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.