Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Heaven is for Real

We will all have that moment.
The one when we pass from this life to the next.
I often think about mine... when it will be, what it will be like.
But more often, I think about his.

Some know the moment they left. I remember still that second "un-meeting" I went to. "Un-meeting" because there wasn't a meeting scheduled that night but since she and I were both there, we sat down and made our own. She too had lost a son, but like all of us in this secret society, her story was different than mine. He had lived a while. Suffered. But when she spoke of his passing a peace swept across her face. She was holding him. They were outside and it was a perfect day. A day when the sky is clear~ dotted with white cotton clouds~ "A straight shot". She held her son, looked at him and watched him take his last breath. She looked to the sky and thought, "A straight shot."

I sat there soaking in her words and felt the comfort she had saying them. Sure, she had lost a son just like I had but there are moments that we cling to in our stories- moments that are our's that we find comfort in... this was one of her's.

I started to think about that. That moment. The one when Andrew passed from this world to the next. I tried to think back to that day but as hard as I try to remember the moment- what I was doing when he flew away- I can't, because I don't know.

2003 was a tough year for us. One when we lost three precious members of our family...

Though I was not there I knew the moment my Great Auntie died. I was sitting in my bed and it was late at night. I was writing Andrew a letter in his journal, writing about her, when the light next to me went out. I had tears streaming down my face and because the hallway light was on, I was still able to continue my thoughts~ wondering about her time~ was it near? When I finished my writing, the lights came back on and I wondered... a sign? I wrote about that thought- shut off the light- and went to bed.

The next morning, I got a call from my dad. My Auntie had passed sometime during the night. She was out of her pain, in a better place. I was getting closer. I knew the moment, but I was not there.

And then came the last death we had that year. Like my Auntie, we knew it would come. My father-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer shortly after our boys were born. He suffered that year and as predicted by the doctor, it was his last.

Those final days were filled with pain- utterings of things we didn't always understand. The nurse told us sometimes people 'wait' for things, for 'unfinished' business. We couldn't imagine what he was waiting for~ One of the last things I remember him asking was if it was December yet... Everyone looked around the room that August day and wondered why the question. I looked down at my swollen belly and wondered if it contained the answer.

I felt like I was swimming. We were coming up to the first anniversary of my son's death, my Auntie had passed and here I was waiting... waiting for his turn. Though I loved him so very much, I still felt like an outsider looking in. I slipped my hand in my husbands knowing that that was why I was there- in these intimate moments with his family.

Days went by and it was suggested that we leave- go grab a shower- a bite to eat- some sunshine (that in those days only seemed to be seen through the hospital window). We stayed so they could go. They went, and it was the three of us in that room. Alone.

It was so quiet. Just the sound of his labored breathing. I will never forget the rhythm of it~ the sound it made- like a broken machine determined to keep going.

We went close to his bed, one on either side. My husband grabbed his father's hand, and I grabbed his other. This was it. Our moment. To say all those things that were on our heart. All those things we wanted to say, but couldn't in front of the others.

We told him we knew he'd see Andrew soon. Tell him we love him. Tell him how much we miss him. Sing to him in that off-key, wonderful way that you sing to your other grandchildren. Look him in his eyes- those beautiful eyes that we never saw and tell him we'll be there- We'll be home one day and until we meet again, not a day will go by that we don't think of him.

I looked to my stomach and felt a kick and we told him it was OK. He could see this grandchild born from heaven. There was another grandchild it was time to meet. We would take care of mom. It was OK. He could leave.

In that moment his breathing changed. The time between breaths was growing. My husband stayed with his father while I grabbed the nurse. She said it was hard to tell, but that perhaps we should call her.

My mother-in-law made it moments later. She rushed to her husband's side. I stood in the corner feeling I shouldn't be here for this. This is not my moment. She placed her hands on him and said, "It's OK. I'm here." I stood with tears running down my face because I felt it. That same peace I did that September when I knew he was safe. The same peace I felt when that light came back on. I knew.

She asked if we had heard him take another breath. We both shook our heads. I squeezed my husband's hand and went to get the nurse. I waited outside the room. This was not my moment but God had let me in. He let me see how peaceful, how wonderful how perfect it is~ When it is time, perhaps you just know.

I don't know what it was like for Andrew. What did he see? What did he hear? What did he feel? But I do know that it was his time. Being there- in that moment- I felt a strange peace about all of it. About death.

I sat in that hallway crying for what was lost- an amazing man who I would miss loving my children.
I sat in that hallway crying for what was gained- an amazing man who would be there- loving my (now) children.

I recently read a book, Heaven is for Real. I read it nodding~ for it unfolded like I thought it would. Like I knew it would. Because I believe and I know. It would be a comfort for those who need it. An answer perhaps.

Heaven is for real.
They are there.
And one day, I'll be there too.

**The picture is of my Jonasens' hands...
My son and his namesake who now holds the hands of my others, in heaven~

Friday, July 15, 2011

For those not in the 'Secret Society'

I sometimes feel like I don't know how to fit Andrew and E in~ When to share them, or when not. In early years, I would NEVER had said that I would not share them~ but it was also in those earlier years that I got quite burned (even when I was being quite respectful... which admittedly I wasn't always...).

I am a teacher and when I returned from my maternity leave with the boys everyone knew about Andrew and for that I was grateful. I didn't need to share my story with everyone- but coworkers, parents and even students shared their condolences. The following year was not so easy on me...

That first day of school I was introducing myself to my second grade students. I remember choosing my words carefully and said (as I still do today), "I have a husband, two dogs and one son 'at home'." I then went on to share little tidbits about myself when a hand raised and said, "Yes. And you had another son that died."
(Gulp) "Yes, I did."
"What was his name?
"Do you miss him?"
"What are your dogs' names?"
(Exhale) And that was it.

I was so thankful for the whole exchange really. I loved that the student remembered Andrew and equally I loved that we moved on so easily to the next topic without missing a beat. One of the things I love about working with children~ their honesty~ their curiosity.

The year went on without a hitch (or so I thought) until a group of parents took issue with me talking about my 'dead son' (from the exchange above that I spoke of). And so began a very tough year of me writing letters asking parents not to address me (as they had planned) at a parent meeting regarding my 'dead son'. To explain what was said (which was so minimal) in class. To beg that they respect my wishes and let me grieve quietly. I was afraid someone would say something to me. I was so fragile in those early years and I didn't know what would set me off. Being confronted (and I felt attacked) about this was not another thing I wanted to add to my load.

It was then that I knew that sharing Andrew would need to be limited to family and friends. I would tread lightly and choose my words carefully and hope that questions wouldn't arise in future years. So far they have not.

When pregnant with my daughter, a student's mom asked how I was feeling. When I replied that I felt good but tired she said, "You should see what it's like carrying twins."

I fought back tears and the extreme urge to tell her every detail of my "perfect" twin pregnancy. I wanted to say... "Oh ya! How big were YOURS? How long did YOU go?? I went 39 weeks and they were 6 pounds 11 ounces and 6 pounds even... separate sacs, separate placentae! I KNOW what tired feels like sister!"

But I simply nodded and wondered how on earth I could find the strength to stand without crumbling to the floor which is what I so desperately wanted to do- for at that time the anger and sadness was gone and I felt just a shell- ready to shatter.

But somehow God gave me the strength to stand.
The grace to bite my tongue when I needed to.
The courage to hold back tears until I was alone.
The ability to nod when I had nothing else to say.

And so years have gone by and the community that once knew about Andrew is mostly gone and if there is chatter among the neighbors, I was certainly unaware. When I lost E a few years back (on the night I was to have a meeting with parents) a student came back and told me their mom thought I had my appendix out. I simply nodded... (Oh.)

I have survived though- gone on and even started having twins in my classroom (though none have been boy/boy twins thus far which seems to make it a bit easier). But still when I hear wonderful stories about a 'twin', my mind always drifts and wonders... what if? What kind of stories could Jonasen have shared about his twin...

But time has given me patience and pause and has made me realize that my being Andrew's mom is not visible to the world and that is that. I wear him on my heart though (and in certain circles on my sleeve) and that is enough.

So when I opened my school email the other day and got the following message, I was taken aback. It read (and I did ask permission to share it):

I knew who you were before you were Isabelle's teacher. I had heard your story from a few parents I know in our neighborhood. I then found out that you were also a story I was told about by friends just after Isaac and Isabelle were born. My heart ached for you each time I heard your story. I sat in the library and was told you were ill the night you could not attend curriculum night when my oldest entered 3rd grade. I didn't find out why until later, a friend of ours had you as a teacher that year. I have thought of you and prayed for you even before you knew who I was. I don't know why I didn't tell you any of this this year as our lives actually intertwined. Isabelle was thrilled when she found out you had 4 kids and your name was Laura! "and she is really nice too, just like you!"
I apologize for not having courage enough to talk to you about the other thing we have in common, we are both Mom's of twins. Thank you for your beautiful blog about Andrew and Baby E. It is a wonderful story of love that I am glad you share. I wasn't sure I should read any of it at first, afraid it wasn't meant for me because I am not a part of your secret society. Once I started reading it though, I realized that it was OK for me to know about him, maybe even important in some way. I learned a lot reading your story, things maybe I can look at with more perspective and appreciate in a way I didn't before. Maybe it can help me be more sensitive to others, be a better friend, mother, sister.
Isabelle and I have started journaling together this summer. I was going to write you and tell you that on facebook when I saw your post about Andrew. I am thankful for the chance to have read it and so glad Isabelle got to have you for a teacher this past year. You have a such a beautiful family. Thank you for sharing all of them with us.

I sat and looked and stared at my computer screen for a long time not knowing quite how to respond or what to say. After years of thinking that Andrew was hidden, perhaps he wasn't. Perhaps people still know. Perhaps they do see him and don't quite know what to say~ but for me, she said the perfect thing.

She said his name.
She said their names.
And she called me a mom of twins.

I sometimes wonder who reads this blog. I know how often it is read but there is a small percentage that actually let me know their thoughts after reading. I think that perhaps the majority of the readers here are those (like me) who are suffering the horrible loss of a child and looking for others in their community- someone else who feels like they do- or someone who is a little beyond the fog that they are stuck in... Trying to find some 'light' in all the darkness that can swallow you whole while the world just keeps spinning.

I never really thought of those who may be reading who aren't part of my secret society and haven't suffered the loss of a child~ but perhaps they benefit too. I can think of many times someone has said something to me... well meaning- but still hurt to no end. Words that stuck with me for days- weeks and yes even years. Perhaps because I just nodded. Because I didn't have a rewind button so I could do things over- tell them how it hurt me- so they wouldn't do it again... to someone else.

But maybe this is my rewind button. Maybe (sometimes) my words can be a way to say all that I ever wanted to say to those who are really wondering... "How is she doing?" but so afraid to ask.

So how am I doing? I am doing well. A mother of twins that everyone sees recognized me. Acknowledged me. Remembered. Had the courage to share. And I will take those words that have stuck with me for days (and I am sure for weeks and years to come) as a tremendous comfort.

And today I will write for those not in the Secret Society so that perhaps you WILL do this for someone else. Say their name~ acknowledge their motherhood. It would mean the world~ at least it did for me.

Thank you so very much- on behalf of all of us from the "Secret Society".


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Letters to Andrew~

I have kept journals since early elementary school... probably since I could write. Looking back at those journals I have watched as my handwriting has changed and grown. I've read of frustration and my broken heart to joy and pure happiness. But of all the journals I have kept, the one I have read back the most is that early journal that I wrote for Andrew.

On the day he and Jonasen were born, I wrote their story. I picked up my pen and I wrote and then I closed the book- closed my feelings. I still don't know how I survived those early years without him but when I look back to my writing, I get a glimpse into what it was like.

I first picked up my pen again on February 15th exactly five months after I lost him. On that day, I wrote the first of many letters to my son and so began a healing process. I wrote in letters to him but my words often turned to prayers to God. During that time~ sharing my feelings with Andrew~ with God I learned more about myself than I ever would have imagined.

I walked down that road tonight.
Read his journal.
Wondered what he is doing right now, at this moment with his sister.
And though I don't know the answer to that, or many things, I do know what I was feeling this time 7 years ago.

I was watching your brother today. He was making me laugh and all of a sudden it popped into my head- he's a twin. I don't know why.
I miss you so much. I go to your monthly meetings and I think of you every day. A couple times recently moms on an email group that I know have written that their survivors sometimes have behaviors that lead them to believe that they're missing their twin. I haven't noticed that with your brother- this is what I think...
When you left us, I was so heart broken and though I still find myself in tears, I have a peace in knowing that YOU are safe! I feel that and I know it's strange but I felt it the moment they pulled you from me. You were safe. You are safe and I'll see you again. I feel you. Hear my words and know my heart. I don't need a "sign" or proof- it's something that's in me- that I know- like my faith or my love for you, Jonah and Daddy and of course now "Sweet C". I think your brother must know you're safe too. Sometimes he wakes up crying but he's easy to soothe. Your daddy was feeding your brother today and he was spitting out his food (he thinks that's so funny) and your dad said to him, "I bet your brother wouldn't have spit his food at me." I know he was joking but it broke my heart because I'll never know. I wish I could know what you'd look like now. I hope I can see that in heaven. I love you so much baby!
Your Mommy

Dear Andrew~
Today- seven years later- I know that your brother is OK. I know that he thinks of you but he is not missing you any more than your sister (or one day your other brothers will when they understand more about your story). You were and always will be a member of this family and as long as I live I will say your name. I am your mother and still not a single day has gone by that I haven't thought of you.
I looked back at some of your journals today and I am so happy to read that your Dad mentioned you seven years ago and I love that he mentions you still. And today I am remembering that peace~ and living in it still and hoping that it reaches others. I know that I will see you again- That I will walk right up to you and say your name, and you'll turn to me and say mine, "Mom". I can't wait to feel you in my arms once again.
I love you so very much.

Write it down.
Write to them.
Your words will find them and in times your words will find you- and teach you.
There is so much to learn still.

Yes, they left to soon~ but they left so much and some lessons are still there waiting to be found.