Friday, January 18, 2013

A Place in our Hearts

I've sat down and tried to write this blog so many times. Sometimes I have no words. Sometimes I want the task of writing it down to be done. Sometimes I sit at the screen and cry. Okay, I cry every time. Sometimes I want to make sure I record the fun things we've done as a family since William's death, but then I cry because this blog has been about the things we have done with him, not without him. It's hard to feel like we've done things without him because we think of him constantly every day. Not a day has gone by without thoughts and memories flooding back of him.

William's Celebration of Life was everything I had hoped it to be and more. My wonderful family, dear friends, and new friends helped make the music, the program, the flowers, the display tables...everything...just perfect. There was such a spirit of happiness that overwhelmed the sorrow. I wish I had recorded the service, especially the music. It was magnificent. Simply magnificent. I know William was beaming as he listened to it and watched those he loves honor him. Thank you for all the kind and thoughtful cards and gifts. The sweet expressions of love and testimony have touched and buoyed us.

About a week after his services, we took the boys to So. Cal for the annual family reunion with my family. Balboa is one of William's favorite places on earth. We were able to make him a special part of the reunion by going to the Newport Beach Temple for him. Ryan's parent's flew out for the day and it was comforting to sit in the beautiful, peaceful temple with our parents and most of my siblings and feel his joy, knowing we will one day be together again. But the vacation wasn't as healing as Ryan and I had hoped it would be. It was too soon and we cried ourselves to sleep each night, overwhelmed by our seemingly conflicting emotions. With all the stress of planning his services, reality hadn't hit. It was so painful to return home, knowing he wasn't there and that every thing we thought was normal suddenly wasn't.

The boys seem to be doing well. We talk about William often. But children's emotions are very static and their grief can be exhibited through seemingly unrelated things. So we are constantly vigilant in assessing their emotions. Clark is naturally a very sensitive boy and his emotional highs and lows are more intense than the other boys, but he is so tender and sweet. We worry about him the most because he was closest with William and he is the only one who will probably have memories of William before he got cancer. One day while driving in the car with the boys, the twins were complaining that they wanted a play date. I jokingly told them they had each other and were their own built-in play date. They weren't too thrilled with that response. Without missing a beat, Clark responded, "Yeah, but we all know what happened to my built-in play date." My heart just sank. Then we talked frankly about how unfair that is and that we are all sad he lost his built-in play date. The boys pray every day "Please bless that William is having a good day in Heaven. " I know he is, but even knowing that doesn't stop the tears. It doesn't numb the pain of separation. It doesn't fill the hole in my heart that physically aches. Some days are better than others, but we make it through each day at a time.

My mothering instinct still senses someone is missing when I try to make sure I know my children are all safe. Panic sets in momentarily. Then I actually count the heads and realize my four boys are all there. I take a deep breath and try to hold back the tears. The car doesn't feel full without him, the kitchen table feels strange with a chair missing, his bedroom is so quiet, and I still instinctively count to seven when setting the table. One afternoon I called Clark "William". It caught me off guard and then it made me happy because his name still rolled off my tongue. Then it struck me that it would stop being so.

When asked how many children I have, I have to pause and quickly figure out what I'm supposed to say to a question that should be so simple. Now it's complicated. Am I betraying him or myself if I say four? I don't always want to share with strangers. And usually I'm not prepared with waterproof mascara!

The grief we've felt has been like nothing I could have imagined. A friend who suffered a sudden loss shortly after William's passing described her grief as incapacitating. That's how I have felt. Ryan and I both find it difficult just to do the normal daily tasks that are expected for survival. Of course, our sweet boys keep us going, but sometimes I just have to tell myself that my only responsibility today is to provide dinner, in any form I can muster... cold cereal, In-N-Out, left-overs, frozen yogurt! Yes, I took my kids out for frozen yogurt one night and we called it dinner. There were no complaints!

Now it's been almost eight months. We've hit some milestones: his 11th birthday in November, several holidays, anniversaries of fun trips, anniversaries of bad news, birthdays of his best friends.... Emotions are barely tucked beneath the surface. But I let myself cry everyday if I need to. And I smile too when I remember the many wonderful memories we made as a family and the many little miracles granted.

Ryan comes from a family with a couple generations of mental health professionals. We have been very aware of trying to maintain our mental health. The boys all participated in various forms of play therapy through school and a private therapist. They also were part of an art therapy study for siblings of bone marrow transplant patients. They are now participating in a bereavement art therapy group. They love it and appear to be thriving. We went to Camp Okizu as a family during a weekend session for bereaved families only. I was apprehensive about going to this camp and sharing with a bunch of families. Camp Okizu is magical. It is probably the most healing thing we have done. Ryan and I met with 3 other sets of parents in a discussion group format. It was healing and comforting to be able to talk with others who knew exactly how we were feeling and helped validate so many emotions. The boys all had a blast being boys in the outdoors and making new friends.

The second most healing thing we are doing is meeting with a bereavement counselor. Ryan and I meet with him together about every three weeks or so. And he comes to our home!! That, by itself, is a gift. I am so burned out of traveling to appointments. Ryan and I have definitely felt disconnected as we both grieve in our own ways. We understand this and are supportive of one another, but it doesn't make it easy. Being able to talk with the counselor helps us be able to express thoughts and feelings and feel validated with the wide range of emotions that surface during our sessions. He helps us see our progress too. And we are making progress.

I recently started reading a book my aunt and uncle gave me titled, "A Perfect Brightness of Hope" by David S. Baxter. I have been touched by some of the things he points out. He cites Paul in the Bible, "let the peace of God rule in your hearts...and be ye thankful" (Colossians 3:15). He explains, "In other words, we must allow the peace of God to have place in our hearts. Some remain without hope because they close their hearts and minds to the peace the gospel brings. We have to allow the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, to whisper peace to our souls. We have to be willing to refrain from shutting our minds and locking our hearts to the blessings of peace which, in turn engender hope."

I am an optimist. I know this. I can't help it. I watched a lot of Pollyanna as a child! :) I have prayed at times to really know where William is and that he's okay. Every time I do this I realize I already do know. I feel peaceful and full of hope. I know he is with our Heavenly Father. I know he is close by and is happy. I know he is needed to work on God's purposes in heaven and he is anxiously waiting to be reunited with us just as we are anxiously waiting to be reunited with him. One common thread we have found with other families who have lost children, regardless of their religious convictions, is a deep hope in a loving God, his purposes, and a reunion in heaven one day. Even in some of my darkest moments, I have felt peace and love and joy in knowing God's plan is truly a plan that brings happiness not heartache.

I want to share an experience I had with William that I have already shared with close friends and family in hopes that it brings comfort. In October 2011, we went to Disneyland to celebrate the anticipated declaration of remission. While we were in Anaheim, William began experiencing some symptoms that landed us in an LA hospital for a few days. While we were there, after several tests, it became evident that the cancer had returned. Upon returning home, William was admitted to the hospital for further tests and to begin a new regimen of chemotherapy. We always talked with William openly about his disease and his treatments. We never wanted him to be afraid or think we were keeping secrets from him. On one of the first nights back at the hospital, while getting ready for bed, I snuggled in next to him, knowing I needed to explain to him what was going on and why. We whispered our tender conversation so as not to disturb our roommate. I asked him if he understood what was happening. He did. I added that since it came back so quickly and aggressively it would be harder to get rid of since he never officially made it into remission. He looked at me and whispered, "Am I going to die?" With tears welling up in my eyes I whispered, "It is possible, but we are going to keep fighting and praying." His response surprised me. "I had a dream I died from cancer. I was happy and with Jesus. I had my own room when I died. You missed me a lot, but you left my room as it was for a long time and you put pictures of me around the house to remember me." He explained he had his dream a few days before Disneyland. In that moment, with whispering voices, I held him close, told him how much I loved him and tried to hide the tears. That sweet boy demonstrated so much peace and was so accepting of the many crummy things he had to endure. In later conversations about death when we knew it was soon to be his eventuality, he calmly and with so much maturity said, "Sometimes old people die. Sometime babies and kids die. Some people die from cancer and some people die and we don't even know why." We always assured him that we would always keep fighting. Even if the way we fight has to change.

It is comforting when people still remember William and tell us about it. We love to talk about him and share memories. He feels a little closer knowing others think of him often too. If you have a favorite memory or two of William please feel free to write it down for us so we can remember it too. It makes it feel like he is not gone in some ways. And really, he's not. He will always overflow a place in our hearts.