hiraeth. you are my forever home.

Diddy,

I spent the afternoon doing one of my favorite things, with one of my favorite people. I had a “special day” (aka “Day of All Yes-es!”) with your super hero side-kick cousin, Finn Foo. Whenever Finn and I set into the world together, I feel as though I could conquer the universe. I also feel more vulnerable than when I am in the presence of any other person; as million an one vibrations of how life should’ve been echo through my bones. I remain convinced he carries pieces of your heart within his soul, and pieces of your soul inside his heart.

After an action packed day, Finny climbed into “his side” of bed and began fade into a slumber. Moments before his almond colored eyes closed for the night he said, “D.D., When can I meet your other kids?” Equal parts confused and rattled by his query, I quickly assured him I didn’t have any other children. Sleepily, he persisted, “…yes you do; you tell stories about them all the time. I want your other kids to be my cousins just like Paxton.”  Oh sweet, innocent, adorable Finn.

Silenced by the need to stifle my sobs, I was unable to explain that when I refer to, “…one of my kids” – I actually mean, “…one of my students”. For once, my lack of composure likely worked in my favor.  A conversation of that nature would’ve only further confused the little guy. My arm was the only part of my body that wasn’t paralyzed by the reminder of Finny’s ever-complex existence of trying to navigate life without you – his wing-man. So I used it to stroke his hair across the top of his furrowed brow. I managed to eek out the only words which needed be said: “Paxton is my only child.”

As always, the voice inside my head ensued on one of its familiar rants. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s talking to the ‘other people’ inside my head. So it’s fine. “Paxton is my only child. He is my only, miracle child. He is my only, miracle child who I waited for my entire life. He is my only, miracle child, who I waited for my entire life – and he is dead.”

My only child died. He was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 12 weeks and three days old. In 146 days, he raised an entire village. In less than one second, he stole my heart. Without uttering a single word, he rewrote the definitions of bravery, courage, grace and peace. My son took his last breath while safely tucked in his Daddy’s arms…with his cheek pressed against my own. I felt the warmth of his last breath brush across my lips. It is the only good-bye kiss I will ever get. And, it will suffocate me for as long as I am breathing. My only child is dead. 

No matter how many times I say it, even if it’s not out loud and only to the ‘other people’ in my mixed up head, I cannot wrap my mind around the incomprehensible truth. You are dead. I am not dead; yet I am not alive. I am fighting to live; yet begging to die; breathing yet suffocating; attempting to exhale, yet holding my breath; smiling on the outside, yet crying on the inside. My existence is every parents’ worst nightmare; only it is not a dream-state nightmare. It is a real fucking nightmare. It is my life.

Other parents complain about their kids spilling kool-aide on their carpet, their homes being a mess, their laundry piling out of control. Whenever I hear such banter, I swallow my grief whole while I silently beg to choke to death on my wishes to have problems just.like.theirs. Mud-stained, sticky-carpets; spilled milk, smashed peas and crushed gold fish crackers randomly strewn across my kitchen floor. I ache for the signs of the living, breathing, playing, alive in my home version of you. I long for the iterations of all that could have and should have been.

Instead, I have an empty chair at every meal, ‘loads’ of laundry that make me twinge with guilt and shutter with rage that it’s all I have, again this week, to wash. The contents which encompass your entire life sit neatly stacked in plastic bins – which have been organized with acute precision, in my attic. I can’t bring myself to verify as much – but, I know in my soul they now smell more of ‘stillness’ than of you.

It is true, I refer to my students as my ‘kids’. It is also true that I love some of them in ways the majority of the planet could never understand. In many aspects, I consider parts of them to be mine. I also love your crazy daisy, adorably unique, and perfect in every way cousins well beyond my own comprehension. I know for a fact parts of them are mine.  From the outside looking in, my life appears to be chocked full of love, from a vast continuum of children young and old. Rest assured, it is always empty. I’m left with an equation that never equates.  No matter how many times I recompute, the only one that matters – the only one who is really mine, is missing. A million more children, and a trillion more blonde haired, blue eyed boys, could never replace or erase the pain of missing you.

There is an eternal hole in my heart and in my life. It is the precise size and shape of you and only you.  No one and nothing will ever be able to fill this hole. Despite the incomprehensible complexity of being a bereaved mother, all that truly matters is quite simple. You are my son. You are my heart. You are my soul. You are my dream come true. You are my home. 

Diddy, you are as real to me now as you were when you were here in my arms.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

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xoox,

Momma

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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 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

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

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

Diddy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

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

Trick or Grief. Halloween was worse than I remember last year.

Little Diddy,

I’m not sure how I got to be 40 years old without realizing Halloween is one of the most child-centered holidays recognized in our society. This is the second Halloween without you…but, I simply don’t recall last year being this difficult. Maybe it’s because last year I was in a deep freeze? Maybe it’s because Iast year I instinctively knew as an 8 month-old, I’d have taken a few obligatory pictures of you in your costume – possibly next to your pumpkin – before I quickly took you out of the over-stuffed charade just in time to avoid an epic melt-down.

As a 20 month-old little guy, I have a feeling you would’ve been far more fascinated in the hoopla of Halloween, or at least the candy aspect that comes a long with it. (What can I say? You got your Momma’s tastebuds!) By now, you’d have identified favorite cartoons, favorite books, favorite characters in your favorite T.V. shows. It’s safe to say you’d have only just begun to express the very fabric of which you are weaved. You’d also have been able to say, “Tweeeeeeat! Peease?” Oh, Diddy, Diddy, what would you have been for Halloween? Besides anything you wanted.

Today I played the game I’m so good at playing. The one where I teleport myself into a parallel universe. In this universe we are together, we are happy, and best of all you are healthy. I find myself excited that our “Fall Fun Day” has arrived. I see myself constantly glancing at the clock, as I can predict almost the exact minute you will begin to stir from your afternoon nap. Once you are changed and fed, I grab the 3 or 4 bags of things you need, may need, and probably won’t need – but I neurotically tote along anyway. (I’m a professional at packing these bags; so we need not discuss how much easier it’d be to leave home without them. Momma just does it anyway.)

I can almost feel myself carrying you to the car and gently placing your bundled dupa safely into your cow-print car seat….which has now faced forward for so many months I have to strain to recall how long it’s been since you faced backwards. My thoughts are periodically interrupted by your squeaky voice excitedly calling out “Twwuck!” Tweee!” and “Pupkk-kin!”. When we arrive at Elegant Farmer, I hoist you out of the car and set you on your feet. Your tiny hand reaches up, and instinctively entrusts a guide in my own as we traverse the man-made corn maze. As the breeze briskly meet our cheeks, I reach down to make sure your hat is all the way over your ears. Moments later, I wipe your runny nose with the back of my mitten. You are blissfully unfazed by the elements; but, I can’t help myself from worrying anyway. I hear the echoes reverberating off the tops of pumpkins as you excitedly stake claim on the one you want to take home. No matter how big, how small, how lopsided or flat-topped, it is absolutely perfect.

After our adventure through the maze – I contemplate a hay-ride. But, not this year. I realize I’ve saved only enough time before ‘breaking point’ to sneak you inside for a caramel apple. I ask the girl to slice the apple in extra tiny pieces…then bite them into even smaller bits just to be sure you can chew them. I don’t ration the caramel. Momma gives you free reign on the good stuff on special occasions. With sticky hands and caramel-stained cheeks, we drive straight to Grammie’s for extra-special loving. Momma passes out from exhaustion on the couch while Grammie steals good loving from you. But first we discuss all things perfect about Paxton…including how much you are talking, how much you seemingly grew just since last week, how you look this cousin or act like that cousin – but agree you are unique in every way. Mostly, we marvel over how irresistibly adorable you are.

Do you know we went to Elegant Farmer once? You were tucked safely away in Momma’s tummy at the time. It was just weeks before being placed on bedrest that we spent a sunny afternoon in October enjoying what was slated to become one of our little family’s Fall traditions. In fact, it is one of the last outings we had before being sequestered in a hospital room, and then in our bed at home for the next 13 1/2 weeks. It’s painfully ironic that in anticipation of the future, which I was certain held so much promise, I envisioned many of the same things that day as well. The main difference being back then my heart was full of hope, my soul full of happiness. I remember laughing at everything and smiling at nothing. I also remember peeing two times in a glorified-outhouse. I was so punch-drunk in love with life, I would’ve been content peeing right in the middle of the corn maze.

I did not go to Elegant Farmer today. Instead I drove through our neighborhood to the big, yellow house on the corner that sits dark & empty. On the other side of my wind shield, I noticed the houses which line our street had seemingly transformed into grave yards overnight. Front yards more closely resembled something from ‘American Horror Story’ than suburban dwellings. Lawns lay blanketed with headstones, skeletons hang from garage doors, and cotton-stretched spider webs float in the breeze. Suddenly the ghosts and goblins, intended to symbolize a childhood wonderland, morphed into a literal haunting…of a childhood lost. I nearly suffocated at the realization that grave yards, headstones and skeletons more accurately reflected my reality of living in the “Land of My Child Died”, than that of a child-centered celebration. A shriek snapped me out of my trance, and also forced me to inhale. It took a few moments to register that it was the sound of my own cry.

I know it’s make-believe stuff. I know my reaction is not normal – even for a grieving Momma. I know this is one of those moments I should never, ever tell anyone about. But I am tired of keeping so many secrets bottled inside. I am tired of feeling like no one else in the universe knows what I experience in the course of a day. I am tired of being a sitting duck every damn time I venture into the world. I am just tired. I know there are a few people who say I am wallowing in my grief, and that I am choosing to remain in a ‘dark place’. (As if anyone would choose one single aspect of my life.) In fact, the grief of losing you is simply a part of my life now. It is not my entire life; but it is a part that cannot be abandoned. So really, what I am choosing to do – is courageously face my truth. Perhaps those people should stop wallowing in judgements and assumptions. Instead they could try to one thing in their lifetime that remotely reflects truth. Or, they could just fuck off.

You could have been whatever you wanted to be on Halloween – and every other day too. I promise I would have done everything in my power to support you in realizing your smallest of hopes and your wildest of dreams. You were bound for greatness, Paxton. I am so very sorry you got sick.

Trick or Tweeeeat, Sweet Boy. I’ll save all the red Gummy Bears for you.

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xoox,

Momma

20 months. 40 years. even mother nature knows we belong together.

Diddy,

Yesterday you would have been 20 months old. I am getting better and better at knowing what you’d be doing as each month marker comes along. I never wished to be more blissfully ignorant about anything than I do about all things babies and toddlers. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get lost in thought imagining all that you would now be able to do. For starters, I hear you talking in two or three word sentences. “Diddy is fly.” “Momma is sleepy.” (But also fly.) I see you completing block puzzles, or pointing to your favorite things when we read: like Lowly the Worm in your Busytown books, or to the moon on each page of “Goodnight Moon”. I picture you proudly helping Momma with little tasks like, “Go get your jammies.” “Put your trucks away.” In addition to all the innocence and wonder you were robbed of, I am also tortured by the things I can’t envision. Mostly by the fact that I can’t picture what you look like anymore. Every so often when I’m somewhere in between asleep and awake, I see you. Only for a flash…before you turn into the baby I last kissed at 20 weeks and 1 day old. I have every inch of you at that age memorized: from the top of your soft head, to the tips of your teeny toes. But I want to see you now, at 20 months old. I want to see you without trying. I want to hear you without straining. I want to hold you without imagining. I want to kiss my 20 month old son and have you kiss me back – with as much teething-induced drool as possible. Instead, I can’t even say for sure what you look like. Because you died when you were just 20 weeks old.

On top of your ‘should have been’ 20 months old day, I turned 40 years old. How it’s remotely right that I have already lived for 40 years, when you didn’t even get to live for five months is so far beyond my comprehension, I nearly puke every time it passes through my consciousness. Alas, in honor our “Secret Society Club” I wanted to do something special to pay tribute to this particular 12th. It met the criteria of being something new, it is also something that will eventually become old. I finally got (the most preciously radical) tattoo. In turn, “your place” on Momma is now officially reserved forever and ever. Just as it should be. No one else will ever call the nook of my arm all the way to the crest of my shoulder their own. All who look will see my Sweet Boy has staked his claim. They will see your name. They will see a symbol of you in fight and in flight. They will see a peaceful warrior transitioning to a warrior at peace: as he passes through the faintest rainbow…and heads straight to the highest layer.

The only tolerable part about October 12th was the weather. It started out cloudy and chilly. A perfect backdrop to stay in bed a little later than planned to see if it would be the day that squeezing my eyes extra-tight would transport me back to my old life. If even for one day. No such luck. When the rain began to strum against my bedroom window, I was convinced the world was as sad as me; so I decided it was safe to face the day. I got to the gym and back before the happy-ass sun decided to come out and toy with my mood. However, it turns out Mother Nature is in my corner after all. And she’s manic too. A few hours later the skies reverted to a dark grey, opened up, and dumped out an unyielding and unforgiving rain. It was a true shit storm. And it made me feel much better. However the greatest birthday gift (outside of you back in my arms) came moments after when a faint rainbow emerged high in afternoon the sky. It was there momentarily. But it was there. You were there.

You and I have always had our very own secret society. Nothing will ever change that; not even death itself. Tattoos and rainbows aren’t needed to prove our love. Our love far supersedes markers and magic. It transcends the parallel universes in which we exist. It is the rare kind of love that truly does last forever and ever. Of this I am sure.

That being said, you must wonder why there are times I’m overcome by such extreme sadness that I stand in the shower just so the water can drown the sound of my sobs and the screams of your name. Or how there can be moments when I’m overcome by such anger that to prevent myself from breaking things, I bury my face into your blanket and scream…to no one at all, that I just want my baby back. I miss you so much that parts of me I never knew existed hurt. And I miss being your Momma (the way I should be) so much that the parts that don’t hurt…are simply numb.

I am doing my best to navigate these unchartered parenting waters of being a Momma from so far away. I am terrified more often than not. I am sad. I am lonely. I am mad. I am so very, very tired. But I am also without another choice. So I push onwards. And I hold onto hope that in the process, I am not letting you down.

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I miss you. I love you. Worry not, little one – Momma is right as rain.

Stay with me, Sweet Boy.

xoox,

Momma

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.

San Diego Chargers

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