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.

Either I’m Getting Old or…

Something. My body is tired and tight. My head aches, everything is out of alignment. My chiropractor couldn’t even crack me. Years of trying to hold it all together have finally caught up with me. I think that when your body is in fight or flight mode for so long, it’s really, really hard to decompress.

I look at the above graphic and literally have every single symptom from the shoulders up. My shoulders are tight, which leads to my neck and then my jaw and then my aching head. Apparently I’m clenching my jaw so tight that I fractured a tooth in my sleep (didn’t even know that you could do that). My damn body is tired. Because my mind is tired.

I think that I had a whole year off to grieve Benny. I had a year to sit in it and let it wash over me. Unlike after my Mom’s death I had some time to process things. And it was a truly healthy start to this whole process. For the first time I felt like I was actually dealing with my stuff instead of shoving it down deep.

But we all know that grief doesn’t have a timetable and I wasn’t magically healed after a year. But I was pregnant. And facing a whole new set of anxieties I couldn’t have imagined. And then sleepless nights and chaos. And then 2 years later in the thick of all of that again with the next baby whilst we moved 4 times until we were finally home. And I loved every moment of it (besides the whole moving part).

Things finally settled a little bit for us and I could catch my breath and then boom, Covid. The whole world is thrust into a grief unlike any other. And everything kept changing and we just kept having to adapt.

I feel like I have been in fight or flight mode since 2013. And I am truly, truly exhausted. With the chaos came very little time for me to continue processing the fact that my son died. Sometimes it’s much easier to lean into the crisis of the moment rather than to face your own reality. Because the reality is that my son died. And it’s fucking awful.

So here we are. I’m ready for a good crack from the chiro. I’m going for a massage to try to clear some of that tension. It’s time to start going through some of this stuff that I’ve been holding onto and to try to change how I’m living. Because I’ve been fighting this battle for so long and my soul is just exhausted.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I was growing up, the holidays were magical. I have so many great memories of gathering with family, singing Christmas Carols, baking and of course, presents! For all of my Dad’s faults, he was super into Christmas. He was one of the rare men that actually enjoyed shopping and put a lot of thought into his gifts. Decorating our house was a huge deal every year. We would get the biggest Christmas tree and spend hours putting tinsel on it. We had a 4′ wreath that went on our chimney along with a plastic Santa. My Mom spent hours wrapping presents for us kids and desperately trying to replicate her Mother’s recipes (which I still find nearly impossible). It was merry and bright.

When my Mom passed, all of that Christmas Spirit seemed to die with her. My Father was a shell of his former self and we all just went through the motions. I remember that the first Christmas without her consisted of me shopping for everything and wrapping it all (including my own gifts). My sister and I had to take my Dad to the ER on Christmas Eve because he was sick (looking back, it was probably too much alcohol and a broken heart more than anything) and we were up late. No one got out of bed on Christmas until 5 PM. It was terrible. Gone was the magic.

Once I moved out, I vowed that I would create my own Christmas magic. When I had my own apartment, there was always a live Christmas tree. I started making my own Christmas traditions. And even though I spent some Christmases alone, nothing was as brutal as that first Christmas after my Mom died. Until my son died.

It’s really hard to get through the holidays when your heart is so heavy with grief. My Mom died 25 years ago and my son 8 years ago. I’ve celebrated more Christmases without both of them then I have with them. And it still guts me. Every. Damn. Year.

The first Christmas after my son died was a stumble. I honestly felt like a puppet as others pulled the strings and I went about the motions. I had no idea what the right thing was to do. Do we hang his stocking? His ornaments? Do we keep our family traditions? How do we honor him?

That whole day I smiled on the outside while I silently screamed on the inside. Christmas shouldn’t still come without my son. The days shouldn’t have kept creeping by and time shouldn’t have been in motion. My world had stopped on November 8th and anything where we grew further from that date made no sense to me.

It was really hard to watch her opening gifts, knowing her brother should have been there too. It was hard to enjoy the cookies, knowing how much he loved his sweets. It was hard to take pictures, thinking he should be in them. It was hard to recognize that this was our ‘New Normal’.

I’ve written about a few things that we now do previously https://sunshineangelsandrainbows.com/2021/12/03/my-christmas-grief/. The only thing that I vowed that first Christmas was that it was still magical for our daughter. The magic had completely died for me at that point and that was ok. But by god, it had to be over the top for her. She needed to find something to look forward to, something good to believe in, and something hopeful that she could carry with her. And if that came in the form of presents and food and togetherness, then I was ok with that. I was ok with anything that would help us get through that first Christmas.

And that first Christmas turned into our second, third, and now eighth Christmas without our son. And I miss him so very much every single day. The holidays are still brutal, but I find that doing stuff to honor him helps to heal my broken heart just a little bit. And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve even found a little Christmas magic again myself. The grief and missing are still very much there, but the love that I have for my Mom, my Dad and my son have become my puppeteers during the holiday season.

AITA?

AITA-Comparing Grief

AITA Original Post: ‘She said, “Now I know what it felt like for you. Losing a kid is so, so hard.” I’m 26M, my girlfriend got pregnant at fourteen and I was a father at fifteen. He was the best little boy ever and I was in love with him. I had a job and her parents kicked her out so she moved in with mine and by the time I was 19, I was happy and me and her moved into an apartment together.

But when the next year, when he was five years old, he got hit by a truck and passed away. It’s been six years and I still think of him every day.

I told her, maybe a little insensitively, “You didn’t lose a kid.” She looked taken aback and said she did and something about how “fur babies” were kids too. I said losing a kid is nothing like losing a dog and she started getting angry and told me she raised her dog for way longer than my son.

I got mad, and yelled at her to never talk about my son again and then I stormed out.’

The comments section on this is nuts. It made me koo koo bananas reading it, so I had to stop. I know everyone is entitled to their own grief and there are no comparisons. Everyone feels differently and is built differently and is a product of their experiences.

However, if a friend ever said to me that they ‘understood’ how I felt about losing Benny because their dog died, that would be it. And to follow that up with ‘I had my dog longer than you had your son.’ Nope. Absolutely not. Just stop talking.

Sorry if this makes me a horrible person. As I see it, this woman made the comparison when she had the gall to say that she ‘understands’ what it feels like to lose a child. I’m so angry that I can barely type.

Guilty

Ok. So this. I am so guilty of this. It’s this feeling that if you just keep moving and keep busy, things won’t fall apart. If I keep balancing all of the balls up in the air, I can add a few knives, and a flaming stick. I won’t drop any of them if I just keep moving. Then I get overwhelmed. Then I get frustrated. Rinse. Repeat. Welcome to my grief.

When you’ve been dealing with trauma as long as I have, I think the busy just becomes a coping mechanism. I don’t mean to make my life so crazy and hectic, but it happened. Anytime you have little kids life is crazy anyway, so maybe it’s not all my doing. But I knew what we were getting into. Sometimes the chaos just makes the pain so much easier to bear. If that makes any sense?

If I’m busy and tired, I don’t have the time to acknowledge the terrible things that have happened. Sometimes it’s easier. It’s a break from the grief reality. It never does truly work for long, because grief always finds a way. And I know this. Yet I carry on and grief and I pretend to ignore each other for a bit longer until he shows up again, unannounced. It’s a game we play.

And then I do slow down. And it’s a grief slap like no other because I actually allow my mind to wrap around my reality. And it sucks. I sit and allow the grief to hollow me out once more. And I’m tired.

I wish I had answers. I wish I had a healthier grief relationship. I do know that admitting this and acknowledging it makes it easier to carry. Because I know I’m not alone.

Eight Years Later

We are camping this week and brought the kids to Plymouth today to see the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock and to walk around and take in a little history. I remember going there as a child with my parents and today I realized that we were there with Benny on his last Fourth of July. I mean, I knew we brought him there, but I don’t know think the reality of that truly sunk in until we were there.

In the early days of our loss, it was easier to avoid going places where we had memories with Benny, when possible. The shop and home were obviously out, but parts of the house became off limits. His toys were put in his room and the door was closed. I didn’t venture near the driveway until 2015. It was hard enough to breathe in those early days, we did what we needed to cope.

Parker and I talked often about how much harder it would have been if memories of Benny had been tied to too many places. We wondered if he had been older, would we avoid those places (like his room)? It’s crazy the things you tell yourself in those early days to just get by. I can’t believe the ridiculous rationalizations you try to feed your grief stricken mind.

You see, we don’t have an extensive list of places where we took Benny. We were young and broke when the kids were little. Most of our adventures were at home. I wish we had traveled more and done more, but the almost 18 months of Benny’s life were fun filled, nonetheless. And we had some really great memories. Maybe it would have been easier had they been tied to other places. Maybe not. I only know my own journey.

So, without realizing it, today I found myself in a ‘Benny Memory Spot.’ It’s so strange to me that I walked into this completely unaware. But there I was. I found myself on the same grass where I sat with him watching fireworks eight years earlier. It felt like I was living two lives.

I saw myself from 2013, trying to keep a toddler entertained until the fireworks started. I also saw myself present day, holding hands with my 3 living children and my husband in front of that same water. It was like parallel universes colliding. It was my earliest grief fears and concerns coming into razor sharp focus. It had finally happened 8 years later.

In my mind, I looked at my 2013 self and I sent her a hug. That older (oddly, also younger) version of me was so happy and carefree and had zero idea of the trauma and sadness that lay ahead. I felt sorry for her. But I also envied her. Because she still had her son. She could still hold him in her arms and touch his hair. She could snuggle his rolls and kiss his chubby cheeks. Her world was not yet completely broken.

God do I miss that boy. It’s like an ache that never dulls or goes away. You just learn to live with the pain. But it still surprises me that days like today can smack me square in the chest. And I didn’t even see it coming. Until I was there, standing in the same spot looking at my 2 lives.

And it wasn’t easy. And I wasn’t sure how I felt. Because honestly it just felt like I belonged there. It felt like I needed to stand in that spot again and breathe it all in. I felt such serenity in that moment. It makes zero sense. And all the sense in the world at the same time. It was another grief milestone to hit. All these years later. And I hated it. But I did it.

If this isn’t a testament to grief, I don’t know what is. It’s the dichotomy of emotions and feeling the before and after, all at the same time. And still putting one foot in front of the other to attempt to carry on.

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.❤️🌻❤️

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.

Sunshine, Angels and Rainbows

'How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.'

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Pointless Overthinking

Understanding ourselves and the world we live in.

Rain Coast Review

Thoughts on life... by Donald B. Wilson

My Grief Talks

Through tears and laughter, in whispers and screams from my shattered heart - to the words on this page and into my art - as I search for calm

emotionspassion.com

Emotional musings

Ron Tamir Nehr

Self Empowerment & Business Coaching

Dr. Eric Perry’s Self-Help Blog

Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Sprout Splice

Root Transplant Repeat