Why The 4th Reminds Me To Stay Present

Four years ago this very day I woke up dazed, exhausted and extremely grateful. Our house had been struck by lightening the night before. As I ran out of the house with my three boys I remember looking back at the flames shooting out of our roof. It was traumatic and upsetting. Hours after the fire was extinguished, my husband and I walked through our home which was filled with water and uninhabitable. It was an upsetting sight. The next morning when we saw our home in the daylight we couldn’t believe our eyes. Many of our possessions upstairs were damaged. Every room in the house was damaged. The most important things, or rather people, were all safe. This was not lost on my family.

The day after the fire, the 4th of July, we took the kids into town and watched the joy in their eyes as they danced around to the parade music. Feelings of gratitude washed over me. One of my most vivid memories was when a friend was lamenting about how tough it would be to rebuild our house. My answer was, “It can all be replaced. If we had lost any of these three children, we wouldn’t be here today”. It was the truth and I knew it.

Throughout the summer, we reinforced how blessed we were to all have gotten out of our home safely. We reiterated that material things can be replaced, people can’t. When we were living out of a hotel, and then a rental home, we talked about how home was wherever we all were together. Sure, there were moments where incidental things caused high emotions. Making decisions about our home that needed to be gutted and rebuilt was stressful. Even while we were aware that the situation had potential to be much worse, life marched on with all of its ups and downs.

The summer carried on, and we settled into the rental home we were set to live in while our home was being rebuilt. There were many happy memories made throughout that summer. Time was spent with family and friends and after a back to school party, Christian was ready to enter first grade.

Just days before, he was called to heaven and EVERYTHING changed. The trauma from this event far exceeded the trauma of the fire. The very thing we were grateful for all summer had turned into our worst nightmare. It was as if my words on the 4th of July foreshadowed the end of the summer. In my mind, the lightening strike at the start of the summer set into motion the events that concluded the summer. Many times I have questioned, pondered and wondered why it has happened like this. The lightening strike was around 7pm on a Thursday night, and eight weeks later on a Thursday night around 6:30 pm, the worst event of my life occurred.

It is my belief that I will see my beautiful son one day again. I don’t know if I will ever know the reason why he was taken from us. I’m not sure if at this point it would make a difference. The fact is that he is gone. We cannot change that. He taught many people and changed many lives in his six short years. He continues to do that through me. His love transcends time and space. His energy is felt by many. I miss him so much. It makes me angry that he is not here anymore. It makes me angry that despite showing gratitude for what is truly important in life, it wasn’t enough to save him.

Summer is always a reminder of the final summer we spent as a whole family, together. It’s the time of the year when we abandon our hectic schedules and spend lazy days in the pool, late nights catching fireflies and connect with others we haven’t seen in a while. Each summer I think about what it would be like if Christian was still here. I wonder what his interests would be, which friends would come over to swim and always what he would be like with his siblings. It is a reminder to me about why it is so necessary to stay in the moment. We just never know when it is the final days with the ones we love. Love to heaven…

Brutally Beautiful

Death, expressly a sibling’s death, is never an easy concept to grasp. It is especially traumatizing for young children. One day someone who has been an integral part of their life from birth disappears, never to be seen again. Their entire understanding of life as they knew it changed by this event. Fortunately I never dealt with this when I was a child. Unfortunately, I have to watch my two sons live it.

My childhood was a charmed one. I had one younger sister and we played dolls, house, store and many other common childhood games. My children also do this, with one major difference. Their play commonly includes an aspect of heaven or death. Being that their brother lives in heaven, this is extremely relevant to them. It’s all they know. When playing with other children, however, it is obvious that many of them do not normally bring heaven and death into their play.

My boys’ realm of knowledge of heaven and death does not hold the same emotional weight as an adult’s. Teachers and others who have since interacted with my children are quick to comment on how matter of fact they are about heaven and death. From the beginning of my grieving process I have been brutally aware of what my other two children are missing out on. They are not because this is all they have ever known. It is their reality.

In one sense their reality is brutal but in another it is beautiful. Their spirituality is a beautiful thing. They are aware that love transcends all. They are aware that their brother is always with them. They are aware that he is always sending signs. It has definitely changed the lens through which they see the world. It has changed the lens through which we all see the world. Sometimes I wonder what our family would look like if we never had to endure this pain. I think we would be beautiful. It’s something I mourn every day. Beautiful is not our reality so we will be brutally beautiful. Love to heaven…

A Single Red Balloon

Your classmates moved up to middle school yesterday. They reached a major milestone in their lives. It is one they will remember forever. You weren’t there in the flesh. Yet floating right next to the row of seats was a single red balloon. A powerful reminder that you were there in spirit. Your friends’ faces lit up with smiles as their names were called to receive certificates and awards. Under those smiles some of them saw the balloon and it touched their wound. You will forever be remembered as the boy who died right before first grade started. Over the past few weeks of seeing your friends it has become clear that this event has touched all of their lives. Those who were closer to you struggling with the idea that one day they can be on a playdate with their six year old buddy, saying they will see him on the first day of school, and the next day he can be gone. The uncertainty and fragility of life plaguing their six year old selves.

Your own brothers are obviously not immune from this either. While we openly discuss you and our emotions surrounding losing you, I often question how they truly are feeling. Sometimes they are transparent in their feelings and other times it is a mystery. Leading up to yesterday’s moving up ceremony many emotions coursed through me. As the mother of the family, I believe this means that many emotions coursed through the entire family. Unfortunately when children are younger their emotions often manifest behaviorally. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that children under 5 may, “cling to a parent, return to behaviors common to being younger and show signs of fear”, among other symptoms. These are behaviors that I have seen present themselves in my youngest son. The NIH states that children 6-11 may, “have nightmares or problems sleeping, have outbursts of anger and start fights”, among other symptoms. Again, I have seen these in my 7 year old. These behaviors are also common in children who have not seen and experienced what they did. The uncertainty and fragility of this situation plagues me as a mother.

Child loss sets a ripple in motion that affects many people, some for a lifetime. Your brothers are forever at risk to falling prey to their emotions. The fear this ignites in me is raging. What if one day they turn to drugs or alcohol to escape the pain they experienced when they were younger? We will always give them unconditional love and support but what if that’s not enough? This is where my trauma manifests itself. In knowing that nothing can be controlled, my fears arise. Uncertainty, fragility.

There is no telling where time will take any of us. We have learned that nothing is guaranteed. Life is precious and each moment truly counts. We can’t control anything. We simply are not that powerful. All we can do is use the past to guide us in the present. We can let the visual of that single red balloon remind us to do our best to stay present and appreciate life. We can carry on your spirit by spreading kindness and love. We can recognize that the uncertainty and fragility of life is truth, but not let it take over. Love to heaven…

It’s All Relative: RIP Kate Spade

As I opened up my computer to write this post yet another piece of sad news was absorbed. Kate Spade is dead at 55 due to suicide. Heartbreaking. The news blurb stated that she is a mother and a wife. The entire world knows she was successful. Looking in one may question what could have been so bad that she would take her own life? That’s when my dad would pull out his favorite phrase, “It’s all relative”. Oddly enough that was going to be the topic of this post before I read about Kate Spade. Her death makes it even more relevant.

Obviously Kate Spade was in such a severe depressive state that she was unable to see the possibility of hope. Tragic, simply tragic. While members of the public view her life as charmed, it is all relative. Fame, fortune and success mean nothing if you are unable to reap the benefits of joy. As my readers know from my last post, there are times when my own life seems void of hope. Thankfully I have never reached the point that Kate Spade reached. While the thought of ending it all to be reconnected to Christian has passed through my mind, it has also receded fairly quickly, even at my worst. Just those short glimpses into how terribly hopeless depression makes me feel is enough to comprehend how someone would think suicide makes sense.

Over the past week there have been moments of joy and their have been moments of sadness. I have cried tears over all that has been lost. I’ve watched a friend lose an amazing family member to ALS, yet again too young. I’ve witnessed the generosity  of those around me in bittersweet acts of kindness. I’ve rejoiced over my first article being published. I have watched my son’s classmates celebrate their last field day as elementary students. I’ve had my seven year old tell me that when he gets older he will go sky diving and purposely not put up his parachute so he can go to heaven and see his brother. It has been an emotional roller coaster. And yet, it’s all relative. These are incredibly difficult situations to face, but someone has it worse than me. It’s all relative. Someone has it better than me too. None of this truly matters as much as the outlook you have on your situation.

We all have things that we go through. No one escapes this life unscathed. Some of us are more fortunate in this area and have less tragic things affect us, but either way we all have our troubles. You never know what someone else is going through, so please remember to treat everyone with kindness. Things may look picture perfect on the outside and be broken beyond belief on the inside. Be kind. Pass it on. RIP Kate Spade. Sending prayers and love to your family, especially your daughter. Love to heaven…

What “Grieving Mom Brain” Has Taught Me

We have all heard about “Mom Brain”, the condition that occurs when a woman is pregnant and continues while she is raising her children. I, myself, had Mom Brain pretty bad during pregnancy. One day my best friend arrived at my house to find me sitting calmly on the couch, while my car door was wide open in my driveway. Just one of my many examples.

Grieving Mom Brain” is just as bad! When I first lost my son, it set in and remained for some time. As I began practicing daily stress relieving routines, I found the condition improved. Just like millions of other moms, grieving or not, I don’t always sleep well. It is on the day after a poor night’s sleep that Grieving Mom Brain returns. Thinking and concentrating is extremely difficult. If I have something I am particularly worried or stressed about, Grieving Mom Brain sets in.

So, if you ever see me staring at you with a blank look on my face, it is likely I am lost inside my own brain. We all make jokes and laugh about this, but it can sometimes be frightening to feel your brain shutting down. It is only further proves to me how damaging stress can be! For this reason and many others, I practice self care on a daily basis. As Mother’s Day approaches, I urge all moms to examine their own self care routines. If you don’t have one in place, start small. Maybe take 15 minutes a day to do something that feeds your soul; take a walk, read, call a friend, journal, etc. You won’t regret it! Love to heaven…

Hugs From Heaven

Albert Einstein said, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” When we lose someone we love, we quickly learn this lesson. Yesterday this idea was further strengthened for me when a mom from the school where Christian attended Kindergarten, and where Anthony goes now, approached me. She asked if she could speak to me for a moment, assuring me that nothing was wrong. She proceeded to tell me a story about how her dog ran away last weekend. The last place he had been was the playground built in Christian’s memory.

It took four long hours and then she miraculously found him in some thick brush a little ways away from the playground. When she reached this point of the story, I had an idea of what she was going to say. It did not come as a surprise when she said that she truly believes that Christian helped her find her dog. I won’t go into the details. That is her story to tell. The thing that did come as a surprise was how she described Christian’s energy. She had never met him before. In fact, she and her family had only moved to the community when the playground had just been completed. Yet, she was able to describe his spirit and his energy in the exact same way I feel him. She even commented that he “has such a large presence for a young boy”. She also said, “it’s like a big hug”. It was invigorating to hear someone who never knew him describe him as I feel him. In a way it was validating that he is watching over the community. It was validating that others who were not connected to him in the Earthly realm find connections to him now.

As a bereaved mother, I wish with all my might that Christian was still here. It has been a long process to actually accept that. I’m still not sure I am fully there, even though I live it. Of course intellectually I know he will never be in my arms again, but to know that he actively lives on in spirit, makes my heart sing. Love to heaven…

Memorials, Memories and Mugpotato

I am sitting quietly in my bed, hoping if I don’t breathe too loudly my son won’t hear me. As far as I can tell, he only came in to change his clothes and pee. My mind and body are exhausted to the core. My husband travelled all week and is finally home. The kids are outside with him and I am writing in pure silence.

Not once, but twice, today I found myself in tears. Funny when those things spring out of your eyes and you are not expecting it. In hindsight, on the heels of all of my achievements yesterday, I should have seen it coming. There was a lot of emotion attached to them.

Tomorrow proves to be another exciting and emotional day. The customized backs will finally go on to the buddy benches at Christian’s Adventure, the playground built in memory of him. These backs are complete with his drawings and his name written in his own handwriting. So, yeah, more tears tomorrow.

I have been asked a few times since my post yesterday if all of these tributes to him evoke more happiness or sadness. The truth is both equally. My main quest as a mom of a child who has passed away is to make sure he is never forgotten. These projects and tributes ensure that he will not be forgotten. They are also extremely emotional because there would be no reason for them if he was still here.

Today, as I was sitting on the bench at school, one of Christian’s Kindergarten classmates came over. He said, “Do you remember me?” I said, “Of course! How are you Mateo?” We talked for a little bit and then I said, “For the first 2 days of Kindergarten Christian came home telling me that he had a boy named Mugpotato in his class. Of course I said, ‘can’t be Christian.’ He swore your name was Mugpotato.” Finally on the third day he came home and his little voice said, “Mom! His name is Mateo!” We had a good laugh about that one!

Mateo and I talked for a little longer and then I said goodbye. As I walked down the steps to sign my son, Anthony out as a walker, I passed more of Christian’s classmates. I heard one girl say, “Hey, there’s Christian’s mom!” That’s right, I thought, I will always be Christian’s mom. He may not be here to tell me funny stories anymore or to give me the gossip about who likes who in his class, but I will always be his mom. He will always be in my heart, and in his friends’. For that, I am eternally grateful. Love to heaven…

Just as I was finishing this post, there was a familiar ring, letting me know the front door had opened. Then breaking the silence, “Mom?” My time is up!