Calling Bull____

So I’ve been taking part in a writing workshop the last handful of days. We are given prompts that force us to delve into our grief in new and unique ways.

One prompt recently was about kindness. How are you kind to yourself. Seems like a great prompt, but I couldn’t get past the opening paragraphs of the work that was chosen to get our creative juices flowing.

I may not have followed the rules to a tee, but I couldn’t get past the first words I read, and here’s what I came up with.

“Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things.”

I’m calling bullshit.

Maybe it’s too fresh. Maybe I’m still so angry. Maybe I’m still to confused about a world that would let my baby die before he had a chance to cry even once.

The idea that I can’t…or couldn’t…know kindness until my little boy was taken from me reeks of the “everything happens for a reason” that makes me physically ill and red-faced angry at anyone who would say that to a grieving dad. No. Not everything happens for a reason. And no. I didn’t need to lose Simon to know kindness.

Had he been born, had I held him when he cried, had my heart melted the first time he looked into my eyes, my ability to see kindness (and my ability to display it) would have been instantly heightened. When my first son was born, I understood instantly what an amazing place the world was. I felt the kindness of people around my family’s community as we all came together knowing that “it takes a village to raise a child” and this was our village. That is a kindness that I had never learned, and it didn’t take a crushing loss to see it.

I am a kind person now. I am kind so that both my living son and my dead son will be proud of me. And I will always know that I would have changed when Simon came into the world had he lived, too. I would have become even more empathetic than I was before. I would have seen the good in people, in the world.

So did it take my son not having a chance at life for me to know kindness? That’s a really fucking arrogant idea. He dies, I see kindness.

Screw that. Kindness has always been there, but HE never gets a chance to experience it.

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.

Simon’s Smile

A while after we lost our perfect little boy Simon, Tera had an idea. A perfectly simple, perfect idea. A way to honor our little boy and allow him to make an impact on the world.

We created “Simon’s Smile”.

We have business cards that tell a bit of his, and our, story and we give them out along with a random act of kindness, asking (but not expecting) that people will pay it forward.

It’s a way to feel Simon’s presence on a daily basis, and a way to make sure he is never forgotten. And hopefully it puts a smile on someone’s face.

I give out a card every time I run. I put it on a random car windshield along with a note wishing the driver a happy day, or a peaceful afternoon, or just that they have at least one reason to smile that day. I don’t know the result, I likely never will. All I can do is hope that the message of Simon’s Smile hits its mark.

Today I got a firsthand example of what a little act of kindness can do.

I was running, nearly to the top of the hill and struggling. As I approached the crest of the hill, I saw a mom wrestling with her little one to get her in the stroller. I’ve been there. The straps and buckles and a squirmy toddler are a tough combination at times.

As I passed her, her daughter was safely buckled in and I had conquered the hardest part of my run. She said “good job”…I said thanks and echoed her good job. I was a bit past her, but I could hear her laugh as she yelled “thanks” in my direction.

They were random acts of kindness. She applauded my effort running, and I acknowledged that her task at the moment was harder. We both smiled.

That moment hit me with a renewed vigor to continue or Simon’s Smile mission and to do what I can, what Simon, Tera, Nolan and I can, to add some kindness to the world.

It makes a difference. It really does.

Be kind to each other in Simon’s name.

(Oh, and if you get a card, let us know how Simon made you smile…put a picture of the act of kindness on Instagram with #SimonsSmile. His mom and dad love to see how he’s impacting the world.)

Three Months

Three months ago today we said hello to Simon.

That should mean that we are watching him grow, start to smile and coo, wiggle around. We should have started to figure out by now how he sleeps, how well he eats, maybe even a little bit of what his personality would be. We should be waking up a few times a night to feed him, change his diaper, console him.

We should.

But instead, three months ago today we said goodbye to Simon.

Every day is hard. Every time we wonder about what he would have been is hard. Every time his big brother talks about the baby brother he won’t meet (as he did just a few minutes ago…”daddy, why Simon not play with this toy?” or “why is Simon at his house?”) is hard.

I geared up mentally for today, knowing that the three month mark since we said goodbye would be an especially trying day.

But I’m learning something.

It doesn’t take an anniversary, or a moment, or a specific thought to make a day tougher than the last. All it takes is knowing that no matter what we do, no matter how much we wish, Simon died and he won’t be coming home. (That’s how we tell Nolan, and it’s the blunt, brutal, heartbreaking truth.)

So yeah, three months is a hard day. But so was two months and 12 days. And 1 month and 23 days. And…..

I don’t know when, or if, this pit in my stomach will ever go away, and honestly, I’m not sure if I want it to. It’s been my constant companion for three months, and in a weird way, it’s a way to carry my little boy with me. (Not sure if that seems crazy, but it’s honest to myself.)

Three months. Three damn months.

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.

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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.

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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.

In His Eyes

There are so many songs written about someones eyes. Odes written to eyes. So many ways to describe their color. They hold wisdom, they shine like the stars. They are among the first things people ask about when you have a baby.

And we will never know what color Simon’s eyes were.

They were closed when he entered the world, and we never had the chance to gaze into them. Worse yet, he never had the chance to look up at his adoring mommy and daddy fawning over him.

It haunts me to this day (or more accurately almost every night.) Nightmares that everyone I love is in front of me but can’t open their eyes. They can’t see me, and they are crying out for me thinking I have abandoned them. It’s one of the two recurring nightmares that wakes me several times a night.

I will always remember looking into Nolan’s eyes when he was born. I will always remember staring into them as he grows and smiling when they smiled. I will always remember the pure blue eyes that look back at me so intently when we are talking.

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And I will always remember that Simon’s eyes were closed.

He was 6 pounds 3 ounces, 19 3/4 inches long, and had basically no hair. It’s one of the most heartbreaking things in a miles-long list of heartbreaks to know that I will never know what my son, my little boy, my Simon’s eyes looked like.

He never saw it, so I can only hope that he felt our love for the nine months he was growing inside Tera.

God I miss him.