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 her boys in the way they shouldn’t bend.

Today, Juju and Joshie left for the WIAA State Wrestling Meet. I sent them on their way, with bags and bags full of ‘all the right food’, ‘good luck blankets’, ‘motivational notes only-to-be-opened-at-specific-times’, and ‘pinkie promises’ to keep me updated with every last detail. After hugging them for the fourth time, I released them for their chariot. God bless them for putting up with my neuroses. I did my best to burn the image of them running towards the gym doors, filled with fleeing innocence, into the permanent parts of my brain. As they rounded the corner out of my view, my darling Juju poked his head back in my direction – one more time…and waved good-bye. I almost collapsed right onto the floor. Goodness gracious, as you know – I love that Juju more than words can explain.

I shoved the sob rising in my throat firmly against the back of my chest. As I held it in place, tears began to beat against the backs of my eyes.  True to Wrestling Momma form, I pinned the pressure and the tears in place…right up until 3:09. As I attempted to flee for the Exit door – my ever-insightful, keenly astute friend stopped me in my tracks. She said, “This all has to be equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking for you.”  And just like that, I came undone.

Yes. It is equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking. Every last part about my AC life  is neither one, or the other anymore.

I wish there was a way I could explain my AC life, without having to ever become who I am now. I am still the person I’ve always been; yet I am not the same at all. I am still a mom, yet I am not able to mother…all at the same time.

The a pain I carry is unlike any pain I can describe.  This pain is always there.  It doesn’t nap during the day, or get safely tucked into bed at night.  It follows me everywhere, it never leaves my side – like you should be doing. Only this grief-induced pain is not cuddly, nor sweet and it certainly does not make me smile, squeeze my face, or give me good-night kisses.

My grief is almost always coupled with guilt. It is relentless in nature. I am consumed with guilt after I devote hours on end attending your warrior brothers’ wrestling matches. I never got to watch you learn to walk, see you run – and I certainly will never be able to attend one of your sporting events, or participate in a parents’ night….as I proudly meet you at half-court, while donning an oversized button displaying your handsome face. Oddly enough, I’m equally consumed with guilt when I don’t attend their matches – as I feel like I am letting both them and you down. After all, you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’re hopelessly in love with them too.

I still catch myself bargaining to have both worlds. The “inside-my-head” voice plays on loop, “If I can go pick Paxton up from daycare, and bring him to the meet – I won’t beg for the boys to win again tonight. Instead, I’ll just take them all for ice cream. (Or celery sticks if they’re cutting weight.) One minute, I’ll wipe the dried blood off Juju’s sweet forehead; the next, I’ll clean dried ice cream off of Paxton’s chin. Each of my boys will remain blissfully unfazed by my OCD; as they’ll be lost in a world only traversed by the spiciest of monkeys. Before the evening closes, I will thank my pseudo son, Juju, a hundred times over for the myriad of ways in which he so effortlessly loves you. We will all head home, and sleep soundly while when dream of of all things happy.”

Paxton, I plea for a different ending, over and over; one where no one dies.  Most especially not you. Then, the panic sets in – complete with screams of thoughts screeching against my conscience. (“What if ‘it’ happens again? It could – anytime, anywhere: when will the other shoe drop? If I love these boys too hard, will they, too, die prematurely?). 

Ahh, my boys. My sweet and charming boys. Juju will never understand how he in particular has saved my life over and over again. Alas, they’ve set out to participate in another long-awaited, well-deserved, exciting experience. Please give them both extra special doses of bravery throughout the weekend. As always, watch over their vulnerable hearts…which this mixed-up, fucking world has already shattered into a million little pieces. When you find me in those bleachers, biting the insides of my cheek, and picking my eyebrows – climb into my lap. Momma’s arms will always hold you safely … right where you belong.

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

 

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Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

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A question. An abyss. A little boy I miss. (Plus, I’m just sad.)

Paxton,

As part of my preparation for the “opportunity-I’m-not-still-not-talking-about”, I was provided an array of ‘assignments’. The purpose of this particular one: encourage deeper reflection about being your Momma from so far away. (As if I need any?)

The query was simple, “A bereaved mother is….”. The question immediately irritated me. Perhaps because someone so revered in the realm of documentary styles and genres: grief, loss, and bereavement being no exception – would ask something so damn dumb. As the seconds ticked by, I pulled out my Warrior-side and began to generate an answer. It’s actually a non-answer; which, in my opinion, is even more fitting. Even better news: it turns out Momma is still spicy enough to accomplish something – merely for the sake of conquering a challenge.

I quickly determined the definition must lend itself to be ever-evolving. It must also allow for the flexibility to reflect the day, hour, or moment I just survived; or the particular soft wave of grief I am currently riding.

A bereaved mother is…

…the woman who has felt pain in every single cell in her body. Literally, from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. The pain is indescribably and mercilessly physical.

…the woman who shies away from carrying bags of groceries, or laundry baskets against her chest – especially with the aide of her hip; as doing so most always morphs the bundle into the precise size and weight of her phantom son.

…the woman whose knees have buckled when hearing the sounds of little boys, calling out: “Mommy.” “Mommy!” “Mommy?”…a mommy who will tuck her child into bed – while she will stand, tears falling atop the unused changing table, in her son’s, otherwise barren bedroom.

…the woman whose primal mourning, done only when alone, is still shocked & frightened by the supernatural sound of this mourning. As it serves as a reminder that she is but a wild animal – capable and willing to do anything to protect her young, as well as the fact that she failed miserably at the task.

…the woman entrapped by grief’s incessant state of craze, finds herself pacing the hallways late at night: unable to focus long enough to string two sentences together: intolerant of music, t.v.’s, or voices projecting “too loudly”: sensitive to lights: irritated by a host of other benign stimuli.

…the woman who has accepted that no form of self-induced suffering will suffice in filling the chasm of her loss. Instead she finds herself Googling “…how to construct time-machines.” In moments of lucidness (which sometimes follow) she realizes the depths of her desperation. Instead, she Googles: “…how to initiate the process of self-institutionalization.”

…the woman who wills herself to trade places with her dead child, a hundred times a day – and two hundred times a night. But continues to awaken to a new sunrise – almost always wishing she hadn’t.

…the woman who gives extra generous tips, extra gentle eye contact, extra caring smiles… to the young boy who crosses her path. Despite her keen awareness that he is someone else’s son, she can’t help but pretend – if only for a fleeing moment – that he is her own.

…the woman who knows how to ingest just enough shallow breathes, to keep from throwing up – until she makes it home.

…the woman who refuses to hold another baby – though her arms ache from emptiness – because she is adamant that the last baby she’ll ever hold, will be her own son.

…the woman who wishes she knew it was not an eye infection, or the ‘wrong’ baby formula – just a little sooner.

…the woman who will always, always be consumed with guilt – no matter how many people tell her it wasn’t her fault.

…the woman who will love her sweet boy forever and always…and then a little bit longer.

A bereaved mother is the woman who has a story about a bittersweet survival that does not include a fallacious or contrived “end” to her grief after a prescribed six month period. Her story is a true story of anguish – absent the “happy” ending. Not to say, at some point, she won’t be capable of pure love and joy and contentment. Alas, there is no bypassing the tortures caused by the death of her beloved son. The effects of his absence are perennial, and relentless; the aches – much deeper than the unsuspecting world believes.

Yes, Paxton. Cancer came along and stole everything from us. Everything. The wreckage which has ensued is so grim, I cannot yet begin to speak of it.

However, bereavement, grief, a parallel universe…another lifetime, have nothing to do with how I define the distinct honor of being your Momma. I am the only woman in the world who is lucky enough to be your Momma. Plain and simple: I am your Momma; you are my son. Our bond is far stronger than the grips of cancer…our love is far deeper than the depths of grief.

I will love you forever, and ever…and, then a little bit longer.

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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

BC. AC. FuC. And Uncle Dave sings Baby Blue for you. (Don’t tell Auntie Kupa.)

Paxton,

When I lost you, I lost so very many things: my only child, my chance to mother you; all the things you were and would have been; our little family; my future; my place and identity; my confidence; my naïveté; my view of the world as a safe and just place.

I can easily say my life is now divided into two distinct parts: Before Cancer (BC) and After Cancer (AC). In addition to mourning the loss of you: my dream come true – I’ve also mourned over the version of me I lost when you died. Some days, I long to have her back. Not as often, or remotely as desperately, as I long to have you back. Yet she is gone. You are gone. I am here: living in my AC world. Without you. And without the Danna I knew for 38 years.

Most days, however, I would not trade in the new version of me. (Other than if to have our entire BC world back…the one where you never got sick, you never suffered, and we never kissed good-bye one.last.time.) Given no choice in the matter, I have morphed into a different woman. Naturally, there are parts of me which are still broken and empty. Some are broken beyond repair. How couldn’t they be? When a parent loses a child, they lose a part of themselves. Beyond that, they are permanently rocked to the very core of their soul. The only way around this truth – is if they simply do not have a soul. However, there are also pieces of me which are far wiser, stronger, and more refined than that of my former self. All of which can be attributed to the fact that particles of you flow throughout my body and are contained within my soul.

Perhaps my former self needed to lose her naiveté, her blind trust, and her belief that those she loved would never betray her. She needed to become strong – in a entirely different capacity: one which allowed her the strength to see the world as it is, not how she willed it to be. She needed to acknowledge that the most difficult times do, in fact, reveal people’s true character – and she had to accept all which was unveiled. She needed to learn, the really hard fucking way, to always trust her god damn instincts.

Though few and far between, there are times where if I quiet my mind long enough, I vividly see the gifts you’ve left for me. Despite the depth and breath of the pain I experience from having lost you, I see reminders all around that I, too, have gained. Not enough. Not nearly enough gain for the hefty, immeasurable price of losing you. Still, you must always know that you alone are a far, far more profound gift than the torture and the despair of living in my new world without you.

My AC world is mournful and tenuous at times. Yet it is also beautiful, meaningful and sublime in a way I never imagined. Gibran describes it best when he prophesied that only after having really “…looked into the eyes of such sorrow” can one find their way to pure joy. For the infinite joy you have brought into my life, and the promise you continue to bring…I remain humbly and infinitely indebted.

It should come as no surprise, Dave has a little diddy for you, Diddy. Allow him to serenade you into a peaceful slumber tonight. Rest your head against my chest. Close those baby blues…Momma is right here.

Thank you for helping your Momma become a better, stronger, wiser woman. 

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

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.

Turkey. Tears. And a whole lot of Thanks.

Paxton,

Today is the day the entire world stops to do what we should do all year round…pause and give ‘thanks’ for all of the blessings in our lives. There are people who believe positive thinking and gratitude are the answers to life’s aliments. I agree. A positive attitude and posture of gratefulness can help many bleak situations. But I guess gratitude doesn’t come naturally when you are grieving the loss of your only child – and the loss of everything else you loved too. All the positive thoughts in the world aren’t going to change the fact that you are dead. All the positive thoughts in the world aren’t going to bring my little family back together. All the positive thoughts in the world certainly aren’t going to fill the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table tonight.

This is not to say I don’t actively engage in positive thinking. Today alone I had many positive thoughts. I am grateful for the fact that most people will never have a Thanksgiving where their 7-year old niece holds their hand under the table and all-too empathetically whispers, “I miss him too, D.D.” Nor will they know of a toast which is finished with their 4-year old nephew innocently nodding his head while sincerely proclaiming, “Here’s to Paxton’s spirit all around us!” I’m also thankful most people will never have to shamefully throw out an entire side-dish of cranberries, because their tears fell into the bowl before they realized they were standing over it – silently sobbing.

Bring to the table a cornucopia of blessings and I’ll bring you my infinite pain. Let’s put them both on the empty chair where you should be…21 months young…squishing pumpkin pie between your chubby little fingers and putting it in your adorably sweet face.

Asking me to focus on my blessings and not recognize the fact that you’re not here, is like telling me to be grateful I am still able to breathe – even though the atmosphere has run out of oxygen. It simply isn’t possible to be one or the other. That being said, just because I continue to grieve doesn’t mean I am incapable of being grateful for the other blessings in my life. But it is not one or the other. I miss you with every molecule of my being; I would give anything to have you back. Yet I am still deeply grateful for the three little souls who will sit with me at the table tonight. I am thankful beyond measure to have Lala & Uncle Stephen in my life, and also living so close to me. I am grateful for my parents – who continue to provide unwavering love and support through each step of this, the very darkest, walk of my life. I am thankful that I truly do have the most devoted, strong, beautiful friends on this side of the universe. Who, even though they think as much, have still never said, “We told you so…“.

I am grieving. I am grateful. The latter can’t cure the former, and the former doesn’t negate the latter. As a bereaved Momma, I have unwillingly learned the delicate art of holding infinite space for both. My new life is a heartbreaking juxtaposition of contradictions. Just as I possess both the immeasurable love of having you, and the immeasurable pain of losing you. My heart is broken because you are gone, but it is also full because you were here.

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There is never a moment I am not thinking of you…wishing you were here with me, worrying about you…and eternally grateful that you are mine.

I hope you are happy, Little Turkey.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

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

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

Paxton,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox.

Momma

Bolt up! And, Notorious Big may have let you hear swear words.

Paxton,

Remember many months ago when Momma told you I was working on having something extra special occur in your honor? Well, today is the BIG DAY! With big help from one very little woman (with a heart of GOLD), I was successful in making this notion a reality. Surprise! The San Diego Chargers readily and graciously accepted my challenge to lead “charge” against childhood cancer. Today these giant men, with even larger hearts, will give a roaring, thundering voice to thousands of Little Warriors across the land. Today the Chargers will make an unprecedented move as they generate awareness of childhood cancer throughout the NFL.

The Chargers will run a full-page ad in the Chargers’ “Tailgate Times” featuring the Paxton Andrews Foundation. Throughout the game, messages relaying the chilling facts about childhood cancer will play on the jumbotron at Qualcomm Stadium. Slides highlighting the Paxton Andrews Foundation will roll on monitors around the stadium for the entirety of the game. Best of all, the Chargers will name you, Paxton Bowe Andrews, their Honored Hero for today’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

When the Chargers heard about your beautiful soul and your brave fight, they wanted to help in any way possible. They asked what I most wanted. As always, I said, “awareness”. Yet, I never anticipated their support would be this grand. Though I am not sure why I ever underestimate what can happen when you are involved. Your spirit is so bold and bright, not even an entire NFL organization can help but to fall hopelessly in love with you. The Chargers are a great organization; clearly owned by even greater people. My appreciation is well beyond what even a million words could express.

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Incidentally, while I was running at the gym this morning “Going Back to Cali” came on my XM radio channel. Hearing Notorious BIG always makes my insides smile. But given the stir currently going down in Cali over you, I couldn’t help but think you and Biggie worked together to send me that one. (I’d prefer if Biggie would shelter you from his oft vulgar mouth. But, I’m hopeful he gave you ear muffs during the extra-naughty parts.) Sensing you all around me, and with Biggie lacing his lyrically genius beats throughout my soul, I ran faster and farther – and felt stronger – than I have in years. The only thing missing was hydraulics on my treadmill…and of course, you.

I am so very proud of you, Diddy. Enjoy the game. Bolt up!

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox

Momma

A Gold Out, a heavy happy, and a Princess Warrior hug.

Paxton.

This week was chocked full of a shit can of mixed up emotions. By now you know the entire community of Brookfield came together in honor of your bright and beautiful life spark. It all happened so quickly that Momma didn’t have a moments notice to catch her breath, much less time to process all that was unfolding. Unbeknownst to me, Nita and Bruce spearheaded a “Gold Out” to raise awareness for childhood cancer. They chose to have the Gold Out this week because it is September…and because it was the biggest game of the year: the cross town rival football game between BCHS and BEHS. I was brought into the loop after the event had taken on a life of its own. But I’m told that within 24 hours of the suggestion for a Gold Out, BC contacted BE – and both schools were on board, BC vs. BE was named WISN’s Game of the Week, news outlets were calling for commentary, social media was buzzing, t-shirts were ordered, and posters were designed. The crescent tides of what would become a fierce sea of gold, were already swelling around me.

I was honorary captain of the game – and a balloon launch, especially for you, punctuated the Star Spangled Banner. The sweetest moment of all, however, could not have been orchestrated. It occurred shortly before kickoff. The sun, which was just beginning to set, came out for the first time all day. Stunning shades of pink, purple, and best of all…gold illuminated the evening sky. All who witnessed it agree: even the heavens above Brookfield wanted to participate in the Gold Out. (I don’t so much believe in heaven. So, I figure it was you and your flock of angels knocking on the walls of the picturesque fall sky to let me know you were nearby.) Hundreds of gold balloons were released; but I was given a special one. It was a brilliant, rich, purple – to match your birthstone. Bruce decided it’d be easier for you to spot the purple, amongst the blanket of gold, and know exactly which one Momma sent up to you.

The synergy created in efforts to bring awareness of childhood cancer, albeit within the confines of my tiny universe of BCHS, gave me more hope and promise than I’ve felt in a very long time. No money was raised, no promises for change were made. Awareness was generated. And, that is all I have ever asked for.

High off the adrenaline of fighting childhood cancer like a ninja, I made the bravest move yet. I met Emily. Emily is a valiant and beautiful warrior princess who kicked Ewings Sarcoma right in the fucking mouth. She fought the same type of cancer you had for over 13 months, endured 5 surgeries. She travelled between CHW and CHP – to ensure she was in the best of care – throughout her grueling protocol. I first learned about Emily through Dr. D right after your diagnosis. Since then, I’ve kept Emily tucked in my heart. But, I never had the courage to seek her out. In fact, I couldn’t even search for her on Infinite Campus. The mere notion of looking into her eyes terrified me. I still can”t explain some of my fears. Though, I recently read somewhere that grief feels a hell of a lot like fear.

In the meantime Emily silently roamed, like a princess warrior in waiting, throughout the halls of BCHS. All the while knowing who I was, knowing who you were…knowing, most of all, that our worlds would officially collide exactly at the right time. Today was the right time. By my request, Bruce brought her to my room. He did not say a word. Emily did not say a word. I, of course, did not say a word either. Words would’ve only gotten in the way. Instead, I scooped Emily into my arms and held her tightly against my broken heart. I didn’t want to let her go. I felt like she’d be better off in my arms – or in my pocket, for the rest of time. But, I figured her mom would feel otherwise. So I put her down. I took her adorable and innocent face in my shaky hands, and told her she was the bravest little warrior princess. Through tear-filled eyes and a quivering smile she said, “You are brave too.” (Oh, Emily. You really are the best little girl there ever was, aren’t you?) We didn’t talk for long because I couldn’t talk…or say anything of consequence. Yet we quickly realized we are, in fact, kindred spirits. Don’t worry Diddy, I won’t let her out of my sight – poor thing will have me creeping in her shadows from now until the end of time. Thank you for sending her to me.

The high of Friday has sent me crashing so low, that I don’t know how I’ll ever recuperate. The fact that I have to parent the son I waited my entire fucking life for by participating in high school “Gold Outs” to generate awareness of the very asshole who brazenly killed him, is simply impossible to digest. You must agree – my existence is all types of messed up. I do have moments of happiness. But when they occur, I almost always lose my breath. Happiness that exists without you is never guilt free. It is certainly not the kind of happiness I had back when you were here. My new happiness comes with a very heavy price that never goes away. This happiness feels as heavy as the absence of you, which is never far from my mind, heart, body, or soul. This happiness is heavy.

The happiness is almost always accompanied by tears. Tears because all of this is too damn much for one girl. Tears over the thousands of kids who are currently fighting cancer. Tears that so many other parents, like me, are left with a dead child due to this crap shoot of a world. Tears that if you survive it’s only because you got ‘lucky’ in a game of Russian Roulette. But when you lose, you lose big time. There are no “do overs” or second chances. No matter how loudly you scream and cry, or call out your child’s name at the top of your god damn lungs because you think if you scream it loudly enough, he’ll come home. (Not home as in fucking heaven, but home as in back into your arms, where he belongs.) Home: as in where you belong with me and should’ve been with me until I was the one old and dying, not you, young and dying while I sat by and helplessly watched you take your last breaths.

I am so grateful for the Gold Out, and the unyielding support the “Little Community That Could”. But I am not as grateful as I am regretful that this is how your life turned out. It was never supposed to be like this, Paxton. I don’t know what went wrong. I just know it should have been me. Never you. No. Never you.

I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.

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I miss you. I love you. I hope you caught my purple balloon.

Stay with me, sweet boy.

xoox,

Momma