By Kathleen Sullivan
“You know when you’re in the moment, and things seem perfect, until you realize your life will never be?”
No, I didn’t understand. Yet. My husband Brian and I were at our first bereavement support meeting. We had just lost our firstborn son Liam to a congenital heart defect. He was nine days old.
The woman — I forget her name — continued on. She told us about the contentment of watching her two children laughing and playing with their father. However, there was a crucial piece missing: the daughter she lost.
Back then, I couldn’t even think about the process of having additional children. Honestly, I thought our lives were completely over. I wanted to die.
That was eight years ago. Today, I spend most of my time chasing the two children that I was eventually blessed with. I get it now. The woman was absolutely right.
My living children bring me great joy. In many ways, they saved my life.
My daughter, who arrived first, was born thirteen months after Liam’s death. She gave me something to focus on besides my own grief.
It wasn’t over, though. I was still angry. I was bitter. I couldn’t face seeing another red haired little boy. I cringed when I heard another mom call after her Liam. I was resentful of friends and family who had living children. It was unfair. It always would be.
I still cry. However, my Julia and Owen keep me laughing too.
Almost eight years ago.
In some ways it feels like yesterday. In others, it feels as if a lifetime has passed.
I am noticing that family and friends don’t speak of Liam much anymore. Eight years ago, if I had asked our parents how many grandchildren they had, they would have definitely included Liam as part of the troop.
Would they do the same today?
I have been writing about loss for several years now. I was told early on that the pain would “soften”. Although I didn’t believe it at the time, I do now.
That doesn’t mean that the pain is not present everyday in some form.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t break into sobs from time to time.
In fact, I did so last week. I came across Liam’s death certificate. I couldn’t stop staring at the time of death.
My son died.
In talking about my journey, I have sought to help others. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of some special friends early on.
I call these amazing people “the friends I wish I had never met.” Losing our children is what brought us together.
As I sit here writing, my two living children are tired and content. It was a great day. We went to the movies and had ice cream.
Regardless, I did feel it.
The missing piece.
The heavy burden that I carry every day.
A therapist once told me that it was okay to have some sadness, yet still celebrate happiness. I didn’t believe her then, but it is true. Emotions are strange that way.
Mostly, I am happy for my living children. They did nothing wrong and our tragedy should not take away from their joy.
Not to say that I don’t have to fake it sometimes. I have become very good at forcing a smile.
As my children are getting older, they are starting to ask questions. We also try to go to the cemetery when we can.
They are fully aware that they had a big brother and his heart didn’t work well. My six-year-old tells me that makes her sad.
I see her sadness. I also see her happiness. She experiences both, just like my therapist told me.
As parents, my husband and I will never “have it all.”
Recently, a family member gifted me with a special bracelet. It was a “penny from heaven” and had Liam’s name and birth. I wear it every day.
The token brought me joy, comfort and sadness. I can’t carry Liam physically, but I can carry him in my heart.
I promised him that I would. I promised him that I always will.
For Liam, my heart will always ache.
Still, because of Liam, Julia and Owen my heart will always be full.
And I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Kathleen’s work has appeared on: The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Club Mid, Mamalode, Parentco., and Your Tango.
I am also the creator of the blog: www.threekidsonehusbandandabottleofwine.com