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Monthly Archives: October 2011

#23: One Year

 

Sometimes it seems like things would be easier if I didn’t remember so much. I go through life, and I remember what life was like at this time last year. We go through the motions of birthday parties, Halloween festivities and work conferences, and I remember what life was like last year. Before we met Alex. Before we lost him. Before all this terrible sadness.

I remember what we were doing last year at this time and sorrow bubbles up from within and I feel it get caught in my throat. I need to wait until a time when I can deal with it, so instead I choke it down. It happens at the most unpredictable and inconvenient times. When I’m changing Benjamin, when I’m waiting at a traffic light, when I’m on hold on the phone.

I can’t deal with it then; I need to wait. Until Benjamin is asleep, until the emails are answered, until I’m alone. What then? I have the time to cope, and I’m not sure what to think, or what to do.

I remember. The downy soft silk of his hair, and the smooth, warm caress of his cheek. The rhythmic sound of his breathing as he slept and the sturdy weight of him in my arms. It’s gone and I’m not sure I’ll have that feeling again in my entire life.

I didn’t know this year was going to be so hard. I had no idea. I didn’t know our lives were going to be ripped apart at the seams, torn inside out and scattered into a million pieces on the ground. I’m not complaining, I just didn’t know it was coming.

I think back to how different life was a year ago. I had a belly bursting with new life and a heart overflowing with joy. A year later, I still have remnants of the belly, just shadows of the joy.

The more time passes, the more I seem to remember about life before Alex. All the pregnant moments I shared with him, all the maternal hopefulness I had for the life growing inside me. Before I had met him, or had even named him, I had bestowed upon him all of my hopes and dreams. Dreams of him growing up big and strong like his brother. Hopes that he would stay cuddly and affectionate, long after Benjamin had stopped. Wishes that we would mature into the family I have dreamed of for so many years.

I’m not saying it’s over and that our plans as a family are done. I’m just saying that just one year ago life was so much easier than anything we face right now. Even with a  toddler running around, life was simple and carefree. Our days were uncomplicated and our nights were peaceful. Today, any given day could be a waking nightmare.

Another year could bring us unimaginable joy. 365 days of blessings. I don’t know. All I know is that while memory is a gift, there are times when it hurts.


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Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

#22: Waiting

Sometimes I feel utterly unprepared to be a mother. Like when Benjamin gets hurt. I console him while he cries and I wrack my brain to think about how I’m supposed to fix whatever it is that is swollen, bleeding, etc.

Two nights ago, Benjamin was playing in the pantry while I was (gasp!) cooking dinner. It was a pretty special event since I don’t cook much, so he was excited to have free reign of all the boxes and cans while I stirred dinner. A can of spaghetti-os (with meatballs) hit him on the face. Tears. Blood. Eek.

As I picked him up and dried his tears, I try to figure out the source of the bleeding. Just above his mouth? Inside his mouth? Teeth all present and accounted for? Are any teeth loose? What do I do if the teeth are loose? Don’t I soak them in milk? Will the strawberry milk in the fridge work, or will the sugar negate the milk-soaking benefits? Should I be icing something? Not like frosting, but like using ice to chill the area. Is there any swelling? Do we have any band-aids? These are the thoughts that go through my head.

As it turns out, I wipe the cut above his lip. The bleeding stops. No ice or band-aid required. The unexplained blood from his mouth didn’t prevent him from enjoying a sympathy cup of juice. And for added measure, 2 episodes of the Wiggles seemed to make everything better. Did I just administer health care, or just a favorite TV show and some juice?

What does a “good” mom do? Does she know what type of first aid to administer and when? Was there a checklist or something that I was supposed to do? Since Alex died, I feel a greater responsibility to keep Benjamin safe, and I feel inadequately prepared for the task. I know there will be injuries that apple juice and TV can’t fix… how do I know that I’m up for the challenge?

People ask how I’m doing with things, and I still struggle to find an answer. I’m not back to ‘normal.’ I don’t know that there will be a time when I will feel as good as I did before Alex died. I’m not drowning in tears either. I shuffle between sad and forlorn more than I’d like to, but it’s not a hopeless, desperate situation. I get through life and feel generally optimistic about the future.

That’s the best any of us can hope for, right? A general contentedness with our lives, and the quiet hope that life is more smiles than tears. A silent belief that God has good planned for us in the future… and riches beyond our wildest imaginations. I don’t hope to win the lottery, or to retire from work at the age of 40. I hope for a happy, healthy family that includes fighting in the backseat, and arguments about who gets the last popsicle.

I long for debates about who got the better Christmas presents and arguments about who gets to choose the breakfast cereal for the week. Not that Benjamin isn’t enough. He’s a gift that I will always be grateful for. But he’s only a piece of the vision I have for our family. I crave a house full of love and memories, comprised of children running and playing. The sound of one child laughing is small compared to the vision in my heart. I see us raising more than one child and I yearn for the chaos that can only come from chasing after multiple children.

I know it’s not my choice. I know I don’t get make the final decision about how big our family is. In the meantime, I keep track of potential baby names as I hear them, and I don’t stop myself from buying baby clothes for ‘just in case.’ The love that Alex has filled in my heart gives me the strength and fortitude to ask for more blessings. Until then, I wait.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

#21: Time

I’m not done and I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry that I can’t perfectly explain “what’s wrong with me.” I’m not sorry that I haven’t figured out what to say yet. I’m not sorry that other people have moved on and I’m still working on things. I will feel bad about a lot of things, but taking time to mourn my sweet boy is not one of them.

Today was a big day and I have a lot to process. We got the official death certificate in the mail today. The legal paper that certifies that my little piggy is gone forever. I knew that it was coming, it’s just so weird to see it on paper. I think of all those other legal certificates we have in our safety deposit box. They’re papers representing happy occasions: my naturalization papers, our marriage license, Benjamin’s baptismal certificate, birth certificates. Now we have something else to add to that stack- why is it that I’d rather just throw it away?

The cause of death is different from what we were told it would say. It reads, “arterial heart condition and unsafe sleeping environment.” Really? All those people who have told me this wasn’t my fault, and the official cause of death is that I failed to keep my child in a ‘safe’ sleeping environment? That hurts more than I can even express. I hope that everyone knows that I would have done and will do anything to keep my children safe in any and all circumstances. Who is this coroner who gets to pass judgment on me and my skills as a parent? I am literally falling apart at the seams as I mull this over in my mind. I can’t bear the thought that there is anyone on this earth who thinks I keep my children in unsafe conditions.

This person doesn’t know me. This person doesn’t know how much my children define me. How grateful I am to be a mother. How much I have prayed for the safety and well-being of my children. How many books, articles, magazines and websites I read to ensure that I raise my children to the absolute best of my abilities. How much thought I put into what they eat, what they wear, when they nap, what diapers they wear, when I should be introducing them to different skills… This person has no idea who I am as a mother, but all the time I’ve spent with Alex has been reduced to an unsafe sleeping environment, the sign of an unfit and careless mother.

We had Benjamin at Children’s hospital this afternoon. We had an echo done on his heart to ensure that he doesn’t have the same heart condition that Alex had. Benjamin was so brave and helpful as he sat still for 30 minutes while the nurse did a complete scan of his heart. He watched Dora and sat patiently until she was done. All clear. Benjamin’s heart is perfectly healthy, and the slight murmur they detected last week didn’t show any cause for concern.

While I should be relieved by this, I wasn’t really surprised. Lightening doesn’t strike twice on the same family, does it? After all we have been through, I couldn’t honestly imagine that we would have more trials to withstand as a family. God is kind and just- but He’s not crazy. No way He would put me through something that scary with my one remaining child on earth.

As we chatted with the cardiologist more, he explained a little more about Alex’s heart condition. He explained that this particular heart defect is the #2 cause of death in child athletes- that it’s a condition that can be completely asymptomatic, and that very rarely is it detected until it’s too late.

I almost didn’t want to know, but I had to ask. “Was what happened to Alex inevitable?” I mean, I was there when it happened. I did the CPR. I called 911. I was there for all of it. Was there any way that this could have been prevented? The cardiologist hedged a little. He said it’s impossible to know exactly, but based on his experience with children and this type of condition, he said it would have happened. He didn’t give us an age, or specifics, but he said this was going to happen anyway.

I know that knowledge doesn’t bring Alex back. It doesn’t really even prove that the Medical Examiner was wrong. There are two conflicting opinions and one baby who’s gone forever. And that is what I have to think about.

I don’t ask people to get involved. I don’t ask people to take on my pain. I don’t ask for sympathy or flowers or even a break from work. What do I think I deserve? A little space. A little benefit of the doubt. I deserve to go through the night without being accused of being “crabby” or without someone demanding, “why does it take you so long to think about things anyway?”

My thinking, my wondering, my pondering- that doesn’t hurt anyone, and I should be able to do it for as long as I need to. I don’t wallow in tears and I don’t shut myself out from the world. If I want to take a few extra minutes of silence because the coroner officially documented that my baby died because it was my fault, I think I’m entitled.

 

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

#20- Hidden Piggy

We took Benjamin to Children’s Hospital yesterday. Our pediatrician advised us to get Benjamin checked to have peace of mind that Benjamin doesn’t have the same heart abnormality that Alex did. We arrived and everyone seemed confused about why we were there. We needed to re-live the circumstances of Alex’s death, explain the heart abnormality without any of the proper medical terms at our disposal. They ran one quick test and it wasn’t even the test that would tell us if Benjamin is a-ok.

After the doctor’s office, we took Benjamin to Build-A-Bear. His first trip. On the way there, I asked him what kind of bear he wanted to build. He didn’t know what I meant, so I explained that he could build a little bear, or a big bear, or a brown bear, or a white bear. He thought for a moment, then told me, “I want to build a Mommy Bear that’s just like you.” Melted my heart.

As sweet and pure as that moment was, I wonder what Alex might have said. If Alex had been 2 years, 10 months old, what would my sweet Piggy have said? Who knows- maybe he would have been a Daddy’s boy.

I haven’t heard the firetruck in awhile. It’s made me sad. I wonder if I was just hallucinating all those times before, or maybe I haven’t been listening closely enough. I heard the familiar siren this morning and raced into the room. It was Benjamin. He was pushing the fire truck along, prompting the siren. I was momentarily dejected, but then I glimpsed a flash of pink. What on earth could be pink on a traditional red fire truck?

A little pig. I have no idea why, but there was a little plastic piggy nestled into the fire engine. I don’t recognize him, so I’m not sure where he came from. Other mommies can confirm it- we *know* the toys that belong to our kids. When we’re cleaning the playroom and stumble upon a lone car, action figure or lego that’s not ours- we know. It’s crystal clear when a foreign toy emerges. This piggy is unknown. His presence on that fire engine made me catch my breath.

Sometimes I can’t quite let it all out. I don’t know why. It’s like I have all these tears about ready to boil over and they get stuck. A lump in my throat, a pain in my chest and a hole in my heart. I am stuck in my world, going through the motions. The grief starts to skim past the surface and I choke it back down.

I don’t know why. I don’t feel like I need to be strong for anyone, and after all that has happened, I’d like to think that I’m not a slave to those around me, worried that my emotions might make them uncomfortable.

But I’m here, aching from the pain, wanting to release all the sadness, and it won’t come. I don’t know why.

It isn’t like I feel instantly better when I cry. I’m just still relieved that I can summon up that emotion for my boy. He was amazing and I miss him. Where is the sign that I still miss him? The salty, stinging tears to reassure me that, yes, I loved my boy.

I sit here, feeling impotent and worse than I did before. My baby is gone and I want to fall over in sadness and I just can’t let it go. I’m cold, indifferent, stoic, unmoved. What kind of mother can’t cry for her son? This one. I don’t know what’s holding me back, but I know that the pain doesn’t escape if the tears can’t flow.

When Alex first died, the emotions were right underneath the surface, accessible and unpredictable. Now, they’re deeper and I can’t get them to flow. I’m not sure what is worse- numbing the pain, or having it consume you.

In the meantime, I watch Benjamin play with his fire truck, the mystery piggy tucked into one of the compartments. There’s time for sadness another day.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Blog #19: Over

It’s almost over. I don’t know what the “it” is, but it feels like everything is coming to an end. The Medical Examiner is going to sign the death certificate. (Cause of death: inconclusive) Losing Alex has become a circumstance rather than the theme of our lives. At one time, losing Alex was the central theme that all our days revolved around. Now it is a fact, but not the only thing that matters. 

I’m not even doing my grief rituals anymore. I haven’t visited Alex’s grave in months. I don’t listen to the same sad CD over and over. I don’t write in my journal until I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m just going through life. Insert all the clichés here that apply: “taking it one day at a time,” “time heals.” Whatever you say, the truth is that our family is okay and despite the sadness, we’re still here.

I am in the process of planning Benjamin’s third birthday party. Last year, I thought that we might want to start scaling things back. I thought that we should start to have smaller, easier gatherings to celebrate birthdays. I was wrong. Life is to be celebrated at every possible opportunity. There is never a guarantee that you will get to celebrate another birthday for yourself, or for your loved ones. Seize the moment. Go big. Forget small. Who cares if there is a “theme?” Gather everyone who loves you, put them in the same room, have some cake and say “we made it another year!”

While I can celebrate Benjamin’s birthday, I’m still sad that Alex doesn’t get a celebration. I have the strangest triggers. Someone can point to a baby and I can smile and coo, just like everyone else. But then I think about how big Alex would be right now if he had lived… I think about how much he would have looked like his brother. I think about how he would be sitting up by now. I think about all the clothes he’ll never wear… and the sadness returns.

The grief catches me off-guard because it occurs unexpectedly, and less frequently. I thought that life was harder when I was sad all the time. While I don’t want to go back to that place, there was a quiet predictability about feeling blue all day long. These days, I can have several great days in a row, and then be completely caught by surprise when I find Alex’s Halloween costume in the basement. He was going to be a hotdog. I’m not sure why a hotdog. Probably because the hotdog was on sale.

I know that I can’t have him back. At least in this lifetime. I accept it with a defeated sigh. I blink away tears and I try to think about something else.

Our closest friends planted us a tree with a bench and an engraved stone with his name on it. A beautiful testament to the life Alex lived, and a tribute to those who loved him. I love all the things the tree represents. The tree is an everyday celebration of the life we held in our arms that is no longer in our lives, but remains in our hearts. I look at the tree and imagine it growing big and strong- just like my boy.

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Uncategorized