Monday, November 1, 2010

November Mourning

One year ago today, my little boy was laying on the couch nursing a virus. Little did we know that in eight short hours he would, for all intents and purposes, be gone. I took him to the hospital that Sunday night, and I was there when he started to slip out of consciousness. I remember thinking he was just tired, and was having trouble staying awake. I thought the illness may have been making him delusional, so I asked him a few questions....

"Who am I?"


"What is your brothers name?"

"Zack." (he always had troubles with the J part of Jack)

"Ok baby, close your eyes and get some sleep. I love you."

And that was it. He closed his eyes, and although several doctors at two different hospitals tried for hours to bring him back, he never opened those beautiful bright blue eyes again. We finally succumbed to the truth around noon the following day, and unplugged all of the machines that were keeping him alive.

The photo above was taken post mortem by the hospital photographer at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. He did about five different shots of us holding Henry's hands and feet, kissing his forehead, and of Henry holding a few favorite toys. I had them all framed for my mom, and the frame hangs in Henry's bedroom at her house. A few weeks ago Jack pointed to the photos and said, "Baby Jesus?" I think he thought the photos were of baby Jesus, but maybe his innocent eyes could literally see Jesus in the pictures, holding us close while we tried to pick up the pieces of our life and leave that room, knowing we'd be going home with an empty car seat that would never again be filled with the same bright and beautiful spirited little boy. It has been a year, and I still have a hard time comprehending the weight of it all.

The last year has been a blur. Time moved quickly, and for that I am grateful. There are still days that I have to force myself out of bed in the morning, but I do, because there is still a little bundle of energy here on earth who needs me, and I owe it to him to be the best mama I can be. I am determined to give him a good life, despite the emptiness I feel inside. Of course my heart is full of love for Jack - how could it not be. The problem is that ever since Henry's death, I feel as if my heart is missing. I feel as if there is a hole in side of me that never closes. If you think about the old Wile E. Coyote cartoons, there was an episode where the Road Runner shot a canon at him, and the cannon ball went right through him, leaving a big open circle where his chest used to be. He didn't die, or even fall down. He tilted his head down and peered through the hole, and then just continued on with his business. That's exactly how I feel - literally as though a significant part of me was blown away a year ago and yet I don't die. I just keep walking around. It's really quite surreal.

There have been a lot of changes in the last year. Death is an interesting thing, in that it takes your world and, like a snow globe, turns it upside down and shakes the daylights out of it, so that all of the little bits around you are upturned and float down in a different order. There are hobbies that I used to define myself by that in the last year I have had absolutely no interest in. I figure they settled on the bottom of the snow pile when all of the little snow-like pieces of my life started dropping down around me again. They used to be on top - important - and now they are so far down I don't even realize they are still there. New things have settled on top. Running, patience, cooking & baking, fitness, and healthy living.

I have never been a runner. Not even as a child. When all of my friends were running in the park or in the yard, I was in the sandbox. If people were playing a game that involved running, I politely excused myself. I didn't run. Ever. For reasons that I really can not even explain to this day, I decided to start training for a 5K in May. I ran my first 5K the last weekend of July, and my second in August. I now have my sights set on a 5 mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, another 5K through the snow in December, and a duathlon in 2011.

Why? Well, the best I can tell you is because Henry can't. There are so many things in life that he didn't get to experience. How could I in good conscience sit on the couch and let all of them slip by when I'm capable of enjoying them? It just doesn't make sense. How easy it would be for me to curl up into a ball and throw my hands up in surrender to all of this! You would be shocked if you could fully comprehend what a fine line I walk between sanity and surrender. But every day I crawl out of bed and pray to God for the strength I need to get through that day. One day at a time (as a very wise woman once said). When all of my emotions start crashing down around me, I close my eyes and pray to God, asking him to lift this (insert thought/feeling/guilt/etc. here) from my heart and help me to survive. Thankfully, He does. Every. Single. Time.

There are days when I have to say that same prayer a hundred times, and some when it's only needed once or twice, but without fail I can feel God's presence and power in my life, and for that I am grateful. I can actually remember one of my first thoughts when we found out that we could not save Henry. I thought, thank GOD that I was raised in faith because I don't know I how I would live through this without Jesus. I was reminded of that again a few days ago when I was reading a book about a boy who was in a terrible car accident and the mother presumed he was dead. Her first thought as she got in the car and headed for their Children's Hospital was something to the effect of... he is Yours Lord, and if You need him You can take him, but You have to give me the strength to get through it if You do.

Amen, sister.

Since Henry's death, there are some things that I can not do. I can not re-visit that weekend. I can not focus on all of the mistakes that were made by our doctors, nor the things that were overlooked through his short life. I can not look at medical records, or bills from those days, stand in the presence of a med flight team in uniform, or get too close to the local hospital that we lost him at. When I do, I feel as though the sides of that hole I described above lose their strength and my whole body starts to cave in on itself. Ironically, these are all the things (with the exception of getting too close to the hospital) that my husband's healing process has thrived on. I have always said that we walk separate grief paths, but hold hands across the middle on our journey. His process is just that - his process. I can't go there. I can't even come close. He occasionally will try to talk to me about something and all I can bring myself to do is raise my hand as if to say, "stop" and shake my head from side. The other day, I was reading some quotes and poems, looking for something to use in our local paper to for a memorial and I found this on one woman's website. I could have easily written most of this myself, and hope it will help give you a better idea of where I am and where I'm going (I deleted a few sentences that didn't apply to me):

Life is a Simple Walk in the Woods-

I was always told that the 'first year' would be the hardest. I set my sights on surviving through the first anniversary of Ross' death, telling myself that it would all be downhill from there. If I could just keep going long enough to scale that summit!

I was also told that my husband and I would not walk the same path. We started out fine, trudging through the woods, holding hands, telling ourselves that we've been through sixteen years together, we'd be just fine. His path slowly led away from me, but seemed to run parallel for a time - I'd catch a glimpse of him in the woods every once-in-a-while. All of a sudden, his path would cross mine. I'd reach the top of a steep hill and he'd be standing there in my way! More than once, I've had to shove him into the weeds so that I could continue on my journey.

Well, then came that fateful First Anniversary. I scaled that mountain! I sat on the very top of that enormous peak, congratulating myself on a job well-done. My husband was nowhere to be seen, I sat there all alone with my pile of Mickey Mouse clothes, little metal cars, well-meaning friends. I had done it! It was incredibly hard work, insurmountable at times, but here I was - still alive, without my child!

Without my child! I felt my heart grow cold as I surveyed the path ahead - the rest of my life. The terrain was just as treacherous as the past twelve months!

I sat on that peak for quite sometime. I hugged all my son's treasures that I carried with me, his precious memory warmed my cold, cold heart, and I searched for any other movement in the valley below. In the distance, I could see other peaks along my path, some maybe as tall as where I sat. I also began to see tiny clearings where the sun was shining. As my tears slowed, I became aware of other paths winding through the landscape - hundreds of them - each belonging to a different parent. I carefully packed my treasures in my heart, neatly so that none would break, and started running down the hill, headlong into the second year of forever.

Peg Rousar-Thompson
In memory of Ross...

Another thing I want to address here is for all of you who think about Henry and then wonder whether or not you should tell me. Please, please, do. It may bring back memories that come with tears, but don't let that stop you. Don't be afraid that you might hurt me. It sounds bad, but I hurt either way. It warms my heart to know that others are thinking of him or dreaming of him or writing stories about him or lighting candles for him. It may bring tears, but please know that the good far outweighs the bad in those situations and keep sharing.

The question I am asked most often (besides, "how are you doing?" of course) is whether or not we are planning on having more children. I thought I'd mention that here, too, because I'm guessing that those of you who haven't asked wonder from time to time as well. All I can tell you is that we are open to the plans God has for us. I'm not pregnant, but we're not doing anything to prevent it either (is that tmi?). We are also not entirely closed off to the idea of adopting or fostering if a situation presents itself. And, having said all of that, we are also open to the idea of living out the rest of our years as Mum and Pa to no more than the two sweet boys we've already been blessed with. There is a possibility that if we had another boy, he too would have agammaglobulenemia like Jack and Henry (or a girl could be a carrier), but we are prepared for that as well.

A few paragraphs back I noted all of the things I cannot do. I'd like to close with all of the things I CAN do and end on a positive note.

I can remember Henry with love and laughter.
I can keep the promise that I made to him at his funeral, and laugh some every single day.
I can be the best mama my boys could ever ask for.
I can go on living despite the greatest loss a parent could know.
I can use my intimate knowledge of grief to help others deal with their own bereavement process.
I can do anything I set my mind to, because I truly am surrounded by angels every step of the way, one of which has some of the most beautiful bright blue eyes you'll ever see.

Love to all who've supported us this past year. You will never fully comprehend the impact you've had on our lives, and we are eternally grateful that God has blessed us with each and every one of you.

In Him,

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Kelly said...

Sarah--this is beautiful. made me a little leaky eyed....
I so admire your strength and faith.
Love and hugs to all of you. xoxoxo

Liz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Meli Mitchell said...

I have never personally met you, nor did I ever meet Henry but...I DO think of him (and of you) each and every time I see you post on FaceBook. I see that you're doing positive things with your life. I see that you grieve. And every time I see a posting, I think of how you lost your little one who was so close in age with my own little boy and it makes me hug my two chickens all the more tighter when I see them. Because I honestly don't know how I could get out of bed without them in the other room waiting for me to wake them up and start the day.
We may be strangers, but I love you and wish I could hug you every single day.

zekesmom10 said...

You are a sweet and beautiful friend. Your boys were both truly blessed to be placed in your family. You love them well and it shows.

i {heart} papers said...

*sniff* I think of you so often. We have dragonflies over our pond all summer long and each one makes me think of you.

{hugs} to you my friend. You are a better, stronger woman than I could ever hope to be. Your faith is amazing and little Jack is lucky to have such an amazing Mama.

And yeah, a little TMI but that's OK...we're all friends. :)

Noelle Bolstad said...

My friend, your words are so beautiful. You are a huge inspiration for me in so many ways. I have such a tender spot in my heart for you, and that started way back in the days when I first found you crazies on SCS. I will forever see my kids differently, and even though I have always loved them with all my heart and felt blessed to have them, that love now comes with more patience and appreciation. Knowing you has changed me as a person, a friend, and a mother, all for the better. So even when you don't feel like you can get out of bed, remember that there are SO many people who constantly think of you and your beautiful boys. Love you guys!

Gnomes & Cupcakes said...

thanks for sharing this, sarah. i love you & wish i could bear some of the pain for you. you, henry, jack, and darrin are never far from my thoughts, heart, and prayers. love you all...

karen roy

Kelly said...

I'd like to add a line at the end of my post to say-- "and what NoJo said".

love to all the Andersons (and to the SCS gals).

Maureen said...

heartbreaking, and very well written, so sorry for you loss.

Jolene said...

"what Kelly and NoJo said..." ;)

In all seriousness, Sarah, I know we don't chat often anymore but I literally think of you, and Henry, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!!! I DO!!! And, really, ALL of the SCS girls. Love all of your updates... wish I could correspond more... anywho... LOVE YA GIRLIE!!! {{{HUGS}}}

Lorie said...

I am SO proud of you Sarah! Much love and hugs to you today and always!

scrappinmominky said...

We've never met, but I have been following your blog for a long time. I think of your family often and have cried a lot of tears since Henry died. He was a lucky little boy.

Kirstin said...

Thank you for this beautiful post, Sarah.

melissa said...

Hey Sarah,
That was beautiful. I know I don't say it, I am not good with words, but please know I think of you guys daily and pray for your continued strength. Some days I wonder how you are getting through this, and at the same time think I could never do it.
I am here for you if you ever need anything.

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