May, May go away.
Don’t come back ever again.
I fucking hate May.
I’m dreading this entire month, Diddy.
I miss you madly.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
Lil Diddy Bop,
When I woke up this morning, it took me a few blinks to remember I was in Florida. I came here with two of my loveliest lovelies on a hunt for sunshine. It is the second time I’ve been to Florida and the upteenth time I’ve set out on a big o’ jet airliner and fled for unfamiliar land since you’ve been gone. No matter where I roam, the pain of missing you follows.
No matter how far, how often, or how abruptly I flee from home it is impossible to ‘run from grief’. To salt the wound, there also isn’t anything that feels right about being able to jump on a plane at any given time, and fly off to any given destination. I am supposed to be at home, with my two year old son – pinching his cheeks, and my pennies to save up for his first trip to Disney World. Instead, I’m laying in a strange bed, alone, in Boca Raton. Putting me about 185 miles from Disney, and 180 degrees from the life I should be living.
It’s impossible not to think about how wonderfully different life would be if cancer didn’t steal you. Glimmers of that life play through my psyche regularly – whether I stay at work later than normal, run multiple errands (in order to avoid going to an empty home), once I arrive at my barren, quiet, perfectly tidy home, on the weekends…and every minute in between. When I embark on an excursion outside of my day-to-day routine, I am stuffed with extra heaps of guilt, sadness, rage – and a hefty side-serving of confusion. How did this all happen?
My super-kind-extra-special lovelies are keenly aware of the angst such situations cause my heart. They couldn’t have been more supportive in their reassurances that everything would be alright. Even though I’ve heard that before and everything turned out the exact opposite of alright – I couldn’t help but trust them implicitly. This is just one of the many reasons I love them.
Yesterday, as I was drying my hair, the all-too-familiar feeling of my heart lurching up into my throat started. Anxiety. It is as normal now as grief. And as breathing. I was certain something had happened to your “specials” in transit to Nana’s. I should’ve left them at home: in the fire-proof safe, locked in the fire-proof cubby, in the depths of the now fire-proof, bullet-proof, zombie-proof basement. But the fear of zombies conquering Milwaukee in my absence trumped my fear of the risk of having Nana take your ‘specials’ to her house for safe-keeping. Dammit. I chose wrong again. The other shoe had dropped. It all made sense. It also explained why no one was calling me. They didn’t want to ‘interrupt my vacation’ with more bad news.
My mouth filled with pre-puke saliva as I frantically lunged towards my phone. With a shaky hand, I pressed the button to call Nana. She didn’t answer. I shook out a text. No reply. I called Lala. No answer again. I sent her a text too. Again, nothing. I called Nana back. Oh my GOD… the fire – the car accident – the ER -the next death – the next memorial – the next obituary to write…the zombies. And, just like that – the loosely stacked ruins of my AC world, collapsed like a house of cards caught in the vortex of a tornado.
I know there are people who find my thoughts neurotic, paranoid, or psychotic. Rest assured, those people don’t know what I know. I know all too well that there are absolutely no guarantees about anything in this life. I know that babies die for no explainable reason, from unthinkable accidents, from horrific acts, and from the biggest asshole murdered of all time: cancer. I know that evil exists. I know that some people are born without a soul. I know about things I never knew about knowing.
I live in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am constantly on edge, on guard, on call for something else to happen…again. Any time, anywhere. I am always expecting to trip over another dividing line. Another before and after.
Then, my phone rang. Nana. My mouth ran dry. Before she completed the first sentence: I exhaled. Everything was fine. I can always tell by her voice what she’s feeling even without her saying the precise words. Your special things were safe. Nothing was lost, tattered, ruined, burned or stolen. There was no accident, nor was there a trip to the ER. No one died. There was no memorial to plan. My house did not burn to the ground. As an added bonus: the zombies did not attack – yet.
I realize that my thoughts, fears, worries and obsessions are not remotely similar to those of mothers who are lucky enough to not have a dead child. I wonder if anyone realizes they shouldn’t be? Trust me, I’d trade my non-normal existence for their normal existence any day of the week. But my normal disappeared on May 8th, 2012…and was obliterated on July 2, 2012. All traces were expunged from my existence in February 2013. Anyone who feels the need to cast judgement, make assumptions, or spew conjecture about the thoughts which run through my mind on a perpetual loop should do the universe a giant favor – and fuck the fuck off.
I feel better knowing your “specials” are safe. I feel better because I’m writing to you. I feel better because I just said fuck a bunch of times too. Thank you for sending these lovely ladies into my universe…and for holding their hearts hostage. Half the time I am convinced the only reason they put up with me is because they are so deeply in love with you.
I wish you were here. Or, thatI I was there. I wish we were together – anywhere.
The sunshine always makes me think of you.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
P.S. Today is your Uncle Stephen’s birthday. Sneak a butterfly kiss onto his cheek at the point in the day when you feel he needs it most.
I spent the afternoon doing one of my favorite things, with one of my favorite people. I had a “special day” (aka “Day of All Yes-es!”) with your super hero side-kick cousin, Finn Foo. Whenever Finn and I set into the world together, I feel as though I could conquer the universe. I also feel more vulnerable than when I am in the presence of any other person; as million an one vibrations of how life should’ve been echo through my bones. I remain convinced he carries pieces of your heart within his soul, and pieces of your soul inside his heart.
After an action packed day, Finny climbed into “his side” of bed and began fade into a slumber. Moments before his almond colored eyes closed for the night he said, “D.D., When can I meet your other kids?” Equal parts confused and rattled by his query, I quickly assured him I didn’t have any other children. Sleepily, he persisted, “…yes you do; you tell stories about them all the time. I want your other kids to be my cousins just like Paxton.” Oh sweet, innocent, adorable Finn.
Silenced by the need to stifle my sobs, I was unable to explain that when I refer to, “…one of my kids” – I actually mean, “…one of my students”. For once, my lack of composure likely worked in my favor. A conversation of that nature would’ve only further confused the little guy. My arm was the only part of my body that wasn’t paralyzed by the reminder of Finny’s ever-complex existence of trying to navigate life without you – his wing-man. So I used it to stroke his hair across the top of his furrowed brow. I managed to eek out the only words which needed be said: “Paxton is my only child.”
As always, the voice inside my head ensued on one of its familiar rants. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s talking to the ‘other people’ inside my head. So it’s fine. “Paxton is my only child. He is my only, miracle child. He is my only, miracle child who I waited for my entire life. He is my only, miracle child, who I waited for my entire life – and he is dead.”
My only child died. He was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 12 weeks and three days old. In 146 days, he raised an entire village. In less than one second, he stole my heart. Without uttering a single word, he rewrote the definitions of bravery, courage, grace and peace. My son took his last breath while safely tucked in his Daddy’s arms…with his cheek pressed against my own. I felt the warmth of his last breath brush across my lips. It is the only good-bye kiss I will ever get. And, it will suffocate me for as long as I am breathing. My only child is dead.
No matter how many times I say it, even if it’s not out loud and only to the ‘other people’ in my mixed up head, I cannot wrap my mind around the incomprehensible truth. You are dead. I am not dead; yet I am not alive. I am fighting to live; yet begging to die; breathing yet suffocating; attempting to exhale, yet holding my breath; smiling on the outside, yet crying on the inside. My existence is every parents’ worst nightmare; only it is not a dream-state nightmare. It is a real fucking nightmare. It is my life.
Other parents complain about their kids spilling kool-aide on their carpet, their homes being a mess, their laundry piling out of control. Whenever I hear such banter, I swallow my grief whole while I silently beg to choke to death on my wishes to have problems just.like.theirs. Mud-stained, sticky-carpets; spilled milk, smashed peas and crushed gold fish crackers randomly strewn across my kitchen floor. I ache for the signs of the living, breathing, playing, alive in my home version of you. I long for the iterations of all that could have and should have been.
Instead, I have an empty chair at every meal, ‘loads’ of laundry that make me twinge with guilt and shutter with rage that it’s all I have, again this week, to wash. The contents which encompass your entire life sit neatly stacked in plastic bins – which have been organized with acute precision, in my attic. I can’t bring myself to verify as much – but, I know in my soul they now smell more of ‘stillness’ than of you.
It is true, I refer to my students as my ‘kids’. It is also true that I love some of them in ways the majority of the planet could never understand. In many aspects, I consider parts of them to be mine. I also love your crazy daisy, adorably unique, and perfect in every way cousins well beyond my own comprehension. I know for a fact parts of them are mine. From the outside looking in, my life appears to be chocked full of love, from a vast continuum of children young and old. Rest assured, it is always empty. I’m left with an equation that never equates. No matter how many times I recompute, the only one that matters – the only one who is really mine, is missing. A million more children, and a trillion more blonde haired, blue eyed boys, could never replace or erase the pain of missing you.
There is an eternal hole in my heart and in my life. It is the precise size and shape of you and only you. No one and nothing will ever be able to fill this hole. Despite the incomprehensible complexity of being a bereaved mother, all that truly matters is quite simple. You are my son. You are my heart. You are my soul. You are my dream come true. You are my home.
Diddy, you are as real to me now as you were when you were here in my arms.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
I hate grocery shopping. It is the stupidest concept on the planet. Let’s talk it through. You drive to the store, grab a cart…if you have my luck, the cart has a wobbly wheel, a sticky handle-bar, and/or a mind of its own. Only after spending five minutes pretending you aren’t irritated by the wobbly-wheeled, sticky handle-bar cart, you finally ditch it. Normal people, who shop for normal sized families are forced to search for another cart. Not your Momma. I just turn on my super hero powers and carry everything I need for the week in my tired arms. I digress. Then you walk up and down aisles, taking items off shelves and placing them into your cart. Just when you think the up-down-up-down is over – you remembered an ingredient you just can’t make that casserole without, so you loop all the way back to the first aisle. Then…you stand in line. You often stand in that line longer than it takes you to drive there – and home. Next, you place the items onto the checkout belt. Only to then pack the items into bags. You then take the 50 bags of food – that easily could’ve fit into 6 bags, and put them back into your cart.
You wheel the cart to your car, and unload the 50 bags – which could be six, into your trunk. Then, you drive home. (You consider stopping for a drink to award yourself for a job well done, but you quickly remember your cash flow has just been spent on stupid food, which is in 50 stupid bags, in your stupid ass trunk – which you now hate even though it is an innocent by-stander in this whole stupid excursion.) So you just drive home. When you arrive, you take the bags inside. Even though you should take four trips, you insist you can make it happen in two. A dented can of beans and a leaking milk jug later, you curse yourself for trying to be Shera, queen of the grocery bag carrier, again.
Next up: you spend 20 minutes putting those SAME items you removed from shelves in the store, back onto shelves in your kitchen. It.truly.makes.no.sense.
Your Nana maintains that she’s never seen anyone more content with going hungry than having to obtain and make food. I will point out, I made more meals during the 8 weeks you and I were home on maternity leave than I did the combined 37 years prior. It’s fine. I was just waiting for the ‘know how to cook a meal’ gene that emerges after women have children. I always knew it would come.
This weekend, the whole ‘eating to survive’ thing trumped my distain for grocery shopping. So off to Sendick’s I went. It only took moments for me to realize I just didn’t have the energy to go through the motions of doing normal things, that normal people, with normal lives, and normal families partake in without blinking an eye. To buy myself some time, I ditched my cart…even though it wasn’t wobbly – and headed to the bathroom. I locked myself behind a stall door and attempted to give myself a pep talk. Before my first deep inhale, a mother and her toddler son entered the bathroom. I wanted to flush myself down the toilet.
I am assuming the little guy was about 3 years old – I never did get a look at him. His mommy was insistent that he go ‘potty’ alone, while she stood guard outside his stall door. The encouragement required to get him to agree to this arrangement was beyond endearing…and beyond heart-breaking. In the end, his mommy’s authentic support convinced this little guy that he was brave enough to ‘be a big boy’. No sooner did his stall door close – did he began to rattle off questions.
“Are you still there?”
“Mommy. Mommy? Are you waiting for me?”
“Of course, sweetie. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Mommy…don’t leave me.”
“Sweetie, I will NEVER leave you.”
….pause, pause, pause.
“No, sweetie. Never.”
“Mommy, you won’t leave me…even if you die?”
(Audible gasp…Though, at this point, I still can’t say for sure if came from this little guy’s Mommy – – -or from me.)
“Of course not, honey. Not even when I die.”
“Mommy, if I die – I won’t leave you either. Because I don’t want to ever be away from you. Not even if I die.”
I am certain this mommy heard my stifled sobs, which were nicely echoing off Sendick’s, barren bathroom walls. It took all I had not to charge through the stall door, grab onto her shoulders, look through her eyes, and straight into her soul – while begging her to never, ever let her dear boy go. Never. Not even for a second. Not even to encourage him to be a big boy and use the bathroom on his own. But, my legs wouldn’t have worked if I wanted them to.
There have been many times in the last 20 months when I’ve known you’re with me. Other times I think it is you – but, I find myself wanting ‘more proof’. Today falls under the former category. After all, only you would come with me on the most dreaded errand of all time, and follow me right into the grocery store bathroom – to make good and sure I knew it was really you.
The fear that management would be beckoned to check on “…the crazy woman hyperventilating in the Ladies’ Room” propelled me into action. I swung the stall door open, threw water on my face, avoided eye contact with the reflection of the stranger who so often greets me in the mirror, and fled for safety. I quickly realized I was in a god damn grocery store…making it not so safe and cozy after all.
I ultimately left with two of the 24 items on my list: gummy bears and wine. There’s always next week.
I miss you. I love you. I would have packed really good lunches for you.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
I’ve spent a good deal of time throughout the past several months watching your warrior brothers wrestle their way to the top of the GMC conference, and through the WIAA Regional and Sectional tournament. Momma sat in those bleachers – a complete nerve ending: picking her eyebrows, biting the inside of her cheek; all the while holding back my visceral urge to run onto the mat and stomp each competitor brazen enough to try to bend or maneuver one of her boys in the way they shouldn’t bend.
Today, Juju and Joshie left for the WIAA State Wrestling Meet. I sent them on their way, with bags and bags full of ‘all the right food’, ‘good luck blankets’, ‘motivational notes only-to-be-opened-at-specific-times’, and ‘pinkie promises’ to keep me updated with every last detail. After hugging them for the fourth time, I released them for their chariot. God bless them for putting up with my neuroses. I did my best to burn the image of them running towards the gym doors, filled with fleeing innocence, into the permanent parts of my brain. As they rounded the corner out of my view, my darling Juju poked his head back in my direction – one more time…and waved good-bye. I almost collapsed right onto the floor. Goodness gracious, as you know – I love that Juju more than words can explain.
I shoved the sob rising in my throat firmly against the back of my chest. As I held it in place, tears began to beat against the backs of my eyes. True to Wrestling Momma form, I pinned the pressure and the tears in place…right up until 3:09. As I attempted to flee for the Exit door – my ever-insightful, keenly astute friend stopped me in my tracks. She said, “This all has to be equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking for you.” And just like that, I came undone.
Yes. It is equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking. Every last part about my AC life is neither one, or the other anymore.
I wish there was a way I could explain my AC life, without having to ever become who I am now. I am still the person I’ve always been; yet I am not the same at all. I am still a mom, yet I am not able to mother…all at the same time.
The a pain I carry is unlike any pain I can describe. This pain is always there. It doesn’t nap during the day, or get safely tucked into bed at night. It follows me everywhere, it never leaves my side – like you should be doing. Only this grief-induced pain is not cuddly, nor sweet and it certainly does not make me smile, squeeze my face, or give me good-night kisses.
My grief is almost always coupled with guilt. It is relentless in nature. I am consumed with guilt after I devote hours on end attending your warrior brothers’ wrestling matches. I never got to watch you learn to walk, see you run – and I certainly will never be able to attend one of your sporting events, or participate in a parents’ night….as I proudly meet you at half-court, while donning an oversized button displaying your handsome face. Oddly enough, I’m equally consumed with guilt when I don’t attend their matches – as I feel like I am letting both them and you down. After all, you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’re hopelessly in love with them too.
I still catch myself bargaining to have both worlds. The “inside-my-head” voice plays on loop, “If I can go pick Paxton up from daycare, and bring him to the meet – I won’t beg for the boys to win again tonight. Instead, I’ll just take them all for ice cream. (Or celery sticks if they’re cutting weight.) One minute, I’ll wipe the dried blood off Juju’s sweet forehead; the next, I’ll clean dried ice cream off of Paxton’s chin. Each of my boys will remain blissfully unfazed by my OCD; as they’ll be lost in a world only traversed by the spiciest of monkeys. Before the evening closes, I will thank my pseudo son, Juju, a hundred times over for the myriad of ways in which he so effortlessly loves you. We will all head home, and sleep soundly while when dream of of all things happy.”
Paxton, I plea for a different ending, over and over; one where no one dies. Most especially not you. Then, the panic sets in – complete with screams of thoughts screeching against my conscience. (“What if ‘it’ happens again? It could – anytime, anywhere: when will the other shoe drop? If I love these boys too hard, will they, too, die prematurely?).
Ahh, my boys. My sweet and charming boys. Juju will never understand how he in particular has saved my life over and over again. Alas, they’ve set out to participate in another long-awaited, well-deserved, exciting experience. Please give them both extra special doses of bravery throughout the weekend. As always, watch over their vulnerable hearts…which this mixed-up, fucking world has already shattered into a million little pieces. When you find me in those bleachers, biting the insides of my cheek, and picking my eyebrows – climb into my lap. Momma’s arms will always hold you safely … right where you belong.
I miss you. I love you. I hope you are happy.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
As part of my preparation for the “opportunity-I’m-not-still-not-talking-about”, I was provided an array of ‘assignments’. The purpose of this particular one: encourage deeper reflection about being your Momma from so far away. (As if I need any?)
The query was simple, “A bereaved mother is….”. The question immediately irritated me. Perhaps because someone so revered in the realm of documentary styles and genres: grief, loss, and bereavement being no exception – would ask something so damn dumb. As the seconds ticked by, I pulled out my Warrior-side and began to generate an answer. It’s actually a non-answer; which, in my opinion, is even more fitting. Even better news: it turns out Momma is still spicy enough to accomplish something – merely for the sake of conquering a challenge.
I quickly determined the definition must lend itself to be ever-evolving. It must also allow for the flexibility to reflect the day, hour, or moment I just survived; or the particular soft wave of grief I am currently riding.
A bereaved mother is…
…the woman who has felt pain in every single cell in her body. Literally, from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. The pain is indescribably and mercilessly physical.
…the woman who shies away from carrying bags of groceries, or laundry baskets against her chest – especially with the aide of her hip; as doing so most always morphs the bundle into the precise size and weight of her phantom son.
…the woman whose knees have buckled when hearing the sounds of little boys, calling out: “Mommy.” “Mommy!” “Mommy?”…a mommy who will tuck her child into bed – while she will stand, tears falling atop the unused changing table, in her son’s, otherwise barren bedroom.
…the woman whose primal mourning, done only when alone, is still shocked & frightened by the supernatural sound of this mourning. As it serves as a reminder that she is but a wild animal – capable and willing to do anything to protect her young, as well as the fact that she failed miserably at the task.
…the woman entrapped by grief’s incessant state of craze, finds herself pacing the hallways late at night: unable to focus long enough to string two sentences together: intolerant of music, t.v.’s, or voices projecting “too loudly”: sensitive to lights: irritated by a host of other benign stimuli.
…the woman who has accepted that no form of self-induced suffering will suffice in filling the chasm of her loss. Instead she finds herself Googling “…how to construct time-machines.” In moments of lucidness (which sometimes follow) she realizes the depths of her desperation. Instead, she Googles: “…how to initiate the process of self-institutionalization.”
…the woman who wills herself to trade places with her dead child, a hundred times a day – and two hundred times a night. But continues to awaken to a new sunrise – almost always wishing she hadn’t.
…the woman who gives extra generous tips, extra gentle eye contact, extra caring smiles… to the young boy who crosses her path. Despite her keen awareness that he is someone else’s son, she can’t help but pretend – if only for a fleeing moment – that he is her own.
…the woman who knows how to ingest just enough shallow breathes, to keep from throwing up – until she makes it home.
…the woman who refuses to hold another baby – though her arms ache from emptiness – because she is adamant that the last baby she’ll ever hold, will be her own son.
…the woman who wishes she knew it was not an eye infection, or the ‘wrong’ baby formula – just a little sooner.
…the woman who will always, always be consumed with guilt – no matter how many people tell her it wasn’t her fault.
…the woman who will love her sweet boy forever and always…and then a little bit longer.
A bereaved mother is the woman who has a story about a bittersweet survival that does not include a fallacious or contrived “end” to her grief after a prescribed six month period. Her story is a true story of anguish – absent the “happy” ending. Not to say, at some point, she won’t be capable of pure love and joy and contentment. Alas, there is no bypassing the tortures caused by the death of her beloved son. The effects of his absence are perennial, and relentless; the aches – much deeper than the unsuspecting world believes.
Yes, Paxton. Cancer came along and stole everything from us. Everything. The wreckage which has ensued is so grim, I cannot yet begin to speak of it.
However, bereavement, grief, a parallel universe…another lifetime, have nothing to do with how I define the distinct honor of being your Momma. I am the only woman in the world who is lucky enough to be your Momma. Plain and simple: I am your Momma; you are my son. Our bond is far stronger than the grips of cancer…our love is far deeper than the depths of grief.
I will love you forever, and ever…and, then a little bit longer.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
Good morning, Paxton Bowe:
The “holiday season” is finally over. I survived another holiday without you by my side.
In my continual quest to conduct myself in a way that makes you proud to call me Momma, I tried my very best to integrate a few aspects of my “used-to-be Merry Little Christmas” into the season this year. I wasn’t very successful in implementing many of the traditions I associated with the magic of Christmas for the first 38 years of my life. What I was able to do, however, was far beyond what I wasn’t even able to consider at this time last year.
Nonetheless, bereavement, Christmas and rooms filled with non-grieving people mix about as well as oil and water . I wish people really, truly, got that. As in “got it” without being bereaved, grieved, or any of that. Just got it, period.
Christmas morning was especially difficult. I knew this year would’ve been particularly fun for you. Perhaps not as fun as the next 2, 5 or 6…10, 18….but, it’d have proven an excitement-chocked Christmas morning: watching your eyes, widen in awe at the sight of shiny packages, and your face outfitted with a smile, thrilled by each present uncovered within.
After hours of solitude, providing the avoidance in which I am so well-versed; I forced my way past the thoroughfare of my house and headed to Lala’s. While driving an intentionally circuitous route, you sent me the greatest gift I could have asked for – other than you tucked safely in my arms. You replied to the whispers I’d said to you in the wee morning hours. I asked you to send me a sign “so big” that I wouldn’t possibly miss it. Once again, you delivered. In fact, you delivered so big, that I nearly crashed into a snow bank. I should know better than to underestimate your uncanny ability to let me know you are with me everywhere I go. (You should know better than to throw signs at me, in my chronically distracted state – while operating a motor vehicle. But, I forgive you.) I don’t know what I ever did to be lucky enough to have you as my son. I do know, however, I wouldn’t trade you for the world.
Other than the (huge) sign from you I simply don’t have any excitement to report about Christmas. I’m simply just not into it anymore. Nothing against Baby Jesus. Truth be told, for the majority of my life Baby Jesus, laying in his manger, was my favorite part of the hoopla unfolding in a nativity scene. I have always been keenly aware of babies – no matter what the scene. (Ask Nana, Papa, and Busha.) In hindsight, I have vague childhood memories of twinges of worry passing through my mind, as to whether or not Baby Jesus “…found a crib for his head.” I supposed those fears were quickly assuaged by the knowledge that Mary was his mommy. Perhaps, they were further subsided by the fact that, despite the circumstances, Baby Jesus had some pretty influential people in his corner.
Now, in my AC world, the sight of Baby Jesus – away in his manger, only served to invoke a series of flashbacks of you lying in your crib, our bed, your bunny bouncy seat – in the cold, metal, way-too-big for a 12 week old, cage-of-a-god-damn-‘crib’ at CHW. In turn, my heart began to race. My mouth ran dry. My stomach twisted into knots. My eyes, elected by neurological default to end the panic – searched for a different object to send to my retina. Seeing Baby Jesus, a beautiful little boy, with a blue blankie over his tummy, with an entire village rallying behind his miraculous arrival – just made me think of you. (I’m not suggesting you’re the second coming of Baby Jesus, or anything of that nature. I’d never put such pressure on you. You are you; my exceptionally perfect son. This is not to say, I’d back down to a challenge with Mother Mary on whose son is more adorable.)
So this is Christmas. A season filled with PTSD reactions to Baby Jesus in nativity scenes. Who knew? It seems unbelievable to think Christmas used to be a season filled with overwhelming joy, anticipation, and excitement. Now, at best, it’s a time dominated by an undercurrent of deep sorrow. Insatiable longing. Layers of grief – which spontaneously unravel at the mere sight of a nativity scene, or at a myriad of “my perfect family and perfect life” captured on a Picture-Christmas card. There is no winning. Those layers of bereavement are always shreeded into threads, which are left clinging to me: reminiscent of the ugliest, itchiest, most uncomfortable Christmas sweater.
Yes. I survived Christmas. I did so largely by going through the motions and also by focusing on your cousins’ unabridged innocence and joy. Between you and I, Momma just doesn’t care about putting up a tree, decorating the house, deciding whether or not to put lights up – inside, outside, or anywhere at all. I don’t care about Christmas parties, Elf on the Shelf poses, fruitcakes, or egg nog. I don’t care if anyone buys me a present – in fact, I prefer they don’t. The only thing I care about is us being back together like we should be – creating priceless memories that money can’t buy, and death can’t steal.
All I wanted for Christmas was you.
Happy New Year, lil man.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy
Today Ernest Hemingway spoke to me. He’s a legendary author and journalist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. He passed away on July 2nd. (Literary terms deem this dramatic irony. Or perhaps it’s considered situational irony? Regardless, it’s all kinds-a fucked up.) His ‘message’ took my breath away. That doesn’t happen easily these days.
A life story in six words? Six wouldn’t suffice to tell yours. However, Hemingway certainly chose his wisely.
Speaking of shoes; your collection rocks. You have three pairs of Jordans. Fly, blue Vans – Ugg slippers too.
No, I’m not writing in Haiku. I’m just making six word sentences. Six times two always equals twelve. Cancer always equals fuck, fucking you. I’m sad, tired, angry, and scared. Six is my fake therapy tonight.
You didn’t wear your baby shoes. Rest assure, they’ll remain forever yours.
Thank you for being my son.
I miss you; I love you.
Stay with me my Sweet Boy.
When I lost you, I lost so very many things: my only child, my chance to mother you; all the things you were and would have been; our little family; my future; my place and identity; my confidence; my naïveté; my view of the world as a safe and just place.
I can easily say my life is now divided into two distinct parts: Before Cancer (BC) and After Cancer (AC). In addition to mourning the loss of you: my dream come true – I’ve also mourned over the version of me I lost when you died. Some days, I long to have her back. Not as often, or remotely as desperately, as I long to have you back. Yet she is gone. You are gone. I am here: living in my AC world. Without you. And without the Danna I knew for 38 years.
Most days, however, I would not trade in the new version of me. (Other than if to have our entire BC world back…the one where you never got sick, you never suffered, and we never kissed good-bye one.last.time.) Given no choice in the matter, I have morphed into a different woman. Naturally, there are parts of me which are still broken and empty. Some are broken beyond repair. How couldn’t they be? When a parent loses a child, they lose a part of themselves. Beyond that, they are permanently rocked to the very core of their soul. The only way around this truth – is if they simply do not have a soul. However, there are also pieces of me which are far wiser, stronger, and more refined than that of my former self. All of which can be attributed to the fact that particles of you flow throughout my body and are contained within my soul.
Perhaps my former self needed to lose her naiveté, her blind trust, and her belief that those she loved would never betray her. She needed to become strong – in a entirely different capacity: one which allowed her the strength to see the world as it is, not how she willed it to be. She needed to acknowledge that the most difficult times do, in fact, reveal people’s true character – and she had to accept all which was unveiled. She needed to learn, the really hard fucking way, to always trust her god damn instincts.
Though few and far between, there are times where if I quiet my mind long enough, I vividly see the gifts you’ve left for me. Despite the depth and breath of the pain I experience from having lost you, I see reminders all around that I, too, have gained. Not enough. Not nearly enough gain for the hefty, immeasurable price of losing you. Still, you must always know that you alone are a far, far more profound gift than the torture and the despair of living in my new world without you.
My AC world is mournful and tenuous at times. Yet it is also beautiful, meaningful and sublime in a way I never imagined. Gibran describes it best when he prophesied that only after having really “…looked into the eyes of such sorrow” can one find their way to pure joy. For the infinite joy you have brought into my life, and the promise you continue to bring…I remain humbly and infinitely indebted.
It should come as no surprise, Dave has a little diddy for you, Diddy. Allow him to serenade you into a peaceful slumber tonight. Rest your head against my chest. Close those baby blues…Momma is right here.
Thank you for helping your Momma become a better, stronger, wiser woman.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.
Today is the day the entire world stops to do what we should do all year round…pause and give ‘thanks’ for all of the blessings in our lives. There are people who believe positive thinking and gratitude are the answers to life’s aliments. I agree. A positive attitude and posture of gratefulness can help many bleak situations. But I guess gratitude doesn’t come naturally when you are grieving the loss of your only child – and the loss of everything else you loved too. All the positive thoughts in the world aren’t going to change the fact that you are dead. All the positive thoughts in the world aren’t going to bring my little family back together. All the positive thoughts in the world certainly aren’t going to fill the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table tonight.
This is not to say I don’t actively engage in positive thinking. Today alone I had many positive thoughts. I am grateful for the fact that most people will never have a Thanksgiving where their 7-year old niece holds their hand under the table and all-too empathetically whispers, “I miss him too, D.D.” Nor will they know of a toast which is finished with their 4-year old nephew innocently nodding his head while sincerely proclaiming, “Here’s to Paxton’s spirit all around us!” I’m also thankful most people will never have to shamefully throw out an entire side-dish of cranberries, because their tears fell into the bowl before they realized they were standing over it – silently sobbing.
Bring to the table a cornucopia of blessings and I’ll bring you my infinite pain. Let’s put them both on the empty chair where you should be…21 months young…squishing pumpkin pie between your chubby little fingers and putting it in your adorably sweet face.
Asking me to focus on my blessings and not recognize the fact that you’re not here, is like telling me to be grateful I am still able to breathe – even though the atmosphere has run out of oxygen. It simply isn’t possible to be one or the other. That being said, just because I continue to grieve doesn’t mean I am incapable of being grateful for the other blessings in my life. But it is not one or the other. I miss you with every molecule of my being; I would give anything to have you back. Yet I am still deeply grateful for the three little souls who will sit with me at the table tonight. I am thankful beyond measure to have Lala & Uncle Stephen in my life, and also living so close to me. I am grateful for my parents – who continue to provide unwavering love and support through each step of this, the very darkest, walk of my life. I am thankful that I truly do have the most devoted, strong, beautiful friends on this side of the universe. Who, even though they think as much, have still never said, “We told you so…“.
I am grieving. I am grateful. The latter can’t cure the former, and the former doesn’t negate the latter. As a bereaved Momma, I have unwillingly learned the delicate art of holding infinite space for both. My new life is a heartbreaking juxtaposition of contradictions. Just as I possess both the immeasurable love of having you, and the immeasurable pain of losing you. My heart is broken because you are gone, but it is also full because you were here.
There is never a moment I am not thinking of you…wishing you were here with me, worrying about you…and eternally grateful that you are mine.
I hope you are happy, Little Turkey.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.