The Phenomenon of Excuses

The purpose of this post is NOT to scare anyone away from talking to us. That already happens too much. The purpose is to simply help anyone who wants to talk to us know a little more about what’s going on in our heads. We hear often that people don’t know what to say. I hope this helps.

So an interesting phenomenon has become very apparent to us in the eight months since Simon died. And it’s a frustrating, unfair phenomenon. It’s the phenomenon of excuses.

I’m not talking about us making excuses to avoid parties or other events, though that has happened. I’m not even talking about the excuses others have made to not see the Debbie Downers whose baby died, though I’m certain that has happened as well.

I’m talking about excuses for comments, words, behaviors. Those comments that sting, words that dismiss us or Simon, behaviors that confuse us and make us feel like we are unwanted.

The crazy thing is that the excuses for all of these things don’t even come from the offending person. That would be a bit more palatable. At least then we would have a chance to understand why they do, say (or don’t say) what they did.

But that’s not who makes the excuses.

The excuses come from, well, virtually everyone else.

We confide in someone that this thing someone else said hurt and what is the most common response? “Well I’m sure that’s not what he meant by that.” Or “It was probably meant to be a joke” or even “you shouldn’t take it personally, she just doesn’t think before she speaks.” Yes, I’ve heard some (or all) of these. And these excuses put us in a tough spot.

They put us in a position that we are forced to understand and empathize with a person who said or did something that shows an utter lack of understanding or empathy for us. We get chastised for taking things “the wrong way” but the person who said it doesn’t have to explain the wrong thing they said.

It’s pretty shitty to have to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt when we are the ones deeply hurt by a comment that, even if it wasn’t meant to cut, it did.

She wasn’t thinking about how it would come out? Think about it.

He’s just like that? Grow, evolve as a person.

Don’t take it personally? Not so easy when every nerve ending is on the surface and things I don’t even expect to hurt really do.

We read a book to Nolan called The Rabbit Listened. Nolan loves it. In the book, a kid is sad, and a rabbit sits next to him and simply listens. He doesn’t offer advice or criticism. He just listens. It’s really hard to confide what we are feeling to anyone. What we are looking for when we do is to listen. Let us tell you why it hurt. Let us tell you how something crushed us. Listen, and be there for us.

That’s what we need. We don’t need excuses.

Sunday Dinner

We have always wanted our Sunday dinners to be family time. A time when we make sure all of us are around the table eating together, talking and enjoying each other’s company. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Tonight it was frozen pizza.

Sunday dinner has become something else in our home. It’s still a night we gather together and eat together. It’s still a night we all enjoy each other’s company. But no matter what we do, for the rest of our lives, there will be an empty seat.

We have our family dinner with me, Tera and Nolan. And instead of having Simon sitting with us, we have a candle.

It’s a tradition we started VERY shortly after our son died. To light a candle in his perfect shattered votive. It’s a tradition that I am so glad we started and so glad we do. It allows us a dinner with Simon, and it is a time to think of him together as a family. And I’m so angry that instead of him, we have a candle.

Tonight as I sat down, it was already burning. I looked at it, and I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. It was anger and denial and depression and a whole lot of other feelings that don’t fit the “stages of grief” that everyone seems to think you go through and get better. It was uncontrollable.

And while I was bawling, Nolan said that “when Simon gets here, he’ll sit on my lap!” He was so earnest and so proud of himself for offering up his lap. He had a big smile. And I had to tell him (as I could barely talk) that Simon isn’t coming home. That his little brother’s body stopped working and that he died. That he won’t, in fact, get to dress up as firefighters for Halloween with his brother. That his brother won’t be in the carseat next to him as we drive to the cabin. That his brother won’t get to play with him in the tub on Sunday night bath-nights.

Instead we have a candle. A fucking candle.

 

An Empathetic Child

Tonight was a guys night. Tera is out for sushi with a friend, so what does that mean? Ice cream. And not just any ice cream. Little Man ice cream. (Why not big man ice cream, was Nolan’s question.) The long line, the beautiful just-barely-fall evening, the two-and-a-half year old that everyone else said was being such a good boy waiting like he did. It was a picture-perfect evening.

See? Perfect.

We laughed and joked. We ate ice cream. Nolan wanted chocolate, in a cone. After we finished, he played on the slide. He was nothing short of amazing tonight.

And that continued when we made it back to the car.

We were about to get back in and our little guy said something that I will never forget. He looked up at me with the most earnest, loving look I think I’ve ever seen and said “I wish Simon was at ice cream with us.”

Needless to say the tears started immediately.

I said I wish he was with us too. It was a great guys night at ice cream, but having Simon with us would have made it even better.

Nolan climbed into his car seat (by himself,now that he’s bigger) and again, he blew my mind. “Simon would sit there in his car seat and I sit here in my car seat, and we laugh.”

I wanted to make sure I heard him right,so I asked him to repeat himself. He said “I want Simon in his car seat right there and we laugh.”

Waterworks.

They wouldn’t stop.

What seemed like 20 minutes pass, it was probably 2 minutes, before I could put the car in drive and head home. The whole time we sat there waiting,Nolan asked my if I was sad. What I missed. I said I miss Simon. Nolan said he doesn’t, but he wishes Simon was here. Me too, Nolan. Me too.

Tera and I have been talking a lot about how to raise an empathetic kid. One that understands emotion. One that understands how having his little brother around would make his life, our lives, more complete.

I don’t know what we’ve done. I couldn’t write a book giving anyone else advice. I sometimes feel like there are some people who were born with the “empathy chip”, as I call it, and some who weren’t.

Nolan has it. He might even have an extra one.

Doing the Dishes

When Tera was pregnant with Nolan, we decided we needed to pick jobs. We would both change diapers and we’d rotate who’s turn it was to wake up in the middle of the night, but some jobs (for obvious reasons) were not possible for me to do. So I picked some others that would be all me.

One was dishes.

I’ve never minded washing dishes, and Tera hates it. Easy choice. And a lot of dishes, as it turns out. I did my research on best practices, how often to sterilize the bottles, and weeks before Nolan was born, I started boiling bottles. From that moment on, I washed dishes every night. Sometimes it seemed like I was doing it all night. It was the job I took on, and I did it well.

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Another job that became mine was the emergency runner. We need diapers late at night? I’m on it. Formula won’t last through tomorrow? Got it. A nose sucker at 11pm because Nolan had a cold and wasn’t sleeping? I’ll be back soon. I knew the baby aisles of every grocery store, Target and Walgreens in the metro area. It was another job that was mine, and I did it well. And often.

As Simon’s due date drew nearer, I geared up. I refreshed my memory on bottle sanitization. I made a pact with myself to always have enough gas in the car to get to and from Safeway without having to stop.

I wasn’t “as ready as I can be” like you hear all people say as they are expecting a child. I was just ready.

A few weeks ago, we realized we didn’t need all of the “grass” we had on the counter. We were able to pare down the drying racks and we now have one small rack. Plenty for Nolan’s cups. I put the rest of it in the crawl space.

As I trudged under the house, I sobbed. The grass I was putting away should be full right now. Of freshly washed bottles, and nipples, and pump parts. It should be in high demand, not gathering dust.

A few days ago, we ran out of milk. Nolan needs his milk the moment he wakes up, and we didn’t have a drop. So I made an emergency run. And when I got to Safeway, I was halfway to the building from the parking lot, and I turned around. I went back to my car, and I cried.

I wasn’t making a midnight trip to make sure Simon had diapers. And I would never make that trip.

My jobs, the ones I chose and was so ready for were taken from me. I’m not the all night dishwasher, and I’m not the emergency runner.

I was beyond ready to take on those tasks again and to do absolutely anything and everything I needed to do to care for my son. And now I’m still ready. I’m just not sure what for.

Reaching Out, or Not

I’ve learned a lot about grief since Simon died. Buying an urn for the son you never got to bring home is a nearly impossible task that you have no choice but to do days after losing him. Grief messes with your body’s ability to function physically. When you have a toddler at home, you have no choice but to power on and function anyway. Grief is utterly exhausting.

And grief is isolating.

It keeps you locked up in your home, your bubble. It needs the calm, the peace, the space. And it is scary to invite someone in.

It takes a lot of work, even now, 5 months later, to be around people. At work, I have no choice. I am around people all day, and it is exhausting. To keep up the charade that I am feeling ok. To talk, and listen, and retain what needs to be retained. To be creative, and for me the most difficult thing is to be organized. My brain is a jumble most of the time. Thoughts, fears, should haves and could haves. There’s a lot that demands attention.

I say all of that to say this. Odds are good I’m not calling you. I don’t have the energy and I don’t often have the inclination to sit and chat. Or at least I don’t have that when I am the one picking up the phone. I need your help in that. WE need your help. Your calls, your out of the blue “check-in” texts. Your contact. It’s not that I don’t want or need it, I just can’t typically initiate it.

And another thing.

Tera, and I live in this new world. This world of grief that I wish no one had to live in. But we do. Every damn day. A call or a text looks to us like an acknowledgement that you, too are ready to climb down the hole and join us.

We are (almost) always ready to talk. About how we’re doing, how Nolan is doing, about Simon. But we aren’t going to drag you kicking and screaming into the hole with us.

Imagine if you will. You’re at a family BBQ have a great time, drinking some beers and playing yard games. Your phone rings. It’s me, so naturally you answer, wondering if I need anything or whatever. I start to unload about my terrible day and the awful (or not awful) thing that happened that made me think of Simon and break down.

That’s a pretty shitty thing for me to do right? To mess up your perfectly lovely day to dump all over you? I think it is. Truly.

But if you’re ready to ask me those questions and you really care about the answers, I’d love for you to call, text, etc. I’d love to talk about Simon and how we are all doing.

With anyone that wants to listen.

And, not But

Words have always been very important to me. They have meaning. They have power. That fact is the only thing I’ve ever argued with my brother-in-law about. I don’t remember the context, or the words spoken, just that care needs to be taken, because words matter.

(Maybe that’s why I do what I do for a living.)

When Simon died, our world changed. We changed. I changed. I began to see the world very differently. I began to see how different words mattered to me as I am now.

“And” and “but.” Simple little words. Meaningless even. Until they aren’t.

“You lost Simon, but you have Nolan!” No. We lost Simon, AND we have Nolan. One fact doesn’t take away the other. We have a son who we love and cherish. And we have a son who’s eyes we’ll never see and who never took a breath.

“But you can have another one!” True, we hope we can have another child. That doesn’t take away the baby we lost. It doesn’t replace him, and it doesn’t replace the pain of losing him. How about “AND you can have another one.” Sounds a lot better right? It acknowledges the fact that we lost Simon, and (see what I did there?) it doesn’t imply that another baby, if we are lucky enough to have one, will fill the hole in our hearts or make us forget him.

“It’s hard right now, but it will get better.” Even that sentence frustrates me. It might get better, but don’t minimize the now by making it seem like there’s an endpoint to the grief. “It’s hard right now, but” implies something that no one can know, and certainly something no one can promise.

“But” is the end of that portion of the sentence and it always seems to be preceded by the awful truth that we lost our son. Simon colors every part of our lives, and he always will. We can’t, and wouldn’t end a portion of our lives that included him to move on. Especially since the portion of our lives that he is a part of is EVERY portion of our lives.

There is no but. There is only and.

S for Simon

Bath time has always been one of my favorite times with Nolan. He has loved the bath almost his entire life. (For a while, I think we had the water a bit too cold. He didn’t love that.)

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Now, bath time is a time to get clean, and most importantly, a time for Nolan to play, splash, and start his early training as a hydrological engineer.

We have lots of toys in the tub. Probably too many. But one of his favorite ones to play with is the alphabet. Letters that stick to the side of the tub or the wall, and he’s starting to recognize them. He sees the N, “that’s my letter!” He sees the D, “that’s daddy’s letter”, and so on. He is so proud when he gets it right. Almost as proud as I am.

He always gets the S. “That’s Simon’s letter!” He proudly proclaimed tonight. Then came the sweetest phrase I think I’ve ever heard. “When Simon comes home, I give him his letter.” He’s thinking about his little brother. He wants to give to his little brother. He wants to have his little brother.

Naturally, I started bawling. Nolan noticed. “I give you a hug daddy?” He always asks this in the kindest tone of voice imaginable. We hug, then we talk.

I know what I have to tell him. I know I have to reenforce that Simon is never coming home because Simon died. Simon’s body stopped working, he died and he’ll never be coming home.

And then.

Then he says the sentence that kills me. “Why Isaac come home?” We have friends who were due to have their baby just before us. Their Isaac came home. Our Simon did not. And Nolan doesn’t understand.

How am I supposed to help him understand something that his mom and I don’t understand? How do I tell a ridiculously smart 2 and a half year old that his little brother will always be his little brother, but that he’s never coming home.

Seriously, if you have any answers for me, I’d love to hear them. How do I teach the two most concrete yet abstract words in the english language, always and never, to a little boy who was running around wearing a superhero mask and cape, and nothing else, just before bath time tonight?

We still connect at bath time. We get to play, we get to talk, we get to learn. And with questions like the ones he asked tonight, we get to remember Nolan’s little brother, my son. Simon was there with us at bath time tonight, but not in the way I always dreamed and hoped he would be.

The waves will. Not. Stop.