Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Sick Momma Is A Guilty Momma

Peanut -

Momma is under the weather.  Another battle with a lifelong throat ailment, combined with a terrible allergy season in St. Louis.  It all feels so familiar.  Too familiar.  Much like the sinus infection I was fighting the week before you died.  

I've always worried my illness got you sick.  We know you had bronchitis that day.  A slight fever.  What if Momma hadn't brought her sinus infection into the house?  Would you still be alive?  What if I was a healthier, stronger Momma?  Would you have been strong enough to fight whatever it was that told your little brain to stop breathing?

And now...Momma is sick with The Pickle still being so young.  So vulnerable.  I'm afraid to touch him, or give him kisses.  I can't get him sick.  I can't, I can't, I can't.

It's been an overwhelming few days, and Momma's brain is playing tricks.  The trigger?  Dadda and I met with the amazing, compassionate lead doctor from the SUDC Research Project on Friday.  He spent over an hour with us, explaining all their findings, answering our questions.  He did confirm you had bronchitis, but has ruled your cause of death (or, lack thereof) as SUDC with bronchitis as a contributing factor.  Your report will now be sent to the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's Office.  And Momma will continue the fight for acknowledgement of SUDC.  To get your death certificate changed.  To make sure your death is counted as SUDC for the purposes of research, federal funding, and CDC recognition.

Peanut, your report, your research, is special to SUDC.  Why?  Because so many of the other SUDC children have a history of febrile seizures.  But not you.  The medical science you have been able to contribute is so valuable...I believe it will contribute to finding a cause, and eventually methods of prevention, of SUDC.

Earlier today, a member of the SUDC organization posted the quote below on one of the parent discussion boards and it seemed so perfect in terms of timing, and what Momma has been processing over the last weekend:

"The reality is that we don't forget, move on, and have closure, but rather we honor, we remember, and incorporate our deceased...into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey." ~ Harriet Schiff

Peanut, you are still alive.  In my mind.  My heart.  My soul.  And, in your little brother and his smile.  And in the wonderful, loving way I see Dadda being a father to him and a husband to me.  I see you in every good deed, every kind gesture, every sparkle of the sun, every butterfly that crosses my path.  You are in the fireflies that emerged this evening and the froggies singing outside my window.  

My angel son, please be a super watchful angel brother to The Pickle tonight.  Please help me keep him alive, and not get him sick.  Please feel how much I love you, how much I miss you...how much I would give anything and everything just to have you here again.  

I love you, Peanut - to the moon and back!
- Momma

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

Peanut -

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  A federal holiday that originated in the US after the American Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers of that war.  As the years passed it became a more expansive holiday, including fallen heroes of all wars and eventually a day of remembrance for all the loved ones we have lost.  Of course, for those of us who have suffered intense, close loss every day is "memorial" day.

All the news stations are featuring special segments linked to tomorrow's holiday, most of them highlighting our military service men and women, and their families.  As one program closed this morning, they ran a video montage of soldiers and their families...with one of your favorite songs as background music.  Yep.  Zac Brown Band's "Chicken Fried"!  Dadda and I made sure to explain to The Pickle just how special this song is, and we helped him bop and groove while the music played.  The moment brought everything full circle in Momma's brain.

Navigating Year Two without you, while also experiencing all the new milestones with your little brother, has been confusing, wonderful, awful, interesting, and hopeful.  To introduce him to the shows you loved, to feed him the sweet potatoes you couldn't get enough of, to read him some of your favorite stories...reawakens so many delightful memories.  Forgotten little moments.  And Momma has come to realize, the little moments are the ones that sustain us.  The ones that, in retrospect, are the most important.

To that end, Dadda and I are taking care to document every moment with Pickle.  Even more than we did with you, if you can believe it.  And, Momma is also making sure Pickle has his own set of "new" experiences.  Toys that are his, just his.  Stories and books that are specific to him.  He will forever live with the presence of you in his life, but he will not live in your shadow.

US Vice-President Joe Biden gave a moving speech yesterday in honor of Memorial Day.  The theme was rooted in his own loss - the loss of a wife a daughter 40 years ago in a car accident.  He acknowledged how easy it is to WANT to give up on life after suffering so tremendous a loss.  How easy it would be to commit suicide, or ever get out of bed again.  But, it is our duty, our responsibility to get back up, to hold our faces to the sun, to find hope and smiles.  To live in honor of - and TO honor - the children and spouses we have said "farewell" to far too soon.  To show them how much better they made us and the world.  To give them a reason to smile from heaven, and send us butterflies and froggies and wind to blow our pinwheels and wind chimes.  Because, someday soon, we will see them again.

To quote the necklace Dadda gave me after The Pickle was born - "Someday we will all fly together."

Peanut, I hope we make you proud.  I hope our actions give you a reason to beam your sunshine smile across heaven.  I hope you know how much we miss you.  I hope you realize my love for you continues to grow, day by day.  How much?  To the mooooooooon and back!  

- Momma

The Froggy statue made by Peanut's class at school.  It now sits in their Butterfly Garden.

Every child in his class added their fingerprints to Froggy's back.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pomp & Circumstance (March No. 1)

Peanut -

Tonight Momma watched the twins graduate from high school.  This amazing brother and sister who I've had the honor and privilege to call "son" and "daughter" for the last four years and I've known for the last six.  These tall, strong 18 year old adults who I've watched transform from middle school pre-teens, to 16 years olds with drivers licenses to high school graduates, preparing for college and beyond.  I am so proud.

Tonight, as the processional music echoed through the large basketball arena that housed the graduation ceremonies Momma reflected...this is one more life event Peanut will never get to experience.  In this season of kindergarten, elementary school and high school graduations I am having to face the reality that we never got to celebrate any true graduations for you.  While we did get to move you from the infant room at school to the toddler room, there was never an opportunity to celebrate the life-stage progression.

Without realizing I was doing it, I scanned the entire graduation program.  Every name of every graduate...in a class of 500 or so kids.  I was looking for your name.  Connor.  And there they were.  A few spelled differently, and some with Connor as a middle name.  But you were there.

At the beginning of the ceremony every graduate had a baby or childhood photo flashed on the jumbo-tron which then faded into their senior photo.  I tried to picture you...which baby picture would I have submitted?  What would that senior photo look like?  Would you have been a football or hockey player?  Soccer?  Would you have been a music/choir/drama kid?  I imagine you would be tall, like Dadda.  Broad shouldered, with shocking blonde hair and those brilliant blue eyes.  A heart-breaker.  Smart as a whip.  I can see you in that black gown and cap, ready to take on college and the world.

That is the future that should have been.

Instead, tonight I watched a stadium filled with kids graduate from high school.  And I was reminded.  This is one more thing Peanut will never get to do.

Year two of life without you is...well...it's a bitch.  There is no softer word for it.  I miss you.  I want you back.  Here.  With me.  I want to hold you, hug you, kiss you.  I want to watch you swim, and run and talk a million miles an hour.  I want to watch you sleep without fear.  I want to hear you say, "I love you Momma."  And I want to say, "I love you back, Peanut.  To the mooooooooon and back!"


Monday, May 21, 2012

Baby Mine

Peanut -

The last few days have been hard on Momma.

It all started on May 17, the day Pickle turned four months old.  We took him to see your wonderful pediatrician and it brought back so many memories.  Memories of visits to the same doctor, the same office and the same set of vaccinations - with you.  During the appointment we got the green light to start your little brother on pureed fruits, veggies and some cereal.  Joy!

That evening we excitedly prepared a little bowl of rice cereal for The Pickle, outfitted him with his super-durable stain-resistant bib, and proceeded to introduce him to a whole new food sensation.  He was unsure, a little cautious.  The texture seemed quite foreign.  I'm pretty sure more cereal wound up on the bib than in his belly.  But...he got it.  A big smile crept across his face once he recovered from the initial shock.  And I felt like I was watching you all over again.

The next day we took Pickle's four month photos.  The morning was clear blue, with a slight southern breeze and a full, bright sun.  Dadda and I made sure we both could be home for the photos...a hard lesson learned.  Almost none of your pictures include both me and Dadda.  What a huge regret.  This time will be different.  But...this time should also have you in the pictures.  And, it hit me.  Here we are, blissfully planning ahead again.  What if Pickle gets ripped away from us too?  Did I not learn my lesson?

This same theme continued in Momma's brain all weekend combined with intense fear.  Poor Pickle had an over-vigilant Momma watching him every second while he tried to nap.  Checking him to make sure his chest was rising and falling with breath.  Feeling his forehead to make sure he wasn't warm.  Irrational actions that didn't serve any good, and probably just made me crazier.

Then, this morning it all came crashing down, this strong "I'm OK" mask I've been wearing for days.  On the drive into work Momma's iPod decided to issue a swift kick to my heart.  Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, with no place to pull off or escape, "Baby Mine" started playing.  The haunting, perfectly beautiful lullaby from Disney's Dumbo.  Our song.  The song I sang to my belly while I was pregnant with you.  The song I whispered to you in the wee hours of the morning right after we brought you home as a newborn.  The song that calmed you when you would fuss in Momma's car.

Cue the tears.

Peanut, I wept for you in a way I haven't cried in a while.  A constant, steady cry hidden by my sunglasses and protected by heavy, standstill traffic.  No heaving sobs.  No hysterics.  Just tears.  A lot of tears.  And an aching heart.

Traffic slowly began to roll forward, and as Momma rounded a bend in the rode the sun broke out from behind the clouds.  Brilliant, surrounded by a cornflower blue sky.  A sense of calm, of love, embraced me.  It literally washed over me with a giant hug.  A familiar hug.  A Peanut hug.  I simply uttered "Peanut" with a little smile.

I felt you today.  You hugged me.  So powerful.  So overwhelming I haven't spoken about it to anyone.  My angel, my son, my baby.  I love you so, so, so very much.  To the moooooon and back!

- Momma

Peanut ("Baby Bird") enjoying every bite of food @ 10 months.

Pickle's first brush with cereal!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy Makes Me Cry

Peanut -

This afternoon Momma was lounging on the couch, Pickle nestled in my arms cooing and laughing, while Secretariat played on TV.  Henry snoozed in his crate, and the ceiling fans whirred away to battle the 92 degree heat that has blanketed St. Louis.  The house was peaceful, quiet, still.

And I burst into tears.

You see, Peanut, the scene was almost perfect.  With one major exception.  You aren't here.  And I realized, there will never, ever be a "perfect" moment again in my life.  Every triumph, every celebration, every momentous occasion will feel incomplete.

So...this is what they mean when they say the second year is harder than the first.  The first year is all about the milestones and survival.  Just getting out of bed in the morning.  Taking a shower.  Eating.  Year two seems to be about coming to terms with reality.  The future.  A lifetime without my little boy.

I saw this quote earlier this week from the founder of The Compassionate Friends, and it spoke to me:
"Gifts our loved ones have given us can't be measured in the years they lived.  These gifts are measured by the love we shared with them."

Peanut, the love I share with you is what drives Momma to continue to live a full lifetime.  To move beyond mere survival.  To be better.  Stronger.  Kinder.  In 16.5 months of life you gave me a lifetime of love and lessons.  I only wish there had been more time.  A lifetime of Peanut hugs and kisses.

I miss you more than ever.  I love you more than ever.  How much?  To the moon - and back.

- Momma

Playing with Aunt Colleen's kitchen storage containers.  Fun!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Once Upon A Time

Peanut -

Tonight Momma is going to tell you the bedtime story she never got to share.  The story of your family.  Of us.  Of you.  Is it a fairy tale?  Hmmm...probably not.  But, it is a work in progress.

Once upon a time a boy met a girl.  They were 13 years old during a dark, strange time in music and fashion.  The 1980s.  Over the next six years they became friends, dated and fell in love.  But then they turned 18, graduated from high school and went their separate ways.  He got married, had several children, worked a hard but steady job and eventually divorced.  She went to college, traveled the world and the US, found purpose in work, and had a brief failed marriage.

Almost twenty years later they met again, this girl and boy.  And they fell in love all over again.  They decided this wasn't just luck, it was fate, so they got married with a burning desire to have a baby.  Six months later, the girl and boy were blessed with morning sickness and a positive pregnancy test.  You.

Nine months later, a teeny, tiny Peanut was born after a quick, easy labor.  And, the girl and boy became Momma and Dadda.  The following 16.5 months were blessed.  Blissful.  Perfect.  A fairy tale.

This should be the end of the story, right?  Wrong.  Greek tragedy came barreling into our world on January 26, 2011.  Your death broke every belief, every ounce of faith Momma possessed.  Things like this don't happen to us.  To people we know.  Bad, awful, horrific things don't happen to US.  They happen to other people.  Right?  Wrong again.

You see, Peanut, Momma falsely thought we deserved happiness.  We had earned this blissful life and perfect little son.  I somehow believed we were entitled to a future with no blemishes.  No hurt.  No dark times.  No tragedy.

Yet, here we are.  Blessed with the love and memories of you.  Changed forever, for the better, because of our Peanut.  And now we have your little brother - a life, a child we never planned to have.  Our hearts forever shattered but pieced back together.  Our spirits forever fragile.  But.  We are still here.

Once upon a time a Momma and a Dadda had an amazing, special, precious little boy.  Peanut.  He was taken from earth far too soon, but the love he created defies all boundaries of space, time, reality.  His impact created The Peanut Effect, and he lives on...across the universe.  Across eternity.  Forever in his Momma's heart.

I love you, Peanut.  Beyond the moon - and back.

- Momma

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Blooming Momma

Peanut -

Last spring a wonderful friend from high school honored you at her church during a service of remembrance.  A vibrant pink hydrangea was placed in front of the congregation during the service, and was then donated to Momma and Dadda.  Momma instantly gave it its own big, sturdy planter, and placed  the plant - so full of life, so joyful, so Peanut-like - on our back deck.  As fall approached, I reluctantly cut the branches back, fearful I would never see it produce its lush blooms again.

Over the last several months Momma has checked on the hydrangea, just to make sure there was a trace of green, of life.  In March little green leaves began to sprout, which quickly transformed into fuzzy, deep green fans.   But...no blooms.  No flowers.

It was halfway there, but didn't show promise of being restored to its original beauty.  Momma can relate. On this Mother's Day eve, I am surprised to find I'm looking forward to tomorrow.  To celebrate the powerful love motherhood has opened in my heart.  To celebrate my children - all my children.  The four wonderful stepchildren I married along with Dadda.  You, my Peanut Angel.  Chickpea.  Pickle.  But always hyper-aware of the looming absence of my Peanut.  The hole in my heart has almost healed, but in its place is a jagged, ropey scar.

This afternoon I happened to glance outside while standing at the kitchen sink, washing one of Pickle's bottles.  A flash of pink caught my eye.  <gasp!>  Could it be?  Are those...?  Yes.  Yes!  YES!  Overnight, the hydrangea has exploded with blooms.  It is...stunning.  While it isn't the same as last year - the pinks are different and the shape of the plant is more round - it is perfect in its new form.  And I wonder...maybe Momma has undergone a similar transformation.  I will never be the same Momma.  I will never "get over" the loss of you.  I will never smile, laugh, sigh or cry without you being at the front of my mind.  My pinks are a new shade.  My form is different, softer.  But, I am still Momma.  I will forever be Peanut's Momma.

Tomorrow I will hold Pickle in my embrace, I will breathe in his amazing baby smell, I will melt in the glow of his smile, and I will watch his little sleep grins while he snoozes in my arms.  Tomorrow I will watch every video of you.  Gaze at every picture we ever took.  I will open the binder that holds every piece of your artwork from school.  I will read "Guess How Much I Love You" to myself, to your brother and to you.  I will smile.  I will cry.  I will be Momma.  Your Momma.  The Momma who loves you tremendously.  To the moon....and back!

- Momma

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Peanut, Beans and Pickle

Peanut -

Do you remember watching Momma and Dadda at this time last year?  The days leading up to Mother's Day?  A weekend Momma was dreading as it drove the sharp knife of grief deeper and deeper into my heart...salt in the proverbial wound.  But then - poof!  A double rainbow appeared in the sky.  A sign of hope and of the future.

We confirmed we were pregnant.  With twins.

That's right.  Momma and Dadda - with the assistance of friends, family, doctors, and prayers - confirmed we were pregnant with your siblings.  As guilty as it made me feel, I also knew it was meant to be.  These babies were a gift from you.  The children we never planned to have...but the legacy of you that needed to be realized.

We immediately started calling them Lima Bean and Chickpea. Unknowingly, it was our attempt to give them an identity.  Something close to you but also different.  Our attempt to recognize these little lives who represented a new future.  A reason to live.

Momma went from drinking too much and relying on sleeping pills for silent sleep to a steady diet of water, fruits, veggies and peanut butter.  My brain had to relive the horror of January 26 in the wee hours of the morning as I struggled to find peace in non-medicated sleep.  And just as I felt us swimming out of the murky waters, devastation struck once again.

We lost Chickpea.

But there was your little brother on the ultrasound screen.  Strong.  Surviving.  Active.  The Bean.  His presence, his survival, whispered to us, "Stay strong.  You are meant to be parents."  So, we quietly wept for Chickpea...the sister and daughter and pink, ruffled, blonde little girl of Momma's dreams.  And we held on to the promise of The Bean.

And now, he is here.  He is almost 4 months old.  He is stubborn.  Strong willed.  Happy.  Funny.  He just found his laugh this week.  And, he resembles you in so many ways, but is still very much his own hilarious little self.  In short, he has morphed into - Pickle.

As we prepare for Mother's Day, I am filled with joy. And sorrow.  I am thankful.  I am sad.  Grief and sadness and sunshine and hope...these are my constant companions.  I have been blessed to carry three children.  I have been lucky enough to hold and kiss two of them.  And now, I am thankful to have one.


I pray for the chance to watch him grow into a little boy.  A young man.  A teenager.  A college graduate.  A husband.  A father.  I also pray to wake up and find him alive in the morning.  After his nap.  After a car ride.  In short, I am thankful for every second of every moment of every day.

Peanut, you taught me what it is to be a mom.  To love without reservation.  To love selflessly.  To love.  Your brother will reap the benefits of everything you have taught me.  I will be a better mom, a better person, a better friend and daughter, because of you.  To quote an earlier post, I have been changed...for good.

My amazing little Peanut with your blonde curls, clear blue eyes, expressive forehead, musical laugh, dexterous fingers, squeezable tush, and amazingly strong hugs.  My Peanut.  My little boy.  My son.  I miss you so desperately it makes Momma's arms, heart, body ache.  It hurts so much because I love you so very much.  How much?  Well, that's easy.  To the moooooooooooon and back!

- Momma

One of my all-time favorite pictures, taken at 3 months.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sleep Smiles

Peanut -

Back on January 16, Momma wrote you a letter titled, "Responsibilities of An Angel Brother."  It was the night before we headed to the hospital to have The Bean, and I was reflecting on what a terrific brother you would've been if you were still on earth - but what an amazing angel brother you now get to be for Bean as you watch over him from heaven.

Well, Peanut, I can tell you have already surpassed ALL Momma's expectations.

How can I tell?  I can see it when he sleeps.

Sleep - a time that brings such fear and panic to your Momma.  A time that should be quiet and still, but is instead filled with anxiety.  A time when I keep constant watch over your brother, just to make sure he is still breathing.

But, something beautiful has happened in the midst of those vigilant hours.  I've gotten to witness smiles, giggles, little half grins that appear out of nowhere while The Bean snoozes peacefully.  I truly believe sleep is when you visit your brother, tell him funny stories, share your favorite episodes of The Backyardigans, and talk about all the cool toys and adventures waiting for him.  You tell him about all the sports and games he will get to play...all the things you never got to experience.  But, knowing you'll be with him every step of the way.

And through this a sense of calm has settled in over Momma's heart.  You ARE with him every step of the way.  You are here when he takes bath, kicks and grasps toys on his playmat.  And, when he sleeps.  So, despite my fear I have to give in to my faith.  Faith that you are his angel brother and protector, watching over him - and us - from heaven. 

I love you, Peanut.  And ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh how I miss you.  Wishing you were somehow here with us, physically.  To the mooooooon and back!

- Momma

Surrounded by all your favorite toys.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Window Boxes

Peanut -

Dadda and I filled our window boxes today. We chose vibrant purples and sunshine yellows plus some brilliant froggy green vines.  Plus, two whole boxes full of herbs, spices and other deliciousness.  Despite the summer-like heat (90+ degrees) in St. Louis, it felt good to do this outdoor work.  It felt like one more piece of closure.

Last summer the window boxes hung empty.  We didn't have the heart to fill them, but also didn't have the heart to remove the hollow boxes.  Like everything else in our house and lives, time stood still.  We couldn't move forward.  Couldn't stop looking back.

It's the small actions.  The seemingly trivial activities that symbolize so much.  Making the exterior of the house look appealing.  Driving through McDonald's.  Getting a glass of ice water first thing on a Saturday morning.  The little movements that represented Life With Peanut.  And now, these are reforming into Life With The Bean While Remembering Peanut.

Every day I see your brother looking over my shoulder with a giant smile.  A burst of laughter.  I know he sees you.  I know you are telling him jokes and secrets.  You are reassuring him that everything will be OK for him.  He is safe and happy.

Every day I feel you telling me, "Momma, it's OK to laugh and smile.  It's OK to watch The Backyardigans.  It's OK to fill the window boxes again."

So, today we did just that.  We filled the window boxes.  All of them except one.  The one outside your bedroom window.  That one will remain empty.  Because...well...it just seems right.  Not everything moves forward.

Peanut, Momma loves you soooooooo much.  On this night when we are expecting the SUPER MOON, I tell you this - I love you to the moon and back.  And beyond the super moon!

- Momma

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Size 4 Diaper

Peanut -

Several months after your passing Momma ran into your diaper bag.  It was sitting in your closet, still fully packed, waiting for our next outing.  It had gathered a thin layer of dust, causing its chocolate brown exterior to look slightly gray.  And, it looked sad.  Lonely.

Your diaper bag was one of the last items we cleaned out and packed away.  In the end, it was simply too difficult for Momma to touch or look at, so Dadda took ownership of the job.  After the bag was stored, I sought out and saved one item.  A ridiculous but meaningful item.  One of your size 4 diapers.  It still sits on a shelf in Momma's closet, right where I can see it every morning while I get dressed for work.

You see, Peanut, that diaper allows me to see you.  I glance at its size, its form, the enthusiastic Elmo dancing on the front, and I can immediately picture your adorable little tush.  Your belly button.  Your long, skinny legs wobbling around the TV room, clad only in a t-shirt and diaper.

Your little brother is about to graduate to size 2 diapers.  I wonder how my heart is going to feel the day he moves up to size 4?  Will the images become confused?  Will it reawaken the pain and grief?  Or, will my heart and brain simply work it out as they have done so many other events and emotions?

No matter what, I'm pretty sure your size 4 diaper will always sit on my shelf.  I'm convinced it holds a dim shadow of you...one I can almost physically touch if I close my eyes hard enough.  I close them tight often, hoping I can convince the universe to give you back to me.  In the meantime, thought, I'm sending you Momma love...to the moon - and back!

- Momma