The guilt behind smiling

It’s been two and a half years since Nash passed. I remember being at the beginning of this long journey and wondering how I would feel more than two years later. I’ve heard it said that grief comes in waves, and I find this to be true at this point in my journey. I have extremely good days and depressingly low days. My low days are few in comparison to the good, but when I have my bad days, they are the worst they have ever been. Todd asked me just a couple of months ago, “Doesn’t it seem worse now that time has passed?” I have to agree. Although I have fewer bad days, when I do have them, they are physically and emotionally debilitating. Almost as if my brain is now able to wrap itself around what happened. I can process it better, which is not a good thing.

In the beginning, I was sad every second of every day, but it almost felt like a haze. I couldn’t process what happened, there was almost a confusion and chaos to it…I didn’t feel the slam from being on a high to dropping to an extreme low, everyday was low. That is  with the exception of the day Nash died. That day I was happy, working and talking about my baby, and minutes later I was driving to a hospital in a panic…and then holding Nash, trying to process that he was gone, when hours earlier he was smiling as I held him. That’s a high high to an extreme low.

That it also how it is today. It literally hits me like a truck. I will be at work and get a flash of Nash in my head, and once that ball is rolling there is no stopping it. I can’t breathe, I feel sick, my eyes swell with tears, and then I finally succumb to my depression. I no longer ask myself, “Did this really happen? Did I really lose my son?” Now, I know, I feel that absence. I see time moving on without him. I’ve celebrated holidays, birthdays, weddings, births, and he wasn’t here for any of these things. I know he is gone. It’s confirmed every single day in a multitude of ways. Now that time has passed, I’m also expected to be better, so there is a large amount of hiding or putting on a facade. I don’t have the luxury of people understanding the way they did in the beginning. I can’t expect to leave work every other day and keep my job. I can’t expect to not go to family functions and have my family understand. This is exhausting.

The one thing that has stayed the absolute same since the beginning is the guilt. Guilt for breathing, eating, smiling. When I have a bad Nash day, my first thoughts are about how I have kept living…how dare me for moving on in any way. A close family member who lost a child said something to me on the anniversary of her daughter’s death that really hit me. She said, “I feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough.” Wow! No truer words have been spoken. As time passes, I do better, I cope better, I smile more…I’m not just living, I am actually enjoying life.

I can’t tell you how awful that feels when you have lost a child. How terrible it is when you have a bad day and reflect on all the smiling you have done. I think it’s the worst part about a parent’s grief in my opinion. That even when you are doing well, you punish yourself for it. Like, it’s not fair to your child that you are happy and living life as if they were not here. Sometimes I wish I would have taken the alcoholic route, just to feel like I’m punishing myself the right amount, if that makes sense. I should be drunk and homeless, digging food out of the trash can. Instead, I’m enjoying life with his brother.

This is the only thing I no longer feel guilty for…loving Crue. I can’t afford for Crue to feel anything less than loved! I feel as if I have already let one child down. I have already failed in the worst way possible on my first trip around the parenting block, and I will not do that with Crue! I pour every ounce of love I can into him, and he makes my heart ooze with happiness. It is the best choice I have ever made, not just to have him but to love him guilt free. As much as I grieve still, I see a small light at the end of the tunnel, and if that’s all I ever get, it’s better than where I once was. It’s amazing to feel that way and the worst feeling all at the same time.

I remember the day after Nash died, searching the internet for the answers I have today but couldn’t find…I have found that the answers aren’t always what you want to hear, but I feel a responsibility to share them. So, to the mother at the beginning of this journey…does it get better? Yes. Will you feel guilty for it? Yes. Will you always cry? Yes. Will you survive? Yes. Will you be happy again. Yes!  And with a little luck, the light at the end of your tunnel may even be a rainbow.

Nana

Anyone who  has lost a child has issues surrounding his or her death. It may be things they said or didn’t say. It could be the timing of things, if they had only visited, if they had not let them drive, if they would have called. These things change you; sometimes they change you more than the actual death of your child. They can eat you up and spit you out until you are barely recognizable. The guilt, regret, and frustration with the “what ifs” are toxic in every way. I try not to let myself dwell there; if I did I would most definitely go crazy. No matter how hard I try though, it’s changed me.

It has changed the way I raise Crue and the way I feel about others, but mostly it has changed the level of trust I have when it comes to who watches him. My trust issues are insane. I wouldn’t even refer to them as issues as much as my trust is non-existent. Todd and I basically do nothing together. We do things separate so one of us can stay home with Crue. Although this is very hard on our marriage, to us, it’s the only way. We can count on one hand the people who we trust with Crue. Even then we need texts, phone calls, and pictures the whole time we are gone. In some ways it’s good: it’s made me more cautious and more assertive with the things I expect when he is in someone’s care. On the other hand, it’s completely out of my character. I’m an extremely trusting person. I feel I have a good judge of character and can make decisions based mainly on my gut. That was before Nash died. Nash’s death taught me that my gut isn’t enough; that I cannot assume anything, even the small seemingly insignificant things.
My family had promised Todd and I they would do whatever it took to watch Crue until he was one. Until he was officially past the scary times and was ready to be in a day care situation. What I heard, however, was that I had one year to figure out how to stay home with him. To Todd and me, there is no day or time when he will be past the so-called scary age. Our fears with others and their ability to keep Crue safe are legitimate struggles for both of us. I knew I couldn’t financially stay home unless my life drastically changed so as Crue got closer to one, I started asking around. I wanted him to be the only child in someone’s care or at the most one of three. Ideally it would be nice if someone came to our home but we couldn’t afford the price of an in-home nanny. Making those calls reminded me of the frantic calls I made to daycares trying to find someone for Nash. The whole process was making me nauseous. One lady was all on board but once she found out about Nash’s passing she felt uncomfortable watching Crue. Another daycare told me they don’t take children under the age of two because of the baby that died in Fenton a couple of years ago….that one was hard to swallow. I cried most nights leading up to his birthday. On one hand I was happy he was to that so-called “safe” age; on the other, I was about to face my biggest fear and didn’t know if I could.
Our prayers were answered with one word: Savanna. When my sister-in-law told me her 20-year-old niece was hinting that she needed a summer job and wanted to watch Crue, I was skeptical. I have known Savanna for years and I know she is a great girl….but my fear outweighed my gut. A 20-year-old girl watching Crue? Would she understand how serious this is, how scary this is for us? Could we make this giant leap and trust someone out of our comfort zone? It came down to an in-home nanny we couldn’t afford, staying home, or Savanna. We decided to at least talk to savanna and we quickly knew  that this was also scary for her. Savanna is practically family. She met Nash, she saw what Todd and I went through when we lost him, she sports a team Nash sticker on her car and a have a Nash day bracelet on her wrist. I knew she got it….Although she was nervous about watching him she was more nervous about someone else watching him. When she said those words my eyes filled with tears and I knew instantly  she was perfect. To think grown adults wouldn’t do it out of fear and Savanna was willing to try says a lot about her character.
To say Crue was spoiled these last three months is the understatement of the century! Savanna holds him nonstop, doesn’t allow him to cry ever, cuts his food so small a bird couldn’t choke on it and, most importantly, never lets him sleep alone. We also get hourly texts and picture updates. I have grown so comfortable with Savanna watching him that I trust her more than almost anyone else. To have someone who you not only trust wholeheartedly  but also loves your child is a feeling I can’t put into words and I think some take for granted.  Crue excitedly runs to her as she opens the door and has the saddest face as he waves goodbye when she drives away. He sweetly calls her “Nana” and when I announce she is at our home the smile it puts on his face warms my heart. Nana was one of his first words even, and he says it now even more than Momma. If people would have told me not only  would I find someone to watch Crue but that I would love and trust her wholeheartedly….I would not have believed them. Savanna has done so much more than take care of Crue, kept him safe, and loved him; she has broken down some of the walls Todd and I have built. She has shown us that there are trustworthy people in this world and that we can enjoy our life knowing he is in good hands. That someone who is not related to your child can love them as if they are. As our time with Savanna is coming to an end as she heads back to college, I find myself unbelievably thankful….thankful for the peace of mind she has given me and this three months of normalcy I haven’t had in my life in a long time. I was able to go to work and leave my child in the care of someone else. Not only did he stay safe but he fell in love and so did we. To us, Savanna will always be family! we are forever indebted to her and she will always have a special place in our hearts and also in Crue’s. Savanna, Thank you for being you and for taking on a challenge grown adults were intimidated by. You did an amazing job taking care of him and at the same time restored so much of our faith in other people. I know it must have been a scary decision for you but you never backed down. I’m glad we can all look back and say WE MADE IT!!!!!! We love you Nana❤️ 

Justice for Nash

I told Todd about the suggestion my client at work had given me about the lawyer. I felt strongly that if we could get him to take our case, we could get answers, we could get some sort of justice for our little Nash. I knew it would be hard. This was a big time lawyer and our chances were small. As I dialed the number, my stomach was in knots. Never in my life did I ever imagine having to make a phone call like this. So many thoughts were racing through my mind. It had only been a few months since Nash passed and  Everything was still so fresh, and talking about it with anyone was still hard. When the secretary answered, I explained my story and cried through 80% of it. She apologized for my loss and explained that they did not take cases like ours.

I knew it. My heart sunk, and I as I went to hang up I heard something in the background. I could hear someone talking to the lady but couldn’t make out what they were saying. She then asked me more questions. This followed by mumbling in the background again and more questions. Something was going on, and I couldn’t tell what. She then asked, “What is your son’s name?” I replied, “Nash,” as my voice cracked and tears started flowing again. She quickly responded that she was transferring me to her supervisor. The lady on the phone spoke gently and quietly as she explained who she was and that she knew of our story. She said, “I will make sure this gets to Brian and will attach a little something on my behalf.” I was shocked! She cautiously explained that she wasn’t sure what he would say, or if would even take the case, but that she would try. I was so thankful and felt a small ray of hope. It was just one of the many winks from God that had played out in the months following Nash’s death.

A month went by and Todd and I started to consider calling another lawyer. We had come to the conclusion they had probably decided to not take our case. Then we got the call that Brian wanted to meet with us. As we drove to Detroit, my mind filled with so many different thoughts. How much should I beg him to take our case without looking crazy? Will he be cold and non-empathetic like TV makes lawyers out to be? Are we doing the right thing? What will people think? What will he say? As we pulled up to the building, I felt small. The sidewalks were busy with afternoon commuters. People in suits whizzed by on their cell phones as cars honked and were lined up bumper-to-bumper. The building was huge, and as we walked in the front doors, Todd and I did what we had done so many times by this point. We gave each other a look, locked hands, took a deep breath and pushed forward.

As we took the elevator to one of the top floors, my mind was trying to take in the events that had led me to this place. I wanted to be at home playing with my baby, reading him stories and singing him lullabies. Instead, I was about to meet a lawyer and discuss his death. The secretary escorted us to some sort of conference room that overlooked much of the city. It was filled with a huge round table that looked like it could sit about twenty. Todd and I sat there alone and nervous. I had googled the lawyer and knew what he looked like; glasses, mid-fifties maybe. I was surprised when in walked a gentleman younger then me. He was clean cut and wore a suit and tie. He had that all-American look. He sat across from us and introduced himself as Parker, one of Brian’s associates. I didn’t think twice about his age or the fact that he wasn’t Brian. I had no idea how this stuff worked.

He started talking over the case with us. I was surprised by how thoroughly he knew it. I loved that unlike the detectives and doctors, he referred to Nash by name and not our baby. It made it feel personal, which is what I wanted from someone who may be fighting on his behalf. At this point, I still wasn’t sure if he was even taking the case. He told me that Nash’s case was brought to the round table and discussed, and they all felt strongly about it and decided to take the case. The first of many tears that day started flowing. I think Parker was taken off-guard. I think he assumed we knew this because we were meeting with him.

He then went on to explain his credentials and that his young age does not mean he is inexperienced. He wasn’t doing it in a boastful or arrogant way. He seemed genuine and wanted us to know how serious he took Nash’s case. It was silent for a second as he readjusted and told us he had a baby of his own; that he felt connected to our case and had actually requested it. I held back tears as I responded. He was a father himself, and I felt at ease knowing that. I began to describe Nash to him and all of the many things that had happened since he died. The support we have had, the community that rallied, the family that loved him. I took my phone from my purse and showed him a picture of Nash. It was important to me. I wanted him to know that he was a person, a human being, one that was loved beyond measure. I also felt a lot of guilt for the circumstances under which we were meeting. Talking about suing someone is not something I ever considered doing. That was before Nash died, and I felt the need to explain how and why we came to the decision we did. I wanted him to see his picture and understand the reasons we needed them to be held accountable. I wanted it to be more then a file on his desk. 

As Todd and I walked out of the building, a van with a rainbow painted on the side drove by and I gasped. We turned the corner to get something to eat and almost immediately passed a party store with different color balloons painted all over the windows. It reminded me of the balloons we released at Nash’s funeral and the rainbow I saw that day. Chills went through me. I looked to the sky and thought to myself, “I hear you Nash. Momma hears you.” I felt empowered, I felt relief. I felt…on the right path.

We are currently pursuing a civil suit against the daycare and Parker is our lawyer. This is not a decision we came to lightly and is probably the scariest thing we have ever done. We have to do it though. We have to do it for Nash. He would still be here if things were done differently that day, I know that for sure. My life and the life of my family is forever changed by those events. We will spend our whole life missing our first child, a child we loved, a child who did not deserve to die. It’s time to give Nash a voice in all of this. To let people know we decided to fight for him. That he died because of negligence, and the daycare should be held accountable for that.

I know not everyone will understand, but I think most will agree that something needs to change. No one should fear dropping their child off at daycare and never seeing them alive again. Maybe if these cases were handled differently, Todd and I wouldn’t be in the position we are now. Maybe our baby would still be alive. Regulations have been in place for years to protect children from things like this. Don’t place infants on their stomachs to sleep. Monitor them closely. Keep the correct ratio of children per caregiver. If you are not in the room, there must be a baby monitor. A regulation could not save my baby though, and ours isn’t this first to die like this and will not be the last until childcare providers realize they will be held accountable if they do not follow these guidelines. I know I am just one person, but if I have learned anything from Nash, it’s that it only takes one to start a fire.

Legal matters 

“Be prepared for no answer. Sometimes babies just die.” These are the words the detective said to me hours after Nash died. It was his closing statement to us as he walked out of the small hospital room that held my grief-stricken family. Our minds were still wheeling from the events that had played out hours before. The death of a grandchild, nephew, cousin, and son. I didn’t know then how important those words were going to become in my life…what role they would play in the choices I have made over these last two years.

Everything about the investigation and the way it was handled upsets me. We found out the cause of Nash’s death from the funeral director who read it off the death certificate a month after he died. We could have just received it in the mail but the funeral home director felt it should be told to us personally. The funeral home director!! Not from from a detective, or someone from the police department coming to our home to sit with us and discuss the case. WE called the detective, WE wanted answers. WE asked to see him. What does positional asphyxia mean? How did he die from this while in someone’s care? He informed us during that meeting that Nash’s case was closed. I was dumbfounded…closed? If it’s closed, how is this the first time we had even met with him? Was he planning on informing us at all?  He explained that it was accidental and the babysitter felt awful. I started to cry. SHE felt awful!? I looked to Todd for some sort of answer but all I saw was red, anger, and frustration. He held my hand as he sternly told the detective how he felt. He asked if the detective had children. He said that he did. Todd asked if he would ever leave them where he couldn’t hear them. Would he not check on them for hours? Would he literally discard them in a room and check on them as he saw fit? The detective replied  no, he wouldn’t. That he, in fact, checked on his babies frequently, even with a baby monitor in the room. I didn’t understand. If he felt this way, why would he not see that this was wrong? 

Nash had a large scrape/bruise on the back of his head. My family went ballistic when they saw it at the hospital. It upset me because they kept pointing at it asking what the hell it was. I didn’t want to think about what it was at that point. Those thoughts would have sent me over the edge I was already dangling over. I just wanted to hold him and sing to him. We asked the detective about it, and he said it was most likely caused by CPR. I thought to myself, “Thank God.” I was relieved to know it wasn’t something else, something worse. Todd, on the other hand, wanted to know how he had come to this conclusion. The detective said that the babysitter told him that’s how she thought it happened. I felt Todd’s hand grip mine tightly, almost to the point where it was painful. Todd asked the detective if he had ever questioned the sitter after that day, and he said no.  I thought Todd was going to start throwing things in the detective’s office. He started to shake but remained composed. The detective must have noticed his anger because he quickly added that he would be happy to send the pictures they took of his head to a woman who specializes in this at UofM. We both agreed that we wanted him to do it. To this day, we have never heard from the detective again, nor have we heard about any further investigation into what caused that mark. Can someone please tell me how a child can die at daycare under these circumstances and the parents are  the only ones being punished! 

I can’t tell you how important it is to a parent who has lost a child to have answers. The not knowing, the “what ifs” will slowly eat away at you until you can barely function in your everyday life. I go from sadness, to fear, to anger and frustration. If they had reached the same conclusion they did but after a thorough investigation, we would have so much more peace compared to what we have now. Did they not know how important getting these answers would be to us? “Be prepared for no answer. Sometimes babies just die.” His mind was made up just hours after Nash died. What I have come to learn not only from my situation, but also from similar situations of others, is that a baby’s death is not held to the same standard as the death of you or me would be. If an adult had died in that house, that day, I doubt the detective would not only fail to inform the family of the cause of death and that the case was closed, but would also not tell them how awful the responsible party felt and that it was an accident. It took seconds after meeting the detective to decide we would do all we could  to to hold the daycare accountable. Nash died, he died. Let me repeat that again, he died!!! In a room by himself with no baby monitor, laying on his belly with well over the amount of children a daycare is regulated to have. All while the caregivers are downstairs with the other children posting recipes on Facebook. 

I felt sad, frustrated, defeated. My baby died from absolute and unquestionable negligence, and because the sitter felt bad and because Nash was a baby, it was tossed aside. Nash wasn’t just a baby though, he was a human being! He was my son, and because of this daycare he is no longer here. Shouldn’t that matter? Does his life mean anything? Can a baby really die at daycare and nothing happens!?

Months later, when I went back to work, a patient asked me if I was pursuing the daycare legally. He was a lawyer, so I felt comfortable talking to him about it. I told him I didn’t understand my options. That the case was closed criminally.  I didn’t even know what kind of lawyer I should call. I had never dealt with anything like this in my life. He explained that we could pursue them civilly. He gave me a name. He said, “If you decide to do this, this is the lawyer to call.” He explained that he only took big cases and may not even take our case, but if he did, I was in the best possible hands. He smiled and said, “Shelly, don’t tell him I sent you. I don’t want him to know how the other side feels when they are up against him.” He then winked and walked away. I looked down at the paper and read, Brian McKeen and Associates, Detroit MI. 

The Terrible Twos

Realistically,  I know people understand that you never get over the loss of a child. I do think however, that some think it gets better with time. In some ways, I agree. When Nash first died, I had more bad days than good. Then, slowly but surely, I started having more good days than bad. For some reason, in this last month, I feel like I have taken 5,000 steps backwards. Hell, I might as well be in that rocking chair again holding onto Nash’s lifeless body, trying to wrap my brain around what was happening. I am at an all-time low. I’m finding it hard to do  normal things like, get dressed and brush my teeth. If I don’t have somewhere to go, you can find me at home in my robe. 

You wouldn’t know this if you saw me. I still smile, laugh, talk with friends, love on Crue; it’s like a disguise I wear. There are many reasons I wear it, and some of them are even helpful to me. When you first lose a child, people expect you to be inconsolable, they expect you to be on the verge of death even…once time goes by and they see you are doing well, it’s harder to have the breakdowns you need. I feel at this point people would think I want attention, or that I’m not the only one with problems and how long am I going to drag this out. Maybe I’m being a little too hard on others, but I do think some people feel like there is a point where you have to brush yourself off and push through. I don’t just think some people feel this way, I know.  The whispers of others are becoming more common, I’m starting to hear the phrase, “when will she get over it already?” Not from anyone who matters, but it is being said. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m pushing through, only I push through multiple times a day after I have taken 100 steps back. I could care less what others think, they are not walking the road I am, and I do whatever I have to do just to get through each day. If that means 100 Facebook posts, talking about him non-stop or canceling events because I’m to sad, so be it, that’s my right after what I’ve went though.  Lately, nights are the worst. When I lay down at night and the events of the day run through my mind, mine always goes to June 19th. I think back to the babysitter standing in the doorway as Nash smiled at me, and only now have I realized that was our goodbye. That smile as I pulled out the drive was the last time my baby would see me, and I him. That moment haunts me. I have cried myself to sleep for a month thinking about that moment and my inability to rewind it. If I could only go back, run to him, snatch him from her arms and take him home with me I would. I can’t though, and the torture it’s putting me through is inexplicable. If I think to long about it I can make myself sick. It’s torture to know if I had just changed one thing about that day my baby would still be here. It truly is to much to take, and at times I completely spiral when I think of it. I have to make the conscious effort daily to try and stop my brain from processing those thoughts. 

I will be at work and think of that moment and gasp. I start to shake and can’t catch my breath. I want to drop what I’m doing and run out of the building, crying and drive as far away as I can. I don’t though; instead I take deep breaths, talk myself down and smile through it. When I’m crying at night, I fight the urge to wake Todd and tell him I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to live like this. What could he do though? He could hold me, listen, but he can’t change it either, and all I would be doing is causing him pain at that moment. Maybe I’m doing so poorly because it’s close to June and everything about this weather reminds me of my final month with Nash and the day he died.

I was talking to Todd a couple of days ago, telling him how hard of a time I have been having lately, and he said seeing Crue in shorts has been doing it to him. It’s was Nash’s first summer and just starting to get warm when we bought him his first outfits with shorts, not knowing weeks later one of those outfits he would die wearing – the shirt cut down the middle from CPR we still have and the shorts we have been upset we never got back. I know it’s strange to be so hung up on some things, but not having those shorts has bothered Todd and I to no end. We read the autopsy report, and it was noted that he was still wearing them then. To think that they were thrown away breaks my heart. Not to mention reading that and picturing him in that condition in those shorts…ugh, the worst thing imaginable is the things my brain not only remembers buy visualizes. 

I have had lots of triggers this month. We had one box of diapers left over from Nash that we finally used. Crue is officially using sippy cups, no more of the bottles Nash used. Each day it seems like Nash is disappearing from our lives a little more and all I want is to cling to these small things with everything that I have, and I know I can’t. I know  it’s healthy to move on in some ways, but I’m here to tell you that it is not easy. I had just short of six months with Nash, and my memories of him are fading to a point that when I watch his videos, I barely recognize him. After seeing Crue everyday for a year, I’m so used to his face and seeing Nash is almost odd. I hate that!! I don’t want to forget my baby. If this is how I feel now, what will it be like in 10 or 20 years? At one point in time he was my complete world, the thought of something happening to him would bring me to instant tears, and now I’m actually living through his death. I’m surviving my worst nightmare and the pieces of my shattered life are being molded into somethig new. Some new way of living which Feels more like exisiting then anything. I’m irritable, defensive, depressed and numb to everyone and everything it seems. My mind is constantly switching back and forth between the present and the past. 

I’m also incredibly sad for Crue. He should have an older brother…he loves little boys…when he sees them he runs to them. Last week he climbed into one of my friend’s son’s laps. I actually have to remind myself I am a mother of two.  I should have a two year old.  Todd and I should be struggling to get two kids in and out of the house. When we arrive at our families homes, two crazy boys should be with us. When I walk into a resteraunt or store with Crue and see a mom with two boys running after each other and laughing, I want to cry at my very easy stroll through the store with Crue. Crue also loves this picture of Nash I put in his nursery. He carries it everywhere, and when he points to it, I say, “Nash.” He always smiles and says, “NaNa.” Lately he even kisses it, which is something I have never done so he didn’t get it from me. Just last week, as he was laying down for a nap, he cried and pointed to it so I handed it to him…minutes later he fell asleep with it in his arms. It’s almost like he has that little brother mentality, even though he has never known it. Nash would be two this year, the terrible twos as they call them…I wish I was dealing with tantrums, potty training, and all the things people say are so terrible when having a child that age. This year is shaping up to be one of my worst. I guess I’m experiencing my own version of the terrible twos .

Mother’s Day

To me, Mother’s Day has always been about celebrating the woman who raised me. A day where every one of my siblings tries to see our mom, or at the very least call her. Not only do I call my mom, but I also always call my grandma. Now, I will admit, I never used to call my grandma on Mother’s Day; for some reason, it never occurred to me.  When my dad died, though, it bothered me to know she would get one less call. I remember my dad always going to see her, unless something came up and in that case he would always call. To know she wouldn’t have that broke my heart. At the end of our phone call, I always end with, “Happy Mother’s Day from me, and of course from dad,” and she always cries.

One year, I didn’t get around to calling her, so I called the next day instead. She said she was surprised when she didn’t hear from me on Mother’s Day. It was then that I learned she had started to anticipate my call, and that makes me so happy. I could never fill my dad’s shoes, but knowing she won’t have one less phone call on that day fills my heart. It wasn’t until Nash died that I realized how hard this day actually is for a mother who has lost a child. Yes, I’m sure my phone call makes my grandmother very happy, but I also know she feels that absence, that void, regardless of that phone call. No matter what I try to do, she is well aware she will never again spend a mother Mother’s Day with all of her children.

I am lucky in the fact that since I became a mother, I have never had a Mother’s Day without a child. Nash died after Mother’s Day and Crue was born right before the next year. I can not imagine being without a child on that day. To me that would be almost too much to bear. Mothers who lost their only child..I can only imagine the pain that this day brings. To know that yes, I am a mother, but I have no child here to celebrate this day with, would be the ultimate moment of depression in my world.  At the same time, knowing I will never at the young age of 36 celebrate a Mother’s Day with all my children shatters my already severely damaged heart. Nash will never make me some silly thing he made in school, no handmade Mother’s Day card, he will never bring me flowers, he will never stop by and visit, he will never call.

I will celebrate this Mother’s Day and all the ones that follow without the child that made me a mother to begin with. I will put on a smile and wear it like a pair of uncomfortable pants. I will do what I have been doing for two years and fake my way through that day. I will tell everyone how thankful I am to have Crue and pretend that it is enough. I will tell them what they want to hear, that each day is a blessing, and this one is no different. What I want to say is, this is hard, that smiling on this day is hard, that pretending half of my children is enough…is hard. To think of any day without my Nash as a blessing is hard. There is an empty seat at my table, an empty branch from my tree.

What am I grateful for on this Mother’s Day? I’m grateful for the people who choose to sit uncomfortably with me on this day as I work hard to get through the emotions it will bring. I’m thankful for Crue and the second chance he has given me  to celebrate this day. I’m thankful for Todd; in his eyes I will always be the mother to his two boys, nothing less. Mostly though, I’m thankful to the other grieving mothers, the ones who have been celebrating this day for years without their child. They give me the strength I need to get through this day. They have showed me that it’s not impossible; that they can still celebrate being a mother to their child even though they are in heaven. That death does not take that title away but multiplies its meaning.

We are mothers who have gone through every mother’s worst nightmare. We have chosen to get up each day and honor our children gone too soon. On Mother’s Day, we will do what every other mother does and think about all of our children, especially the ones we cannot hold. We are proof that motherhood does not stop because our child is no longer here. Every mother chooses to get up every morning and put their child before themselves, and every grieving mother wakes up each day and chooses to face another day without them; do not mistake that it is a choice. My friend Courtney gave me one of the biggest compliments you can get as a mother, in my opinion. She said, “Everyone knows who Nash is, you made sure of that.” She said this with tears in her eyes and a smile. I felt proud, proud to be the mommy who wouldn’t let him be forgotten. He never stopped being my son and I will never stop being his mother.

One

One…..one……one……this number is my everything. My life has revolved around this number for the last year and a half. When I was pregnant with Crue, I kept repeating in my head, “Just get him to one.” When he was born, “Just get him to one.” Every time he turned another month older, I wasn’t celebrating that month, I was celebrating that he was one month closer to one, the safe zone, the time when something happening to him during his sleep is officially low. The number they say he can safely sleep on his belly. The number in which I can quit waking up in the middle of the night night in a panic attack as I reach to see if he is breathing and my gut wrenches until I feel his chest rise. The number where the only thing I have to worry about when my baby drifts off to dream land is that he will wake up and cry for me.

My baby has proven over these last twelve months, on a daily basis, that he is going to continue to wake up every morning. It’s been over a month since he has slept with his Snuza. That is a huge milestone for Todd and me, to lay our baby down at night without a movement monitor and step out completely on faith that he will be here when we wake up. This year has been the most emotional, depressing, sad, stressful, conflicting, joyous, happy, amazing year of my life!!!! Every emotion there is, I have had it. The constant conflict in my mind as I celebrate one son’s many achievements and grieve for the son that will never reach them. To see Crue rely on me for everything and watch him as he grows. To see that he completely trusts me to give him all he needs and the immediate tears that follow as I think about my failure to do that for Nash. To have Crue hug and kiss me and see how happy he is to do it and know his brother never got the chance to hug or kiss the parents that loved him so much.

Even though it’s been hard, it has been the most amazing year of my life, to get what every mother deserves, to see their child grow, and to see what every child deserves, to celebrate their birthday. I woke up April 11th, 2016 with nothing but happy thoughts. This day was Crue’s, not mine, not Nash’s…..Crue’s! I didn’t really get emotional until my family started singing Happy Birthday. We kept Crue’s party small, immediate family only. To see my family celebrate with us and know just as much as we do how important this day was, meant the world. You would think I would cry because of Nash, or because of that conflict in my brain…that’s what I expected. It wasn’t that though. As my family sang Happy Birthday and I watched Crue’s, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents smile at him as they sang, and take pictures as he tore into his cake, I cried happy tears. This was a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, to celebrate my child’s birthday. Through the many years of struggle to get pregnant with Nash and the loss of him, I never realized that this ordinary day to most parents was a day I had waited for for the last six years!!

I think birthdays will always be special to me because I know they are never promised. I know that on any day, God can call my child home. To know that, to really know that, to have been on the other side of a birthday, to see the end of my child’s life, to live through that…well, I don’t have the words. Birthdays are special…one year older, one year stronger, another year to celebrate the child that has made me whole again. My rainbow baby, deserving of celebration in so many ways! We made it baby!!! Happy birthday Crue, momma loves you to the moon and back!!   

 
  
  
  
  

 

Renewed faith

This long road of grief has led me to many dark places. I have felt alone, separated from my husband, my family, even Crue. When life got hard pre-Nash, I prayed about it. I “gave it all to Jesus”, as some would say. I think that’s the first time I have ever used that phrase, but that is exactly what I did. The soul crushing, heart stopping, gut wrenching emotions that go with losing a child could not be healed for me by “giving it all to Jesus”. Jesus wasn’t going through this. I was. Or was He? Not only did I feel no connection to God, but I also felt guilt if I was to believe. My child was literally ripped from my life and I’m supposed to find comfort that he is with God? Should I feel better knowing that? It felt unfair to think that way…like, my baby died but God has a plan. To me, it felt like ignoring what I was going through and pretending for my own sake that he was happy and in heaven. These last couple months I have felt this pull in my life, this pull to reconnect to the faith I once had. If you think losing a child is hard, try doing it without faith. The problem is, I can’t just make myself believe for my own mind’s sake, I needed to truly believe and I just didn’t have that same naive mindset I did before. It’s been almost two years since I have prayed. Two years since I have talked with someone I once talked with multiple times a day. So, I just waited, hoping faith would find its way back to me, and it did. At first it was small things. I would look at Crue and know he was meant to be here. I would look at him not only as my child, but a gift. I can’t explain it.As most know, I have a support system most would only dream about. Am I just lucky? Is it pure fate that I have some of the best friends and family someone could have? Is it fate that I drove to a parking lot in some random business to write this, and a car with a” Team Nash” sticker is staring me in the face. Then one day I sat down to watch the movie, “Unconditional”. First, let me say this is not a plug for that movie. It was awful, bad acting and all. The message though, I received loud and clear. See, months before I finally made an appointment to see Wes, the pastor who did Nash’s funeral. I had heard from friends and family, that on a couple different occasions he had asked how I was and given the message that he was here to talk anytime I needed him. I finally had questions, hard questions that I needed answered. As I sat across from him, the first words out of my mouth were, ” I’m afraid you won’t have answers for the questions I have.” He looked at me and smiled and said, “Shelly, I may not.” Well, he was honest. That was a good start. My three main questions in the two hours we talked were, “is there a God?” “Could he have prevented Nashs death?” And, “am I going to hell because I have lost my faith?” He never gave me his personal opinion, no matter how badly I wanted it. He always read passages from the bible and explained what it was saying in reference to what I was asking. In short, yes, there is a God, but he can’t tell me that. That’s something I have to come to on my own. Yes, he could have prevented Nash’s death, but we don’t have the answers as to why he didn’t. We are not supposed to have those answers….. and about Hell, well, no answer as well. The bible can be interpreted in so many ways,and being around Wes, someone who is full of faith, well it feels good, for lack of a better adjective. To see someone who whole heartedly believed my baby is with God, well it brought me a great deal of comfort. It was a great conversation with a lot of tears on my part. I think what stuck with me the most for some reason was not knowing if I was going to hell. Thinking I may, made me rethink the loving God I once knew. Has my whole life of faith not mattered because my last two years of doubt? I wish I could tell you everything we talked about because although I left with more questions then answers, I felt relief. So, back to the movie. The pivotal moment that set the next 48 hours on fire for me. The movie was about a girl who lost her husband and with that, her faith as well. She reconnected with a friend who helped her see the light, no pun intended. The phrase that stuck with me was when her friend told her, “God is patient. He will be there when you are ready.” I was holding Crue and just started balling. I looked down and he looked up at me smiling. A smile that seemed to say, there you are momma. Those words resonated with me. He will be there when I’m ready. At the end of the movie based on true events, the husband had been given $2 bills as an act of kindness and the day he died he had given it to someone with a message that eventually got back to his wife. She then saw the bills everywhere. I thought about my Nash and all the signs he had given me. The rainbows, the random acts of kindness, the pull to see Wes, the family and friends that have rallied behind us and for the first time, without forcing myself to feel it, I felt God in all of these things. Like a trail of breadcrumbs leading me back to him. I literally sat Crue down, got on me knees and lifted my hands in the air and cried. Now for someone who yes, always believed in God I had never been compelled to do something like that, and you know what? It felt good! I felt this relief flush over me. It was as if my eyes were seeing clear for the first time, like I knew some secret no one else did. The next day Todd, Crue and I went out to eat. I said nothing to Todd about the night before, but I felt different. We were at a Chinese restaurant and the waitresses couldn’t get enough of Crue. They gave him a fortune cookie that he played with the whole meal. It was storming out something fierce and Crue was blissfully unaware, playing with his cookie. The waitresses literally would not leave the table. They were enamored by Crue. At the end of our meal, we did what we always did and opened our cookies. Mine said, “better days are upon you”. I opened Crue’s and his said, “your charm does not go unnoticed by the Angels”. Chills went up and down me. As we ran to the car in the rain leaving behind a large tip and a Nash card I felt amazed by how easy it was to see God in things when you just opened your heart to it. Once we were home, the rain had finally stopped and my phone starting dinging like crazy. All Facebook notifications. When I looked, it was people posting the multiple rainbows they were seeing. Our local news anchor David Custer posted about it on Facebook and private messaged me, that Nash was making his presence known everywhere tonight. I laid on the kitchen floor with Crue playing, and glanced over to our back door in hopes of a rainbow sighting, what I saw was the most beautiful sky I had ever seen, casting a glow over our back porch, and Crue and I. I can’t explain it. I didn’t just believe again, I felt stronger about God then I had ever before. The next day, Todd and I went on a rare date night-dinner and a movie. I got to pick the movie and I had been wanting to see the new Jennifer Gardner movie, “Miracles from Heaven”. The movie was based on true events about a mother whose child had become deathly ill. It went on to show her struggle with her own loss of faith, God and the people around her. I resonated with her character more then I ever thought possible. Her questions were my questions. Her frustrations were the same as mine. If you don’t want to know how the movie ends, stop reading here. In the end, her daughter who was dying from an intestinal disease, ended up falling three stories down a hallowed out tree to what should have been her death. She didn’t die though, she lived and not only did she live, she had been completely cured. She told her parents she had gone to Heaven and God had told her she would return to her parents healed. Her mother (Jennifer Gardner) looked at her and said, ” I’m afraid of what people may think if you tell them this story.” The daughter replied, “some won’t believe me Mom, but they will get there when they get there”. I felt the same emotion Jennifer Gardener’s character expressed with her daughter as she repeated those words back to her.I have lost the most precious part of my family. It killed any innocence or preconceived notions of what I thought this life was. I have been beaten down, brought to my knees by the weight of this burden, this cross to bear. I lost my faith. I lost my way,but I got where I needed to be. I may have taken the long way around,but I got there when I got there, and God was there waiting for me. 

    
    
 

Grandpa Greg

I only had a small glimpse as a child of what it was like  to have a grandfather. My dad’s dad died when he was twelve and my mother never knew her father. When my dad married Peggy I gained aunts, uncles, cousins,brothers and sisters, all of which I already had and this was just more people to love and be loved by. Grandpa Abbott though, he was a first for me. My stepmom’s dad was what I would like to call the perfect grandpa. He was welcoming, loving, and kind. He had a way of making all his grandchildren feel special, even me. He had this quietness, almost a shy temperament, but with a devious smile, and a joking spirit. He was always sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, in all the memories I have of him. I was a very shy child and I would watch him from across the table, completely fascinated by his charm. He would look across the table at me, smile with that devious smile, and take his hot spoon that he had stirred his coffe with and hit the top of my hand with it and we would both laugh. He died of cancer a few short years after I met him. I was actually visiting my mom in Texas for the summer when he died. I remember hearing the news and crying. Later my cousins had shown me pictures of when he was sick and it was devastating. Im happy I have no memories of that. I only remember the strong smiling man from the kitchen table. My dad absolutely loved him. I think he had so missed having a father figure of his own, and I can relate to that now, with the way I feel for my father-in-law, Greg.

My relationship with Greg is a relationship I treasure dearly. He is not just my father-in-law, but a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, and a smile across the table. Although I am so grateful for the relationship I have with him, I’m even more thankful my children will grow up with a grandpa. He is the epitome of what a grandpa should be. He is doting, patient, kind, loving,  and protective. I wish I could say that was some big secret that only I knew, but the truth is, he is loved by everyone that knows him, and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE! The man knows everybody!

There is a video taken at the hospital of Todd coming out to tell our families that Nash was a boy. Greg’s laugh and huge hug to pull Todd in, is one of my favorite moments ever captured on video. He exudes the pride he has in his family. To say he and Todd are close, well, it’s not saying enough. I remember the night Todd asked him to be the best man in our wedding. The shock and crack in his voice as he ran out of the bar to call Peggy and share the news. I have never seen a relationship between two men like I see between Todd and Greg. They are the most affectionate men ever. Sometimes I chuckle watching Greg stand behind Todd rubbing his head or his face. What’s ever more strange, is its not awkward at all. The love  between them is very natural. Greg still hugs him and loves on him like he is his a baby boy, and I watch my husband for those few moments revert back to that time.

Greg was newly retired when we had Nash. I can’t say we didn’t think about asking him to watch Nash, but I think we felt the same Greg probably did…an older guy, with a newborn. We knew he would watch him anytime we needed him to, but we weren’t about to make it a full time job for him. When Nash died, you can imagine how he must of felt. To see someone who had only ever loved his family, feel any amount of guilt or sadness is hard to watch. I still see him wrestle with that. When we became pregnant with Crue, it wasn’t even a question. He wasn’t going to daycare. Between my sister-in-laws and Greg, the three days I work were covered. This was a promise they all made to us to get Crue to a year old. I could write a whole separate  blog on the things they have all done and risked to do this for us.  I’d like them to keep their jobs though, so I can’t share. Now, my sisters are moms, enough said. I worried about Greg, not that he couldnt do the job, but that it may be way out of his comfort zone. Peggy, Todd’s mom, still worked and once in a while she would have the day off to help, but for the most part, Greg was on his own. Through this last year he has done it all; changed poopy diapers, fed him, rocked him to sleep, and played with him endlessly. To see Greg come into his own with watching Crue has been amazing. He soon had formula, food, nursery water, diapers, and bottles of his own that he kept at the house. If I stopped by and needed a bottle, Greg would always remind me that was his bottle for the house. He liked his own stock pile. It seriously is one of the cutest things to see. Greg prides himself on having all of the things Crue needs. He has also let me know a few things he feels Crue likes and dislikes, just in case I didn’t know. Other then Greg wanting to feed him every time  he looked crosseyed, I have no complaints. He did an amazing job! Most of the time, he even had him two out of the three days. Now, to see Crue and Greg together is just plain rediculous. There is no place on earth Crue would rather be then in Greg’s arms and Greg thoroughly enjoys this. If Todd, Greg, and I were standing in a room, he would choose Greg 100% of the time. To see Crue not only have a grandpa, but have the bond he has with his grandpa, makes my heart melt. Like Crue has been healing to me, I see he does the same for Greg. Like me, Greg will always love Nash. Nash will always be his first grandson. That hole will never be filled. Watching Crue bring back some of that smile I had seen dim in Greg since Nash’s passing, I don’t have the words. Sometimes I feel some people may look over how important of a role a grandfather has in our lives. To me, it’s one the most important relationships we will ever have. I’m happy Crue has that. I’m happy Nash did as well. Grandpa Greg, I know you are reading this because you always send me a text after every new entry I post. I love you! Thank you just doesn’t cut it. You are one of the most amazing people I have ever known,and I’m glad I have you. I’m glad my boys have you. You couldn’t be more perfect if I hand picked you from some grandfather’s catalog. One day, 50 years from now, when we allow you to go to heaven, know as one grandson kisses you goodbye, another will be kissing you hello! Not every grandpa gets that, it’s one of the perks of going through such a terrible loss, and of course being the best grandpa in the world . 

grandpa Abbott

    
  

Greg and Nash

  
  

Greg and Nash

  

Greg, Crue, and Todd

   

Chad

Everyone has expectations for the family they want, or see themselves having. My dream was like many I’m sure, I wanted your typical all American tight knit family. I pictured my family laughing and sharing the day’s events at the dinner table as we ate. I grew up doing that, and if we hadn’t, my parents would have known little about my life. It’s where we shared most things. I pictured being the baseball mom. You know the one. The one who has mom on the back of her jersey and brings cookies to all the games. I pictured being the kind of parent my kids’ friends enjoyed. My whole world would be perfect if I was the mom my kids’ friends called mom too. It’s a simple life, but it’s all I have ever wanted. When Nash was born, I had pictured all these things. I was beyond excited to have one of our three extra bedrooms full. I would look in the other rooms excited to think one day his brother or sister would be there. When Nash died, it felt like a huge punch  in the gut to the family I had pictured- one room filled and then empty. One growing baby boy to one Urn on a shelf. Todd has always been very fatherly, even with his nieces. He has taught  them how to drive, taken them to dances and he would  even coach their teams if he was asked. His dream was the same as mine. We struggle everyday  with OUR new reality, but I don’t think we anticipated how upset we would one day be for Crue. Watching Crue crawl, point at things, wave and play with toys is heartbreaking. He doesn’t have his big brother. Some of My most heartbreaking moments are when I see a picture of a big brother snuggling with their younger brother.  I always look at Crue sleeping alone or playing alone and it just about kills me. One day he will be picked on, it’s inevitable. He should have an older brother to protect him.

I had a woman write me one day and ask when I intended to tell Crue he had an older brother. I was taken back, I never pictured having a conversation. I always pictured him just knowing. This woman had lost a child and said we didn’t tell our children until we thought they were at an age they could handle it. I really took that in. I asked other moms I knew who had lost a child and they were split right down the middle on when or if your kids should know at all. One mother said, ” you don’t want your child to grow up already missing someone they have never met.” I didn’t like this; it’s not what I envisioned. Not only had these mothers said these things to me but I had talked to people my age who had lost siblings  and I was shocked they were not told until they were older. What hurt even more was the way they explained them. My one friend said, ” my mom lost a baby before I was born.” No name, not his brother or sister….his mom’s baby. Another lady told me, ” my mom and dad lost a child to cancer before I was born, but we don’t talk about it.” I found this shocking. The more I looked into it, the more stories like this I heard. Was I asking too much from my children to have them remember a brother they never knew? Would this harm them in some way?

All these thoughts changed when I my friend Wendi met her husband Ryan. They were dating when I lost Nash and after some time had passed, she reached out to me and told me her husband’s story. She said Ryan told her on their first date about his older brother,Chad. His parents first child, the first grandchild on both sides. I cried instantly, knowing that Crue may not only share this with his future wife but that it would be first date conversation. She went on to tell me that there is a picture of Chad up at his parents house and that he is openly talked about and discussed – that even though her three children had never met him, they would cry when they visited his gravesite as a family. She continued to tell me she told them about Nash and my story. She gave me so much hope that day. It was a year before I saw Ryan, after Wendi told me about his brother. I asked him when his mother first told him about Chad. He said, ” I always knew; it was never a conversation. I grew up knowing my older bother.” He went on to say he thinks it would have been difficult to have some long drawn out conversation when he was older. I had to hold back my tears. He had no idea what his words meant to me. I not only completely agreed with him, but I loved How he referred to his brother as his older brother or he called him Chad. It wasn’t uncomfortable It wasn’t unnatural for him to say his name.

I met Chad’s brother Aaron that night as well. He knew who I was from Wendi’s stories about Nash. Aaron went on to talk about his brother, and again I had to hold back tears. Neither one of them knew how much they changed my life that night. To hear them talk about their brother Chad like you or  I would talk about our brothers and sisters we’d known our whole life. To see their faces light up at the chance to talk about him. He was someone to them; he was important and they had alot of pride when discussing him with me. It was something I cannot put into words. He wasn’t their mother’s son before they were born. He wasn’t a child lost that they never knew. They talked about him with a huge smile and always referred to him as their brother or Chad.

When I attended Ryan’s and Wendi’s  wedding, I was like a private eye. I’m surprised   his family said nothing to me because I stared at them the whole time I was there. What I saw, was an amazingly tight knit family. I saw a happy family. I envisioned them being the type of family that sat at the dinner table and talked about their day. I envisioned  their mom at baseball games with a container of cookies and a jersey that said mom on the back. I saw  the all American family I had always dreamed of and thought I couldn’t have. It’s because of them that I realize I can still have that family. That  my family doesn’t have to not include Nash. I have never had more hope that not only can I be happy again, but the dreams that I had in the past can still be my dreams now. That not only was it still possible to have the family I always wanted by including Nash, but that it may be impossible to have that family if he wasn’t included. That makes me the happiest I have been in forever! I don’t know why I thought I couldn’t have that family after Nash died, maybe it’s because no matter how we look on the outside, we know there’s a chunk missing from our family. What I’m learning is that that doesn’t have to define us. And if it does define us in someway, that’s an important  part of our story. 

 Ryan and Wendi

  Ryan and Aaron