The Love That Lives On

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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.

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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

Rebuilding

Suicide destroys your life. It robs the person who died of their future and it robs their loved ones of everything else. I can’t think of Anthony (my 22 year old son who took his own life over two years ago) without it taking my breath away. He was such an amazing human being. I’m not just saying that because I made him from scratch. I don’t think I have ever had anyone say anything to me about Anthony other than how awesome he is in his entire life. Or death.

I was prepared on how to plan a funeral thanks to my Tio and Tia dying 10 months apart before Anthony died. Plus, I’m Hispanic. We start learning how to plan funerals as toddlers. Death is not foreign to us. We are expected to go to funerals as children and learn how to fall in line to pay respects to the grieving family. We have rules. Who sits where and what time you are supposed to be at the funeral home. If you are a child of the dead person then you get there as soon as the funeral home opens the doors. Then from there are the siblings and nieces. My Tio’s obituary caused a huge scandal for mentioning me in it because I was one of a million nieces and my whole name was listed with his children. My entire family, including my mother, flipped the eff out because that is against the Hispanics of America Funeral SOP. So death is no stranger to me. I have been in training on how to plan a funeral since I was three years old.

What has caught me by surprise (well, one thing, because let’s face it, I say “what caught me by surprise” in a lot of my writing on grief. I know.) is how I have had to rebuild my life. I feel as if I’ve been in a two year long coma and I’m barely waking up. Or like I have been living on another planet while everyone on this planet has just kept on going.

I no longer want the same things I wanted before Anthony died. Which really sucks since I’m 4 classes away from getting a Bachelors in Philosophy and it turns out that I don’t really care all that much about a lot of Philosophy stuff. My kid is dead, I do not care that all these men sat around thinking of new ways to disagree with Aristotle.

I also no longer want to be a Catholic speaker who goes around saying things like “but in the end I know God has a plan for my life” because the truth is, I know He has a plan for my life but it would be great if I didn’t have to bury my kid in that life. But then again, a lot of mothers bury their kids. Some mothers have their children ripped from their arms by our Government and have no idea if they are ok. So why do I think I should somehow be spared from this level of horrific suffering? Why do any of us think that? Because it is easier to live in that space of ignorant bliss than to know the horrible things that could happen to us in life even though God does have a plan for us that requires us to survive those things.

I just want to tell my story. I want to tell it honestly, openly, freely and with some dark humor because life without laughter is just depressing AF.

I will tell it to Catholics or non Catholics, atheists or Buddhists. I don’t care. Suffering is a part of the human condition and suicide is a plague robbing us of our children. We have to start listening to the stories of those left to rebuild their lives after suicide has burnt them to the ground.

So yeah, rebuilding. I am having to rebuild every one of my relationships. And first I have to rebuild myself. What do I want? How do I want to do it? What is my first step in doing it? And then I have had to change my entire view of motherhood. I no longer see my children as burdens. Ever. No matter what. Because when you go two years wishing for nothing more than to have your dead kid annoy the fuck out of you, you start to appreciate the alive kids annoying you anyway they want to.

I am rebuilding my marriage. Which isn’t easy. And it’s even more difficult when it’s the thousandth time you have started over with the same person. Spoiler: Stacey and I have rebuilt this relationship a dozen times. You would think it would be easier by now. It isn’t.

And then I have to learn how to be a friend. It’s challenging to be a friend to others when you think nothing is as big of a problem as finding your kid dead in the garage. But I have to figure it out because 1. I need friends, I’m a extrovert and 2. I don’t want to be a self-centered asshole. I didn’t have a good handle on how to be a good friend before losing Anthony so this is more of just building than REbuilding to be honest.

All of this takes up a lot of energy. Energy doing a lot of thinking and laying in bed staring at the ceiling. Energy that doesn’t look like I’m doing anything which makes me feel lazy and like I’m wasting time. So I am also rebuilding how I talk to myself and how I treat myself. I give myself time and space and love to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. I give myself permission to go out with a friend and drink 6 shots of whiskey and have fun. I give myself permission to tell my kids to make dinner some nights. And I give myself permission to take a bubble bath at 3 in the afternoon if I want one. For me, being kind to myself and taking care of myself is not easy. I have to fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m selfish, lazy and do not deserve the luxury of an afternoon bubble bath. As if I have not had a hand in the work it took to get this house, with this bath, or this life. As if some fairy just came and handed it to me. As if, I didn’t wait tables, help with company paperwork, raise kids, cook dinners and build a readership with my writing to make this life reality. That voice is rooted in the belief that I do not deserve good things or happiness. And that voice does not come from God. So I am rebuilding my relationship with myself which is part of rebuilding my relationship with God.

So here we are. The biggest relationship of all. The one with God. *deep breath*

Before Anthony died I thought I knew God. I thought I knew what being Catholic was all about. I thought if I just did all the things that good people did, I would be a better person. That meant not being me because anyone with a brain could see that who I was was not a good person. Who I was was a person who made terrible choices that landed me in terrible situations like the county jail for a DWI. Who I was liked to drink until life was fun. Who I was liked to sleep with strangers, sometimes more than one stranger at a time and sometimes both female and male strangers and in public. Who I was liked to feel good but believed that the only kind of feel good I deserved was the kind that happened in clubs full of smoke and sketchy people. The kind of places that Good People do not even know exist. Because I was not good. Everywhere I looked I saw that message. I did things that Good People called sins and Good People said because I did these things, I deserved all the bad things that happened to me. Because God punishes people who do those things. That’s who I thought God was and so I thought when I forced myself to not be Who I Was anymore and had the sense to mimic The Good People that God would stop punishing me.

Then Anthony died.

Then I knew God as the asshole who can perform miracles in the Bible but somehow didn’t perform one for me or my son and just let him die alone in the garage. God allowed me to stand on the other side of the wall where my son’s body hung lifeless and discuss what I was going to make for dinner an hour before we found him. To me, after Anthony died God was both the only place I found peace and the One I was the most angry at. And that reminded me of my first marriage. Where I was in a relationship with a man who loved me deeply but beat the shit out of me when he was high. So God became an abuser to me.

Rebuilding that relationship has not been easy. For one thing it means accepting that I do not control anything, especially the Creator of the Universe. It means that suffering is possible and none of us are special in not facing the worst kind of suffering but some people do get off the hook on having to face much more suffering than “oh no, my pool isn’t working UGH” or some other Not Dead Kid crisis. And I will never know how exactly the suffering lottery works but I do know that in the lives of a lot of people in the world, I am on the winning end of it because so many people in this world have it so much harder than me. Rebuilding my relationship with God has meant letting go of all the rules that make it easy for me to count myself in the Good People club and others out of it. It has meant knowing that God does not care about my opinion on who is not worthy of His love. He has my back, but He has the back of my enemy just the same. He is God, not my body guard. Rebuilding my relationship with God has meant letting go of a lot of things: expectations, beliefs, judgements and control. It has meant learning that God will die for me but He is not mine to control. He calls the shots and I can cuss about it and kick and scream about how unfair it is, but that isn’t going to change it.

I am still figuring out exactly how to have a relationship with God which means all my other relationships are also still under construction. I do not know what is going to happen but I know that rebuilding takes time and patience and love, so that is what I am giving myself. That is what I am allowing God to give me. Finally.