The Gift of Strangers

A member of one of the crafting sites I follow asked our group for gift ideas. She wanted to make something for the parents whose son had passed away a month ago. Suggestions quickly started trickling in. A nice coffee cup with his obituary picture, a fruity scented candle, the ever so coveted toilet paper and paper goods, and so on and so on.

Everyone had their heart in the right place, and I made sure to include that in my reply which in part read something like this:
“NO, NO, NO, this isn’t a welcome to the neighborhood, or here make your house smell pretty and yay, I’ll never use a real plate again (oh and remember the toilet paper fiasco of 2020)” type of event. I have a hard enough time looking at my sons’ pictures every day. I do not want to drink from a coffee cup bearing his funeral image.”

YUP, I opened a huge can of worms! instead of replying to the original poster, members started responding to me. Some shared my sentiments, while others thought I was way off base. It escalated to a debate of what’s an appropriate gift and at what stage of grief is it appropriate? Soon, there were just three of us communicating. We agreed to go off the site…well admin told us to…and then there we were, three grieving moms, finding their way to each other. What had started as a stringent debate about crafts turned into moms trying to find direction and comfort in each other.

We discovered that we are all in different stages of our journey. One mom ( whom I’ll call Julie) had lost her only child, a daughter, only 2 months ago while the other mom (whom I’ll call Mary) was eleven years into her journey. I, fall in the middle…finding my way through yet still stumbling along the way. Julie was newly shattered. She found it hard to get out of bed, eat, get dressed, or even communicate with others. She just wanted to stay in bed and cry. She found herself self medicating and sleeping the days and nights away. Mary shared her own journey and how she also was in that same dark place many years ago. She assured Julie that life would eventually get more manageable and confessed that during her darkest times, she didn’t want to live anymore. She told us how her family had her hospitalized twice for fear that she would go to any means necessary to end her pain. She confessed to us that those steps had actually saved her life.

We wrote about the nights and days following our children’s deaths ( uugg I hate that word). The noise from all the visitors during those first few days deafened us and the silence, once they stopped coming, was even more painful in itself. I shared how I still have my sons ashes, wondering if I will ever be brave enough to “set him free.” Julie lamented how she wished she would have not put her baby in the ground and how lonely her daughter must feel after everyone stopped visiting. She shared the guilt of not being there every day and how she no longer talks to her sister who confessed to her that it’s too difficult to visit her niece at the gravesite. She regretted screaming at her, ” YOU THINK IT’S TO HARD FOR YOU?? !! I pray you DO feel my pain one day!!” Oh, that pesky stage of grief…anger. I know it well.

It took Mary 9 years to find the perfect spot to finally put her son’s ashes to rest. She said she chickened out 3 times but once she let him go, she felt freedom herself. This selfless act allowed her to finally come to terms with his passing. She finally understood the undeniable depth of her strength and bravery …something she never thought she had even though she constantly heard “You are so Brave and Strong” She also explained how she was finally able to go through the infamous “box”. Grieving parents/people often have a box or drawer where they keep all the cards and keepsakes from the funeral or the days surrounding it. Some go through it immediately trying to find comfort in the words of friends and family, while others like me, struggle to find the courage to open it years later.

When it was my time to share, I felt like I was talking to long lost friends. I was able to share feelings that I am hesitant to share with others for fear of being judged or categorized as “The crazy lady who lost her son.” I told them that when they put my son in the back of the hearse, I climbed into the back of it and laid beside him, my arm draped over his coffin. I could hear the gasps and wails of mourners surrounding the Hearst. They were watching me and I didn’t care. I KNEW that this would be the last time I could spend time with him. Or would it be? I caught myself whispering, “I’ll see you in a couple of days”….with the intent of following through. I confessed how I sat on the bathroom floor with the bottle of anxiety pills the Dr. prescribed to me. I told them the only reason I didn’t take the pills was because there was no cup or bottled water upstairs and my legs were too weak to carry me downstairs. Mary told me that it was Joey, saving my life.

I shared my blog with them (they will be reading this) and told them that the reason I write is so no one forgets, especially me. There are moments when I suddenly realize I haven’t cried in a long time and the guilt is unbearable. It is then that I go back and re-read my posts and allow the painful memories to resurface. I make sure to step into the shower or close the closet door so Scott doesn’t have to hear the excruciating sounds coming out of my mouth. After a few minutes of weeping, I start to feel to a lightness…a type of unexplainable calm. It’s not because I cried it out, but rather because reliving the pain means I haven’t forgotten. Julie lamented and said she just wants to forget. Mary tells her “You will never forget. You just teach yourself how to cope and you become stronger than your pain. You learn not to out run it but simply learn how to walk beside it.” I tell her, “One day, I want to be as strong and brave as you.”

You already are,” she typed back. “You’re still here”

Finding Joy Through My Journey

The last of our grandkids and their parents had just left, leaving behind them a trail of Legos, coloring books, and soccer balls. There were sticky spots on the floor from spilled juice boxes, pieces of yellow cheese stuck to the bottom of my shoe, and of course the ever so tiny fingerprints all over my newly cleaned stainless steel appliances. “I need to have the housekeeper start coming on Fridays, instead of Wednesdays,” I said out loud to my husband. He was already busy loading the dishwasher and feeding the dogs pieces of leftover tri-tip. I grabbed the toy tub, and a wet rag, and started to tackle the mess. Who knew that 3 little kids could reek so much havoc and craziness but still manage to fill my heart (broken and all) with such immense joy. Thoughts of the laughter-filled afternoon replayed in my mind. Watching Hayden wobble around as he tried to master the art of walking,… Aubri giving me a ‘Glam girl’ makeover …watching Ares dancing to, of all things, Gangnam style for the umpteenth time. Whose life would not be 100 percent content and filled with the utmost joy and happiness having this abundance of love?! Whose sadness would not be magically erased by one simple wet slobbery kiss or an “I love you, Abuelita. I want to stay with you forever and ever.” Whose??? Mine

Not that long ago, I concluded that no matter what wondrous things come my way, I will always be sad. I will always have a void in my heart. This is not a pity party nor I’m not saying this for anyone to feel sorry for me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself a long time ago. I just painfully and simply accepted the fact that this is the happiest I will ever get. My life and my home can be overflowing with leftover craft glitter, ferocious plastic dinosaurs, and endless amounts of fruit roll-ups yet, I will always be sad and my heart will forever be broken. After you’ve lost a child there simply is no way of putting yourself back together, and bottom line, you will never be 100% happy.

This does not mean though, that I don’t find joy in the marvelous things happening around me. I watched my beautiful daughter walk down the aisle and witnessed her hold her newborn baby boy for the very first time. I was there when my son received the keys to his new home and been present for all of my grandchildren’s greatest accomplishments. I have traveled to beautiful foreign countries and visited some breathtaking islands. My husband has fulfilled my every desire and I lack for nothing tangible. But, as amazing and wonderful as these experiences have been, they will never fill the void, they will never fulfill me, they will never be enough. No matter how incredible all this has been, I will always wonder how much better they would have been if Joey would have been a part of them.

Would he have been the life of the party at his sister’s wedding? Would he have helped her pick up the pieces of her broken heart? How much fun would he have had on our family trip to Hawaii or Aubris’ birthday party at Disneyland??! How proud would he have been of his little brother becoming a homeowner? Would he be teaching his niece and nephews how to throw a ball or enlightening them with his quirky sense of humor? Would I have ever had the opportunity to dance at his wedding or watch as he held his newborn child? Would I have had the delight to clean his children’s fingerprints off of my appliances? I will never know. Thus, this is where my sadness lies. 

So, with that, I have tried to adjust to this new life I never wanted. I have fought many battles and I have come out victorious… never unscathed but victorious nonetheless. Through all of these lessons, one of the most powerful things I learned is that the secret to finding happiness is accepting where I am in life and making the most of it.