The Love That Lives On

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Parenting is so weird. You just have sex, a baby is made. Then one day you go to the hospital and give birth to a tiny human that the hospital lets you take home. Even if you are only seventeen years old and are an only child who has never held a baby or changed a diaper in your life. And just like that you are responsible for making sure this tiny person does not grow up to add to the number of assholes in this world. You also have to make sure they eat good food, grow up healthy, do not wreck their car or become a drug addict. It is really a lot when you think about it because really, you just wanted your baby daddy to like you, you were not really prepared for parenthood. But here you are and suddenly looking the window of your seventh floor hospital room holding your newborn baby, you are scared of heights.

There are all kinds of books to help you get ready for a baby, a toddler and even teens. But there are hardly any books on how to parent adult children. What happens when you reach the point in life where they are adults and do not have to listen to shit you say? What happens when they are old enough to make all their own choices but because you have been their mom their entire life, you know they are stupid. Not like, stupid stupid, but just too stupid to do things that land them responsible for another human life when all they wanted was a little love and sex seemed like the way to get that. You know, like you did when you became their MOTHER.

There are not many books on how to handle parenting adult children. How to respect your adult children, keep quiet when they are finding their way in the world and swerving on the road of life. Discerning when to say something and when to just let them find their way. It is not easy to know when to let them fall and when to swoop in and save the day. It is an entirely new phase in life and there are so many variables. But at least you can watch others and talk about this new phase in parenthood.

Parenting a dead child is a totally different story.

There are no “what to expect when your child dies” books. There are grief books and there are now even people on Instagram who are being open and honest about what it looks like to mourn a child. There are support groups too. But there are no books explaining how to navigate through the questions that come when one of your children dies.

How do you answer questions like “How many kids do you have?” or even “How old is *insert name of dead kid here*?”. Do you keep them the age they were when they died or do you keep adding to that number with each birthday. Do you even celebrate their birthday after they die and if so, what does that look like? Who is in charge of keeping up their grave? For Catholics, do you go to every mass offered for them? It is an obligatory mass or do people get to decide if they want to go?

All of these are things that come up and each one of them is a blow to your grief. And you figure them all out blind with no roadmap because nobody has written one.

A few years before Anthony’s suicide I went on a road trip across the country to Philly to see Pope Francis. There were many times on this trip that I was driving and did not know what to expect ahead of me because I had never travelled these roads before. I was so scared and it was really bad for a control freak like me to let go and surrender to the road ahead of me. In West Virginia I lost my shit and had to pull over to pull myself back together and wait out the rain. In hindsight that trip is a lot like the journey of Grief that I am on now since losing Anthony to suicide.

I am scared and I lose my shit a lot to the point of pulling over and taking a timeout before getting back on the road. I know where I am going, that is to do my best to get to heaven and pray Anthony is there for me when I get there, but the in-between is full of unfamiliar territory. Sometimes the road is dark and winding in front of me which scares the shit out of me but then the sun comes out and I get a grip.

I have decided to always say I have four kids because I do. Anthony is still my child. I also say that he is 25 years old because no matter what, Anthony still IS and the years still go by. Time is a tool for the living and I am still alive so I will use it. I am his mother so I take responsibility of keeping up his grave and we have dinner as a family on his birthday where we let his children blow out the candles on his cake for him. He mattered. His life was a gift and that is what we celebrate on his birthday. It is not easy. To be honest, it tears me up inside, but Anthony’s life is worth celebrating. The most important lesson I learned though is that just how I figured out how to be his mother even though I was seventeen and had no experience with babies is how I will figure out how to be his mother now that he is dead. Both situations are fueled by one thing: the love I have for my child as his mother. That lives on.

Advertisements

Signs of You

Last night I laid in bed and my stomach itched. I went to scratch it and for the first time since you died I touched the stretch mark I got when I was pregnant with you. With each one of your brothers and your sister it got bigger but it started when I was about eight months pregnant with you. I looked in the mirror at my 16 year old body and saw it. I was mortified. A STRETCHMARK!

I remember the feel of your knobby baby knees scraping against the inside of my body. I would watch you flip around in there for hours. I had never felt less alone in my entire life. I would talk to you and tell you about my day even though you were with me the whole time so you already knew what had happened. I could also tell when the body part that was making an appearance was your tiny butt because it had a certain look to it that was different than your knees. It would make me laugh. I was st my absolute happiest when I was pregnant with you. You saved my life. I told you that a million times while you were alive and I never really could tell you why I felt that way because the words would escape me. But you made me a mom and you also became my side kick. I had been so alone before you came along.

I sit here thinking about your entire life. I do not just mourn the man you were the day you died, I mourn the baby in my womb. I mourn the newborn who was so tiny I could lay you in the space made when I sat indian style. I mourn the six month old who I would put in a car seat and take driving around to show everyone how cute my baby was. I mourn the adventurous you, the you that hated my boyfriend and threw away my cell phone. The you that shaved off your eyebrows and got your brother to do it too. I mourn the you that was strong and encouraging. Maybe I depended on that you too much and that’s what made you sick.

I mostly mourn the you that lit up when you looked at your children. The dad you was by far the best version of you.

I love you so much Anthony. I will miss you forever.

Love,

Mom

Hate, Love, Darkness & Light

Here is my family’s make up: I am Hispanic. My oldest son Anthony is the grandson of a Mexican man who came here illegally and made a good life for his family. My youngest three children are half white and ethnically Jewish. My husband is white. His three sons are half white and half Hispanic.

This is a diverse family. I am Hispanic but I was raised in South Texas, my stepsons’ mother is from the Rio Grande Valley which is further south than South Texas but is The Valley, not “south Texas”. I know, it’s weird. Even weirder is that the Hispanic culture is totally different in The Valley than in South Texas and even more different than the Panhandle of Texas.

Both the men I married are white and both are honorary Hispanics. They were both raised with Hispanic friends, love Mexican food and fit right in with my family. More than I do even. But my ex-husband was raised in the city of Houston and my husband was raised in the country like me. Ben is a city slicker and Stacey is a redneck.

My oldest son Anthony was born in the ghetto and has always felt most at home among black people like me. But my three youngest kids are very suburban to the point that they pass as white and have to tell people they were raised by a brown mother.

All of this is to explain how diverse my family is and that is without even going into politics or religion. None of my children are practicing Catholics. My grandkids go to Mass with their mother who became Catholic after my son Anthony died, but my children are all over the place when it comes to both politics and religion.

In my opinion, what real tolerance and diversity and peace will look like is when no part of my family is being attacked for the color of their skin or their worldview. When the world is a reflection of my family, then I will consider that we have made some progress in creating a loving society.

Right now racists attack my Hispanic heritage, Trump attacks the grandfather of my oldest son, people fighting racism attack my white kids and husband, people equate redneck with Trump supporter and anti-antisemitism attacks the heritage of my children. Everywhere I turn there is some insult based on culture, skin color, social class, worldview, generation or heritage that insults someone in my family. It is getting pretty old.

Dr. King’s dream was not that people of color would one day outnumber or overpower white people so that we could insult them and their skin color. His “I have a Dream” speech ended with these lines:

When we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and
every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all
of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and
Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics will be able to join
hands and sing in the word·s of the old Negro spiritual,
“Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, “We are
free at last.”

His dream was one where we all saw the dignity of each other. Where black people were lifted up as equals and who were judged by their character not by the color of their skin. Where their pain from what was done to them and is still being done to them was acknowledged. Where they were given a chance to lift themselves out of the poverty and trauma that was put on them by a system that dehumanized them. He never called for any of that to come as fruit of dehumanizing white people or religious people or non-religious people.

It is very fashionable to quote Dr. King on MLK day, but how many of us are willing to read the words of his “I have a Dream” speech and live them out in our everyday lives?

As Hispanic Catholic woman I ask that you do not claim your prejudice of anyone is in defense of me. Do not put that on me. I reject it a hundred times.