Trick or Grief. Halloween was worse than I remember last year.

Little Diddy,

I’m not sure how I got to be 40 years old without realizing Halloween is one of the most child-centered holidays recognized in our society. This is the second Halloween without you…but, I simply don’t recall last year being this difficult. Maybe it’s because last year I was in a deep freeze? Maybe it’s because Iast year I instinctively knew as an 8 month-old, I’d have taken a few obligatory pictures of you in your costume – possibly next to your pumpkin – before I quickly took you out of the over-stuffed charade just in time to avoid an epic melt-down.

As a 20 month-old little guy, I have a feeling you would’ve been far more fascinated in the hoopla of Halloween, or at least the candy aspect that comes a long with it. (What can I say? You got your Momma’s tastebuds!) By now, you’d have identified favorite cartoons, favorite books, favorite characters in your favorite T.V. shows. It’s safe to say you’d have only just begun to express the very fabric of which you are weaved. You’d also have been able to say, “Tweeeeeeat! Peease?” Oh, Diddy, Diddy, what would you have been for Halloween? Besides anything you wanted.

Today I played the game I’m so good at playing. The one where I teleport myself into a parallel universe. In this universe we are together, we are happy, and best of all you are healthy. I find myself excited that our “Fall Fun Day” has arrived. I see myself constantly glancing at the clock, as I can predict almost the exact minute you will begin to stir from your afternoon nap. Once you are changed and fed, I grab the 3 or 4 bags of things you need, may need, and probably won’t need – but I neurotically tote along anyway. (I’m a professional at packing these bags; so we need not discuss how much easier it’d be to leave home without them. Momma just does it anyway.)

I can almost feel myself carrying you to the car and gently placing your bundled dupa safely into your cow-print car seat….which has now faced forward for so many months I have to strain to recall how long it’s been since you faced backwards. My thoughts are periodically interrupted by your squeaky voice excitedly calling out “Twwuck!” Tweee!” and “Pupkk-kin!”. When we arrive at Elegant Farmer, I hoist you out of the car and set you on your feet. Your tiny hand reaches up, and instinctively entrusts a guide in my own as we traverse the man-made corn maze. As the breeze briskly meet our cheeks, I reach down to make sure your hat is all the way over your ears. Moments later, I wipe your runny nose with the back of my mitten. You are blissfully unfazed by the elements; but, I can’t help myself from worrying anyway. I hear the echoes reverberating off the tops of pumpkins as you excitedly stake claim on the one you want to take home. No matter how big, how small, how lopsided or flat-topped, it is absolutely perfect.

After our adventure through the maze – I contemplate a hay-ride. But, not this year. I realize I’ve saved only enough time before ‘breaking point’ to sneak you inside for a caramel apple. I ask the girl to slice the apple in extra tiny pieces…then bite them into even smaller bits just to be sure you can chew them. I don’t ration the caramel. Momma gives you free reign on the good stuff on special occasions. With sticky hands and caramel-stained cheeks, we drive straight to Grammie’s for extra-special loving. Momma passes out from exhaustion on the couch while Grammie steals good loving from you. But first we discuss all things perfect about Paxton…including how much you are talking, how much you seemingly grew just since last week, how you look this cousin or act like that cousin – but agree you are unique in every way. Mostly, we marvel over how irresistibly adorable you are.

Do you know we went to Elegant Farmer once? You were tucked safely away in Momma’s tummy at the time. It was just weeks before being placed on bedrest that we spent a sunny afternoon in October enjoying what was slated to become one of our little family’s Fall traditions. In fact, it is one of the last outings we had before being sequestered in a hospital room, and then in our bed at home for the next 13 1/2 weeks. It’s painfully ironic that in anticipation of the future, which I was certain held so much promise, I envisioned many of the same things that day as well. The main difference being back then my heart was full of hope, my soul full of happiness. I remember laughing at everything and smiling at nothing. I also remember peeing two times in a glorified-outhouse. I was so punch-drunk in love with life, I would’ve been content peeing right in the middle of the corn maze.

I did not go to Elegant Farmer today. Instead I drove through our neighborhood to the big, yellow house on the corner that sits dark & empty. On the other side of my wind shield, I noticed the houses which line our street had seemingly transformed into grave yards overnight. Front yards more closely resembled something from ‘American Horror Story’ than suburban dwellings. Lawns lay blanketed with headstones, skeletons hang from garage doors, and cotton-stretched spider webs float in the breeze. Suddenly the ghosts and goblins, intended to symbolize a childhood wonderland, morphed into a literal haunting…of a childhood lost. I nearly suffocated at the realization that grave yards, headstones and skeletons more accurately reflected my reality of living in the “Land of My Child Died”, than that of a child-centered celebration. A shriek snapped me out of my trance, and also forced me to inhale. It took a few moments to register that it was the sound of my own cry.

I know it’s make-believe stuff. I know my reaction is not normal – even for a grieving Momma. I know this is one of those moments I should never, ever tell anyone about. But I am tired of keeping so many secrets bottled inside. I am tired of feeling like no one else in the universe knows what I experience in the course of a day. I am tired of being a sitting duck every damn time I venture into the world. I am just tired. I know there are a few people who say I am wallowing in my grief, and that I am choosing to remain in a ‘dark place’. (As if anyone would choose one single aspect of my life.) In fact, the grief of losing you is simply a part of my life now. It is not my entire life; but it is a part that cannot be abandoned. So really, what I am choosing to do – is courageously face my truth. Perhaps those people should stop wallowing in judgements and assumptions. Instead they could try to one thing in their lifetime that remotely reflects truth. Or, they could just fuck off.

You could have been whatever you wanted to be on Halloween – and every other day too. I promise I would have done everything in my power to support you in realizing your smallest of hopes and your wildest of dreams. You were bound for greatness, Paxton. I am so very sorry you got sick.

Trick or Tweeeeat, Sweet Boy. I’ll save all the red Gummy Bears for you.

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xoox,

Momma

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20 months. 40 years. even mother nature knows we belong together.

Diddy,

Yesterday you would have been 20 months old. I am getting better and better at knowing what you’d be doing as each month marker comes along. I never wished to be more blissfully ignorant about anything than I do about all things babies and toddlers. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get lost in thought imagining all that you would now be able to do. For starters, I hear you talking in two or three word sentences. “Diddy is fly.” “Momma is sleepy.” (But also fly.) I see you completing block puzzles, or pointing to your favorite things when we read: like Lowly the Worm in your Busytown books, or to the moon on each page of “Goodnight Moon”. I picture you proudly helping Momma with little tasks like, “Go get your jammies.” “Put your trucks away.” In addition to all the innocence and wonder you were robbed of, I am also tortured by the things I can’t envision. Mostly by the fact that I can’t picture what you look like anymore. Every so often when I’m somewhere in between asleep and awake, I see you. Only for a flash…before you turn into the baby I last kissed at 20 weeks and 1 day old. I have every inch of you at that age memorized: from the top of your soft head, to the tips of your teeny toes. But I want to see you now, at 20 months old. I want to see you without trying. I want to hear you without straining. I want to hold you without imagining. I want to kiss my 20 month old son and have you kiss me back – with as much teething-induced drool as possible. Instead, I can’t even say for sure what you look like. Because you died when you were just 20 weeks old.

On top of your ‘should have been’ 20 months old day, I turned 40 years old. How it’s remotely right that I have already lived for 40 years, when you didn’t even get to live for five months is so far beyond my comprehension, I nearly puke every time it passes through my consciousness. Alas, in honor our “Secret Society Club” I wanted to do something special to pay tribute to this particular 12th. It met the criteria of being something new, it is also something that will eventually become old. I finally got (the most preciously radical) tattoo. In turn, “your place” on Momma is now officially reserved forever and ever. Just as it should be. No one else will ever call the nook of my arm all the way to the crest of my shoulder their own. All who look will see my Sweet Boy has staked his claim. They will see your name. They will see a symbol of you in fight and in flight. They will see a peaceful warrior transitioning to a warrior at peace: as he passes through the faintest rainbow…and heads straight to the highest layer.

The only tolerable part about October 12th was the weather. It started out cloudy and chilly. A perfect backdrop to stay in bed a little later than planned to see if it would be the day that squeezing my eyes extra-tight would transport me back to my old life. If even for one day. No such luck. When the rain began to strum against my bedroom window, I was convinced the world was as sad as me; so I decided it was safe to face the day. I got to the gym and back before the happy-ass sun decided to come out and toy with my mood. However, it turns out Mother Nature is in my corner after all. And she’s manic too. A few hours later the skies reverted to a dark grey, opened up, and dumped out an unyielding and unforgiving rain. It was a true shit storm. And it made me feel much better. However the greatest birthday gift (outside of you back in my arms) came moments after when a faint rainbow emerged high in afternoon the sky. It was there momentarily. But it was there. You were there.

You and I have always had our very own secret society. Nothing will ever change that; not even death itself. Tattoos and rainbows aren’t needed to prove our love. Our love far supersedes markers and magic. It transcends the parallel universes in which we exist. It is the rare kind of love that truly does last forever and ever. Of this I am sure.

That being said, you must wonder why there are times I’m overcome by such extreme sadness that I stand in the shower just so the water can drown the sound of my sobs and the screams of your name. Or how there can be moments when I’m overcome by such anger that to prevent myself from breaking things, I bury my face into your blanket and scream…to no one at all, that I just want my baby back. I miss you so much that parts of me I never knew existed hurt. And I miss being your Momma (the way I should be) so much that the parts that don’t hurt…are simply numb.

I am doing my best to navigate these unchartered parenting waters of being a Momma from so far away. I am terrified more often than not. I am sad. I am lonely. I am mad. I am so very, very tired. But I am also without another choice. So I push onwards. And I hold onto hope that in the process, I am not letting you down.

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I miss you. I love you. Worry not, little one – Momma is right as rain.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

a defense lawyer stops me in my tracks. because he knows you.

Paxton,

Tonight I ended what was a very difficult week with a “not-so-happy” hour with two of my lovelies from BCHS. I wasn’t in the mood to be there, but familiar with their persistence in integrating me into the world at-large, I knew it’d be easier to join them. So I did. I made it to about 6:30 before I was ready to leave. As I approached my car, a man parked next to me quickly popped his head out from the backseat of his car where he was putting his child in a carseat. He said, “Excuse me. What does your license plate say?” I knew he was talking to me; but I froze – speechless and paralyzed. He continued, “Does your plate say, Paxlove”? I studied his sincere face and steadfast eyes as I faintly replied, “Yes. Paxlove.” He excitedly persisted, “Is it for Paxton? The baby? The little Peaceful Warrior?” I almost collapsed onto the goddamn pavement.

Before my legs had a chance to give out, he broke into a 40 yard dash in my direction. As he jogged towards me he yielded his “Paxton” bracelet in front of him like a white flag. Meanwhile my friend took over the talking part and proudly proclaimed that I am your Momma. Once in front of me, he put the bracelet an inch away from my eyes and exclaimed (repeatedly) that he wears everyday. He went on to explain how he learned about you and your brave fight. He said he attended PaxFest and donates to your foundation. Most importantly – he told me how he finds daily strength and inspiration through your brave soul.

As I attempted to absorb the scene unfolding around me, I noticed his wife had come out of their car and was now standing just steps behind us. Her hand was over her mouth. Tears were streaming down her face. As our eyes met, we innately stepped towards each other and hugged tightly. Through a tear-filled voice, she told me how you changed the way she mothers her son…and that she marvels at how I find the strength to continue to live without you. These kind-hearted people said so many endearing things to me. All of which I will hold close to my heart for many, many moons to come. The dad ended the conversation by telling me he is a defense attorney and that whenever he is in trial, he rubs his “Baby Paxton” bracelet to find strength and clarity. For he is reminded that whatever he or anyone in the court room is experiencing, or has experienced, pales in comparison to what “Baby Paxton” endured.

The entire time this couple talked to me, I literally did not utter a single word. In hindsight, my inability to speak makes me want to punch myself. I should have taken out my wallet and shown them pictures of you. And told them how everyone who was lucky enough to be in your presence noticed how peaceful (and beautiful) you were. I should have shared with them how (before you were sick and stopped feeling hungry), you would stop mid-suck while eating your bottle, smile right at me – and then happily resume eating. Or let them know your favorite CD is Coldplay’s Rock-a-bye Baby, and that you loved when we would dance around the dining room and sing, “I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas.” I should have relayed the stories of how you’d stare into Mr. Cow mirror and “Ooouuuooo!” so fiercely at the site of your adorable reflection that the entire house would erupt in laughter.

On top of failing to tell them any of the many things that make you incredibly special, I deeply regret that I didn’t think to ask them their names. While I hugged the husband, I did manage to eek out the words, “Please don’t take that bracelet off.” (He assured me that he wouldn’t.) With the exception of one simple sentence, I stood mute as two strangers told me how you have changed their lives. In exchange, they allowed me to embrace them as though they each contained a small part of you. I am sorry if I hugged them too tightly. I am more sorry I didn’t tell them about any one of the multitude of things which make you my uniquely perfect Paxton.

Very early this morning I was overcome by one of the greatest moments of despair I have yet felt. I don’t entirely know why. I guess this roller coaster of grief, bereavement, or grief-that-interrupted-the-initial-fucking grief will never make any sense. I do know that I literally begged you to send me a sign if you were still with me. Anything to prove that despite the emptiness in my stomach and the hollowness in my heart, I am not entirely alone in this world.

I believe with all of my heart, you sent that man to me tonight. You rescued me from the abyss of grief which I must consciously ward off from swallowing me whole. More than anything in this entire world, I would give anything – anything – to be the one saving you. It should have been me. Never you.

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I miss you. I love you. I’ll look for you in my dreams.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox.

Momma