How should you be 10?

I can hardly believe it. You should be 10 today. Two whole hands. Another milestone missed. Another birthday where we celebrate you in your absence. And I try to wrap my head around the fact that any of this is actually real.

The hardest part is the missed pieces of you. You were so young, but had such a big personality. Out of all of your siblings, you were definitely the chilliest and the only one to sleep through the night. Temper tantrums weren’t really your thing. You were just so completely different, your own person. You were always up to something, climbing something, getting into something. It was entertaining and teriffying to witness.

I wonder who you’d be at 10. Would you still have blonde hair? Would your blue eyes have changed to more of a green like your brothers? Would you be playing sports? Would you be on the mountain skiing with us? This seems like a silly question given your fearless attitude and thirst for adventure. Would you still love the old cars the way your father does?

Would you and Fletcher be the best of friends? Making me completely crazy with your boy antics? Would you and Perry share a special bond as your personalities are so similar? Would you still be close with Darcy? The two of you were truly matched in every way and you looked up to your big sister and wanted to do everything that she did.

It’s hard to know who you would be at 10. It’s been so long since I’ve laid my eyes on you that I can’t even comprehend you as a grown up child. And it’s super sad. I’m super sad. And I miss you. And I wish you were here with us instead of us planting vegetables and sunflowers and singing happy birthday to an empty chair at the table. Nearly 9 years later and it doesn’t hurt any less.

Happy Birthday buddy❤️🌻

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

My mom was a teacher her whole life, so teachers hold a special place in my heart. I always loved going to school with her, setting up her classroom and being involved in the various school activities that she ran. It was always so important for her to be involved in her students lives and make learning fun.

I think back to all of the incredible teachers that helped to shape my own life. My health teacher in seventh grade had us work on a ‘life’ project where we had to somehow illustrate our future plans. I drew a floor plan and he ended up showing it to a friend who was an architect. Guess what I studied in College? In 8th grade I wrote an opinion essay on a current news article and my teacher asked me if I actually wrote the first paragraph. Not in an accusatory fashion, but rather she said it was a compliment because she liked the writing.

I had Mr Newcombe for English in 11th grade who strongly suggested that I read Pride and Prejudice for a project. All of my children’s names are now out of Jane Austen novels and my two littles middle names are Jane and Austen. This book had a huge impact on me and is (clearly) still a favorite today. These people helped to shape who I have become as a person. And I am so thankful for their encouragement and guidance.

Darcy was in Kindergarten when Benny died. She was our first in school and we really didn’t know the community well. When Benny died, Darcy’s Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Borus, showed up. She came to his services. She had all of Darcy’s classmates make cards for her (which I still have today).

We received a letter in the mail from another teacher in our our district. She gave us such great information on programs for children and loss and was just incredible in her vulnerability. Darcy (thankfully) had Ms. O’Connell in first grade. It was a huge relief to me know that she was being taken care of emotionally in school as well.

When we moved, Darcy was in fifth grade and switched districts. I was nervous, we had been surrounded by so many incredible teachers and families that knew our story. I had to reach out to a new principal and teacher and explain Darcy’s background. Mrs. Sullivan welcomed my daughter and our family with open arms. Darcy had the best 5th grade year and sobbed when it was over.

Darcy entered Junior High in 2019, right before the pandemic. This was truly her first experience with switching classrooms and teachers. And I don’t know if she won the teacher lottery, but they were all incredible. They did the best they could with a really shitty situation and supported my child incredibly through the hardships of working at home. She definitely struggled and there were some tough days when I had to reach out to some of the teachers and explain what was happening at home because they couldn’t see it firsthand. And they just handled it amazingly time and time again. We have been very lucky to have these incredible people be such a huge part of our daughter’s life.

Last fall was tough. I had homeschooled Fletcher for kindergarten so he was really entering the classroom for the first time in first grade. He was also the first child I had sent to school since 2013. I was an emotional wreck. I reached out to his teacher prior to him starting school and explained Benny’s death and our family situation. It’s one of those things I’ve become pretty adept at over the years. Fletcher is extremely different than Darcy though, he has no problem standing in front of a classroom of his peers and talking about his brother who has died. Fletcher craves connection and is one of the most vulnerable people that I know. I honestly think it’s his superpower.

Once again we were gifted not only an incredible teacher but an amazing partner in his education and emotional growth. I am so lucky that this woman is in my son’s life. He misses her during the weekends and over vacations. She has been an incredible lifeline for us as parents as we struggled with Fletcher’s learning this year. She has also been an incredible asset that has allowed him to share Benny so openly.

I had to email Mrs. Macaruso last night to let her know that Fletcher is struggling with the end of the school year. He is extremely sad that he will not be able to see her everyday in second grade. I am extremely sad that I will not have this incredible human as his teacher next year. She not only made this transition from home easy for him, but easy for me as well. We all love Mrs. Macaruso!

I can keep going and going. My children have been so lucky to have so many incredible people to look up to in their lives. They have also had incredible daycare, preschool and dance teachers who have helped to shape who they are now. I am lucky as an adult to have some incredible teacher friends who have changed me and who I am. I’m looking at you Miss Patty and everyone who helps at Hope Lives Here. Or the teacher friends that have joined us in our grief.

Thank your teachers. Show them some love this week. Let them know the impact that they have had on your children and you as a parent.

My Christmas Grief

Thanksgiving is over and now we head into the holidays of family and love. Christmas has been a really hard time for me ever since my mom died. I’ve worked extra hard to make it special for my kiddos. It’s also some place productive that I can put all of this stuck, grief energy.

A few years back another lost mom had posted the Christmas tree she did in memory of her son. Another friend had recommended using all of the metals from the 5K that we do in Benny’s memory as ornaments. That began the ‘Benny Tree.’ I love that he has a space in our home and our hearts for the holiday. My kids also enjoy decorating it and looking at all the pictures and medals.

The year that Benny died we started writing him notes in his stocking. They stay in there all year long and get packed away with the Christmas decorations. Someday his stocking will be full again but at least in the meantime it’s still funny on the fireplace with the rest of the family’s.

Last year I started sponsoring a child for Christmas that is the age Benny would be. It’s sad and hopeful all rolled into one. I love that I get to help someone out and I still get to shop for a boy Benny’s age. I wonder what he would be into and what would be on his Christmas list. And it’s heartbreaking.

It’s taken me 8 years to come up with what makes our holiday feel ‘good’ again. It’s organic and it changes as we change. Right now it just allows me the space to still parent Benny, even though he’s on the other side. If it ever gets to be too much or doesn’t feel right, then we won’t do it. But for now, I look forward to my grief traditions.

Back To One

I have been struggling this week. Sending the two older kids to school after having them home for over 18 months, has been really, really hard. Having them home was really, really hard too, but this is a different kind of hard.

I cried for days leading up to that first day of school. I knew I was going to miss the kids, even though they do make me absolutely crazy sometimes. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture of a perfect quarantine. Our time at home was anything but. There were plenty of fights, screaming, hitting, biting, normal sibling stuff, just amplified. But they were home and safe, so it wasn’t all terrible.

When Fletcher first climbed up onto the school bus on Tuesday, Perry’s face fell. And she cried. And then I cried. We met him at the school (even though he didn’t want us) and when we left I was crying all over again. I figured it was just normal ‘letting go’ grief. Watching your kids need you less sucks.

With both of the older kids in school, it’s been just Perry and I. We’ve played games, baked a ton, had some dance parties and just tried to figure out the silence. She has a very special bond with Fletcher and this has been extremely tough on her. Perry may be a fighter, but she loves BIG.

I’m feeling so overwhelmed by the silence. And I’ve been at work and in and of the vet with a sick cat, so I haven’t even been home exclusively. But something just feels wrong. And familiar. So as I was pulling the Zucchini muffins out of the oven today, I had a realization. I’m back to one. One child at home. Just like after Benny died and it was Darcy and I.

I’m not sure if I feel better or worse now. Being able to recognize why this all feels so awful makes it a little easier. I feel a little less crazy. But man if it still doesn’t sting. It brings me right back to the days after losing Benny and trying to navigate that awfulness.

It’s also really hard to watch your rainbow babies outgrow their brother. He never got to any of these milestones that my kids seem to be flying through. And as excited as I am for them, there’s a part of me that will always be really sad for the ‘what if.’

Happy Birthday Benny

Missing this beautiful face on what should be his 9th birthday. This never gets easier. It just is.

Every year we do some sort of celebration for Benny’s birthday. Covid has obviously complicated this, but last year we did a mini cruise to the cemetery and it worked out great! So yesterday we did another cruise to celebrate this little man’s life with some of the old cars. He would have loved it!

Every year I am astounded by the number of people that show up to support our family. There are people that have been a part of our lives since Parker and I were dating, to new friends that have chosen to walk this path with us. It takes someone truly empathetic to join in this level of ‘real.’ And we are so thankful to have you on our lives.

I often wonder what Benny would be like as he got older. I wonder if he and Darcy would still have been thick as thieves as she enters her teenage years or would he just be an annoying little brother? I wonder if he’d play sports, or would he do dance or spend hours working on cars like his Dad? Would he enjoy school or would he have struggled? I can imagine a million different people he could be, but we’ll never know. And that’s really hard.

It’s hard to know how to celebrate a life so short. It is also extremely important though, for my other children. Darcy was so young when Benny passed and Perry and Fletch never knew him. It makes him real for them. It also allows me to celebrate my child almost like he’s here. I get to take all of that pre-birthday grief and anxiety and put it into something positive.

As we were driving into the cemetery, Adele’s haunting version of ‘To make you feel my love’ came on. We used the lyrics to this song in our wedding ceremony nearly 15 years ago. And let me tell you, we certainly felt the love yesterday. #nocoincidences

Thank you to everyone that came out yesterday to celebrate this crazy dude’s life. It was a beautiful day and it did my soul good to see so many of you that we haven’t over the last year. We are so thankful for our village or ‘Benny’s Bunchers’ that continualy support us.

The day ended with a rainbow over our house. Our hearts are full.❤️🌻❤️

Rainbow Guilt

I don’t know how to write this without it sounding horrible. Or totally confusing. Or just completely fucked up (excuse my French). It’s a rabbit hole I try to stay out of because once it starts, it’s hard to stop. And it’s laced with so much guilt.

Once Benny was born, Parker was done having children. I had had always wanted 3, but I was pretty set with being pregnant again and was happy with our little family. So I began to get rid of the baby gear, my way of acknowledging that  the baby factory was closed. I had always wanted to be younger when I had my kids because I had lost my own mom so early on in life. It was feeling like a good decision for us.

And then Benny died. Suddenly our little family became too small. Everything felt wrong. It is really hard to wrap your head around someone dying in an instant. I watched my Mom suffer from cancer for 2 years. As awful as that was, it made the end a tiny bit easier. What happened with Benny is completely illogical. I will never understand why he had to die. I will never try to find meaning in it. It just is.

I remember being in my room with Parker the night that Benny died. I remember looking at him and saying I wanted more kids. This was never to replace Benny. I just knew in that instant that I wasn’t done. I wanted Darcy to have more siblings. And Parker felt the same way. We were numb and terrified. The worst had just happened.

We waited almost a year. Then I miscarried. And I was angry. I stupidly believed (again) that more awful things couldn’t happen to me. How completely naive I was.

By some small miracle we had Fletcher and Perry. I know how very lucky we are to have them. Rainbows aren’t promised. 

So here in lies he rabbit hole. If Benny hadn’t died, would Perry and Fletcher cease to exist? It’s pretty awful, right? I’d give anything for Benny to still be here and make it all just a horrible nightmare. But how do P and F factor into that?

It’s kind of like, what came first, the chicken or the egg? I can circle the drain a bit if I think too hard about it. But honestly, none of it was ever my choice, it’s just how things happened. I guess there’s a romantic notion in thinking we can change the past.

I used to think about this constantly after Fletcher was born. And then I would feel guilty. Guilty because I would do anything to have Benny back. And then guilty because I would do anything to protect my new baby. It was this awful dance of guilt between the deceased and the living.

As Benny’s birthday comes closer, these are the things I think about. This is the ‘stuff’ it brings up. The missing just gets so hard sometimes.

Happy Birthday Hope Lives Here!

I quickly changed my clothes and attempted to pull my hair back into a nest on the top of my head. I had no idea why I was so nervous, I’d been going to my same child loss grief group for years now. I felt comfortable talking about the loss of my son and sharing his life with others. I felt like I was in a good place. 

A friend had sent over a video of Patty Inwood talking about a new grief group in Rutland named ‘Hope Lives Here.’  My family was building a home in Rutland and had just moved into town to rent while we waited for construction to be finished. We had left the security of our community in Worcester where everyone knew the story of my son’s death and had embraced our family with love.This meeting seemed to come at the perfect time for me. Or, as I would soon learn in HLH speak, #nocoincidences.   

I made my way across Main Street to the Rutland Library. As I entered the space where we would be meeting, I was surprised to see how many people there were! I was greeted with a huge smile and ushered into the space to meet Patty. She asked me how I found out about HLH and I told her that I had seen her video and that I had also lost my son. I found myself caught up in a hug instantly. I didn’t expect it and I didn’t realize how badly I needed it either.   

We sat down to begin sharing and I quickly realized that myself and one other gentleman were the attendees, everyone else in that room was a volunteer. I should have felt uneasy and in the spotlight, but that never happened. There was something about this incredible group of women that made me instantly comfortable and at ease. I was able to share not only the loss of my son, but also my Mom. Even though I had lost her as a teenager, it helped to talk about that all these years later. It ended up being an incredible evening and I was so glad that I had gone.   

That was 3 years ago in April. Every month I kept showing up at HLH meetings. I found my new community in Rutland. Suddenly moving our family there didn’t seem so scary. I have made so many incredible new connections with people that I would never have met if I hadn’t walked in that door.     

I have been so fortunate to be able to facilitate the HLH Child Loss Meeting for the past 2 years with 2 of the most incredible Angels. This group of Mom’s and Dad’s have done more to heal my broken heart than time could ever do. Their spirit, love and incredible courage is an inspiration to me. In December I joined the HLH Board of Directors where I am surrounded by so much heart. 

Patty is a visionary and a dreamer and she dreams big! I truly believe that ‘we attract love by being love’. And Patty and the HLH founders put something out into the universe that has been answered by some of the kindest souls. Happy 3rd Birthday Hope Lives Here! Keep healing hearts, as you’ve helped to mend mine.

My Grief Superpower

Well, this certainly describes me. And seeing it written out like this almost makes me realize how pointless it is. Almost.

How am I doing? Some days are awesome. I can get through the day and just exist. I don’t feel like I have to weigh every decision in life or death. I can just be.

Other days I panic when my husband takes the kids in the car. What if they all die in a car accident? Or when the kids are wrestling, what if one of them hits a piece of furniture and had to go to the hospital? Or worse? Or what if they choke and I’m in another room? Seeing as how my two littles can’t seem to make any type of good decision lately, this is completely plausible.

I found that when we were out pre Covid that I would always be very aware of my surroundings. I made sure that I knew where an exit was ‘just in case.’ Now Covid has sent me into another spiral of worst case scenarios. Just 2 years ago I rang in the New Year in the PICU with my littlest on oxygen. I know what it’s like being scared my child couldn’t breathe and I know I don’t want to go back to that.

So maybe my hypervigilance is my super power. I don’t want a cape or bat signal to notify others of this, I have a hard enough time trying to keep my own family safe. However, if I’m around your kids, I will be watching them as if they are my own. It’s not because I don’t trust you as a parent, but rather some messed up part of my brain thinks I can save you from the same fate. Maybe I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what we’ve been through.

A huge part of doing this for me is knowing that I feel like I have done everything in my power to prevent something bad from happening. I think I’d like to be able to tell myself with confidence that it wasn’t my fault. Because child loss is so tangled in guilt and self doubt. This ridiculous anxiety is my way of trying to counteract that.

Rationally, I know all of this is crazy. But so is grief and death and trauma. I don’t think imagining worst case scenarios is a healthy use of my time, however it’s now a part of who I am, like PTSD is. And I have managed to learn how to live with it so it doesn’t totally consume who I am. Today. Tomorrow may be different. If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s to never expect to ever be perfectly ‘healed’ or ‘over it.’ That simply doesn’t exist when you’ve lost a child. It’s all in learning to live with it.

Stretching and Crying

I have had back pain for as long as I can remember. My posture is terrible from years of dealing with a large bust on a small frame and trying to make myself look smaller. For years I worked in a male dominated field, so slouching my shoulders and scooping my spine came naturally.

There is so much wrong with this that I am aware of now, but being a woman in her twenties and thirties, I just wasn’t able to be comfortable in my own skin. Someone very wise recently talked to me about ‘making herself small to make others comfortable.’ And sadly, that’s what I was doing not only physically, but emotionally.

The car accident that took our Benny also had very physical consequences for me. I’ve written about spraining my ankle and the damage to my shoulder and the road rash. The bruising that occured on my back and side was like nothing I have ever seen. Until this accident, I never knew what a bone bruise was, but it took 6+ months to heal on my left leg and I still have damage. I have scarring on my right shoulder and elbow and my shoulder has never been the same since.

They did X rays at the hospital and I had a follow up with my doctor a few weeks later. But here’s the thing, when your child dies, your physical pain and suffering mean nothing. I knew that the ankle would heal and the bruising would fade.

The first thing that we sought was emotional support from a psychologist. Our family needed all of the help that we could get in processing what had just happened. It was during those months of therapy that it was asked why I wasn’t seeking further care for my injuries. And there’s no simple answer for that.

Maybe holding onto the physical pain was a way to punish myself for what happened. Or maybe it provided me a way to feel anything during those early and dark days. Perhaps it provided a reminder that the accident was actually real. Maybe it was just easier to continue feeling ‘small’ as a means to an end. It was probably all of the above if I’m being honest.

Whatever the case, it took me years to seek help. I finally saw a chiropractor and massage therapist and the doctor again. I’m not sure what the impetus was, or if there was one, but I finally decided it was time. Perhaps I was feeling forgiving towards myself or I was finally tired of feeling ‘small’. But that’s a whole other conversation.

I’ve been doing yoga and dance and stretching at home to try to keep everything feeling good during quarantine. A week ago I started a fascia stretch to work on opening up shoulders and chest and hopefully work on correcting my posture.

Today’s stretch was the hips and the instructor said that we carry emotion there and we shouldn’t be surprised if we cry. I was dubious. I had never heard of that. Guess I was wrong, because let me tell you, it was like someone turned on the water works. During a damn hip stretch!!

This is not like I was in a quiet space and able to get myself into the stretch emotionally. My littles were 3 feet away working on a puzzle and my cats were running around. It was the typical chaos and here I was thinking I would get in a quick stretch.

Because Google is my friend, I read article after article of the hips being a place where we store trauma. In further research in Psychology today I found that the hips and jaw are aligned and store so much of the flight or fight response based on one study.

I think sometimes that we forget how closely our bodies are connected to our emotions. Here I am 7 plus years out crying over a 5 minute hip stretch. I’m only halfway through this program, but I’m curious to see what else my body has to tell me about my current mental state.

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