Five Years

February 1, 2019 marked five years since Maggie died.  Five years.  In that time her friends have started and finished high school.  They have started college.  They have become adults.  Lydon and Molly have become teenagers.  They have started high school.  Lydon has earned his driver’s license and joined the world of part-time employment.  They have learned how to navigate the world without their sister.

Five years.  Stefan and I are not who we were before.  I never will be again.  My baby is dead.  My first born will never have a first born.  I look at pictures and think about the fact that there will be no more pictures of her.  It’s still hard.  It’s a little less hard than it was at first, but it will always be hard, because she will always be gone.  I am still sad all the time.  That’s not to say that there is no happiness.  I am happy too, but there’s always that shadow.  Now that I am working full-time, I am exhausted.  I believe I’ve written before about how much energy  bereaved parents put into making it through the day, and I feel it.  Putting on a “normal” face everyday takes a lot of work.

Five years.  Time is so intriguing.  How fast or slow it feels is sometimes hard to capture.  One one hand, it feels like forever since I last held Mags.  On the other, it feels like she was just here yesterday.  I am hopeful that this year will be a little easier than last year was since it’s not such a big, important year for her friends.  There are no major milestones Maggie is missing.  Who knows, though?  This month was pretty tough, so what do I know?  Her birthday is less than two weeks away, and that will end the difficult season of holidays, death, diagnosis, and birthday.  I usually feel like I can breathe a little better after that.  There are many things to look forward to this year–Molly turns 16, Lydon starts senior year in the fall and turns 18.  It’s crazy how life just keeps happening, even when I want to scream and make it all stop since Maggie should be here.

Five years.  Cancer still sucks.  Childhood cancer sucks hard.  I will never understand.  It will never be fair.  I will forever miss my girl.

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Memory Window I made as my sister Kathleen’s Christmas gift to Maggie 

 

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Peopled Out

Peopled Out

For the first time in my life, I am peopled out.

I’ve always considered myself an extrovert.  I am shy, which most people don’t believe, but I just push past it.  I enjoy people.  I was known to stand in the hall for talking in  kindergarten.  I’m done, though.

I love my job.  I love the staff.  I love the kids.  I love (most) of the parents.  This week was nutty.  Kids have so much going on in their little heads as we get close to Christmas.  Some kids are just over the moon excited.  Some kids realize that being home for vacation means they won’t have enough food.  Lots of sickness is going around too.  Then there are the parents.  They are stressed.  Some are as excited as the kids.  Some don’t know who will care for their children over break.  Some are worried about having enough food for the week.  Then there are some who just don’t have respect for anyone else’s time or kindness.

I love volunteering for my kids’ activities.  I do it for the kids.  There were two amazing concerts this week.  All of the students played or sang beautifully.  They work so hard, and it really shows.  Everyone is busy, but I do wish that more parents were willing and able to give a little time for their children too.  I’m not talking about people who normally pitch in, but once in awhile are not able to.  I’m not talking about the parents who have conflicting events for their kids.  I’m talking about the people who just don’t ever step up and always assume others will do it.  After the first concert night, I had to send an additional email asking for help for the second night, because out of a couple of hundred or so sets of parents, not one person had signed up to volunteer to help us with the concert.  Thankfully, people came through–we got a few volunteers and plenty of baked goods.  Those of us who do give our time would really love to see our own children perform too.

I am just done with people this week.  I know this is tied to my grief, especially at this time of year.  I am beyond exhausted.  It’s so hard to miss Maggie with so much of my heart and soul while continuing to function like a fully-formed adult.  This is our fifth Christmas without her.  How is that even possible?  Why am I not jumping with joy because she’s coming home from college for a month?  Why am I not both excited and nervous to see her grades after her first semester?  Instead, I am wishing for those things.  Instead, I am peopled out.  Instead, I am sad.  Instead, I grieve.

I haven’t even made a dent in my Christmas shopping.  I suppose I will find myself out in the crowds tomorrow.  If you run into me, I promise I won’t be rude, but I might not stop for a long chat.  Tonight, I will have my pity party and try to recharge my brain, my heart, and my soul.

 

September 30th

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Here I sit, up before the sun, and it wasn’t even because the dogs woke me.  All month I have been struggling.  I have felt an obligation to write and post about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but I’ve not been able to.  Now, the month is ending, and it is all that is running through my mind.  I need to find something to say.

I think a big part of my problem is that it is the same thing every year.  I write the statistics:  how many children diagnosed, what treatment does to growing bodies, how little funding, how many children die.  I’m sick of hearing how rare childhood cancer is.  When your child is dead, it doesn’t feel rare, it feels real.

Just this month I have read of two children, babies, who have died of cancer.  In the last few days, a video has been shared by local friends–a student at Goffstown High School left school, surrounded by his fellow students clapping and cheering him on, to get into an awaiting limo to head to his final chemo treatment.  He is not the first GHS student in recent years to fight this beast.  This is New Hampshire!  What is happening in bigger states??

My child is dead.  She is not coming home.  We will never get more time with her.  I still don’t understand why.  I will never understand.  I will just miss her until the day I die.

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Targeted Tears

Hard to believe that Labor Day is two weeks from today.  Two weeks from Wednesday the kids in Manchester go back to school.  I went back today.  I also went to Target today, for the second time in a week’s time.  Target is all about back to school.  Target is all about back to college.

I love Target.  I love that Target is now playing music.  I love that if I can’t go to Disney World, I can at least go to Target, the other happiest place on earth.  As much as I love Target, it is also a place that often brings me to tears.  It is a store full of memories–checking out Halloween decorations when the kids were little, Christmas shopping, back to school shopping, etc.  Every year, I turn the corner and see those Christmas trees for the first time, and the lump starts to form in my throat.  These recent trips were different.  The lump formed and the tears flowed not for the memories, but for what is not.  I wasn’t there to buy a Keurig.  No mini-fridge in my cart.  I’m not sending Maggie off to college.  Her friends have already started leaving, and I hope they all have an amazing college experience, but she’s not going.

If you see a crazy lady dancing in the aisles of Target with tears in her eyes, don’t be afraid to say hi.  It’s probably me.

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The House

If you are friends with Stefan or me on Facebook, you know that our house is undergoing a major renovation.  We signed on our house in April 2000, when Maggie was three weeks old, and moved in when she was five weeks old (moving with a newborn helps if you don’t want to do any of the lifting).  Over the years, we haven’t done much.  The biggest project before this was tearing down our old detached garage so we had more yard for the kids.

Stefan has wanted to add on to the house for years.  Last year, it finally happened.  We had gone before the zoning board in 2016 and were approved for an addition, and work started last summer.  From the outside, the addition looks like a whole other house, but it’s not as big inside since it includes an attached garage, which is pretty big.

So, by winter, the addition was in place and we just left it as it was–a garage, a large open room on the second floor, and then a bonus third floor half-room we like to call The Penthouse.  When spring arrived, it was time to work some magic inside…put up walls, make decisions on use of the space.  Well, our house is old.  Like 1890s old.  At least the original portion of the house is.  While we didn’t do much to it over the last 18 years, previous owners did make some changes.  When Stefan started working on getting the addition to flow with the rest of the house, he realized there were some serious structural issues.  Oh, and some squirrel carcasses.

The kids, the dogs, and I have been staying at my mom’s since Mother’s Day.  We are so thankful and lucky to have a place that’s close to home and school to stay.  Initially, Stefan told me to pack until Tuesday.  Well, it’s been more than a month of Tuesdays, but the end seems to be in sight.  For much of the last few weeks I have stayed away from our deconstruction zone.  When I go, I get sad.  I cry.  Stefan thinks there’s something wrong with the house, and doesn’t understand why I’m upset.  I should be over the moon to soon have a practically brand new house, but all I can think when I walk around is that it’s not her house anymore.  The stairs she would bound down, all gangly and goofy, are gone.  Her posters, which she hung and were supposed to stay, ended up coming down so the plaster could be replaced.  The floors she walked on are mostly gone.

Some bereaved families move after the death of their child.  The memories are too much, too sad.  For me, being able to picture her in our house was comforting.  Now, it will be like we moved, but without changing our address.  I know Maggie is always with us.  I know it doesn’t matter where we are or where we live, but for me, it’s just one more thing.  One more change she’s not here for.  One more reminder that she’s not here (not that I need any reminders).  One more thing to grieve.

We plan to have an open house when everything is done, so friends and family can see the fruits of Stefan’s labor and vision.  I know it will be amazing when complete, but it will take awhile for me to adjust.

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Emotional Exhaustion

I don’t remember when I was last as exhausted as I have been this week.  I fell asleep on the couch by 5:30 yesterday, and slept like the dead until 10:00 last night.  I ate cereal for dinner at 10:30.  I did start to doze again, waiting for the kids to come in, then went to bed for real around midnight.  I’m only up now because the dogs insisted I get up.

Last Sunday was our fifth Mag-a-Palooza.  We couldn’t have custom ordered better weather–it was certainly the best we’ve had.  So many wonderful people came out to hear great music and help us celebrate our girl.  I always hope that people learn a little something about childhood cancer too.  We send a HUGE thanks to everyone who came.

In April, Central chose Maggie’s Beat to support for Central Runs.  The Student Council presented us with the check from that on Sunday.  An astonishing $1231.10 was raised by the students via donations and sponsors.  These are awesome kids!

Thursday night, I attended Central’s Scholarship Night to present the Maggie’s Beat Scholarship we awarded to a member of what should be Maggie’s graduating class.  We received nine essays.  A few of the kids obviously knew Mags, and reading what they wrote about her was such an amazing bonus.  Memories of our kind, carefree girl are always welcome.  The winner of the scholarship (students used their school ID on them, rather than their names, so we were not immediately biased) was a former classmate of Maggie’s.  It just made it extra special that he knew her.

Friday was Class Day for the Class of 2018.  We were invited to attend, because the class officers were going to honor Maggie and had a gift for us.  As the graduates, in their caps and gowns, walked across the courtyard a strange mixture of sadness and pride washed over me.  Sadness, obviously, because my Margaret should be with them, but pride because this is such a truly amazing class of young adults.  These are special kids, who remember their friend, gone too soon.  We received a Senior t-shirt with Philbrook 18 on the back, and it’s probably the best gift I’ve ever been given.

Maggie’s class graduates at 6:00 this evening.  Lydon and Molly will be there to play with the band.  I plan to go.  As always, I will have a plan for an “out,” if needed.  That’s one of the things that is always required for bereaved parents since we never really know how we’ll react in certain situations.  I feel like I need to be there.  I need to be there for Maggie.  I need to be there to support the great kids who are going to change the world for the better.  I need to be there for myself.

So, all of this has led to the extreme emotional exhaustion I’m feeling.  It’s a real thing, and becomes physical.  Oh, one other thing.  The pendant gifted to me when Maggie died with a Flashes of Hope photo of Maggie and me broke yesterday.  I’ve been wearing it everyday for four years.  It was wearing at the spot the necklace met the “loop,” so I knew it was only a matter of time before it wore through.  Coincidence that it happened right at graduation time?  I doubt it.

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Bereaved Mother’s Day

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Smile                                                                                                                                                        Nat King Cole

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near

I heard the song “Smile” last week.  It summed up how so many of us make it through each day.  Bereaved parents always have a smile, but know that behind that smile is a broken heart.  We live for our living children (if we have them) and their accomplishments, but the sadness for our lost children never goes away.

Carly Marie Dudley, an Australian mother whose son was born still, started International Bereaved Mother’s Day in 2010.  It is celebrated on the first Sunday of May, which is also the week before our traditional Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day is tough.  It’s hard to be celebrated as a mother when part of the reason for the day is no longer here.  As difficult as it is for those of us with living children, I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for those mothers who have lost their only child.  On this day, Bereaved Mother’s Day, bereaved moms should feel empowered to talk about their children.  About their birth.  About their life.  About their death.  Not every grieving mother lays it all out there like I do, and I hope they use this day to celebrate their motherhood.

Remember those who have lost children as we approach Mother’s Day this week.  Know that it is ok to remember our children who were lost too soon.  If you know a childless mother, mention her child.  Let her know that you haven’t forgotten.

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