two years. too long. to the moon and back.

Diddy,

July 2nd. The date I last held you in my arms, as our hearts drummed in tandem. The date I last kissed your beautiful, perfect head and soaked in your sweet baby smell. The date of the worst day of my life…times two. This day will never get easier. I will never stop recounting every hour, every minute, every last moment that lead up to the last one we shared together. I will never forgive myself for not taking you to the doctor sooner. I will never stop wishing that I could rewind time and find a way to save you. I will never stop fighting your fight. Most of all I will never stop loving and missing you madly. Never. Ever.

Things have been unfolding like rapid fire on this side of the universe. With each new development, your existence is reinforced beyond one single, solitary, sliver of a doubt. July 2nd, began with a much-anticipated phone call. Given the date, I vacillated on whether or not it was right to take the call on the worst day in history. But, something in the deepest part of my soul told me a you had a message you wanted to deliver…and the timing of your message was no coincidence. I braced myself against the wall in the furthest corner of your bedroom, with Giraffey and Little Tiny Bear clutched in my sweaty, clenched palms as I did my best to process the information being relayed to me. As the words rolled off of the caller’s voice, tears of relief, joy and guilt burned down my face. Her words slowly turned into background noise, as I said over and over again, “…my Sweet Boy is pure, pure perfection.” Not only was the news perfect in every last way – the timing of it, naturally, couldn’t have been sweeter. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you, Paxton Bowe; but, I will spend the rest of this life trying to make you proud.

My heart has never known such a juxtaposition of joy and sorrow…elation and guilt…relief and dread. Nonetheless, I wanted to throw you up in the air and tell you all about the wonderment and miracles which are coming our way. My mind in knots, my stomach reeling – and you nowhere to be found, I ran straight to the bathroom and threw up my breakfast instead. Twice. I guess once for each year we’ve been apart.

Your Uncle Stephen & Lala had a small gathering at their house in your honor. I will hate that those types of gatherings exist as much as I’d hate if they didn’t for the rest of eternity. Almost all of my lovelies were present; although the mood was light, everyone’s hearts were heavy. We did our best to wear fake smiles, complimented with faux-laughter and make-shift contentment. But, each of our souls was silently crying, while simultaneously wishing there were never a need for such a shitty reason for a shitty gathering. Shit-o-versary cards don’t exist…nor do shit-o-versary cakes or gifts. Because everyone knows there isn’t anything in the entire world that could minimize the shittiness of such a date: not cake, not cards, not packages in shiny bows. Not even all the people you love the most in the entire world contained in one room, holding you up, and telling you that you are not in this shit storm alone.

At nightfall, adults and children alike launched wish lanterns into the damp and dreary sky for you. Mine was so chocked full of kisses, I didn’t think it would lift from the ground. But it did. And, I followed its glow until it was swallowed by the moon’s clouds. Then I watched a little longer. I hope you saw this corner of the sky light up for you. I hope you felt the waves of love we sent to you. I hope you know how deeply and desperately you are missed. I hope you understand I would give anything in this mixed up world to trade places with you.

Thank you for the phone call. Thank you for my lovelies who surround me with their love, even though I don’t deserve it, nor have the strength to reciprocate it. Thank you for the greatest gift of all – being my son.

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox

Momma

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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

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

silence is a sound. you are really gone. and cancer is still a giant asshole.

Hi Diddy,

I made it back to Wisconsin.

Coming home threw a giant curve ball my way. In my absence, somehow the house has grown exponentially larger, quieter, and lonelier. In hindsight, maybe a part of me was half expecting to come in the back door and find a house filled with all things baby boy: trucks, Legos, puzzles, and books spattered about the downstairs; plastic dishes, rubber spoons, and sippy cups in the sink; the iconic sweet sent of Burt’s Bees Buttermilk lotion in the air. I was snapped out of my trance by the time I reached the bottom of the upstairs staircase. By then I knew even if I ran to the top and lunged into your room – I wouldn’t find you happily kicking about and ‘whoo-whoo-ing’ in your crib.

Every so often, I still have fleeting moments when I forget you are really gone. When they happen, my breath is sucked right out of my lungs, and I swear the world stands still: for.just.a.split.second. Each time they happen, I am positive it will be the last time. I’m always surprised and somewhat embarrassed by them. They also scare me a bit because I feel like I truly may be going crazy after-all. But, then I get pissed and realize I am not the crazy one. Cancer is the crazy one. I think about how very unfair and unacceptable it is that you were cheated from a life which held such promise – and that the world was cheated from a soul which held pure goodness.

I wonder if the day will ever come when I whole-heartedly believe, in the very core of my being, that all of this actually happened. I had a son. He was a miracle. He was beautiful. He was perfect. He was funny. He was brave. He was everything I dreamed of…and more. He was the part of me which had been missing my entire life. Then, just like that – he got cancer and died. No matter how long I wait, or how much I beg, plea and bargain – he is never, ever coming back. I honestly don’t know if my subconscious will ever allow my conscious state to fully digest the gruesomeness of my reality. It defies all logic, reason, science and what is right and fair in the universe. Above all else, it is simply too god damn hard. Anyone who thinks I should simply “…accept my reality” and “move on” – as though losing my son, and then the rest of my entire world (in the span of seven months), is merely an unfortunate kink in plans akin to an unforeseen head-wind on a magic carpet ride to Disneyland – can fuck off. Or they can choose which one of their children they will watch get slowly tortured and brutally murdered by cancer…and ultimately die in their arms. In fact, they can do both. Then we can meet for tea and eat crumpets while they tell me all about how beautifully they’re accepting what life threw their way. And I can apologize for telling them to fuck off.

Despite the echoes I hear as I walk to and fro our rooms, accompanied only by the silence swimming through the air, a part of me feels relieved to be home. I am still comforted by being in your room, among your things. I know you are with me wherever I go. I know your things are merely things. I know your room is simply a floor, with four walls, which not too long ago was filled with hope, dreams, and promise. Yet, I also know memories of you and I are more vivid in that sacred space. Whenever I’m feeling especially far away from you – I retreat to your room, if only for a minute, and I feel just a tiny bit closer to you.

One of the thousands of things we didn’t get to do together nearly enough is read bedtimes stories. I read to you every now and again…sometimes in the middle of the day, sometimes when I get home from work, sometimes right before bed – whenever it is I am able muster the ever-elusive grace to choose a book from your shelves and say the words out loud. When I don’t have the composure to use my voice, I sit in the glider and quietly turn the pages as I imagine you there with me. Alas, some of the most special people in your life gave you the same book for your (non) shower gift. They picked it for you because it was one of their favorites. So, I tend to choose it more often than others. I’m a quite certain it is one of your favorites too. Goodnight Moon is on deck again tonight; it’s been far too long.

Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight, ‘silence’ everywhere.

Goodnight, Diddy. I’ll look for you in my dreams.

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma