About a month ago, we got some devastating news. And by we, I mean Gavin. He will be fine and is expected to make a full recovery. We will be fine. I should probably start with that. But we were not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster we have been on this past month. Since Noah died in 2015, we have not had anything significant happen in our family. But then again, when your barometer for “a big deal” is losing a kid and brother, your perspective is slightly skewed. We’ve gone on with our lives, working, going to school, and starting a non-profit. We’ve endured painful milestones like the first year, senior year, graduation, etc., and we’re still standing. We’ve struggled but survived, and in some ways, we have even thrived.
For those of you who don’t know, Gavin is extremely athletic. He has also been hurt over and over and over–especially in high school. I’ll never forget his first “serious” injury on the football field when he didn’t get up right away. He was nine, and my heart stopped. Since then, Gav has been plagued with injuries the doc attributes to his growing 6’1″ frame and high activity level. But a few months ago, Gavin called me from lacrosse practice saying he hurt his knee and was carried to his car. I didn’t think much of it, honestly. Just another injury. He usually recovers quickly. But when he got home, his reaction was severe, and over the next few days, we realized this wasn’t just another injury. Sitting in the orthopedic surgeon’s office a few weeks later, we learned he had torn his ACL along with many other structures that hold his knee together. The doc called it “the unhappy triad” injury. Option A: do nothing and never be athletic again, an unlikely option for a 16-year-old. Option B: a knee reconstruction with a 9-month recovery time that will carry through his senior year.
I’m sure you can imagine how Gavin took the news, the same way any athlete would. And I don’t blame Gavin at all for feeling like high school just sucks. This was something else to “endure.” It crushed him, and he knew it was big the night it happened. It just took us a minute to catch up. But what I am still struggling with is how hard we took the news as his parents. Allow me to vent for just a moment:
Just once, I would like ONE of my children to have a normal high school experience. Is it too much to ask for Gavin to go to prom and dance or work a summer job with his grandpa? Is it too much to ask for him to shine on the lacrosse field or wrestling mat without getting hurt? Can we go one school year without a move, death, or some other injury? I mean, seriously? Selfishly, as a parent, can WE experience these things with our kid–with ANY of our kids?
I realize how insane that must sound, but as a parent, you have hopes and dreams for your children. You want them to take a nice girl to prom, to do well in school, to be happy. And Gav is happy. But it seems like nothing is easy. As a parent, we wanted Gavin to have normal, uneventful junior year. That’s all we wanted, knowing we’ve asked him to move his senior year. But that’s just not happening. And yes, I’m angry. I’m angry for him and us as parents. Our job for the remainder of this year is not about spring break or college visits. Instead, it’s about physical therapy, continuity of care during a PCS, and taking rehab seriously. There will be no spring lacrosse, working for Papa this summer, no day hikes on our cross-country PCS trip, no fall lacrosse at our new duty station, which oh, by the way, is always how he has made friends. It will be a whole lot of building quad strength and getting back to an “active lifestyle.”
Gav’s surgery was on the 13th. The stress and anxiety for all three of us leading up to that day, our first day back in a hospital since Noah spent his last week in one, was palpable around the house. The triggers started the moment we walked in: being handed a number to watch on the surgical screen, the alarm bells and monitors, the nurses rushing around, the bag to put his clothes in, seeing Gavin in a hospital gown, the IV, the waiting. All of the triggers were an assault on the senses. The procedure was meant to take three hours. I knew something was “off” when the doc came out at hour three. Of course, the damage was more extensive than expected. Why wouldn’t it be? That’s how we roll. He would need our consent to do the additional repair. It was like Deja Vu. Waiting, watching the board, and more waiting. In the end, the surgery took six hours. They repaired his ACL, ALL, and both meniscus.
In the recovery room, I felt feverish and physically ill. As he laid there with his eyes closed, I just kept seeing his brother, and when recovery was harder than expected, because he was under anesthesia for six hours, and we were five minutes from the deadline to admit him for the night, they finally decided to let him go home. That day led us to a breaking point we didn’t think we’d have to go through again–at least not anytime soon. They next day, we were all exhausted.
For two weeks, Gavin recovered at home in our guest room, equipped with care packages, ice, XBox, TV, and pain meds. Every day, he has made progress. Every day, we all feel a little more hopeful that he will be okay. Yesterday, he went back to school, on crutches again, in his rigid brace. This week, he starts PT. The experience has taught me a few things:
- Defining something as a “big deal” in comparison to the catastrophic loss of a child is just stupid. It is okay to be upset about things that have a significant impact on your life, regardless of what they are. It’s okay to have feelings about bad things, even when they aren’t “that bad.” Losing a kid doesn’t make us immune to reacting to other tough situations.
- Gavin is titanium. This kid has been knocked down more than I can count in the past two years. He gets up, dusts himself off, and keeps going with a positive attitude. He’s my hero.
For those of you with advanced warning of this post, thank you again for always supporting Gav and being part of his tribe. You make all the difference.
With much love,
I am a firm believer that a series of unfortunate events is almost always followed up by some much-needed peace in the heart. So, clearly this past week is an indication that good things are coming our way. In the past week, my son has had another big injury, the arm this time, I have fallen out of bed (yes, really) reinjuring my already-injured wrist, and tripped off the concrete step in our garage in my socks, only to curl all of my toes under my foot and land on them with my full body weight. What a pair Gavin and I were that night as my one-armed, 16-year-old had to drive me to the ER and try to maneuver a wheelchair for his broken mom to check in. The ER was so overcrowded, we ended up at urgent care (for the third time this week) and he literally had to “hop” me to the door in the pouring rain. Not. even. kidding. Blessedly, nothing is broken, but surgery on my wrist is now pretty inevitable (I’ve been stalling, but no more) and I’m in a boot thingy until the ugly, green bruises and sausage toes return to normal. Gav’s wrestling season is over and he will miss the beginning of lacrosse season…again. HAPPY NEW YEAR! I’m so glad it’s the weekend!
Honestly, my last post was about allowing yourself to press pause during the holidays. As it turns out, my December was quite possibly the busiest December I’ve ever had in my life, despite the pauses I did take. And guess what? I survived. As of yesterday, I wrapped up all of those looming deadlines as I laid in bed with ice on my foot, snuggling my dogs. We did put up the tree and even ornaments this year, and though it was bittersweet, I am glad we did. On our Christmas morning, Dan, Gav, and I pulled out the slips of paper with memories of Noah from his stocking and read them to each other over monkey bread and coffee. On Christmas Day, I went to see my mother, uncle, and grandparents at our local cemetery, something I do every year, and frankly I was glad we made the decision to keep Noah with us until we find our forever home. On New Year’s Day, we made our traditional cabbage rolls and watched football, and now here we are, still kickin’.
Today, I played catch up on my podcasts, worked on my entrepreneurial coursework for a conference I’m attending this month, and snuggled more doggies. That’s my version of peace. Wishing the tribe a peaceful New Year in spite of all of our series of unfortunate events. Life can’t be perfect all the time or we wouldn’t appreciate the good stuff when it comes.
I should be working. I should be doing school work. I did
read listen to my assigned novella today. Progress. I should be cleaning the house or decorating for Christmas. I should be making phone calls for doctors and dentist appointments since my tooth is killing me and Gav broke a bracket for his braces. I should be productive. I’m not feeling it. Instead, today my productivity consisted of making an unnecessary batch of six dozen chocolate chip cookies. At least I’ve only eaten two cookies. I wanted to eat all of them. Clearly, I’m in a funk.
Thanksgiving was surprisingly mundane–not the same gut-wrenching experience as last year. I didn’t feel anything. I just existed for a week in the house where I said goodbye to Noah. I laid on his bed a few times. I cried a few times. I drank considerably less wine than last year. We all just “were.”
Now, we are home. The tree is set up with nothing on it. I have a to-do list that rivals Santa’s. And instead of doing anything, I’m sitting under my fuzzy blanket with my puppy dog who desperately needs a bath, which is also on my list. Tomorrow, I start with a new counselor, which I am not looking forward to. My former counselor has gone off and retired, and it’s taken me until now to find someone new. I hope for her sake that she took the opportunity to get the download about my “story” from my retired counselor. I do not have the energy to explain everything all over again. On Wednesday, we will meet with Gavin and his counselor. Yes, he has gone back as well. Our life is a series of motions to go through, each one supposedly propelling us forward into some happier existence.
The fact is that it’s the holidays, we are still minus one, and life is decidedly sucky right now. Last night, we tried to start a new tradition of building a gingerbread house together. Only, it’s not really new, as Gavin pointed out. I used to buy one for each of the kids, and Noah would eat all of his building material before putting it together. We decorated the house, but it was more like a sad state of forced fun. Another motion to go through.
I have no pearls of wisdom to offer today, no shining rey of hope. I’m just a mom trying to get through a Monday, gathering enough mojo to make it to a parent meeting for wrestling where I get to put on a happy face for a group of strangers. I’ve gotten out of the habit of allowing myself a down day. I think I need one, or two, or ten. I think my body is trying to tell me to press pause and just to stop. No more motion. No more through. Just be for a minute. Some days, that’s the win.
So, I think I’ll just do that and be okay with it.
I don’t really talk about my mother. I know I have shared that she died when I was 18 and that this journey of loss I am on is rooted in ridiculously complicated family history. This year’s crap-a-versay of her death has hit me hard, 22 years later. Maybe it’s because last year things were just too raw to process all of the connections. Maybe it’s because I have a close friend who just lost her mother in a very similar way. Whatever the reason, I find myself coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday with a wounded heart and a need to share a little more truth. Maybe it will help one of you on your journey.
I was angry at my mother for a very long time. Years. I was angry at her choices. I was angry that she left me. I was angry that she wasn’t there to help me learn to be a mother. I was angry that she deprived my children of their grandmother. I was angry she never knew what a wonderful man I married. I was angry about how broken she left our family.
Every doctor’s appointment when they would ask if I had a family history of something and I didn’t have an answer, I was furious.
Every time my kids would ask why papa didn’t have a grandma, I was mad as I stumbled through an explanation.
Every time I went home to the house where I grew up, every time I went to her grave, every game she missed, or milestone she wasn’t there for, I blamed her choices.
A few years after her death, I reached out to one of her family members. I asked him about my mother, what she was like as a child, as a teenager, and as a young adult. The circumstances in which she grew up explained a lot about her demons.
The older I got and the more I learned about life and motherhood, the easier it became to see my mother not as the woman who made bad choices and left me in this world alone, but as a woman. She was flawed and struggled just like the rest of us. The road to forgiveness was a long, very personal struggle. It has taken years of therapy to process the mountain of complex emotional baggage I carry around every day.
A few months ago, I was with my counselor and we were talking about my guilt. She said, “parents do the best they can with what they are given.” I can think of no better way to articulate what it means to truly accept my mother for who she was, to love her in spite of her flaws, and to forgive her for leaving me. She did the best she could with what she was given. And so do I.
I am learning to accept myself. I am flawed. I struggle. I have done the best I can with what I was given. This includes letting Noah drive to town that day.
I cannot help but think that losing my mother at such a young age and walking that journey did not help prepare for what happened to Noah — and for how it would happen. Leaving from the same house she did the morning we said goodbye, frantically racing down the same stretch of road, saying the same prayer, leading to the same hospital, to the same result for both my mother and first-born son — goodbye.
I didn’t have my mother here with me as I raised Noah. They never knew each other in life. But I know she was there to meet him the minute he got to Heaven. Though Thanksgiving has passed, know this is what I was thankful this year.
Mom: It’s okay. I know that you didn’t mean to leave me. I know the weight you carried in your heart was heavy enough to swallow anyone. I appreciate you for who you were when you were here and the time we had together. I forgive you for the time we lost. You did the best you could with what you were given. Take care of my baby. Please take care of him until I can see you both again. With love, me.