Today marks 5 years since losing our 4 month old son, Mason. Our life since losing him has been challenging, and at times painful, but it has also been extraordinary.
Last night I had a dream that I woke up from being in a coma for the last 5 years. When I woke up from this coma, I found out that Mason hadn’t actually died. The relief was short lived as I found out that though I still had Mason, my younger son Oliver had subsequently never been born, and the friends we have and love so much now didn’t actually exist, and the farm we live on had just been a dream. The things of the utmost importance to our family now weren’t even on the radar in this dream.
What a symbolic dream. It was like God was trying to tell me that without this painful chapter in my life, losing Mason, we wouldn’t be where we are today. And of course this is true. It doesn’t make the pain of losing Mason lessen, but it certainly illuminates how far we’ve come since that devastating day five years ago.
I realized this morning that there are many things I’ve learned since losing my son that don’t just necessarily pertain to loss or grief. I learned a lot of life lessons, too.
I learned that the “BIG” things in life that you spend most of your time worrying about aren’t really even the “BIG” things. The “BIG” things are always going to be things you never even truly realized were a possibility. They are the kinds of things that explode into your life on some calm, boring Friday evening and wreck havoc on your entire world, causing you to question who you are, what life is about, where God is in the madness, if you can survive and how you’ll survive.
Worry has a propensity to bring us down, slow us down and hinder progress… but rarely does worrying bring about anything positive. That job, that bill, those extra pounds, that pimple, those wrinkles, the scratch on your new car, the stain on your clean carpet, the fight with your best friend… those things are the little things. Embrace them as such and don’t get stuck on the small things.
You can never take enough pictures. Ever. Considering that Mason only lived 4 short months, I’m amazed at the amount of photos we have. I’m also sadly shocked by the fact that I didn’t allow myself to be in many of these photos because I was too self conscious about the way I looked. It’s a decision that I regret deeply.
If in doubt, take pictures! Capture the moment your child discovers their toes, or eats with a spoon for the first. Capture the look of satisfaction on their face as they hold a crayon the “right way”. Capture the big victories, the small setbacks, the scrapped knees, the ice cream dripping down their fingers. Capture the way they hold their blanket as they sleep stroking that one corner that’s tattered and see-through from all the love. Capture the moment your toddler colors all over their face with your lipstick because they want to look like Mommy.
Take pictures of the small, quiet moments of calm and contentment… and sometimes even the moment where things are so crazy you want to scream. Because like I mentioned above, these small moments might actually be the big things.
This world lacks empathy. Show MORE empathy to try to make up for the deficit. I didn’t quite understand how truly cold and unsympathetic this world was until I lost my son.
Most of us aren’t very good at being compassionate and trying to understand where other people are coming from or why their view of something may be what it is. Most of us have too much to do, in too little time, and are just trying to make it from point A to point B to point C to the finish line.
I don’t know what anyone around me is going through in their life. I don’t know if they’ve lost a job, gotten a divorce, lost a child, lost a spouse, are stuck in addiction, are considering suicide…All I know is that for several months, I walked around as barely a shell of my former self. I’m sure I might have been unintentionally rude, bumped into people without saying excuse me, let the door fall behind me as I left a store when someone was behind me, etc. Not because I’m a rude, hateful or inconsiderate person… but because sometimes breathing and getting the errand done was already more than I could handle.
We don’t know what battles a stranger is fighting or what Hell they’ve already endured. Because of this, I try to show extra empathy and compassion to the people who seem like they don’t deserve it.
Friendships will change- and that’s okay! We lost Mason when we were 23 years old. Most of our friends weren’t even married yet, let alone with children. Even our friends who were married or had kids didn’t quite know what to do or what to say. Many of them couldn’t understand our grief, how we chose to handle it, how we shut ourselves away from the world… or how we changed. Forever.
Whether you lose a child or not, you will undoubtedly change many times throughout your life. Your views of what is most important will change, as will your passions. Friendships will fade and new ones will appear that will align more with what you are passionate about. Know that there is nothing wrong with this and that it is a normal part of life.
Sometimes, during the hardest times in your life, you will watch people you considered to be your closest friends walk out of your life. Maybe it’s because they couldn’t handle it, maybe it’s because they didn’t want to. Whatever the reason, this will hurt deeply. For us, it was just God’s way of making room for all of our new friends to come.
There truly are reason, season and lifetime friends. Not everybody is a lifetime friend… and that is absolutely okay. We have a very distinct need for each of these types of friends over the course of our lives. Accept this and try to remember that there is a time and a season for everything.
You NEVER get over losing your child. That empty seat at the dinner table, the blank spot in family photos, the place where that child should be on Christmas morning… nothing will ever fill it in. Not a new baby. Not 1o years or even 50 years. Not the most perfectly executed photography posing during your family portrait session.
Nothing will ever fill the space of the child that was lost. Some days we feel this pain deeply. Other days we hardly feel it at all. And without any rhyme or reason, that sadness will ebb and flow for the rest of our lives. And that’s okay too.
Social Media is a REMARKABLE thing. I’ve seen my fair share of social media being used in the worst ways possible… hateful posts that border on harassment, death threats and just downright cruelty towards others just because people can hide behind their keyboards. With so much negativity about social media, it can be hard to remember the amazing power it has to connect people who desperately need support.
When Mason died we were immediately surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of people who wanted us to know they were praying for us. In that moment where you can’t even figure out how to breath, or IF you will even physically be able to move from your bed the next day, those people praying for you mean EVERYTHING.
As a stay at home mom, some of my closest friends were friends I “only knew online,” and I was amazed at the sheer number of those friends that came to Mason’s funeral from all over the country. All because of social media and our amazing ability to connect.
Our online support kept us sane and gave us hope through the darkest days of our life.
Real life is not like the movies and there are no perfect endings. We never did have a moment where we got on a wild horse and rode off into the sunset and lived Happily Ever After.
Life is going to thrown you down. Then it will kick you down. And then you’ll probably get knocked back down again. Just keep standing back up, no matter how hopeless and tired you are. I love that old Japenese proverb that says “Fall seven times. Stand up eight.” Write that down somewhere… it’s a good reminder!
Just remember that when and how you chose to get back up when you fall will define how the rest of your life will go.
There is no time for hate. Fight for love. Hate solves nothing, builds nothing, fixes nothing and creates nothing but more hate. Losing a child shows you what’s really important, but it also seems to illuminate hate and injustice. For me, losing a son with no cause and no explanation put my brain into overdrive and anything that didn’t make sense to me became incredibly frustrating. Nothing frustrated me more than trying to understand hate in this world.
The week that he died, I saw several babies in the news who died at the hands of abusive parents. One baby was covered with cigarette burns and another was badly malnourished. All I could think about was how anyone could let that happen? How could no one notice? How could no one say anything?
I began to realize that there is a lot of hate everywhere. I realized I was asking these questions constantly. Why do people let these things happen? Why doesn’t anyone say anything? It felt as if I finally realized that most people don’t seem to have a moral compass, and even if they do, they don’t want to create any waves by standing up for what’s right… especially if it doesn’t directly affect them.
Losing Mason taught me to fight for what is right and good. I learned to fight for love, fight for justice, fight for equality, fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Many people all over this country (and all over the world) are living in a Hell that we allow to continue simply because we don’t speak out against things that are wrong or because we are too scared to stand up for what is right.
Life is short and we have to make a difference.
Nurses are f-ing superheroes… even if your baby can’t be saved. Nurses deserve a medal. Or an award of some kind. Maybe a trophy? Or their own special holiday. Or a RAISE. (Okay definitely a raise!!)
The night we lost Mason, we were surrounded by some of the most caring, genuine, wonderful nurses I could have ever possibly asked for. (I don’t even remember what the Physician on call looked like.) When we lost Mason, the hospital Bryce took him to wasn’t a full hospital, it was a freestanding ER. Because of this, they didn’t have many things in the way of grief support or even normal things that a maternity unit might have in this circumstance (ink pads for finger prints,etc).
I don’t know why I wanted some of the weird things I wanted, like for some reason in the ER, after they called his time of death, I NEEDED his handprints and footprints on paper to take home with me. I couldn’t even think about anything other than the fact that I needed these prints since I was going to have to leave him at the hospital.
One of his nurses, who I am still in contact with today, found a police officer and asked him to go get ink pads etc. Once he came back with these things, she carefully traced a giant heart on paper, cut it out, and stamped his hand and foot prints for me (multiple times) so that I could have that to take home with me. She never acted like it was an odd request, or questioned why I would want that, she just heard me as I told her my needs and gave to me in exactly the (weird) way I needed.
Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to walk into a hospital with your baby (who was perfectly healthy earlier that day) to figuring out how in the Hell you’re going to walk out and LEAVE YOUR BABY in a cold emergency room with the coroner…And so, when it came time to leave, I held his body close and tried to memorize every single last detail of him… his beautiful chubby cheeks, his long blonde eyelashes, his kissable little lips, the dimples in his knuckles on his hands and feet, the soft downy blonde hair on his head. I kissed his cheeks, and his feet, and his hands, and I hugged him close and I didn’t know how in the Hell I could possibly just lay him down on a gurney and walk out. I didn’t know how any of this was even really happening at all.
And in that moment, his nurse walked over to me and said she would hold him when I left so I wouldn’t have to leave him alone. I will NEVER forget locking eyes with her in that moment. I will never forget handing my son to her, knowing that I would NEVER see him again. I will never forget the way she tried so hard not to cry or act upset in an effort to keep me calm. I will never forget how lovingly and gently she held him, wrapping him tighter in the blanket, bouncing him, and rubbing his cheeks, like she would any other baby. I will never forget looking back as we walked out of that hospital, seeing her taking care of my baby until the VERY end.
She, and nurses like her, are the REAL heroes in life. Remember that.
Everything happens for a reason. Whether by choice or by chance, because you planned it or chose it on a whim, with good luck or with bad luck… everything in our life happens for a reason.
I’m laughing at myself for even writing that. In the first few months after we lost Mason, I kept a tally sheet of the number of people who said that to me. Really it was a tally of all the people I wanted to punch in the face for saying that to me.
(TAKE NOTE: DO NOT SAY THIS TO SOMEONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED A TRAGEDY. THEY CAN SAY IT THEMSELVES, BUT UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE SHOULD YOU EVER SAY THIS TO SOMEONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED A DEVASTATING TRAGEDY)
At some point, life does move on, and most of us do realize that our loss propelled us in a direction we may not have chosen to go in otherwise. We learned lessons we might not have learned. We discovered passions we didn’t know we had. And some of us even find our reason for living.
We definitely did.