Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living with the Loss

"You don't go around grieving all the time, but the grief is still there and always will be." - Nigella Lawson

It’s crazy that the world just carried on today.

People were just walking, and talking, and laughing for God’s sake, as if my heart wasn’t breaking. As if today weren’t such an important day. No. They simply picked up their lives and carried on.

I can’t do that.

All day long, while I was talking to my students, or while I was walking around campus and witnessing the autumn life humming around me, only one thing mattered to me today, and it was the one thought I had to keep shoved down tightly. I mean, gagged. Gagged and stuffed in the back of a room. Because if I let myself think about it, I would cry. And crying and teaching do not mix.

Today is my son’s birthday. My Sam. He would have been 13 today.

“Would have been” is the worst thing, the hardest thing I have to say, because my son is dead. I can’t say “is”. It’s a tiny matter of verbiage that makes all the difference in the world to this mother. I am permanently broken by his loss. I’ve written about it numerous times. I’m sure I’ll continue writing about it because it never, not for one day, leaves my mind.

There are things about me that will not heal. I have not laughed the same since my son died. I do not laugh as deeply, nor as long. Where once I slept through the night, I have not done so since the night my son died. I wake multiple times. Sometimes I can get back to sleep relatively quickly. I cherish those times. Other nights I’m up for a few more hours before sleep finds me again.

I’m hypervigilant about my children sleeping. I check on them during the night more than most moms do. This is common for moms of newborns, I know, but my living children are 10 and 14. They are well out of SIDS range, but I still check on them. And when they get a cold, or have a stuffy nose from allergies, I nearly go out of my mind making sure they can breathe at night.

I’m scarred. I’m scared. I’m broken. I haven’t fallen apart yet because I have two living children. But there are days like today when I think to myself that dying wouldn’t be so bad. Days like today my heart hurts so much that I almost cannot keep breathing. And it would just be a relief to stop. I miss my son. I miss my husband. And dying would be so easy.

But then I flip my wrist, and I see my semicolon…my survivor tattoo. And I know: I can’t take the easy road. I’ll fight this darkness that has come upon me today. I miss my son terribly, and that never goes away. It does not get easier, but there are days when it is worse. But I will not let the darkness win.

I may be broken, but I’m yet to be defeated.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Teach the Children Well

“Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.” - Plato

The new school year is underway. That means that, once again, we have survived the hustle and bustle of back-to-school shopping. It seems as though every year the school supply lists grow longer and longer, more and more specific (we must bring Crayola map pencils and crayons, the list dictates; that is the only acceptable brand). I have two children to shop for, and that is enough for me. On top of the school supplies, there are still clothes and shoes to be bought.

My parents had five children to outfit for school every year, and they did not have a lot of money. We didn’t always get everything new every year. Backpacks were expected to last more than one year and not all of our clothes were new. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs.

I remember getting a beautiful light pink sweater in the second grade. I loved it so much. I was happy to have something new to wear and didn’t really notice the small white letters on the left chest. I proudly wore that sweater to school the next day and one of my classmates asked me about the monogram on my sweater. I had no idea what she meant. “The initials on your sweater,” she said. “That’s not your name. Where’d you get that sweater, Goodwill?” I had no answer for her because, honestly, I had no idea where the sweater came from. In all likelihood it may have come from Goodwill. That was the first time I ever felt like I wasn’t good enough because of what I wore. I never told my mom about that. She had so much to do keeping all of us kids taken care of. I didn’t want to make her feel bad.

In third grade, it was my turn to get a brand new backpack. I was so excited. I must have spent at least thirty minutes carefully going through the mom-approved backpack section to find “the one”. I got to start my school year with a new backpack. Not “new to me”, but actually new. I took such care of that bag. When it got a spot on it, I wiped it down with a damp wash cloth. I wanted it to last. But then something terrible happened. One of the nylon straps began to fray. I was just a kid; I didn’t know how to fix it, so I just trimmed off the frayed part. It began to unravel again. I had been so vigilant about taking care of this bag, and now I felt as though I had broken it. Defeated, I brought it to my dad. I was in tears. They had bought me a brand new backpack and I wrecked it.

Suddenly, my dad turned into a superhero.

He pulled out his cigarette lighter and melted the end of the nylon strap to keep it from fraying again. Just like that, my backpack was as good as new. I was amazed. My bag was healed. It was at that moment that I realized my dad can fix anything.

I still believe that.

Growing up, I didn’t have all the extras that many of the other kids my age had. I did appreciate what I had (though I did yearn from some of those name-brand clothes my peers wore). Not having everything I wanted gave me the ability to desire, to dream, to want, and to work. I learned to do extra chores, to save my own money, so I could buy little things I wanted or go to the mall with my friends.

We do a disservice to our kids by providing them all of their wants, by funding every mall trip and movie outing. Personal responsibility is an important lesson to learn. We aren’t trying to teach the lesson of deprivation, but we do want to teach them what it’s like to work for what they want, to care for what they have, and that everything they want is not necessarily what they need.