Tending the grieving mama heart

There were a gazillion plants and flowers at Joey's funeral. Well maybe not a gazillion, but it seemed like it. There were so many that we let people take home what they wanted. For years, I heard from my dear friend Meagan about her "Joey plant" and how it was doing really well.

Last fall, my mother-in-law gave me a plant. It was for all intents and purposes pretty much dead. Hubby gave the "in the garbage" motion to me behind her back until she said, "This is a plant from Joey's funeral. I thought you would like to have it."

Of course I would. 

After she left Hubby said, "That thing is dead. You're throwing it away, aren't you?"

I am the grieving mother who still has her dead son's bicycle in the garage. No, I had no intentions of throwing it away. "It's a Joey plant. I can't throw it away. I'll see if I can bring it back to life."

Hubby rolled his eyes at me and walked away.

I got some new, rich soil and repotted it in a cute Pottery Barn pot with a frog on it that someone once gave me. Every week I gave it a good soak and misted the leaves. I carefully pulled off the dead leaves so the new fresh green leaves could thrive.

And slowly but surely it came back to life.

Most of the dead, brown leaves have been stripped away, and new perky green leaves are taking their place. Some brown, droopy leaves remain; but you know what? I'm okay with that.

The plant is like my heart. Once I ignored it. Once, I was letting it die. That summer that we lost Joey I wanted to stay in a cocoon. If everyone would have let me, I would have lain in bed that whole summer. But, despite all the brown and dead that was destroying my mama heart, there was still some green and life in there. My other boys, my husband, our families and friends. They cared. And I cared enough about all of them to plod on.

Then there was a new baby who brought a burst of color to my dead, brown heart. And slowly as I tended it, it came back to life.

It didn't always hurt when I talked about Joey.

I could tell his stories and eventually my sad smile turned into tears of laughter.

I could talk of missing him with his brothers and help them heal, too.

Our hearts have greened back up again, just like the Joey plant. But the brown, dead matter still remains in part.

Hubby bought me a beautiful floral bouquet for Mother's Day. As he was arranging it in a vase, he noticed one droopy, less-than-perfect flower. He picked it out and discarded it. It made me sad.

Sadness, death, imperfection - no one wants that, but they are a part of life. Without them, happiness, life, and joy wouldn't be as sharp, as bright or beautiful. The contrast, while ugly at times, is striking and necessary. I want to be reminded of my sadness. I want to look at pictures of Joey's kindergarten year and feel such an ache in my heart that I think I might die all over again just like I did that day I held him in my arms for the last time.

When my four-year-old son tells me he wishes I could have another baby and that it would be Joey so he could meet him, I want to feel torn in two with both sadness over losing one son and joy over gaining another.

I want to watch my ten-year-old helping his brother get dressed and imagine that's what Joey would be doing.

I want to cradle my eight-year-old when he is tired and crying over Joey and cry with him.

I want to watch my twelve-year-old with ASD sob over his twin brother's grave because that's the only time I know for sure that he cares, that his heart is not all brown and dead.

I'm holding onto the brown and dead parts of my heart because they make the other parts more vibrantly green and alive.

I want all grieving moms to know this: sadness can co-exist with happiness, healing can happen alongside hurt, and hope will thrive amidst despair. It's hard, so hard sometimes; but it can happen. You just need to tend to it - tend to your heart. Care for yourself, soak yourself in what makes you feel good, carefully pull away the pain and bitterness, and be okay with leaving some of the sad, dead parts as a reminder of what makes you alive.

Your heart is still alive because it loved and was loved by someone very special. That is something that will never die.


5 things I learned running my first race

Two weeks ago, I ran my first 5K race. Before the race, I was fully prepared to write a post called "I just finished my first race, but here's why I'll never be a runner." Even though I could run 3.1 miles on the treadmill and around the track at the gym, as of race day I hadn't run three consecutive miles outside.

As a result, I was majorly panicking. The night before the race as I picked up my race packet, I said to Hubby, "I can always change my mind and do the the 5k walk instead."

"No, you won't," he insisted. "How do you even know you can't do it if you don't try? If you don't try, you're sure to fail."

That night, I made plans for my friend to pick me up, decided what I would wear, chose my old shoes over my brand-new ones, and loaded my iPod with 40 minutes of funky, happy music. I tried not to think about the crowd (crowds give me anxiety), my shins (shin splints), or the fact that on previous practice runs, I gave up when the going got hard (ie: hills).

Once at the race location the next morning, I was nervous. Surprisingly, it was nervous excitement! My friend, who was running the 10K, started ahead of me; and I was kind of glad that I had just myself to concentrate on. Even standing in the crowd with all the runners jockeying for a spot close to the front didn't bother me.

And then the gun went off. Over a bridge and around a corner. I noticed people already walking, which surprised me. Around another corner and . . . a hill. I thought surely this would be where I would give up.

On my my iPod came one of my favorite Prince songs. No, not THAT Prince, The Fresh Prince. Boom, Shake the Room. Hey, it got me up that hill. I thought about stopping a dozen times, but my legs kept going. Even as I grabbed water, I kept running. It had to be around two and a half miles that I stopped and stretched my calves, but continued on because I saw that same bridge I started on.

Crossing that finish line felt amazing. And my time shocked me: 30:53. I was clocking almost a 13 minute mile before the race.

On Sunday, my friend ran a half marathon. As I looked at her pictures and the pictures and Facebook posts of others who ran the race, I felt jealous. But not the kind of jealousy I'd previously felt when I saw runners. Before I would think, I could never do that. Now I think, maybe I can do that. 

I'm even looking forward to my next race. :)

I'm so glad my friend asked me to run it. Without her - even though it was something I've always wanted to do - I don't think I would have done it. And I definitely learned a few things along the way.

1. If you don't try, you have already failed. I spent so much time avoiding races afraid that I would fail. The failure was in not even trying in the first place. If you try something you've always wanted to try, count it a success.

2. You just have to tell yourself that you can do the hard things. When I was training, I would walk at every hill. I thought surely the hills would be my undoing. But I told myself I could do it, and I did. I've done harder things. My Hubby is right: it's all just a mind game.

3. It's okay to walk. Walking is not failing. Walking is not weakness. Everyone walks in life. Everyone has to realize what their limits are and care for themselves. You're still in the race, after all.

4. The crowd will carry you along. Truly, I didn't care that people were passing me. I was passing other people, too. The energy was keeping me going. I needed it, and my time showed it. There was another time I needed the crowd because I didn't believe in myself, and they kept me going then, too.

5. It's addictive.  I scoffed at people who told me this. I will never be a runner, I said. Once I do this I'm done with races, I told myself. Now? I'm looking for another 5K and thinking of friends I can ask to run with me. I'm even considering a 10K. (Don't talk to me yet about marathons. I still can't wrap my mind around running for 2+ hours.)

So here it is, the words I never thought I would say, the post I never thought I would write. Who knows, maybe I'll tick off some more of the goals on my bucket list - now that I know I can.

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