The day we got home from the hospital, I went upstairs and opened the door to Ryan's room. How many times had I imagined bringing him home from the hospital? How many times had I imagined moments with him in this room?
From that day on, the door to his nursery needed to be open. Whenever we get home from work or an errand, I almost always head right upstairs to make sure it is so.
At some point in September, the open door policy evolved into an open curtains policy, too. So now, I wake up in the morning, and an integral part of my routine has become my quick little moment in his room, opening the blinds.
I'm sure there's a million metaphors for this simple little action. Letting the light shine in through the darkness. Greeting a new day. Opening the window of possibility.
But that's not it.
I open his curtains because I don't want his room to be this dark, sad place. I spent hours upon hours planning and putting this space together. Not so it could sit in darkness. A tomb of despair for the baby who didn't come home. I open the curtains to let it be the bright, happy space it was supposed to be.
Because there's a part of me that hopes Ryan's little spirit lives in here sometimes. And I want it to be exactly what I hoped it would be for him.
I have nearly filled my first journal since I began keeping one in November. I've been a diary-writer, journal-keeper my whole life, but a sporadic one at that. Until now, I don't think I've ever hit the milestone of filling a journal and needing to move on to another one out of necessity. It seemed worth commemorating to me. So, I went back and skimmed some, or all, of the entries since November 2nd, 2015.
Though most of it remains for my eyes only, there are parts of some entries worth sharing:
November 3 - 2:40pm
Today I have felt okay. I don't want to fall into the trap of only acknowledging my hurt and pain. I need to also recognize the days I feel like I'm doing alright. Like I am going to come out of this okay. But it's scary to focus on the good sometimes. I fear the good in some ways because I know there's likely a storm around the corner.
November 21 - 6:38pm
Put up the Christmas tree today... Sometimes it feels really good to do "happy" things. But almost always it pops into my head that you should be here, and then it starts to hurt.
November 23 - 3:23pm
Today has been one of those days I promised I would write about. A day where my sadness isn't all I can feel... Today my grief was manageable and I must remember to celebrate these days. But I still miss you, Ryan.
December 1 - 3:05pm
I don't think you could ever really know how you're going to respond when trauma or disaster hit. I expected to be swallowed whole by it. To be destroyed and never fully recover. But I found out I am much stronger than I ever dreamed. I feel horribly guilty sometimes -- when I'm not crying. But I don't have to search too hard inside myself for the aching, sad piece of my heart.
December 5 - 10:07am
It's been a little while that I've woken up with sadness in my belly, but there it was this morning.
December 9 - 6:25pm
Had a really tough one today. Retreated to your room to have some alone time with you. That's all I really wanted today. Time with you.
December 12 - 4:35pm
The ups and downs can be pretty challenging to keep up with. Yesterday was tough. Today was pretty manageable...
And on it goes. Back and forth. Up and down. Those waves of grief roll in and out.
I have noticed recently that the tears come less and less. More days pass between the small crying jags that I've come to count on. But like the waves of grief, I never know when they'll hit, or what will trigger them.
It seems that unlike the pretty colours and patterns on my journals, there is no pattern to my grief. But it's always there. As much a part of me as the baby I grieve.
Throughout my life, I've made connections with many different people. Few of those people I consider to be good friends. People I regularly connect with on a deeper level. But I don't discount the relationships I've made with people that don't extend much further these days than social media. Sometimes, it's those friends who surprise you most.
Today, I got one of those surprises. And it ended up being so meaningful to me, I had a little "happy cry" at my desk at work. Thankfully, I limit my work-social media-checking to moments alone. Meaning, fortunately, no students were present.
My phone flashed an Instagram notification, which I only receive if the activity is something like a comment or a tag. So my curiosity was peaked. I opened the app and there was a photo from a university-friend. A 10-month new mom of twins. She posted a photo in celebration of her babies' 10 month milestones. But attached to the comment was a shout-out to other "mom friends" of hers, for all the great work they're doing.
Included in that shout-out, was me.
It's nearly impossible for me to put into words what such an acknowledgement means to me. Even thinking about it now, my chest swells and my eyes well up. The simple act of acknowledging my motherhood along with mothers of "earth-bound" babies, is an act that validates every feeling I carry around with me every day.
Most days, I feel no less a mother than any woman with two kids to feed, bathe, and get to bed after a long day at work. Most days, I find myself antsy for something to do with all of this mothering energy I have and no baby to give it to.
So to get the nod from an old friend that it's working, whatever it is I'm doing here to hold on to my motherhood, means the world to me. This afternoon, with that simple comment, I felt like I had the whole world in my hands. Everything I've been working for, every day, was sitting in my palm. That little affirmation that my motherhood counts for something.
Stomped out in the frozen snow, was a giant R. A little hello from my Ryan.
I'm not sure how I'd go about calculating the odds of me cutting across that field where someone had recently stomped out that letter in the snow, but I'd be willing to bet they aren't high.
I'm always on the lookout for his special angel-touch on the things around me. He never fails, every day, to speak to me in some way. Big or small. And I'm always grateful when he reaches out. Especially when I'm feeling low.
In those little ways Ryan reminds me he's still here. Somewhere. Everywhere. Seeing the snow fall. Watching me push on and carve out a little place in the world for him.
Today's prompt, Faceless, stumped me for a little while. It certainly seemed an odd word to reflect on. But looking around my house, I realized I have plenty of faceless little angels commemorating some of the biggest moments of my life.
I've been given, or have purchased myself, several Willow Tree angels in the past 5 years or so. The first was given to me by my oldest sister. When I decided to move away from home in order to be closer to the man who would one day become my husband, she gave me a little angel holding a butterfly. The angel of freedom. For not being afraid to chase your dreams.
I was so inspired by that little gift and what it meant for my relationship with Rich, when we decided to get married about a year later, I knew our cake had to be topped with something similar. For that I found the Promise angels. They danced on top of our cake in the sweetest embrace.
Three years later, I was so touched when my aunt gifted me my third angel: Cherish. A pregnant mama gently cradling her swollen belly in her arms. My angels were beginning to tell a very beautiful story.
Nine months later, my fourth, and most recent angel came to me from a friend after Ryan slipped away. The Guardian Angel. A toddling little boy, holding the hands of his mama.
I never really made too much of the fact that these angels don't have faces. When I thought about it at first, I guess I just thought it was so you could imagine any face you wanted. You could picture your own face on the angel.
Now I think it's more than just imagining a face. It's imagining the emotion. My dancing angels, who once stood strong at the promise of beautiful future together, now embrace to hold each other up. Knowing that when you choose to build a life with someone, sometimes it's going to be hard. Life is going to throw all kinds of trouble at you and you have to hold each other up through those moments.
My cherished pregnant angel is holding onto her baby as fiercely as she can. She doesn't want to let it go.
The toddler is now walking away from his mama, and all she can do is try to hold on to him.
The angel of freedom is setting her butterfly free.
My angels still tell a beautiful story. It's one that I wish could have had a different ending. But I wouldn't trade my nine months with Ryan for anything.
When we were putting together Ryan's nursery, finding a rocking chair was one of the biggest challenges. We sat in all kinds of fancy, plush, and luxurious rockers and gliders, but for some reason I was stuck on the idea of getting a traditional wooden rocker. I took my search online where I found a beauitful option. But the blonde oak finish did not work for my nursery plan. I sent the link to a friend and asked if I'd be crazy to buy it and try to stain it darker. Immediately she responded with a photo of her own. The exact same chair, stained a dark walnut colour. It belonged to her, and was the chair she used to rock her two babies in when they were small(er).
She lent it to us and soon I was spending a lot of time in that chair. I'd go up to Ryan's room to just sit and think. Imagine what life was going to be like with him there with me. I'd sit, and look into his crib and try to imagine who he'd look like sleeping there. I'd rock him in my belly and think about the amazing feeling it would be when I was rocking him in my arms. Occasionally, I would read to him. When Rich caught wind of our reading together, he wanted in on the action.
So, one day, I sat in the chair, Rich sat on the floor next to us, and he picked Robert Munsch's Love You Forever off the shelf. He read the words, and I sang the song. In terms of cheesiness, I'm sure it wins the contest. But it was also one of my fondest memories from my pregnancy. It was a real moment of feeling like a family. It was a moment I saw Rich so clearly as a dad. I knew in that moment that it was one of those memories you'll think about at the end of your life. In that moment, I know in my heart, that Ryan knew how much he was loved and wanted.
When it came time to make arrangements for Ryan's resting place, I knew I needed that moment recognized somehow. We had "As long as we're living, our baby you'll be." engraved on his niche at the cemetery. When I visit him there, it helps me remember that moment. When he was so alive, and we were whole together.
A few weeks after he died and we were deciding what baby stuff should be put away, and what would get to stay, I contacted my friend about her chair. She didn't want it back. Not yet, anyway. She told me to hold on it. And we both know it's so that maybe someday soon, I'll get to rock a baby in my arms, instead of only in my heart.
As more time passed, the mail eased up as it should, but every now and then something will appear. A "take-care-of-yourself" package. A Christmas ornament. A special book made just for me. Every day I check the mail, and on these special surprise days the mailed sentiments lift me. The same way a new mother beams with pride when others speak of and compliment her baby, that's how I, the bereaved mother, feel when I'm told someone was thinking of mine. And it doesn't matter that I "know" everyone thinks of him from time to time or all the time. It's important to be let in on the secret.
That's what getting mail does for me. Whether it's mail in my mailbox, a note in my inbox, a text, a comment, a like, a message. Knowing he's thought of is such a precious gift.
Not long ago, a fellow loss-mom shared a photo of a letter she received addressed to her, her husband, and her angel-baby boy. I was moved to tears by the thoughtfulness of such a gesture from the sender. And it's a gesture that might be hard to understand. But my angel baby is so much a part of the family, that when I receive mail, like letters and cards, addressed to only "Amanda and Rich" I get a tiny pang of sadness in my heart knowing that if he had gotten to stay the card would be addressed differently.
To: Rich, Amanda, and Ryan
It's a remarkable thing how the smallest gestures can be the most powerful. You'd be surprised by the impact a simple blue heart emoji can make. It all may not seem like much, but even those small acknowledgements can put that proud-mama smile in my heart.
Response to this idea of mine to write has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm thankful for that. One friend took it as far as paying a compliment to that fact that despite the emotional intensity of the topics I share, that the writing is "under control." I really appreciated this comment. I'd never want to subject anyone to a rambling, nonsensical, emotionally-charged stream of consciousness.
What really helped me stay focused in my Gratitude Challenge was writing from prompts. Kind of like what I would do for my language arts students. (Talk about practicing what you preach). I'm going to stick with that for this blog, for now. I'm taking my prompts from a blog called "Fat Mum Slim." She creates monthly "Photo a Day" prompts that are usually pretty interesting. Today's was "Close-Up."
I've done probably the nerdiest thing you can do when reading a book written by a former Bachelorette: I grabbed a highlighter and started marking up the pages. Trista Sutter may not be eligible for the next Pulitzer, but there's a lot in what she believes that has spoken to me and the way I'm trying, and hoping, to live my life.
In Happily Ever After she writes: "I may not be able to change the past, but I can try to make the future better for having lived it."
I have always struggled with the idea of control. A natural planner, I want to be able to make a plan for how things should go. How they'll be best. What would work for me. It helps me to feel in control of a situation.
With Ryan, all control was lost. I had no control over his life. Obviously, I wish and feel I should have. This is something that destroys me constantly. He was inside of me. And I had no control over the outcome of his story. The blame and guilt that constantly plagued me for this is something I can never explain. I cared for him and loved him every day for 9 months. I did everything I could, and I couldn't save him. It was out of my control.
This has been the biggest barrier to my healing. Putting aside the guilt and trying to accept that it wasn't my fault. Again, that it was out of my control. And maybe the hardest part is knowing that with any future baby I may carry, I'll have that knowledge to carry around, too. That the outcome is out of my control. No matter how hard I plan for that baby. No matter how hard I love, and care, and hope for that baby. I'll know that the worst has already happened to me once. And it was out of my control. What's stopping it from happening again?
The only thing I can do moving forward, is take that knowledge and spin it. It's out of my control, so I have to enjoy each day. It's out of my control, so I have to cherish every moment. It's out of my control, but I can still be vigilant, and tuned in. I can't change what happened, but I can learn from it. I can TRY to learn from it. No mother (or father) should have to learn from something like this, but if I'm working to find light in this darkness, it's that this experience will make us that much more grateful for any future we may be blessed with. It can make us that much greater parents some day. We really understand that nothing is a given. Nothing is guaranteed. It's not ours to control.
This is not my first attempt at a blog. It's probably my 4th or 5th. I'm not sure. I've lost count. Blogging just always seemed a natural thing for me to do. I love writing. I think I'm okay at it. So why not? Except that every blog I've ever written I've lost interest in. Within 6 months it would just fade off into cyberspace. I'm sure most of them still exist "out there," but I'm not sure how to find them. Either way, they're quite irrelevant now, because they didn't inspire me. They didn't mean anything. They were just meaningless words on a screen.
My hope is that this time it will be different. It feels different already.
In the past it was about writing in a niche; book blog, teacher blog, travel blog. Trying to reach a lot of people. Trying to be funny. Being quirky or on trend. This time, I don't really care who reads this. If anyone. This time it's only about putting my heart on a page.
This space is born from a very selfish place. In the past 4 months, I've learned that nothing has helped me cope, or helped me feel more connected with my son, than sitting alone in his room and writing. If not every day, then every other day, I've spent time here, on this floor, in his room, writing. Writing when I'm sad. When I'm missing him. When I feel alone. And when I feel hopeful. When I've dared to feel happy, or optimistic. I've written posts for social media and posts for my private journal. A journal that has transformed into one long letter to my boy. Every entry, every post, is different. But every one makes me feel the same: peaceful.
I'm starting this blog first, for me. So I have something positive to focus on after a long day at work. A great fear of mine when returning to work was that I'd lose the quiet time alone I had with Ryan while I was off on leave. It was a time in the day I so looked forward to. It was the part of the day when I would do my most healing. A part that would quiet the restlessness and anxiety I often felt (and still feel). The thought of losing that time scared me. Going back to work meant I needed to carve out time. And now, when I come home from work, I get dinner on the table, enjoy some conversation with Rich, and then slip away for a bit for these moments that have come to mean so much to me.
There's another part of me that hopes maybe this page will reach someone who needs it. Since September I have found my way to so many uplifting and supportive places online. I know I would be pretty proud if this ends up as one more such place. Even if it's only for one person.
Like my gratitude challenge, I want to challenge myself to think about the things I avoid; to see beauty and light when it's easier to see darkness and pain. I have a goal to put myself on a path to really connect with something, some moment, every day instead of just letting the days pass until I get where I want to be.
This time, this blog will be different from the rest. This time I've found my niche. It's a little corner of cyberspace where my happiness, sadness, grief, and hope can live together. It's a place to help me focus on living and not just existing. It's a place for my heart.