Friday, May 3, 2024

April is the Worst Month

May 3rd is Flynn’s birthday. The day he was born and the day he died. It is a heartbreaking day for me, but April is the worst month. In April, my body was trying to keep us alive, and we were dying. I suppose this could be seen as metaphorical, but I remember, my body remembers, that in April 22 years ago it felt like it was dying. Now every year that follows, the heaviness of April ends with a crescendo on May 3rd that brings relief from a month of silent suffering.


It is well documented in trauma research that the body holds memory. Babette Rothschild’s work in The Body Remembers or the research and work of Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps Score, discuss this very concept. And I can attest that my body remembers the dying and the trying and the suffering that in experienced in April 2002. We don’t talk about it when a baby dies, that there can be dying. It is hard enough to reconcile that a baby has died. But as his mother, I was being admitted to hospitals, going to doctors’ visits and ultrasounds, and attending specialized hospital visits and hearing grim statistics and results. I was tasked with the trying to keep him alive and I felt it to my very bones. It imprinted on me, the seriousness of not just being the vessel for growing him, but having the ultimate responsibility of keeping him alive.


My body laid in the hospital beds, it endured the testing, one after another after another. It let them draw the blood looking for answers and watched as they measured the blood that I was losing. I let nurses and midwives hold my hand while I cried and in the next moment smiled with enthusiasm when my three year old came for a visit. I felt the dying intimately. I watched the screens on the machines that were doing the monitoring of both our vitals. I held my breath when a doppler was placed on my belly, hoping for the whooshing of a little heart. I watched the contractions that were coming way too early read out on ticker tape while a doctor signed my discharge papers to send me home. My body was holding the dying and then he was born and he died. 

So now when every April, I am run down, aching, and tired. When I am quick to sob, whimper and cry and when I seek out comfort more than I can provide it, I give myself grace. My body remembers the suffering, the attempt at a miracle, the ultimate loss of a months’ worth of grit, determination, and pain. My body knows what is missing just as much as my heart, soul, and mind. It held him, cradled him, grew him, and tried to keep him alive. It yearned for him, to breastfeed him, hold his hand, walk him to school, play with him, it wanted it all. My body remembers the loss of joy when he was born and the entrance of grief when he died. 


Today is May 3rd, Flynn’s birthday. A day we hold sacred to honour his life in our life. Our son, our child, our baby. Today will be spent embracing the echoes of him in his siblings in our family and in our life. And with gratitude that April has again come to an end. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Not like Any Other

For you it is a day like any other. Playing tag with your dad as he walks you to school, only slightly aware that he is not typically home to do that. You mentioned Flynn this morning, you want to make sense of it. Trying to understand something that boggles the minds of the adults who you seek answers from. You ponder out loud with me:

Littlest: I think Flynn is happier dead...

Me: What makes you say that?

Littlest: Well he gets to become 100 wherever he is, but if he was alive he would be suffering.

Me: I am not sure about that, I would have wanted him to be here with us if he could.

Littlest: But not if he was suffering.

Me: No, not if he was suffering.

It is just a moment and then you are on to something else, a princess story, a butterfly musing. Today is like any other day for you and also it is not. You are so perceptive and bright. You want to play tag with your dad all the way to school. I can see that you can sense a melancholy in his mood but when he plays tag - well there is laughter and silliness and he can hardly keep from delighting in the chase and your giggles at being caught. We get to school and you get into your line. Your dad and I stand near by and you proclaim loudly:

Littlest: Why are you celebrating Flynn's birthday, he is literally dead?

Nobody heard you but us and I get it, I see you. Grief is painful, there is sadness and we don't look the same when it is here. Your protest is not about Flynn, you want your mom and dad to be connected, engaging and light. My little darling, this is temporary. We will sit in the sacredness of the memory of your brother today. We will honour 20 years of loving and missing him. We will return from the comfort of our moments spent with him to the family that has grown around him and you will have us back. Today is not about you and like any sibling, that is hard to understand, but you will be okay because you are so loved. Today is not like any other and that is hard.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Parenting a Ghost

 It is the same day every year, May 3rd. The day that we mark one more year without you and also how old you would be. It is the one day in the year that we take time for you, that people send us kind words and thoughts, the one time in 365 days that you are acknowledged by more than our immediate circle of people. 

Like many other years, your dad and I took flowers to the cemetery. Hoping not to repeat previous years searching the city for blue orchids, I ordered them a week ahead of time this year. When we arrived at the florist, the orchids were not in due to a delay in the shipment. Purple orchids would have to do. While we waited for the orchids to be wrapped I saw a hanging plant called "baby tears," it seemed apropos that it come with us. 

At your graveside, we laughed at the mishap again this year in trying to secure blue orchids. After my laughter turned to tears, your dad reminded me that today wasn't meant to be perfect. I think there is a part of him that believes you have a hand in this; a prankster like your siblings and like him. Your stone was dirty after a year of neglect and we both took turns rubbing it with an old cloth grocery bag to remove what moss and debris we could. We promised to come back with something more effective to polish it up. It is one of the physical things we can care for in your absence. 

We didn't stay long at your stone and today in the misty grey of the day, we strolled around the neighbourhood admiring the beautiful houses that are an extension of this century old area. Every year we picture ourselves living in one of the regal houses with the manicured lawns and we point out which ones are our favourites. I think it brings us comfort that we often point out the same ones. Some of the gardens are blooming with Forget-Me-Nots and as we wander,  I imagine what it would be like to live just a block from you and the word peaceful comes to mind. 

Our time with you is limited and we drive thirty minutes to treat ourselves to lunch. We cannot stay in this place of memorialization too much longer; we feel compelled to get home in the midst of this pandemic.  Before we do, we get a cake for the family to enjoy after dinner. Sitting in the car, eating our sandwiches, I comment that I feel like I am parenting a ghost. Your dad solemnly nods and I continue that we imagine you on our family vacations, acknowledge you in our home and workplaces. We picture you at our family game nights and how we would navigate another teenager devastated by the restrictions of the pandemic. We think about this birthday, your nineteenth, and how we would celebrate this with you. Maybe you would be here with us or maybe you would be away at school.  Possibly you would be angry that this birthday had to be subdued or maybe you would be grateful for the lack of fanfare. Parenting a ghost comes with some unanswered imaginings. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

18 Years With and Without You

A few days ago, as our family sat around the kitchen island talking about the pandemic, the idea came up about how different our home would have looked if you were alive today. Everyone acknowledged that you would have been 18 and what a full house it would be. The older boys believed that you would be their buddy, playing video games and working out with them. The middle oldest wondered if he would have been born so soon after you, which made the middle youngest wonder if he would have been born at all. The littlest was oblivious and naturally assumed that she would be here regardless but also if you could be alive, why couldn't we just go and get you out of the casket (her words)? We decided that this birthday/deathaversary we would go the cemetery together and your siblings also asked if we could bake a cake to mark the day.

We woke up to a glorious day, this May 3rd. It was easy to forget that we are going into the 8th week of self-isolation in the COVID-19 pandemic. We took a slow approach to the day, having coffee on the back deck and watching the littlest blow bubbles.

Some things had to be different this year, due to the pandemic, we didn't have the luxury to scope out flower shops to find the blue orchids that we normally take to the graveside. This day is held sacred so that we can honour our relationship with you and often it is a time to feel the grief over your absence. This year it is difficult to feel anything. I assume it is because we are holding onto so much just to keep working, to manage your siblings emotional, psychological and scholastic needs and to remain focused on the here and now. We are in a holding pattern, so familiar to the early days after you died, when each day blurred into the next and we felt isolated from the reality everyone else still had access to. Except now we are all in the same reality, no one is immune to the pandemic or the emotions it may provoke.

We headed out to the cemetery, Landy and I on the motorcycle and our oldest driving the rest in the car. The motorcycle is the most freedom we have from the family these days; a date on the open road. I don't remember the last time that we were all at the graveside. I know that we have not been there since the littlest was born, it was comforting to have us all there to honour this day. And yet, it is always hard to see your name etched in stone, that will never get easier.

I have said often that I am so grateful for the people who have come into our lives since your death. They didn't know you and they never met you, but our friends have never let that be a barrier to honouring you, talking about you and dreaming about you too. We opted for a physically distanced visit, to be around people, even if we were ten feet apart. Grief can be so lonely in the best of moments. It is a challenge to be with people you love at a distant, but as a bereaved family, we have lots of practice - we have loved you our whole life and the distance between us couldn't be farther.

Today we once again honoured your short life and the impact of living 18 years with and without you. That conversation around the kitchen island a few days ago highlighted the reality that the reason for you has so many folds in the fabric of our lives. Not the same as a reason for why you died, but rather, everyone around our table are who they are, in some small part because you existed.

Happy 18th Birthday Flynn, with and without you.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Our Family's Oxymoron

Today I drove the route that with one turn would have led me to your cemetery. The route is picturesque and especially so today with an early spring snow fall newly on the ground. I found my mind wondering to conversing with you, something I rarely do, and it inspired me to write this blog. It is March 31stand every turn around the sun I remember April as the month that I spent in and out of hospital as my body slowly and painfully failed to carry you. As I drove, I opened myself up to the conversation, the things I would have wanted you to know about the day you were born, the story I will never get to tell you.

You would be approaching seventeen in May; it is just unimaginable. I try to picture you, wondering if you would tower over me like your brothers or would you be smaller, more petite if you had survived? Survived… the word punctures my heart; it reminds me that there was nothing I could do to save you.

When I gave birth to you the pediatrician swept you away for the briefest of moments, knowing that our time was short, she measured your Apgar’s, the test that evaluates your ability to thrive. It was not long before you were placed back in my arms wrapped in the tiniest of quilts where you looked swallowed up in flannel. The doctor informing us that you scored ones and threes where we needed nines and tens. Nurses measured your beating heart, gently calling out numbers to a doctor recording them in the corner – “90 beats per minute.” Your warmth radiated through the blanket and although we were told you weighed one pound, six ounces, the weight of you lay heavy in my arms. 

I watched as your little mouth opened and closed, mimicking breathing. Maybe you were instinctively looking for food, but your movements were not quite the nuzzling of an infant looking for milk. I felt so confused, every instinct in me wanted to feed you, to believe that if I could simply give you nourishment our reality could change. I was starkly silent to my normal nature and yet my mind was on fire screaming “help me help him.” People moved alongside me, your dad and grandparents, weeping and holding me as I whispered my apologetic love to you.  

Where my body failed to carry you, I was now failing in my duty as your mother. I didn’t know how to fight for you or what to fight for.  I wished I could have asked you what you needed of me.  Would it have been the life you wanted if I had insisted you be rushed to a NICU? Would the choice to intervene and in turn barely touch you give you the resources to live? Should I have asked your tiny body to be responsible to fight for life, constantly trying to ward off death? Let me be clear mister, I would have taken you any way I could have had you and I realize that may be idealistic and selfish and a thought born out of this lifelong grief I bear without You. But that wasn’t what we chose because the grim realities were laid out before us while I was still struggling to grow you within me. 

I wanted to run, my arms and legs itched to flee the reality of that delivery room and only thirty minutes into your life the doctor told us that we had a window for the surgery that I needed, and we would be wise to take it. I decided to leave for surgery and not witness your last moments of living. I left that to your dad and not because I was thinking of him and what he needed but because it was unbearable to struggle with the fight or flight response raging in my body. Just writing this I can feel it awakening in me like a primal scream. 

Dear boy you were surrounded by so much love and you gave us an hour and a half to instill our message of gratitude and to cherish your life. We didn’t know in that moment how much your wee imprint on our souls would influence our lives and our family. We are about to acknowledge seventeen years with and without you in our lives, and I realize that you are the oxymoron of our family, you are the little giant that roots our family. Darling Boy, thank you.