A few weeks back, after the rush of mixed emotions that the holidays always bring, my little family escaped to a resort where we spent our time swimming and relaxing and being tourists. Our daughter is now just over one and full of personality and sparkle. She runs at full tilt, talks (with a few words we can understand), has a very strong point of view about life, and makes us smile often. She is squeezable and exasperating and full of awesome. I love everything about her and I know, for a fact, that I appreciate each moment with her all the more because her brother can’t be with us. After her first month, they would never have any shared milestones. And even those that they shared were different given the fact that he was in a hospital hooked up to machines. Her milestones, rolling, crawling, walking, smiling, talking, and on and on…they are hers alone. We rejoice in them and exclaim over her wonder with the world and the things she is discovering in it. On one hand, I love this. I love that our hearts are so open to be present with her in those moments…and perhaps they would not have been if we had not learned all we did in our grief journey. So in those moments, I feel Bennie with me MORE strongly than perhaps at other times because I KNOW that the reason I can shut off the noise and clutter of life and clap and cheer for his sister in such a wholehearted way is because of him. At other times, oh those moments hurt with a sting so strong it takes my breath. Because I physically see what I have missed with him. What I will always miss with him. What was taken from him, and us, when he had to leave us. We will not have a first birthday, a first word, a first step…for him. For those of you on this path with us, you know the feeling. The stab in your heart when something joyful happens and you think, “oh how I wish my other child were here to see this, to do this with their sibling”…it is the one wish I know I will never fulfill. I have reconnected with a friend that came into my life shortly after we lost Bennie. She too has a daughter, not much older than ours. She too lost her first child. And for the first time, I could tell someone all these things, these wistful, soul deep yearnings that we know will never be. It is a good thing to find that person who understands, even if you wish they didn’t have to. I am sure that those who have more than one living child have similar concerns…am I giving them both enough attention and time? Am I supporting and cheering their accomplishments equally? Am I present enough in their lives or too distracted by mine? I think the thing that perhaps people don’t always think about is that, just because one of my children is not physically here, I think the same things. Always. And I am not sad if you talk about them, in fact I welcome it. We are not so very different, you and I. But my story makes you uncomfortable. And so we don’t talk. And I wish we would!
Something else happened on this weekend getaway. Something a bit harder to take. The last night, our daughter was overtired and had a runny nose and wasn’t so sure that sleeping in this strange place another night was a good idea. She screamed. And cried. And flung herself down. Nothing would soothe her. Not medicine. Not milk. Not a warm steam with mom. Not cartoons. Nothing. She was just desperate. Finally, after many hours, she was exhausted and began to calm. She and I, in a chair by the fireplace, snuggled into a blanket, trying to find our breath. She’d cried so long and so hard that she couldn’t catch hers…so every 3rd breath or so was long and strangled…like they were coming from deep in her chest as she gulped for air. And muscle memory kicked in and suddenly I was on a couch in a hospital snuggling my son close to my heart for the very first time as he slowly took his last breaths. They sounded much the same. And I held her tighter and I cried and I cried and I cried. For probably an hour. I cried for what we’ve lost. I cried for the fact that my connection to my two babies at the same time came from such a memory. I cried for all the future things that would trigger these moments and the shared memories that would go unmet. And as I cried, her breath calmed and evened and she relaxed into my arms and mercifully slept. And I stopped crying because this ending was good. This ending was full of peace and joy and love and continued futures. And oh how I needed that realization. That moment. My mama heart needed that more than I knew. For probably the first time since we lost our son I was not fearful of what could happen to our daughter…because of course, I realized that I am not in control of that any more than I was in control of what happened in that hospital room. The end there was perhaps the most beautiful moment of my life in many ways. That passage from life to what lies beyond. And the frantic crying and upset of my daughter, followed by the calming and closeness of a well comforted child felt much like that. It was perfect. And I sat up that night, as I had the other, and contemplated many things in the too quiet space. And I knew that we would be OK, my little family and me. This was my milestone…full of memories and a whole lot of love.