Having Fun Again

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I went out twice this weekend.  Once without Paul for the first time in a long time and the second time Paul and I went out with a group of friends.  I enjoyed myself tremendously both nights.  The first night I accompanied some friends of mine to their company Christmas party (which happened to be an old employer of mine) and there were several people at the party that attended some of Joaquin’s services.  And I couldn’t help but wonder – was anybody judging me?  As I posted pictures of myself smiling on Facebook I wondered if some people that viewed those pictures thought “Oh wow…she’s out already?”.

Winks 2013

The next night was a bit different as we attended a fundraiser as we had for the previous three years for a non-profit rehabilitation clinic for children that Joaquin attended for the first year and a half of his life.  Attending this event means a lot to me and Paul as we are grateful for the services they provided Joaquin and other children in the community.  And I as greeted people in the lobby I felt like I had to explain my presence there.

But I shouldn’t have to.  And I shouldn’t have to feel guilty.  And I shouldn’t have to wonder what people are thinking of us.  Because to be honest, just because we’re laughing and smiling and yes, having a drink or two doesn’t mean that we’re handling things well or that we look really good considering what we’ve been through.  Do you know that after things die down, I sit and cry?  Do you know that when Paul and I are left alone in the silence we stare at pictures of our boy and wonder how this happened to us. Do you know that it takes every ounce of strength to not let Joaquin’s memory cloud by mind on a good night out?  Do you know that I see Joaquin everywhere and that sometimes it makes me smile but sometimes it also makes one lone tear sneak out of my eye?  Do you know that we cry just as much as we  laugh these days?  So yes, I will go out.  And yes, I love to laugh.  And you know what?  Paul and I are going on a trip without Alejandro in May.  I’ll be the first to tell you that being rowdy is not on the top of something I want to participate in but after all that we’ve been through I would say that Paul and I deserve it.  I just want to smile.  We’re allowed to smile.  We’re allowed to enjoy ourselves in the presence of great friends.  And in my opinion that’s just another way that God is gracing us.  So if anybody ever wonders what we’re doing out there having what seems like a good time, I hope that they just thank God that he’s allowing laughter back in our lives.  I know I am.

Mistletoe and Martini 2013

Morning Glory

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35 days ago I began to know my mother for the very first time.  I was a bit hesitant to do so but as the days went on I realized that I needed to do it.  And I found out that my mother is an awesome lady with so much love for her children that I was glad my friend introduced me to her.  My mother is actually not my earthly mom (although she’s pretty awesome, too!) but my heavenly mom and I used Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration to consecrate myself to her.

33 Days to Morning Glory

What I found in doing so was a gentle way of easing my whole person into Mary’s heart.  The book is broken into 33 days of readings and reflections from everyone to Maximillian Kobe to Mother Teresa – all of whom loved Mary so much that they gave themselves to Mary in hopes that their hearts would be set on fire with love for her son, Jesus.  Each reading/reflection ended with several prayers that included the Litany of the Holy Ghost, Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Ave Maris Stella (as you get closer to consecrating yourself to Mary the prayers change some).  Prior to getting started with the consecration, I felt overwhelmed but this book breaks it down so easily that it’s kind of impossible to not follow through with it as each day consists of probably no more than three pages worth of reflection.

But as the day got closer, I grew weary.  Luckily, my friend warned me this would happen and I am grateful that she did otherwise I may have thrown in the towel.  She warned me that as I got closer to Jesus that the devil would make some last pulls for me.  No joke – she freaked me out in the beginning but she assured me that I would be fine as long as finished it through.  She explained that everybody feels evil differently as they get closer to being consecrated and she mentioned that for me my sorrow in the midst of Joaquin’s passing may be even more overwhelming.

She was right.  I consecrated myself on the December 8th and on December 2nd and 3rd I felt like I was going under in a really bad way.  I was literally missing Joaquin so much that I felt like I was going insane.  The despair that I felt those two days were scary and painful as I looked at myself in the mirror trying to figure out if I could bring myself out of the darkness.  In the 8 weeks since Joaquin’s passing I had remained steadfast in my faith and extremely hopeful that I would one day see him again.  But on those two days I could hardly see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But I remembered what my friend told me and I continued with my consecration.  And the darkness was lifted.  Two to three days before my consecration I felt extremely tired.  I had no energy or even desire to finish this journey.  The night before I just wanted to sleep and put the book and prayers aside.  But I remembered what my friend told me and I continued with my consecration.  And I finished.  The morning of my consecration I was joyful and excited that I had finally gotten to know our Lady so well that I was 100% hers.  I felt different every time I saw her statue or a picture of her.  I love her so much.  And because Jesus felt even more love for His mother I know that she will protect and intercede for me and my family and that she would walk my prayers directly to God.

My friend mentioned that some of her friends wake up the day after their consecration expecting their lives to be different somehow and when they see that nothing has really changed they’re slightly disappointed.  Not me.  I know that I belong to her and love her so much that her graces will flow over to us.  After all, I am 35 days closer to my Heavenly Mother than I ever have been and for that I am eternally grateful and will continue to pledge my heart to hers.

Thanksgiving Bully

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As if my son didn’t have it hard enough these days.  He now has a bully.  Truth be told, the five year old bully has been present for the majority of Alejandro’s life but these days, since his brother’s passing, the bully has become a little more difficult to tolerate.  And the same goes for me as well.  Like everything in life, the story of the bully has its pros and cons.  The pros?  The bully lives six hours away.  The cons?  He’s Alejandro’s cousin, our nephew.

Alejandro and his cousin have always had (for lack of a better term) a like-hate relationship.  The two boys couldn’t be more different.  Alejandro has both his parents while my nephew is from a divorced family.  Alejandro had a sibling while my nephew didn’t.  Alejandro is passive while my nephew is aggressive.  Alejandro loves learning, chess and golf while my nephew dislikes academics, loves the outdoors and loves football.  Alejandro is a lover.  My nephew is a fighter.  Alejandro knows God.  My nephew doesn’t.

Before this Thanksgiving and before Joaquin’s passing, family functions where my nephew was present were somewhat tolerable because, although the younger of the three, Joaquin always managed to a) play the middle man and b) defend his big brother his own way.  And in the end, when Alejandro and Joaquin had had enough of the rough and tumble, loud aggressiveness of my nephew, my two boys managed to “get away” from him.  With Joaquin around, Alejandro always had someone to say, “Come on, let’s leave him, he’s mean”.  Joaquin always followed.  Joaquin always had his back.

My nephew was with his mom the weekend that Joaquin died and when told what happened he responded with a “bummer”.  What can you expect from a five year old, right?  So, when Alejandro found out that his cousin would be spending Thanksgiving with us, he asked “Mommy, do you think he cares at all that Joaquin went to heaven.”  I knew I didn’t have a good answer so I left it alone.  The visit started off ok but soon enough the zingers started coming out of my nephew’s mouth.  It started with my nephew telling Alejandro that God knows nothing which left Alejandro upset but I took it as the perfect opportunity to teach him that as someone that believes in God he would always run into naysayers and non-believers and all he had to do with stick with what he was taught or what he believed in.  Another night, after a comment made by someone else in the household about seeing Joaquin again in heaven, my nephew proclaimed loudly, that “nuh uh!  You’ll never see Joaquin again!”  Alejandro shot me a look and I calmly told him that we believed we would see him again and that was all that mattered.  A visit to the cemetery had my nephew proclaiming that we would squish Joaquin’s brains out if we stepped on his grave.  At this point, my patience was running thin.

At lunch, prior to their departure, my nephew continued to pick on his cousin by taking his crayons and shooting him threatening looks.  I separated the two and asked my nephew as calmly as I could if he acted this way in school.  His answer was a proud yes and continued to explain that all his friends in school were mean.  Intrigued, I asked him what they did to the nice kids and his response was again a proud “We beat ‘em up”.  My sweet brother in law told him to hush and we continued to eat our lunch when all of a sudden my nephew told my son, “You’re dumb!”.  My mother in law scolded him and asked, “What did you say?” and he responded with a resounding “I just called Alejandro dumb”.  I glanced at Alejandro and his face showed that he had just about had it.  His spirit was crushed and the tears flowed.  I grabbed him by the hand and took him to the back of the restaurant and allowed him to cry with me.  He told me he missed Joaquin and he just wanted his cousin to leave him alone.  As my heart pounded, I wiped his tears and reminded him that bullies thrive on tears and that he was to march right up to his cousin and put him in his place.  He shyly looked up at me and told me he was scared.  I told him I would be right next to him when he did it.  We walked back, hand in hand, and I proclaimed loudly in front of my husband’s family, “In his school, we stand up to bullies and we do not tolerate this behavior”.  Alejandro gripped my hand and repeated, “You’re mean and I don’t like you”.

And that was it.  A few minutes of “punishment” passed and Alejandro was given some money and my nephew was rewarded with the promise of a new toy helicopter.  It was clear.  My husband’s family feels for my nephew because he comes from a divorced family.  They feel for my brother in law because “his hands are tied”.

Well, our hands surely are not.  We will continue to teach my son about God, compassion and kindness to others.  We will continue to teach him to feel.  And we will continue to teach him to stand up for himself.  It’s about conviction.  Alejandro is sensitive.  I don’t baby him but this is who my child is.  I love on him.  And I hug him.  And I kiss him.  And I make him eat his vegetables.  And I make him say he’s sorry.  And he goes to time out.  And he’s had toys taken away from him when he misbehaves.  And all of this even after his little six year old heart has experienced the biggest loss of his life.  I still discipline him.  Am I supposed to use our misfortune as an excuse to treat others poorly?  But perhaps that’s what’s wrong with children today.  They all have excuses.  But there are no excuses.  It’s called life and you have to learn to deal with it.

And yet, how do I deal with this?  How do I deal with my in laws who, I love dearly, but won’t discipline enough, or haven’t taught this child about God or aren’t teaching this child how not to be a bully?  To be quite honest, I feel bullied when I get told that they try all that they can.  Are they really?  Where does that leave me and my husband?  Are we just supposed to shut up and take it?  Paul’s family is important to us but as we grieve we just don’t know if we have it in us at this point to tolerate this anymore.  We feel so defeated.  And so, as we finished our lunch, said our goodbyes and got in the car, the tears rolled down my eyes this time.  I was missing Joaquin once again.  But this time I was missing Alejandro AND Joaquin.  I miss the two brothers in my life that were my heart and soul and were each other’s best friends for life or longer.  I was left aching for my boy in heaven and the one holding my hand here on earth that still needs me to protect him.

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