Mo, Myla and Mace

His heavy load

Last week, Mo and I were sitting at our kitchen table after Ted had brought the babies upstairs to start getting ready for bed. We were doing his homework together (yes, he has homework!) when he put down his pencil and said that he'd had a sad dream the night before. Before I could ask him what it was about, he followed up by asking, "Mommy, sometimes do you feel so sad that you feel like you could start crying and never stop?". "Yes," I said, "I have felt that way before. If you feel like you need to cry, you should, and I promise that you will be able to stop. You won't cry forever." Then, with that, he started bawling. I mean, really, really crying. Tears rolling down his little cheeks, shoulders shaking, little face turning red.

"I can't believe Max died", he said. "I just can't believe it. He was here and now he isn't. He was only a baby. Why did he have to die?". Such sorrow. So deeply felt.

I hugged him tight and he cried and cried. And then, "I miss Layla". Layla - our dog, who we had to say goodbye to a few weeks ago. After Layla died, we struggled with how we would tell the kids. But then they didn't seem to notice. They didn't ask about her or look for her and so we were lazy. We said nothing. On our way to the airport for Christmas break in LA, Mo asked who would be taking care of Layla while we were gone. Ted and I looked at each other. "When was the last time you saw Layla?", I asked. He burst into tears. "She's dead, isn't she?", he asked. He knew. He just didn't want to face it and if we didn't talk about it, he could pretend like everything was fine. Myla added her two cents, "Layla is at the doctors", she said.

Mo often asks me who Max is in heaven with and I tell him - he is there with mommy and daddy's grandparents and all of our pets. I don't really get into too many other people, because I think it is hard enough for him to absorb that grandparents die and that he has a big brother, who is a baby, in heaven. I'm conflicted about whether the concept of heaven is even the one that I should be teaching him - because I struggle myself with believing in and understanding what happens, if anything, after we die. I do think it is about all his tender little heart can handle at this point.

I shared this story with a bereaved parents group that I am part of. Many others in the group had similar stories - of children, who never met their siblings, but grieve nonetheless. We wondered together whether our children are grieving because they know that we are grieving, or because they think that they should be, or because they truly feel a sense of loss around having a sibling that they've never met: a sibling that they could be sharing fun and secrets and love with right now. Probably a combination of all of those things. All I know is that it breaks my heart. My sweet, caring, sensitive, empathetic boy. It's too much for a child to know. How it makes me truly envy those who don't have to think about any of this stuff. It's too heavy for me - imagine the gigantic load that he carries.

He would be seven

It is impossible to imagine what he would be like today. Whenever I try, I just picture Mo but a little bit bigger. I imagine that he'd be sweet because he was sweet. I imagine that he'd be easy because he was easy. But I'll never know. That thought alone - that I'll never know - makes me feel sick. When I think about not knowing him, this person who I felt I'd known better than anyone, I feel sick.

When our rabbi friend came to the hospital to help us say goodbye to Maxie, I asked him how long it would take before I could incorporate this loss into my life. I literally meant - when will this not feel like I am living in a nightmare anymore? He said, based on his experience suddenly and unexpectedly losing his wife, "seven years".

Seven years. SEVEN YEARS. At that time, I could not imagine seven years. I couldn't imagine how I would get through the next seven minutes. And life remained that way for a LONG time - not knowing how I would get through the remaining hours of the day. Sometimes I would try to imagine how I would get through a whole life (because it felt impossible) - but trying to imagine that was too huge. It still is. I could only focus on the time that was directly in front of me.

It still has not been seven years. It's been 6 years and change. And I know there has been an enormous shift - no matter how slow and gradual its been. (SO SLOW & SO GRADUAL). I think this is the first year that I feel like I can say that I am happy most of the time. I am not in a state of panic about the health and safety of my living children all of the time. I don't feel as though I am living in a nightmare. I don't. But I miss him as much, or more, than ever. The sadness I feel at having lost him is more real all of the time. And though I don't live in a nightmare - most days are actually happy and full of things to feel joyful about - I am definitely living a different reality than most people I know.

I would give anything for a glimpse at what life would have been like with my seven year old Max. I still believe he is waiting for me. I hope he knows that I am patiently waiting for him.

It's important to me that you know

If you met me today, you'd think I was happy. Even if you heard that I'd lost a child, or found out after you friended me on Facebook, or I sat right down and told you. I'm not saying you'd like me or that knowing about what I've been through wouldn't make you feel weird (I can tell it makes people feel weird). I am just saying, you might assume that we'd made peace with our loss. We've had three children since, they are very cute and happy kids, we hang out with friends, go out for occasional date nights, laugh a lot.....our lives seem normal and good. For the most part I guess I would say you'd be right. We are happy. We have a really solid marriage and we are grateful that our loss brought us closer together, rather than further apart. We adore our children. We have some amazing people in our lives that support us.

But, Max is always there. Missing him is always right below the surface of every thought and moment. And, I am not sure why it is so important for me to make sure that you know that, because it doesn't change one thing at all for you think that he isn't. But, somehow, I need you to know that I am never not thinking about him. Never ever. Even when you think I am thinking about something else - I am thinking about him. This is one of the reasons that I often seem distracted, why I forget things even more than I did before, why I may not always seem completely engaged. I have learned to be in two places at once. Sometimes I think to myself, "I can't believe I am not thinking about him right now", which is, of course, still a form of THINKING ABOUT HIM.

His absence is everywhere and ever present. Above our kitchen counter floats a butterfly balloon that we kept after "celebrating" Maxie's birthday in October. One wing has deflated, but the other keeps it hovering. I am sure it will be in our kitchen until every last pocket of air is gone. There are times when his absence feels more obvious: When I sing my children to sleep, when I read them Goodnight Moon, when I'm in the presence of six year old boys, when I see on Facebook what the kids that were born at the same time as him are up to, when I register my second born child for Kindergarten. But he is also right there in less obvious times - as I am sitting at my computer, driving to the market, out to dinner, laughing my head off, comforting a friend, watching television, reading a book.

I don't want you to think I've forgotten him because I want you to know that he was unforgettable. I don't want you to think that I am fine and happy without him because he was the center of my heart. I want you to know that this pain is something I will carry around forever - and that it's ok because that's the way it should be. Sometimes I want you to know how much I still hurt because I am hoping you might be a little more forgiving with me or think about how the things you say might strike a chord in me. But, more than that, I want you to know that nothing at all will ever feel as big as him dying and leaving this world before I ever had the chance to do with him whatever it is that I'm doing right now.

It wasn't about you

Dear Friend,

We have not spoken in ages. I understand you were hurt by the way I acted after Max died. I retreated into myself. I did not always answer phone calls, emails or texts. When I did leave the safety of my home, I was very careful about where I went and with whom. I understand that you took this personally. I recognize that you tried to say the right things to me and found that I didn't respond, or even worse, sometimes those things you said upset me - even though you meant well. You didn't like the way I handled my grief - I wasn't very much fun to be around. Plus, you were going through some stuff too, and I wasn't really there for you in those early years after my baby died. I still sometimes don't seem to be "all there" - that's because I'm not.

I get it, dear friend. I understand why our friendship drifted away.You are not the only one who decided it would be easier to walk than to stick by my side. Still, I have been thinking a lot about it these past 5+ years and I just have to tell you (because it seems like you still don't really know this): it wasn't about you. The circle of people that made me feel safe was very small - I am sorry you weren't one of them. I had nothing in me at all to try and make you feel comfortable around me, because I was so uncomfortable myself. I just needed to be with people who naturally felt at ease being with someone in pain like I was. However that made you feel, it wasn't really about you. I am sorry that I was a drag to be around - it took everything I had in me to be around other people at all. I was fighting for my life. I promise, it wasn't about you. I know you tried to say the right thing, but for whatever reason, at that time, "the right thing" you said didn't resonate with me. It wasn't about you. Your ego was hurt, and I get that - but it wasn't about you.

So many of my friendships have been renewed since the really early days, most people realizing that my "rejection" of them wasn't really "about them". So many people kept their expectations of me fairly low, and didn't let their egos get in the way of supporting me. I am lucky because I know it isn't easy to stick by someone who is sullen, angry, and struggling. I am blessed to know real friendship, devotion and love. If I hurt your feelings after my baby died - I am sorry. I was, and continue to be, half the person I once was. All I can say is that I am working on it but it isn't so easy and also that it wasn't and still isn't about you. 

Maxie's Sixth Birthday

The night before you were born, daddy and I took a class at the Pump Station in Santa Monica.  I was eight months pregnant. That night, I got up to use the restroom at around midnight and my water broke. That was the beginning of our journey with you Max.

You were beyond special. I couldn't believe you were mine. You were so little, so vulnerable, so sweet. I spent hours walking around the neighborhood with you while I was on maternity leave. When I went back to work, the only way I could get through my days was by counting down the hours until I could go pick you up.

I'd never loved anyone or anything as completely as you before. My emotions were in free fall - and everything revolved around you. Every picture I took, every feeling I felt, every plan I made. You were my everything.

And then you were gone. In an instant.

Just gone.

The shock of your death, just as I was in the middle of celebrating and planning our new wonderful life together, will never leave me. In the beginning, I thought maybe someday the horror of losing you would subside, but it hasn't. How could it have happened? It still makes no sense.  None.

Today you would be six. We'd be running around town picking up last minute stuff for your party this weekend. If I'm honest, I resent that we won't be running around town picking up stuff for your birthday.  I am beyond angry that you were cheated life at such a young age. I hate that your daddy and I were cheated out of spending our lives with you.  I am still so angry.

You would be perfect at six.  I know this because you were perfect.  Everything about you: your scent, your eyes, your soulfulness, your sweet demeanor. You were everything to me and in many ways, you still are. There is no me without you - even still.

I would still never trade my nine and a half months with you for a lifetime with any other kid on earth. I feel so lucky that you were mine - even if this loss has caused me a lifetime of pain.

We'll be celebrating you tomorrow.  I hope that somewhere you are waiting for me and that you know how much I still adore you. Happy Birthday to my baby boy.  I love you to the moon and beyond.


"You and I will be together until the universe dissolves" - Rumi

Fifth anniversary reality check

Perhaps you imagine me, on this morning, smiling and wistfully sighing, my eyes knowingly turned upwards, as I think about my child's spirit dutifully watching over us.

Perhaps you see that we have three beautiful, funny, and perfect children that bring us so much joy every day (the absolute healers of our souls).  You see that I have a really solid marriage to a truly awesome guy.  Maybe you've noticed that we seem to be doing well, despite that unfortunate "incident" that happened with our son, Max.

It brings you peace to see that life has become good again for us. I am no longer blogging every day about my deep unrelenting pain and if you spend any time with us, you recognize that our senses of humor are back in place as are most of our social tendencies.

I wish all of this were true or at all really indicative of what is in our hearts. The reality is a lot uglier than that. Five years later, I still find myself feeling completely lost and alone most of the time.  Five years later, I feel like I am somehow still waiting to see how this loss gets "resolved".  Five years later, we just don't talk about it all that much with anyone other than each other anymore.  When I do, I often regret it. I think that I have finally learned that most people don't really want to hear my thoughts about my son, and, I don't feel the same need to push it that I once did. Where once your discomfort felt like a slap in the face, now it just feels like human nature....and I mostly get it.

Ted woke up this morning and reminded me that he had said he'd shave his beard after five years - the beard he began growing on July 19th, 2011 - the day Max stopped breathing at daycare. The beard that was meant to be the outward representation of the changed Ted - the guy who went from a fun loving, glass half full, excited new father - to someone more deeply contemplative, more cynical - someone who'd had the "glass half full" half punched out of him. He's not ready to shave the beard because he's still that "afterwards" guy. I'm not ready for him to shave it either.

It seems crazy now that we really believed after five years, we'd be back to our old selves. We now know that we will never be the same people we were. Never.

The good news is that I've sort of stopped listening to the unhelpful stuff people have had to say.

For years people told me that we are lucky Max "was only a baby".  Those same people are now posting photos of their babies all over social media, they are the same people who kvell about the birth of their new grandchildren, the same people who cry about not having babies of their own. 

He didn't live.  And it wasn't because we didn't love him enough, or he wasn't tenacious enough, or he wasn't "a fighter", or we didn't pray enough. I know nobody ever said those things - but I read between the lines.

I know, and don't necessarily feel the need to always remind those who make the comparison, that Max dying while at daycare was not like your dog dying, or your miscarriage, or your ninety year old granny passing peacefully after a long a beautiful life. I never said those things aren't sad.  I was very sad with my first miscarriage, very sad when my grandparents died, and still feel a deep longing for my sweet Jake. Those things are all very, very sad.  But I get it now that you'll never really know that the comparisons make no sense....and aren't really helpful.  "To compare is to despair", said our grief counselor all of the time during that first year.  I didn't really get it then.  I do now.

We are still grieving...maybe even more in some ways than in the beginning...but the trauma isn't as paralyzing. We are still angry, and sometimes the most unexpected and slight thing can turn it back on......but it's not like it was.

That being said, we still think about him all day every every moment that you think we are not: whenever we hear of a new pregnancy, whenever a new baby is born, whenever a child turns nine months, or ten months, or five years old, or graduates from pre-school, or starts kindergarten.  Whenever someone shares photos of their baby on Facebook (even though they are "just babies"), Whenever we hear how much a child who's going away to camp, or college, or a sleep over will be missed. Whenever our living children play together, or play with other kids, or play with kids that are the age he would be...or was.  Whenever we see pictures of you cuddling your child that is the age our child would be, should have already been by now or once was. Even if the thought is sometimes only a flash - it's always there.

I really don't think we are ever not thinking about him.

In the beginning, I wanted everyone to know that he lived. He was here!!!  He was special. He was mine. But, I now recognize that it only matters that we remember him, that we love him, that we continue to find ways back to his heart. There is nothing I can do to make him important to anyone else in the whole world.....and that is ok.

After all of these years - which have felt like the blink of an eye and an eternity at the same time - he feels too special to share outside of the safe wall we've built around our little family. Just because you hear of him less, doesn't mean he is any less present for us.

Max was our everything.

He was everything. He was our everything. And, it still makes no sense at all.

My sweet darling boy -  You are my heart

I will be searching for you in everything that is and will ever be
I love you more than any feeble words are able to say
Everything that you are and were is in me forever
and the thought that I might see you again is what keeps me going.
I love you Max - to the moon and the stars and beyond.

"You and I will be together until the Universe dissolves". - Rumi

Myla two years old

This beautiful little girl turned 2 on May 1st. She is really so fun, funny and smart.  She has a really large vocabulary, even if some of her words are only understood by a few of her closest people. She is so super happy almost all of time. When she isn't happy, she is usually sad about not having cookies or more Elmo. The obsession with Elmo runs deep. She has a number of funny routines, including a wild bath tub dance, a meal time balancing of her empty bowl on her head, and a new ability to do somersaults that appeared after a week's stay with older girl cousins. She is fearless and affectionate and we adore her. Happy Birthday Special Girl! We are so lucky that you're ours!

Heavy Questions

"How are you doing today Mo?", asked his teacher when we got to school the other morning.
"Do you know if someone goes to Heaven that maybe they will come back here again...?" he asked/said.
The teacher didn't quite get it all.
"What?", she asked me.
"I think he might be asking you if you believe in reincarnation." I said.
She looked at him, "I think that is a better question for your mommy", she said.
"I just wanna know if Maxie and Jakey are coming back here", he responded.
She looked concerned.
I shrugged.
"We have these kinds of conversations all of the time.", I said.

Mo is increasingly interested in his big brother.  He asks me about Max all of the time.  His questions are sometimes heavy and they even make him sad when he thinks about them too hard - which he is prone to do. Sometimes, he is sad for long periods of time and gets frustrated that the answers don't come together the way he wants. Other times, he comes up with other things to be sad about because he doesn't seem quite sure himself of why missing a brother he never met makes him feel so sad.

"I miss Max", he says a lot. "When is he coming back?"
"I don't think he is coming back Bubbah.  We won't see him again until we are in Heaven with him", I say.
 "I want to play with Max", he replies.
"So do I", I say.

Sometimes, he comes up with ideas that he thinks will make me happy, "How about I get on a cloud and go to Heaven and ask G-d to give Max and Jake back to us? That's a good idea. Right Mommy?"
"It is a really good idea Bubs", I say. "I don't know how to get on the cloud, but maybe we can figure it out one day".

It's heavy and Mo is already an emotionally mature little boy. He feels things very deeply. But I don't really see the point in pretending I am not sad about it. It has been so awful to have adults pretending like they don't think it is sad or pretending not to feel their own sadness. I am not even sure most of them are pretending, they've just pushed it aside - to make room for talk about the weather or work or common neighborhood gossip. In fact, I think that as a culture, we have been shoving down our feelings for so long that we actually don't feel that much anymore....even about things that are, without question, very very sad.

Like a child dying.  Or a little boy knowing that he almost had a big brother to play with, but that his big brother died before they ever got to play. It's sad.....and he feels sad. I know that many would not agree, but I really believe that his is an appropriate emotional response that I don't feel the need to shut down.

Ted and I have talked about the luxury so many parents have at being upset that the father died in "The Good Dinosaur" or about any character dying in any movie. "I don't want my child to have to think about that", they say.  Though I'm not really sure you have the choice ...because terrible sad things happen in this life and we aren't always prepared for them.

After Max died, friends with kids were always asking me how I thought they should explain to their children what happened to Max.  Many of them decided not to tell their kids, because it was too much and might upset them.  At times, I have even resented the questions: I don't want to be involved with how you tell your child about death.  It's not my responsibility. Just because my child died, doesn't mean I have to be responsible for figuring out how you talk to your kid about death.  Another luxury as I see it.  I don't really want to have to talk to my own child about death.  And, more than anything, I didn't want my child to die.  I didn't ask for this, but since this is what I've got, I'm just going to be open about it.

Mo has a life that is filled with lots of fun and happiness.  He also knows that there is a sadder side of life - and I can't say I am happy about that. As much as I wish that his life would bring only happiness - I know that it won't.  Every life has its sorrows.  I hope that Mo will know that amidst the deepest tragedies and disappointments, there is resilience.  I hope that he always finds the road that feels authentic and true to him.  I hope that he continues to question the un-understandable, the unimaginable and the unfair. I hope that when life knocks the wind out of him, that he doesn't feel like he needs to pretend that he feels anything other than what he feels. And I hope that he remains the beautiful, deeply feeling, loving, empathetic soul that he is today.

My little guys playing together

Macie one year

This post is a week late - but what a week! Two birthday celebrations for Macie - one at school and one with family at our home. Mace is the most fabulous, adorable, easy, happy, mellow baby. He crawls all over the place with a big smile on his face. He loves to pull up on tables and in his crib. He picks up tiny little bits of food with his fingers and makes the cutest "yummy" noises. He loves to be held and cuddled and he adores his big brother and sister, which is good because they are wild about him. We are crazy about this baby! Can't wait to see what the next year brings!!!

Mace 11 months

Macie turned 11 months old yesterday. He's very grown up! He loves eating with his fingers & making yummy noises while he does, he is the best crawler I've nearly ever seen, and he is just so cute! Everyone adores this baby!

Roll call!!!: