Grace, It’s Not Your Fault

It’s not your fault. My brain has said that on repeat since 2013. Most days it believes itself. Every once in awhile, it goes to dark places. I wish my entire heart could believe it was true, but there’s a Benny shaped hole that makes me doubt myself.

Everyone talks about grief=sadness or grief=anger. Grief=Guilt. Because no matter how many times you’ve told somebody that you love them, knowing that you can’t again brings on the guilt. Because even though deep down you know you would do anything to get them back and protect them, you can’t. And some part of you will feel guilty. Even though control is an illusion. Even though it’s not your fault.

What is fault when it comes to grief anyway? Does fault even matter when you blame yourself? Here I am almost 10 years after the accident still and I’m still harping on guilt.

My word for 2022 was ‘grace.’ I needed to learn grace when it comes to my inner monologue. I needed to allow myself to be accountable for the things that I can control and have grace for the things I cannot. I focused very hard on being kind to myself when I didn’t get something accomplished that I wanted to. I learned to not berate myself over silly, innocuous things.

Letting go of those little things helped me to start to tackle the bigger things. I had long ago determined that control is an illusion. It certainly helped me to reframe my feelings around Benny’s death. But even with that, the guilt was still there. Because what parent wouldn’t feel guilt when their child dies in their arms?

I was mirandized in the hospital. I had given Benny one last kiss, tried to memorize his smell and was whisked away for X Rays. I was wheeled back into a room where everyone was panicking. The police were there and wanted to question me. I think that was the first moment where my shock frozen mind registered that I could be blamed. I could be arrested. I could be tried. And it all just seemed surreal. And none of it really mattered, because the worst had already happened. But that was the first moment where the reality of the situation took hold and the guilt crept in.

The police were doing their job and were truly kind to our family. Days after the accident they reconstructed it in our driveway. They told my sister that it took my car 7 seconds to roll from the top of the driveway to the bottom. 7 fucking seconds. It seemed like a lifetime in that moment. And I already imagined all of the other ways I could have handled our situation. Why hadn’t I jumped back into the car? Or the stone? Why hadn’t I just put Benny upstairs for his nap? Why did we live on a fucking hill? Why wasn’t I able to save my child? It was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. But knowing about those 7 seconds helped. A little.

I held so much anger towards myself. Even while rationally knowing that 7 seconds is not a long time to make a decision. I thought about all of the stories of the parents that shielded their children, or miraculously saved them somehow. It was as if their adrenaline turned them superhuman. I would get super frustrated that that wasn’t our story.

The guilt was always there. It brought it’s friend’s insecurity and doubt along with it. It was there in the background, making me second guess my decisions. Making me not like myself. I would second guess my parenting. I would also second guess my ability to handle any kind of stressful situation.

Like everything else in grief, it changes. You learn to live with it. You embrace it as a part of yourself. You move forward.

So in trying to retrain my brain to be a little bit kinder to me, I had a bit of a revelation. I’m not even sure what I was doing, maybe folding laundry, doing the dishes? It was a house chore that I got lost in my head so that it didn’t seem so tedious.

I must have been thinking about the incredible connections I have made since Benny died. I was thinking about the moms that reached out to us in the early days. I was thinking about all of the incredible people that surrounded us in our home and took care of us when we didn’t even know how to take our next breath. I was thinking about the incredible people that I used to work with who swooped in and told me they would get me through this. I was thinking about the friends and family that stepped up and held us. I was thinking about all of the new people that have shown up and continue to show up and support us. I was thinking about all of the other grief moms and dads that we have met along this journey. I was thinking about all of my people at Hope Lives Here and how they have shaped my grief.

And I came to this summation. We are surrounded by incredibly kind people. Good people. And not one of them would ever point a finger at me. So why am I wasting this energy blaming myself? If I was the villain I had made myself out to be in my head, these incredible folks would not be in my life. They would not support me. They would not love me. This was my simple Aha moment. Nearly 10 years later.

Now when I feel myself going down the path of guilt I try to remember this moment. I try to remember how freeing this moment felt for me. I try to remember all of the good people we are surrounded by and I hold that super close.

Thank you if you are one of those people. Your kindness and your goodness are like a needle and a thread holding me together. And helping me to learn a little grace for myself.❤️

Slumberland

‘You have the dream you’re meant to have; we make sure of that. What happens next is up to you.’

Tonight we previewed Slumberland (spoiler alert). I had watched the trailer and thought it looked fantastic, albeit sad. It deals with death and grief. Seeing as how Fletch came to us tonight with his Dinosaur book in tears because the Dinosaurs all died, I figured this was something we should watch first. And I’m so glad that we did.

I bawled my eyes out through 40% of the movie. A PG childrens movie completely wrecked me. And I mean wrecked in the best way possible. It put into words how we deal with grief, how desperate we are to see our loved ones in dreams and how even when we are desperately sad, we can still find hope.

It touched on so many of my grief experiences. In the first few minutes of the movie, the main character dreams that her Dad died. I honestly believe that there’s a subconscious link between life and death. My Mom came to me in a dream to say good bye and moments later I awoke to our house phone ringing and I knew that she was gone.

The entire movie is based upon the main character wanting to find her dead father in a dream so that she can stay with him. My god, that is all that any of us grievers want. I sat there crying, begging for a good visitation dream. It’s been so damn long. And I miss my people. I want to find a pearl so that I can wish this dream into existence.

When that pivotal moment finally happens, when the main character can have her Dad back, she finds that she has to wish for something else. Something has become more important than her Dad. And it’s awful and beautiful all at once. Because she found hope. And in finding it she had to let go a bit. And that is really fucking hard.

I wish I could say that I thought this was a good idea for my kids, but it’s not. It’s too close to home. There are some scary parts too as well as a lot of drowning. We’re a little too sensitive over here and will have to wait a bit. But the overall theme of this movie is absolutely beautiful. Especially if you need a good cry.

‘Life is waiting for you, Nemo. It would be a shame if you missed that.’

Where do you store your grief?

This is one of the writing prompts for my HLH Journaling workshop tomorrow. And i can tell you, i know exactly where my grief is stored, my shoulders and my neck. Why, you ask? Because that’s where I like to bottle everything up and hold on to for later.

I’ve lost some mobility in my neck because of the block of knots that are my shoulders. I see a chiro weekly, a massage therapist monthly and I’m about to add my doctor shortly as I’ve started to get terrible headaches from the neck pain. My chiro told me that I need to add yoga so that I can breathe more. He can barely crack me, it’s so tight.

I workout, I try to stretch and relax as much as I can, but none of that changes my losses. None of that brings my people back. I feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. But instead of the world, that ball is the weight of my grief. Heavy and pushing me down.

It’s weird how grief can affect us physically. Part of mine is perhaps psychosomatic, as I was injured in my shoulders and upper body when my son died. The body has a memory for pain and injury. It can remember exactly how something felt. I can remember the sensation of being struck by my car and thrown down the hill. It was not a feeling of weightlessness, but rather like I was in the washing machine, stuck on the spin cycle. And the natural reaction is to tuck. And I feel like ever since that day I’ve tucked into myself, physically. I slouch inwards, as if in defense or protection. Almost as if I’m hugging myself. Or holding myself together.

So this results in tons of shoulder and neck pain. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to make it better. I’m a problem solver by nature, so I need to make it better. I need to learn that my body is a safe space and instead of approaching the world in a protective posture, I need to open my arms to it. I need to end my reign in flight or fight mode and open up to the possibility of joy and love. Because I know that I feel that in my soul, I just need to allow myself to be vulnerable enough in my stature to accept it.

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.

Sunshine, Angels and Rainbows

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