Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One Year

A year ago today was I was sitting in a hospital bed, being prepped for, and freaking out about, a c-section.  A year ago today Aaron was pulled from my body while Chopper and I and the anesthesiologist discussed Downton Abbey to keep my mind off of what was happening to me.  A year ago today all of that faded away when Dr. Lo showed him to us over the barrier and he started to cry.  He was beautiful, he was perfect, and if we hadn't already known that he would have a heart defect, we wouldn't have been able to tell.  In many ways, that was a very hopeful day.
Unfortunately, instead of first smiles and giggles and starting to become mobile, even instead of doctor's appointments and surgeries and a cabinet full of medications for survival, our milestones have included jealously (too many sweet babies around!), grief, pain, and peace.  Not necessarily in that order and definitely not just once.  In fact, all of those things still happen on a regular basis.  I'm so glad that the first year of missing is over honestly.  That first year of a baby's life is all milestones and growth and it's been very very hard to miss all of those things with Aaron.

But today is Aaron's first birthday.  So to CELEBRATE him and his short, sweet life, we decided to do something for Children's Medical Center as a way to say thank you.  Because they were incredible in their care of him in life and their care of him in his passing.  And their care of us.  I wish I could remember everyone's names and go back and give them big hugs.  I'm not kidding when I say that they helped make an unbearable situation, bearable.

I'd actually been thinking about this for a while but decided in the beginning of February that we would do a service project AND open it up to friends and family to participate with us if they wanted to.  Children's is a non-profit hospital and they do incredible, life-saving work.  They need stuff -- toys and books and art supplies and toiletries and just all this STUFF.  So we put it out there via Facebook and started collecting.

A week ago I held a craft day at my house and many friends came and helped me sew bags for the Beads of Courage program.  I don't know if I've talked a lot about this before.  When we were at the hospital with Aaron, Chopper and I noticed this cool thing that they did with their patients -- children receive beads for each medical procedure that they endure, from simple things like blood draws and care team visits to of course surgeries and invasive procedures -- the really scary stuff.  When we left the hospital for the last time without our baby, the nurses in the CVICU gave us a bag with Aaron's strung beads inside.  A whole string of beads for six days.  If you google Beads of Courage, you will see children with ropes and ropes of them and it breaks my heart.  So with the help of my wonderful friends, in one day we made 25 bead bags to take to Children's with beautiful and fun fabrics that I hope they'll enjoy.
Aaron's Beads of Courage and his bead bag

25 awesome bags!!

Then we collected.  The response was overwhelming.  Many of my local friends brought me stuff.  Many of my friends and family who aren't here sent me money and on Monday we went shopping as a family and explained to the kids what we were doing and filled a cart full of toys.  As we're going through the aisles at Target debating which toys to get, a woman approaches me and holds out some money and says, "I'd like to give you this to pay it forward for something that was done for my son for whatever it is that you're doing."  I told her we were taking these things to Children's and she gave me the money and walked away.  She gave me $60!!  I couldn't believe the selfless love of this stranger.  Yes, I cried.  Well, you know me.  I'm still crying.

I had to write up a list of the donations and tally them up.  749 items!!  I shouldn't be surprised because I know the most amazing people.  They rallied around us a year ago and they did it again now and I love them all dearly.

So this morning we loaded up the car and went back.  Being there was actually ok -- I think partly because we were on a mission, partly because we did NOT go up to the CVICU (can't go in anyway but we debated whether or not to go up and say thank you and couldn't) and partly because the people there were just as amazing as ever.  The people who collected our donations had to bring one of those big laundry carts to get them and were so happy.  The child life lady asked me if we had held a supply drive and I told her -- sort of, we collected among family and friends -- and she seemed pretty impressed.  The social work lady who took the toiletries said a few times -- this is awesome!

And that was it.  So we took the kids to see the train room again and the stars in the rotunda and then down to the gift shop to buy flowers for Aaron.  When we left, we walked by their television studio (for closed-circuit, in hospital programs) and they were in the middle of a program.  They beckoned us in and then asked the girls if they wanted to come say hi.  Megan shook her head and tried to shrink and Abby ran right over there, plopped herself down between them, and started making faces for the camera that mostly involved hanging her tongue out of her mouth.  Then they did a craft segment to introduce the kids in the hospital to the craft of the week and they asked the girls to participate.  It was so fun to watch Megan diligently working to put the craft together (and she didn't lose it when she struggled!!) and Abby ham everything up and, in the end, glue googly eyes all over a piece of paper, declare it a monster, and proclaim that it would save all the sick kids.  The studio people loved it.  After the craft segment, a girl with an amputated leg came in for an interview and that really gave Megan pause.  She asked me questions about the kids in the hospital and Abby asked me a few times when we would get to give the kids their presents (which we can't do because of infection control).  I love seeing my kids do something really hard for THEM -- selflessly giving fun toys to other people.  It was awesome.
Abby BEFORE the tongue came out and stayed out.
Prepping for the craft segment.  The crafts are what got Megan in -- she is such an artistic introvert!  And Abby is definitely the extrovert and LOVES people.
Great picture because they're on tv!! And Abby knows it.
Chopper took video of the "show".  You can't hear it very well because William was being loud so he took him out but you can kind've see what they did.

I think that another thing that helped me survive going back to the hospital was not actually talking about why we were there.  People asked and I just said we were bringing donations.  Maybe they get enough from family members that they just know not to ask and it's not that I don't want to talk about Aaron, of course I do, but I hate being a wreck in public and I knew that if I started, I wouldn't stop!

Afterwards, it was on to Aaron's grave.  Always a really hard thing to go and see but the tears dry up really quickly when you're chasing down a 2 year old who thinks a cemetery is a maze.  Fortunately, it wasn't very busy this morning!  But I still hate thinking of him there.

Hey, they're all in the picture!

Then we went and ate at The Rainforest Cafe -- purely for the entertainment value for the kids.  The food was ok but I don't think we'll really go back.  Especially because William ended up kind've freaked out!  He loved it and was very excited about the animals and the whole set up, but then we were seated next to a gorilla who started yelling (or whatever that is that they do) and shaking the tree behind us and he kind've climbed onto me and wouldn't let go.  We had them move us to another table but he spent the entire time either stoically looking at the fish tank or laying face down on my lap.  I had to hand him parts of his lunch under the table and he ate that way.  Then when we left and were away from that gorilla (and the room he was in!) he was fine.  Kind've funny actually.

At home we had cake and ice cream and strawberries for dinner.  The kids all blew together one candle out and sang happy birthday and that's it.  It was good really.  Emotional but good and I'm going to studiously ignore his "angel day" because it's just too much.

So what have I learned this past year?  Empathy for sure.  I have amazing friends that have suffered loss and most of them, I never knew!  It's made me want to become a better listener and a better rememberer of sacred, personal things.  I guess what I mean about that is that one of the reasons I do talk about Aaron is because I have this fear of him being forgotten.  And I need to be better about remembering those hard but special things that I know about my friends so that I can be better about hugs and love and support for them.

I've learned that I need to cherish each stage of my kid's lives more.  That does NOT mean that I'm not a crabby, cranky mom . . . maybe a lot.  More than I should be.  We have our challenges of course.  But I'm trying to appreciate their great personalities and quirks and the little joys they bring.  With William it's already getting hard because he doesn't want to be hugged and kissed, he wants to GO.  And Megan is turning into a GIRL!  The cutesy stuff is starting to go out the door and she has amazing interests and is smart and detailed, but she is not little anymore.  Abby still is quite the cuddlebug and has an imagination a mile wide that comes out of her mouth in a never-ending stream of talk.  I have a feeling that kindergarten and being quiet will be a challenge for her!

I'm not going to lie.  It's hard.  I cry a lot.  Ok you know me -- I cry a lot MORE.  And over this past year I have struggled in many ways.  But the one thing that I have not struggled with is in my faith that Aaron is our son, that death is a temporary situation, and that he is sealed to Chopper and I for eternity and that we will see him again, hold him again.  My faith in myself sometimes wavers but my faith in the Lord and what lies ahead does not.  I have a testimony that God loves each of us individually and has a plan for each of us and that Aaron is doing his part, even if it isn't here and I hate that.  Ultimately I know it will be ok.


Jeni said...

Kristy, this was beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us all!

Linda said...

You touched my soul
with this blog and photos, Kristy. Your kind heart has blessed so many people. Aaron did well with his mission to inspire and soften hearts.

Jolene said...

You are amazing! We send our love and best wishes (and wish we had sent something for your donation project). What an awesome thing to do! The Mechams

Anonymous said...

Your strength is amazing! I plan to count my blessing more often. God bless you and your amazing family

Alicia said...

I'm so glad that I get to see you soon and give you a big hug. This was wonderful to read. Very touching.