hallow halloween. and the morning after.

Diddy,

Pictures, pictures, pictures.

Children. Smiling. Happy. Alive. Each wearing a costume somehow cuter than the next. I found myself pausing on some pictures a little, or a lot, longer than others.

The same ones always make my heart stop beating for a second too long. Those of the ‘Shadow Children’ – kids who are nearly the same age you would and should be, if asshole cancer didn’t murder you. There are five ‘Shadow Children’ who regularly appear on my Facebook feed. Once upon a time, I had to keep their parents ‘hidden’ from my feed. Seeing them, particularly because it was always in an unexpected fashion, was far too painful. One by one, I’ve somehow ‘unhidden’ their parents again…except for one. And that’s because, among other all-too-similar circumstances, she was born just three days before you. I purposely go to her Mommy’s page to look at her when I’m feeling really strong – but more often when I’m feeling really, really desperate to know what you’d be doing, how big you’d be, things you may like, etc.  Now a days I find myself staring longingly at the photos of your ‘Shadow Children’. My focus always lingers on their eyes. As I silently beg them to tell me if they see you anywhere. If they know where you went. If they can help me find you. Alas, they cannot.  However, I am relieved to report they are all healthy and happy. They appear especially happy this morning, because they participated in a time-honored Halloween tradition of Trick or Treat over the weekend. The lucky itty-bits are still high on sugar.

Speaking of Trick or Treat, I haven’t been brave enough to stand at our front door to hand out candy and wistfully watch child after child skip away, only to close the door and retreat into our home which sits unnaturally quiet and eerily empty. The last few years I’ve made sure to be out of the house when the mobs of adorable, innocent children come a knockin’. This afternoon, I made plans to have lunch and then head to the mall with Nana. When she pulled into our neighborhood to drop me off, a parade of kids in costumes passed in front of her car. I suddenly realized I had the Trick or Treat times wrong; I arrived home an hour too soon. In a panic, I told Nana there were a few things at Target I needed to get. So she whisked me off to Target, where I ambled up and down the aisles until the coast was clear.

I strongly feel like kid-centered holidays should come with a disclaimer, a reminder, a warning to the non-bereaved. For example, Halloween should be prefaced by any combination of creative PSAs which could air on the radio, tv commercials, shit…through ads on Facebook: “Parents, this Halloween take time to consider that some of those doors on which your adorable (blonde haired, blue-eyed, two and a half year old boy) will knock, house heart-broken people. People who desperately want to be parents, and have cried countless tears over their failed attempts to become someone’s mom or dad. People who are moms and dads, but their child cannot go trick-or-treating, or wear super-hero costumes while posing for super-cute pictures. Because their child is dead.”

Like mine.

The morning after a ‘holiday’, particularly the ones which are largely child-oriented, is almost harder than the actual day itself. Because our world is connected by social media. Social media – at which like a car wreck, I can’t help but looking. Post after post reminds me that I’ll never know what you would’ve wanted to dress up as this year. And I’ll forever wonder, at just two and a half, how many houses you’d have walked to, and how many you’d have opted for a ride in the wagon to make it a little further…before ultimately becoming too tuckered out to last any longer. I’ll never know if you would’ve proudly proclaimed some adorably mixed-up version of, “Trick or Treat!”, or if you’d have gotten an unexpected case of stage-freight, and froze – with your pumpkin clasped in your outstretched hand, hopeful to get a mini Snickers bar anyway.

I’m willing to bet I wasn’t the only Momma left wondering this morning. I know of far too many Moms who wonder what it would’ve been like to have had the privilege to walk their own little girl or boy through the neighborhood, and hear how cute they look in their costumes. I imagine they scrolled through their Facebook feeds today, and with tear-blurred vision stared into the eyes of the ‘Shadow Children’, as they mourned their child whose picture they should be uploading.

Parents who don’t belong to the worst-club-ever don’t know the thousands of tortures, just like this, which exist in our (new) worlds. Only a bereaved parent knows of the sucker punch which waits around every corner. No matter how cautiously you turn the bend, no matter how meticulously you scan the surroundings – there is no preparing for the blow. Although there isn’t a day that goes by that we need ‘reminding’ of what we’ve lost – some days all it takes to surmise the magnitude of what we’ve lost…is a picture.

Many people think that grief is some sort of “process”, which has an end. Trust me when I tell you, it doesn’t. Because every single day, for the rest of my life – there will be a morning after…filled only with shadows of you.

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Brush your teeth and hop into bed.

Stay with me Sweet Boy,

xoox,

Momma

P.S. You’ll always be my little Boo!  (Sorry. Momma couldn’t help herself. Look at that. Even when I’m sad, I’m still funny.)

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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

go get my girl.

Paxton,

No. No. No. Not again. I simply cannot do ‘this’ again.

Our beloved Ms. Nicole is so very, very sick. She is so sick that no one is saying what everyone is thinking; Nicole.may.not.make.it. Which is precisely what has been running through my mind on a constant loop: “Nicole cannot die.” “Nicole cannot die.” Diddy, Nicole cannot die – because she has so many reasons to live. This is all so entirely fucked up and beyond unfair I could light the world on fire with my rage.

At this point, no one knows quite what went wrong, all we know is that Nicole, a 26-year-old picture of health, grace, strength and beauty, went into acute liver failure and desperately needs a new liver – and she needs it now. On July 8th, we thought our pleas were answered, as a match had been secured, and a liver was on the way to save my super-hero sidekick. After 14 long, torturous hours of waiting, the Transplant Team ultimately determined the liver was not going to work. How is that possible? How is any of this possible?

Only a few days ago, Ms. Nicole was on top of the world. She started out her summer with two a-days workouts, sunbathing and wedding planning. She is punch-drunk in love with her hunk of a fiancée, who she is marrying next June. In fact, just last Saturday she bought her wedding dress. It was the very first one she tried on. Overcome with excitement, she sent me a photo of her in her perfectly-perfect dress. Her smile was so bright and bold it nearly overshadowed the beauty of the vision of her in that perfectly-perfect dress. Almost. Now she’s in a coma, lying in ICU, and has been moved to the #1 spot on the National Liver Transplant waiting list.

Nicole has a Caring Bridge page, she has a Go Fund Me site. She is being sustained by a feeding tube and a PICC line.  Her insides are being infiltrated with an onslaught of steroids, chemotherapy, methadone, and dopamine. While her body is frail, it is swollen nearly beyond recognition. Nicole is fighting for her beautiful, bountiful life – and NO ONE knows how any of this happened. You already know that all the horrifying parallels of your fights have set a million and twelve triggers into motion for Momma.

I received a text from hunky Tyler today that said, “Nicole is in ICU…but, she is in Room #12. It is the best sign we’ve received so far.”

Nicole Grace. I am certain she and I are long-lost soul sisters. One of the many reasons I love her so much is because she has helped sustain my life during the darkest, loneliest parts of this walk – when the twists and turns took me lower, and the darkness got even darker, Nicole held my hand a little tighter. Further, Nicole possesses uncanny strength. She is strong-willed, strong-minded, and strong-bodied. In fact, the very definition of her name, Nicole, means: “victorious people”. That simply is no coincidence. She has lived up to her namesake in a hundred different ways. This simply must prove to be her greatest victory yet.

Please keep doing everything Momma has asked you to do. Now is not the time to rebel, my spicy little  monkey. Ms. Nicole needs you. Take good care of her. I will do my best to help her family and Tyler in any way I can. But I feel helpless. There is nothing I can do or say that is going to make this easier. All I have to offer is that I know what it feels like to watch the love of your life fight for his/her life. And I am not dead from the pain. Most of the time I wish I was. Nonetheless, I am still here. That’s all I’ve got. That and I am just so sorry.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky.

Go get my girl, Sweet Boy.

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xoox,

Momma

 

 

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

i don’t worry about not being normal. i only worry about you. (and maybe zombies. only sometimes.)

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.

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

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.

 

 

 

a grocery store. a bathroom stall. and a promise. like all good things – it ends with wine and gummy bears.

Diddy,

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.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Are you still there?”

“Yes, honey.”

“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.

“Never?”

“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.

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

 

 

wrestling…and my entire life is summarized in one word.

Paxton Bowe,

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 those boys in the way they shouldn’t bend.

Today, Joshie and Juju 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 love 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, Juju poked his head back in my direction – one more time…and waved good-bye. I almost collapsed right onto the floor.

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…but good.

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 adequately or accurately 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 when 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. On the other hand, I am 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 have made it abundantly clear that you’re hopelessly in love with them.

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 Joshie & Juju’s faces; the next, the dried ice cream off of Paxton’s chin. Each of them 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 older boys a hundred times over for the myriad of ways in which they so effortlessly love my son. We will all head to our respective homes, and sleep soundly while when dream of of all things happy.”

Paxton, I plea for a different ending, over and over again; one where no one dies.  Most especially not you. Then, the panic of it happening again, anytime, anywhere…sets in – followed quickly by the spiraling of obsessive thoughts, (What if…If only?). 

Ahh, those boys: they will never understand how they have 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 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.

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

December 25th. A huge sign. And, Baby Jesus-invoked PTSD.

Good morning, Paxton Bowe:

The “holiday season” is finally over. I survived another holiday without you by my side.

Exhale.

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.

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy

xoox,

Momma

Your spark has spread across the pond…to the wild, wild west, and everywhere else too. But I’d rather you were asleep in your crib.

Diddy,

My little Diddy Bop…how I miss you so. More oft than not, I don’t quite know how to begin my letters to you. Perhaps the only normal part of my existence is the abnormal feeling I get when I realize the only way I can communicate with my son, who was killed over a year ago, is through letters he may or may never read. Good thing for you (because as my child, you have obviously found a way to read these) I’ve never been one to conform and do what others perceive to be normal.

Once I begin writing to you, I feel more normal and most certainly more at peace than I have in days. At the close of each letter, I tell myself, “…just write him one note every day….no matter the reason…no matter how profound or inconsequential the message”. But, most days I am still not brave enough to creak open the lid of “Paxton’s Box” and allow myself to participate in the single most vulnerable act: expressing my feelings through the written word. When it comes to writing to you, there are more days than not when it is simply too difficult to navigate the vastness of my grief, especially in total solitude (except for the companionship of my laptop and Sir Giraffey).

Each week I receive notes, cards, emails, Facebook messages and letters from complete strangers, long-time friends, long-lost friends, and your dearest earth angels who prefer to remain anonymous. Each correspondence serves as a tangible reminder that people, both near and far, are thinking of you, loving you and…holding you close to their beautiful hearts. The notion that I am not the only person in the universe missing you at any (and every) passing moment, often is the very thing which allots me the will to survive another day without you. While I do my very best to at least acknowledge I have received them, I simply do not always have the strength to do so. Ironically, it is typically the messages which mean the most that replying to proves most challenging. (I know it’s ass backwards; it’s just the way my world works.)

This past week, I received two messages which affected me very deeply.The timing could not have proven more critical. Today, with their borrowed strength, I will tell you about the messages and the women who sent them.

The first came from a woman all the way across the pond – in London. She learned of your story through Facebook. By her own admission, she avoided reading any of my Warrior Momma entries when she stumbled upon them via friends’ of friends’ shared posts. She said while she initially told herself it was merely an unconscious choice, she now realizes it was more likely out of fear. She called herself one of the stupid – naïve, uneducated, blind. The other morning, Jessi confronted her fear. She clicked on one of the entries. And as she says, her world was permanently altered. Jessi ultimately blew off an entire day of work to read every entry. She relays that she read every single word, and listened to every single song. Then Jessi wrote me. Among many other things, she said, “…so I’m writing to say ‘thank you’ for introducing me to your Paxton and to tell you that your mission is working because for every person, like me, who moves from the unseeing column to the light there is one more person to help fight the fight. Like so very many people around the world, I am thinking about you and Paxton. I am joining your fight.”

Serendipitously, Jessi is running a Survival of the Fittest event in London in November for an England-based charity called CLIC Sargent. The race benefits children with cancer and their families. Admittedly, the race meant less to her yesterday than it does today and it will mean more tomorrow as she continues to think about more ways to fight. For every pound donated to her race, Jessi will personally donate an American dollar to the Paxton Andrews Foundation. Very best of all, Jessi asked if she could run this race in honor of you! Of course, I said “YES!”

The next message came from a woman, named Bree. She lives a little closer to home – only 2,000 miles away in Arizona. Bree sent me a link to a song, named “How?” by Regina Spektor. She explained that while she never had the good pleasure to meet you, and hasn’t seen or spoken to me in over twenty years, she thinks of us daily – most especially when she hears this song. She also said her life has been changed by your story…and she promised to carry you in her kind heart for the rest of time. I promised Bree I’d put the song on your special playlist; the one I play for you on days, like today, when it’s exceptionally difficult to be so far away from you.

Bree has a baby boy of her own. He was born about a year after you. He is perfect. He is adorable. He is happy. He does not have cancer. Although she’s not said as much, I get the distinct sense Bree’s appreciation of her beloved son has been enhanced through your brave fight…through your beautiful soul. l just have a gut feeling about this. But, you know how I feel about trusting my instincts.

Paxton, I am so grateful that you continue to find ways to send me signs and messages of love and strength. I am extremely proud of the way you use your life spark to change peoples’ lives in ways so profound they cannot even explain…and evermore proud that you you allow your soul to shine so vibrantly, that even complete strangers can’t help but to fall in love with you…even when they are afraid to. But, never mistake the fact that I would trade the awe and wonder of of these intangible forces to have you back in my arms where you belong. I would far rather the only people who knew your name lived in the confines of my (now empty and sad) home. Simply put, I want you back.

Here is your lullaby tonight, sweet boy. I promise I will never forget one memory. Let’s close our eyes and find each other in our dreams.

I miss you. I love you. I hope you are happy.

Stay with me, sweet boy.

xoox,

Momma