(I originally wrote this on the 2nd and into the wee hours of the 3rd, but felt it was too sad to post after I read it. I went back today and tried to add some brighter moments, but there is still not enough sugar or optimism to coat on this kind of pain. How could this beautiful boy that is staring right at me not still be here? His coat is hanging on the hook and his monster water bottle is ready for another walk through our neighborhood.)
Hi Baby Boy. I love you. Mommy’s heart is so sad. This morning brought back all of the feelings of May 2nd, waking up to the horror of not having you here anymore. You were already heavy on my mind as I sat staring into nothingness from the couch. However, as soon as Daddy came out of our room to start the day, I felt the familiar panic. It’s like the same thick air, shock, pressure, and tight knots in my stomach all launched their coordinated assault in precise unison and snatched all the oxygen from my chest.
It is also All Souls Day which I suppose is fitting, although we remember you far more than just today. This day brought the kind of stillness and quiet that has been eerily present since your joyful voice and laughter were silenced. I still shake my head and fight off this reality. This can’t really be true. No, this is not how we imagined our family unit. You always had at least one of us with you every day of your life. Mommy and Daddy WANTED to spend time with you. We LOVED being together! It is such a massive shock to go from laughing and having the grandest time living in the moment with you, to never getting to see you for the rest of our lives. I don’t know how to wrap the logical side of my brain around this enormous hole or be okay offering my obliterated heart, zero resolution.
My little boy, I know we are the type of people who were born with more energy than most, but Mommy is exhausted in so many ways. I still desperately need your help even if you don’t need me for anything. The tears fall and I hear myself audibly tell you, “I would do anything to play with you right now.”
I remember something I told one of the police officers as I was being escorted into the living room to begin my interrogation. In a cracking voice that sounded as though I was hearing it from outside my own devastated body while being forced to abandon yours, the words became louder. “I’m glad our house is a mess, because we played with that little boy!” I blink and look around again, but the large pictures from your memorial service are still there and so is this awful truth.
It still takes more force and effort to breathe, Baby Bear. All our hopes and curious anticipation for your future didn’t just vanish into the night the way your soul did. We will always wonder who you would’ve grown up and become. How tall would you be? What new friends would you have? What kinds of things would you know now? What toys would be your favorites? So many swirling questions. Why aren’t you still here? How did this happen? How does a healthy toddler go from a simple ear infection and fever you had experienced literally dozens of times to this? How could a doctor who saw you the day before and many other professionals who saw you after, not find ANYTHING that could explain this sudden and drastic shift?
Surprisingly, and inexplicably, I’m not angry like I was when my dada died, but my mind is still rifling through the facts to discern some sort of scientific cause that probably doesn’t exist for you. You were 2, not 82. There is nothing “natural” about losing you, and it is overwhelming to still not be able to answer the stabbing yet understandably human probe pointed at us. Even well-meaning people raised their eyebrows and couldn’t refrain from asking us this before offering a hug or inquiring about how we were holding up. It is not a greeting or first question I can recommend, but that doesn’t prevent it from still looping in my memory- “What happened?”
Even brilliant physicians and scientists are baffled, but I am not satisfied despite their thorough and determined efforts. There is constant culpability for what we should or shouldn’t have done or what we could’ve missed. The “mom guilt” asks if you would still be here if I would’ve stayed home with you and let your immune system build, or if you would’ve had that second set of ear tubes that we were about to schedule after gaining clearance from your asthma doctor. What if we would’ve slept in your room with you? Would that have changed the outcome? Would we have heard something to alert us that the baby monitor didn’t? Was there something evil in our house? Are we being punished by God for all our shortcomings? Did you suffer? God, I hope you didn’t suffer. There are a million and one unanswered questions and “what ifs,” but I’m told that none of them serve me well. Still, I can’t help but think about what could’ve possibly stolen my heart and soul away from me. You never had any catastrophic illnesses, but any time the typical daycare viruses came through, you were guaranteed to catch them.
Will we ever solve this lingering and disturbing mystery? Maybe this is some kind of extended nightmare. I wrack my brain but none of it makes any sense. Could I be in a prolonged coma and someone is going to shake me until I wake up from this realm? Yet, every time I ask myself that question, I see the wretched proof and physical reminders in far too many morbid forms. They grip my core and squeeze with all their might, but I can’t escape. I have to stay here and rely on distractions and stubborn grit to take a breath and then another.
Still, there is nothing from which anyone can tell us that you needed protection, and I hate that more than I can possibly convey. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you, Baby Boy. I’m more regretful than I can ever tell you. I will always be sorry your Mommy couldn’t protect you from whatever took you from us. That was my job and I’m sorry I failed you. Without any warning, call for help, or explanation, you were gone. I desperately tried to bring you back, but it was too late. Stress and swift punches to the gut have taken their shots this week for a variety of reasons, but today, the strings were cinched especially tight. There are so many things that are too nauseating to talk about, and even more that I will never tell you and that require an immediate shift in focus to fight off the disturbing images.
None of these things probably even matter to you now, but you should know that I miss you, Caleb. I miss you fiercely, day and night. There is never a time that you aren’t on my heart and mind.
I thought I was worn out enough to sleep after the sun came up today, but I still need your help in this area. Daddy put it best several months ago when our counselor asked how we were coping. Thankfully, you had not yet learned one of the words he used to describe what it’s like to live in our new “normal,” but it rhymes with “ducked.” He’s right. We are “messed up.” Apparently, there are also more G-rated terms like not being “regulated,” having “traumatic” and “complicated grief,” and “PTSD,” but what do we do with these labels? I hear from others who have counted more days away from their kids than us, and many are still just as paranoid. Some never had the same kinds of struggles, and some rely on a concoction of pills, alcohol or denial to fill the void. I know anyone going through this kind of hell has a unique story and are probably just doing their best to survive. However, if I have to still be here without you, I want to have a clear enough mind to tell the world what an incredible little boy I was given for 2 years, 2 months and somewhere into his 23rd day.
Baby Boy, I miss you. I hate this. I hate being separated from you.
I know nothing can separate my love for you, but tonight, we also parted with the food Mommy and Daddy bought specifically for you when you were still here. You left behind a box of Cheerios; Star Wars Honey Maid; animal crackers; two kinds of applesauce; frozen peas; a mango mix that would’ve had to be replaced long before now; Blueberry pancakes; waffles; PB&J bars that I’m pretty sure you tried and didn’t like; Pedialyte freezer pops (that once again you couldn’t be coerced to eat); and your bright yellow Peeps from Easter that you never got to try. I know you can’t consume these things anymore but there is still so much guilt and tears for erasing one more tangible thing of yours that should still be a part of our daily lives. New knots in my core are violently secured, and Mommy’s body literally tried to expel them. I think about all the things no one else but those who have lost the most special members of their household will ever realize. I know grief will never be “over” in this lifetime. I will never eat a Veggie Straw or mango without thinking of you, Sweet Boy. I will never see a container of hummus and not wish I could spread it on a Hawaiian roll the way you liked. In fact, I have not eaten a Hawaiian roll since, and every time I see them at the store it gets me. I also know that control is an illusion, but I thought it would be better to remove these perishable pieces from their places on our terms before time or pests destroyed them on theirs. Still, I never thought I could miss frozen peas. How did those ever taste good to you anyway, Angel Baby?
I miss you more with every passing day. If you had to go, why couldn’t we come with you? Or better yet, why couldn’t we take your place? Daddy and I would trade you places in less than a nanosecond if we could, Baby Boy. Do you know that? We love you so much we would gladly die for you without hesitation. You are worth that and so much more. You never got to have your own babies, but somehow, I think you already knew how to love the way you made us so easily and utterly enamored by you. It’s true that little babies and children can’t take care of their basic needs, but isn’t it interesting that they instinctively know how to love with all their hearts? Thank you for perfectly loving your imperfect parents, Caleb.
I genuinely don’t want to be miserable for the rest of my life. I want to keep working at pushing myself to have moments of socialization, kindness, smiles, and love, but it takes a Herculean effort. My sole new purpose in life is to let your love shine brighter than my own sadness. It is the one thing that I finally discovered takes away the temptation of being with you now. I came to the realization that if I join you on my own accord and take myself out of my misery, it would overshadow your life, and I can’t let that happen. It is more important for me to let your light and legacy live, and to make sacrifices for you than it is to stop my pain. Right or wrong, we are still trying to cope with this intense brokenness as naturally as possible and without any temporary numbing agents. Please keep our focus honed so that we can continue to spread your love and kindness through The Caleb Effect to those who need it most. I know I’ve said this before, but we really aren’t officially counting months since the worst day or our lives anymore, but today was still significant to me as another six months trudged slowly on. We also know it means we are six more months closer to hugging you and never having to let go ever again.
Today marks 18 months since we last kissed your beautiful, perfect face. You really did have the most gorgeous face. Like the purest porcelain that was softened by all that is good and nurturing, and cheeks even chapped with winter air and eczema, formed subtle, pink roses beneath the surface. When you were a tiny baby, I used to put our cheeks together and hold you like that for hours. I loved feeling your smooth face against mine and the way you fit peacefully nestled under my chin. One of the three amigos’ mamas pointed out that you liked to put your hand on Mommy’s face often, too. She noticed multiple pictures of you with your hand cradling my face and made me remember your eager affection. I also remember us having a discussion about how she would never be able to sleep the way she saw a picture of us together with your forehead against mine and the ball of your fist safely leaning on Mommy’s cheek. Oh, how I wish you could come rest your tiny fingers on my cheeks again. I would go back and forth across the strands of your mousy baby hair like I used to, and rest my lips on your crown.
I loved kissing your sweet toddler head, scented with your Aveeno shampoo and heaven. I could stare at your innocent, concentrating blue eyes or sweep your wispy, but thickening, silken baby hair for the rest of my life. I could give you butterfly and Eskimo kisses and hear your laughter when it tickled the mirrored, 2-year-old version of my own nose. I could watch you try to stay awake and finally close your eyes when you thought Mommy was falling asleep, too. You inherited Mommy’s same “bowtie, Lindo” mouth, but somehow you managed to have a lot more beauty and color infused in your contagious, radiant grin. There is nothing I loved more than holding you and feeling all your love when you squeezed me back and gave me the best toddler lip kisses. I could kiss every square inch of your beaming face that hadn’t lost your last sweet layer of “baby blubber.” From the edges of your chin, to your faint but expressive eyebrows, past your little boy forehead, and over to the slightly elfish ears you got from your Daddy, I miss every part of you. I was certainly not productive in the traditional sense that mothers are pressured and measured by in our culture during your time here on Earth, but I wouldn’t trade my time spent holding you cuddled against me for anything.
Eighteen months, a year-and-a-half, 547.5 days. Any way we look at it, it feels like a lifetime. Every day is one too many days without you, and every day you are gone we are kicked closer and closer toward the day you will have spent an equal amount of time in heaven as on this Earth. I thought we would have at least 18 years before you would earn your emancipation, but you always were advanced.
Our house is still a mess and so are our hearts. God help us.
I miss you.
I love you.
I always will.