Who I’m Supposed To be

 I was thrust into the role of someone I did not want to be.  This new identity was forced upon me, and I had absolutely no idea how to navigate this new persona. There have been many times, I have cursed the ‘one’ who decided to assign it to me as I struggle constantly with “Why me?” I have no idea what I am doing or how to get to where I need to be or when I will ever get there.  There are no books to scour through, no medicine to take nor manuals with detailed instructions.  I am in a constant state of confusion. In a matter of seconds, my 32 years with my handsome son had come to a complete and devastating end, and I lost all control of who I was.

As women, God gives us the most miraculous and unexplainable gift. He gives us the ability to give life to another human being.  From the moment of conception, our bodies begin to protect and nurture this child growing inside of us.  As soon as that little line turns blue, or pink, we begin to take extra measures of precaution to ensure that we do everything humanly possible to give birth to a healthy child.  After months of waiting, planning, and worrying, a beautiful baby is finally placed in our arms.  We look at this perfect, wondrous human being we created and promise that we will do everything in our power to always keep them from harm.  We continually try to create a haven, a bubble of sorts to ensure nothing ever hurts them.  Our lives become consumed ensuring that they are always safe and healthy. Then, in a blink of an eye, that power is taken away. The promises we made to them in their first few minutes of life have become lies. The control we once thought we had, has been stripped away. Who ultimately decides that and why was it taken away from me?

One of my all-time favorite movies is Steel Magnolias.  It’s a true story of a group of Southern friends that navigate their lives with love, laughter, and strength.  There is a part in the movie where Sally Fields daughter, Julia Roberts, is in a coma.  (Spoiler alert) when the family sees that there is no hope, they decide to turn off the machines. Moments later, after her daughter dies, Sally Fields starts running out of the hospital in a panic.  She’s trying to get to her grandson, or maybe she’s just trying to run away from the pain.  A few days later, at the cemetery, Sally Fields’ character stands stoically and very composed next to her daughter’s coffin.  Everyone else has started to walk away.  Her small group of friends notices that she hasn’t moved and walked back to guide her and give her words of encouragement. Sally Fields character, after checking her hair in a hand mirror, replies with the following monologue: “I’m fine, I’m fine! I can jog all the way to Texas, but my daughter can’t!” Oh, God!  I’m so MAD!!  I wanna know how that baby will ever know what a great mother she was! “WHHHYYYY!!??  WWHHYYYY?!! Lord, I want to know WHY?!   No, NO, I’m supposed to go first! I was always ready to go first!! This is not supposed to happen! God, I can’t take this!!  I don’t think I can take this!! I just need to hit something!!”                                               

 No truer words were ever spoken.

I first watched the movie before Joey died.  Sally Fields was so convincing as a grieved mother that you couldn’t help but cry along with her.  I tried to put myself in her character’s place and I wondered how I would react to losing one of my children. Would I be as calm and collected as she was in the beginning or would I be that crazy maniac screaming her lungs out in a cemetery? Of course, never in a million years did I think it would come to fruition, yet here I am, and I want to tell you that you are both.   When I first received the news, I too wanted to start running but we were 5 hours away from home on a major highway.   After a 30 second meltdown, I pulled myself together and managed to keep my composure.  I didn’t cry, and somehow, I even managed to call up the hotel we were supposed to check into and cancel our reservations.  I calmly told the man that answered that we weren’t going to make it because I had just received a call that my son had died.  There were a few seconds of silence.  I’m sure he was taken aback.  He gave me his condolences, I thanked him and hung up.  I still wonder about that moment and at times I feel guilty that I wasn’t a complete basket case.  I can only assume that I was in shock and my body’s defense mechanism kicked in.  The ‘Whys and No’s started once I walked into the hospital and days following.  I, like Sally Fields’ character, desperately wanted to hit someone. Hell hath no fury like a grieving mom.

All these years later, if you were just meeting me, you would not know how broken I am or how much I struggle with who I am supposed to be now. Sometimes, I find the challenges of navigating this new person overwhelming, and I suffer in silence with the new me, not wanting to pass on the burden to my family. Often when I am staring out into the horizon thinking of Joey and how much I miss him, my husband will ask me what I’m thinking of. I go into character and smile. “Nothing, honestly” I cheerfully answer as I swallow my pain. The person you see before is a mere mortal of who I used to be and sadly, I don’t know who I am to become. Every morning when I wake up, I go into character and start my day repeating the same old adage ‘Why me?

TIME

It’s been one Mother’s Day, a Fourth of July, and one very depressing anniversary since I pulled out my laptop to write about my journey.  It’s not because I have nothing to say because my mind is constantly filling up with what could have been. The problem has been finding the time to put these thoughts to paper.  I convince myself that there is something more pressing, or more important for me to do.  I remind myself to keep the thoughts tucked safely away in my memory bank and that there would always be time later to write. When I finally do have a few minutes to spare, the stories that I tried to hang on to are slowly fading away over time.  This repeats itself day after day, with another story being tucked away again, while sadly another one slowly dissipating with time.    Time.  A misconception that we believe it means forever, endless.  “I’ll have more time next week but is there really …. time? 

I met a woman by fate a few months back.  Scott and I were taking the kids and grandkids to the snow, and we needed gear.  After scouring empty store shelves, we came up with nothing.  A friend suggested one of those sites where you place your unwanted items for sale.  I created an account, logged on, and BINGO! I found exactly what we needed!  I messaged the person, whom I’ll call Mary. Our schedules were so full, that I asked if she could hold the items and as soon as we found time, we would swing by. She was gracious enough to say yes. I told my husband that one way or another, we had to take the time to get there. I was relieved the search was over.  Little did I realize that what I found along the way was something I wasn’t expecting.

Mary came to the door and brought out the items.  We chit-chatted a bit as I looked the items over and selected what we needed. There was a pair of snow boots that I debated about, unsure if they would fit our grandson.  I decided against them, gave them back, and thanked her.  We got into our car and as I was closing my door, I reached over to my husband, and I said “Wait.  Hold on for a sec.” I sat in silence for about 30 seconds, as our car idled illuminating Mary’s driveway.  I told him I needed to go back and buy the boots. He looked at me and asked why since our earlier conversation and been about the boots maybe not fitting our grandson.  “I don’t know,” I said “I just have a gut feeling that I need to get them. Plus, I don’t have time to go look anywhere else for boots! Wait here.  I’ll be back in a jiff.”  Exactly what is a ‘jiff’ in the concept of time?  That night, it was about 20 plus minutes.

I grabbed a few bucks and back I went. Mary came to the door, and I told her I had changed my mind.  She smiled and went back inside to grab the boots.  As I waited for her, I noticed a vehicle in the driveway that I had not paid much attention to earlier.  In the back window was a memorial sticker.  It had the name of a young man, his date of birth, and the day he passed.  I stared at it the entire time I waited.  Thoughts filled my mind. Why didn’t I ever have a sticker made?  Who is this young man and how did he die?  Why did he die? Why did Joey die? They were both so young.  Why didn’t they have more time?

Mary returned and as she handed me the boots, I asked her about the sticker.  I have NO idea why I did, but I just had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to ask her.  She told me that it was her son that had passed a few months back.  She shared a few details as I nodded reassuringly. I then shared my own story of loss with her.  We talked about the pain, the tears, the anger, the guilt.  I told her about navigating this journey and the many twists and turns and bumps you encounter along the way. We talked about how their passing seemed like yesterday, yet at other times it feels like forever ago.  We exchanged phone numbers, I shared this blog with her, and I told her to reach out to me whenever she needed to talk, cry or scream.  My husband finally came looking for me. My ‘jiff’ had turned into almost 30 minutes. Grief makes you lose the concept of time.

One morning a few days back I was attending a staff meeting when my phone vibrated, and I saw it was Mary.  She sent me a message that she had thought of me the night before.  Before I could put my phone down, it vibrated again.  As I read her words, my head began to spin.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my stomach felt queasy!  I re-read the message repeatedly: “My grandson, the son of my son who passed away, died last night. He would have been 3 this Friday.” I grabbed my stuff, walked out of the meeting, and frantically text her back. “What happened?! OMG!  What can I do!?” As she gave me the few details she knew, all I could think is WHY????  Why is this happening to her?  Has she not paid her dues at a hefty price?  She has already been through hell and back, so why is this happening again?!  This isn’t supposed to happen to the US again! We, the grieving parents who are doomed to suffer their entire lifetimes!

  I tried my best to give her words of comfort, but I had no idea what to say.  Me, the one that always has something to say and is always ready with a comeback, was speechless. I told her that people are going to try to make her feel better, me included, but none of us understand her pain. Dealing with the loss of one child is horrendous enough, but dealing with another loss, especially so close to the first one is inconceivable.  I told her to take good care of herself and I asked if she was alone. What I really wanted to say was, “please don’t do anything impulsive”.  I would be lying if I said thoughts of ending my life never crossed my mind.  Your thoughts become irrational and all you want to do is go to sleep and wake up when it’s over or maybe never wake up again. What I know as the greatest pain of all time, doubled for her overnight.  She not only lost her son, but she also lost her grandson…the only earthly connection she had left of him.  She lost all the tomorrow she could have had to make sweet memories with him. Her time with him had run out.

I think about Mary every day. I try to check on her and let her know she’s on my mind.  I want her to know that there are people out there who share her pain and would never judge what thoughts may go through her head.  People that would give her hope and a lifeline when needed. I pray she finds the peace and comfort that only God can give her and that no matter how many times she wants to give up, that she finds the hope she needs to hang on. The best I could do is send her some books that helped me through my process. I told her to read them on her own time.

 Time………. the greatest deceiver of life. 

CLEANSING MY SOUL

I recently had a conversation with a sister-in-law in which she asked me to keep her and her family in my prayers. As she shared the different battles she had been quietly struggling with, I asked her a simple question. “How do you do it? Suddenly, it became quiet with the silence only broken by gasps for air in between the tears. I let her cry. I didn’t want to interrupt the release of anguish pent up inside of her. She composed herself and then apologized for crying. I assured her that it was perfectly okay to cry. As a matter of fact, I encouraged her to cry. It is nature’s way of cleansing our souls.

I wanted to cry along with her, but I stopped myself. I did not want to infringe on her sadness and somehow, turn around and make it my own. Once we hung up. I realized a very sobering and sad truth. It wasn’t hard for me to stop my tears. As I was listening to her talk, I did feel my eyes well up with tears, the sting of pain ever so evident, but I never cried. Where once I couldn’t pass a McDonald’s without breaking down into a ball of grief, I found myself stopping my tears as easily as I could hold my breath. I was filled with guilt, anger, and sadness. When did it happen?? When did it become so easy to stop my tears from falling??? When did I shut off my emotional self?

In the first year or so after Joey passed, my face was always wet. Tears flowed freely never discriminating whether I was alone in the shower, or in the middle of a crowded grocery store. Thoughts of him would fill my head and the waterworks would start. It could be sweet memories of when he was the precious chubby little boy taking his first steps, being in the grocery store and seeing rice Krispy treats, or the horrific flashbacks of seeing his lifeless body for the first time.  There were a couple times when I was approached by concerned strangers asking if I was ok or if they could call someone for me. There were nights my husband has had to hold on to me so tight just to try to stop my body from convulsing from anguish.  No matter hard as I wanted to stop, (who likes hearing themselves sound like a wounded animal) there was no controlling my emotions. This overwhelming feeling of pain and despair would take over me and pull me into a world of darkness. There was NO fighting it, there was no stopping it.  No matter how hard I tried, I lost all control. So, when did that stop and why do I feel so guilty about it?

Grief, especially with the loss of a child, is a continual event. I have always said that it is a never-ending journey that you must navigate on your own. There is just no “getting over” the loss of a child. There is no moving on. There is no “Time heals all wounds.” Some parents sink into a lifetime of darkness and depression, paralyzed by the emptiness in their soul. Others have no choice but to push their grief way deep down inside of them and move on.  They must survive the unimaginable for ONLY one reason and nothing else…  for the sake of their other living children. I knew I had to become the latter. I had my two other precious children who needed me  to be in the present if only to help them through the worst time of their lives. When everyone else was falling apart around them, I had to keep them intact. I also had my mom, whom I didn’t want to die from her grief of not only losing her first born grandchild but also watching her daughter slowly die a little each day. No, I had to be the strong one. I had to figure out how to mend myself on my own. Little did I know at the time that there is really no mending. It is merely putting a band aid on a wound so deep that would require an endless number of stitches for the rest of your life. Eventually, those stitches become fruitless because the wound never fully heals.

Where is that part written in the Seven stages of Grief?  It never really comes in order anyway:

  1. Shock and denial.
  2. Pain and guilt. …
  3. Anger and bargaining. …
  4. Depression. …
  5. The upward turn. …
  6. Reconstruction and working through. …
  7. Acceptance and hope.

Did this mean I am starting to heal and maybe moving on? Do I want to heal and move on?? Of course I don’t! And ACCEPTANCE? Never, ever.  That would mean that it was OK for Joey to die! What a sick and twisted stage I have landed in and why didn’t anyone warn me?  No, all this means is that there is one more stage of grief.  

  • 8.Affliction, traumatism and confusion

I plan on moving away from it quickly from this stage. I plan on ME controlling it and not IT controlling me!   I will no longer hold my tears, I will not allow someone to say, “sshh don’t cry”.  I will cry in the car, I will cry in the shower, in the grocery store anywhere I damn feel like crying.  I will cry and not stop until my soul is cleansed and at peace. Once the tears stop flowing, I will take a deep breath and I will look up into the heavens and smile.  For only then, will I bring peace to myself, to others…. but especially to Joey.   

A LETTER TO JOEY

My dearest Joey,

I think of you every single day.  I see you everywhere I go. Sometimes, I can even hear your laugh or smell your cologne. Isn’t that what grieving parents do, though?  Look for the child that they lost in every corner of their world, always afraid that the only thing we have left, the memories, may someday fade.  What a dreadful thought. Not remembering the sound of your child’s voice.  I would rather forget my own name.

 On my way to work today, I saw the most beautiful, majestic sunrise! The breathtaking and beautiful piercing colors seem to wrap around me in comfort and give me a feeling of warmth and peace. I knew it was you saying, “good morning momma.” I can always count on that gift from you, honey. As soon as I turn the corner from home, it’s waiting straight ahead for me and like clockwork I smile and whisper, “Good morning, baby. Thank you. I love you.” 

I have come to expect the sunrise but lately, I have witnessed some pretty curious things.  Events that some prolific believers may call “signs”. At first, I tried to dismiss them, but soon enough they became a bit too obvious to put aside.  There are white feathers that seem to follow me everywhere. A beautiful bluebird that sits right by the living room and gently pecks at the window for hours. The Bob Marley songs that play every time I turn on the radio. So, I feel compelled to ask you honey. Is that you trying to get my attention??

You know I was never into Bob Marley until you passed away. There is one particular song that I seem to hear all the time, especially when I am missing you tremendously. I love it so much, I have a print of it in my craft room and a small statue of 3 birds encased in glass. Is it coincidence that I’ve heard ‘Three little birds’ by Bob Marley three times in one day? I think not, my sweet boy! “Every little thing, is gonna be alright”

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Speaking of birds, let us talk about the bird that keeps pecking on the window.  What is going on with that? Naysayers will say it’s Spring and the bird probably sees its reflection in the window. His territorial instincts kick in, BUT every day for 3 weeks in a row, day or evening, pecking for hours at a time…over and over and over again?  Yes, honey, I hear you.

Then there are the feathers. Everywhere I go, there is a white feather. I’ve tried to rationalize this so called ‘sign’ by trying to convince myself that our down bed pillows are shedding.  And the feathers that were stuck on the bottom of my shoe? Well, I probably stepped on them on way into the house from the garage. But, how in the world did 6 feathers feathers form a perfect circle in our bedroom floor??? Oh, and by the way, every feather is white…. but you know that, honey.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">At first I did not want to tell anyone. I didn't want people to think I had finally lost my mind or be labeled as 'that' grieving mother trying so hard to hold on to the memory of their child that their world becomes askew. I would be placed in the category with all those crazies that think they see Elvis on a potato chip or the Virgen Mary on their piece of toast. No, I was just was not ready to share my gifts with the world.At first I did not want to tell anyone. I didn’t want people to think I had finally lost my mind or be labeled as ‘that’ grieving mother trying so hard to hold on to the memory of their child that their world becomes askew. I would be placed in the category with all those crazies that think they see Elvis on a potato chip or the Virgen Mary on their piece of toast. No, I was just was not ready to share my gifts with the world.

 The only person I was brave enough to tell is Scott. Remember when you were little you would run to show me your latest treasure find? Well, that’s how I get when I run to tell Scott about what I found!. He always smiles and hugs me and then reassures me that yes, it IS you trying to reach out to me.  He rubs my back and looks into my eyes and I can’t help but know 1000 percent it is you, baby! I’m so comforted by the fact that he has such deep faith and is a hardcore believer!  But you know that, right? He was ALWAYS encouraging you to believe in God and Heaven.  He prepared you for the wonderous things you would find in Heaven. Aren’t you glad he did? Was he right? Is it as beautiful as he told you?

I really believe it is you, but now and then, I do catch myself doubting.  That scares me. I am afraid that if I do not believe, the signs will stop. That you will throw your hands up in the air, give up on me, and say: “Why bother, momma, if you’re not going to believe. I don’t know what else you want me to do” I get this memory of when I was young and I kind of was starting to believe that Santa was not real BUT just in case, I would still write him a letter. I was afraid not to believe because then what if I didn’t get any presents . What then? Now that I think about it, it wasn’t really about where the presents came from, it was the fear of of losing the magic.  I never want to lose the magic of you.

SO, my sweet boy, keep sending me that beautiful sunrise on my way to work.  Ever so often, appear out of nowhere on my social media feed and let me hear you laugh…i loved your laugh! Keep Bob Marley playing on my radio. Turn that blue bird in to 2 and blow those feathers (your angel wings) all around me!  I see you baby…it’s like you never left….JUST LIKE MAGIC



Love…momma

***EDIT I had just finished this blog but hadn’t posted it because I was planning on checking for errors the following day and I would post it that evening. Today, I was driving to work and I was smiling at another gorgeous sunrise when I got a phone alert from my sons girlfriend. She was missing joey and decided to send me a video ON MY NEWS FEED of him. He was smiling and laughing!! YUP…keep believing in the magic

YOUR WINGS WERE READY…. BUT NOT OUR HEARTS

 A couple weeks ago, I received a text from an old friend telling me that her brother had suddenly passed away.   She told me that her pain was like nothing she had ever experienced and at times it felt unbearable. She felt as if like she was drowning in her own despair.  She told me that it was hard for her to even pretend to know the devastating grief and pain I must endure each and every day.  My reply to her was, that if this is the greatest pain she ever felt, then her pain was as deep as mine. Grief is Grief.  Whether you lose a parent, a sibling, a child.

Reading her words made me think about my children and their journey through all of this. I knew that the pain they felt from Joeys passing was so profound, it cut  down deep into their soul.  I saw it on their faces and heard it in their cries when I arrived at the hospital that horrible day. I remember collapsing into my brother’s arms, begging him to tell me this was all a bad dream. When they saw me, they ran up to me and hugged me as they collapsed into my own arms.  At that moment I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God!  They’ve had to do this twice!  Once with their father and now with me!”  I needed to be strong for them.  I needed to comfort them. I needed to put their shattered lives back together.  While feeling my own soul drift away from me and still reeling from the shock and pain of my shattered heart, I shushed them wiped their tears and asked them to be brave. “We are strong.  We will get through this.”  What else could I say?  What else was there to do?

I asked each of them if they wanted to say something about their brother at the service.  I was not sure if it would be too hard for them to speak but I did not want this moment to go by without them saying their proper goodbyes.  They both agreed and thus began them writing the last few words they would say to their big brother. I didn’t ask either of them what they had written.  This wasn’t a time for proper grammar or punctuation, but rather a time to honor Joey. I wanted it to be all about them and their love for their big brother. When it was time for them to speak, I could not have been prouder.  Their goodbyes were filled with humor, admiration, sadness but most of all, love.  They spoke about being known in school as ‘Joeys little brother or little sister.’  They talked about his sense of humor and his love of sports. They expressed remorse that he wouldn’t be around to witness his sister get married or watch his niece and nephew grow up.  They both promised that they would tell their children who their Uncle Joey was and teach them that whenever they see a butterfly, that would be Uncle Joey saying hi. 

I am proud to say my children kept their word. Aubrianna was only 1 and a half, Ares was 4 months and Hayden was only a dream in his momma’s heart when Joey passed away. He would come along 3 years later.  Even though they were too young to have memories of him, my heart skips a beat when Aubrianna tells me that she dreamt of her uncle Joey and that he was teaching her how to kick a soccer ball.  Or whenever we see a butterfly both Aubri and Ares yell out in excitement “Look Abuelita, there’s Uncle Joey!” With Hayden, I can’t help but believe that he met his uncle Joey up in heaven.  His mannerisms, his smile, his ability to throw a ball remind me so much of him!  I’ve watched him walk up to a 3-foot angel I have on a high ledge in our kitchen with a huge smile on his face. He stops, points at it then starts babbling and waving to it!  He’ll look over at me as if he’s saying “Look Abuelita, there’s Uncle Joey!  He told me all about you!” My heart is full.

Though our Joey is gone, his spirit, his laugh, his love will continue to live on.  He exists in the minds of my children, in the hearts of my grandchildren and on the wings of a butterfly.