Grief has a mind of its own. It has a way of rearing its head at a time that catches you with your guard down. It leaves you alone with your thoughts and deeply sad. Grief over these last four weeks has been quite harsh. Moments which have remained frozen or numb in my mind are starting to resurface and rather than the very familiar sting that comes daily with memories, they hit hard, take away my breath, and bring flashbacks of that nightmare of a day that robbed Toby of his future, robbed us of raising our second little boy and forever changed our lives.
I am a planner. I like to be prepared. I don’t like to be surprised. Caught off guard. Taken out of my comfort zone. The reality of the last 11 months have proven – none of that matters. Life doesn’t care what I have planned.
With my mind continuing to try and plan, prepare, guard the remaining part of my heart that is somehow still beating, I’d convinced myself that I would know the hardest days coming – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, our first trip away without Toby, Easter, Mother’s Day, May 27 – Toby’s First Birthday, Father’s Day. Each month has not only brought a heart breaking milestone of counting the months that Toby has been gone from our arms, but it has brought a holiday or special day for our family where our beautiful baby boy is missing. Each month I’d make it to the 28th and think “Ok, I don’t know how we did it, but we made it through that heartache. Now what’s next?”
All of that planning, guarding, circumventing, retreating, do you know what it was doing? It was taking all of the heartache, anger, pain, and loneliness and pushing it down. Like a heavy weight pulsing while the giant below grows stronger.
I made it till July 17. My 34th birthday. Then the tiny line that was holding that weight – it snapped.
I woke up last Monday when my alarm went off for work. When I opened my eyes, Toby’s face stared back at me from the frame on my nightstand. My eyes got warm and tears ran down my face. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to close my eyes and go back to last July 17. I got up and went to pick up Toby from his bed. His big blue eyes wide and his beautiful smile let you know he loved seeing you. God, I want that feeling back. That feeling when you pick up your children and hug them so tight and say “I love you so much.” Hoping they can feel through your bones just how much love is in your heart for them.
We have a hand full of videos of Toby. I can’t watch them too often because they send me into the darkest pit of grief that I struggle to get out of. The one video is from my birthday last year. It’s me, holding Toby, and Luke sitting beside us. They’re singing me Happy Birthday. I’m smiling. Both my boys with me. They are so beautiful. I couldn’t stop watching it on Monday. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t even have to close my eyes and I could vividly see moments from one year ago. I knew that I had dressed Toby in a blue collared onsie and Luke had his island shirt on. We went to lunch together and later after dinner had ice cream cake.
By the end of the day Monday the only thing I wanted to do was go to the cemetery. My routine way to and from work passes by cemetery each day, allowing me the opportunity to stop. Monday I needed to be there. I can normally make it to his grave before I start crying, that day, I only made it through the cemetery gates. I could hardly lift my body out of the car. My feet felt cemented to the ground when I tried to walk. I felt like it would be easier to just stumble down the hill.
I sat at the foot of Toby’s grave, my hand running over his name on the stone, and I cried. There was so much sadness exuding my body. My fingers tried to pull his name from the stone. It was in that very moment that the real, raw emotion of being a grieving mother appeared. It caught me completely off guard but I didn’t care. I had been carrying so much of this inside of me, even through my writing, discussions with others, and changes in our daily routines, it didn’t matter what I had done or had been trying to plan for.
The overlap in time since Toby’s birthday has been harder than we expected, if that’s even possible to say. We are continually tripping over landmines – memories that you wish didn’t have to hurt so badly.
It hasn’t just been the nights that are the worse. There have been days where 11 months of searching for Toby have hurt so badly over the past six weeks. There are days when I feel like I’m watching myself. There are times when I look in the mirror and I don’t know the women staring back at me. A local news station ran a story on our family last week – talking about our family’s grief and how we’re trying to use our pain to educate others. I was watching the segment and listening to the words and there was a part of my mind that was thinking “how heartbreaking.” – How does my mind continue to register moments that are so unreal? I still get sick to my stomach when I say “Our son Toby died.” Those words rock me to my core when they are coming out of my mouth.
There was a picture in the segment that was on the screen for a few seconds. I was holding Toby. Sitting in the recliner in our den. I remember taking that picture. I remember that I was going to delete it. We hadn’t slept that night. Toby was wide awake in the chair watching me talk to him. I took our picture and he looked right in the camera. I sat on the floor watching the segment play on the news and all I could do was stare at him. Dan, sitting beside me said, “He’s so beautiful.”
I don’t know where 11 months have gone. I’m afraid I’ve missed so much. I hope Luke knows how much we love him and I hope he knows what an amazing big brother he is to Toby. I worry that we haven’t done enough for him.
I spent some time with him this weekend, just Luke and me. We were taking a walk around our neighborhood Saturday evening, he was chatting about everything. I love to listen to him talk. The things he says amaze me and make me so proud. I was watching him walk and he was stopping at every rain puddle, taking the biggest leap and jumping to make a splash. He would smile and walk to the next one. Out of the blue he said, “Mommy, Toby loves Heaven.” We weren’t even talking about Toby, or Heaven, or the sky, or being sad. He didn’t pause or even look up at me when he said it.
It’s those moments. Those reminders from Luke. Those are the reasons that I got up from Toby’s grave on Monday and went home to my family. To my husband and son and our two boxers who know, feel, see, and hear the pain that we have experience over the past 11 months. To the only house that Toby knew. To the four walls that hold every single second of our beautiful son’s life.
I left the cemetery on Monday and went home. Dan and Luke had cooked dinner for me. We sat down at the dining room table, all the blinds were closed both in that room and the adjoining living room. We said prayers and started to eat. I was looking at my plate and out of the corner of my eye, I caught something on the ceiling in the living room. Dan saw it too. We looked at each other in amazement. I looked at all the windows, trying to find a reason for what was happening. I couldn’t.
I was able to get a few moments on video before it stopped and vanished.
To me they look like flapping wings. Do you see it?
We sang ‘happy birthday’ and ate ice cream cake. Just like we did last year.
To my beautiful boy. I find myself searching for you every single day. I think about what it would be like to have both you and Luke in tow with me. I cry every day. Some days from moments that I’m ready for. Others, because I catch your smile or see a mom trying to juggle two boys and it crushes me. I want to feel you in everything I do, Toby. I want to be able to feel the warm sun and hear your soft coos. I am so desperately trying not to lose any part of you in our life. I need you to be here. You are our son. You are Luke’s brother. I don’t want anyone to forget that. I need people to understand that.
I believe that Toby is with us. Every. Single. Day. I believe that he is watching us. Keeping us safe. Sending things to make us smile, or laugh. He laughed a lot with us, even for how small he was. I’d do anything to hear you laugh. I believe you visit Luke and that he can see you and hear you, in ways we can’t even imagine. These thoughts, they help me. But they also frustrate me.
I am scared to death of August. I am scared to death of what the grief and anxiety will do to my mind, to my heart. I am scared of the resurgence of flashbacks and triggers and raw fear that will overtake my conscience. I have found a way to deal with those moments, when I’m standing on the edge and that enormous wave of grief is gaining height and speed, barreling towards me. I have to do something that connects me to Toby. I have to immerse myself in a project. Work on his foundation – The Little Fox. I have to do something with Luke that we would have done together.
This mother of two journey, that is now my life, is difficult. Talking about it helps me. Doing something in your memory helps me more.
I hope you can see that, Toby. I hope you can feel all the love that Mommy and Daddy have for you. We cry because we can’t have you here in our arms. Because you’re not physically here with us. Because this day each month is not getting any easier. Because we’re scared and heartbroken without you.