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.