Family Photos

All the family photos. They kill me. I love them, but they kill me.

I’ll never have a complete family picture again. There will always be a hole. Right now it feels like a chasm that I may just fall into.

All the photos of smiling kids. Holding their parents hands. Leaning into their Mom or Dad.

Don’t get me wrong, I am utterly grateful for what I have. I love Brooks and Shane more than I have words for. They are my world. I do love pictures with them. And I will cherish them. Believe me, I know how precious they are.

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And I don’t begrudge others their family photos. I want to see them. I want to see the smiles. The love. The completeness. Because I don’t want anyone else to feel like I do. I want to see that those I love and care about are whole.

It’s just at times like this, when everyone is looking for a good family photo for the Christmas card. When everyone under the sun is posting their family pictures with the sweet sayings about being thankful…. I am thankful too. It’s just mixed with sadness and even anger because my family picture is forever altered.

2014

And when I walk away from the family photos by the rock at the cabin. The same rock where I have taken countless whole family photos. On the same yearly trek that my child has been on every year until he died.  On the first trip back to this place at this time without him.  Where I held him as a baby. Where I corralled him as a toddler. Where he held my hand and leaned into me as a sweet little boy who was mine. Please know that it’s not about you or anything you did. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m not trying to spoil the mood. Or make everyone sad. Or not cooperate.

I just need a moment. A moment to collect myself. To calm my breath. To catch myself from falling into that abyss that is the empty space where my baby should be.

I need to harness the panic that is rising in my chest. The panic that makes my heart race, my breath catch, and my brain spin. I’m learning how to harness it. Because it still comes. It will never stop rearing it’s ugly head. Because my baby isn’t coming back. He’ll never be in the family picture again. But I am learning how to harness that beast.

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And only I know how to do that. Only I know how to catch myself. Whatever other’s thoughts or beliefs or opinions, they belong to them. I have to do my grief my way. When I walk off from these moments… I’m trying not to lose my shit in front of everyone. I’m trying to save face. I’m trying not to crumble into a trembling pile of sobs in front of you. Because even though others may not want to believe it, or some might even think I should be over that phase, that still happens. And more than anything, I’m actually trying to spare everyone the pain that is ripping through my heart.

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Please know I will come back. I’m harnessing the beast. I’m letting some of the tears run their course because that is how I will heal. Some of the sobs are escaping to make room in my chest to breathe. Because the deep breaths I take will calm the panic and chase the beast away.

So, when these moments happen, it’s not about you. Or what you said. Or what you did.  Please don’t take it personally.  I appreciate the space you give me to gather my dignity and put the smile back on my face. It can be the greatest gift I am given in these moments. These moments when my family picture is not and will never be whole again.

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Running Errands

I left the house today to run some errands and was sad as I pulled away from the house. I was thinking about how the norm now is that I am alone. I grocery shop alone. I leave the house in the morning alone. I’m at home alone. I run errands alone.

It used to be that Wyatt was my sidekick. He was my errand running buddy. We would climb in the car together and get things done.

It generally seemed like Brooks and Shane would be off somewhere and it would be me and Wyatt. In the mornings, Shane rode his bike to school and I would drive Wyatt to school. Shane and Brooks would be off hunting and Wyatt and I would be home. Brooks and Shane would be busy somewhere and Wyatt would run errands with me. And maybe we would find a treat together.

I don’t have my sidekick anymore and even a year and a half later, I still miss him. I still lay my hand on the passenger seat wishing I could pat his leg. I still wish he would take over the radio and flip through the stations while I drive. I miss our conversations, his goofy jokes, and even his complaints about how many stops we would make.

Today’s outing took me to Lowe’s. I wanted to freshen up the pots on my front porch. As I was looking at these plants, a tiny frog jumped out and sat on one of the leaves. He startled me at first, but then I just stood there and watched him for a bit and smiled. And I thought, “Hey buddy, thanks for coming along with me today.”

Double Digits

Oh buddy… You should be turning 10 today. Double digits. That’s a big deal. To turn 10. To turn double digits.

What kind of party would you have wanted? Bowling? Archery? Baseball? Basketball?

What would you have wanted for your birthday? A new baseball bat? A basketball? I’m sure you would still be telling me you needed a phone of your own.

I’ll miss your excited face this morning as you would have bounded out of your room. I won’t hear your feet hit the floor when you jump out of bed excited for the day.

I would have hung decorations on your door as you slept last night so they would surprise you in the morning.

I would have hung the birthday sign in the kitchen.

Oh, punkin… I miss you. I hate that you aren’t here to turn double digits. I hate that I don’t know what kind of party you would want, though I know at least some of the friends you would want at your party. I know they are missing you, too.

I hate that I don’t know what I would have bought for your present. I hate that I don’t have a present to buy. Or a cake to make. Or a crazy kids birthday party to throw.

It’s not any easier this year. It doesn’t hurt any less now that this is the second birthday that you aren’t here for. My heart hasn’t healed. And if I’m being honest, the pain is sharper this year. This year 2, it’s like that protective fog has lifted and it’s not there to protect me anymore. And the pain actually stings more. If that is even possible.

Happy 10th Birthday, Sweetheart. I will celebrate you today. I’ll send my birthday wishes to heaven. I hope you can feel them. I hope you can feel the hug I wish I could give you.

A Special Birthday Visitor

The other night we were at Brooks’ parents’ house celebrating my niece’s birthday. We often have family gatherings at Brooks’ parents’ and it’s just never the same anymore without Wyatt. It always feels like something is missing. And well, he is.

It was a fun evening with a full house, yummy dinner, and visiting with each other.  As we typically do for birthdays, we had a birthday cake, we sang Happy Birthday, and Terryn blew out the candles.  

Just after Terryn blew out the candles and was opening her gifts, Brooks noticed this tiny frog on the screen. It was almost like he wanted to come in and join the party.  


The special part of this frog being on the screen is that Wyatt loved frogs and toads. And lizards, and snakes, and roly polies, and lots of other critters. But he was really into frogs and toads. He was always catching them and showing them off to people.  


And one year, when he was maybe 4 or so, everyone in the family got a frog for their birthday. Someone got a frog statue for the garden. Someone else got a stuffed frog. Someone else got a frog with a solar powered light for outside. Everyone got a frog for their birthday that year.

Frogs were also something that Terryn and Wyatt sort of shared. They often caught them together at the cabin. One year they even built frog houses for the frogs they caught.  



I couldn’t help but catch my breath when I saw that little guy on the screen. Wyatt would never miss one of our birthdays. And I know he would never miss a chance to send his cousin a happy birthday wish from heaven. And of course it would be in the form of a frog. 

Fire

*This is a post that I actually wrote at the beginning of the summer when there was another fire burning in the foothills near Oroville.  There is currently a different fire burning dangerously close.  And with all of the images of Hurricane Harvey, emergency situations and trauma are front and center again.*

Right now you almost can’t travel the highways in Butte County without encountering a few fire trucks. With the recent wildfires, fire crews from across the state have come to our area to help.


The other day, while driving to work, I found myself surrounded. A fire truck to my right and when I looked in the rear view mirror, there were several behind me in both lanes. Ahead of me in the right hand lane was a fire chief. I was surrounded.

And I lost it. 

Ever since Wyatt died the sight of emergency vehicles, especially in groups, is a trigger. When I realized I was surrounded the other day, I lost it. Bawling in my car. And this wasn’t the first time this has happened. It’s happened a few times over the last year.

Why?

Well, you can probably imagine the obvious reasons. When Wyatt died, it was traumatic. There weren’t emergency vehicles, but it was an emergency situation. And so any kind of emergency can naturally trigger me.  

But still, there were not fire trucks, ambulances, and sirens. (Well, there were sirens of a sort, but not those that come to mind for most.) I’m realizing another reason. It occurred to me that angels were surrounding me as I drove the other morning. Not heavenly angels, but earthly angels. These brave souls who are willing to put themselves in the path of danger to save others. These selfless humans who run into the fire, when everyone else is running away. 

In a previous post I described a little of what the scene was like in Wyatt’s final moments. And it is very true that the earthly angels descended. All of the critical care staff in the hospital descended upon Wyatt’s room to try to save my baby. Those people are a special breed. They have hearts of gold and the sweetest souls.  

I am ever grateful for that group of people and really all emergency personnel. When your world is falling apart, they are likely the ones that will be rushing in. They will be running toward the fire. They will be giving their all to save a life. And when life is lost, they cry with you and for you. They feel the loss, even when they don’t show it.  

There are no words, no emotions to really describe the gratitude and sheer awe I feel. That I felt the day that Wyatt died, though I don’t think I realized it then. And that I will continue to feel for the rest of my life. Right now it can only come out in the tears that fall when the earthly angels descend.

Happy Anniversary

Today was our 14th wedding anniversary. What a ride it has been. Last year I wrote this post on Facebook and it still holds true today.

Brooks is amazing. The strength that he has had and the love for us, for me and Shane and Wyatt is overwhelming. I am so blessed. 

We decided we would go out to dinner to celebrate tonight. We decided on a yummy local spot. We arrived and were seated at our table. Just after ordering drinks, I heard a familiar song come on. I was a little taken aback. It was Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw. This song quickly became the song that was identified with Wyatt after he died. It became synonymous with how Wyatt lived and the legacy he left behind. 

Needless to say, we were both quickly in tears.

Coincidence? I’m not so sure. Our sweet Wyatt saying Happy Anniversary and sending his love our way? You can call me crazy or tell me I’m just reading into things, but I’ll never turn down a little love sent from my boy.  

Happy Anniversary to us ❤️

Epilogue (Wyatt’s Last Days Pt.7)

Is that the right word for this? Epilogue. What comes after the end of the story? Maybe so… whatever it is called, there is more…

On Tuesday, May 24th, 2016, I left the hospital without my baby.  

I felt empty. I was in shock. I’m pretty sure I was numb. How could I have come here with him and now I was leaving without him? How could that be? How could I leave him behind?  

Where was his hand to hold crossing the street to where the car was parked? How could there be an empty seat next to Shane when I turned around in the car? I was still looking for him, expecting him to be there.

I had this insane urge to turn back to go get him. The only thing I can compare the feeling to is that moment when you think you’ve lost your child in a crowded place. You turn away for a moment and when you turn back around, they are gone. That moment of sheer panic. The one where your heart drops, you get that pit in your stomach. That feeling becomes permanent.  

Still, a year later, if I let myself go there, if I lift the buffers, that sheer panic is there. My heart races, the pit is in my stomach, I’m ready to come unglued. And I’m pretty sure that feeling will be there as long as I live. And I hate it. I can’t fix it. I can’t find him. I can’t ever make that feeling really go away.  

I miss Wyatt. I miss what he was and what he would have been. I miss what I had with him and I miss what was yet to come. I miss the future with him that no longer exists. The things I looked forward to with him that will never be.

All that being said, there is beauty to be found in all of this pain and sadness. Wyatt is still with me and in my heart. He visits me in a favorite song, a treasured memory, an owl that waits for me on my walks in the park, special moments that seem to arise out of the blue. Wyatt’s spirit continues in all those who knew him or now know of him. Those who remember to be kind in his honor. Those who take a little more time to be with those they love. Those who choose to live with passion. Those who remember a sweet boy who was always ready with a big smile, a heartfelt laugh, and a warm hug. 

So as much as Wyatt’s story has an ending, it is also a beginning and a continuation. It turns into a story of beauty that follows great tragedy. It is painful and bittersweet, yet filled with love. Love for a beautiful soul gone too soon. Love that wasn’t done loving. Love that still continues in the face of loss. Love that continues to carry on a legacy. Love that is shared between family and friends to honor a sweet sweet soul.

The End (Wyatt’s Last Days Pt. 6)

On Tuesday morning, Brooks and Casey showed up and I was exhausted. Casey handed me a coffee and a breakfast sandwich and took me for a walk. Before we left, we had talked to the doctor. The news wasn’t great, Wyatt had AML, not ALL. ALL is the “better” form. As in more treatable, more curable. AML isn’t so good, but the doctor assured us that we could develop a treatment plan. We were confident that we were going to beat this. 

I talked to the doctor about the night before and he said that he could change Wyatt’s medication to control his pain better. I felt relieved leaving to go get some fresh air. Wyatt was in good hands with Brooks and we were on our way to curing this.

On the way back into the hospital, I called my mom to let her know what was happening.

We got back to Wyatt’s room where Brooks and I took turns holding his hand and talking to him. They needed to do another chest X-ray. I took one look at the X-ray and my heart sank. His entire right lung was collapsed again. He was filling with fluid.  

The next thing I remember is holding Wyatt’s hand. Suddenly he was wheezing badly and wasn’t really responding to me. The nurse was worried about his oxygen. The doctor was looking at the X-ray… this was not good. 

What I remember is a frenzy. Nurses, doctors. Brooks talking to the doctor. “We need to intubate him.” What? What is happening?

Before I knew it, the doctor was getting ready to intubate Wyatt. I was holding Wyatt’s hand and trying to reassure him. I don’t know if he could hear me. The alarm on the oxygen sensor was screaming that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

The doctor said that I could stay, but said that, “No parent should have to see their child be intubated.” I believed him.  As Wyatt was pulled up to the top of the bed, his eyes flew open and they met mine. That would be the last time I would see his eyes.

I held his hand until the very last second and then kissed him and told him the doctor was going to take care of him. I told him that I would be right here.  

I stepped outside of the room. 

Doctors, nurses scurrying around and trying to help him. Then it happened. His heart stopped. That damn alarm went off. The blue light above his room flashed and the alarm called all of the critical care staff. My baby’s heart had stopped.

Nothing prepares you for that. How could his heart have stopped? I was just holding his hand. I had just looked into his eyes.  

The next two hours were hell. His heart would stop two more times. That third time, it never started again.  

There is so much more that happened, so much more hell, so much more emotion. But I’m just not ready to share some of those pieces. Some of it is still just too raw.  

Losing Wyatt was horrific.  

A Horrible Night (Wyatt’s Last Days Pt.5)

The night before Wyatt died is the night that haunts me. It’s what wakes me up at 2:00 in the morning and keeps me from sleep. It makes my insides hurt. It makes my stomach turn. It’s the thing that makes my heart hurt.  

Wyatt had a rough night that night. Brooks and I had agreed that he would go home to be with Shane. We were worried about him. And he would gather up a few more things for Wyatt and I.  

Casey and Jenny (my two angels that I will share more about in another post) brought me dinner and kept me company for a bit. Then they stood watch while I showered.  

I thought I was settling in for the night after everyone was gone. I pulled the chair out into a bed and tried to get comfortable after making sure that Wyatt was ok.  

But this would not be a night for being settled. Wyatt was up quite a bit. He couldn’t get comfortable. He was having trouble going to the bathroom. Between juggling the chest tube, all the other wires connected to him, and a bed pan, this was no easy feat. And he was in pain. Every time he moved, it irritated the chest tube. He ended up having an accident, so the nurse and I had to change him and the bed. Poor kid… more being jostled around.

His stomach was upset and he vomited at least once or twice.  

His pain meds weren’t really cutting it anymore. We struggled to manage his pain. And on top of the pain, he was running a fever. So he had to take Tylenol, but ended up vomiting that back up. It felt like the nurse was in our room almost constantly trying to help him and monitoring him.  

And all the while all of these other things are going on, we need to keep his oxygen level up. So I’m encouraging him to take deep breaths.

Earlier in the day, I had been encouraging Wyatt to take deep breaths, modeling deep breathing for him (there’s the teacher in me). He finally looked at me and sternly said, “Mom, stop doing that!!!” Like I said before, he still had some spunk. So as I was monitoring his breathing that night, I was trying not to agitate him.

I felt so bad for Wyatt and so just wanted to help him. I was frustrated, heartbroken, feeling helpless. My poor baby was in pain, scared, and exhausted. And nothing I was doing seemed to help.  

He finally fell asleep in this crazy position kind of sideways on the bed. I wanted to adjust him to make him more comfortable, but I didn’t dare move him lest I wake him up.  

I can’t remember who got there first in the morning, Brooks or Casey. But I was so relieved to have someone there. I was exhausted. And scared. Why was last night so hard? As soon as the doctor came by he said that they would be adjusting Wyatt’s pain meds to keep him more comfortable.  

Looking back now, I hate that night. I question everything that happened, everything that I did. Did I do enough? Should I have asked different questions? Should I have demanded to call the doctor? Should I have made the hospital staff do something? Could they have done anything? Was there anything they could have done? Would it have mattered? I’ll never know…

Looking for Answers (Wyatt’s Last Days Pt.4)

Today was the day that Wyatt would have a Bone Marrow Biopsy, Spinal Tap, a pic line put in, and his first dose of chemotherapy.  I still hadn’t quite grasped that.  Chemotherapy.  That meant Wyatt had cancer.  My baby didn’t have cancer… I was in denial.

We were looking for answers with these procedures.  What type of Leukemia did Wyatt have?  Why was the fluid in his chest?  How were we going to get him better?  I would have given anything to have these answers, to know what to do.  

We went with Wyatt to the OR.  I got all suited up so I could walk into the room with him.  I remember looking at myself covered from head to toe in that paper hospital outfit and thinking, this must be scaring Wyatt to death. I tried to joke about how funny I looked and make light of it. I walked down the hall with him holding his hand the entire way.  Then we went into the operating room.  I remember the stark white walls and the big round lights.  The last time I had seen a room like this I was having Wyatt via C-section.  

I kissed him as the medicine knocked him out and went to the waiting area.  And I think I held my breath.  

While I was waiting I could hear an alarm.  It was the alarm that sounds when a patient’s heart stops beating.  It calls all the critical personnel in the hospital to the patient’s room.  I knew it wasn’t for Wyatt, but it was scary none the less.  

After his procedures, Brooks and I sat with Wyatt while he slowly came out of the anesthesia.  One of the Child Life Specialists brought a therapy dog by.  We had already met these dogs the day before and I tell you what, they are awesome.  I’m not sure who depended on the therapy dogs more, Wyatt or us.

We eventually got Wyatt back to his room and found a decent movie for him to watch. Brooks had brought him some juice and we were trying to get him to eat some jello.  Now we just had to wait.  Wait for the results of those procedures.  Wait for the answers that we didn’t want.