Monday, April 30, 2012

Turning 40

Peanut -

Tomorrow is Momma's birthday.  I turn 40, which for most people provokes groans, dread, and denial.  For me it is an altogether different set of emotions, many of which conflict and confuse.  But, after all we've handled these last 16 months, they do make strange sense.

I feel grateful.  For another day.  Another sunrise and sunset.  For The Bean and his already constant smile.  For Dadda and the amazing love, friendship and partnership we enjoy.

I feel sadness.  For the looming absence at my birthday dinner table.  For the little boy who will never get to celebrate his own birthdays.

I feel a sense of injustice.  Why have I been given the gift of 40 years?  Of another birthday?  Why couldn't I pass this gift along to my precious Peanut?  You deserve it so much more than I do.

I feel love.  Love for you that grows every day.  Love for The Bean, that truly has taught me that grief and love are not mutually exclusive and can reside side-by-side, sharing Momma's heart.  The love of friends and family who surround and support us on a daily basis.  Friends and family who remember this time last year, when Momma had no desire to live, smile or celebrate - and who breathe a sigh of relief as my smile returns to an easy, comfortable place.

I feel a sense of purpose.  Purpose to honor you and make you proud.  Purpose to make the most of these 40 years - and for every year beyond.  To show that I deserve to be here, and to share your lessons with the world.

Peanut, these events of personal celebration bring a cloak of sadness to Momma...unanticipated periods of reflection and questioning.  Rather than dwell in the cellar of sadness, I choose to lift up my chin and smile to the heavens - for you.  To you.  My wee Peanut.

I know you will be with us tomorrow as we have dinner and toast to another year.  I will hear your tiny Peanut voice saying, "Happy Birthday, Momma" and I'm pretty sure I'll receive a giant Peanut hug in my dreams.

Loving you, missing you, longing for you.  To the moon - and back.

- Momma

Peanut during our May birthday celebration in 2010.
Check out the cool sock/shirt combo!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Letter From Em

Peanut - 

I have a letter to share tonight from your sister.  She is Dadda's daughter from his first marriage, but a daughter and sister we have always felt as part of our heart and soul from the start. We love her tremendously and she loves and misses you. As she prepares to leave for college in the fall, life has hit her squarely between the eyes. I post this tonight, for her - for you.  

To the moon and back, sweet 'Nut.
- Momma

Peanut, this morning I woke early to drive down to Columbia, Missouri to register for my classes at Stephens College in the fall. Everyone I met today was great and they wanted to know all about your only sister. I have six brothers! WOWWWW! How in the world did I manage that? What are the names and ages of all of them? I got stuck on your age because do I say, “Oh Connor is two’, or do I tell them, ‘he’s 16 and a half months old.” My brain froze on this question and I stuck with 16.5 months, because that’s what you are in my mind. Forever 16.5 months old. When I told one mother in specific about you, Peanut, she wanted to know what exciting things you were learning to do at your age. This one got me. Why in the world did she ask about you in specific?

I had every urge to excuse myself to the bathroom, to cry in a stall by myself. But what good would that do? So I told her your story. It was strange, she had actually heard about you. In fact, she worked at the hospital where we spent that dreadful morning after your death. I told her all about your fear of walking and how you finally conquered it just weeks before your death. She let the story fall away, and changed the subject. But it stuck with me. I tried changing my mood the rest of the day but I couldn’t get you off my mind.

Just a few hours later, on the rainy drive back home I still had you on my brain. Just when I started thinking of other things, my iPod skipped to “Talking to the Moon” by Bruno Mars. Peanut, I’m sure you have heard me belt this out to you millions of times when I’m missing you. The song starts with,

“I know you're somewhere out there, Somewhere far away, I want you back, I want you back.”

I lost it Connor. I pulled off at the next exit, parked my car at an abandoned gas station and listened to the song four of five times. I replayed it while I was crying, singing the beautiful but mournful lyrics to you. I missed you so much. I wanted so bad to be able to call you and tell you all about my visit, which dorm I picked and which classes I signed up for. I know being almost three you would have listened, not understanding any of it, but giggling at the stories of the crazy people I met today.

After my crying binge, I felt shame for breaking down like I did. I’m the biggest advocate for turning your pain into a positive feeling. For not regretting the things one misses, but reminiscing on the good times they got to share with their loved one.

Peanut, I need you to know that I cherish every moment I got to spend with you and I will NEVER, for as long as a live, forget one second of it. I love you Peanut. I can’t wait to see you again, all grown up. I love you wider than my arms can spread and my legs can stretch. Until we meet again, be listening tonight, when I’m talking to the moon, and you, sweet boy.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Worst Phone Calls. Ever.

Peanut -

On the drive home from work this evening I started trying to replay the conversations, the phone calls, Dadda and I had immediately after leaving the hospital on January 26, 2011.  How did we talk to our friends?  Who did we call?

This line of thought opened up a whole stream of memories I had pushed aside.  I forgot about calling my boss in the moments after they pronounced you dead.  When I walked out to the ambulance bay, across the driveway in the frigid January air.  The exhaust and diesel fumes were overwhelming.  But, there I stood, sobbing into my cell phone at 7:00 am.  He wasn't at the office yet and I clearly caught him off guard.  Our jovial work relationship prompted him to answer with a sarcastic remark, until he heard me choke out, "Connor died this morning."

That phrase is one that came out of my mouth repeatedly that day. As we called friends we had just seen days earlier.  Family several states away.  All of them picking up their phones with a smile when they saw our number, only to be greeted with that awful, blunt statement.

And then...they cried.  And supported us.  And came to St. Louis to bid you farewell, hug Momma and Dadda, and try to somehow understand what happened.  They hugged their own children a little harder.  Watched their children sleep.  Checked on them throughout the night.  Because, if it can happen to Peanut it can happen to any of us.

Those initial phone calls are nothing you ever prepare for, or even think about, in the grand plan of life.  Maybe a phone call about an aging parent or ill relative, but never ever ever your 16.5 month old, healthy little boy.  I wish now I had known a better, more gentle way to place those calls.  But, then again, nothing about your loss has been soft or kind.

Peanut, I miss you so much.  This has been a tough week...maybe due to the summer-like weather?  Or the approach of Mother's Day?  I keep picturing you as you should be today.  Marching towards age 3, talking and running and full of personality.  A little boy.  My little boy.

I love you.  Bunches and bunches of noodles.  To the moon - and back!

- Momma
Christmas 2009

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Shine On

Peanut -

An unavoidable milestone is looming ahead of Momma.  It's one that will symbolize, for Momma, the slamming of a door.  A chapter ending.

June 9, 2012.  500 Days Without Peanut.

When June 10 dawns, we will officially be living in a world where we've been without you longer than we were blessed to be with you, holding and hugging you every day.

This date frightens me.  What it represents is something I can't quite wrap my brain around.  We should have had you with us forever.  You should have outlived us.  Instead, we continue to have birthdays.  Go to work.  Have dinner with friends.  And, we are reminded just how short 16.5 months, 500 days, truly is.  How precious and fleeting life can be.  How it is brutal, raw and without reason - but also beautiful and to be cherished and appreciated.

A few months ago, a dear friend of ours gave Momma and Dadda a candle to light next to your picture on the fireplace mantle.  I glanced at it yesterday, and it spoke to my heart:

There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone, the light remains.

Peanut, your light was so brilliant, so gorgeous, yet so brief. continues to shine.  Your light remains and seems to grow brighter.  Your Peanut Effect is the light you have left this world, and all who love you.  And, as I've grown to realize, people didn't have to know you to love you, to partake in your Peanut Effect, to pass it along.

Many friends, family and readers have asked, "What is the future of the blog?  Will it end after 500 days?"  I don't think so.  As long as there are letters to write, memories, lessons to learn, stories to share, and ripples of your Peanut Effect across the world, I will probably continue to write.  Because, Peanut, this is how I talk to you and also plan to share you with The Bean.  Even if no one reads these pages in the future, I have them to share with you and your little brother.

Shine on, Peanut.  Shine on.

With loads of love - to the moon and back!
- Momma

Peanut pic that sits on our mantle.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rumor Has It...

Peanut -

In recent weeks a new breed of question has emerged from acquaintances, co-workers, distant friends.  It seems to be a line of questioning no one felt comfortable approaching in those early, raw months.  But, now that we've given birth to The Bean, and we've passed the One Year mark, this particular type of questioning must feel more comfortable.  Easier.  Less intrusive.

The question is essentially the same, although it takes on many forms - some softer, more gentle, more subtle than others.  Regardless, I'm struggling with the appropriate answer.  In general, the dialogue goes something like this:

"So...what happened?  How did Peanut REALLY die?"

Sometimes it's followed with, "I heard it was <fill in the blank>."

The blank has ranged from SIDS to meningitis to influenza to suffocation to the one answer that seems unbelievable, unthinkable, to anyone and everyone - including me.

"Is it true you really have no idea HOW or WHY he died????"

  Yes.  Yes, that is essentially true.

Last Friday - the 13th - we received a draft of your final study results from the SUDC Research Project.  They confirmed what we suspected all along.  SUDC.  Yes, they confirmed you had a trace of bronchitis, which could have been a contributing factor.  But, as we have suspected from the beginning, bronchitis doesn't kill otherwise healthy children.

So, now what?  Peanut, with these study results in hand I will fight for you.  For SUDC.  For recognition of this unrecognized, unknown, terrifying killer of toddlers.  I will fight for all the other mommas out there who struggle to answer the horrifying, dreaded questions, "So....what happened?  How did your child REALLY die?"  In the future, when those mommas answer, "SUDC" there will be awareness.  Acknowledgment.  And someday there will be more known about how to prevent it.

Until that day, I will fight.

Charlie Dooley, Dr. Mary Case, Dr. Dolores Gunn.  I am putting you on notice.  Look out.  Peanut's Momma is back in business.

Peanut, I am forever fueled by my love for you.  Fierce Peanut Love.  To the moon and back!

- Momma

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Changed...For Good

Peanut -

Six months after you were born, Dadda and I took a "grown up" trip to NYC, and left you in St. Louis with Grandma and Grandpa. It was a wonderful time for me and Dadda to reconnect, and for you to get some time alone with your grandparents. While we were in NY, Dadda and I went to see one of my favorite musicals - Wicked. The amazing music, clever story, costumes, and tremendous staging made this one of the highlights of the trip for Momma. However, I was beyond ready to return home at the end of our trip because I missed you so much. Momma even grabbed an early flight home just to get a few more hours with you.

How strange to think back on that time in our lives. A time when we left you for a whole weekend. A time when we took for granted you would still be here, waiting for us. An assumption you would always be here. A wonderfully naive time in our lives, when children don't - can't - die.

I now listen to music from Wicked with a different ear. It always makes me a little sad, a little regretful. I can't help but think of the lost moments we'll never get back. The music I will never get to share with you.

There is also a new meaning to many of the lyrics. In particular, the song "For Good." It popped up on my iPod rotation today, after having breakfast with Joey's momma. What odd, but wonderfully appropriate timing. Everything about this song represents your beautiful impact on me...this verse, in particular:

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Peanut, because I had you, loved you, knew you. Because I still see you, feel you, love you. I have been changed. For good.

Loving you to the moon and back.

- Momma

Friday, April 13, 2012

Healing Pictures

Peanut -

Momma is testing a new format for your that allows me and the readers to enjoy a full array of Peanut Pics. Few things give me as much pleasure as reviewing your 500 days of pictures.  To see the progression of you - from newborn to infant to toddler.  Always my beautiful little boy.  A little boy who held a world of potential.  Potential never fully realized, dreams cut short.

As your little brother grows bigger and stronger day by day, I find myself creating hopes and dreams for him.  Many of them are the same dreams I had for you.  But, I can't help but wonder, "Can this happen to us again?"  "Am I a fool for thinking about the future?"  "Am I setting myself up for more heartbreak?"

But, I have to dream.  Just as I had to allow my heart to open up and love without reservation.  As I look at the display of your life in pictures, I see the unbridled joy in your smile, and I know part of that is due to the way we loved you on this earth.  Love without fear.  Love without hesitation.  Love that is so strong it grows every day, beyond the boundaries of this world.

That is the type of love we owe The Bean.  And our friends and family.  It is the love I strive to remember and hold onto, even while the pressures of life and work bear down.  When I feel an edge creep into my voice, or a snappy comment lurking beneath the surface, I think of you.  Your smile.  Your laugh.  Your Peanut Hugs.  And I take a deep breath and smile.

Peanut, you make me a better person and Momma every day.  I hope in sharing your story, your pictures and your smile, I can share this gift with others around the world.  Because, my sweet, amazing son, THAT is your Peanut Effect.

I love you.  How much? To the moooooooon and back!

- Momma

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Caterpillar and The Butterfly

Peanut -

A few weeks ago I came across a quote from author Richard Bach that struck me, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, of the possible meanings:
"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly."

It wasn't lost on your Momma that one of your favorite books was The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Or that we had the same butterfly visitor all spring and summer last year...a visitor who came when I needed you, missed you most.  Or that we chose to decorate your little brother's room with a Hungry Caterpillar theme...including giant canvas prints of the caterpillar and the butterfly.

Tonight on the drive home from work Momma's iPod stuck it to her, once again.  Peanut, I totally forgot I copied the audio of Eric Carle reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my iTunes account.  In all this time, it never popped up.  Until this evening, as I sat in bumper to bumper traffic.

Despite the wonderful memories evoked by this wonderful story and its delightful artwork, I have been unable to read it cover to cover since your death.  But today I sat and listened to the story's author read it, with his odd cadence, without any urge to forward through the track.  As I listened, I remembered. you loved the little egg on the leaf illuminated by the light of the moon.  And the giant orange sun that burst into the sky across the page.  The caterpillar's binge on Saturday with that cherry pie you just couldn't stop pointing to, over and over and over.  The bright green leaf he consumed the following day to soothe his achy tummy.  And then...TA DA!  The miraculous transformation of this fat caterpillar from cocoon to a BEEEEYOOOOUUUUTIFUL butterfly!  We would turn to that final page and you always gasped with wide blue eyes, then you would smile, clap and laugh.  And, together you and I would cry out, "YAY!"

So, maybe the quote above means a lot of different things - all specific to the individual, and the situation. But tonight I think I know what it means to me.  It reinforces that your time on this earth, with me and Dadda and grandma and grandpa and everyone else, that time was your caterpillar time.  You consumed life with enthusiasm and gusto.  But, what we view as "the end" has been anything but that for you.  Maybe now was your time to burst forth into the afterlife and spread those mosaic wings.  And, with one flap of those wings, you have created your Peanut Effect here on earth.  You have spread your love, your delight, your laughter.

I love that image.  The thought of a new butterfly.  A Peanut Butterfly who has now fully realized his potential.  Who is now waiting for us to join him and soar into the sunlight together.  Or, to the moon and back.

I love you.  I miss you.  To the moon - and back.
- Momma

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chillaxin' Chair

Peanut -

One of the best gifts we gave you for Christmas 2010 was a personalized Pottery Barn "go anywhere" fold-out chair.  When Momma bought it, I had visions of you taking it to grandma and grandpa's house for sleepovers.  Folding it out on our TV room floor while we watched movies on Friday nights.  You sitting in it to cheer on the Cardinals on spring afternoons and the Rams in the fall.

The chair was purchased with a long future in mind.  We had your name embroidered along the top with a little football.  And you LOVED it.  For the next three weeks, that chair was your home.  You would drag all your toys and books and stuffed animals to the floor surrounding the chair, and there you would sit.  A tiny king on his navy blue throne.  You played, slept, watched TV, read books, and entertained Momma's heart in that chair.  I remember coming home from work one night to find you totally chillaxin' in the chair with your froggy, watching sparkly Vanna White on WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!  It was as close to perfect as life could get.

The day after you died, I sat in your little blue chair and cried until I ran out of tears.  The chair became a symbol of everything we lost.  The precious, happy moments.  The lazy, blissful weekend afternoons.  The potential future.  In the subsequent months, it sat in your room, alone and empty, gathering dust.  In an attempt to cheer it up, I sat your giant stuffed bear in the seat...but his presence only obscured your name and made Momma more sad.

And then we started to prepare for The Bean.  Over the course of several months, your old room took on a fresh coat of paint, new furniture, a Very Hungry Caterpillar theme.  But, the navy chair still sat there with a fine layer of dust.  What to do, what to do...?

Momma grappled with thoughts of buying The Bean his own, new chair.  But, what would we do with your chair?  Sit it next to his?  Keep it empty forever?  That idea struck Momma as so unfair to The Bean, and to you.  Dadda and I finally realized - you loved that chair.  And you were an amazing sharer.  In the end, we ordered a new personalized slipcover for your little brother.  In bright, froggy green with navy blue embroidery.  Very much his own chair, with a nod to his big brother.

So, on this second Easter weekend without you, Dadda took on the task.  He slowly removed your navy blue slipcover and replaced it with the new, springtime green one.  The tears were inevitable.  Here it is...the last item that still bears traces of you.  Your DNA.  Your crumbs, hair - even your slobber.  And Dadda asked, "Do we wash it?"  My heart screamed NO! but my brain ordered my head to nod "yes."  As I type this letter, it is in the washing machine.  We will get it sparkly clean, fold it up, and place it in your special trunk.

Peanut, I am so sorry.  While I believe this is what you want - and you are smiling as you picture The Bean playing on your chair - I still feel an overwhelming amount of guilt.  Please know, Momma is doing her best.  Her best to honor you.  To make you proud.  To make some sense of your loss.

Momma is sending you love, hugs and butterfly kisses - to the moon and back.  Times infinity.

- Momma

My favorite Easter picture of you...from 2010.

"The Chair" - along with Froggy and Bear.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Riding the Waves

Peanut -

Some days I feel so close to normal, it frightens me.  I catch myself singing along with the radio.  Laughing out loud without a moment's hesitation.  Concentrating on work with a laser focus I haven't felt in over a year.  An entire day will pass without me shedding a tear.  And, I worry.  How can I be at this place?  Am I a terrible Momma?  Shouldn't I be laid up in bed?  Paralyzed by my grief?  What does it say about me that I'm back in the Land of the Living?

And then it will happen.  A tiny event, an unexpected moment.  A little boy who looks like the Future You at Target or the grocery store.  The car next to me with your cowmooflage car seat stationed in the back seat.  An ambulance flying by me on the commute to work.  Whoosh!  In crashes the wave.  And, the grief I have kept at bay for minutes, hours, days, overwhelms me.  Drowns me.

Earlier this week it snuck up while I was driving in to the office.  A song I had sung to you most mornings on our way to school started playing, once again from the dangerous iPod rotation.  It was my first time hearing the song since your death.  Images of your giant, toothy grin in my rearview mirror and your little tennis shoe-clad feet kicking the passenger seat popped into my brain and blinded my vision.  So, over to the side of the road Momma pulled.  And, there I sat for 15 minutes indulging in a good, long, hysterical cry.  The sadness has been slowly fraying me at the edges ever since.  The tears are waiting in the wings, ready at a moment's notice.

And, something about this pattern.  This ebb and flow of emotion.  This roller coaster ride.  It feels normal.  Comfortable.  Feeling "OK" for too long is worrisome.  And getting stuck in a deep low is dangerous.  But riding the waves up and down and back up again provides Momma with a sense of balance.  A sense of closeness to you while also allowing me to embrace The Bean with some of the happiness and bliss of other new moms.

Peanut, you are always in my heart.  You are a part of every breath, every smile.  You are the reason for every step forward I take, no matter how hard it might be.  Whether it's a laugh or a tear, a song or a sob, it is filled with love for you.  Love that I send to you every night on the wings of a giant Momma air kiss.  To the moon.  And back.

- Momma