Moving Past It

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Forgiveness isn’t always easy.  Especially when you’re as sensitive as I am.  Yes, I hold grudges.  When I go from chatty Cathy to oh, I don’t know, sulky Sally, then you know I’m upset.  So, it may have been obvious this past Friday when my in-laws came to visit and I wasn’t my usual talkative self.  Granted, I’m not always so cheerful these days but I’m holding my own and I still manage to crack a few jokes with the best of them.  But when the doorbell rang on Friday night, I felt awkward welcoming my in-laws into my home.  Especially since Paul was still at work and one child was missing from running to the door to greet them, something that made me painfully aware that this visit was very different than ones in the past.

Normally, I get along well with my in-laws but a death in the family can sometimes put a damper on things.  And Joaquin’s passing had definitely done a number to my relationship with my mother-in-law.  At this point I cannot say who was right or who was wrong but I will say that when your child dies it compares to absolutely no other pain in the world and anything can set you off.  Listen, these days, I’m hurting.  I hurt for me.  I hurt for Alejandro.  I hurt for Paul.  And many times I feel wronged in so many ways.  Am I right?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But unless you’ve been through the loss of a child one cannot possibly understand the hurt, confusion, sadness and anger one feels in the days that linger without one part of your heart.

But on Saturday morning, as we prepared for our first Christmas family portrait without Joaquin, I noticed just how happy Paul was to have his mom and dad there.  I locked myself in the bathroom and prayed.  I prayed for guidance and I asked God to rid me of myself and fill me with the Holy Spirit.  Doing so was the only was the only way I could right the wrong that was present in my relationship with my in-laws.  Once done, I asked Paul if he needed his parents there for our first Thanksgiving without Joaquin or if he could care less.  As always, he gave me this look of confusion because anything I asked these days as it pertains to his parents could blow up into something of catastrophic proportions, but I calmly repeated the question.  I asked for him to be honest with himself and when he did he admitted that he needed his parents there.  And with that, I knew what I had to do.

The photo session provided a wonderful backdrop of reminiscing about Joaquin with family and friends as we worked to bring out Joaquin’s story in this year’s Christmas picture.  My in-laws looked on with smiles on their faces that masked their pain as well.  They missed him too.  After the photo session was complete I found myself alone with my mother-in-law and I extended an invitation back to our town for Thanksgiving.  I already knew they had plans to spend it out of state away from their grieving son (a fact that left me bothered a few days prior) but my husband needed them there and I wanted them there for him.  I offered no lengthy back story but rather simple and straightforward honesty.  She politely thanked me for the offer and within the hour she later announced that they would be joining us for Thanksgiving.  Both my father-in-law and Paul looked perplexed as the plans had changed.  But my heart warmed.  My husband would have his mom there with him for his first Thanksgiving without his son.  Because no matter how old you are, how far away you live or how you grieve, you always need your mom.  And who am I to stand in the way of a mother and her son.

Welcome to the Family

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When a firefighter or police officer saves a person’s life, the person is usually forever indebted to them and afterwards they most likely share a special “connection” and start seeing each other as family.  In cases like these, that person is usually considered a hero.  Well the other night, we had dinner with four of Joaquin’s heroes.  It was me, Paul and Alejandro and we sat in front of 4 of Joaquin’s 7 teachers and aides.  It was incredible.  We smiled, laughed, cried and shared some wonderful memories.  If it wasn’t for our jolly waiter we probably would have never realized we were at Chili’s because it truly felt like we were home.  And home reminds me of family and family reminds me of Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”  Joaquin’s passing created new “siblings” for us to help through our difficult times.

You see. through Joaquin’s journey we met a lot of great people that I’m just not sure we would have crossed paths with before.  Or perhaps we would have crossed paths with them but we wouldn’t have built the relationships that we had with them now.  Because of Joaquin I got to know our cardiologist and his wife well enough that I enjoy having lunch with her every now and then.  Because of Joaquin we got to know our pediatrician and her husband well enough that she knows our families every detail.  Because of Joaquin we got to know many of his nurses, some of which were with us until the very end, sharing our most intimate moments with him.  Because of Joaquin his teachers and the rest of his Olmito Elementary School family became our family.

Joaquin and 4th Grade Teachers

So it feels very odd to me to not have the interaction I used to with them – that is, every day, Monday through Friday in the morning and once again in the afternoon.  These teachers, nurses and doctors were not just teachers, nurses and doctors to me.  They were his family.  They taught him.  They cared for him.  They loved him.  And we loved them.  And we’ll continue to love them like one of our own.  So for that I am grateful.  One of our family members may have  been welcomed into heaven but we welcomed many more family members into our home and our hearts.

Miss Dora Miss Jamie and Joaquin  Ms. Cherrington and Joaquin

Godparents

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Godparents.  Compadres in the hispanic world.  I’m not too sure about Paul but after having our firstborn I took the title very seriously.  When choosing Alejandro’s Godparents, we could have gone the easy route and chosen an aunt and an uncle but we both agree not to.  After all, an aunt or an uncle already had a nice job and title.  So we decided to go the friend route.  And since I was being very picky about our Godparent choices, our options were a select few as we didn’t have many friends that were practicing Catholics so when Paul agreed to choose Alex and Adam, I was relieved and excited.

At the time, Alex and Adam were not yet married but had been dating for a very long time and I knew that Adam would eventually pop the question.  Over a Tex-Mex dinner one evening Paul asked our friends if they would be our son’s grandparents.  No, that isn’t a typo.  Either Paul was nervous and flustered or he really wanted a new set of grandparents for his kid.  We laughed and Alex and Adam accepted.

Alex and Adam fit the role perfectly.  They spoiled Alejandro in a good way.  They treated him beautifully.  They won his trust over from the beginning.  As Godparents, they put Paul and I to shame.  When Adam finally asked Alex to marry him, Alejandro was chosen to be the ring bearer.  The child was only 18 months old and could not follow instructions to save his life.  But Alex and Adam could care less.  They loved our child as their own.  They disciplined him as their own.  They bought him clothes and toys as their own.

When Alejandro gained a baby brother, Alex and Adam embraced Joaquin as one of their “honorary” Godson.  What they did for Alejandro they did for Joaquin.  And so it was no surprise that when Joaquin went in for his last open heart surgery, Alex was there.  She was there for Joaquin as much as she was for Alejandro.  Although Adam had to work, they were concerned for both of our children.

Alex and Joaquin

When things seemed somewhat stable with Joaquin, Alex left us to go back to work.  Two days later, our lives came crashing down.  Sadly, it turned out Joaquin wouldn’t need us anymore and our attention was on Alejandro’s impending heartbreak.  Because we, along with our parents and siblings, were so distraught with the news about Joaquin I wondered who would be there for my child while I was broken?

It was late when I called Alex and Adam and broke the news.  I told them I needed one if not both of them immediately as Joaquin would soon be taken off life support.  They asked no questions.  And before I knew it, several hours later, she was there.  The waiting room was lonely and quiet.  It was late but Alejandro was thrilled to see his “madrina”.  Before heading to her hotel room, Alejandro finally got to see his little brother.  We covered his incisions as best we could and Alejandro was over the moon thrilled to see him.  So much so that he didn’t want to leave.  But he listened to madrina and went with her to finally go to bed.

Poor Alex.  As soon as they had left, it was time for Joaquin to go.  And I wanted Alejandro there.  To this day I won’t know if that was the right thing to do or not.  But Alex asked no questions.  She simply dressed my child at 3AM and brought him to the hospital to be with his family of four one last time.  When I met him in the waiting room I hardly noticed Alex.  She just stood quietly in the background.  Waiting.  Not once did I wonder what the poor girl was going through.  She was alone and yet stood strong and steadfast for Alejandro.  She and Adam loved Joaquin as much as they loved Alejandro.  But they put their sorrow aside to be strong for their Godson.

When the funeral came around, Alejandro woke up mad.  He didn’t want to go to school.  He wanted to see his baby brother one last time.  We allowed him to and he did beautifully…talking to his best friend and placing toys his casket.  I had warned him that some people may be sad, but he was unprepared when others began to wail.  I was scared.  Confused.  Mad.  Paul and I had held it together so well for him and all that hard work was taken away in one split second when someone failed to notice my child rocking back and forth, afraid.  Again, I turned to Alex and Adam and gave both of them a look of despair.  I asked them if they could please take Alejandro to Peter Piper Pizza.  Not a minute went by before they swooped in, wrapped their arms around him and happily, amidst the sadness and tears, asked, “Wanna go get some pizza and play some games??”  My baby boy jumped at the chance and took off.  I don’t even remember if he said bye to Joaquin at that point.

I had calmed down on our way to Joaquin’s funeral mass and felt so peaceful when we sat down in the front pew, next to Joaquin’s casket.  After his beautiful mass, Paul and I walked out hand in hand.  The chauffeur opened the door to our limo and I slid in.  I put my head on Paul’s shoulder and reached for my purse.  When I took out my phone, I noticed a text message with a picture from Alex.  It was as if God was telling me that at the very moment, my children were well taken care of, Joaquin with Him and Alejandro with the parents God would have chosen for him had He not chosen us.

Alex Adam and Ale

Dear Alejandro

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It’s been six weeks since you’ve lost your playmate.  And just when I thought you were getting better, you threw us for a loop.  What did I do wrong?  Am I supposed to stop disciplining you when you act out?  I had to put you in time out last night otherwise I will be raising a pouty child.  These past couple of days you’ve been smiling when you speak of your brother.  These days laughter is a high shrill of delight as you play with your new puppy, Dusty (named after your brother’s favorite Plane’s character).  These days you’re back to your bouncy self.

So where did this meltdown of tears and boogers come from last night?  Are you just as frail as mommy and daddy these days?  On the outside you look almost whole again even though I can see the sadness in heart as you play on your own in the room that you once played in with your brother.  I stared at you in disbelief as I heard you cry out that you wanted to go to heaven with you brother.

Do you know what you’re saying?  Do you know what that would do to us?  Do you know what that actually means?  Of course you don’t.  You’re six.  I’ve been telling you that Joaquin is in a place that’s even better than Disneyworld.  Of course you want to go with him.  I imagined that watching you breakdown last night was a lot like the night before when I did that in front of your abuela.  She was torn and conflicted.  So was I buddy.  I was so torn, that I had to call abuela to come calm you down.  It saddens me that sometimes I have no patience for your antics because my sadness can at times be overwhelming and at the same time I cannot live without you.  Pumpkin, you are one of my saving graces and I thank God for you just as much as I thank Him for giving me Joaquin.  I am so blessed beyond words!  How can I make your sweet little six year old heart understand that God brought us here and God will get us through this?

I am so sorry that when we accepted this challenge 5 years ago I never once thought of the pain this would cause you.  Believe me when I say that as scared as I was when your baby brother was in my belly, all I wanted was to hold him.  I didn’t care if I held him for one hour or 65 years.  I already loved him when I felt him kicking inside of me.  I was scared but I wanted him so bad that I knew somehow, someway, I would get through all those scary moments.  And I knew that you wanted him just as bad.

And you did.  Sweet boy, you were the best big brother I have ever seen.  Your baby brother admired you like no other.  You should be proud.  He always wanted to be next to you whether it meant sleeping next to you, sitting next to you in the bath or watching cartoons next to you in the living room.  He loved being your little shadow.

I have two hurts right now.  I hurt for the physical absence of your brother and I hurt watching you hurt.  And to think that just a few days ago I was “jealous” of how you were coping.  You see, baby, sibling loss is nothing compared to child loss.  I know this now.  And as I watched you go from devastated to almost back to normal just a few days ago I wondered why I couldn’t feel like that yet.  But here we are.  Back to devasted.  And I now wish nothing more than to see you go back to almost normal.  I’m sorry.

I love you all the way to the moon and back,

Mommy

mommy and Ale Disney 2

What Winter Means To Me

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Today, my tip-of-Texas hometown got their first taste of winter.  Our winter.  You see, our winter is not like winters up north.  We get a one day winter and if we’re lucky we get two days!!  And in those one or two blissfully cool days the ladies search for their boots and bundle up them babies!  I’ve always thought bundling up kids in parkas, gloves, scarves and beanies in 55 degree weather was hilarious because people from up north must think we’re such wimps!!  My six year old on the other hand is a hot box.  So much so that when he left for school this morning he simply asked for a long sleeve shirt and a lined windbreaker.  The boy takes after his daddy.  He loathes the hot weather and loves cool days.

Cool days like yesterday also remind me of Joaquin.  Of course, everything reminds me of Joaquin these days but hear me out.  When Joaquin was alive and we got our first taste of winter I became that lady breaking out the parkas and beanies.  But only for Joaquin.  Alejandro was safe in just his long sleeved shirt and windbreaker but not Joaquin.  Oh no.  This momma dreaded winter when it came to Joaquin because it usually meant sniffles that turned into coughing fits that turned into pneumonia.  And fast.  So yes, I became momma bear.  Every winter morning, I would watch the forecast on the news, step outside and determine what precautions needed to taken.  If it was windy and cool, then the child would get a shirt underneath his long sleeve shirt, a thick jacket and I would have Paul warm up the car.  Once warmed up I would run outside with him completely covered up in a blanket and he would get buckled in.  I am pretty sure he hated it.  But he went along with it and never complained to his crazy mommy and daddy.

And if he still managed to get sick, then our household went into overload.  I mean round the clock inhalers, saline drops, cough meds, cpt (chest physiotherapy), you name it, we did it. We never even went to our pediatrician unless we absolutely felt that we weren’t controlling it.  And when we did, his doctor knew that we knew the drill.  All she needed to do was listen to see if his lungs were clear and possibly order an x-ray.  In the 4 years, 2 months and 26 days that Joaquin was alive he made nurses out of me and Paul.

And so this first taste of winter feels really, really odd.  Todays morning routine was fast and easy.  I no longer have to pull out all the stops to protect Joaquin.  Joaquin is in a place with perfect temperature to last for days.  Joaquin will never get pneumonia again.  But where does that leave us?  We are so blessed that Alejandro has a very good immune system that our acquired skills are no longer needed.  So this winter, I have finally hung up my imaginary stethoscope and honorary nurses cap.  I am back to normal mom.

The Great Camping Adventure

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I am not an outdoorsy type of girl. Growing up, my brothers were always running around outside while I stuck around inside right alongside my mother. So, when an old college roommate suggested about five months ago that we take our families camping at Garner State Park, I wasn’t entirely excited but jumped at the chance because I knew that the boys would love it. When I mentioned our plans to Paul, he looked at me and said, “Can you handle camping?”. And of course I said, “Who knows but i’ll do it if it means the boys will like it and I know they will”.

Two months passed and the camping plans were still on. And then the phone call came in from Joaquin’s surgeon stating that his 3rd open heart surgery was right around the corner. And so I called my friend and suggested that we move our camping trip to early November because I was confident that Joaquin would be recovering nicely by then.

Fast forward five weeks. Since Joaquin’s passing, I will do anything to keep my only living child happy. And so, the trip was still on. This past Friday we loaded up the van with our tent, tons of blankets and a very happy and excited little six year old. Paul was over the moon thrilled that not only was Alejandro happy but also at the fact that I was showing genuine interest and excitement. We picked Alejandro up from school at lunch time and we were off.

The road trip was quite honestly horrendous and long. I underestimated our drive time by one hour so instead of a four hour trip it was now five. Halfway through the trip, Paul got pulled over – twice within 30 minutes of each other (both warnings thank God) and as we got closer we lost cell phone service as well as Mrs. Roads (what they boys named the navigation system on my cell phone during our trip to Disneyworld this past July) and Paul got lost (although he swears he always knew where he was going). Seven looooong hours later down narrow two lane roads and we were finally there. Once we got there we waited yet another hour before getting to our campsite. When we finally saw our friends, they were sinus-headache tired. Our camping trip was not starting off fun.

Once the grown ups finally put the kids to bed, we were finally able to unwind by the warm fire with some adult beverages. I was finally able to relax. And I enjoyed the time outdoors. As the evening wore on and the cool air enveloped us, my friend and I decided it was time to crash. The men stayed up and I lay down next to Alejandro. As tired as I was I could not sleep. I considered taking Tylenol PM but then thought “What if some crazed man tried to murder us and I’m groggy”. No Tylenol PM. I tossed and turned. Two hours later I realized that Paul was outside still manning the fire while my friend’s husband retired to their tent. I called him in thinking that perhaps I couldn’t sleep without him in our tent. Wrong. Once he was in, the heebie jeebies really started to kick in. I started seeing shadows, hearing things and Paul wasn’t outside to keep watch. And I was freezing. I tossed and turned some more and then I realized…if I did get murdered, what was the worst thing that would happen? That’s right!  I would die and go to heaven and see my sweet Joaquin. With his darling face on my mind, I finally drifted off to sleep in the middle of the beautiful outdoors.

When I woke up I was thankful for making it through my first night in the great outdoors.  The rest of the day was amazing and beautiful.  Garner State Park was gorgeous with it’s crystal clear river and huge hills.  We hiked up one very large hill and I of course thought of Joaquin.  The hike was long and steep in some places and Alejandro was managing well.  Had Joaquin been with us he would have needed a lot of breaks to catch his breath and even so, he wouldn’t have made it.  My friend’s four year old daughter was hiking effortlessly next to Alejandro but Joaquin would have needed to be carried by Paul.  It wouldn’t have mattered.  Joaquin would have had a blast.

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Amidst the beauty of God’s country we were really missing Joaquin.  The sadness consumed me.  On several occasions I found myself just bursting into tears behind my sunglasses as we walked alongside the river or hiked along the campgrounds.  Watching the kids sitting around the campfire made me envision him devouring his s’mores.  And then it hit me.  Anything fun these days, although making me smile, will also make me cry.  The irony of my life.  It is indeed bittersweet.  And for the first time in a good while, I allowed myself to ask God, “Why?”  My question didn’t last long though.  As quickly as I asked it, I let it go.  It is not my place to ask that question.  It’s not my place to truly understand it.  It was only my job to love Joaquin and accept what God’s plan was for us.  And I have.  But even with peace and acceptance in my heart, I am still allowed to picture him in my daily life and miss him like crazy.

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Daddy’s Boys

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I wonder if anybody really gives much thought to what a dad goes through when they lose a child. I have. Twice. I was 19 when I first noticed a grown man mourning the loss of his child. When my brother went outside to tell my dad that my 24 year old brother, his son, was involved in a car crash with life threatening injuries I saw my dad’s shoulders slump down and his face age in a flash. Naturally, everyone consoled my mother first. After my brother died, my dad bore the brunt of his grief in silence for 18 years. For the first year though, as I heard my mom cry herself to sleep almost every night I wondered if anybody had ever noticed just how often my dad went to my brother’s grave.

18 years later, I’ve entered the same sisterhood my mom belongs to. I too have cried myself to sleep on more than one occasion. But then again, so has my husband. When Joaquin was in the hospital for the last time, my usual jovial husband had the sternest look on his face. Nobody could make him smile and if they did it was forcefully so. I was the one that made him realize that our son was no longer in that hospital room. I was the one that held him as he wept. Together, we walked hand in hand ready to make the most difficult decision of our lives. He was the one that brought me my sweet boy to hold that one last time. I’ll never forget the sight of my 6’2 husband carrying our sweet Joaquin to me with tears in his eyes. He put his pain aside and gave me our child to hold as he and Alejandro wept by my side. He let me hold him until the very end.

I have heard him. I see him. He laughs now but when he does I can see him thinking of Joaquin. Everything he does has Joaquin on his mind. Joaquin and Paul shared the same personality. Joaquin and Paul were jokesters. They could get you mad but you couldn’t stay mad at them for long. Alejandro and I are nowhere like he and Joaquin. Alejandro and I are sensitive thinkers. We don’t like to rough house and are not much for sarcasm. There is not a shadow of a doubt that Paul loves Alejandro just as much as he does Joaquin. It’s just in a different way. It’s like the time that I was freaked out about having another baby after Alejandro was born because I didn’t know that I could love him as much. My mom laughed at me and explained that a good parent can have 10 children and have just enough love for all of them…they’re just all a different type of love for each different type of child. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Since our family was just us four, it was a perfectly divided household. Daddy and Joaquin. Mommy and Alejandro. Often though, we would switch teams. Joaquin always slept next to mommy. And Alejandro loves to share “fart” jokes with daddy because he knows how much I loathe the word. 

As much as Paul loves Alejandro, he’s lost his little teammate in Joaquin. But now, Paul is on our team. It feels different to him, I’m sure. Paul would rough house with Joaquin to no end. He would throw him up in the air or throw him on the bed with such a playful force that would leave this momma wincing but would have Joaquin laughing so hard and saying “More dada, more!” All that is gone now. But Alejandro is being a good sport these days. At such a young age, he’s already learning to put his pain aside to support the ones we love – selflessness in is truest form. I have noticed that he lets his daddy throw him on the bed or wrestle with him on the floor. It doesn’t come naturally to Alejandro to play this way but because he loves his daddy, he will always welcome him on his team with open arms.

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