I feel it in my body. My whole being knows. It starts the month of June and the clock ticks as we slowly creep to June 9th.
Happy Birthday Buddy!
Just 5 years ago, you were born into the world. Into a family so eager to meet you. Benjamin was only 2.5 years old, but he was so excited and proud to be your big brother! I remember your birth more vividly than anyone else’s. I entered the OR so cold and scared. I knew what to expect, and I found the whole c-section process much scarier the second time around.
When you were born, I knew you wouldn’t be as big as your brother. I was relieved to hear that you were a healthy 7 lb, 6 oz. When I saw you placed on my chest, you were as perfect as I imagined you would be.
At that time, I didn’t know that God would call you home just 2 short months later. I didn’t know you would leave us so quickly. I didn’t know that remembering you would be a complicated endeavor. That bits and pieces of you would slip away from me with every passing year. Even closing my eyes, I struggle to remember how big your body was, what your hair smelled like, or the exact color of your eyes.
Although I don’t remember all the details, my relationship with you remains very special, baby. We had two perfect months together. You never got old enough to have a tantrum in the middle of Target. You never got old enough to throw your plate of food on the floor. You never got old enough to look at me with a half-bored expression when I asked how your day at school was.
I’ll never know what it feels like when you hug me back. I’ll never know what it sounds like when you say “Mama” as your first word. I’ll never know what it feels like when you crawl in bed with me unexpectedly in the middle of a rainstorm.
There is so much missing.
However. There is something simple and pure about being your mommy. Our relationship is never compromised by days of frustration, or moments of angst. I love you in a way that is simple and kind. The way you can love something that can’t really love you back- the way a child loves a teddy bear. My thoughts of you are simple and sweet. Tender thoughts of the time we spent together, a hazy collections of memories with just the two of us.
You don’t dominate my thoughts the way you once did. I’m happy to report that it’s because I’m so busy keeping up with your siblings. They bring such joy and purpose to my life. They make my heart expand and swell with affection. I love all of you bears, and I feel like I have a deeper, more complete love for all of you, now knowing what loss feels like. Benjamin is 7.5, Molly is almost 4 and Emily is 1.5. They carry on, not realizing you should be down here with them.
There is something special about the children you have after the death of a child. You know how hard it can be to lose a child. Your heart is hardened and weathered and bears the scars of having been through something incredibly difficult. Yet to open yourself up to the possibility of new life and new love is something very special. Once you know all the things that can go wrong, you love deeper and stronger instead of more cautiously. You cherish every moment because you know how quickly things can be taken away.
Life is full on chaos. There is bath time and soccer practice and spelling tests. I try to carve out a few minutes for just the two of us, but that proves nearly impossible.
I still love you Piggy. I love your sweet little satisfied noises after you were done eating. I love your round little tummy that got big after just a few weeks. I love how you transformed Benjamin from an only child into a big brother. It was a role that he cherished from the second you were born.
Although not every day, we think of you often. We remember you with our evening prayers and we hold you close in our hearts. We had a little birthday cake for you tonight and Benjamin and Molly blew out your candles.
You’ll always be special to us, Alex. You are the little brother that Benjamin will never have on Earth. You are the face I see in the shadows when all kids are wrestling together. Laughing and giggling, probably when they’re supposed to be getting ready for bed.
Enjoy your birthday in Heaven Alex. You have more company every year as we send up more beloved family members. You’re in our heads and our hearts. Especially on your very special fifth birthday.
Sending you all of my love,
I saw a pregnant woman in the airport this morning and we started chatting. She said that she was pregnant with her fourth child. I found myself saying, “we have four kids too!” Oops. Sometimes that slips out, and then I have to explain that there are only three kids still with us. Not exactly the type of story a pregnant mommy wants to hear. Sorry about that…
I don’t know why or when it happens, but there are times when I say I have four kids. I don’t forget that Alex was here, it is just that it is complicated. And sometimes you don’t need to burden a stranger with the complicated explanations of your life.
Fast forward almost five years from when Alex died. We are still here. The family is intact. It is all okay. Benjamin is 7 years old and he remains the best brother ever in the history of time. He is patient and kind. Indulgent even, as if he has the wisdom of someone so much older. He is tolerant of his sister Molly, who three and a half, and he is genuinely enamored with Emily, who is almost 18 months. He is the consummate big brother who will always protect and care for his sisters.
Molly is a spirited, crazy, noisy, personable, fun-loving bundle of energy. She is so animated and loud. A classic middle child, she finds ways to get your attention and she will not be ignored! Molly brings color and texture into an otherwise orderly life. She loves you unabashedly with an intensity that takes your breath away. She is confident and dynamic in a way that you can’t help but stand back and appreciate her for all of her dimensions.
Emily is our final baby. She is about 16 months old and weighs in at a hefty 17#. Such a tiny girl. She is sweet and kind. She loves to explore the house and climbing is her favorite hobby. The clutter or our daily life provides her with hours of amusement- no toys even necessary!
I think about the unique combination of these kids and I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if Alex had never left us. Would we even have had either of the girls? I remember being so entranced with the idea of “two boys,” that I don’t know we would have had more kids.
While I recognize that I don’t get to choose what happens to us in life, I can’t help but wonder if life is better or worse without Alex. If I could go back in time and undo losing him, would I do it? In all honesty, I don’t think I would change anything.
Yes, there was unbelievable sorrow and pain and days and nights of tears and sadness. But after that, there was the indescribable joy when we learned about baby Molly. And even later, there was the devastation of a miscarriage. Which was followed by the arrival of our #bonusjonas baby Emily.
Life is manic. You need the sadness to fully appreciate the beauty and joy of everything else. I know that I have had two blessings to help cushion the blow of losing Alex, but I think that is just proof of God’s grace.
We are blessed every single day. There are moments of messy chaos, interspersed with glimpses that are heart-achingly sweet, followed by a lot more dirty diapers and puke. And I have never felt so fortunate in my entire life.
There is never a moment when I will take my kids for granted. Never a moment when I will resent having to go check on them. Never a time when I will wish I didn’t have to do all the tasks related to mommyhood.
Because I remember.
I remember the silence of the house after Alex died. I remember the quiet of the house without a baby crying and cooing. I remember the empty moments without diapers to change and bottles to wash. I remember the pain of not having a baby to nurse and for all those reasons I cherish the chaos. I lean into the busy and I rejoice in the hectic. I am grateful for all the tasks of parenthood because every trip to the potty, every sippy cup that is filled, every book that is read is truly a blessing.
Tomorrow will be four years since Alex died. Four years since I held him in my arms. Four years since I nursed him to sleep. Four years since I nuzzled his little tummy. Four tears since he spit up on me after a feeding. Four years since he peed on me in the tub. Four years is a very long time.
In the last four years, I have delivered two healthy, beautiful baby girls. I have watched Benjamin grow from a toddler to a graduating kindergartener. I have changed jobs twice. I have done 4,366 loads of laundry. I have changed 1.2 million diapers. I have also thought about Alex more times than I can possibly count.
I have cried because he’s gone. I have cried because I can’t explain why he’s gone. I have cried with joy because he’s in heaven. I have cried silently, hidden behind false smiles and fake laughter. I have cried.
My grief has been manageable because I’ve had plenty of other things to keep me busy… Having two more babies, juggling work, family and friends can keep you busy 25+ hours a day. (No, that isn’t a typo… I really feel like I have 25 hours of things to do every single day.) I am grateful for all the joy that exists in life, but there will always be a part of me still holding onto Alex.
I think the hardest part now is that I’m not really sure where Alex belongs. He isn’t top of mind for me every single day like he was right after he died. Likewise, he isn’t a distant memory for me like a friend you’ve lost touch with, or a family pet who died years ago. There are times when his memory feels very, very present, which makes his absence even more painful. The memory of Alex is a transient thing that is unpredictable and sometimes unforgiving.
I don’t know how tomorrow will be, and I don’t know how to help anyone else understand. It is a day that marks a tragedy that once defined you. And now this day is a painful reminder of what you’ve lost. You appreciate what you have today, but you never fully forget what you lost yesterday.
I am probably more cynical than most people. I think about the glass half empty more than half full. I think about missed opportunities, suboptimal outcomes and imperfect circumstances. But when I turn over the events of Alex in my mind, I am blank. I think back and I don’t have a litany of regret. I don’t have a laundry list of things I would have done differently or better. My mind is empty. I try hard and squeeze my brain to try harder, and I come up with an empty canvas.
I guess this means that I loved him as well as I could have, knowing nothing about what would happen. I am grateful for our time together, and I mourn his loss now. The pain of losing a child is different every day. Tomorrow is an angel-versary day. A day to remember his life, but nothing will change how I feel about him.
God bless you baby Alex. We love you every day, and tomorrow we will say an extra prayer for you. We miss you and we will remember you always. With love.
Baby Alex turns 4 years old tomorrow. There is a part of me that wants to take the whole day, check into a hotel room and just lay in bed and cry. There is a part of me that wants to take the whole day, bundle up all three of my kids on earth, and make them cuddle me all day. And there is the rational, everyday part of me that has no idea what to do.
As much as I never thought that time would heal the wound of losing Alex, that wound isn’t a gaping hole anymore. It is God’s grace that has healed me. It is God’s will that has given me two beautiful girls after taking away my beautiful boy. I’m not sure how the algebra of my life is supposed to work. One mommy + two sons – one son + two daughters= ?
Overall, four years later, life is good. I don’t dread getting out of bed in the morning. I don’t cringe when I hear Alex’s name. I remember Alex with a fondness that brings a smile to my face, despite a little heaviness in my chest. I feel his absence more than I remember his presence, but that feels normal. I don’t forget that he is gone. His absence feels normal. I don’t remember the time that he was here. Most of my memories of Alex all circle on his departure.
I remember his funeral. I remember his little body in my arms at the hospital. I remember using his nursery as a dumping ground for all the baby stuff until I could finally compose myself enough to see everything again. I remember giving away every “little brother” shirt, bib and trinket I owned. I remember the silence of the house and the useless wishing that there was a baby crying for me in the middle of the night.
Four years later, instead of vivid pictures of a broken mommy wandering around an empty house, I have subtle reminders of the boy who used to be here. I have dusty pictures frames scattered throughout the house. I have Christmas ornaments that stay up year round. I have the memory of “baby Alex” who is mentioned at every prayer time. Four years later, I have this gray cloud hovering above me that doesn’t break through with thunderstorms, but it doesn’t let in all the sunshine either. I’m left with this muted feeling that seems to numb me from the extremes of life.
Muted grief is better. It is less crying, less pain and less sadness. It enables you to explain what happened to “baby Alex” when the 6 year old big brother mentions him to a stranger. It helps you face holidays and birthdays and other events without him, knowing that even the sad times will pass. More than anything, muted grief helps keep your life and your emotions under control. You don’t worry about the messiness of grief that shows up unexpectedly and makes things awkward and uncomfortable.
That muted feeling applies to all the happy things in life too. It prevents you from feeling that simple heart bursting feeling every time you see one of your children nestled in bed, cozy and asleep. It subdues the happiness you feel when you see your kids holding hands, or hugging each other without prompting. It doesn’t eliminate the joy, but it takes the edge off. It turns down the volume and blurs the colors of life. Instead of a world made of 64 colors with the sharpener in the back, the world around you seems drawn in sepia hues. Pretty, but dull.
The muted reality of my life is bearable. I accept the continuous days with little variance. There are ups and downs, but not as up, and not as down as it should be. It feels like this coping mechanism shouldn’t be necessary anymore though. I feel like I have worn this security blanket for too long, and it is time to take off some of the armor. To open up my eyes to the colors of life, and push away the cloud that holds back the sun.
Even after all this time, I will admit I am scared about what is left. I had this box of grief that I unwrapped, examined and then put away. I assumed that there wasn’t anything left to do once the box was empty, so I haven’t really thought much about it. The problem is that sometimes it isn’t just about emptying the box of all the sad parts. I think you’re supposed to replace that grief with something else. I think you’re supposed to fill up that box with acceptance. Hope. Love. You’re supposed to replace that box with warmer emotions, otherwise that empty box takes on more meaning in your life than it should. You can tackle grief and accept loss. But if you never start to experience happiness and joy in the same way, you’re missing out on the more profound emotions of life.
I thought that not crying every day meant that I was “okay.” I thought that being “okay” meant that I could handle my life and move on. I now realize that being “okay” isn’t enough for me. This mommy wants more than muted grief. She wants loud joy, even if it comes with noisy sadness. Messy love and disorderly emotion.
Alex’s birthday reminds me of what we have lost, and it serves as a warning to embrace what is left.
Birthday cakes, balloons, skinned knees, first loves, lost teeth, broken hearts, winning games, report cards, vacations, illnesses, celebrations. There is a lot of life left in the household and I am ready to open myself to all of it.
There are parts of me that are forever changed. I can no longer just look at our children sleeping peacefully with a heart full of innocent joy. I face a moment of panic where I need to jostle them just a bit. Enough to see some movement or hear some sounds to assure me that they will wake up in the morning. The panic I feel in that moment gives me some hope though. Instead of a detached resignation that something terrible might have happened again, I can still muster up the love and the fear that drives every moment of our lives as parents. That moment isn’t foggy and the moments of relief afterwards are sharp and vivid and real.
I take comfort in knowing that even if my reactions to life seem muted, the love I have for these bears is not.
I was trying to pick out some Holiday cards for this year, and I came across a design that said simply, “Life is Beautiful.” What a perfect sentiment. Life is beautiful. Not just the actual birth of new life into the world, but also the whole enchilada… the ups and downs and everything. The whole package of life is beautiful. The birthing, the grieving, the everything is all worthwhile.
I know we will never be done thinking about Alex. I know that he will always be a part of our family, permanently embedded in our hearts and in our minds. As more time as passed since his death though, I have stopped fixating on a few questions that used to plague me day and night.
I don’t ask “Why” anymore. Not because I know the answer, but because it really doesn’t matter. God has chosen to call Alex home and that is all. It doesn’t matter “Why” because there is still a lot of other stuff going on here in our lives. We have Alex’s brother and sisters to raise. Their presence has become bigger than his absence. We still miss him, but we accept that we don’t need to understand “Why” he’s gone.
I don’t ask “What If” anymore. I don’t ask “What If” Alex were still here. I don’t do the mental math to calculate how old he would be, or fixate on what life would be like if he were still at the dinner table. The family that we have been blessed with is the family that we were meant to have and that is enough for me.
A year is a long time. It doesn’t seem like it when you are caught up in the details, but a lot can change in those 12 short months. For us, I think back to the miscarriage we had around Thanksgiving 2013. The sadness, the frustration, the feeling of utter defeat… I wanted this baby so badly, and it wasn’t going to happen. While I was thankful for all of our blessings, I guess I was still greedy as I mourned for the blessing we had lost. Flash forward one year, and we had one more flesh and blood blessing at the table. At only 3 months, Emily didn’t eat much turkey, but she was a visual reminder of how much we had to be thankful for.
When I look at our beautiful family, I am instantly humbled by how fortunate we are to have these crazy kids in our lives. From our smart, strong Benjamin, to our spirited and strong-willed Molly. They have brought so much love and hope into our lives. Benjamin was our rock as we mourned Alex. Molly was our light as we laid his memory to rest. Emily is our final blessing. Our icing on the cake, our bonus, our gift with purchase! She was so delightfully unexpected, yet so wanted. So urgently and fervently prayed for… she was everything I thought that I wanted. When she got here, I realized that she was even more than that.
Last night, I gathered all the kids up in my arms to watch a movie. I don’t normally find the time to sit and watch a show with them, and I never have time for a whole movie. But as a special birthday treat for Benjamin, I fluffed up all the pillows and watched a movie with him as I fed the baby. Molly woke up from her nap and bounded into bed too. I had all three of my perfect children simultaneously sitting on my lap. It was awkward and overwhelming, yes. But I what I remember most was the indescribable feeling of completeness. The feeling like that moment was always pre-destined for me as a mother. That as we went through loss and disappointment, this moment was always going to be in our future. We had to trust God. We had to have faith. We had to keep going.
I still think about the future, but not in that foreboding/ anxious way I used to. I think about those moments that are pre-destined for us as a family. I think about the first Thanksgiving when all three of my kids willingly come home from wherever they normally live. I think about all of the times I have to be completely overwhelmed with their presence. They don’t have to do anything special, because they are the absolute pinnacle of everything I had ever dared to dream of as a parent.
I was so lonely for Benjamin when Alex died. I was worried Benjamin would have to grow up as an only child and I was sad that he would miss out on the fun and love a sibling can bring. As I hear the loud laughter of him wrestling with Molly, my heart starts to hurt because it is such a beautiful sound. It takes my breath away. While I scold Molly for waking up the baby, I secretly cherish the fact that Molly is so excited to see her baby sister Emily that she Just. Can’t. Wait.
Life is full of good and bad and surprises and all of those things in between. What I believe now more than ever though, is that Life is Beautiful.
If I have learned anything, I now understand that not everything goes according to plan. Instead of delivering Emily on 8/25 as planned, she was born on 8/15. We are grateful that she was born healthy, despite her early arrival. At 37 weeks, she was a mere 5 lb, 13 oz.
We never expected to have such a tiny blessing. At 38 weeks, Molly was 8 lbs, so we were shocked to deliver a baby that was less than 6 lbs! In a drug induced, confused state, I believe I asked for a re-count when they announced the weight.
Fast forward three and a half weeks. Life has been a blur of diaper changes,
overnight feedings and the general chaos of juggling three kids. Life has never been richer, sweeter or more fulfilling. I look at these three crazy bears of mine, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude and frequently caught off-guard by how blessed I feel.
Benjamin is still the consummate big brother. At 5, he has started 5K in a new school and is adapting well. He takes pride in being the oldest and is eternally adaptable and easy going. He is indulgent of both his sisters and doesn’t resent having to share attention. I am so proud of the big boy he has grown into.
Molly is extraordinarily spirited. At 2, she has a distinct personality and isn’t afraid to express her opinions and perspective. She is not hindered by her limited vocabulary. She is adept at letting you know how she feels. As experience has
shown, when you reach a certain volume, sometimes words are extraneous. Molly enjoys the celebrity of being an older sister. She is happy to help retrieve things for the baby. In addition, she is content to stand by the bassinet chanting, “Baby, Baby. Baby” like it is a Justin Bieber remix dedicated to her sister.
Finally, we have Emily. She is so little she is practically pocket-sized. In fact, I call her my pocket peanut. She is mild-mannered and well-behaved. I am grateful to have yet another content and sweet child. Emily doesn’t cry and fuss. She eats, gazes around and doses at leisure. She doesn’t enjoy diaper changes or bath time, but she’s otherwise easy going and happy. I can lose a whole afternoon just snuggling her sweet little body. She falls asleep on my chest and I pat her little bottom that sticks straight up in the air. She exhales a squeaky noise to express her satisfaction and I swoon. #love
For now, I am completely reveling in the fact that I have three kids at distinctively different stages in life. I have a baby, a toddler and a school boy. Looking at all of them, I can appreciate how special each phase is. Even when dealing with a two-year old tantrum is hard, I can look at the school boy to recall how fleeting those times are. When I feel overwhelmed by lack of sleep, I can look at my big, independent toddler to remember how fast the baby stage passes. I have so many variations and iterations of mommyhood to compare and contrast… I am swimming in data points. I love it.
And even when we have rough days I am not amused with the whiny, bargaining of a school-aged child, and I am physically tired from picking a toddler up and putting her in timeout for the 90th time, I can cuddle my little pocket peanut. I can breathe in her sweet smell remember to cherish even the trying times.
In the wake of losing Alex, not all things are perfect. I still wonder at times what it might be like if I were just raising my two boys as I thought I would. I would never have to learn how to French braid hair. And I would probably not have memorized the movie Frozen. Most pronounced though, is that I would probably be able to complete all tasks of parenthood without the shadow of fear that comes from surviving a tragedy.
When I check on Emily, there is always the fleeting question of whether or not she is still breathing. I have no reason to doubt that she’s breathing, but there’s always the possibility in my mind that something could have gone inexplicably wrong. Again. I don’t live in permanent fear, but I have a constant nagging reminder of all the things that could go wrong. I hope that this concern makes me a more vigilant parent, and not just crazy. Time will tell. 😉
More than anything, losing Alex has reminded me of how wonderful it is to raise children. What a privilege and honor it is to hold a child. To comfort him; to hold her; to love her.
I remember this as I go through the less glamorous aspects of motherhood. Diaper changing, bottle washing, endless bedtime negotiations, mealtime. The single biggest thing I remember about losing Alex was the quiet, emptiness of life after he left us. No bottles to wash, no diapers to change. The freedom to nap and rest and do whatever I wanted. And how overwhelmingly painful that silence was.
So, I am in the thick of it now. Juggling three active and spirited kiddos. I am sleepy. Frequently unshowered, and trying to soak up every minute of it. With the delivery of Emily, we surgically closed the Jonas baby factory. Emily represents the final chapter in our story of parenthood. As we look at our journey, from the other side, I think less about what we are leaving behind, and more about what is up ahead. That’s a road worth traveling.