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#77: 8 Years in Heaven

Alex went to Heaven 8 years ago. The worst day of my life has sort of transformed over the years into something else. Sometimes it is just sadness… other times it is joy that Alex got to enter the Kingdom of Heaven at such a sweet, young age. There are times when I feel bad that I don’t remember every single detail of Alex. I mourn the loss of his memory as much as the loss of holding him here on earth. I feel the emptiness in my arms and I am disappointed that we were robbed of so many memories that we should have had.

Today is a little different. We have three kids on a roadtrip heading back from a wedding in Wisconsin. Benjamin is the patient older brother who sits in the very back seat, and can be trusted to pack his own things. He doesn’t complain about where we stop for lunch and he is never the first one who needs the bathroom. Molly is the spirited middle child who is never quite satisfied. Not satisfied with the movie we watch in the car, not happy with what we order for lunch, and has strong opinions about where everyone should be sitting in the car. Emily will head to Kindergarten in the Fall, but she is so little she will probably be sitting in a 5-point harness for the next decade. I see all these personalities come together for a 6-hour road trip, and it doesn’t feel empty.

I will always miss Alex, but it doesn’t feel like he is missing from this equation. We have the family that God has intended for us to have. We don’t need to understand everything. It doesn’t change where we are at anyway…

I drove Emily to preschool last week and she was in a jolly mood in the car. At times like that you can just nod and say “mmm hmm” and she will keep talking for days. She tells me, “We have love in our heart. And Alex is in our heart. And he is my brother who is 8. And I have another brother who is 10. And I have a sister who is 7. And I am the little girl, and I am 4.” I have to say that our little girl seems to understand the world pretty well.

I think about Alex in different ways. It feels more about how his death has impacted our family, than why or how he died. I knew very little about SIDS when it happened, and even less about congenital heart defects. I have learned through this process that understanding and acceptance are two different concepts. I can understand the medical specifics of what happened, and that is completely separate from accepting that our family will always be a little bit different.

I have always thought that life is easier now with three kids, than it was when we had just Benjamin as a baby at home. Having your first kid is hard. You never know what you’re doing and you feel like everyone knows more than you. I hate that feeling. By the time we had Emily, we had been through 4 c-sections, we had been through nursing and pumping and swaddling and we knew everything we needed to know. When I was on maternity leave with Benjamin, it was hard because everyone would say, “enjoy it now! It goes so fast!” like every day was supposed to be a Hallmark commercial or something. I was sleep deprived, unshowered, and ravenous from nursing. I hated the thought that I didn’t have enough gratitude for this miracle that we had been given. Our perfect 23” baby that we had waited almost 2 years for. I felt like if I really *were* grateful, I wouldn’t be so exhausted.

After Alex died, I had a lot of second thoughts about all the things I felt like we missed out on. I feel like we declined invitations, and didn’t go places because of the inconvenience of packing up a toddler and a baby. Once that baby was gone, all I could think about was the missed opportunities. I thought we had plenty of time to take him to the zoo, or to visit friends. In reality, we weren’t guaranteed more time and we should have done things when we had the time.

So, I promised that if we had the opportunity to have another baby, that I wouldn’t let my perceived inconvenience of things prevent me from doing things. The minute we left the hospital with Molly, I was off and running. I had Molly shopping at the outlet mall within a week with Miss Li, and I had her in the Dells within a few months with her Drina and Drino. I wanted to fulfill the promise of doing #allthethings.

Fast forward to today, we have three kids and a busy life. We try to travel with the kids and share the world with them. In 2018, we had the kids in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Boston, New York… all over! When we travel with the kids, it gets us out of the routine tasks of laundry and unloading the dishwasher, and we giggle and enjoy the experience of seeing new things. Staying in new hotels and having new, exotic chicken tenders.

And in these moments, life feels full. Our hearts are full and our arms are full. There are more than enough hands to hold and we are more full than empty.

It can feel hard to realize that the biggest impact of Alex’s life is the imprint he left now that he is gone. He casts a bigger shadow in death than he did in life. There’s no sense if that is good or bad, it is just true. Today we remember his life, and like every day, we continue to celebrate him as a very special part of our family.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

#76: 8 Years

4/11/2019img_0869Today Today is so hard. There is a constant battle between normal and sad and it takes over unexpectedly, no way to control it. School was canceled today due to snow. I have 3 kids running around the house. Happy, excited to have both parents home, typical chaos for our household. There are moments of unbelievable pain that wash over me. Unexpectedly and unprovoked. In the middle of a work call, in the middle of an email, in the middle of a normal, daily task.

I talk about Alex at least 4 times a day. We mention him at meal prayers, evening prayers, any prayers… I can say his name without welling up with sadness. And then on his birthday I have a tangible reminder of the missing bear from our den. He would have been 8 years old today. That’s a third grader.

He would be playing baseball, watching YouTube, I don’t even know. I assume that he would have been a carbon copy of his brother, but that is probably selling Alex a little short. He would be his own person. He would have his own personality, his own preferences, his own hopes and dreams. He wasn’t with us long enough to learn any of this, so I can only speculate.

There is beauty that we don’t know. Alex remains this perfect baby boy who never caused problems. He didn’t spill chocolate milk in the backseat, and he never left his bike outside in the rain overnight. He never forgot to do his homework, and he never complained about practicing piano.

So many “nevers” to think about. He never learned his first word, never learned to walk, never gave us a first toothy grin.

Alex left us unexpectedly on June 9, 2011. He was 2 months old and so very loved. He went down for a nap, stopped breathing and never woke up. CPR, my prayers and my tears did nothing to revive him. I was alone. I think about those sad, scary moments we spent together and I weep. Tears because he’s gone, tears because I couldn’t save him, tears because there are no real words to explain what we went through.

We have abundant blessings in our lives. We are surrounded by friends and family, now more than ever. And there is still a gap. A hole in our family and a void in my heart. Time nor tears can heal it. We learn to live with the pain. We accept what is missing and focus on what is present.

Everything comes back though. The pain. The tears. The fogginess in my brain that was so helpful in protecting my heart. A numbness that makes me want to crawl under the covers and just check out for the rest of the day.

The day goes on. We dispense meals and snacks. We trudge through meetings and work. Life moves on, just like our family. There’s no better way to explain things. Today is so hard.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

#75: Seven Years

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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.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

#74: Happy Mother’s Day

IMG_2271.pngOn 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!

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

#73: Seven Years

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.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

#72: Six Years

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.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

#71: Again

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.

 

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2017 in Uncategorized