What Happens Next?

On May 23, Lucy posted a comment on Charlie’s Story. It moved me and prompted me to respond however I could.

I am crying for you. Devastated for you. Life is so beautiful, so heartbreaking. I don’t understand why these things happen. Perhaps you have a better idea than I? I want to know more about your journey. What happens next? How did you survive?

Lucy, there are no answers. And yet? There are a million answers.

Now I’ll speak of my story specifically. This is mine. Not Jason’s and not anyone else who has lost a child. Because grief is like that. You can’t speak for others. There’s no set way to do it except to go through it. Not around… through.

Let’s start at the beginning:

I am crying for you. Devastated for you.

Life is so beautiful, so heartbreaking.

Life IS heartbreaking. Losses like mine (infant death) and so many others (stillbirth, miscarriage, childhood death, etc) aren’t supposed to happen. At least that’s what our brains and hearts tell us. Life IS beautiful and heartbreaking. Just like there is beauty in death and loss. It’s not able to be seen at first, and honestly can take years, but there IS beauty in death.

I don’t understand why these things happen.

I don’t either and quite honestly, it pisses me off. I like concrete answers to specific questions.

A common response to someone losing a child or young adult is “why did this happen? They’re such good people.” To which I respond, “then were we BAD people?” No. Not at all.

These things just happen. They’re not supposed to happen but they do. They happen. It sucks and they happen.

What a cop-out answer, Jana.

I do personally believe, even though it’s one of the worst things you can say to a person who has lost a child, that things do happen for a reason.

I believe I was chosen to give birth to a child who wouldn’t live to see a full month on this earth. I believe I was chosen to carry this heartbreak. I believe Jason and I were chosen to be the parents of two who only have one here on Earth.

I believe these things like I believe the sun is hot and the grass is green.

I want to know more about your journey.

The journey for me has been a strange one. The Grateful Dead had it right when they said, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Over the course of probably the next 24 months after Charlie died, and that included the pregnancy and birth of Henry, I went through the five stages of grief. I was angry, in denial, depressed, bargained and then finally, accepted. I rolled through them all, sometimes all in one day, sometimes for weeks at a time.

I questioned it all. How did Charlie get sick? Was it my fault? Surely this is my fault. Research. Question. Research. Feel guilty. Question some more. Oh, there’s a chance it COULD have come from me, but also a chance it could have come from life?

Then I chose life. I chose to believe it wasn’t my fault. Sure, there was a chance it could have been, but did I want to live the rest of my life with the guilt of thinking, without knowing for 100% sure, that it was all MY fault? No. So I chose LIFE.

I don’t remember much about my pregnancy with Henry or his birth. I’m not sure I wanted to get close, but once he was here, it was different. He looked like he was here to stay. He didn’t have the wise eyes and other-worldly soul. I did everything I could to protect him from the evil of GBS and from the evil of anything else that could hurt him.

But then, I carried on.

For 11 years, I’ve carried on. I’ve talked about Charlie. I’ve talked about death. I will talk to anyone openly and honestly about how I feel. Why? Because it’s my story. It’s woven into my life like the veins that carry my blood. It makes me breathe and validates that he was here and he was important.

Over the years, I’ve questioned my faith. I’ve wondered what kind of God would let this happen to a family and why was it MY family. I’ve been angry at God and wanted desperately to believe in something else. Anything else that would explain WHY.

But I believe in God and Heaven and that when I get there I will be reunited with Charlie. He’ll be waiting in a rocker for me, having saved my spot for many years. He’s waiting. Just like I am. Charlie is my protector. I feel him surrounding me every single day. He shows me signs when I need to know I’m not alone. He drops light into my world when it starts to feel dark. I believe in his pure, innocent, child-like spirit.

How did you survive?

One day at a time. One step at a time. One foot in front of another.

I’ve said this before. You survive because you have to.

Nobody wakes up one day and says, “You know what? Today would be a super day for something horrible to happen.”

We don’t get to choose these things. Maybe the universe does. Maybe God does. Maybe shit just happens. But at any rate, we survive because we have no other choice.

Well, we do, but the other choice is never a pretty one. Many people who lose a child do end up on this side though. Suicide, divorce, crippling depression… they’re all very normal side effects of horrible losses. But they don’t have to be.

(If you’re feeling hopeless or suicidal, please talk to someone. Call 1-800-273-8255 for help 24/7.)

What happens next?

Life happens next. Again, I speak only for myself.

I choose to live life to the fullest and honor and remember my son’s very short but very important life each and every day.

People will continue to ask these same questions, Lucy, and I will continue to answer them. Others will continue to not know what to say and be scared to ask for fear of making me remember.

I hope what happens next is that I live long enough and have my memory long enough to never forget the feeling of a beautiful 6 pound baby in my arms, taking his first and last breaths against my heart.

That’s what I hope happens next.

Eleven. 11. XI.

Eleven. 11. XI.

CharlieBlue

Two days old, May 23, 2003

Eleven years ago today, you graced us with your presence. You caught us off guard by coming a little bit early and taking forever to be delivered.

You caught us off guard by being so aware, so beautiful, so wise. From the moment you arrived, your eyes told your story.

They were wide and bright, inquisitive and alert. They knew too much.

They knew you had a short time.

When I look back at your pictures, so very few of them, your eyes are always open. I see wisdom and love and know that you lived the life you were meant to live.

It wasn’t to be a long life, but it was to be long enough to touch hundreds and thousands of hearts. It was long enough to leave your mark.

But no matter how many hearts and lives you touched, I would trade it all to have you back.

Happy 11th birthday in Heaven, baby boy. Every breath I take is for you.

**************************

For more information:

Late Onset Group B Strep

Charlie’s Story

 

 

 

A Look Inside The Private Folder Of Grief

Tonight, on Lifetime, a movie called Return To Zero will premiere. The movie was a labor of love for writer/director/producer Sean Hanish, whose own experience with stillbirth and loss drove his passion for creating a film with a storyline based solely around the loss of a child. Return to Zero will take the audience through the highs of pregnancy, the lows of the loss, the struggles of anger and marriage, and hopefully, share that there IS hope after loss.

Over the last 11 years, I’ve heard so many people say, “I don’t know how that feels, so…” when a friend or loved on loses a child. They’re paralyzed with fear over what to say, how to say it, how to empathize, how to understand.

This movie, our community of parents hopes, will shed light on how it feels — how it looks on the inside, behind the scenes, in the marriage, in the heart.

But yesterday, as I was sharing a link on Facebook about the movie, I got a knot in my stomach. It tightened and made me lightheaded for a minute. I recognized the fear. It’s the same fear you get when somebody is going to check up behind you or search through your things, especially things that may be private.

You see? Letting someone see the heartache and pain that only comes with losing a child (no matter how or why) is like letting somebody look into your private, locked folders on your computer. It’s giving them a key to your heart and giving them free access to roam around and look.

Sure, I want people to understand a small portion of what grief feels like. And this movie will do just that. It will open the conversation and break the silence on a subject that is still, after a bazillion years, taboo.

I  want you to know there is so much more that can’t be shown on a movie, no matter how perfect Minnie Driver’s performance is.

I want you to know there is so much more that can’t be shown on a movie, and I hope you never know what it is and how it feels. That is my prayer for you.

Contorted.

Contorted.

It twists and turns,

going up and down,

around and around.

contorted

Never a straight line,

always contorted.

Always changing directions.

The contorted filbert branches–

they’re a lot like life.

 

A Mother’s Heart

A Mother’s Heart

On April 26, 2014, at the very first
Listen To Your Mother: Atlanta, I read these words.
I should tell you to bring tissues.
photo: From The Hip

photo: From The Hip

It had been a rough week around here between me and the 9 year old.

My husband had been traveling a lot and work had been stressful.

Henry and I had butted heads, talked back to each other, and raised our voices way too many times.

It wasn’t pretty, y’all.

I’m ashamed to say, I had yelled more than I should.

I’m sad that Henry had said “I hate you” more than he ever should. I know he didn’t mean it, but he said it.

He had already gone a few days without riding his bike to school as punishment for previous transgressions and at that moment, I may or may not have threatened to make him wash all of his clothes, cook his own food and pay his own rent for the rest of his life if he didn’t shape up.

Maybe I meant it. Maybe I didn’t??

Jason had to be made out to be the bad guy, the one I threatened to call so he could “handle it” and he’s the one who actually got to handle it when he got home.

I don’t like that I had to stoop to that because my GOSH I hated it when my mom used to threaten to tell my Daddy when he got home what I had done wrong.

So imagine my surprise when I was doing JUST THAT?

Finally, I had to make good on an earlier threat and put Henry to bed early — and without supper! I mean, it was like 6:30 early. But it had to be done or I was just a pushover.

I sat with him and we talked about a magazine he had been reading and school and how he was going to respect me more. We were both mad and frustrated and insanely tired.

Then he started crying a little and asked me to stay while he tried to go to sleep. He rolled over and guided my hand over his heart — covered it with  his own small hand — and he pressed it to his chest as hard as he could.

His other hand held on to his beloved Muffins like his life depended on it.

I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed with love. There’s a pretty good reason why that’s my Henry’s middle name.

I laid there for 45 minutes with his heart beating perfectly in my hand. t felt like I could just reach in and grab it if I wanted to.

My brain told me this was one of those “Mom moments” I needed to hold on to.

So I stayed there, watching him doze off into dreamland, eyes twitching and mouth moving slightly — in awe that I was chosen to be his mom.

As I held his heart in my hand, I also realized how much like his brother he seems, and how much alike I think they would be if Charlie was alive.

But comparing a 9 year old to a baby who should be 11 but will always be 24 days old?? That’s ridiculous.

When Henry sleeps, though, even at 9 years old, it’s so clear to me that they have the same skin and eyes and that funny droop on one side of their mouth.

It’s very rare these days that I stop and think, “What would life be like if Charlie and Henry were growing up together?”

I think I don’t allow myself to think these things because honestly, it hurts to imagine it.

But then there are moments like these.

Moments when I am reminded how much they look alike and how I’m sure their personalities WOULD BE not necessarily the same, but complimentary to each others.

There are these moments, as a mother, that take my breath away.

It’s moments like these when I really remember that I have two sons and am forever mothering two sons.

One is here and one isn’t.

One has a heartbeat I can feel and one whose last heartbeat I felt in my arms.

One says things that break my heart and the other I carry in my heart.

One can wrap his small hand around mine, hold it to his heart, and make me realize that my life is complete because I am the mother of two.

 

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