. Sometimes I raise my voice and sometimes I lose my temper. I am a strict and often unforgiving parent. How can I not be?

I want him to understand that life isn’t always fair. That we all have to do things we don’t want to do. I want to teach him all the tough lessons, so he doesn’t have to learn them any other way, or from anyone else. But sometimes, I feel like I am too tough. How can I not be?

He tests me. He pushes and I push back. He is learning to fit into our little world, with an insecurity and fear I know I will never understand. He is a determined child. He has never know stability and he has only experienced abandonment. I will never leave him. But I am terrified of him leaving me. How can I not be?

I am a lucky parent. I have had two beautiful boys, one I carried, and one who was gifted to me. They will never be brothers on Earth. I will always be sad for that fact. How can I not be?

I am exhausted. Half of me grieves while the other half parents. I am in constant turmoil over trying to appreciate my blessings while grasping to understand my tragedies. I dream of an easier life. I want to become stronger from these challenges, but oftentimes I am just angry, and tired, and scared. How can I not be?

I want to be better. I want to know that what I am doing is right, and just, and good. I want my boys to appreciate the mother I am trying to be. I don’t want to be this person full of self doubt. How can I not be?

I am the mother of a son on Earth and a son in Heaven. I have an angel to guide me and a child to help me learn the way. I may falter, and I may fail, but at the end of every day, I am a loving mother trying her best. And I am happy. How can I not be?

 

 

No one would know

I am the proud mother of a sweet angel in Heaven, taken from me two years ago at only three years old. I am the busy mother of a three-year-old angel on Earth, gifted to me from the Heavens through foster care.

No one would know, just by looking at me.

I am in constant turmoil over the grief I feel and the joy life gives. I treasure every moment of this beautiful life while simultaneously hating every moment I have to continue living it without my baby.

No one would know, unless they ask.

I still cry, every day in the car, when I’m alone. I feel like balancing grief and parenthood is an impossible task. But I know my grief is selfish, because my dear sweet angel is happy and safe and waiting for me in his beautiful paradise. And parenting, though exhausting and terrifying, is the only job in my life worth the amount of effort it requires. So I balance, because I choose this life.

No one would know, if I didn’t share.

I am a mess. But I am a solid, strong, confident, and beautiful mess.

No one has to know.

Help me

I want to be the mama I was to you.

I want to be loving, patient, sweet and kind. I want to love unconditionally, laugh in every moment, appreciate each test for the strength it teaches me, and know every moment, though sometimes tiresome or frustrating, is an absolute and beautiful blessing.

Please, sweet angel, guide me through this new path in motherhood. Show me that I don’t need to fear every tumble, every scrape, every tear. Tell me, somehow, that it will all be ok, and not every minute I must worry about protecting this child from every.single.thing.

How is it possible, that after losing you, I can be a mother without fear? Please, my dear, show me how.

For you, I never questioned one thought, one decision, one moment. I treasured every second, every breath, every touch. But now, it is so hard not to feel the fear, and the anxiety, and the weight of this overwhelming and impossible feat of properly raising a tiny human.

It feels like I’m doing it all wrong. I’m short-tempered and tired, frustrated and blunt. I raise my voice and I’m stern, I frown and I point.

Never, ever, was I this way with you. Never did I raise my voice and never did I scold. I gently corrected and nurtured with guidance.

It’s so much harder this time around. So, please, my sweet angel, guide me.

Help me be the mama I was to you.

 

The little things

I find myself getting caught up in the stress of every day life. I forgot how hard it is to balance parenting, work, marriage, a home…and grief.

The days can pass by so quickly when the morning consists of rising early, feeding and clothing a toddler, trying to get to preschool with no tears and happy goodbyes. The days are packed with meetings and urgency, one more important task than the last, and people who need ‘this’ yesterday and want ‘that’ ASAP. Then the evenings take a slower pace with family dinner, bath time, and a bedtime story. But in the blink of an eye, another day has passed, and I’m left alone in the quiet darkness, with just the memory of my baby lost, while my other sleeps soundly in the next room.

And while I use these evenings to reflect on that one missed deadline, the form I forgot to sign, the load of laundry I put off a day, these things will make no difference in my long term happiness nor that of my family. But I’d rather think of all the little things I need to do, or didn’t do, than be overcome with the agony of missing my sweet angel in Heaven.

Because I love my beautiful, stressful, busy, hectic, and fast-paced life. And I love that I was blessed with a job that stimulates my mind and pushes my skills. And I am joyful every minute I get to parent in the unique and wonderful way that I have been blessed with children. And I am thankful I get to walk this Earth knowing my angel is right beside me.

But it is still so hard missing him. And that does not go away no matter how many responsibilities I undertake, no matter how many others I care for, no matter how full I pack my schedule. Missing him, and that hurt in my heart, never goes away and it never gets better.

So, tonight, I’m going to try to focus on the little things. But not the laundry, or the deadlines, or the school forms. I’m going to focus on the memories. The little ones that only he and I shared. And that should get me through tonight.

Let the wonderful in

Holidays can be hard. Holidays are hard. This time of year is work. Juggling commitments, forcing cheer, being without my baby. The most wonderful time of the year can be the worst.

Unless, you let the wonderful in. Take a deep breath, get a good lung-full of wintery air, and let the wonderful in.

Yes, this time of year reminds me of the sickest days, the longest hospital stays, the roughest road I’ve ever traveled. But if I look around, it reminds me of all the good, too.

Angels are everywhere this time of year. They represent that most perfect part of this season. That those who leave us are never really gone. They’re in our hearts, on our minds, and hovering right next to us during every meal, on every drive, with every step.

And my sweet angel is making mommy’s world so wonderful in every way. He’s helping me see that life is full of wonderful. All I have to do is be patient, kind, and open enough to let the wonderful in.