Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Gift of Your Smiles

Peanut -

We are in the middle of our annual Big Cedar trip, and feeling your presence in the most joyful way on a daily basis.  Everywhere we look we are touched by wonderful memories of you, and are also creating new ones with your little brother.  Momma is surprised by the happiness, not guilt, that has filled her heart during these days.

On Sunday Momma, Dadda and The Pickle were enjoying brunch on the patio, with your little brother greeting everyone with a giant, "Hiii-looooo!" and wave as they walked by, no matter if it was their first or tenth time passing our table.  This evoked lots of smiles and laughs from the other patrons and the kind restaurant staff.  Eventually one waitress approached our table, with a huge grin, and shared a story from her bible study about a little boy who was sent to earth to bring smiles to everyone he touched.  She told us she was pretty sure that little boy was your brother, and she hoped we realized what a blessing he was with his sunshine presence.  Dadda and I simply looked at each other and nodded with our own knowing grins.  She has no idea...

Yesterday we were walking through the woods after a morning boat ride with Grandma and Grandpa (now known as NaNa and PawPaw) when a large, beautiful butterfly joined us on the path.  Dadda and I both exclaimed, "Hi Peanut!" and your brother giggled and tried his best to say, "Brother!" The butterfly circled us several times, and attempted to land on The Pickle's hands.  In the shady quiet of the wooded path we felt your love, your joy.  The warmth of your smile.  I realized, while we look like a small family of three to outside observers, we are truly a family of four - a Momma, Dadda and their two little boys - enjoying this end of summer trip.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis a political drama is playing out surrounding County Executive Charlie Dooley.  You remember Charlie.  The guy whose office we flooded with letters after Dr. Mary Case from his Coroner's office refused to acknowledge SUDC.  The guy who was so troubled by our letter campaign that he devoted not one, but two weekly staff meetings to a conversation around what to do about this "Connor Mulholland situation."  The guy who had secret e-mail conversations (shared with Momma by one of his concerned senior staff members) with Dr. Case discussing why she chose to assign Bronchitis as the cause of death on your Death Certificate, even though no one in her office could actually find a cause - but that "Unknown" wasn't acceptable under her watch even though they have between 1 and 3 of these situations on an annual basis.  The guy who refused to talk directly with Momma, who dodged her calls, e-mails and letters.  Yeah, THAT guy.

As Charlie's political career goes down in flames while we prepare to celebrate your 4th birthday, I can't help but feel satisfied.  There is a sense of peace, that the scales of good/bad, right/wrong, grief/joy, are balancing themselves.  While I know nothing will ever bring you back, the injustice of your death can never be erased, and the hole in my heart will never be filled until I meet you again, Momma does feel hopeful.  Hopeful that a new administration will step in and we can once again campaign to have SUDC added to the St. Louis County Coroner's list of causes of death.  A small change that could have such sweeping implications - for more awareness with the CDC, for more state and national funding for research, for someday finding the root cause of SUDC so no other family has to suffer this horrible, meaningless loss.  So no other family has to face that moment when a day - just a regular day - changes the course of their world forever.  When they are joyfully walking in to wake their snoozing son or daughter only to find a lifeless body, the spirit gone from their eyes, stolen in the peace of slumber. And in the wake of that moment, to be told there is no reason, there are no answers, there is nothing anyone could have done to predict or prevent that moment.  Momma has, confidence, that we can make that change.

The little story shared by the waitress on Sunday got Momma thinking - my two boys have both been, and still are, such beacons of light, happiness, sunshine.  How did one Momma get so lucky?  Both of your smiles fill people with happiness and laughter.  Oh, how I wish I could see the two of you playing together.  But, in the absence of that I can look at photos of the two of you, side-by-side and marvel over my amazing sons.

Peanut, thank you for keeping the joy and hope alive in Momma's heart.  Thank you for showing your presence.  I love you, my sweet, happy, amazing son.  How much?  To the moon - and back!

Peanut, at 15 months old.  So full of himself after a successful visit to Santa.

A rare blog-glimpse of The Pickle - taken during vacation this week.  He is 19 months old.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back To School, Fishing and Lanterns

Peanut -

It is back to school time across St. Louis.  Everywhere I look I see kids waiting at bus stops, hundreds of "First Day" pictures on Facebook, and a hollow feeling that this will never be you.  In addition, we are just a few weeks away from your birthday.  You would - should - be turning 4 this year.  Almost old enough for you to start kindergarten. To be a "back to school" kid whose picture I could proudly post on Facebook. convergence of milestones has been a lot for Momma to handle.

Oh, and on top of everything, we leave for our annual family trip to Big Cedar this weekend.  This year you would probably be fishing with Grandpa, using your own pole and learning the art of fly fishing.  Instead, Momma is faced with the reality that we need to buy your brother a lot of new clothes because we own nothing beyond 18-24 months.  That he will be the fisherman you never got to be...

Peanut, I've struggled with this post.  It's been in my "drafts" folder for days.  Momma doesn't want to seem sad, but...well, I am.  At the same time, I am incredibly happy.  Grief and joy - they truly do reside side by side.  Conflicting emotions but also complimentary.  One makes me appreciate the other.

Sitting at a stoplight this morning I burst into tears.  I realized that Pickle has started called me "Mommy."  Not Mommah, or Momma, or Mom.  He has mastered the "y."  So, there it of my favorite memories of you and your milestones transformed by your little brother.  The beginning of many more, I know.

So, next week we will light lanterns that will reach you in Heaven.  A huge thanks to my awesome sorority sister Suzy who mailed us over 70 paper lanterns to assist in this effort.  These lanterns will light a path for you to come visit.  Please, visit often.

Sending you love, hugs and butterfly kisses.  To the moon - and back!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Odd (Beautiful, Magical, Amazing, Joyful ) Life Of...

Peanut -

Earlier this week Momma watched "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." A movie that got panned by critics as too sentimental. Too shallow. Too traditional. I disagree. Honestly, it seems to me that very few people can truly relate to the movie's underlying beauty and message. 

In a nutshell, here is the storyline: 

The film is told from the perspective of Cindy and Jim Green, as they explain their experience with Timothy in an effort to persuade an adoption agency to allow the couple to adopt a child.

When Cindy and Jim learn that they are not able to have children, they spend one final evening imagining what their child would have been like (a name of Timothy, talented artist, a big heart, honest to a fault, etc.). They put all those qualities in a box and bury it in their garden in their effort to "move on." But unusual things happen that night - a huge storm rains only on their house and a little boy named Timothy (with leaves growing out of his ankles) shows up in their house, muddy and naked.

He immediately calls them Mom and Dad and, after realizing that he is a magical gift from the garden, they welcome him and the challenges of parenthood, learning along the way.

Unbeknownst to his parents, one of Timothy's leaves falls off each time he fulfills one of the qualities listed on the original slips of paper. Timothy eventually reveals to Cindy and Jim that his time on earth is short and that he will eventually disappear.

The Greens' meeting with the adoption counselor concludes with Cindy presenting a letter that Timothy left them before leaving. In the letter, he explains to them what he did with each of his leaves that fell off, with a montage sequence showing each person whose life Timothy touched. (Spoiler: After an unspecified amount of time, the adoption counselor is shown pulling up to the Greens' house in a car with the little girl who is to become the Greens' daughter.)

Peanut, this movie was hard to watch.  Really hard.  Momma had no clue what she was getting into when it started, and once it became clear what was going to happen, I couldn't tear myself away.  Throughout the movie my brain kept replacing "Timothy" with "Peanut."  

While the boy in the movie magically appears from a garden at the age of 10 - magical, mysterious, odd - there was so much about his joy, love, and exuberance that reminded me of you and what you brought to us.  Your constant, tight Peanut hugs.  Your love of kisses.  Your head-thrown-back laugh.  Your toothy smile and unsteady, wobbly-fast walk.  Your love of peas, carrots, steak, cheese and homemade meatballs.  Your enjoyment of "One Fish, Two Fish" and riding your firetruck.  Your anticipation of bath-time, snuggles, and "Guess How Much I Love You."

The message at the end of this movie was essentially this: Timothy revealed to the Greens what amazing parents they could be, and they must do everything possible to fulfill that dream.

You did that for us.  You helped Momma and Dadda realize that we are great parents, and together, with your love and blessing, we needed to be parents - again.

This movie helped Momma process some of the recent guilt that's been building in her heart.  Guilt over the total, complete joy that finds its way into my heart when The Pickle does something totally new and brilliant - like string multiple words together into a coherent sentence, or help put away his toys and dishes, or show Momma the sign language to an entire song.  Things we never got to see you do or learn.

It helped reveal to Momma that maybe, just maybe, you are watching all these events from heaven and grinning from ear-to-ear.  Cheering on your little brother.  Acting as an angel on his shoulder...and on our shoulders too.

Peanut, I still can't believe you're gone.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself - am I really awake?  How can it be that our little boy, who should be close to turning 4, is no longer in my arms?  How can it be that we've been without him longer than we were with him?  How can it be that his little brother has now out-survived his time on earth?  Shouldn't we be in the midst of back-to-school shopping?

We live to make you proud.  To let you know that we received your messages while you were here on earth, and we continue to hear and honor them:
Love unconditionally.  
Give super tight hugs freely.  
Laugh with reckless abandon.  
Dance, dance, dance!  
Heads bumps and butterfly kisses are essential.  
And, try every food at least once.

Oh, I miss you so much.  I miss your cautious approach to new things.  I miss your long, delicate fingers that loved to trace my hands, face, eyelashes.   I miss your blue, ocean-deep eyes.  I miss your eyebrow-raises that rival Momma's.  

I just miss you.

Sending you love, hugs and kisses to the heavens.  To the stars.  To the moon - and back!

- Momma

Yep - he learned that one-eyebrow trick from me.