Holding Our Angel

Loving After Loss


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Eternal Sunshine

I’ve been thinking a lot about the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s a great movie that came out about 13 years ago (jeeze, that feels like forever!). The movie is about a couple that breaks up, and each decides to have a procedure done to erase all memories they have of each other and their relationship. The man, however, starts to realize that he made a mistake in trying to erase the memories as he realizes he still loves her. The movie makes you think: can you really learn from your mistakes and past if you keep erasing those memories? Or are you doomed to repeat your mistakes?

Sometimes it feels like we’re forgetting about Theo. Logically, I know this isn’t possible. You just don’t forget your child, and I never will forget about Theo. But Artie is requiring so much of us right now (and for obviously good reasons!), that we have little time or energy for Theo. Life has gotten in the way a couple of times too–I developed an infection (nothing major, just annoying and inconvenient) and our AC went out at the same time. But there’s so much guilt with not thinking about Theo as much. It feels like we’re replacing him with Artie. If Theo were here, Artie would still be getting a lot of attention, but more than what currently is would be going to Theo.

I think some people see Artie as the equivalent of that procedure to erase memories. Like, now that we have a living child, all the bad that came with losing Theo is undone and has been made right. That our grief is over. But that’s not how it works. We can’t just pretend to be perfectly whole now, we never will be. And if we were to forget the grief from losing Theo, that would mean one of two things: either we forgot about/never had Theo or we don’t love Theo as much as we do. And neither of those are possible, so we accept the grief. You can’t erase the bad without also erasing the good, the two are intertwined.

Mother’s Day was an incredibly emotional day for me, and I spent a large part of it crying. Having Artie here is a hard example of what should have been with Theo. The joy with Artie is all that we should have gotten with Theo, instead of this grief we got. We ended up not doing much for Mother’s Day, which was fine with me. Even if we would have been able to go out, I don’t think I would have been up for seeing all the happy families everywhere.

On Mother’s Day, I got more people wishing me a happy Mother’s Day than last year. It could be because I now have a living child, but I am giving those people the benefit of the doubt. This time last year I wasn’t as open about what I needed from people, and maybe they were unsure of what, if anything, to say. I’m more open and vocal now, so maybe they felt more comfortable reaching out to me because of that. It was sweet they thought of me.

What hurt though, were all the well wishes I got that mentioned Artie but not Theo. Either mention both of my kids or none at all (nothing wrong with a “Happy Mother’s Day!”), but to leave one out hurt like hell. I even got a “Happy first Mother’s Day!”  (emphasis mine). Uh…. my first Mother’s Day was last year….

There was….an incident… involving a recent visitor and Theo. Visitor came to see Artie, and was looking at a photo of Theo we have displayed on a bookcase. There is an empty frame next to Theo’s picture, where a picture of Artie will go. This person  covered up the photo of Theo with the empty frame. Did this without asking, without saying anything at all, just picked up the empty frame and laid it against Theo’s picture so you could no longer see him.

Unacceptable.

I surprised myself with how calmly I told the person to uncover it and not touch the photo again. Guess I’m maturing a little bit (only took 28 years!). Kenny then took over talking to this person, and let him/her know why this was not ok.

But that hurt so much, to have someone come into my home and cover up my son. I’m not ashamed of him. Yes, pictures of babies on life support are hard to look at because who wants to picture a baby dying? But while it makes you uncomfortable to briefly see a photo of a dying child, it is a reality I deal with every second of every day. So fuck that. I will not apologize for my son, for being proud of him, or for keeping him a part of our family. Especially in my own home.

We had the newborn photos done. We used the same photographer who did the maternity photos, and she was incredible again. We incorporated Theo bear and a picture of Theo into some of the photos, just like we would if Theo was actually here. She even got Artie to hold onto the picture of Theo for a few minutes, which was so cute! Turns out the photographer has a good friend who lost a child at birth. She kept making me cry though while we were taking the photos, so I had to retouch my makeup a few times.

Kenny goes back to work in a few days (for a few weeks, then he’s taking more time off). I’m both looking forward to this and dreading this. I’m excited for it to just be Artie and I, and for me to have the chance to work on some projects while he naps. But… it’s also going to just be Artie and I during the day. No Kenny to take over when I need a break. We’ve been talking about me becoming a stay at home mom, so this will be a trial run to see if I like it/can do it. Me staying home will require some sacrifices too, so that’s something we have to consider.

I am going to say something I feel a little guilty about: I hate breastfeeding. It’s technically going well, I have no issues with my supply or his latch or anything like that. But I hate it. It’s exhausting and I feel trapped at home because I have to always be available to Artie when he’s hungry. So I decided to stop and try exclusively pumping. We’ll be switching Artie to formula for a couple of days while I get used to pumping and build up a supply. And if this doesn’t work, we’ll be doing all formula.

Every June, the hospital where Theo died holds a remembrance ceremony for babies and children who died there. This year, it falls during Kenny’s second round of paternity leave. I haven’t decided if we’ll be going. It would be so nice to go, this may be our only chance since they hold it on a week night and the hospital is 2 hours from us. And taking Artie would be so bittersweet. But…. I don’t know. I have a few days before I have to RSVP, hopefully I can make up my mind.

Here’s a funny video on PPD.


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A New Year

On the one hand, I really wanted to say goodbye to 2016. It was a crappy year all around and left me wondering what is happening in the world on many occasions. It was the year of so many firsts in grief, and the dread and anticipation of those firsts sucked. Hitting the milestones and holidays was just awful. It had Theo’s first birthday and first anniversary of his death, and was the first calendar year without him. It tested our marriage in ways we never prepared for, and completely broke us as individuals and as a couple. 2016 brought out a lot of bad in us. It shifted our perspective and attitudes a little more to the pessimistic side. It tested our faith and left us with so many unanswered questions. And every passing day and year is one more closer to being reunited with Theo.

But I want to hold onto 2016 at the same time. 2016 also showed us who really loves us, who was/is willing to step up to the plate for us. It brought us people we never expected, love we didn’t know was possible. 2016 showed us where are priorities really are in life and what truly matters to us. It brought out the best in us as individuals and in our marriage, gave us a completely new identity. It strengthened our marriage and so many relationships. It strengthened our faith as we relied on God in ways we never thought was possible. Gave us deeper emotions, as we feel all the good and bad more deeply than we did before Theo. We appreciate so much more now. Gave us Steam Bun.

Moving into 2017 is such a huge mark of time passing without Theo with us, a sign we can’t deny that we are already in the second year of life after loss. That now we aren’t facing all new things–that we are repeating some milestones and are in a cycle. Saying “it is the first X without Theo” was hard enough, but now to increase that number? Moving into 2017 underlined how permanent this loss is, that this isn’t a temporary situation that has an end date. I feel like I took two giant steps back in grief the past month and a half, as so many first anniversaries coincided with the “most wonderful” time of the year.

We will still have a lot of firsts to tackle. The first school year Theo should have attended. High school graduation. The first teenage year. (Haha, I just realized the order of those things doesn’t really make sense. But then I thought, hey, Theo could have been a genius and graduated school at like 12!)

I don’t think I have any goals for 2017, or even a theme word for it. No resolutions or vision board for this  year.

I actually went to church today, and though it was hard seeing all the happy kids and babies playing, I’m glad I went. Before the sermon they made some announcements, including one about a new small group. It is for women who have lost a child. I’m so glad the church started this group, and are letting everyone know about it. Unfortunately, it meets on Thursday mornings while I am working so I won’t be able to attend. But it’s still wonderful to know it is there!


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Christmas, Heaven, and Misery Loves Company

I’ve been thinking a lot about these things because the holiday cheer is waaaaaaay too overwhelming for me this year. So I’ve been mostly hiding from it, especially this last week.

I think in general, our culture is way too uncomfortable with anything remotely sad and puts way too much pressure on those who have reasons to be sad. You’re always told to “look on the bright side”, and if you are sad too long then it’s “misery loves company”.

Yes, misery does love company. Because those who are sad tend not to pressure others who are sad to “just get it over it”. One of the reasons I love the loss community, even when we aren’t talking about our children, is because there is no pressure to be anything except what I am in that moment. If I’m smiling and happy, great. If I’m sad and miserable, that’s great too. If I’m flip-flopping on my feelings or just feeling a whole lot of nothing, that’s great as well. There are moments and days (even weeks) where I’m able to focus on the blessings and good in our lives, and moments where I can’t. Or won’t. Having moments or days or weeks or more where you just need to sit with the bad is ok, there is nothing wrong with that.

I’m happy for those who are able to have the picture-perfect Christmas this year, and who are caught up in the holiday cheer. I’m jealous of you honestly. But I will forever not be a part of that group. I’m not saying every Christmas will be as difficult as this one, but I will never be a part of that ideal Christmas holiday. Mine will forever be tinted gray, there will always be a looming dark cloud. And I’m ok with that. I’m not going to pretend it is anything but what it is. If that ever changes for me, I’ll adjust and accept what it has become. Basically, I’m just going with the flow on what I’m feeling and I’m not going to pretend to be anything else.

I’m not going to ask you to change how you are feeling either. If you are able to get caught up in the joy of Christmas, I’ll be happy for you. From the sidelines, with a box of tissues in my hand. I’m not going to try to change your mind, just like I ask that you don’t try to change mine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Heaven lately. What it will be like, and what it means for me as I grieve. And truthfully, while Heaven is mostly comforting, it isn’t completely comforting to me.

I’ve often wondered what relationships will look like in Heaven. I do believe I will be Theo’s mom in Heaven, but will my relationship with him be one as a parent? What I mean is… will I be parenting him in Heaven? Or will we have a relationship more as friends?

I don’t doubt that Heaven is untold joy, peace, and love. That my imagination of that happiness is only a drop in the bucket to what it is actually like. But there are certain things I am confident will never happen in Heaven, and that makes me so sad.

Theo will never get hurt in Heaven. He will never fall down and scrape a knee, never have his heart broken, or a bad day. And that is mostly a good thing, but it hurts because I am missing out on those things. I am missing out on being the one he turns to to kiss his boo-boo and for comfort. I will never be able to help him when he’s upset. Those things won’t happen in Heave, because nothing bad happens in Heaven. And therefore I will forever miss a large chunk of what it means to be a parent. And I have to grieve that.

And though the joy and happiness here on Earth can’t compare to that in Heaven, I also have to grieve all the happiness I won’t be able to watch Theo experience.

Though I can’t say for sure, I tend to believe marriage as we know it on Earth doesn’t exist in Heaven. This is where I wonder about relationships in Heaven the most. Will I be able to watch Theo fall in love for the first time? Will I be able to see him have a marriage, have kids? I tend to think not, I don’t think those things happen in Heaven, at least how I know them now. Maybe they do, maybe they look different than what I expect them to. But I have to grieve that as well.

I have to grieve every part of parenting here on Earth, the good and the bad. I have to grieve missing those late night feedings, the toddler tantrums, him sneaking out at night as a teenager. Disciplining him, watching him participate in whatever after school activities we would have put him in. Him getting a bad grade, him graduating, his first job, first apartment, first time he realizes the world is cruel. All the good and the bad here, I grieve.

Heaven doesn’t fix these heartaches now. When I am in Heaven, I believe these heartaches will be fixed. How, I really don’t know. But I’m not in Heaven right now, so all I can do is deal with this heartbreak and not deny it.

We haven’t gone to church all month. Or, I haven’t. Kenny has a couple times. I’ve been watching old sermons online instead. Our church is just too….Christmas-y for me. I can’t stand seeing all of the happy people, or listen to everyone happily talk about their Christmas plans. The happiness is just too crushing, and I feel like an outsider looking in. I don’t know if our church has acknowledged that Christmas is often painful for people, but I hope they have. The holidays would be a lot more bearable if people didn’t look at you like you were an alien if you weren’t enthusiastic for Christmas.


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Pictures with Santa and More

Last year I joined a facebook group for child loss almost immediately after Theo died. I saw several members post pictures of themselves with Santa, with them or Santa holding a picture of their child. I wanted to do this, but was not in a good state (and not just mentally, less than 2 weeks postpartum is rough physically!).

This year, Kenny and I worked up the nerve to get our picture taken. I held a picture of Theo and Kenny held Theo Bear.

The lady who took the picture asked me how far along I am, and I answered truthfully since I figured I won’t see her again. She looked very surprised and said “Oh…”. Alright then.

But Santa was amazing. After we had our picture taken with him, we talked for a few minutes. He asked us about Theo and commented on how handsome he is and how much he looked like Kenny. He told us his wife worked in SIDS research and they both volunteer with March of Dimes. He was a sweet man.

We got a Christmas card from someone who I really wish hadn’t sent me one. When I saw the envelope, I handed it to Kenny and said “If this is just a Christmas card with a picture of their new baby, toss it and don’t describe it to me”. He tossed it right after he opened it. I don’t hate all Christmas cards this year, just that particular one and I’m glad Kenny handled it for me. We’ve enjoyed looking at the other cards we’ve received so far.

I loved Donuts and Yoga’s recent post on Intent: most people mean well but unintentionally say/do things that are hurtful, and you have a right to be hurt or angry at what was said/done. It’s ok to point out how you were hurt, so the person can correct their actions. Sometimes “it’s the thought that counts” is meaningless. After all, if they really do mean well and care about you, they’ll want to know so they can better help you.

After visiting Santa, we went home and Kenny held Theo bear on his shoulder while he sat on the couch. He’s done this many times throughout the year, and it kills me a little every time. But last night was the hardest, because he turned to me and said “I can’t wait for Steam Bun to arrive so I can hold a baby”.

Knife, meet heart.

 


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Halloween

Halloween. Again.

8 years ago today my mom died. I was 19. I didn’t go to another Halloween event after she died until this year.

Last year Kenny and I talked about what we would dress Theo up as (the Karate Kid) for this year, and how we would use his adorableness to get us candy. And all of the pictures we would take.

This year, we went to a very adults only murder mystery party over the weekend, and had a lot of fun. I love our friends for so many reasons, but I’m not going to lie: knowing there would be no kids at the party was a big selling point.

There was an event at our church last night for our age group (young professionals) that sounded like a lot of fun, but I bailed at the last minute. Though many of my friends aren’t married and have no kids, there are several couples in the young pros community at our church, and I know a few of them have young kids/babies. So I bailed, because just not up for that. I would have brought Theo, and would have loved the attention from everyone. We probably would have gravitated toward each other, watching our kids play with each other.

But mostly I just think how this is “officially” the start of a very difficult holiday season, and the first of many seasons to come.


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Christmas Stocking

Today I ordered Theo’s Christmas stocking, monogrammed with his name. We were pretty sure we would name him Theo, but I held off on buying it before he was born in case he didn’t look like a Theo and we changed our minds.

But I finally ordered it. I can’t believe it’s almost been a year and the holidays are weeks away. All the photos and activities I had planned for our family of three…

We haven’t decided exactly what we’ll do each Christmas for Theo, but we do have a couple ideas so far. I’m sure as the years pass we will change our Christmas traditions involving Theo, which makes me both happy and sad.

Happy because it’s normal for traditions to evolve and change over time, and our traditions would have done that if he had lived. But it makes me sad because there are so few memories and tangible things I have of him, that I feel like we have to do ALL the honoring, memory-making ways to keep him in the family now. If in 5 years I come up with a new way to honor him at Christmas, will I feel guilty I didn’t think of it sooner and hadn’t been doing it all along? Probably. And yeah, that is a little insane, but everything about losing your child is insane.

People joke at how ridiculous it is that Christmas stuff is out in stores already. But I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the torture that is the holidays without my child months in advance. I really should have started a long time ago, and that still wouldn’t be enough time.

But soon I’ll have Theo’s stocking in my hands, and though he won’t be with us physically, he’ll still be part of our family at Christmas and part of our celebration.