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.

The Great Benny Dog Search

Sometimes you just need a girls night out. And when you have a friend with a daughter that you and your daughter love equally, sometimes you need a girls overnight in Newport. At a fancy hotel. So you can relax and just decompress with your bestie and revel in some good old fashioned girl time!

This is exactly what we did last week. After the last year of remote learning and following all of the Covid guidelines, it felt good to celebrate our vaccinations with a trip! We had so much fun relaxing by the pool, riding bikes and eating out. My soul just needed the break.

Now that I felt recharged and zen, it was no surprise when Darcy came up to me at 10 PM the night we got home to tell me that her Benny Dog was missing. She couldn’t remember if she had packed him or accidentally left him in the room. She tore apart her bag and I looked through mine with no luck. At this point my husband and I started to panic.

You see Benny Dog isn’t just any old stuffed animal. When our Benny died people set up a memorial on the street and dropped off loads of flowers and stuffed animals. People who were complete strangers to us. The day before his services we decided that we’d have the kids each choose a stuffed animal or ‘Benny Bear’ to take home with them.

Darcy chose a chihuahua looking dog who became known as Benny Dog. There were stuffed bears there the size of her and surprisingly she chose this tiny, unassuming little dog. We have no idea where he came from or who gave him to our family, but Benny Dog became Darcy’s lovie. A complete stranger had given Darcy some comfort at the hardest moment in her life. Benny Dog has been to every sleep over, vacation and adventure we have had in the subsequent 7+ years.

I calmly called the hotel and was told to call back in the morning. So at 9 AM the next morning I called and was told to email housekeeping. I sent a pleading email, hoping someone would look for Benny Dog. I heard nothing. I really began to panic 48 hours after checkout. How could they not have found this little guy yet? My husband was ready to drive to the hotel and look. Darcy was eerily calm through all of this. I think because she knew I was not going to let this go until her Benny Dog was found.

I called and finally talked to housekeeping and was told they would call the linen company and check the room. They had nothing in lost and found. I just kept hoping that he would show up. Meanwhile, my bestie was chatting with a friend about our trip and let’s just say this lady has connections! All of a sudden the Great Benny Dog Search of 2021 commenced at said hotel! There were meetings with department heads and this little 8 inch pooch became a priority.

Within 3 hours I had a phonecall from housekeeping! A very thorough search of our room found him wedged/crammed between the nightstand and the wall. He probably would have lived the rest of his days there until they changed out the furniture had they not looked. I cried in relief that he was coming home via FedEx.

Once again, a complete stranger had saved us. I’ve never met the woman who put the Great Benny Dog Search into motion, but I am humbled by her understanding of our loss and her willingness to go right to the top to make sure that he was found. She saved my family from another huge loss and poor Benny Dog from years of being crammed between a wall and a nightstand. Thank you. ❤️

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.

I’m the one

I’m the one that drives 12 in a 40 during a snowstorm because I’m scared of crashing.

I’m the one that panics when the 3 year old sleeps through the night, because she usually doesn’t.

I’m the one that cries at doggie daycare drop off because I’m afraid of my puppy with the other dogs.

I’m the one who tries really hard not to go into stores and religiously wears her mask.

I’m the one that decided to keep her daughter remote during a pandemic because she’s scared of it.

I’m the one who lost her mom to cancer at 16 and her Dad to bad lifestyle choices at 39.

I am the one who was hit by her car in her driveway and watched her son die.

I am the one with PTSD, anxiety and probably a myriad of other issues.

I am the one that doesn’t necessarily live in fear, but has lived too much in reality.

I am the one that has seen too much, lived too much loss, yet still really hopes it will all just be ok.

This is what is left and I’m tired of apologizing for whom I’ve become.

Marbles

So here’s the thing about loss. When something really awful happens, you begin to realize how little control you have over things. And that maybe something bad can happen again. And it’s terrible.

I’m paranoid and anxious. A lot. I try really hard to reason with myself and be realistic, but man there are just some times when it is really difficult to let my guard down. In my 41 years of life there has been so much damn loss. And grief. And trauma. So much of who I am and how I react now is a trauma response.

Let me preface this story by stating that everything turned out fine. Earlier this week I was in the living room on the floor working out. My littles were on the other side of the couch playing with marbles and magnets. I was less than five feet away. I could hear them giggling and goofing around. Then I could hear something in their mouths and my ‘Momdar’ went into hyper drive.

As soon as I popped up to ask them what they were doing, I could hear a slight choke/cough and my 3 year old Perry began crying, saying she swallowed something. To say I panicked is an understatement. I completely freaked out.

She swallowed a 1/4″ steel ball. At first I thought it was a magnet and then I really started to panic. I called her doctor and was told that the NP would call me back soon. It was a long 20 minutes.

I called my husband who convinced me the marble wasn’t magnetic. That made me feel a little better. I was convinced we would have to go to the hospital and they would have to open her up. During Covid. I was freaking out she could have aspirated it. Every awful scenario played out in my head. I was texting and googling like a madwoman hoping to find someone who had gone through this before and could guide me.

The worst part was that I was right there when it happened. I was maybe 3-4 feet away from the kids and she still swallowed the damn marble. I was a second too late in realizing that my kids were making very poor choices. And I was really angry at myself. And my kids of course, because they both know better than to put stuff in their mouths. But they are just kids. And I’m the adult.

But I couldn’t prevent it. I couldn’t predict it would happen. And I felt completely out of control. And anxious. And really angry that I was fearing for my child’s safety again. I’m pretty sure I aged another 10 years in those 20 minutes.

The NP called and wasn’t concerned. It was a good thing it was small, it was a good thing it was round, because it wouldn’t get stuck. Even if it had been a magnet that’s fine as long as it’s just one. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Here’s the thing about trauma, the small things become big things. They send you completely down the rabbit hole. Just when you think you have something figured out, life throws you a curve ball. This was my reminder that I cannot control every situation. It was a reminder to give myself a little grace.

Oh, and that marble, came right back out.

Positivity and Music

Attempting to start this whole ‘falling in love with myself’ is freaking hard! I joked about following some steps that I found on Google. But I really need to sit down and research exactly what steps I need to take and what I know will best work for me. It’s time to do some serious research and soul searching.

In the meantime, I am attempting to alter my mindset (if possible). I tend to be a sarcastic realist and that comes out as negative a lot of the time. And let’s face it, it’s been really hard to stay positive this last year.

Reading about all of the death happening around the world is horrifying. Especially because I can understand how these families feel. But I didn’t lose anyone in a time of Covid and I can’t begin to imagine the lack of control/closure these people must feel. The world’s suffering weighs heavily.

Back in January I began a playlist of positive and upbeat songs. I keep adding to it and I’ve been playing the bag out of it. Music is so good for the soul and can set or reset your mood. I’m loving how it can help me turn down the volume in my head to all the negativity I constantly feed myself.

It’s very helpful when I’m driving and some ass is tailgating or has their high beams on. I’ve noticed it helps to keep me calmer and kinder. I’m trying to remind myself that I have zero idea of what is happening in that person’s life and to have some grace (there is that word again).

When we have family dance parties a lot of these songs are ones that I chose to play. Because they are fun and crazy and loud, and sometimes your soul just needs that. We love to dance and I find I sleep better and smile more on the nights when we shut off the lights, turn on the $15 disco light and blast ‘Firework’ or ‘Lovely Day’. It creates this instant connection amongst my varied age brood and everyone joins in.

There have been homeschool days where the littles and I are just dragging. The whining begins and my patience wears thin. I know the curriculum calls for Chopin, but sometimes you just need some ‘Good Life’ to get you through.

We all know the lyrics to just about every song on the list. And I’m hoping it’s having the impact on my children’s mindset that it’s having on mine. Because I need the positivity in my life right now.

Below is my list, what else can I add?