Opening Weekend

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Memories are happy and sad. And they are triggered by just about everything. Swimming pools are one of those triggers. Gabe LOVED swimming. From when he was very small, going to a pool-any pool- was one of the things that made him happiest. Leaving the pool was always met with protests, sadness, and often tantrums.

When we moved into our Dayton house we hit the jackpot. Our next door neighbors had 2 wonderful dogs AND a pool! A pool that they let us use pretty much whenever we wanted. All three boys loved it, but Gabe was particularly focused on that pool. As Memorial Day weekend would get near he would watch from upstairs in Liam’s room- the room with the best view of the neighbors yard. At any sign of a change near the pool he would watch even more closely. On the days when they would adjust chemicals, fill the pool, and get the deck ready they would see him upstairs waiting anxiously. We would get reports from Gabe on the progress “They must be getting the pool ready!”

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In 2014 we got Gabe’s surgery date early in the spring. The date of surgery would be June 9. He would not be able to swim for at least 4-6 weeks after surgery. That news was pretty devastating for a kid who loved the water so much. Also that spring the neighbors decided to get a new, bigger pool. They knew that had to hurry to put it in so that Gabe could swim before surgery, so it became an effort between them, us, and the neighbor on the other side. We all teamed up one weekend and had a pool raising. It was a lot of effort, and every one of us was needed (except for one of my boys who I think snuck back home!). We put up the walls, got the liner in, and then used hoses from all of our houses to fill it quickly. It was done in time, and we even had a bonus day before surgery- his grade went to the Waterpark but he couldn’t go. His doctor didn’t want to risk any infections that he could pick up before surgery, so he and I stayed home that day and had the pool to ourselves. We swam and visited with the dogs. It was a good day, and I was so glad to have that pool since he had to miss out on another fun activity.

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Now when they set up the pool it’s a bit sadder. I know we all miss him when that event happens. We always miss him, but at certain times it’s so obvious that his excitement isn’t there anymore and that really hurts.

We also belong to a community pool, and his absence is loud there too. Once we joined, every chance he got he wanted to go there. He loved seeing friends, and I know he also loved showing off his scar. Gabe was not a quiet kid. At all. He was one of the loudest kids I have ever known. When I would take the boys to the pool, no matter where he was, I could always hear him. Happy, sad, angry- I could hear him. I miss that. I miss the happy. I miss the sad and angry too. I still love going to the pool and talking with friends. I love seeing my other boys with their friends. But Gabe is missing and the hole he leaves can’t be described.

 

 

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Passed away? Lost? No, died.

*Before I start this one I want to just put a reminder that these are my own feelings about death. I don’t care how others refer to those who have died, but since this is my blog I’m sharing my thoughts.*

Passed away. Lost. Died. Went to Heaven. There are so many different ways to refer to  death. I have some pretty strong feelings on some of them.

Anyone who is friends with me on facebook knows that I usually use the word “died”. I actually did that from the beginning. I think it’s more shocking for people to hear, but in my opinion it’s just more real. I’ve realized that terms like “passed away” and “lost” tend to be more comforting for other people.

When someone says their child passed away it seems more gentle. But why? WHY should a parent be more gentle when talking about something as serious and earth shaking as the death of their child. Who does that help? It helps the person hearing the words but not the person saying the words. I have said it a few times and it just feels wrong. It almost feels like a lie. He didn’t just slip away. His heart stopped and he died. I don’t want to sugar coat that fact so that someone else might be more comfortable.

The other phrase that I haven’t used much is “lost”, as in “I lost my child”. I feel like that one just makes no sense. I didn’t, after all, lose him. I didn’t misplace him. I didn’t get separated from him at an amusement park or mall. Saying that phrase implies that I will find him. I am certain I will see him in Heaven again, but saying I lost him feels just as weird as saying he passed away.

Both of those phrases really seem to focus on making the person that is NOT impacted so much by the loss more comfortable which really is quite screwed up. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here but I remember the night Gabe died a close friend came to the hospital. That friend had experienced the sudden death of her not yet 2 month old baby. And she told me that over the next days and weeks, and especially at the visitation and funeral, I would be comforting everyone else. And you know what? She was so right. That is exactly how it felt. I think anyone who has had this experience probably knows exactly what I’m talking about. Often when you are standing there, next to the casket, those coming up to express condolences are very upset, and the grieving parents are not crying at all or crying very little. Hug after hug, friend after friend, people express their sorrow and it feels like you are holding things together for them. I think most of it is shock- reality hasn’t set in that early- but it is an interesting phenomenon.

I really think that example combined with our choice of words around death just shows how neat, clean, and sugar coated we think life should be. We don’t like sadness. We don’t like grief. We don’t like situations that we can’t fix. So when something goes wrong we try very hard to make things easier for everyone else- even if we are the one who need everyone else to just be there.

I’m so thankful for all the people who came and expressed their condolences. I’m also extremely thankful for some friends who were truly there- early on and now- who didn’t place any expectations on my grief or seem to need me to sugar coat things for them. Who listened and who didn’t look uncomfortable when I used those words “When Gabe died”. Because he did. He died. And for the rest of my life those words will be true.

Grief Landmines

 

Today for some reason the little things are on my mind. When a child dies there are so many things that are different. There a huge things like the fact that they are just not there anymore. There are so many ways life is drastically different. The family schedule should be much more packed-but it’s not. The van that we own is now really too big but was totally necessary before. If we ever wanted to move we would be able to look at houses with one less bedroom. Going out to dinner or a movie is less expensive, so are vacations. But they shouldn’t be. That creates some intense turmoil.

Then there are the little things. They are kind of like grief landmines. These are small things that jump out as I go about my day, things that sometimes make me smile and cry at the same time. Partially to communicate how sucky the death of a child is, and partially for myself so I never forget the little things, I’m going to share some that have come up recently.

Groceries are some of the biggest of the little things. Gabe had lots of favorite foods. Before he got his braces Raisin bran was IT. I am convinced if that was all we would let him eat he would. We went through 3-4 boxes a week. His day would start with it, he’d have it as an afterschool snack, then sometimes before dinner, and usually for dessert. And it had to be Post, but not the post that Costco carries. Oh, no. The flakes are different. So whenever I’m in the cereal aisle I still look at the Raisin Bran boxes. I wish I still had to buy it.

When he had to stop eating raisin bran, he switched to bread with Nutella. I know, it’s horribly unhealthy. But some battles aren’t worth fighting. So we always had Nutella. He didn’t eat it quite as much as Raisin Bran, but he ate it a lot. So much that we would usually go through several loaves of bread each week. Today this love of Nutella and bread was triggered a bit because I had to throw out a loaf of bread because it got moldy. That never used to happen. Ever. It always disappeared long before it got moldy.

Gabe also LOVED milk. We went through 5-6 gallons a week. He would often have raisin bran AND a glass of milk. And not a small glass. A big plastic cup filled all the way to the top. Buying fewer gallons of milk was probably one of the hardest things for me. It was like getting slapped in the face every time I went to the store. We should be going through so much more milk.

There are so many other things he loved that trigger sadness- grilled cheese sandwiches, pancakes, Eggo waffles, and A&W Root Beer, which he is lovingly holding in the picture above. Our good friend and neighbor Jean always had that on hand, he loved going to her house!

As a result of all of those little quirky food related things grocery shopping is difficult. Extremely difficult. I find I can’t focus, and it’s so hard to complete the shopping that I need to do. Some days this one task is harder than others. So if you bump into me in the store and I seem off- that is why. Because for a grieving parent to keep themselves pulled together to walk through a store filled with grief landmines is a very challenging task.

Thanks for reading and getting a tiny peek into my world.

Thank you notes

Thank you for being a bright light
during our darkest hours
as we said goodbye to Gabe.

We appreciate every prayer
and act of love shown by our friends.
We are very sad but we feel very loved.
Sincerely,
The Chester Family

Oh, these thank you notes. We ordered them a few weeks after Gabe died, and they sat. And sat. And sat. In their box, first in the dining room and then in Gabe’s room. I eventually mustered the strength to write a few, probably no more than 6, and sent a few of those. There are still a few upstairs, written in their envelopes. There are still MANY upstairs not even folded, still in their box. And that is where they will stay.

I’ve always been HORRIBLE about thank you notes. Truly horrible. Just ask my sister. She is always great about sending them, but she has probably never gotten one from me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what she has done, it’s that I’m horrible about the process of writing thank you notes.

After Gabe died it honestly didn’t even occur to me in the first day or two that some people would maybe expect thank you notes. My child had DIED after all. The death of a child isn’t a baby shower or party, it’s a horrible event. Horrible for many people but especially for the people living in the house with that child. The references to thank you notes came early- “you should write down everything you receive so you can thank people later”, “Have you written thank you notes yet?” “For weddings you have a few weeks but I guess you have more time for this”. Writing that out makes me want to use bad words. I may be doing that in my head right now, you can use your imagination to figure out what those words might be.

Once I learned of that expectation it created a new stress. One I did not need. I started keeping track of what people did as much as I could. I shouldn’t have been wasting my energy on that. I started to worry if people were waiting, hence the reason Doug and I carefully selected the card you see pictured above- with the tree with a heart, because of our son’s special heart. I realized soon that it would be almost impossible to get everybody. In those first 2 days alone people had cleaned our house, brought us meals, sorted the boys horribly messy playroom, and a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time dropped off a huge box full of disposable plates, silverware and other things that were such a huge help when dishes were the last thing on my mind. Others did landscaping out front, mowed our yard, came to visit, and of course my older sister immediately flew in from Hong Kong to help with whatever I needed. My younger sister came and brought my sweet nephew who provided comedic relief when we needed it. Over the next few days and weeks we received gifts, Rosary beads, cards, money flowers, plants, gift cards, surprises left on the porch, and honestly too many other things to write. But I remember it. Every bit of it. And Doug and I and the boys are thankful for every bit of it.

The problem here, though, is that each thank you note makes us relive horrible moments. The moments when I had watched attempts to revive my son that didn’t work. The moment when the doctor told me they tried but couldn’t save him. That moment when Doug and I left the hospital without our child. Planning the funeral (thankfully with a wonderful friend helping), writing the (very long) obituary, seeing my child in the casket. Those events are all mixed in with those wonderful things that people did for us. Because of that fact those thank you notes will probably never get written. Each one brings all of those painful things to the surface in a way most people can’t comprehend. Each wonderful, loving act of kindness is tied to a pain that can’t be described.

So if you didn’t get a thank you note (almost 100% of you), I’m sorry for that. If you feel you still need one even after reading what I just wrote, then it might be time to examine your conscience and motivation for reaching out to the grieving.

Now that I’ve said that, this is my thank you note. It’s a blanket one and it covers everything. If you did something, gave us something, visited, or any other thing that I didn’t mention- Thank you. Thank you for all of it. Know that we appreciate it and still remember, and probably always will.

And to anyone who ever loses a loved one- know that I will NEVER expect a thank you. In fact, I’d rather you not write one. I would much rather you focus on surviving and tending to your broken heart than writing a note just because someone, somewhere said it is the right thing to do.

 

 

At Least

*One of the purposes of my blog is to help people know what things are just not helpful to say to a bereaved parent. Many of these things can be downright hurtful. I know they come from a good place, but it is so very important to think about what you say before you say it. As I would say to my preschoolers “choose your words”. Would you want someone to say those words to you? This is one of those things. *

“At least”. It’s a short, simple thing that can be attached to many things. It’s something that I’ve come across time and again in this bereaved parent world that I am now a part of. I vaguely remember hearing a few “at least” phrases early on, but thankfully I was too numb to process it. The following are some examples that I have seen a few times:

-“At least you have other children”

-“At least you can have more children”

-“At least he doesn’t have to feel any more pain”

-“At least he lived a full life”

 

Those are just a few of the “at least” phrases I have seen. It makes my skin crawl every time I read those words or hear anyone speak them, when it’s in reference to a death but specifically the death of a child. There is no “At Least” in child loss. Ever.

I’m tackling this subject because I know that when a child dies people don’t know what to say. And sometimes things slip out that the person saying just doesn’t realize are hurtful. This is one of those things. I think during horrible times people often look for the silver lining. They look for one thing that somehow isn’t so bad. Something good to come out of a situation. But here’s the thing. During this specific, horrible thing- there is no silver lining.

Let me repeat- there is no silver lining. Leaving the hospital without your child, seeing their friends and siblings miss them, and seeing them in a casket. Well, there is nothing good about that. The fact that there are other children in the family? It doesn’t take away even one bit of the sadness for the one missing. The fact that a couple who lost a baby during pregnancy, stillbirth, or as an infant can try again to have another? It doesn’t take away the pain or replace the one that didn’t get to come home.

The fact that he won’t feel pain anymore? Yes that is a good thing, but I would much rather have him here, so that I could help him through those hurdles.  The fact that he lived a full life? He had so much more to live- driving, prom, college, graduation, and the rest of his life. Those things were taken. I love that he lived a full life but I would give anything for it to have not been cut short.

Are there good things that happened in the wake of Gabe’s death? Of course. We saw a beautiful community, friends and strangers who reached out to us,  and new friendships were formed. Those things are intertwined in the death of my son. That makes them all very bittersweet. I am so thankful for the love that was extended to our family. The fact is, though, that my child is gone. And none of the good that may come from his death will erase the fact that he is gone. No “at least” can make it feel better.

 

 

A gloomy day

This post might end up having a lot of rambling. But since it’s my blog I’m OK with that! Todays weather is a lot like my mood. Gloomy. Early this morning I realized that today is yet another significant anniversary- the anniversary of Gabe’s funeral. I remember so many details and for now they will stay tucked inside my heart and mind.

Today is a Sunday so we went to Mass. It was just my youngest and I, because my husband and middle son were away. I started to feel sad. Almost immediately I felt sad. Eventually I started to feel kind of panicked. I like sitting near the end so I can leave discreetly, but we were in the middle. I also realized that if I left I would be leaving my 12 year old to sit alone, knowing that his sad mom couldn’t stay. So I stayed. It took a huge amount of strength to stay. I cried, but I stayed. And I guess that is really what this journey is about – staying even though I’m crying.

 

The day after

Yesterday was the day. The anniversary of the saddest day. I tried to write but couldn’t come up with anything. Sometimes there are just no words. Everything is jumbled and mixed up. Nothing seems right. Actually, that kind of describes a tiny part of child loss.

Today is the day after. And I very vividly remember the day after April 8. That was the day everyone started to arrive. On a day when the best thing probably would have just been to sit quietly and try to absorb what happened the day before, it was anything but quiet. I remember it started out with a wonderful friend who came and cleaned. She cleaned my house. It was quite a task (I’m not the neatest person in the world). She made all of the clutter disappear and made room on the counters and table for the things that would later arrive- mostly food and flowers. Lots of food and flowers. Friends stopped by. Wonderful friends who talked with us for hours in the kitchen.  Family arrived in the kind of reunion no one wants. Especially when it’s because of a child. We got our first meal delivered that evening. By someone who is now a very dear friend and brought food for everyone, and gluten free things for me, and love.

The day after was the beginning of a week long receiving line. It was a non stop stream of people into and out of our home. We don’t often have visitors. It was difficult. It was difficult to see people make small talk when the most devastating thing had just happened to us. It was just difficult in every way. Everything about it. We felt loved but everything felt wrong. The loudest, most exuberant member of our family was gone and no amount of visitors could fix that.

I’m going to leave today’s post with this. It is a beautiful poem that was read at a Memorial service held in December of 2016 and it sums up what I just wrote. Thanks for reading.

 

What People Give You By Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Long-faced irises. Mums. Pink roses and white roses and giant sunflowers, and hundreds of daisies.

Fruit baskets with muscular pears, and water crackers and tiny jams and the steady march of casseroles.

And money, people give money these days. Cards, of course: the Madonna, wise and sad just for you, Chinese cherry blossoms, sunsets and moonscapes, and dragonflies for transcendence.

People stand by your sink and offer up their pain: Did you know I lost a baby once, or My eldest son was killed, or My mother died two months ago. People are good. They file into your cartoon house until it bows at the seams; they give you every blessed thing, everything, except your daughter (child) back.