A heart big enough

You know those flashbacks you get from the photo sites? The ones that will sporadically email or alert you with a little message, “Flashback: Here’s what you were doing last year on this date.”

Super fun. Maybe, for some. But for me, I keep getting them at inopportune times. And for some reason, they always pick this day four years ago. This day four years ago was filled with photos of my then 18-month-old son, now my angel in Heaven.

This day four years ago, we were vacationing on the beach with a little man who was finally free of oxygen tanks and tubes, healthy enough to travel, who was learning to roll over, and feeling the sand in his toes for the very first time.

This day four years ago I was navigating a new normal of first time parenting, loving and caring for a child recently discharged after ten months in NICU, and walking a fine line of over-protecting, and keeping a fragile, near-infant-blossoming-toddler safe, happy, and healthy.

Four years ago today.

Today, here I am, raising a new, tiny human, who I never could have imagined in my most wild predictions would have been a part of my world. A new little man in my life. Not my first born. Not mine by birth or blood. But mine, all the same.

Today, I am loving this little man with a heart I never thought would be whole again. 

Today, my broken heart, torn by the loss of my first born, is growing every day with a love I never knew was possible. A love that has taken every day to nurture and grow since this little man was placed in my care. A love that is not easy, nor natural even, but takes immeasurable strength, patience, and gratitude to accomplish.

A love, that this heart – this broken, battered, and beaten heart – is big enough to hold. Because of my angel in Heaven, and because of my angel on Earth.

Always watching

Today I got a flat tire on the freeway with my three-year-old in the back seat. Thankfully, my mom was with us, and we called AAA and patiently waited an hour for a nice man to come and put the spare on in mere minutes.

Yes, we could have changed the tire. But, like I said, we pulled over on the freeway. And the flat was on the driver’s side. And my three-year-old was with us.

I put on my hazard lights and opened the trunk for a little extra visibility. We carefully got out of the car, loaded the little man into the stroller, and made our way over to the shady grass several yards from the fast passing cars.

As we watched those cars zipping by, he happily ate his snacks, pointed at airplanes, and talked about ants.

I looked up to see one of those planes as he said. “Mommy, look what I hear!” And I laughed. Then, in the tree above us, I spotted a dot of red. A cardinal, sitting over us, watching as those cars rushed by.

In that moment of stress and annoyance, danger and delay, my angel, his brother in Heaven, stopped by to check on his mama, brother, and grammy.

My angel, always with me, always watching, always keeping me safe.

Minutes later a police officer stopped, and waited, until the tow truck arrived.

Call it what you want

History or legend, fact or fiction, there are millions of stories written in books, told through generations, shared through song, that help solidify beliefs in a higher being and an afterlife.

I read or hear or watch people’s journeys with faith, and to be honest, I often judge. Every person’s belief system is their own, and truly a choice and feeling only oneself can truly know and understand. But when those who choose to make their faith public or make statements about others based solely on religious doctrine, I cringe with distaste.

Call it God, call it faith, call it what you want, but in the end, it’s all the same.

We all want, yearn, need to know that there is more than this. This life, this path we are navigating, this journey full of treaturous obstacles and endless heartbreak just has to lead to something more. This just can’t be all there is.

I have a very good friend who has a very dear mom. They are a source of support and compassion for countless people, and they have a faith that rarely wavers and always leads them to treat others with kindness, follow their hearts, and live their lives with passion and adventure.

They have a saying when it comes to decision-making, and they’ve shared it with me many times when I’ve reached a crossroads or felt my pain had become insufferable.

“This is not a dress rehearsal,” they tell me. We get one chance, one life, one shot. So do it big, make it grand, give it everything and regret nothing.

While I truly appreciate the sentiment, and totally agree with the YOLO craze, I fear my sweet angel in Heaven has me believing something different.

Maybe this is the dress rehearsal. Maybe my sweet angel, your sweet angels, all our beautiful departed loved ones are looking at us from above and laughing, while eating ice cream for breakfast and Oreos for dinner, saying things like, “Good effort, Mommy! You can slip and fall, and make mistakes, and do it a thousand times over. I will still be here, waiting for you, loving you, no matter what.”

So, I will keep practicing. I will keep falling and I will continue failing. I will get bumps and bruises on my already sore and burdened heart.

But that’s ok. Because this is my dress rehearsal. And I’m nowhere near opening night.

How can I not be?

I am a neurotic parent. I worry about everything. I take the phrase ‘helicopter mom’ to a whole new level. I am a psychotic, overbearing, strict, insane parent. How can I not be?

I’ve been trying to figure out another way since the day I was blessed with my second child. He is a beautiful, healthy, smart, and independent three-year-old. And I am driving myself absolutely nuts trying to be the perfect parent.

I push him to use manners, because I want a polite child. I encourage him to dress himself, brush his own teeth, use the potty, even if he is not quite ready, because I want him to learn independence. Yet, I get angry when he disobeys. Sometimes I raise my voice and sometimes I lose my temper. I am a strict and often unforgiving parent. How can I not be?

I want him to understand that life isn’t always fair. That we all have to do things we don’t want to do. I want to teach him all the tough lessons, so he doesn’t have to learn them any other way, or from anyone else. But sometimes, I feel like I am too tough. How can I not be?

He tests me. He pushes and I push back. He is learning to fit into our little world, with an insecurity and fear I know I will never understand. He is a determined child. He has never know stability and he has only experienced abandonment. I will never leave him. But I am terrified of him leaving me. How can I not be?

I am a lucky parent. I have had two beautiful boys, one I carried, and one who was gifted to me. They will never be brothers on Earth. I will always be sad for that fact. How can I not be?

I am exhausted. Half of me grieves while the other half parents. I am in constant turmoil over trying to appreciate my blessings while grasping to understand my tragedies. I dream of an easier life. I want to become stronger from these challenges, but oftentimes I am just angry, and tired, and scared. How can I not be?

I want to be better. I want to know that what I am doing is right, and just, and good. I want my boys to appreciate the mother I am trying to be. I don’t want to be this person full of self doubt. How can I not be?

I am the mother of a son on Earth and a son in Heaven. I have an angel to guide me and a child to help me learn the way. I may falter, and I may fail, but at the end of every day, I am a loving mother trying her best. And I am happy. How can I not be?

 

 

Loss vs. longing

For a bereaved parent, loss is a suffering, a burden, a fact of life that will never change. Losing a child is an event that constantly haunts, nags, and weighs on the heart like no other ache in this world.

But the loss itself is something that can be acknowledged, accepted, and even appreciated for how it changes you, what it teaches you, and how it helps you grow.

But for me, it’s not the loss that gets me. I know in my heart that I will see my baby again someday, and in some way we will be together again. The loss, I can accept, it’s the longing that tears at my soul and crushes my heart.

The longing to feel him lay against me. The longing to hear that sweet voice. The longing that I will never know what he would have been like at five, or fifteen, or twenty-five. The longing to have him here, with me, to see that he is good and happy. The longing to understand why it was his purpose to touch my life in the most amazing way, then have to go away.

I long for a day where I find a way to appreciate this longing. The loss I will accept. The longing is what hurts the most because I know there is no way to fill that void and cure the ache inside my soul.

Changing wallpaper

Five years, four jobs, three phones, two numbers, one sweet face has served as my ‘wallpaper’ and I see it every time my phone rings with a call, alarms to wake me, chimes with a new text or email.

But today, a new kind of mom-guilt set in when I was talking to a coworker about our new addition, and it took me several clicks of my phone to find a photo.

Maybe, after two years of living without him, it’s time to change the wallpaper. Time to put his little brother on the ‘front page.’ Time to turn this page.

The mere thought of removing my dear, sweet angel from the front of my phone brought a chill over me. But simultaneously I felt the yearning to give this beautiful, new, precious gift of mine the spotlight, the shine, the attention, he also deserves.

It’s my phone, for Heaven’s sake!

Yes, this is the tearful internal debate I have with myself after a three-minute conversation about daycare and potty training. But, how on Earth, do I make such an impactful decision that will weigh on my grieving heart and distracted mind? It’s as impossible as parenting a son in Heaven and a son on Earth.

For now, I’m going to take a page out of my mom’s playbook. When my sister and I were young and shared bunk beds, we would argue over who got to sleep on the top bunk. Mom’s solution was rotate. Each week one of us would get the top bunk, then, at the end of the week, we’d wash the sheets and swap beds.

So, that’s what I’ll do with my wallpaper. One week will be my angel in Heaven. The next week I’ll swap and display my angel on Earth.

Thanks, Mom!

You’re still here

Today, the day before your ‘angelversary’ we got a note in your little brother’s preschool folder. Thursday, they are inviting all the little ones to come to school in their pajamas to raise awareness for childhood cancer.

You may be in Heaven, sweet angel, but you’re still here.

Tomorrow, it will be two years since you went to Heaven. Two years since I heard you laugh. Two years since I held you tight. Two years since I whispered, “I’m so happy to see you today,” into your perfect little ear.

But not one day has gone by that I haven’t thought of you, smelled you, heard you, and felt you with every ounce of my soul. Because, sweet angel, you’re still here.

Today, I reminded myself how well I am doing. A year ago, I could not make myself get out of bed just thinking, remembering, hating, the day I lost you. But today, sweet angel, I know you’re still here.

You’re still here. I may not be able to hug you, or kiss you goodnight. But I get you in my dreams, and in my memories, and in every beautiful sunrise and every rainbow. I get you, because you’re still here.

Another year

Two years ago, tomorrow, I received a phone call that I had prayed would come for five terrifying months. It was a phone call that would change my life, my family, my entire being, more than I ever could have imagined.

I remember every detail of the conversation, and I have replayed it in my memory thousands of times. If it had gone differently, if it had come sooner, if we had made different choices, would the end result have changed?

But the call will never change. My response will always be the same. And the result will always be that he is gone.

It was early afternoon and we had just come home from a walk to the playground. It was unseasonably warm and my sweet little man was feeling good since we had decided to take a break from chemo before starting a different approach to treatment. I have beautiful photos from that day of him smiling at the top of the tiny toddler slide. But looking at them now, I see how fragile and sick he really was.

That day there were no fevers, no tummy aches, and he felt good enough to crawl around a little. It was a good day. We were home, not in the hospital, and we were feeling good. My cell phone rang right as I finished changing him and hooking up his afternoon g-tube feed.

“We have a liver and two kidneys from a healthy infant donor.” The transplant surgeon on the phone said to me.

This was it. After too many rounds of chemo, countless trip to the ER with fevers and threats of sepsis, multiple stays in PICU, the waiting, the worrying, the heartache. We were finally going to be able to cure our baby.

He transplanted the following day on my thirty-fifth birthday. He went to Heaven eight days after that.

In two days I will turn thirty-seven. My phone will ring with well-wishes from friends and family, who all know their “happy birthdays” are more condolences than they are celebrations. My birthday will never quite be a true celebration again, because a part of me was also lost that day.

But getting older has also gotten just a little bit easier knowing a small part of me is already in Heaven, and there is nothing but good stuff waiting for me on the other side.

Help me

I want to be the mama I was to you.

I want to be loving, patient, sweet and kind. I want to love unconditionally, laugh in every moment, appreciate each test for the strength it teaches me, and know every moment, though sometimes tiresome or frustrating, is an absolute and beautiful blessing.

Please, sweet angel, guide me through this new path in motherhood. Show me that I don’t need to fear every tumble, every scrape, every tear. Tell me, somehow, that it will all be ok, and not every minute I must worry about protecting this child from every.single.thing.

How is it possible, that after losing you, I can be a mother without fear? Please, my dear, show me how.

For you, I never questioned one thought, one decision, one moment. I treasured every second, every breath, every touch. But now, it is so hard not to feel the fear, and the anxiety, and the weight of this overwhelming and impossible feat of properly raising a tiny human.

It feels like I’m doing it all wrong. I’m short-tempered and tired, frustrated and blunt. I raise my voice and I’m stern, I frown and I point.

Never, ever, was I this way with you. Never did I raise my voice and never did I scold. I gently corrected and nurtured with guidance.

It’s so much harder this time around. So, please, my sweet angel, guide me.

Help me be the mama I was to you.

 

The little things

I find myself getting caught up in the stress of every day life. I forgot how hard it is to balance parenting, work, marriage, a home…and grief.

The days can pass by so quickly when the morning consists of rising early, feeding and clothing a toddler, trying to get to preschool with no tears and happy goodbyes. The days are packed with meetings and urgency, one more important task than the last, and people who need ‘this’ yesterday and want ‘that’ ASAP. Then the evenings take a slower pace with family dinner, bath time, and a bedtime story. But in the blink of an eye, another day has passed, and I’m left alone in the quiet darkness, with just the memory of my baby lost, while my other sleeps soundly in the next room.

And while I use these evenings to reflect on that one missed deadline, the form I forgot to sign, the load of laundry I put off a day, these things will make no difference in my long term happiness nor that of my family. But I’d rather think of all the little things I need to do, or didn’t do, than be overcome with the agony of missing my sweet angel in Heaven.

Because I love my beautiful, stressful, busy, hectic, and fast-paced life. And I love that I was blessed with a job that stimulates my mind and pushes my skills. And I am joyful every minute I get to parent in the unique and wonderful way that I have been blessed with children. And I am thankful I get to walk this Earth knowing my angel is right beside me.

But it is still so hard missing him. And that does not go away no matter how many responsibilities I undertake, no matter how many others I care for, no matter how full I pack my schedule. Missing him, and that hurt in my heart, never goes away and it never gets better.

So, tonight, I’m going to try to focus on the little things. But not the laundry, or the deadlines, or the school forms. I’m going to focus on the memories. The little ones that only he and I shared. And that should get me through tonight.