Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Happy Birthday Robert Allen!

 Today marks 7 years since we said hello and goodbye to our angel baby, Robert Allen. In those seven years we've had 2 miscarriages, 2 births, 2 baby blessings, 2 baptisms, 1 new priesthood holder, MANY birthdays, holidays, vacations and countless memories. And still, at times,  it seems like it's still a fresh loss.
I don't think you ever "get over" the loss of a child...EVER. It's always there, waiting to swallow you in the depths of it's grief. But as time passes, those waves of sorrow do come less frequently. Most of the time, I smile when I think of him. Even though the memories of him that I have are all of saying goodbye, there is the bittersweet feeling of knowing that someday I'll have him in my arms, alive and well, even if it's a lifetime away.

In many ways I'm jealous of those who have lost children after birth; Not that losing them before or after makes it easier or harder. It's just that those who have lost them after have more tangible reminders of their child and memories that they can go back to and hold on to. I don't have that and I desperately want those. To know that, for even a moment, your child felt your presence, your touch, or heard your voice would be so fulfilling and comforting. Or when days are hard, to have memories of your child's smile, laugh, or touch to hold onto. To have felt their heartbeat or their breath on your cheek....that would be Heaven! In fact, after you lose a child, those are the things you crave with all your being! Now, imagine never having gotten the chance to even experience them in the first place; It is tragic and devastating. It's like forgetting your chlid's entire existence except their funeral. You feel like there's this hole in your life and heart that can't be filled.

One of the hardest parts of having a miscarriage or stillborn is the sense that somehow, you're not entitled to grieve as long or as hard for your child; that your loss is somehow less than that of someone who's child lived after birth. That in some way, my child would have mattered more if he'd simply taken a breath or had a heartbeat? That in that magical moment my love for him would have then begun or transformed into something more real? No, I can't believe that's true because my love for my angel son was and is as strong as for my other living children. He is a part of me that I carry always. An quiet ache in my heart that others don't see, but is always present.

One day, while I was shopping I saw a ring that I KNEW I had to have. It was a simple silver spinner ring and engraved on it in script are the words: i think of you all the time. And I do. My son, and the grief of losing him, are so much a part of me that I couldn't separate where one begins and the other ends. In so many ways, my grief is all I have of him, one of the few reminders that he was actually here and not just a dream.

I imagine him now as a 7 year old child and who he would be. What would he be like? Would he have dark hair like Cori? Or blond like the rest of my kiddos? Would he love super heroes? Cars? What would his voice sound like? Who would this mystery child be? The anguish of not knowing can be paralyzing in it's intensity at times, and others....it's a soft whisper like butterfly wings against your heart but it's there just the same.

This is perhaps one of the best descriptions of the grief process after losing a child :

STEVEN KALAS: When you lose a child, grieving is a lifelong experience.

When our first child is born, a loud voice says, "Runners, take your marks!" We hear the Starting gun and the race begins.  It's a race we must win at all cost.  We have to win.  The competition is called, 'I'll race you to the grave.  I’m currently racing three sons.  I really want to win. 
Not everyone wins.

I'm here at the national meeting of Compassionate Friends, an organization offering support and resources for parents who lose the race.  I'm wandering the halls during the "break-out" sessions.  In this room are parents whose children died in car accidents.  Over there is a room full of parents of murdered children.  Parents of cancer victims are at the end of the hall.  Miscarriages and stillbirths are grouped together, as are parents who have survived a child's suicide.  And so it goes.
In a few minutes, I'm going to address Compassionate Friends.  This is the toughest audience of my life.  I mix with the gathering crowd, and a woman from Delaware glances at my name tag.  Her name tag has a photo of her deceased son.  My name tag is absent photos.

"So ... you haven’t,.. lost anyone," she says cautiously.
“My three sons are yet alive, if that's what you're asking me," I say gently.
She tries to nod politely, but I can see that I've lost credibility in her eyes.  She's wondering who invited this speaker, and what on earth he could ever have to say to her.
My address is titled "The Myth of Getting Over It."  It's my attempt to answer the driving questions of grieving parents: When will I get over this?  How do I get over this?
You don't get over it.  Getting over it is an inappropriate goal.  An unreasonable hope.  The loss of a child changes you.  It changes your marriage.  It changes the way birds sing.  It changes the way the sun raises and sets.  You are forever different.
You don't want to get over it.  Don't act-surprised.  As awful a burden as grief is, you know intuitively that it matters, that it is profoundly important to be grieving.  Your grief plays a crucial part in staying connected to your child’s life.  To give up your grief would mean losing your child yet again.  If I had the power to take your grief away, you'd fight me to keep it.  Your grief is awful, but it is also holy.  And somewhere inside you, you-know that.
The goal is not to get over it.  The goal is to get on with it.

Profound grief is like being in a stage play wherein suddenly the stagehands push a huge grand piano into the middle of the set.  The piano paralyzes the play.  It dominates the stage.  No matter where you move, it impedes your sight lines, your blocking, your ability to interact with the other players.  You keep banging into it, surprised-each time it's still there.  It takes all your concentration to work around it, this at a time when you have little ability or desire to concentrate on anything.
The piano changes everything.  The entire play must be rewritten around it.
But over time the piano is pushed to stage left.  Then to upper stage left.  You are the playwright, and slowly, surely, you begin to find the impetus and wherewithal to stop reacting to the intrusive piano.  Instead, you engage it.  Instead of writing every scene around the piano, you begin to write the piano into each scene, into the story of your life.  
You learn to play that piano.  
You're surprised to find that you want to play, that it's meaningful, even peaceful to play it.  At first your songs are filled with pain, bitterness, even despair.  But later you find your songs contain beauty, peace, a greater capacity for love and compassion.  You and grief--together--begin to compose hope.  Who'da thought?
Your grief becomes an intimate treasure, though the spaces between the grief lengthen. You no longer need to play the piano every day, or even every month.  But later, when you're 84, staring out your kitchen window on a random Tuesday morning, you welcome the sigh, the tears, the wistful plan that moves through your heart and reminds you that your child's life mattered.
You wipe the dust off the piano and sit down to play.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas 

And today, I am playing that piano because he matters. Even if no one remembers him or was touched by his birth except me and my family, he mattered. I love you baby boy!

Happy 7th Birthday Robert Allen!
Until I can hold you in my arms, 
I'll hold you in my heart.  
Your Mommy

Monday, July 8, 2013

He's Leaving On A Jet Plane

Well, technically he already left, but that just doesn't go with the song. 

On July 6, 2013 at around 8:45 am, Sterling was on his first flight alone to Salt Lake City to visit his Aunt, Uncle and cousin. Talk about heart wrenching and terrifying...for me anyway! There's something to be said about putting your child on a giant metal contraption that somehow defies gravity and will be tens of thousands of feet above the ground taking your child thousands of miles from home...and doing it without any other adult to watch out for your child! Since Sterling is 12 years old, on Southwest he is old enough to fly alone and is not considered an unaccompanied minor, but a youth. The plus is that we don't have to pay the $50 each way, unaccompanied minor fee for assistance for him. The downside: No assistance. Kind of nerve wracking for a kid who's only ever flown once before on our trip to Disney World several years ago.

Kailyn and Eddie watching Sterling's
plane and waiting for it to leave
Although, I suspect it was harder on and more stressful for me than Sterling! In fact, I called him 3 or 4 times right after he boarded before his plane even taxied away from the gate. Yeah, paranoid much Mom? And on one of the calls he had to firmly tell me that he was fine and needed to get off the phone. I mean, really, how much could go wrong between the walkway and his seat? Yeah, A LOT obviously!! I did hear the wonderful flight attendant in the background asking him if he was traveling alone and when he said he was she immediately asked if he'd like help. He said yes and she told him to just let them know if he had any questions or needed anything. Score: 1 for Southwest Airlines Customer Service!!

Of course, the flying thing wouldn't have been so bad if his flight had been direct, but he had a 3 HOUR layover in Phoenix. So many thoughts: Will he find his gate? Will he be accosted by strange people trying to kidnap/hurt him? Will he fall asleep and miss boarding his connecting flight? Will he board the right plane? What will he DO for 3 hours? Those and every other worry or problem he could possibly encounter ran through my mind. I found out later that the flight attendant had even approached the Captain of the flight to Phoenix and asked him to escort Sterling to his next gate which he happily did, letting him ride on the cart down to his next gate. Score: 2 for Southwest Airline Customer Service!

 I called/texted him A LOT! And I think he was getting a little...annoyed at my pestering him, but I think he'll understand someday when he has to let his child go somewhere on their own. And he was very patient with me despite all the pestering. During his layover he got lunch and read books and played on his phone. When I talked to him he was calm and acted like it was all just no big deal (Hello!! You're 12 years old, thousands of miles from ANYONE you know and you act like you're down the street?? Obviously he wasn't truly aware of the incredible danger I knew he was in.) Perhaps his calm was a testament to my awesome preparation for this epic adventure; Don't talk to strangers, Don't get on the wrong plane, Pay attention to your surroundings, Don't help strange people find lost dogs (always a good piece of advice, even if he was in the airport...you just never know). I even printed him a map of the terminal he would be in at Phoenix and marked his arrival gate, departure gate, places to eat and MOST importantly EVERY help desk on the path to his gates. I even marked the off limits areas for him (ANYWHERE that would require him to go through security to get back in.) But in truth I suspect it was the fact that he is an independent and responsible child. He also got a blessing from his dad the night before assuring him that he would be at peace and find where he needed to go. Plus, I did tell him that no matter what happened there wasn't really any mistake he could make that couldn't be fixed. Missed his flight? Get him on another one. Boarded wrong plane? Get off and find right one or, if he's in the air where disembarking isn't really the best option, we'd get him on a new flight to where he needed to go when they landed. If he got stranded for some reason? Well, we are blessed to have a worldwide church and would not have any problem contacting someone to help him out. So maybe all that helped him out cause he did awesome and didn't seem stressed or freaked out by any of it...even if his mom was...just a little...or a lot...whichever.

In the end, he had no problems, boarded the correct plane and made it safely to SLC where he was met by his Aunt, Uncle and cousin to begin 2 fun filled weeks with them! And I think that the flight home will be a much less stressful event for me since he won't be changing planes. But even if he had to, I know he could handle it!  And I'm thinking that I'll have to write Southwest and let them know how amazed and grateful I am for their level of customer service! They didn't HAVE to take such good care of my son. We didn't pay for any extra service or assistance, but they made sure he was taken care of and from a Mom's perspective, that is EVERYTHING! They have certainly won my business! Thanks Southwest! And have fun Sterling! See you in a couple weeks!

Robert Allen