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.

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.

The Day After

The day after we said goodbye to Simon was a fog. We cried almost constantly, we knew we needed to be there for each other and for Nolan so we got out of bed and did what we could. We got out of the house and went for a walk to the end of the block and back. It was all we could manage, and we were proud of ourselves for makingĀ  it that far.

There have been a lot of days after since then.

The day after we picked up Simon’s ashes. Something we never thought we would have to do, and something no one should have to do for their child. The day after, we were still in the fog andĀ being pummeled by the waves.

The day after our first support group. We were told about the so-called grief-hangover that we should expect. It was real, and it hit hard. It was another day in the fog and while I was glad we went and glad we were beginning to learn we were not alone, I was still unable to see any light.

The day after we decided to honor our son with a bench at a beautiful Denver park. I had a task. A job to accomplish. I had to find out how to do it, what it takes, and I had to get it done. It was a job I wish I didn’t need to take on, and a job that I am so glad I did throw myself into. There was an end result. A perfect bench at a perfect park.

The day after we met with the specialist and confirmed what we already knew. We were scared about what we might hear, what we might learn. The day after, I felt a little stronger and more confident in what happened to our Simon, and at the same time, more confused and unsure of our next steps.

The day after Nolan’s surgery. Relief. A healthy, safe, happy boy. He woke up. He was fine. Our weeks (or months) of worry about the outcome were all for naught. We had our boy at home.

Now today.

The day after our memorial for Simon.

The day I was dreading.

It was a day of utter heartache. A day punctuated by a speech I never thought I’d get through, a song I never thought I’d want to hear again (but I am so grateful I did), people we hadn’t seen in weeks, months, years, even decades coming together to cry with us, laugh with us, and to remember Simon.

It was a day that my grandpa, Simon’s great-grandpa, comforted me and gave me a lifetime of advice without uttering a word.

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It was a day we’ll never forget.

I was dreading yesterday right up until yesterday happened. Then, and now (the day after) I am so glad we did it the way we did, and so glad I gave the speech I never thought I could. Everything we did was for Simon and it showed us how much support we have, and he has. And that support will be there for our family of four, always and always.

From the Mouths of Toddlers

I wasn’t ready for this one.

First, a little backstory. When Tera was pregnant with Simon, we did everything we could to make sure Nolan was ready to be a big brother. He helped build the baby’s furniture, helped me paint the dresser, and maybe most importantly, he got a doll to carry around. The hope was he’d learn to be gentle with a baby.

It worked, and he was about as ready as any two year old could be to have a sibling.

A little more backstory. When Simon died, one of the biggest pieces of advice we received was to tell Nolan the truth. Not that he was sleeping, not that he went on a trip, not that he went to be an angel. Simon died, and he isn’t coming home. The conversation was harder for us than for him, and lasted just a couple minutes until he was ready to start playing.

Another tip came from a book my coworkers gave us. To tell Nolan that the reason Simon died is that “his body stopped working.” It’s hard to tell how much of our conversations have stuck.

Until tonight.

Tonight, Nolan played doctor, as he has done pretty often since we got home from the hospital. He likes to tell us we’re sick and use phone chargers to fix us. He did that a couple times tonight, then, for the first time something else happened.

He told us his baby was sick.

Then it went a step further. He told us his baby had died because he “stopped working.”

We froze for a moment. He repeated what he had told us.

Then.

Then he used his charger and “fixed” his baby so that he wasn’t dead anymore. And that’s where it got difficult. We’ve done everything we can to tell Nolan that Simon won’t come home. That he’ll never come home. That we can’t…that no one can fix him.

And now Nolan fixes his baby.

We understand that there will be different, very difficult, conversations throughout Nolan’s childhood to teach him about what happened, and most importantly to teach him about his little brother. But we weren’t ready for one of those conversations. Not tonight.

But ready or not, here it comes.

2 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back

Before you say anything, I know. The phrase is two steps forward, one step back. But that’s just not the case. Not my case.

In my case, I feel like I’m progressing, albeit in the smallest ways possible, but progressing. I have fewer anxiety attacks at work. I lock myself in a room to cry a little less often. I am running for myself, to take care of myself. I miss Simon every day, every moment, and I’m working on how I can cope. And I’m taking tiny steps at doing so.

Until the clouds roll back in.

(Not these literal clouds. I wish it was these clouds. I can deal with these clouds.)

The clouds I thought I had taken baby steps to cope with are the clouds that turn my brain into a ball of anxiety and make what used to be simple tasks feel daunting. They are the clouds that make me wonder how I can ever truly smile again. They are the clouds that make me doubt myself as Nolan’s and Simon’s dad. The clouds are terrifying.

And at least right now they are back.

The scary thing, or one of the scary things about these clouds returning is that I don’t know where they came from. It might be the grief hangover from a holiday that I didn’t expect would be so hard. It may be from the amazing changes in Nolan and the utter pride I take in seeing how our little boy is learning and growing and the knowledge that our other little boy will always be stuck in a moment in time. It might just be because it’s Thursday.

The other scary part is, I don’t know when I’ll take those two tiny steps forward again. When these clouds roll in, it feels like they’ll be here forever. There is no end in sight. No “light at the end of the tunnel.” Only more tunnel.

For now I feel like I’m back at square one.

Two steps back and just missing Simon, and missing what our life, our family of four should look like.