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I’ve been a mother for almost thirteen years. From the struggles to conceive to the battles to stay pregnant, from losing multiple pregnancies to raising multiples, and the agony of having to say goodbye to a child I’d only begun to know, I’m no stranger to the heartache that sprouts from a heart that was only intended to know pure love.
Thirteen long years full of hopes and dreams for the twin boys I was over the moon about welcoming. Eleven long years on an emotional roller coaster with the one who couldn’t wait to get here. Nine long years with the one who seemed to exist just to be cuddled and doted over. And five long years with the one who would save me, the one who gave me a second chance.
The second chance I feel like I’m failing at every day.
Amidst the dust and construction dirt of our basement remodel sit all the years of memories I’ve been too busy to organize – thirteen years’ worth of pictures and ten years’ worth of school projects and so many mementos of first games and first theater experiences and first lost teeth it seems like there will never be enough time in my life to organize them all.
But every once in a while, I find the time. It’s there somehow squeezed in between basketball practice and substitute teaching, Pinterest dinner recipe searching and bottom wiping. And laundry, of course.
Always with the laundry.
So I get out the printed scrapbook paper and the stickers purchased so long ago – a whole different lifetime ago – and sit down to do something so simple.
One simple act that leaves me wrecked.
I’m wrecked as I look at the stickers that a younger, more optimistic me chose – Twins, Best Bros, sports, fishing, THE JOYS OF BOYS.
It’s obvious that I thought this life of ours was going to be different. Like the eternally optimistic character Poppy in the movie Trolls, I somehow thought I could scrapbook our way to a happy life.
But then life got busy with so many little boys and so many surgeries and therapy appointments and cancer.
And all of a sudden, it’s thirteen years later and I’m looking at these stickers wondering who it was who bought them and put them in my craft cart. She obviously had no idea how life really works out sometimes.
I feel sad, but I shrug it off because after all they are just stickers, right? They’re not life.
But then I open the drawers that contain the pictures. Pictures of a sweetly smiling Slim, eyes wide in a forced preschool photo day smile. Pictures of a pious eight-year-old in a little man suit, hands folded in front of him on the day he received First Communion. Cub Scout badges and a Pinewood Derby car that never quite made it to the end of the track. Class pictures of him always standing in front by the teacher, some of the same faces of his classmates present every year. The classmates who have watched out for him, helped him cope, been his friend, had his back. The classmates who know that he has a brother who is not with him anymore. The classmates who, along with him, have gotten taller, voices changing, interests expanding.
The children, like my own, who have grown up in the blink of an eye.
And then I grieve.
I sob like I haven’t sobbed in what feels like a million years. And for a change, I’m not exactly sure why.
Am I grieving over the life I thought my sons would have – best friends forever brother buddies that never got to be? Am I grieving over all the ways that I planned to Mother my sons that I could never make materialize? Am I simply grieving the passage of time, of which ancient poet Virgil said is “never to be regained?” Am I grieving like all mothers grieve as their babies grow and change?
Or am I grieving all of this through the eyes and heart and soul of a mother who has lost a child?
I have found in my thirteen years of being a mother that grief doesn’t discriminate. It can get to us all at any time. It can find us through the lock of baby hair we saved from that first haircut.
It can grab us as we place those unused ballet shoes in the “donate” box.
It can pull out a piece of our hearts as we close the trunk on the hand-knitted baby blankets we intend to pass on one day.
It can brush us off as quickly as he did, refusing to hug us in front of his friends.
It can rip through us at high school graduation, as she waves and departs for parties with her friends.
It can be subtle and surprising; but make no mistake: it is just as wicked as the obvious kind of grief. When it sprouts from a heart that was only intended to know pure love, it hurts with a pain that feels as if it can never be quelled.
The only relief comes from knowing that while time truly does fly, memories last forever. Where time is constant, memories are fluid, createable, renewable. While that heart, that pure mother’s love that can’t stop time, can make more memories.
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