Monday, June 1, 2015

Grasping the Memories

It’s been just over two years since we held our first son in our arms. In those years, not a single day has passed where Aaron’s name hasn’t been spoken in our household or when he hasn’t been on our minds. We think of who he would be right now and what he would be doing. We listen to the sorrow in the voices of his big sisters as they speak of missing their little brother.  We see him carefully sketched in the sky of every single family drawing they make.  We find ourselves absentmindedly running our fingers over the treasured keepsakes that are the only tangible evidence of his brief little life.

Aaron is, was, and will always, be a part of our story and a part of our lives. These days, it has begun to feel like those around us have all but forgotten the tiny little baby who stormed into our lives, stole our hearts and was gone again just as quickly. There is this mistaken notion sometimes that grief is supposed to follow a linear path and should get easier over the course of time.  Unfortunately, this just isn’t typically the case.

Our children spent this past weekend with my parents so that Chris and I could spend some much needed time focusing on one another.  On the way to drop them off, we stopped by the cemetery to “spend some time with Baby Aaron” just as we do every time we head that direction for a holiday or family gathering. (For those that don’t know, the cemetery is just outside my hometown and is just over an hour away from where we live now.)  They love to sit in the grass and talk to Aaron while they rearrange every single trinket and keepsake that we have placed on his headstone. This weekend, they pulled up handfuls of little clovers so they could leave him bouquets of “flowers” and talked me into making a clover chain to leave for him as well.  They blew him kisses, told him they loved him and then we continued on to see my parents.

When we picked them up yesterday, we had only made it about fifteen minutes into the drive before my oldest daughter asked to go back to the cemetery before we went home.  The weather was terrible, everyone was tired and we were running behind so we reminded her that we had just been there and promised that we would go again next time. She quietly agreed but when we checked the mirror a minute later, we saw her tear-streaked little face and she gently explained that she missed Baby Aaron and really wanted to go see him again today. We pulled over so I could climb in the back to hug her and her sister. Then I tried again to explain why we couldn’t go to the cemetery today and promised that we would get down his pictures and keepsakes so we could look at everything when we got home.

So, that was what we did.  We brought down three large black and white NILMDTS photos that sit atop our entertainment center, got out the blanket that he was wrapped in at the hospital, and carried in the weighted teddy bear that we had made to match his birthweight. Then we all sat in the living room floor as the girls carefully wiped the dust from the photos and our youngest snuggled his head into the belly of the teddy bear.  We patiently answered questions that we’ve already heard a hundred times about why Baby Aaron had to die, how he got his “boo-boo,” what his head looked like, and why he had to wear a hat.  We had to carefully navigate questions from our four-year old about why she couldn’t see the pictures of Baby Aaron’s head without his hat.  I had to fight back my own tears as hers began falling when she told me that she was so sad because she couldn’t remember seeing him at the hospital. 

It tears me apart to see such innocent little people struggling so hard to comprehend something that even their parents will never begin to understand. We wonder at every turn whether we’ve handled things in the best way for them or whether we should have done everything completely differently. We fight almost daily to keep our emotions in check so that we can help them to properly process their own.

Yet, they are often the ones who end up teaching us in the process. We marvel at the wisdom and the grace that they continue to exhibit at the most surprising times. We are often left speechless at the faith they possess and the untainted trust in God that they harbor. Their simple explanations, unbridled compassion, and awe-inspiring unconditional love for their baby brother are some of the greatest blessings we have been given in this lifetime. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

In the Grass

The holidays are rough.  Nearly anyone who has ever lost someone close to them will tell you that.  What they don’t tell you is that there will be no real rhyme or reason to exactly how rough or how gentle a particular holiday might be. Sometimes you reach the end of the day and think to yourself, “Well that wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.” Other times, you find yourself sobbing in the grass struggling to breathe. Yesterday was Easter and unfortunately, it was the latter of those two options.

I can’t, or won’t, speculate about the exact reasons why yesterday was so rough because I’m sure it was a combination of things.  This would have been Aaron’s third Easter and he would have been old enough to toddle around trying to find an egg or two in the back yard at my parents’ house.  He would have had a noisy little toy car to throw around just like his brother and my nephew were doing.  We would have been struggling to keep him from trying to eat handfuls of candy like his sisters did. And at the end of it all, we would have packed him into his car seat and hoped he fell asleep for the car ride home.

Instead, the “Easter Bunny” left a little toy car on the table with everyone else’s chocolate bunnies, candy and toys. I heard my five year old remark how nice it was that the Easter Bunny brought something for Baby Aaron too.  We opened baskets and took pictures, all the while thinking in the back of my head that I should have been trying to fit four happy little faces into the frame instead of three. We got everyone dressed and packed into the van, stopping to make sure that we had the toy car and the pinwheel for the cemetery. We spent time eating and laughing and spending time with our family. We watched as the kids had their egg hunt and I fought back silent tears as I thought of the two-year old missing from all the fun. When it was time to go, we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. But instead of heading home, our next stop was the cemetery…just like it is after every holiday and family get-together.

I can assure you that there is no feeling in the world quite like watching your two oldest children running across a quiet cemetery to the grave of their little brother. There really are no words to describe how it feels to watch your five year old kneel in the grass so she can play the music from her new jewelry box for her baby brother or to see your four year old bend down carefully to kiss the top of his headstone. I can not explain to you the anguish in my heart as they tenderly and purposefully rearranged each little trinket we have left for him during the last two years. And I would never want you to know exactly how it feels to watch that same four year old do a little dance in the grass beside your son’s resting place because she wants her brother to see what a good dancer she is.  I hope you never have to hear a five year old explain to her little sister that their brother’s soul is up in Heaven and his body is below the ground under “the pretty stone we got for him.” I wish she didn’t have the need to feel like she has to remind her sister about how to be careful of other people’s gravesites because “you don’t want to step on their special resting places because we wouldn’t like it if someone else stepped on Baby Aaron’s.” I wish I didn’t know how it felt to comfort those same little bodies when the tears slip from their eyes and they tell me how much they wish he was here with us instead of in Heaven. I hope you never find yourself sobbing in the grass on a sunny Easter afternoon feeling so sad, angry and frustrated at a world that no longer resembles the one you used to know not so long ago.

I have always fought so hard to find the grace and the beauty in Aaron’s short little life…sometimes I win that fight and sometimes I don’t. I have tried so hard to keep this space one of healing and encouragement, but that also means being honest in times when I don’t feel like being honest.  This is one of those times because honestly, I’m having a hard time finding the grace and the beauty right now.  I’m sure it will return one of these days but for right now, the truth is that I am angry and bitter and hurting. And sometimes, I think we have to remind ourselves that this is okay too.