Broken Hearted But Not Broken

This afternoon as I glanced down at my phone for a quick reprieve I was deeply saddened to discover the news about Notre Dame. I inhaled a sharp breath causing my mother to ask anxiously, “What happened?” When I told her the news she was heartbroken but relieved. Bad news has known to be the worst news in our family.

She and I began to commiserate about the news of the fire, consider what might have been the cause and thank God that at least no one was hurt. Our conversation was cut short as we were snapped back to reality. “They’re back”, she said. The “they” meant my dad, my boys and my niece.

“They” had returned home from picking up my niece at school. I opened the car door and inquired about how her day had been. As though in tune with the world, she lamented over a troubling encounter with one of her friends in Kindergarten. We discussed it for a moment. At the age of six, injustices are easily washed away by the promise of sugar. My mother and I had hidden one hundred fifty Easter eggs for the children to find. When I explained that the “Easter bunny” left a note for them and hid eggs while we were all out, the excitement registered on their faces and in their voices.

The screeches were surely heard around the block. As they sprinted to the front door, I was nearly knocked over. Immediately the exclamations of discoveries could be heard. I brushed past my mom, anxious to see them on the hunt. She held my youngest niece in her arms and said, “I want to hear more of that report when they are done”. Confusion clouded my brain. It took me a minute to realize she meant the fire that had encapsulated Notre Dame.

Just a few moments prior I had been immersed in world history in the making. Today will be noted in History books for years to come. And still life carries on even when history is in the making. It brought me back to the days that will forever be in my own personal history book.

Time stopped today as flames licked a historic cathedral that will now forever be changed. The world carried on around it. Time stopped the day Christian gained his wings, forever changing our lives. The world carried on around us. The concept never ceases to amaze me. Things happen all day, every day, everywhere that are major monumental, events. Sometimes they affect a family and community. Sometimes they affect the world. Either way, the world carries on around it.

Photo Credit: Thibault Camus/AP

This is one of the most shocking aspects of child loss. It boggled my mind that the sun was still rising and setting, kids were starting a new school year, the leaves were changing. All of the things and events that had been natural occurrences at one time in my life were still going on around me, but my life had turned so unnatural.

The strangest realizations had me questioning my sanity. One day I realized I would never again take care of Christian when he was sick. He would never need to be nursed back to health with a proper dose of ginger ale after the stomach bug. No longer would I wait with baited breath as the thermometer read the temperature of his body. Obviously these are more menial tasks of motherhood but if he was able to be sick it meant his body was alive. It meant I could help “make things better”. My chance at that was through.

It was the daily routines that were most unnatural. Bath time with only 2 boys. The world carried on. Only 2 boys to coerce into brushing their teeth. Only 2 boys to corral into bed. Only 2 boys to kiss goodnight. Only 2 boys to imagine growing older. Only 2 boys to imagine carrying out all the hopes and dreams I had for them. And the world carried on. So unnatural, so changed.

Hopes and dreams were lost today, just as they were when Christian became an angel. Yet, children went to school and egg hunts were had. A historical structure survived a trauma but will forever be changed. It will be rebuilt, undoubtedly, but never the same. The rich historical background to include the fire that damaged it but did not decimate it. The world will carry on, just as it always does. Tomorrow the sun will come up. History will be changed and time will go on. Just as we are forever changed. We are not broken, just broken hearted. Love to heaven…

Gratitude Done My Way

Sometimes living each day can feel like a whole lot of work. There are mornings I wake up and have a silent conversation with myself about all that lies ahead in the coming hours. The voice inside my head chides me whenever I even think this way. My firstborn had less than seven years to live, less than seven years of mornings to wake up and be excited about. With each day I should be overflowing with gratitude just to have the chance to make memories with the ones I love.

Did you hear that should in there? “Shoulds” indicate judgment on my part and never bring me anywhere positive. I am beyond grateful to be making memories and be an active part of my loved one’s lives. Yesterday, as I was entering Target, both children were holding my hands in the parking lot. I felt so much gratitude to have their little hands inside mine. I do focus on the little/big things. When I break it down and simplify it like that, I feel a little less selfish and ungrateful.

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot. ~ Hausa Proverb

Gratitude is a buzz word right now. As a grieving mother, I feel like I need to be even more grateful as a way to honor Christian and all the days he never got to live. In my quest to be as grateful as possible, I decided to start a gratitude journal. There are an abundance of journals for sale for this exact purpose.

Putting my gratitude on paper proved to be harder than I expected. First it meant that I needed to have quiet time at night. That only happens after the boys are asleep. Then it meant that I had to a) be awake after they fell asleep and b) have the energy to actually write down my gratitude list. Unfortunately these things are a rarity. The added pressure I was putting on myself about needing to be extra grateful, because I know how precious life is, was only making things worse.

Things were not going as I wanted or planned them to. Furthermore I was failing at honoring my angel. Wow. That was a tough pill to swallow. If I were hearing this from a friend in my position I would sit her down and have a strong talk with her about how she needed to go easier on herself! My message would encompass the truth that she has to be gentle with herself, celebrate her strengths and be flexible in areas she doesn’t feel strong in.

Despite my empty gratitude journal lying on my nightstand as a constant reminder of my flaw, a new routine developed organically. Each night before my son/s enter into slumber we have quiet cuddle time. It is one of my favorite times of the day. As I laid there with my youngest son one night, I started reflecting on all the positive aspects of the day. It became a habit. Now it is a particularly beautiful part of the bedtime routine for me. It requires no extra items other than my memories and inner voice.

As grieving parents we often carry the added weight of having to revel in the positives. We know just how fleeting a life can be. We know just how quickly an irreversible change can take place, leaving your heart forever cracked. It does put more pressure on us. The truth is we will never constantly be happy or grateful. We are still humans. Yes, we know one of the worst pains on Earth. Yes, we will forever honor our children. Yes, we will celebrate joys. There will be times, however, when maybe we should be more grateful and we are not. That is okay. As a grieving mom this is just something else that I need to accept. I honor Christian in numerous ways. The guilt will have to take a back seat for now. Love to heaven…

 

The Blank Canvas

With the New Year upon us and a fresh blank canvas laid out before us, many adults commit to different ways they are going to change their lives. They iterate goals they would like to reach and set out in pursuit of them. Not unlike others I have goals but I tend to reevaluate them on a regular basis, so I did not make any hard and fast resolutions this year. It occurred to me this morning that it was time to have the talk about 2019 goals and resolutions with my boys, especially my eight year old.

Each month at school the Principal’s Award is given to one student in each class. As I launched into my lecture about how he may be able to receive it if he worked hard and went above and beyond, he responded with an answer that reflected his personality. “I am going to let other people get them. I am not out only for myself”. This led me to have a talk with him about how that is a beautiful attitude in some areas but that we all need to have something we are working towards, striving for. He looked at me and said, “I am not working towards the Principal’s Award. I want to reach a goal that is closer”. It was only then that I realized that my anxiety had informed this lecture. Didn’t all children wish to be recognized by the Principal while the whole school looked on? Or is that my hope for him? Each time I open my Facebook feed on the first Friday of the month, I am reminded that my son has not received the Principal’s Award since Kindergarten. In turn that leads me to berate myself about how I am not doing enough as a mother. He needs to read more, practice his math facts more and watch less TV. Changes may need to be made, but nothing positive comes out of me criticizing myself. What really needs to happen is that I need to take a step back and separate my insecurities about mothering from him as a student. Furthermore, the Principal’s Award is not the measure of him as a student or me as a mother. (As I sit and write these words I feel quite neurotic but I know that if I am feeling this way so are others!)

While I quickly reigned in my anxiety, the urgency in my voice quelled and I asked him what his goals were. He explained to me what he wanted to achieve. Now the fire returned to my voice, but not in an anxious way, in a motivational way. “Well, let’s reach this goal! What do we have to do in order to crush it? Let’s get started right away!” For a second there I felt like I was on a big stage giving a motivational speech. It worked though. I saw the fire ignite in him. The drive that I was so afraid he was lacking, kicked in. It was there all along. I just wasn’t tapping into it.

It is easy to relate to my middle child as his personality mirrors mine in many ways. Fear of failure sometimes affects how I set and achieve goals. Part of the reason I reevaluate  my goals frequently is because I need to make sure they are a stretch but still attainable. My trainer, Jessika Ramie of FYTE.co, often says, “We may have to adjust our expectations.” Through this mindset, and with her help, I have been able to structure my goals and plans to reach them in a way that fosters success. In turn, my confidence is boosted and I am willing to strive for more and more. My aim is to scaffold this same experience for my son. The more confident he feels, the more he will try. If we have no goals and nothing to strive for, we make much smaller leaps and bounds in life.

Striving to be our best is a lesson that is important for my boys to learn. They must know that their best means their best. In a world where competition runs rampant it is easy to get caught up in it. For some people this means they may become obsessed with it. For others, like my middle child and myself, it means we shy away from it due to fear of failure. I am so grateful for my husband who is always quick to remind my boys to believe in themselves. If he hears self doubt in their words, he is quick to correct them by replacing their negative words with positive ones and making them repeat after him.

There are kids who instinctively have less fear of failure and more drive. Whether it is a competitive nature that feeds it or a need to be the best. My middle guy is more sensitive in that way. He is aware of not wanting to take away from others. As I explained to him, there is a time and place for that. Individual goals mean that you don’t have to take away from anyone else. As I write this, it is so clear that individual goals would have been the way to motivate him from the start. It is in his nature to achieve on a individual level where he doesn’t feel the pressure of competing with anyone else.

This simple, ten minute talk with my eight year old taught me so much, in more ways than one. It taught me about him, myself and my parenting. It reminded me why it is so important to be in tune with my boys. It also reminded me of the joys and beauty of being a parent. My husband and I will support our boys in the best way we know how. We will make mistakes and so will they, but as long as we keep the lines of communication open and the love flowing, we will design these blank canvases together. Love to heaven…

Don’t Borrow Trouble

A few weeks ago while my husband patiently carved pumpkins with my boys I was reminded of Halloween 2010. Anthony, my middle son, had just been born, exactly one week before Halloween. In an effort not to diminish the excitement of Halloween for Christian, my parents carved his first pumpkin with him.

It doesn’t take much for me to see them in the kitchen. The newspaper was spread across the table. Two large, bright orange pumpkins sat ready to be carved. Christian, full of energy, wore an old collared white shirt. This was to protect his timely Halloween pajamas. As the first child he always had pajamas for the holidays and only wore them at the appropriate time of year.

Christian’s excitement vibrated throughout the house. The brightness of his smile rivaled the bright orange hue of the pumpkins. My parents assigned him the appropriate jobs of picking which shapes he wanted the eyes, smile and nose to be. After cutting off the top they also gave him the job of scooping out the pumpkin gunk. For an almost three year old boy, this was a great task! He sat with his arms elbow deep in the pumpkin scooping out the flesh.

This is how life is now. I live half in the past and half in the present. Each time my boys experience an event, it is linked in my mind to when Christian experienced it. Sometimes I share my memories with my husband and my boys. Sometimes I keep them to myself. I clutch my memories just as tightly as an elderly woman holds her purse. Fear is the same driver for both of us. The fear for me is that somehow these memories will be taken from me by time.

Time is my enemy and also my friend. The cyclical nature of it helps to perpetuate memories. The repetitiveness of special days, holidays, places we went and things we did are burned into my memory. It is both overwhelmingly sad and beautiful at the same time. As much as the current daily events also spark my memories and sometimes intense sadness, it scares me when his life won’t be as relatable to my children anymore. My fear is as they move out of the easily comparable age range, memories will dissipate and become less relevant. In some ways that is unavoidable. There are numerous milestones and events that Christian never got to experience. Right there the relatability factor is affected.

As much as the above is true I am reminded, as I write this and reflect, of the many things I “thought” child loss would encompass. Some which came to fruition and some that didn’t. The thing is we never quite know what will happen. Immediately after losing Christian I feared my boys would never remember him. This is worlds away from the truth. I worried that my boys would carry on without carrying a piece of their brother with them. Again, quite the contrary. So as much as I project what might occur in the future, I am well aware that none of it may happen. One of my mentors often reminds me, “Don’t borrow trouble”. We have enough in our daily lives. Why become anxious and spend energy worrying about something that may never happen? Love to heaven…

Freedom In Sharing Faults

We all have faults. Some of us are better than others at accepting our faults or shortcomings. Some of us have a more difficult time. I fall into the latter category. It is easier for me to accept other’s faults than my own. I am kinder to others than myself when the topic of personal faults comes up. I’m not alone.

No one is perfect. How many times have we heard that old adage? We hear it repeatedly because it’s true. Yet so many of us strive for perfection or close to it in ourselves. When our shortcomings present themselves we feel disappointed and angry. Many times for me this turns into shame and then the mean voices begin. I wish I could tell you how to make those stop. That is still a work in progress for me. What I can tell you is that sharing and connecting with others helps in quieting those voices.

Healing is in our own heart’s message. Once we hear it we can surround ourselves with people who reflect that message. Share your pain. Healing is in connection.             – Cara Martinisi

It’s no secret that I wear my heart on my sleeve. My writing is proof of that. I don’t believe this kind of sharing or level of sharing is for everyone. I do believe that opening up to another human being who you feel a deep level of connection and comfortability with will change your life. I don’t mean opening up about the difficulties you have on the surface. That’s great too, and we all need that, but when we go deeper in our relationships, friendships and connections that is when your faults and shortcomings lose the momentum to instill shame.

Shedding the shame of our faults and learning to make peace with them can only make us better people. Connecting, beautiful soul connections, only enrich our lives. Many times when I ask Christian what message he wants me to share with everyone it revolves around kindness and connection. There is something there. The more connected we are to each other, the more kindness spreads.

Connection to others lets us know that we are all important. Children are more visibly receptive to this than adults, but that is only because they are more open. Engage a child and see how their face changes. When we take interest in each other’s lives we are interwoven emotionally. This is valuable on all levels. It is important to connect casually, deeper and so deep that your soul shines through. Connection promotes kindness. Kindness helps us to be nicer to ourselves and those around us. If you want to quiet your mean voices, if  you want to take away the shame associated with your shortcomings, connecting will help. Love to heaven…

A Picture Of Hope

Anyone who has witnessed a family losing a child has seen hopelessness with their own eyes. When a child prematurely passes way, everything is questioned. The tunnel of life appears permanently dark with no light to be found.

Oxford Living Dictionary defines hope as, “Grounds for believing that something good may happen.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hope as, “to expect with confidence”. Child loss leaves us devoid of any of these feelings. It’s heart breaking, life altering and devastating.

I am a grieving mother who has been living for four years, 1 month and 19 days without my oldest son. My life consisted of months when I couldn’t feel hope for more than a moment at a time. It doesn’t take much to remember that level of hopelessness. Personal journal entries clearly outline this.

Eight weeks ago you were physically still here. My heart physically hurts that I won’t see you again. I truly don’t know how I will go on.

These words still ring true. My heart physically hurts. Sometimes I question how I will go on. This question comes up very rarely anymore because I know how I will go on. I will go on living with your spirit next to me and with me. Still these raw emotions are under the scab that covers them. They are not as fresh or vulnerable as they once were but they are still there.

The thing is you’re in every living memory from the past six years. Making new memories means making them without you. I don’t want to. Then the finality of your life is real because you are not making memories. You are just a part of some, just there in spirit. That’s not enough for me.

It is still not enough for me, you just being here in spirit. We haven’t made new memories with you physically for over four years. I will never be okay with what happened but I have learned to continue on. There are many new, happy memories that have been created. You are in some of those new memories even. Yes, it’s only in spirit but you are not totally absent from our lives as I feared when we first lost you.

It is my hope that any family who is new to child loss or in a dark place will receive my message loud and clear. There is hope. You can’t feel it now. You can’t imagine it now. You may not even want to know about it now. It’s there. It’s waiting in the wings for when you least expect it.

Hope starts to slip into your day with a smile. It’s so quick at first your don’t even notice it. Then it lingers for slightly longer. Each time hope presents itself it buoys your soul a little at a time. One day you feel joy. Again, it’s so quick that you don’t even realize it. It’s gone as quickly as it comes. Each time you see positivity, you find people who have been in difficult situations and are thriving. Each time someone honors your loved one, you get a surefire sign from your beloved. Each time hope grows. It grows until you start to see glimmers of light. The light gets brighter and brighter.

It dims sometimes and sometimes it stays dim for a few days but it continues to burn. That’s hope. As long as you continue living, hope will be there. I didn’t believe it when we first lost Christian. Slowly I had to see for myself. I promise it will not be this way forever. The stabbing pains will lessen. You will be able to breathe again. Nothing will be the same but there is hope. You will feel joy. You will smile. You will even receive messages from your child. It is in your future. There is hope. Love to heaven…

Quick thought: Trust Yourself

If you follow my blog you know I post once a week on Thursday. I want to post more but I am struggling with finding the time. I’ve decided to start quick thoughts. When something inspires me or strikes a chord in me I am going to post! It will be shorter and less in depth than my other posts but it will encourage a stronger connection with my readers. Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks!

Today’s quick thought is about trusting yourself. It’s oh so hard! I struggle with this on a daily basis and it spans all areas of my life. When I first became a parent it CONSUMED me. Frantically I read through every parenting book to see if my parenting decisions were “right”. I second guessed everything, only to discover there is no one right way.

Losing Christian makes me question every decision I make. And yet the relationship I have with him now strengthens my trust in myself. When I am living a balanced life, in touch with my true feelings and aware of truth, not what the negative voices lie to me about, I have trust in myself. These are a lot of pieces that need to be aligned just right. I am working to make these pieces fit together more often than not. It is part of my journey. It is part of the positivity Christian is infiltrating into my life. Trust yourself. There is only one you and you know you the best! Love to heaven…