Here we are again. January. A new year. I told Terry on New Year’s Day that it is funny how a new year seems fresh and full of possibilities, when in reality, it is just another day on the calendar. It’s like we all need this big permission slip to hit the reset button and have a new beginning. Apparently, we need this every 365 days, because we could just continue on our with daily life and not celebrate the Earth’s one revolution around the sun. Maybe we need a reason to extend the Christmas season by another week; a good excuse to take some extended time off of work. Either way, there is something about January that makes things feel clean.
January is here and, in our family, it marks another year since we embarked on our BMT journey with Reece. Of course Reece passed away in July 2012, so July has become an anniversary month of sorts for that reason. But January holds another anniversary and it would be remiss if I didn’t confess…it haunts me. It encompasses an anniversary of commencing a complex process that brought us down a twisty, tangled road full of confusion, emotionally-charged experiences, loss of innocence, and a fair amount of mental damage. January 2012, on the surface, had all the markings of new beginnings and a fresh start. However, it never lived up to its promise, despite us marketing it that way to Reece, and now it merely feels like one big, empty, cold month.
My collective assessment from both my writings and my memories is that in the first year after the loss of Reece, we operated out of mostly shock. We were very much still in that shock-place last January when we learned we were pregnant. As we pressed forward through the year, the stark contrast between being pregnant with a new baby and grieving the loss of Reece became strange, at best. As July came with the first anniversary of Reece’s passing, I felt a fair amount of relief in knowing that we had survived the first year and would at least be off the hook of saying, “It was only a year ago that ________ happened.” Little did I know to expect that my relief would be short-lived when I hit a low point for the remainder of my pregnancy. By this point, I was in my third trimester and people were asking me (just like they do any other pregnant woman) all about our new baby on the way. In the midst of innocent questions like, “Is this your first baby?” or reactions like, “Oh, now you’ll have a boy to go with your girls!” lie complex answers from my end of the spectrum. I found myself wary to discuss the details of my family with anyone, because it was emotionally exhausting. Additionally, with only eight months in between giving birth to Scarlett and getting pregnant with Jude, my body felt the effects of very little recovery time. Even though all probably looked normal to a passerby, life felt raw.
Jude was born in September. He is such a little love. Nevertheless, any time we add a baby to this house (and I am sure many people can relate), our world is turned upside down. With our youngest two only 16 months apart and Britta being only three, it has required a pragmatic approach to everyday life. My day is typically spent wiping tears, wiping noses, wiping butts, and wiping up the floor. While I certainly think of Reece every day, the demands of our kids here and our overall exhaustion have been somewhat distracting from what I know is still freshly needing to be dealt with in regard to grief over him. Granted, Jude is only four months old, but as the dust has settled, I am able to see things a little differently than I did a year ago.
First, I can say that the overall shock of Reece’s passing has somewhat disappeared. There are still times when I say, “I can not believe Reece isn’t here with us.” But we aren’t walking around shell-shocked like we were last year. We aren’t just getting up and walking aimlessly around the Mall of America because we don’t know what else to do. (Yes, we did that for quite a while after he passed.) However, because that initial shock has somewhat dissipated, it has afforded more room to feel shock about what actually happened during our time with Reece at the U of MN and surrounding his funeral. I can’t believe that Reece, for the last year of his life here, was a terminally ill child. For half of that year, we didn’t even know it. I can’t believe much of what we witnessed during his hospitalization. I can’t believe the routine that he had to live through. I can’t believe how we operated out of our home while Reece was ill–what it looked like and felt like. I can’t believe the conversations we’ve had to have or the decisions we’ve had to make. I still can’t believe we had a funeral for Reece. We had a funeral for Reece. And we had a memorial service for him. I can’t believe I got up in front of several hundred people from various ages and stages of Terry and my life and told them about my son. People wept over him. Terry and I often look at each other and say, “How did we become that family?” In fact, if you looked at our family make-up two years ago, you wouldn’t even recognize us today. Reece isn’t here, but we have Scarlett and Jude with Britta sort of gluing it all together. It all seems so strange.
Second, I’ve been able to simply let go of many hurts that transpired after Reece’s passing. I’ve let go of expectations I had about how some of our friends would or would not embrace us. I’ve realized that they hurt over Reece, too. Last year, it was hard to see past my own pain to realize what others might be feeling in this regard. I’ve decided that it’s ok that some of our friendships fall to the back burner or take a different course. It isn’t because we don’t care and I realize now that it likely isn’t because they don’t care…it’s because it just needs to be that way. I trust that God has a plan for those friendships, just like everything else. I harbor no resentment towards them. In fact, I do care deeply about each family or friend. I’ve come to realize that sometimes, it simply is what it is. Most importantly, I’ve realized that it is okay and that I don’t need to try to scramble to fix it. Truthfully, I couldn’t even if I tried. I also trust that different people will come into our lives and several have already at this point. Most of the angst I felt in regard to our social connections being completely disrupted has been removed. I feel at peace with this.
Third, I have come to realize that people–whether they knew us before or are just meeting us for the first time–will always identify us as “the family that lost a son”. It is part of our identity. I remember a handful of people I met prior to our own loss who had had a child pass away. I never looked at them the same again. I had so many things that would run through my mind when I would see them. I had so many questions. I didn’t know what to say to many of them. But, regardless of my relationship with them, their personal loss of a child was never far from my mind. Now, I can see it in other people’s eyes when they look at me. Or at least I can see it in some people’s eyes. It creates distance and questions and fears…fears for being somehow offensive to us (unlikely) and fears of what it would be like to lose a child of their own (also unlikely). It is a little unsettling at times, because I just know there are thoughts and questions racing through their heads. I can tell some people dread if the subject comes up…if Reece comes up. It is part of the way society identifies me now. Parent of a dead child. Only he’s not dead…he’s alive in Heaven. It’s a miracle. But people get lost in the passing part and get shifty with the Heaven part and often it creates a barrier. Even so, I am ok with that. That’s part of my life’s journey now; it was planned for me to walk this road. Just like any other child, you are proud to be your child’s parent, regardless of who they are or what they do. I’m proud to be Reece’s mom. Being Reece’s mom means he comes up in conversation and, often times, it’s very normal conversation like how we handled potty training or why we chose the preschool that my kids attend. For the record, if you ask me, I would likely answer just about any question you ask about Reece or our family.
One final noticeable change that I’ll mention is something that has just occurred to me recently. While I can say that I’ve become a bit of a recluse in my social life, I have found it therapeutic to reach out in my every day functioning, mostly to total strangers. I have begun to see people differently or perhaps it is that I can see the neediness of the human condition differently. Where once I assumed the worst (e.g. someone that looks crabby must actually just be a crabby person), now I am able to better give the benefit of the doubt (e.g. said crabby person is actually going through something rough or having a bad day, etc.). I actually strike up more conversations at the gym, touch a person on the arm when I am speaking with them (if it’s appropriate, that is), and do my best (although I still need a lot of work) at trying to listen to a whole story someone is telling me without bringing it back to myself. I think it really stems from my own thought that when I see a person who I can see is having some sort of struggle (and really, who isn’t) I think to myself, “To somebody in this world, that is their Reece.” That homeless person on the side of the road, that overweight teenager who is self-consciously lifting weights at the gym, that elderly woman who needs help getting her coat on…to someone, somewhere, that person is the child of parent who loves them like I love my own kids. That parent would feel pain in knowing their child is struggling in whatever capacity it may be. It really makes me think of people in a more loving way. And hey, I can still be a jerk like the next person, but the point is, I have begun to notice others and I realize that just by noticing the smallest thing and mentioning it to someone, it often brings a person out of their shell. By doing so, it actually makes me feel a whole lot better. It takes the focus off of my own struggles, if only for a moment.
I’m entering 2014 without a lot of expectations. I’d like to not feel exhausted come December. I’d like to feel like I spent quality time with each of my children. I’d like to be a more gentle and loving wife. I’d like to be better at keeping my emotions in check. I’d like to feel like I’ve made an impact, if even only a tiny one. I’d like a year where we can hold steady as a family…not add or definitely not take away. Slow and steady wins the race.