Seven years ago, our second son Alex passed away peacefully in his sleep. He had a congenital heart defect that we didn’t know about. I put him down for a nap, and he never woke up. He was 8 weeks old.
Benjamin was just 2.5 years old at the time. Too little to understand what had happened. Too little to even ask about Baby Alex after he died. I kept waiting for Benjamin to ask about him, but he didn’t. Explaining to Benjamin that his baby brother had died was a non-event. Benjamin calmly accepted and understood that Alex was in Heaven, and never asked anymore questions about it.
Explaining to the rest of the world that Alex was in Heaven was an entirely different matter. It would be months before I could re-tell the story without some sort of tears. The pain lingers.
It still hurts.
Unfortunately, when I think about Alex, I think about the pain more than the love. I had two months to love a perfect and beautiful little baby boy. I had two months to nurse and snuggle a little angel who would eat so loudly that he sounded like a little piggy. And when I think about that time, I mostly remember the pain.
We forget the pain of childbirth because the love for our children outweighs that event in our minds. For me, it is the sadness that lingers. I had a finite amount of joy with him in my arms. Every day since then has been a measurement of sadness compounding. Parenting an angel baby is the inverse of normal parenthood.
There is still joy. In my life, in my heart, in my world. And it outweighs the grief that persists. On most days.
Seeing posts about 7-year-old birthdays stings just a little bit. It is a reminder about a birthday we won’t celebrate with Alex. Seeing families with two boys makes me a little wistful. I wonder about what our life would be like with boys instead girls.
Most days are fine. The pain is manageable; it’s more of an ache than anything else.
Today things are a little more raw. My head goes back to that fuzzy state I was in after Alex died. I think the brain creates a fog to protect the heart. I will walk around like this until the clouds slowly clear and the rest of the world slowly comes into focus. In this transition, my husband and kids are the sunshine that pushes the clouds away. The noisy, funny, crazy and silly reminders that everything will be okay.
Seven years is long time to miss someone. But it’s just a reflection of how much we love him.
Seven years ago, our second son Alex passed away peacefully in his sleep. He had a congenital heart defect that we didn’t know about. I put him down for a nap, and he never woke up. He was 8 weeks old.
On Mother’s Day, most of us have relatively modest goals. Sleeping, have a bite to eat, maybe take a moment to read a book or do something for ourselves. Mine involves a massage, a movie and some Chinese food. My nine-year-old Benjamin has a baseball game at 2pm today, so we will see how many of those three items can be accomplished.
Mother’s Day today started much like any of our other days. Around 6 AM, my three-year-old Emily climbed into bed and proceeded to fall back asleep covering about 80% of my hair head and neck. Around 6:45 AM, my five-year-old Molly tried to climb in with me, realized that her sister was already in bed with me, and basically lost her mind.
Please note, that yesterday Molly had a 10-minute soliloquy about how much she loved me and how she was going to feed me breakfast in bed and massage my face. Today, she’s having a stroke because her sister had the audacity to get into bed with me first.
Around 7:45, Dad was a good Samaritan and got up out of bed and encouraged the girls to get up with him. Molly asked dad open to the present she bought with her birthday money last night at Target. (I used the promise of opening this gift this morning as the incentive I needed to coax her into bed last night.)
Of course, she was excited to open this gift first thing in the morning. Dad told her she had enough toys and that she should go back in her room and play with something else instead. A minor meltdown ensued. As much as you try to go back to sleep, you can’t help but hear all the chaos.
Through all the shouting, you know that the kids are having pancakes and sausage for breakfast. You know that somebody hid the remote. You know that somebody is not playing with somebody else. You know that somebody is sitting on someone else. You know that someone is thirsty, and that someone else didn’t want milk to drink. It is the usual chaos of any other day.
Today is Mother’s Day, but it is still a day like any other. And everything, and everybody is crazy.
Today, we moms all pretend to sleep in hopes that maybe we could have a couple of minutes to ourselves.
I would like to offer this perspective.
We lost our son Alex when he was only two months old. It was a time in life that was crazy with diapers to change and bottles to wash. I was so tired with the overwhelming work that comes with raising a two-year-old and a two-month-old, that I was so desperate for a break in all the work.
After Alex died, there are no more diapers to change, no more bottles to wash. The house was quiet, and I could sleep as long as I wanted. It was the darkest time in my life, and I could not get over how terrible I felt, for *ever* wishing to have less work as a mom.
Everything we do for our kids is a blessing. Each time we drop somebody off to an activity, when we give somebody a bath, when we send book fair money. Tying shoes, finding a ballet leotard, checking math homework, reminding someone to practice for piano, dropping somebody off to a birthday party or a baseball game, wiping a butt, washing someone’s hands, quizzing someone on spelling words, braiding someone’s hair, finding a baseball jersey, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Those tasks are an embarrassment of riches.
It is easy to get sucked into the details in everyday life. I would like to remind all of us overworked and tired mothers… The tasks of motherhood are blessings. There will be a time in our lives when we don’t have all this work, and we can look back smile how busy life used to be.
Today, like any other Mother’s Day, lean into the chaos and appreciate what a blessing it is to live in our world where we have kids to wake us up, kids to tuck in at night.
We have been blessed with families and without these crazy kids, we wouldn’t be mothers. Happy Mother’s Day mama – you deserve it!
I forgot the birthday cake. Normally on Alex’s birthday we have a birthday cake and a little party. Nothing big, but something we celebrate as a family to remember our special boy.
We used to have a party with our friends on Alex’s birthday. Life got busy. People couldn’t make it, so we stopped doing a bigger event. This year, we aren’t even doing a cake.
Things are kind of winding down on how we mark this day. I don’t think it is bad. I just think that things have changed. I used to spend a lot of time anticipating this date; counting down, and trying to predict how I would handle it. I used to take the day off. Not this year. Big meetings at work. At a new job. I have a dinner tonight. No time for all the birthday pomp and circumstance. It feels… okay.
Thinking about Alex is still hard. I still miss him and he is still a part of our family. We remember him everyday at prayers. If we try to introduce our family without him, his name will still come up. We might be talking to someone we just met, and we will casually explain that we have 3 kids: Benjamin who is 9, Molly who is 5 and Emily who is 3. Immediately, without fail, one of the kids will interrupt us and say, “No! We have 4 kids. We have 2 boys and 2 girls. Not 3 kids!” It used to be just Benjamin who would correct us. Now either Molly or Benjamin will correct us. In another year or two, I think that Emily will join in too.
It is kind of ironic… two kids who never knew Alex jump in to defend him and make sure that we don’t leave him out when we talk about our family. I think that is good, and healthy. But I’m not sure.
I can still be sad about Alex, but trying to really dig deep into those feelings seems a little hollow. For every sad memory I have about losing Alex, I have dozens more happy moments of his siblings. Alex was born April 11, 2011 and he died June 9, 2011 from an unknown congenital heart defect. Miracle Molly was born May 29, 2012.
I tried to do the math in my head last night. I was up late thinking about today, and I was trying to remember… how long was it before I knew I was pregnant with Molly? I think I found out in October? So basically June 9 through October xx was sheer hell. Awful every single day. Hard to wake up. Hard to face the world. Hard to breathe.
And then on that magical day on October xx, the sun started to shine again and the whole world came back into focus. Maybe 100+ days of agony, but then years and years of gratitude? Molly was our first blessing. Then another loss, then our sweet Emily. Blessings upon blessings. An embarrassment of riches.
My personality is to hedge losses and optimize the best possible outcomes. I never expect perfect, but I try to create the most favorable scenario. Trading in 100+ days for years of joy? I can wrap my head around that. I do recognize that life doesn’t work like that. I know that God doesn’t work like that. But, it makes it easier for me to reconcile all that has happened in my mind.
I can still celebrate Alex’s birthday and his presence in our lives as a blessing. I hope that having him in our family has made us better parents, and better people. I am grateful for the 60 days he spent in our arms. *And* his absence will always be a part of me.
When Alex died, my heart shattered. It didn’t break into two parts. It exploded from the inside. But, I think that all those fragments have come back together. Each moment with Emily, Molly and Benjamin has helped to fuse those pieces together. I never thought that my heart would be whole again, but through the love of my children and the grace of God, I have a much stronger, more resilient heart.
Today is still sad. Somber, melancholy, bittersweet, whatever you want to call it. But, it’s no longer tragic. Maybe that’s why I don’t need to dress this day up with a cake and balloons. Hard to say. Either way, we say an extra prayer for our Angel Alex, and we blow out some metaphorical candles, hoping all his wishes come true.
Tomorrow marks 6 years since Alex died. Six years ago I put my sweet baby down for a nap, and a few hours later I was doing CPR, frantically calling 911.
Six years ago I was desperately wondering… If we would ever have more kids. If Benjamin would be an only child. If I could ever forgive myself. If I could ever forget the awful experience. If I would ever sleep soundly again. If I could imagine going back to work. If life would ever get back to normal. If I would ever feel joy again.
Time moves on. Life goes on. Hearts heal. Minds forget. God forgives.
I divide my life into two stages: before Alex died and after Alex died. Before Alex died, I don’t think I fully appreciated all the blessings we had in life. I loved our life, but I don’t think I truly cherished experiences and people the way I should have.
After Alex died, I went through a long stage where I was numb. I didn’t feel anything. There was no sound, no color. I felt like I saw the world in black and white and I heard everything around me as if I were underwater. Everything was muted and my role in life was passive and distant.
But time does heal. Colors came into focus. Sounds got louder. Pain came back. Joy surfaced in unexpected places.
I like to find meaning in things. I like to contemplate why things happen, and I like to understand how the world fits together. Our life is not a linear path with a singular destination. It is a series of detours and wrong turns. I hate that. I want things to be clean and tidy, without surprise. Getting us to the best possible destination with the most optimized route.
I like to think that these anniversaries with Alex mean something. Something worthwhile, something significant, something more than just a date on the calendar. When I pull back the layers though, there is nothing new under the sun.
While the event hasn’t changed, the perspective I bring to it has. I see the beauty in the time we had with Alex. I admire the resilience our family had going on with life. I appreciate how blessed we are to have our three beautiful children all arguing in the backseat. Yes, even our two year old finds a way to argue with her sister.
There is joy in life. There is peace in my heart. This time of year is painful, but I take solace in that there is another year of love and laughter in our future.
Sending you love and hugs my sweet boy- now and forever.
This time of year starts it. The first time you open up the windows in the house and the spring air streams through the house. When you drive home from work with the windows open for the very first time. You see the sun shining and the air is warm… it brings it all back.
It was like it was yesterday. My ankles are swollen, and my bladder is full. I’m craving grapefruit, and donuts and I know that he’s almost here. This time of year gives me that pregnant deja vu. That sharp pang when I remember everything I felt right before Alex was born.
April 11 will be 6 years. 6 years ago when he was born to us via planned c-section. We calmly drove to the hospital and knew we would be leaving with a baby. A little boy to complete our family. Benjamin was only 2.5, but he was primed and ready to become a big brother. We had been in training for months, so he understood all the benefits and responsibilities of being a big brother. If the baby wakes you up in the middle of the night? Stay in bed. If mommy is nursing the baby when you want to play? Wait your turn. If the baby is too little to eat ice cream and pizza? You can have his share!
6 years ago before we knew anything would ever go wrong.
Alex was born on April 11 and died in his sleep on June 9. We had two perfect months to enjoy him and celebrate our two boys together. Every year this anniversary is a painful milestone that doesn’t seem to get easier.
I can feel the emotion welling up inside. Like a force you can’t deny, but you just try to wait for the moment to pass. You’re on the verge of tears, which feels foreign. You’re so used to the reality of his death that it doesn’t stun you anymore. When the kids ask questions about Baby Alex in Heaven, you can answer them without sadness. You try to find a gentle explanation for everything, and you go on about your day. Packing lunches and checking homework. You acknowledge his absence without sadness. You can accept where things are in life.
Something about Springtime disrupts the equilibrium. As the world around me thaws and the sun comes out, there is a rebirth I’m expecting. My body is expecting this baby to come back to me and it hurts all over again.
Life is so busy. There are soccer practices and clothes to fold and books to read. There isn’t time to sit in solitude and pine for my little baby who’s gone. Maybe that’s what is always so striking about this time of year. There is an urgency to this grief that cuts through the everyday chaos. There is something about this time of year that won’t be ignored.
So I surrender. I accept the fact that there are times of day where the pain of missing him takes my breath away. There are unexpected moments where my eyes well with tears and I can’t remember what I was just doing. I have 6 years of data points that tell me that everything will be okay, but doesn’t take away the sharp pangs in my heart as I long to hold a baby who is no longer with us. I know this time will pass, but it doesn’t make the pain any less intense.
I hate being defenseless. I hate not having any control to how I feel or when I feel things. I don’t like this emptiness that washes over me, especially since I can’t stop it.
I don’t know how to make it better. I don’t know what I want or even what will make things more bearable. Do I want to be alone? Do I want to be with friends? Do I want to cry? Do I just want to laugh and forget? What I want is to be done. To have this time of year pass without pain and sadness.
I typically get a little birthday cake for Alex on his birthday. The kids blow out the candles and we sing. I don’t know if I have it in me today. Tomorrow might be better, but today I don’t see myself buying that cake in celebration. We love him, which is why is it hard to lose him all over again.
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,