And in the spirit of all that awareness, here are some things to be aware of:
* I feel angry a lot of the time. Angry at my husband. Angry at my kids. Angry at the dog. Angry at other parents. Angry at you for having living children. Angry at you for laughing and being able to go to parties or weddings or school events without the underlying panic. Angry that I feel so lost and unsure and insecure. Angry that when I have to pick my son up from a friend's birthday party that I end up crying outside, too scared to face the other parents inside. All of that makes me feel pathetic.
* On some days, I feel like I'm losing my mind. Like coo-coo crazy. I imagine that I could easily tip over some edge and end up in a mental institution with white walls and little cups of pills. There's a lot of chatter in my head about who is good and who understands me and who I can let visit my grief planet and who is just trying to lure me off of this planet to some other planet because it would be easier for them if I didn't live so far away in my crazy coo-coo planet where I really struggle with who I can trust. When I'm lost on my coo-coo planet, it feels like everyone is against me, trying to make me forget Riley. Trying to make me be normal because it would be so much less awkward. Fortunately, not every day is a coo-coo day.
* I don't like leaving the house. When I do, it's often related to grief--couple's therapy, grief group for parents, family grief group, individual grief group. Then there's visiting Riley's memorial in the hills near our house where I walk the dog. I do leave the house for other reasons, like teaching art and Little League games, but that is usually when the anger starts bubbling as I hear the chatter of normal people around me.
* I'm sad all of the time, even if I don't look sad on the outside. I owe that nugget of clarity to C, who was only eight years old when he uttered it. I give him a lot of credit for summing up grief much better than most adults. Anyway, I feel seriously sad. All. Of. The. Time. Bags of baby spinach at the store make me cry. So does garlic. Pasta. Basil. Olive oil. Corn Flakes. Kids in baseball uniforms. Kids with rolling backpacks. Kids in glasses. Blond boys. Little kids with fat cheeks. Crying babies.
* I can't understand how I could ever possibly lead a happy life. I sometimes think that this life here on earth is actually Hell. There is just so much suffering. Everywhere. Yet, we don't talk about it most of the time. Put on a happy face, go to work, visit friends. Talk about the ball game and not that serious stuff that keeps us up at night or makes us fantasize about that little bottle of pills we have in the drawer that could help make it all more tolerable. Only I don't know how to do that anymore. I don't know how to fold it up, tuck it in, put it away. So I wear it like soup I spilled down my shirt or like broccoli in my teeth--only no attempt to hide it. I don't know how to nor would I want to.
* I spend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to solve a riddle about why Riley died. If I solve it, it means he won't be dead anymore. So I use a lot of mental energy going through every single detail of his hospitalization, trying to figure out where it started to go wrong. How I could have made a difference, noticed something, asked the right question, or asked the wrong questions in different ways to come to different conclusions about how he should have been treated, with what medicines, with what therapies, with what tests. I will spend the rest of my days frantically rolling over every single thing until I figure it out. I sure hope that one day I'll be clever enough to solve it. That would be pretty amazing.
* Just like you talk to your kids, I talk to Riley. I'm the only one who can hear his replies.
* Riley sends me letters. When he sends them, they just appear in my head. And then I write them down on the wall under his desk in his bedroom.
* I fantasize about crashing my car. I can feel that urge sometimes. I'm just driving along and wonder what would happen if I pulled the steering wheel hard to the right or left. Then I could go be with him, wherever he is. But then I remember I have another son who needs me here on this earth. So here I am, even though that other thing feels really appealing, especially on the days when I feel coo-coo.
* Sleeping is my favorite thing. Riley isn't dead when I'm sleeping.
I sometimes fantasize about how my life would have been different if Riley had been born with a healthy heart. Not only did a congenital heart defect prevent him from having the luxury of growing up, he suffered too many times along the way. Too many tests, too many procedures, too many hospitalizations, too many surgeries. Other times, when I'm bargaining with the universe, I simply wish that he had survived this last surgery. Now that he's been dead 16 months, I wonder what he would look like, how tall he'd be. As an almost 13-year-old boy, he'd no doubt be changing, even though I'm convinced he'd still be sitting on my lap at every chance (see above photo). And since his surgery was supposed to give him more energy, I can't help but wonder if he would be able to go hiking or even just walk the few blocks home from school.
One in 100 kids is born with a heart defect. Most defects are so minor that they will never need any kind of intervention. For the small percentage of those who do need help, there are simple procedures that can be done in the cardiac catheterization lab. For an even smaller percentage, there are surgical fixes that undo whatever nature messed up in the first place. Then there's even the smaller percentage who may need multiple surgeries and will never be fixed.
Riley was the love of my life. CHD sucks. And now that you're filled with all of that awareness, let's be honest, shall we? It doesn't change a single fucking thing.