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.

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.)

IMG_0018.JPG

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.

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.

A Tale of Two Father’s Days

Nolan woke up early…I’m talking early…this morning. I brought him into the bed with me and we chatted for a few minutes, then I was (somehow) able to get him to rest and close his eyes. We both fell asleep for another hour or so. If you know Nolan, you know this is unheard of.

IMG_1916.jpeg

We eventually got up and Nolan brought me the first of my Father’s Day presents. A super cute book called I Love Dad. Nolan had colored on it (and his belly) and is very proud of his artwork. We read it. One of us teared up. It was a wonderful start to Father’s Day.

After a nice morning hanging out at the cabin, playing outside and a walk up the road, we headed home.

When we got home, I got the next of my gifts. First, a really nice keychain with Nolan’s name and “Everyday. Everyday.” and Simon’s name with “Always & Always.” I cried a little more.

Then game the big gift.

My amazingly thoughtful wife had a picture drawn for me. The picture of me holding our little boy shortly after he came into the world. There is pain on my face, and an angelic, beautiful look on his. He looks so perfect. And it is a perfect drawing.

IMG_1918.JPG

But.

It is also a reminder on this first Father’s Day without Simon that I’ll never have the chance to cuddle with him in the morning, and I’ll never know if soothing him back to sleep would have been easier or harder than it is with his big brother. I’ll never get a beautifully scribbled work of art to cherish. I’ll never know anything about what he would have been.

It was two Father’s Days today.

A great one celebrating with a toddler who hugs my legs, and wanted me to come to him when he fell (to bring him milk, but that’s beside the point…). And one that hit me like a tidal wave, forcing me to paddle like hell to keep my head above water.

Saying goodbye to Simon is a loss I’ll never get over. It’s one I never want to get over. On a day like today, it’s a loss that hurts as much as the moments we heard those terrible words.