Hearts That Will Never Heal: My Children on Remembering The Brother That They Lost

Children are curious by nature; especially mine. My 5- year- old daughter Julia is constantly full of questions. Some are easy to answer, others are more complex. Regardless, my husband Brian and I have always tried to be as honest as possible. I am very thankful  that she is so inquisitive.

I must admit I didn’t have any answers for her latest query. The other night, Julia came to me and wanted to know why Liam’s heart stopped working. She also expressed the sadness in never having the chance to talk to him. I was speechless. Both Brian and I have had similar questions. Most of all, we  wondered why Liam was born with such a sick heart in the first place. In a perfect world, I would love to give Julia an answer that makes sense, but there isn’t one. There never will be.

In case you haven’t already figured, Liam was Julia’s big brother. He was born thirteen months before Julia and died at nine days old. Almost immediately after Liam’s death, my husband and I agreed that he would always be remembered and remain a part of our family. That included speaking about him with any subsequent children.
My sadness, which lingers every day, has taken another form. I am now also heartbroken for my other children, who will never get the chance to meet him. As they age, they will begin to ask more and more questions. I already see sadness evident in Julia Our younger son Owen is two years old. I know he will soon experience the same.

As a family, remembering Liam is very bittersweet. As much as it touches my heart to hear Julia say that she misses her big brother, it is immensely sad as well. Both my children will grow up without  him. They have been robbed. There are also additional complications that arise in such a painful reality. In the last year, Julia has brought up her own heart. She wanted to know if it worked properly. We have done our best to reassure her and let her know that her heart is perfect. In Liam’s case, the left side of his heart never grew in properly. Julia’s heart was intact from day one. She understands as best as she can. Although prepared for that question, it was a tough one. I am fully aware on how a serious illness can affect the mental state of anyone, let alone a young child. It is tricky. I do not want either of my children to grow up with painful emotional wounds. I do not want them to constantly worry about their own health.

This September, it will mark seven years since we lost Liam. Physically, he was the one born with a piece of his heart missing. Figuratively, he has left a family behind that is brokenhearted. We will go on and continue to honor him in the best way that we possibly can.


It Can Be Done: Reinventing Oneself As a Writer at the Ripe Old Age of 40……..

Sometimes it takes a life- changing experience to  put things into perspective.  It was 2008 and I was thirty- five years old. I was still relatively young in most respects, and yet I felt as if my life was over.  Just months earlier, I had left my job. I was doing well, and in the middle of receiving my masters degree. I was working with special needs children. I was also pregnant with my first child. Life was good, until that day in April of 2008. At the Anatomy scan, my husband and I found out that our baby had a very serious heart defect.  The shocking news left me barely able to function. I left my job, and devoted the rest of my pregnancy to taking care of my little one and myself.

We had nine brief days with our Liam Jude until he passed away in September of 2008. I felt as if my life was over in every way.  I was unable to return to my job due to my fragile mental state. I really didn’t even know how I would go on. If I was one day able to move forward, one thing was for sure: I would devote the rest of my life to the memory of my son.

My life has always been a series of uncertainties. Upon graduating college, I received a B.A. in English. I figured I would wind up in the field of publishing. I was willing to start from the bottom. I envisioned myself writing for a magazine. I also had a dream of writing a novel one day. When I didn’t hear back from these companies right away, I grew frustrated. Family and friends urged me to teach. They said I would be good at it. It was in my blood as well. My mother had been a teacher, and an outstanding one at that. There were also perks involved in a career in education, most notably, a ten month work year.

I guess you can say I fell into it. I was offered a job thanks to a friend, whose current school needed to fill an open position. I would be teaching science. I wasn’t a scientific type person, but I was willing to give it a try. It was a disaster. As much as I loved teaching kids, I didn’t have the greatest control over the class. They walked all over me. Being a fish out of water in a public school, I figured I just didn’t have the experience yet. That said, I just didn’t enjoy it in the way that I thought I would.

A couple of friends suggested that I would be better suited for parochial school. The setting was usually smaller and the administration meant business, they told me. Regardless, kids are kids and I figured I would have similar struggles.  I knew I needed time to learn. I was a rookie of sorts. When Catholic school didn’t work out either, I decided an office job was more for me. I would up in real estate property management. It was never where I expected to be but somehow, there I was.

I still had an itch to do something more fulfilling. The one aspect that I loved about teaching was working with them on a one- to- one basis. I was thrilled to learn about a type of educator called a Special Education Itinerant Teacher (S.E.I.T for short). This was my calling, I thought and something that I needed to pursue. I would be working with special needs children one to one in either a school or home setting. Yes, where I wanted to be. A few months after landing my first S.E.I.T job, I found out I was pregnant. I was nervous; especially with all the constant traveling, but all would be okay. I was having a great pregnancy so far, I couldn’t have asked for more. Until that day in April.

It was a day I had been looking forward to for months. Given the blessing of a great pregnancy there was absolutely no reason that I should have thought something wrong. I was there to verify the suspicion that I was having all along: that I was carrying a baby boy. Sure enough, he was a baby boy. He also had a very serious congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. I was shattered, and unable to continue with my job. He died, very unexpectedly, at nine days old.

There was no doubt that losing Liam was the hardest part of the journey. Two beautiful subsequent children later, I still have not fully recovered. While fortunate to get pregnant a few months after my loss, my professional life remained at a standstill. I would be a stay at home mom for awhile. It was something that I knew I had wanted regardless of any situation. But, then what? Where would life lead me? Again, friends and family pushed me to go back to Education. However, I wasn’t ready for that, at least not now. At the age of 36, I had finally made up my mind. I slowly found the courage to go after the dream that I had wanted all along. I wanted to write and do so with a purpose. I wanted to share my story. I needed to. I wanted to be a voice; a voice for other bereaved parents.

The loss of a child is, no doubt, perhaps the most painful experience one could ever endure. I knew I had to be honest in order to help people. It was scary at first. Once again, I was a fish out of water, one who was soon to be forty years old. At this point, age meant nothing to me. It was just a number; and a magical number at that. I was going to do this.

I began to query various editors. It was a job in itself. Some editors got back to me. Others did not. When pitching a story, I learned to realize it was not a personal thing when it wasn’t accepted. Sometimes, it was as simple as a timing issue. Other times, the story was not appropriate for the publication. All I knew was that I would keep trying. I was not giving up without a fight.

Finally, in December of 2013, I got my break. I pitched my essay to a mom blog. It was about loss during the holidays and how my family chooses to remember our son every single year in our holiday photo. It was called “Pictures of Liam: Remembering Our Son During the Holidays.” The fantastic editor loved it. I would be published. I was ecstatic.

Now, two years later, I am still doing my thing. I have learned a lot about myself in the process. The feeling I get when another bereaved mom messages me to say thanks is immeasurable. This is what it is all about. One of the best lessons I have learned is that is never to late to go after what you love. It is not particularly easy. You will make sacrifices, you will struggle, but you will keep on. Money may not come in right away, but you persevere anyway. All that is needed is the love and devotion that you have for your craft. It is the gift that will keep you going.

In my life, I have definitely been a “late bloomer” of sorts. I have always taken my own sweet time. I am very thankful to have gained much strength through the years, and I owe it largely to all my children. I have been blessed. I look forward to the future and the next forty years. I am here and nothing is going to stop me.


Next Time, I am Sleeping In: One Mom’s Struggle for Control

It was a cold Thursday evening in December. In exactly one week, we would be celebrating Christmas. I still had tons to do. As I sat playing with my kids in their room, my mind was racing. There were gifts to be bought. Holiday cards needed to be stamped and mailed. And, I was exhausted. In addition, I was experiencing chills, muscle pain and a terrible headache. Yes, I was sick. My best guess was with the flu. But, there really was no time for that. I am a mom. We aren’t allowed to get sick. It is just the way it is.
While I was curled up in my rocking chair, I had an idea that could only be described as genius. My husband Brian would be returning home from work soon. He would be my savior. We are a team. Why couldn’t he take over for his sickly wife?
When Brian came home, I asked for his help. He obliged. Initially, it was magical. I went straight to my bedroom. For a few moments, I was able to close my eyes and rest. I flashed back to our “before kids” days. The days when we would wander around our cute little hipster neighborhood and do happy hour until 3 AM. I longed for the times when I was able to lie in bed with a hangover and watch an all day marathon of “Housewives of New York”. I missed those days, but they were long gone. Or were they? They didn’t have to be, I thought. I have my spouse. He is the parent too. He can help. With that, I cheered up once again. My life wasn’t over just yet. There was still freedom to be had. It was just a little different now.
In the midst of all my promising thoughts, I heard yelling. Most of the noise came from the kids. My husband’s voice reeked of frustration. The kids were screaming and taking great joy in hitting each other. Does daddy know that his daughter didn’t finish her Science homework? What is he going to feed them? Does he know about the goldfish crackers that are on the floor? They also both need baths. How is he going to be able to handle the two of them tonight? This is the absolute worst time of the day. And will these kids ever stop beating the crap out of each other? With these thoughts, I rose from the coziness of my warm bed. I had to get out there. There was no rest for the weary. They needed me. Sick as dog, it was time for me to return to the war zone.
This wasn’t the first time that it “hit me.” I have been a mother for seven years now. My first experience with motherhood was very traumatic. My firstborn son Liam had a severe congenital heart defect and my first days with him were spent in the NICU. That was my introduction to being a mommy. I remember sitting there, looking at his precious little face, and wondering how I was going to do it all. I was a nervous mom to begin with, but the addition of a sick child made it even more terrifying. I envisioned very little sleep, if any. I pictured a scared mommy at the edge of his crib, relieved with the sound of every breath. It was going to be hard, but I could do it. Mainly because they told me so. “They” were all the other moms. If they could do it, so could I. As a mom, you have no alternative.
Tragically, my baby boy passed away at only nine days. I was left heartbroken and wondering if I had failed. I was very hard on myself. Finally, I realized I did the absolute best that I could under the circumstances. I had no other choice. I was a mom now.
Fortunately, I have since had two additional children whom I adore. Although they don’t replace Liam, they have helped me heal a bit. They are my world. They are also a lot of work. My first days home with them were filled with many tears. Again, my head filled with worry. Worries about how I was going to be able to care for them. Worries about their health and their well being. Worries about these precious beings living in a world I was not able to control. And how about sleep? Would I ever rest again?
The control issue is big for us moms; and it is not always possible to have it at all times. I realized this once again with our daughter. When Julia was only two months old, my husband and I went to an adult fundraising event. We needed to leave her for the first time. We chose to leave her with my in-laws. They have children of their own. She was in good hands. Yet, I still worried instead of savoring the alone time with my husband. When my husband called to check in, we found out Julia had a “spitting up incident.” She threw up her whole lunch. I wondered how that could possibly happen. Were they feeding her too fast or too slow? I needed to know. It was either my husband or myself that fed Julia. We knew the right way to do it. We rushed back to see her.  Julia was fine. She had spit up, and that is what babies do. Worrying is what mommies do. Every day, I choose to let go a bit. It is not an easy process and takes a lot of time. I am taking it day by day.
Looking back, I didn’t have to get out of bed that night when I was sick. My husband is a big boy and could have taken care of it. He is their father. Whether I was there or not, the kids would have still fought. They would have made a huge mess at dinner. Their toys would have still been all over the place. And, bedtime would have been a nightmare. On the flip side, regardless of whether I was there or not, Julia would finish her homework. They would get their baths. They would get into bed safe and content. Most importantly, they would be loved. In the end, that is what matters the most. Next time, I am sleeping in.