Matthew is three weeks shy of his third birthday in this picture. While I don’t usually tend to focus too much on dates, the significance of this date did bring some deep thoughts and memories. James passed away, three weeks shy of his third birthday.
A couple days before this picture was taken Matthew wanted to be snuggled to sleep. I’m a little easy going when it comes to our youngest, especially since I love snuggling with him and know my days are limited in this area. I am thankful that he is still such a good snuggler at such an age. And so we snuggled. He was a sleep in minutes, but I snuggled and held my boy and thought about how he was almost 35 months and 1 week old.
I know that Matthew has surpassed James in size a long time ago (shortly after he turned 2), but I always had trouble wrapping my head around the idea that Matthew was physically bigger then James. I still felt James was bigger. James always seemed so much bigger because he seemed so much more mature ... I forgot that physically he was so small. Then Matthew began to talk ... and talk, and talk. He had surpassed James in another area. James was delayed in his speech. We understood each other great, he was making progress, but realistically he was behind. It was sometimes hard to see the joy in knowing that Matthew did not struggle with speech problems, because then that meant I had to accept that again Matthew had surpassed James. Slowly it became more and more obvious that Matthew was far more advanced then James had been. Of course, James has been tied up to tubes and cords making it difficult for him to do a lot of things. But whatever the excuses I made for James I had to slowly begin to accept that Matthew was growing bigger then his big brother. But there was one thing he had not yet surpassed James in ... his age.
There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted Matthew to surpass James in this area, but it was like another big huge stamp that said "James is gone!!" Oh don’t get me wrong, I know James is gone, I have accepted this. But now it’s hard to think of James as Matthew’s big brother, or even Matthew’s older brother. Matthew is bigger then James was, and soon he would be older then James was too.
I held Matthew tight that night and cried for the first time in a long time. I cried because I never got the chance to snuggle with James at the end of his life like I can (and do whenever possible) with Matthew. I never even got to hold James for the last weeks of his life, being intubated meant it was far too painful for James to move. He didn’t want to be held, even though I would have loved to hold him. But he didn’t understand that his days of being held by his mom were coming to an end. The weeks before James was intubated I don’t recall holding him either. He had moved to a big hospital bed which he was quite proud of ... so proud of that he declared it his own spot and didn’t really like anyone else to hang out on the bed ... unless he was playing somewhere else. The chair that the hospital provided was far from the kind that made for good cuddling (I used to complain about Mac’s chairs, but these were much worse - hospitals need lazyboys!!) so I was content not to snuggle. If I had only known!! That constant feeling and thought ... If I had only known!! I really don’t recall much snuggling with James those last months of his life.
I cried because I missed missing James. I mourned because we had stopped mourning for James. I have mourned our mourning for some time, but it really hit that night. Life was moving on at an unbelievable pace and it was leaving James further and further behind. He is getting so far behind that I can’t remember the little details anymore. I can’t hear his voice, I can’t even remember some of his common phrases from his limited vocabulary. My memory is fading when it comes to the things that made James so James and so special. The details of his illness have faded, even worse, that awful feeling in the stomach from missing him is gone, it has been gone for some time. Isn’t it awful when one misses feeling awful and feeling sad. It’s a sense of feeling as if I no longer love James. But really, I cannot love what is no longer here. I loved him while he was here and I fondly remember as much as I can about my love for him, but he is no longer here to continue to love. While our initial mourning period may be over ...although I’m not sure if it really is ever over ... I know I will continue to mourn for James in a different manner for a long time. And even when I’m not mourning in the sense of the sadness and overwhelming grief that we came to know mourning as ... I will never ever forget James. He continues to appear in our lives at the most unexpected times, whether it be a visit back to the hospital (altho that’s not really an unexpected time), the beep of someone else feeding pump that catches us off guard, the sound of a fan that reminds us of the sound of his feeding pump, the sight or sound of an oxygen tank, seeing a child on a ride-on car just like "James’ car", a stroller that is just like James’, a noise that sounds like the hospital monitors, and sometimes it’s something that you would never think of that throws you back into the life of James. No James hasn’t really left us, our thoughts are still in tune with his life, even if it’s not as prominent as before. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I shall never forget James, even if I do forget some of the smaller details. But other times it feels like those smaller details are the important ones and I struggle to bring them back to life.
I also cried for the love that I have for Matthew and the girls. I cried because it took losing a child to really teach me how to value my children and the time I have with them. It taught me about making the most of each day because tomorrow they may be gone ... or I may be gone. I’m afraid even though I want to make the most of it I often still find myself "too busy" for the kids, but at the same time I don’t think that making the most of your time with your kids means dropping everything all the time to take them everywhere or even just to play with them. While I love my kids and I love my time with them, I am still the adult in the house who has work to do and they are still the children (who also have work to do :) who have the time to play. I wish I would drop stuff more often to play ball with them, take them for a walk or a bike ride, do crafts, etc. I regret that I still am not the best at that. But on the other side I know that I value far more staying in touch with them, chatting with them, letting them know I love them, or how I feel. I have relaxed in many ways when it comes to stringent routine and rather just go with the flow and not always be so particular ... altho many times I miss the stringent particular ways :) Our life hasn’t become more frivolous but my focus has become more on my kids needs. I look at how I raise Matthew and I wish I could start all over with the other kids. I realize he’s my fourth and we all raise our fourth differently then our first. I also realize that my girls have suffered none from how they were raised, but I often wish I had truly realize and appreciated my first kids as much as I do watching Matthew grow up. I cannot explain this difference, although I’m sure that those who have lost of child themselves probably know what I’m talking about ... it’s not the same as the difference between a first and a later child ... it’s the difference between truly knowing that God can take you or this child at any time. I am sure there is not a day that goes by that Matthew does not hear me tell him that I love him. That I don’t just pick him up and smother him with kisses and tell him how much I love him. That I don’t ask him for a hug and tell him how much he means to me. He’s little I can still do this, as he grows it will be harder. I tell my girls also, but not near as much ... and for some funny reason they don’t like being smothered with kisses :) I have the advantage that I’m not running after three little ones at the same time ... Matthew is spoiled, I realize this. I can drop down on the floor to build him his train track each day, or spend 5-10 minutes a few times a day reading him stories, etc. he doesn’t have to share this time with other little ones clamoring for attention. I cherish these times, and struggle with them as I see him getting bigger and bigger and realize my cuddly, snuggly, little boy will soon be grown up :)
And I cried out of thankfulness. I will never ever forget those days after James first died. Those days when Matthew first came home again. Here was my son, but who was he? I didn’t know him, I never really had known him. We missed the first four months of Matthews life. Sure he lived in our house those first two months, but I have little recollection of those times, and of course what I do remember is the not so good stuff. I remember a little boy who would be good in the mornings when I had help in the house and then would cry all afternoon and evening when my help was gone. I remember spending the afternoon while James was napping in the lazy boy trying to keep Matthew quiet and asleep with the hope of catching a few minutes zzz ... I don’t even remember where Rebecca was during the times she wasn’t in school, probably playing quietly like she was so good at. I remember wearing Matthew in the Snuggli to try keep him quiet. I remember Marietta sometimes trying to sit with him, but not having the patience for it. I remember him sleeping in the lazy boy with Rob in the evenings so I could have my hands free for a while. I remember buying umpteen different bottles to try find one that he could drink out better and not be so gassed up, hoping this would ease his crying. (We finally found a good one - Dr. Brown bottles). I remember that even though this helped with some of the gas, it didn’t help with the crying and fussiness. I remember trying different formulas to see if that would help, also with the constipation. I remember feeding him prune juice every day to keep him from being constipated. I’m afraid my first memories of Matthew are not very clear and the ones I do remember are not very joyful. And then I remember packing him up one evening and saying good-bye to him, having no idea when I would see him again or when he would return to me. That image remains clear in my mind.
And then Matthew came home again nine weeks later. I remember that clearly too. He still wasn’t a very happy child, he still needed to be held and snuggled lots. But I couldn’t come to love him like a mother should. I couldn’t come to the terms that he was my child. I knew he was mine, but I didn’t have the attachment to him that I should. I was quite content to let Rob take care of him while I went out and about catching up on things and with people. He wasn’t dependent on me like my other children, he had survived two months without me. Daddy is just as good as mom. But somehow Matthew didn’t think so. Slowly he began to refuse to take the bottle from Rob, he wanted his mom. How he knew I was mom was beyond me, but he knew and that was who he wanted. I still remember sitting there with him one night, thinking how I should feel more attached to him and love him more, telling myself that in time it would come, but also thinking that I could never love anyone as much as I loved James. James meant everything to me and I would not let anyone replace him. I have really begun to realize how many different forms of love there are. I love Rob a different way then I love my girls, I love my girls a different way then I love Matthew, and I love each of those girls in their own way. I loved James immensely as a child who was dependent on his mother for most of his needs. My life had been devoted to James and his needs and at that time I could not imagine devoting my love or life to anyone as much as I did to James. In my mind loving Matthew would mean taking away from my love for James. I figured I would come to love Matthew, but never the same a James, I could never feel so much love for another child.
There is no lack of love for Matthew in this house, whether from myself or his sisters or his father. I don’t remember how long it took to become attached to my Matthew, but I don’t think it took much more then a month or so. My attachment to him at first was a little more reserved, but with time I was ready to throw my love into this special miracle that God had blessed us with. While we had thought the timing of a new baby to be terrible, God knew that this was the perfect time. While we may have missed the first months of his life, we have been able to enjoy the next months and years of his life so immensely that those first months do not matter. Again I am confront with the thoughts on how love works. Is my love for James less? Is it gone? There are times I feel a sense of guilt that I can continue to love Matthew, Rebecca, and Marietta but not feel that strong love for James anymore. Love seems to be something that must be fed and worked with in order to continue in a strong manner. Now James is someone we remember. It’s hard to know what those feelings for him are. I know there is still love there, I know I don’t love him any less now, but that love is not a strong intense love that can be satisfied with hugs and kisses, words and actions ... and so it feels empty at times and it brings sadness because it is again an accepting that James is in the past and we have gone forward with our lives here on earth.
It was a good cry that evening. Sometimes after you cry you still feel empty and lost, but this time it was just refreshing to take that time to think and ponder and then go forward again. I miss James and I miss missing James, but I realize that God has given us the life we have now and so we can move forward in our service to him and not cling to the past.
We strive to be like Paul (but so often we fail):
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances ... I can do everything through him who gives me strength" Philippians 4:11, 13
"But now, Lord, who do I look for? My hope is in you." Psalm 39: 7