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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Grief and showing up

I’d been up at night, fretting for weeks before the annual run in honor of my dead son. This year, it was held three years, six months, and one day after he died. I’d been trying to think of what to say to all of the kids that would be at this year’s run. Something uplifting about grief? I couldn’t think of anything uplifting. Something profound about showing up even when showing up to confront grief is hard? Something about how grief is forever because death is forever? Maybe a funny story about Riley? Maybe something about the importance of remembering?

I kept feeling like I was supposed to have some speech prepared. Sometime to say about grief to his peers who are now in high school, some lessons I’ve learned, some silver lining crap. I kept picturing my moving speech the foundation of some Ted Talk I would eventually produce on grief since I’m a grief expert these days. But no thought bubble appeared over my head helping me know what to say. All I kept thinking was that I have nothing because grief is awful and unrelenting and forever. I haven’t learned anything. I will never not be sad that my son died. I will never not be angry that he was stolen from me and his family and this life.

I honestly don’t know what I ended up saying when confronted with a group of dozens of his peers and their families who decided to spend the most beautiful day of the month thinking about Riley, running in the heat, and being offered hot chocolate at our house after the run (hot chocolate -- one of Riley's favorites -- seemed like a fabulous idea when I thought of it weeks earlier when it was much colder). As I stood in front of them, their expectant faces watching me, I could hardly find my voice. It wobbled and broke as I marveled at their size, them being there when they could have been just about anywhere.

I was humbled that they showed up. It made me feel slightly less alone that day. Another bereaved mom friend who was there said I had a glow about me. I think it was sweat combined with the way I feel when I’m in the middle of something to do with Riley. When it’s okay to say his name, okay to cry, okay to talk about him to people who don’t feel uncomfortable hearing his name or stories about him…at least in that moment. It’s the closest it feels to him being alive now.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Grief and making trades

Riley, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me... I would give you my breath, if it meant that you could laugh. I would give you my hands, if it meant that you could play catch with your brother. I would give you my legs, if it meant that you could run to first base. I would give you my heart, if it meant that you could sleep in your bed with your penguins, Freddy and Freddy, Jr. I would give it all to you, if it meant that you could be here, growing up. I would give it all to you, if it meant that you could be here growing up, even knowing that I wouldn't be here to watch it. Even knowing that in that version of reality, we still wouldn't be together. And you would be motherless. It would be worth it, though, because you wouldn't be alone. You'd be surrounded by people who love you. And you would have a working body. And you would get to celebrate your 15th birthday today. 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Grief and labor

Labor has begun. Only it isn't in my abdomen, the tightening of muscles as contractions mount. No, this time, it's in my heart, my pulse accelerated. My feet twitch and there is a heightened anxiety coming on. Rapid pulse, almost hyperventilating. This labor isn't about giving birth to a baby. This is emotional labor, the intensity of reliving grief anniversaries. Tomorrow is Riley's 15th birthday. And while his birthday is unrelated to his death, it is a distinct marker that he is not getting older. His shadow life is growing up, a teenager with a deepening voice and peach fuzz and hairy legs, while his actual life ended three-and-a-half years ago.

Fifteen years ago tonight, I was 10 days past my due date with my first baby. Contractions would begin around 3 am on April 2, and would continue until 11:20 pm, when my 8 pound, two ounce boy entered the world in a frenzy of activity. Doctors surrounded us, even though I was oblivious to their concerns, about his heartbeat that had decelerated during contractions. About his failed APGAR tests. Tonight, in this heightened emotional state, I have created a flurry of tasks to accomplish. I'm too twitchy to be still.

Riley came into the world, and in a matter of hours, everything stopped being real. The certainty of walls and ceilings and the physics of gravity and the science and technology that gave me a monitored hospital birth were gone. I went from being an exhausted postpartum woman to an exhausted postpartum woman who was told that in order for her infant son to survive, he would need three open-heart surgeries. And he would need the first one in a matter of days.

We agreed to those life-saving surgeries. And then we agreed to some more. And my son still died. And I continue to get donation requests from the hospitals that treated him. They show pictures of children who have survived, who have lived beyond expectation. Those children are smiling and their parents are smiling. And yet, my son has died and they think that I want to give them more money. I write "Return to sender" on the envelope. I also write, "Please remove me from your mailing list because my son, despite his six heart surgeries, has died."

Tomorrow will come, and I will wake and put on my Riley grief bands. I will wear my Riley necklaces. I will wear green, his favorite color. I will hike in the hills near my house and visit his tree stump decorated with his name. I will donate blood to help some other person in need of blood. I will sob and the technician will ask if it hurts and I will say that my arm feels fine. I will make his favorite dinner. And I will hate that he is dead. Just like all of the days. And I will wait for this nightmare to end, the one that makes my son dead while I am alive. I just want to wake up into a world where my son is in 9th grade. Where he is at the table eating Honey Bunches of Oats or garlic toast for breakfast. Where he will get 15, and 21, and 30, and 75, and all of the ordinary years in between.