12 Weeks In

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Earlier this week, I called in sick.  Someone could easily say I had a case of the Mondays but truth be told all I wanted to do was cry.  I cry at work but I was afraid if I cried the way I was feeling on Monday someone might put me in a mental institution.  So I called in sick.  I told my employer I wasn’t feeling well and they expressed that they hoped I felt better soon.  Soon?  Not when you call in heartbroken.  I dropped off Alejandro and was honest with Paul – I just couldn’t and didn’t want to deal with people on a day that I was missing Joaquin so much.

Twelve weeks  in and I stared at myself in the mirror.  Tear stained, wearing pajamas at noon and completely defeated.  For one day at least.  Twelve weeks in and I still can’t take his car seat out of my van.  Twelve weeks in and his toothbrush still sits in the same place.  Twelve weeks in and his inhaler sits on the kitchen counter.  Twelve weeks in and his aspirin stares back at me, untouched.  Twelve weeks in and I still sleep with his blanket and his t-shirt.  Twelve weeks in and I still can’t believe this happened to us.  Twelve weeks in and I cannot believe I experienced the circle of life with my 4 year old.  At mass this past Sunday, I realized that I stood in the same spot where we promised to raise Joaquin to believe in God 4 years ago only to stand there again and turn him back in to our Lord.  At times, twelve weeks in, I still walk in a fog.  I often wonder just how I manage to still stand here.  To still laugh.  To still eat.  To still breathe.  But twelve weeks in and on days like Monday, yes, I think I can no longer go on one more day without him.

Joaquin 1220

Twelve weeks in and it pains me to see that life certainly moves on whether you’re ready to or not.  The bills still need to get paid.  The phone calls have slowed.  Even Alejandro seems better.  Twelve weeks in and at times, my six year old comforts us the way we comforted him in the beginning.  He’ll hear us crying, drops what he’s doing and hugs us until one of us pulls away…at just the right time.  Twelve weeks in and this child that keeps us going has grown up faster than any child should.

Ale and Dusty Walking

Twelve weeks in and I realize I have a long and tiresome road to travel.  I have fallen time and time again.  And each day, I manage to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.  Twelve weeks in and I realize I have two choices – I can let it beat me and break me down or I can keep walking even with tears in my eyes.  I choose the latter.  It’s better to cry and keep walking than to just cry and let grief consume you.

Twelve weeks in – yes, it can be done.

strength and dignity

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

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.

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

Clear the Clouds and Let the Sun Shine In

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storm clouds

The darkest days are indeed behind me.  There are, however, a lot of stormy clouds still looming around.  The sun peeks out for a bit and warms us up only to be overshadowed by those dark and gray clouds.  Today, they seem to never want to go away.

It started on Friday.  Paul and I picked a happy Alejandro up from school.  He brought smiles to our eyes when he was smiling from ear to ear.  We decided not to go home (which is the case these days) and instead ran errands.  In doing so, Paul and I noticed that it was really odd running errands as a family of three instead of four.  We whispered this to each other so Alejandro wouldn’t hear.  But the kid is not easy to fool.

Later that day we went home to start packing for our camp in.  Not a camp out…a camp in.  At my brother’s house – an effort to keep Alejandro smiling.  And it worked.  But while we packed (all of us had to go because Alejandro wouldn’t go without us) it was he that said it out loud.  “For a quick minute I thought there were four of us but there are only three”.  Kids don’t whisper.  They just speak the truth.

The camp in was a hit.  Alejandro had a blast.  But Paul and I felt out of sorts.  We imagined Joaquin chasing along his cousins and we felt like we were dragging.  The morning came and we woke up happy and ready to take Alejandro back to his golf lessons.  Epic fail.  While he was having fun, something as small as ant bites sent the kid in a tailspin and insisted this was the worst day ever.  Again.

So we went home and we started packing.  Alejandro had a day off from school on Monday and Paul and I could not fathom how we were about to entertain him without his little brother around for three whole days.  Was it the right thing to do to just pack up and get out of town?  At this point – God only knows.

Packing, unfortunately, came easy.  Something that was never the case before.  Prior to Joaquin’s passing, I had to pack two sets of clothes, two blankets, movies that both boys would agree on and of course all of Joaquin’s medicines.  This time, everything fit in a carry on suitcase and while it was lighter than ever, it weighed heavy on my heart.  But I chugged along.  We got to San Antonio and Alejandro was happy.  And so were we.  Reminders of Joaquin were everywhere there too but Alejandro’s smile kept us going.  The rest of the weekend was very much the same.  Mass brought me peace and seeing friends made me feel warm.  Until we got to the Children’s Museum.

It was there that it hit me.  There were too many children.  Way too many reminders all at once.  They all looked liked Joaquin.  Joaquin was everywhere.  But he wasn’t.  Paul pointed out a little child that was about one year old that had a sibling that was about seven or eight and said “If we had another child that’s what it would be like”.  But it bothered me because that was never my intention.  I liked the fact that Alejandro was two years older than Joaquin.  That was my plan.  My plan apparently and not God’s.  And we can’t interfere with His plans.

We left on Monday and things were fine until nighttime on the road when all we hear is sniffling coming from the back seat.  Alejandro is crying for his baby brother.  And all we can do is support him and let him cry.  It’s hard when we get home.  He cries some more and argues with us too. This is not the boy we know and love.  He cries himself to sleep as I hold him.  My prayers to God are that he let Joaquin come into Alejandro’s dream and let him have some peace.

This morning was the toughest.  I woke up angry. Not at God.  But at his surgeon.  There.  I said it.  I thought I had forgiven him but clearly I have not.  When I text my friend how I am feeling she tells me, “You need to let it all out and get angry if you need to”.  But then she tells me of how she feels that she missed out on her oldest child’s life because she was constantly mourning and crying over her daughter’s death even years later.  And that is what I am afraid of.  I don’t want to miss out on Alejandro’s life because I am constantly crying.  So I refuse.  I refuse to dwell and be that angry.  I will cry.  I will not let it take the best of me.  I will not let it take the best of Alejandro.  This family of three will patiently wait for the clouds to clear.