Cooler weather has arrived in Kansas and with it are some of the most beautiful, picture perfect sunsets The Flint Hills has to offer. What I love most about the cooler weather is the feeling of putting on a comfy sweater, a warm scarf, and the reality that society doesn’t frown upon venturing out in public in sweatpants. (Yesssss!)
Cooler, cloudy weather means snuggling on the couch, warm cookies, hot cocoa, and holiday traditions. It means making memories with friends and family. It also means new terrain for my family: the holiday season without my son.
Honestly, that terrifies me.
Every day, week, or month that passes I’m learning new things about our new reality. We’ve changed. Our lives are different. Just when I think I’ve got our initial losses figured out, we are hit with a new, unexpected, very real loss. Not a physical loss. But changes in the life that we once knew.
Going through a “Grief Journey” in one of The SUDC Foundation’s parent support groups, this topic was presented:
“When your child dies, there are a series of secondary losses that follow. They are different for everyone. The loss of relationships, the loss of innocence, the loss of employment, etc. Share about someting else that you lost when your child died”
I really connected to this topic. It has been on my heart for nearly 6 weeks and today I wanted to revisit my “journal” entry. Despite the fact that this is only a fraction of secondary losses that I have/will experience, they are the losses that are constantly on my heart. So, what are these secondary losses?
1. I feel like my “season of life” changed. I went from having a toddler
and two older children to having only school-aged children. All of a
sudden I was propelled forward in life. Instead of looking forward to
playgroups and nap-time during the day with my son for the next 2-3 years I am now looking for employment/volunteer activities to fill my day. Instead of looking for moms with small children I am looking for moms with school-aged kids. No longer do I wander aimlessly through the baby aisles at Target looking for the cutest boy outfits or best deals on diapers…now, I actually try to avoid that section.
2. Friends: I have had many acquaintances step up and have become the
closest of friends. Then, there are people that I considered my close
friends not be able to handle this loss and so then have become very
distant. Yes, it is just that simple.
3. I have lost the ability to compare milestones with moms with toddlers. I know that sounds insignificant but my husband and I had children very young so this was our first child that was born around our friends’ children. It was such a joy to share pictures and compare their milestones and achievements. Now, they continue this wonderful social act and I am left on the sidelines wondering where
Christopher would be. How much would he be talking now? Would he still be a wobbly walker? Would he still run to meet me at the door? Would he still want me to rock him to sleep every night? I’ll never know…
4. I have lost the comfort and peace that comes with putting your
children to bed at night. What was once a beautiful and, honestly, a
liberating time for my husband and myself has now become a highly anxious time. Instead of closing the door and blowing kisses with certainty we’ll see our smiling children in the morning has now become 2 or 3 fearful check-ups before I or my husband can fall asleep. We know it won’t change the outcome if something were to happen; but, the stress of what has already happened weighs heavy on our hearts. Children dying for no reason happens in movies….it doesn’t happen in real life, right?
5. Loss of material possessions: we had to get rid of his crib
immediately. I couldn’t look at it naked without his blankets another
moment. The investigators took everything in his crib as evidence and his
bed was totally bare. It was the saddest scene. And, every time I walked
by his room, which is directly across the hall from my bedroom, I had to
see his empty bed. The bed that held my lifeless child. So, it had to go.
Also, his toys were strewn across our house in various bedrooms and each
time I would pass them or clean them up, I thought about how he should be
here… he should be here playing with them and banging us with them… so
they had to go, too. Every now and again I stumble upon one of his toys. It breaks my heart. Every. Single. Time.
6. Memories: My biggest fear is that I will forget. Not him. I’d never forget HIM. But, my memories of him… what we did together. What it felt like to hold him in my arms… the weight of his body in my lap. To run my fingers through his blonde curly hair. His laugh. The way his bowed legs would scurry across our living room as he looked for his pacifier. Sometimes I feverishly look through my pictures and study his face. His eyes. The lines in his hands. Just so that when I close my eyes I can remember. Because I don’t EVER want to forget. But, along with worrying about forgetting, I cringe at making new memories without him. About moving on. How does a parent find joy knowing their child isn’t able to be here?
7. His smell: Damn. This was the hardest loss other than actually losing
him. I searched, in every area of my home, to find his smell. I
frantically smelled each dirty shirt, each milk stained bib, and each baby
blanket for just a small hint of his smell. And yet, I couldn’t find any
of it. With streams of tears falling from my face, I searched. I can
imagine what he smelled like but for some reason I can’t remember. I try
but its not the same. Its the one thing that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never find it.
Knowing there are difficult days ahead worries me. I know that even once we get to Christopher’s one year mark, we are not in the clear. I will still have bad days. My marriage has more strain than a typical marriage. My children have known a sadness most children their age have not. But, I can’t focus on what tomorrow might bring. Not when there is so much that my family has to be thankful for today. I’m certainly not perfect but I have realized through these secondary losses that relishing in each moment is so important.
There is not extension on life. No re-dos once our loved ones are gone.
Put your phone down. Turn off the TV. Cancel unnecessary plans. Listen to your children. Look into their eyes. Hold them in your arms. Sit by your spouse. Hold their hand. Say “I love you” every time you enter the room. Because, why the hell not?! (I was just preaching to myself by the way) …Hey, I’m a work in progress.
And, if you see me staring out into the distance while you’re talking to me, if I’m blowing up your Facebook with “Christopher’s Crusaders” news, or if I’m cruising down the aisles of the commissary with tear-stained cheeks, it is probably because in addition to losing the most beautiful boy this world has ever seen, we have lost so much more. It doesn’t mean I am broken. No. I was simply lucky enough to be Christopher Riley’s mom.