Monday, November 23, 2015

Living Without: Navigating a Season of Loss

I am living without a complete family, without answers, and without the future I imagined. My son, who was the light of my world and my dad, who was the rock I could depend on, both passed away without me knowing why.

Living without a complete family. I thought my family was complete when my son was born two and half years ago. Two daughters and a little boy but then that little boy died and my family was torn apart. We pulled together, rebuilt, and pushed forward. It didn't mean the pain was gone or that we were over it because no one ever gets over the loss of a child but we managed to start living again. We prayed about our future and felt God was leading us to move closer to family. Then, four short months of living near my parents, my dad died. The results: I have two gaping holes where my son and father should be. Their absence is felt in everything, not only in my heart, but in my every day life. Emotionally, the pain is incredible; sometimes debilitating, often relentless and always present. I look around the dinner table and both my son and dad are missing. Family dinners aren't the same and never will be again. Two empty seats remain where they should be. I don't get to see my son stuff his face full of turkey this Thanksgiving or open Christmas gifts this year. I will never see him graduate kindergarten, high school or college. My dad will never see my 5-month-old daughter turn one or see my oldest daughter get baptized. He will never get to retire and start traveling again with my mom. I feel robbed of the time we should have had with both of them. People ask how I am doing and because it easier, I've learned to automatically say, "I'm doing ok." Then they ask how my mom is doing, and its even more difficult because how do I answer for someone else when I can't even answer for myself. There is no true "ok" when someone dies suddenly and out of sequence. I have had this happen, not once but twice, and within a year and half of each other. Both healthy just having check-ups weeks before: my son at 8 months, 26 days old, and my dad at 57-years-old passed away for no known reason, leaving us with only questions.
 
Living without answers. I think not knowing how or why makes their deaths even more complicated. I was na├»ve before, believing that life and especially death, was made up in black and white and that answers were always at the end of a medical examination or doctors diagnosis. But now as I live without, in a world void of many of the answers I so desperately wish I had, I realize that life is really made up in a world of infinite shades of grey and often there are no answers. SIDS by its very definition is the ruling when a baby dies for no known reason. My dad died the same way but there isn't even a name for what happened to him. I know this now, however, making peace with it is the most difficult thing I've ever done. I was told by my grief counselor it was going to take twice as long as others to get through the bargaining part of grief because accepting the fact I will never know what happened to them compounds the process. Often, I'm flooded with questions and replays of the days when they died. I've tried to deal with it on my own, by pushing the questions away or distracting myself by staying busy, but I've come to realize that the only way I can survive this viscous cycle of questioning what happened is by giving the questions to God, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. Faith is the only thing that combats fear and when I am overwhelmed by the fear manifested by the losses in my life, my faith is what sustains me. We must choose not to give into our fear. Fear can have two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. I want to rise up and change my future for the better, not despite my losses, but in honor of them.
 
Living without the future I imagined. I thought I knew where I was going, where my projectory for life was taking me. I was one month away from being a self-publishing novelist and realizing a life-long dream. I had three wonderful children, a good husband, a supportive family and a strong relationship with God. Life was what I imagined for myself. With one sentence from a doctor, "We tried everything we could, but we just couldn't bring him back," my future was shattered. How was I supposed to live in a world without my son, let alone plan a future without him. I found myself drifting aimlessly around, going through the motions of what was required of me but not really living. I definitely wasn't looking towards the future because it looked bleak and empty. But ever-so-slowly, without me even noticing, the days got a little easier, I started to find myself thinking about living in a world with a new future, different from the one I imagined. It prepared me for when my dad died because I have adjusted with the changes happening around me and I've learned that its possible to have an alternate future other than what you expected. Second choice doesn't mean second best, sometimes, it just means different. God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad for our greatest calling. I find myself in a place where I can help others in ways I never knew possible and my family is much stronger than we were before.
 
Living without will profoundly alter a person, how it alters that person is up to them. Living without has taught me not to judge people because we really don't know what others are going through. Everyone has a story just below the surface, from the coffee barista to the office assistant, and each of our stories, change us in different ways. My story has shaped me into a kinder, more compassionate person who doesn't take anything for granted. As the holidays approach and I live in as season without, I am consciously making a choice to turn outward: to give to the needy, support those who are in pain and help anyone struggling with loss.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The tow truck driver: saying goodbye to my father

Tom Brandt 10-2-58 to 10-30-15

Our dad was the tow truck driver. This was the title he jokingly gave himself because he was the person in our family who was always cleaning up and fixing any kind of mess. From buying and taking shoes to one of the grandkids at school when their shoe broke to one of us locking ourselves out of the house three times in a period of an hour, yes that really did happen, he was the one person we all could depend on to come any time, any wear to help. Now, to most people, this could become daunting or even down-right annoying, but not to our dad. It was just who he was. Not only to us but to all those who knew him. He was a servant to everyone and would help anyone. From giving candy to a little girl in the laundromat whose mom couldn't afford it to adopting two children who were fatherless when he married their mother 20 years ago, he made everyone feel wanted and special. He truly was the kindness person in the world. Since his passing, hundreds of stories of generosity, selflessness and compassion have been told to us. Not surprising since his goal in life was to always demonstrate God’s love in everything he did and he never got tired of doing the right thing, no matter the cost. He changed our lives when he chose to be our dad. He showed us what to look for in a spouse and how to treat them once we got them by how wonderfully he treated our mother. We feel so privileged that God blessed us with him for as long as he did. He was the best husband, father and grandfather anyone could ever have.  And although we now must find a way to live without our tow truck driver, we can rest in the knowledge that we will see him again one day when we are reunited in Heaven. Until then, we will do our best to live up to the legacy he leaves behind by loving others, helping strangers and trusting God.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lost Today Without You

I miss you so much today. Not sure why it's hitting so hard. Maybe it's because I've been dreaming about you again. When I wake up, all I can do is think about you. You're always there, haunting me in the background but on the really hard days, you are in the very forefront of my thoughts. I wish I didn't feel a pang of sadness when I think of you. The pain is so deep I feel like my heart is going to explode from the hurt. I want to remember the good times: how happy you were when you were here but it seems impossible when all I can do is feel the overwhelming loss. I didn't think this would be my life or that such a permanent wound would live inside me. Is this to be MY thorn in MY side? I think of Paul and hope to have the same courage he did when his thorn was not removed. He lived with it for the rest of his life and managed not only to survive but thrive. God help me to do the same. Help me to seek you, not look to myself. Help me to focus on what I have, not what I've lost. Help me to trust you, not give in to fear. Help me be your vessel, not shut down. Today has been hard. I'm not going to deny the bad days but I'm also not going to give in to them. I want to honor you, be the person you could be proud of. I love you, always, forever. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing could ever change that. You are, at my very core, the most important part of me. I guess that makes it normal then that I think about you all the time. How could it be any different when someone holds such a special place. Until I see you again,I will be thinking of you today and always.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Temporary Bandage-A Poem of Contemplation

Time stands still
As I wait on the other side
To finally hold you again
If I could forget my loss
Long enough to remember
All that you had been

Trivial tokens mean so much
Once the passing of you
Became so resolute 
Denial kept me hidden
Pretending you weren't gone
Often took root

Focusing on anything else
Temporary bandages
Meant to alleviate the pain
But nothing can fix
The broken remnants
Of what I used to gain

Translucent memories
Shifting through my mind
Like sand in an hourglass
Tried to weave through it
But not enough moments
To help with the past

Looking for comfort
From all those that offer
But nothing can aid
Only the one who created
Who holds us all
Can end the suffrage made

One day we will be reunited
And in that moment
Oh the joy I will feel
For you are waiting for me
As I am waiting for you
Oh, to be able to wholly heal

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Absence (reflection from a broken heart)

I thought we would have
More time than we did
You should be here with me
That's how it should be
But every day
I have to live with how it is
Living without you
Is the hardest thing
I have ever had to do
I feel like I am holding my breath
Because I'm scared all the time
Ever since I lost you
I don't know who I am anymore
You were my everything
My sun and my moon
I don't want to be broken
But I don't know how to be whole
The very core of me
Has been ripped away
What do you do
When the love of your life dies?
Everywhere I go
You should be there
I look around and think
Can't anyone see me
Dying inside?
I go through the motions
Of living this life
Hoping one day
I won't feel so destroyed
But all I feel is left behind
And forced to face life
With you no longer here
I'm tired of life being this hard
All I want to do
Is crawl up into your blanket
And let the world melt away
Sometimes I wonder
Will this be the thing that breaks me?
Will your death be my undoing?
I don't want
My strength to turn to stone
I don't want
For you to be gone
I want you here in my arms
The moment I saw you
I knew you would change me
Forever
But I didn't think
It would be like this
You may be absent
From this world
But you will always be
The center of my heart
I love you
No matter if I live
Another 50 years
Nothing will erase
The memory of you

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Well of Happiness

Often, people can say that they shared the last few days of the lives of someone important to them. I have had this experience twice in my life but what makes this special time I spent with each of them so rare is that they had the best moments of their lives right before the end. I never knew how important those days would become to me once they were gone.

The first person was my grandmother. For several years, my mother was a single mom and my grandmother helped raise me. We were very close because of all the grandkids, I was the most like her. She helped pay for me to go to college and when it came time to graduate, my grandmother, even though she was 86 and could no longer walk, made it a point to attend my graduation. I was going to a private Christian college near Santa Cruz, Ca. My mother picked up my grandmother in May of 2001 and along with my dad and brother, they drove the four hours to come spend the weekend with me. We went to the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk and my grandmother was overwhelmed with joy because it brought back wonderful childhood memories. After a fun-filled day of eating taffy and looking at the sights, we went out to eat and she had her favorite meal, scallops. The next day, she attended my graduation and later in the evening, we took her home, tenderly tucked her into bed before she said a special prayer over our family. It was the last time anyone would ever see my grandmother alive. She passed away that night, peacefully, in her sleep. That was the most beautiful weekend of my life until recently.
 
Which brings me to the second person, my 9-month-old son, Dylan. We decided to go on family vacation in March of 2014. We hadn't been to Disneyland in a few years and thought our older daughters and our infant son could both enjoy going there. We also decided to include a day at the Zoo and SeaWorld. Dylan was all smiles, he loved the characters at Disneyland, especially Stitch who he giggled at and hugged unlike any child I have ever seen. He loved the tram ride around the zoo and cried out in surprise when the water splashed him at SeaWorld. I didn't know he would never get to go to those places again or that it would become the most precious week of my life. Two days after we returned home from our amazing trip, my son passed away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
 
Both deaths hit me hard in different ways and have left scars that will never go away. But those memories of that irreplaceable time with my loved ones, help me by reminding me that they were happy while they were here and I was blessed to be able to share their most special and last moments with them. It's a well of happiness I can draw from until I see them again in heaven.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Compassion from a stranger

Recently, I was sitting in church and the pastor was talking about the impact of the loss of a loved one. Instantly, the tears began to fall as I was taken back to the previous spring of 2014 when my infant son, Dylan, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. The pain of that day cannot be measured or expressed adequately. His death left an enormous hole behind in my family’s life. What started out as silent, small tears turned into gut-wrenching sobs. I tried to control them since I was in a public place but the pain was too overwhelming and even though I muffled them as best I could, I was embarrassed others around me had seen and heard my sobs.
When I went to pick up my two older daughters from Sunday school, a woman was standing behind me who gently tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Are you alright?” I turned around and was shocked to recognize a woman who had been sitting in the row in front of me. Had she heard me crying? Did she think I was crazy? I was mortified and wished I could melt away right on the spot. Before I could say anything, she confirmed my suspicions by saying, “I noticed you were crying in service earlier. I just want to make sure you’re ok.” The tears started to pool at the corners of my eyes as I thought about covering up the honest answer with the convenient, “I’m fine.” But something happened in that moment when I looked into that woman’s eyes. I didn't see admonishment or judgment or even pity but rather concern and kindness. Her gentle probing broke down my walls and I blurted out, “My son passed away a few months ago and I am still dealing with his loss.”  The woman reached out and pulled me into an embrace and said, “I am so sorry.” I rested in her comforting arms for several moments, completely amazed by the kindness and compassion that this stranger demonstrated in the most unexpected way. In that moment, she was my hero because I had been overwhelmed by how isolated I felt from my son’s death and her ability to see a stranger in need and care was a powerful act of love and kindness.
This incident set in motion the beginning of our friendship. She has now become a close friend and has been there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on and none of that would be possible if she had not reached out to me, a stranger in pain.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Undone

My empty arms
Ache for you 
Love so deep
From moments too few

Regrets so many 
Can't count on one hand
You were everything 
A piece of who I am

At every turn 
Thinking of you
Haunted by the loss 
Of one so new

Impossible to let go
Unable to move on
I don't know how
To accept you're gone 

Broken dreams
Of a life with you
Loss so permanent 
Leaves nothing to do

One wish to have
This nightmare erased
You with me again 
Back in my embrace 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Faith, Family & Friends

I am approaching the 10 month mark since my son passed away. It's a new year, 2015, and this year hopes to bring more happiness than 2014 and I am happy to put the past year behind me.  It was a painful year, filled with sadness over my deep loss.  Even though I try to be optimistic and look at all the blessings I still have, everything seems to be overshadowed by the death of my son.  I still find myself quietly uncomfortable around little babies at the age my son passed away and little boys at the age my son should be currently.  I tend to dwell on what I will never experience with him rather than the beautiful moments during the 9 months he was alive.  People ask me if I am having a good day.  I find it an odd question, since I no longer measure my days by good but rather by degrees of not so bad.  Sometimes I have really rough days filled with despair causing me to isolate in my depression and then other times, I have less hard days where I still miss him but I am able to function and participate in my life.  When I am having those really rough days, three things get me through them: Faith, Family & Friends.

Faith: This is the most important part of my life and the cornerstone to surviving for me.  I have been a Christian all of my life and I have had my ups and downs in my relationship with God but I have always known God was there for me, even when I wasn't living my life for him.  The tragic death of my son has been so exacting even with my faith that I cannot comprehend how people without it, who do not know God's presence and comfort, find their way through the grief. Worship, prayer and partnership help me on a daily basis, sometimes moment by moment.  I am so grateful I serve a gracious and compassionate Savior who loves me unconditionally and is always there for me.

Family: I am blessed to have a loving and supporting family that starts with my husband and two daughters but also includes two wonderful sets of parents, amazing siblings and loyal cousins who are there for me when I need them.  When I start to tear up and my 6-year-old notices, she asks me, "Are you sad about Dylan, Mommy?" and when I tell her that I am, she climbs up into my arms, and tells me she loves me and that everything will be okay. My husband lets me cry on his shoulder and helps me by being there when I need him.  I can call my mother up and she listens to me when I need to talk about my son.  My brother and cousins text and call me to see how I am doing and to let me know they care.  My family put pictures and handprints of my son up around their homes and still send gifts for his grave.  They keep him alive as much as I do.

Friends: I have found true friends through my life that have taken the time to invest in me as I have in them and those friends make an effort to reach out to me and see how I am doing.  I receive calls to go out to lunch and shopping which can help take my mind off of the hard times. I have good friends that let me cry, express anger, or laugh uncontrollably without judging me or making me feel bad about myself.  Some of the time, they do those things with me.

Grief can be very isolating.  You feel alone and don't want to burden people with your pain or problems.  You want to be better but there's no quick fix.  I am keenly aware of how lucky I am.  Not everyone has the network of support I have.  Even when it's the worst of days, I am not alone.  My faith, family and friends get me through.