i have a hang-over. please pass the kleenex.

Paxton,

This past weekend Momma went on one hell of a bender. And not the too much fun, due to too much wine type bender. It was an emotional bender – of epic proportions. One caused by mixing too many feelings, in too short of time…and not being capable of sleeping them off. My Lovelies arranged a gorgeous event fit for a queen, rather a princess, last Saturday. Marygrace lead the charge on pulling it offdespite my insistence that it was not necessary, and my pleas to not make me do it, she ultimately convinced me that it was exactly the exact thing I needed. I knew she was right. Grace is almost always right. (Almost.) I also went along with it because of my obsession of doing ‘everything different’ this time around. I’m playing a Jedi Mind trick that ‘doing everything different’ this time, will keep cancer (and frauds) at bay.

So even though my heart was saying ‘no’, my mouth agreed to let my Lovelies sprinkle me with good, pure love. But it took everything I had NOT to cancel on them. And they knew it; which is why Lala showed up at my house an hour prior to “start time” to be my chauffeur.  As we drove along, in order to not tell her to bust a U-turn and take me home, I preoccupied myself with a stern talking to. “You cannot cancel on your friends. Look at all they have done for you. As much as you want to hide, you just cannot. Not today, Danna. Make good on your word. Spend this day with your friends who love your spicy ass so much.”

I had to take a lot of mental time outs to get through the day. I’ve become so exquisitely versed in ‘blacking out’, while seemingly carrying on as normal, that I’m convinced even Lala & Grace don’t know when I’m doing it. The entire affair was as beautiful as it was difficult. I don’t ever experience a moment of pure bliss anymore. For even the purest of moments are tainted by the fact that you are dead. For obvious reasons, today’s near-bliss was particularly tainted. Throughout the event, I had many moments of happiness, but many more moments of complete and utter sadness, pain, shock, and just a feeling of being overwhelmed. The overwhelmed ‘panic-in-my-soul’ feeling never fully goes away. I suppose it makes sense that I am forever riding the cusp of a panic attack. I have suffered the greatest loss one can endure. Conversely, I now have the greatest gift growing inside of me – for which I am immeasureably grateful. Even as I oh-so-cautiously prepare for this precious life to enter the world, I feel death lurking all around me, because I am still so heavily grieving the loss of you.

Life. Death. Two dichotomous, yet equally powerful forces are literally at war inside of my heart. I want so desperately to experience true and unconditional love again, but am just as desperately afraid to allow myself such a luxury. Mostly, I am afraid because everything I have ever loved, I have lost.  But also because I fear that in loving a new life, I will somehow abandon a portion of the immense love I have for you. Even as I write this, the notion of anything or anyone being able to make me love you, even a fraction of an ounce, less sounds ludicrous. Yet, these are the thoughts which race through my mind on a steady loop.  

Not a day passes when I don’t take pause to realize how lucky I am to have these women in my life. The whole lot of them are one in a trillion. But I am also very aware of why they are here. They are here, in full-force, because you are gone. My Lovelies have always been integral forces in my life, yet the beautiful roles which they have stepped up and so seamlessly and selflessly assumed in your Momma’s shit-balls-crazy life is well beyond my capacity to understand. Suffice it to say, I am eternally indebted to each one of them for surrounding me, holding me up, and loving me … loving you, and loving your little sister too.

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I sure hope you don’t mind the explosion of pink that went off in your room today.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox

Momma

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41 birthday wishes. everyone of them is for you.

Paxton,

Yesterday was my birthday. Among the host of other holidays, my birthday lost its luster the moment you were robbed from ever having one. The fact that I’ve now had 41 birthdays strung together just doesn’t seem right. Probably because it’s not. Nothing about having your baby die in your arms and then be left to continue on in this world without him is right. No need for a “48 Hour Mystery” segment to solve the rub on this one, Diddy.

I spent my non-happy birthday at your favorite girl cousin’s birthday party. Alina will turn eight next week. I’m relieved she’ll have eight birthdays. She has always made my heart drum a little lighter. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t celebrate her turning eight without simultaneously feeling overwhelmingly sad that you will never have a birthday cake with eight candles to blow out. As always, not a day – particularly a ‘special’ day goes by where I’m not consumed with guilt over the many, many things you will never experience. Though most people are likely unaware – regardless of where I am, and what I am doing – I’m only partially ‘present’. I always have one foot in a parallel universe looking for you, reaching for you – always wondering how very different life would be if I could find you and bring you back to this world with me.

Alina may be your only girlie-girl cousin. However, she is anything but girlie. Oh, that spicy monkey. She truly is one of a kind. Alina ‘strongly dislikes’ anything pink, ruffley, or girlie in anyway. Dolls are not allowed in her room – which is donned in blue from top to bottom. When I say blue, think Cookie Monster, highway sign, Facebook blue. Literally: her walls, her bed-spread, her (self-made) decor…all blue. Your Lala says she always makes sure not to turn in a circle too fast in Alina’s room – for fear she’ll throw herself into a seizure. Before Alina went Back to School shopping this year, she announced that, “…she’s not wearing girl clothes anymore.” So, NIKE sweats and running shorts it’s been. Some of her favorite gifts included: a NERF bow and arrow, Legos, blue running shoes, camouflage leggings, and a skate board. A skate board for which she will build taller and steeper ramps; on which she bust higher and radder ollies. Alina the bold and beautiful. Have I mentioned she is one of a kind?

One of the most difficult parts about my birthday (and the impending holidays which always, cruelly, ensue) is when people ask what I want for my birthday/Christmas. I know these queries are coming from a place of graciousness. None the less, every.single.time. I want to reach out and slap the shit out of the person asking me such an insenstive question as I scream, “What do I want? What the fuck do you think I want? I want my son back in my arms: healthy, happy…and ALIVE. What’s that you say? You can’t find him at Mayfair, TJ Maxx, nor J. Crew? Hmmm. Well, then, it’s official. I don’t want anything…except to die before sunrise.” But even on my spiciest of days, I wouldn’t dare lash out on someone in such a brutally honest way.

Much like my life, my “Wish List” is vastly different than I ever saw it panning out in my head. Bottom line: given all the money in the world, not a single item can be bought.

I don’t want to hear overused cliches, or a string of empty words flung around my neck like a too-tight, itchy turtleneck. No. “…everything doesn’t happen for a reason”, because there is no reason good enough in this twisted-world to justify the pain you endured, nor the ever-present pain in my soul from losing you.

I certainly don’t want the coldness and emptiness that accompanies the abandonment of a cast of characters who I was naive enough to believe when they promised again and again they’d never leave my side.

I want strong, sacred, loving arms to hold onto me while I sob uncontrollably in the middle of the night…soaked to the bone with sweat, due to another gruesome flashback.

I want eyes that see this pain is not the kind of pain from which I will ever recover. Even if given a year. A decade. Or a lifetime. I will never, ever be whole again.

I want hands that remember to trace the letters of your name on my back, and a voice that speaks your name, loudly, boldly, proudly, and often – without needing to be reminded.

I want feet to walk with me – slowly, gently, without pushing or rushing, graciously following my pace – until I can see color, if even in muted shades – once again.

I want ears that can listen to the sound of my heart breaking – over and over again.

There you have it: your Momma’s list of ever-elusive wishes.  For today, I’ll settle for the sound of AC’s giggle as she excitedly opens her not-so-girlie-girl gifts; the sight of sunlight reflecting off the boys’ heads: as they run wild and free through their back yard, and the steady strumming of ‘hope’ innocently moving about inside me.

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I will look for you in my dreams.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

jedi mind tricks don’t work on days like today.

Diddy,

Tonight, as I was brushing my teeth before bed, the doorbell rang. Standing at the front door was a strange man, who asked if he could borrow some eggs. Before I could answer, and tell him I don’t have butter, sugar, or flour – much less eggs, he grabbed me and threw me in the back of his rusty van that reeked of peed-soaked carpet. He bound my arms and legs and shoved a gag in my mouth. He drove and drove until we reached his rundown shack, smack in the middle of nowhere. As he threw me onto the cold ground, he told me I’d be his bitch forever and ever.

Ok. So that didn’t actually happen. But I conjure up scenarios like these to do my best  to put things into perspective. Because being kidnapped from my own home, shoved into the back of a smelly van, and forced to be a creeper’s sex slave would be just a little bit worse than the day I had today. My attempts to pull Jedi mind tricks on myself don’t work, because even though I logically realize that my day is better than someone’s who is held captive, or someone’s who lives in poverty-stricken, war-ravaged conditions, and is definitely better than someone’s who has the great misfortune of working at craft store for a living – I still hate every, single day here in this life without you.

Today was especially shitty because it was the first day of school. For most parents, this is an exciting time of year – marked by photos of their happy children, on the front steps of their happy homes. For most parents, the start of a new school year is a welcomed change. For bereaved parents, back to school bonanza does an exquisite job of displaying signs of torture everywhere. Over-sized backpacks, school supplies, yellow school buses, car drop off lines. Everywhere I turned, I was faced with painful reminders of more ‘firsts’  that you will never experience. It was one sucker punch after another.

It’s too much sometimes. By sometimes, I mean almost always. It’s especially challenging because, even if I tried, this annual occurrence is not only monumentally painful, it is one which I simply cannot avoid. I am a teacher, for the love of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. So not only am I smacked right in the face by the back-to-school torment; I have to actively participate in the god-forsaken event. Part of my job is to be the ‘welcome wagon’ to all the eager, awkward in the most adoring way, teenagers – with sun-kissed skin, donning their spanking new back-to-school outfits. But, behind every ‘welcome back’ smile there is a floodgate of tears threatening to tsunami my classroom at any given moment.

Everything I wished for is not. And the brutal truth of it burns. It burns new holes in me – it  burns in the old places, that I foolishly thought were repaired, too. It aches in places I didn’t know could ache. It screams in a pitch that reminds me of the wretched moment my life changed forever. This is one of the many realities of being a bereaved parent that no one talks about….milestones – that should have been – which rip open the scabs of buried grief and create ones of new grief – all at once, and all over again.

And, boy, do you fucking bleed.

I know you wouldn’t be starting school this year. In fact, I know your first day of Kindergarten wouldn’t be for exactly three more years. To be precise, it would be in September of 2017. But that doesn’t stop me from imagining what it would be like to be able to take just one picture of you starting school. A toothy grin, or a goofy face. A perfectly matched outfit…that I laid out for you the night before. Or, a perfectly mismatched one…that you insisted on choosing yourself. Blurry or in focus. Sunshine or rain. Our front steps, or the front steps of your new school. I’d take it. Just.one.picture. Because just one picture would have given us five more years together. Five more years to kiss your sweet head. Five more years to hear your voice. Five more years to tuck you in at night. Five more years to memorize every nook and cranny, and idiosyncrasy that make you perfectly and uniquely you. Five more years to watch you run wild and free.

If only I could walk hand and hand with you to your classroom, or as far as you would let me before you wrangled your grip free, and bravely reassured me, “I’m okay, Momma.” If only I could be annoyed by the lengthy back-to-school shopping list. If only I could have held back the tears of wondering how you got to be my ‘big Kindergardener’, as you excitedly rushed into the day ready to partake in the rite of passage children across the land look forward to experiencing. If only I could post your (adorable) picture on my Facebook wall. If only I could race home to greet you, with an excited smile and an enormous hug, at the end of your very first day of school. I would give my whole life to experience just one more minute. Just one minute longer is always and forever the cry of a bereaved Momma.

Every ‘first day of school’ makes me sick. And it makes me sob. I know most people have no idea these thoughts and feelings flood my soul. You never having a first day of school is a distant thought in their minds. It is far too ‘long gone’ to stay in the present. Especially in the frenzy of their beloved children’s back-to-school hoopla. For the rest of the moms, time moves at warp speed. But for a bereaved mom, time stands still.

So here I stand, the world around me paused at a screeching halt, with one foot in the life we once had, and one foot in the life I now have. With a broken heart and a tortured soul…wondering, imagining, longing for all what could have and should have been. Here I stand, with wobbly knees and tired, tired legs – straddling time and space.

And although my life is not as bad as it could be, it is still so very hard to live this life without you.

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I would’ve always packed you the very best lunches.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

those who say idiotic things. those who behave(d) badly. and others i’m done protecting.

Diddy,

Today started out better than most. In fact, one may have described me as somewhat smiley – nearly optimistic – given the exciting opportunity which has been presented to me throughout the past 72 hours. Then a well-intended person, spewing idiotic things from her face, came along and sent me straight into my sauce-zone.

People say stupid things to me about you all the time. In fact, at least once a week I find myself refraining from slapping the shit out of someone. Their stupidity is almost always rooted in a benevolent place, and I know this. It doesn’t make it any easier to listen to them drone on about you being “…an angel with wings”, “…still with me wherever I go”, or my personal favorite “…walking with our heavenly father”. All it does is send me into an internal zone where I chant my battle cry, “Hitting is wrong. Hitting is wrong.”

Alas, with 100% conviction this woman said, “Danna…the worst part is the loss of potential…” “Right?”

Honestly, this is perplexing. Potential what? Potential night-time snuggles after bedtime stories? Potential comforting hugs to soothe bumps and bruises acquired as you learned to walk, then to run? Potential belly laughs from watching you happily dance about the house? Potential first day of school pictures? Potential teenage angst? Potential orthodontist bills? Potential numb-butt syndrome from sitting on bleachers all weekend at basketball tournaments? Potential background checks of potential girlfriends? Potential tears as I drove you off to college? Potential Mother & Son dance at your wedding?

Yes. Somebody actually quantified your untimely and completely unfair death as a “loss of potential”. To refer to you as potential, an amorphous glob of fuel to be used up over time, is mind blowing – at least to me. I suppose it’s possible to think of humans this way: everyone is merely stored-up “potential” until his or her future is realized. But it seems remarkably insensitive to refer to a dead child this way. In fact, it seems completely devoid of human emotion. How utterly complex the human landscape that someone would attempt to empathize with me in a way that reflects no fucking empathy whatsoever.

Why does grief turn so many people into giant bags of idiot? Even those who have experienced grief can be morons. I look back at my life and I wonder how remarkably stupid I’ve been. I’ve certainly made many, many stupid choices. (I’ll save those for another day.) Maybe there should be a required class on how to avoid being insipid when you encounter a bereaved parent? And people should have to take it every other year, just to make sure they remember the good stuff.

To be fair, there are people who didn’t turn into idiots – who did exactly as they should have done. If they didn’t know what to say, they said nothing. They hugged me. They held my hand. They sat next to me. They told me to brush my hair and put on lip-gloss. Others burrowed their heads and hearts to avoid the specter of death: as if it may cast its shadow over their home, creep inside while they sleep, and steal their children. Even those people did not invoke my ire. Yes. Some people disappeared from my life altogether. I certainly should not be surprised by their dismissal. It is still exceedingly painful, all the same. (Wouldn’t it be great if we all had the good fortune to pick and choose who and what we cut out of our lives once our plot-line became less than idyllic? I’d delete you being diagnosed with cancer at 12 weeks and 3 days old….then dying in my arms less than eight weeks later. Hands mother fucking down.)

For the record I, too, know how to avoid terrors associated with your death. I know how to close my eyes just the right amount to make the entire scene become blurry. I know how to find the mirrors in a room before making eye contact with them for fear of witnessing the visage of encroaching sorrow. I know how to answer questions, by using questions – to avoid verbalizing feelings I cannot bring myself to utter out loud. I know, I know, I know.

I could numb out the pain entirely by allowing my heart to harden. I could run for Door #2, assume a new identity, and escape this life altogether. I could convince myself I’m content with contingent ‘promises’, fragile commitments, and faux happiness: all while selling myself the low-budget simplification that your death “…happened for a reason.” I could let grief win. But, I won’t. That is what a victim does. That is not what a Momma does.

At any rate, the nice people who say idiotic things will no longer catch me off guard. Moreover, I will no longer expend one.more.ounce of energy grinding my tongue against the sharp bone on the roof of my mouth until it bleeds, or squeezing my bicep at just the right angle to make it separate from the bone as a means to refrain from blurting out the truth. In turn, protecting those who simply do not fucking deserve my protection. Starting five minutes ago, the only person I’m going to actively protect in this entirely mixed up world, is you.

I digress. I am guessing this woman wondered about your potential because she genuinely gave a shit…which is also why she was so insistent I heard her (idiotic) thoughts. I’m guessing she was trying so hard to reach out and connect with me on this one point that she missed her target and accidentally stabbed herself in the eye.

If people care, reaching out is enough. I don’t need anyone to try to make sense of your death, or to explain what they guess I might be missing about you. Paxton, I don’t care even one little bit what potential people think you may have realized. The only thing I ever wanted you to be…was alive.

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I miss you so much. I love you even more. I hope wherever you roam, you are happy.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

P.S. Sorry for all the swears. I’ll put extra quarters in your coin jar before I go to bed tonight.

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