How many children do you have?

This question. This innocent question. It’s often a conversation starter, and it helps people find some sort of common thing to talk about. It truly is a great question for most. Until the worst happens. Then it becomes a question that you avoid like the plague.

About 2 months after Gabe died I went out with a friend and met a few people. One of them asked me how many children I had. I froze. And I said two. I said their ages and we talked a bit. I felt sick. I felt horribly sick. I wanted to leave. Eventually I excused myself and went to cry in the bathroom. Because I felt like I had slapped Gabe in the face by not acknowledging him. Because he is my child too. I don’t have two. I have THREE. But I was afraid of where the conversation would go. I think I was protecting that person from having to face the horribly reality that was now my life.

As the evening went on we talked a bit more and eventually she asked about my boys’ schools. And that’s when I mentioned Gabe. I told her where the younger boys went, and then I said that I had a son who was in high school, but he died. At that moment she knew who I was. I don’t really remember the rest of the night. I made small talk and eventually left. I will never forget that night. The first time I was asked that question.

As the months went by it would happen again, by another mom at the pool, by new doctors, by other people who didn’t know me before. I learned to not ask anyone that question- because it can be a painful answer for them and because it is usually reciprocated with the same question. As time as passed I have refined my answers and evaluate the situation. To the mom at the pool, just a few months after his death, I said “I have 2 here “(to me meaning at the pool). Now if asked how many I say three, and then tell the person that my middle son is — years old and my youngest son is –years old. Most of the time people aren’t really listening so they don’t catch that I said 3 and gave the ages of 2. If it’s a person that I know I will see again, or attends my church or other place where we will come into contact again I usually do the above thing with the ages and add that my oldest died at 15.

It’s never an easy question, and it ALWAYS makes me pause. There is a very complex amount of thought that happens in that short time of figuring out the best way to answer. What I have realized, though, is that I HAVE to say I have 3. Because I do. And I always will. I have also realized that while that person may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, I am uncomfortable always and probably will be to some extent for the rest of my life. My child will always be missing and that is an uncomfortable feeling that can’t be described.

So I will continue to say three. And maybe in the process I will help a few people feel a bit less uncomfortable about the thought of child loss, or even encourage another parent of loss to have the confidence to speak out so they can remind the world of the missing piece in their heart.

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.

 

Why this blog?

I’ve contemplated starting a blog for a while, since mid April of 2016. Why then? My son died. He DIED. My CHILD. And when something that horrible happens you have many feelings. Feelings that can’t even be named. They change in a split second and they take over every part of your life. I’ve been using Facebook as an outlet for those feelings but honestly these feelings are too complex for a short paragraph here and there (ok, a few long paragraphs multiple times each day!). So some of my sharing will transition to this blog.

Why is it necessary to share so much about grief? Because child loss is a taboo subject. It is something that no one really wants to think about. The awareness that something so devastating can happen in a split second is so terrifying. But because people don’t want to talk about it those who have lost children feel isolated. It’s hard to handle a type of grief that is rarely mentioned. If it is discussed more, others will slowly be able to handle a friend or acquaintance saying “my child died”, or “I have a child in Heaven”, or “I lost a baby”.

Why did I choose “What I Can’t Control” as the name? It all comes from a song. It is taken from the opening lyrics of a beautiful song. “All of Me” is by Matt Hammit, and Matt Hammit is a heart dad. I am a heart mom. My son Gabe (the one who is in Heaven) had a Congenital Heart Defect. “All of Me” is about loving someone who could die, and that is the journey of a parent of a CHD child.

“Afraid to love something that could break

Could I move on, if you were torn away

And I’m so close to what I can’t control

I can’t give you half my heart and pray He makes you whole”

Those lyrics have been floating around in my head for as long as that song has been around. What I can’t control- well really life is about that. That was just highlighted in the most extreme way on April 8, 2016. I’m having to move on, as he was torn away.

This blog is about the moving on part. Or the moving forward part. As I continue to navigate the rest of my life with 1/3 of my boys in Heaven.

So welcome, I hope that everyone who reads this will learn a bit about grief and about finding the strength to continue when the unthinkable happens.