Little Man did not have a good night last night. In fact, it was pretty downright horrific. I take no pleasure in sharing this, by the way. Pity-seeking is not even on the radar and, while I find the consoling messages lovely in both thought and gesture, I am growing rather tired of it all. But last night broke my heart. Again. And as much as I hate it, I know there are other moms and dads and siblings and grandparents whose hearts are breaking as I type. And I hope that my frustrating need to process out loud will serve those whose hearts have shattered countless times.

Let me first say that I do not know the pain of losing a child and I truly cannot fathom the unbearable ache that must accompany a loss of such magnitude. My heart aches for the families who have endured such nightmares.

The pain of which I speak however, is real and raw and justified all the same. I watch my son come and go from his physical body nearly daily. I enjoy the euphoria of a fiercely loving mother-son bond only to have it violently stripped from us a mere hour later. I endure raging and screaming and spitting and biting and punching and kicking and all the while, I know that it is crucial I maintain a clear and loving message. I attempt to find my child somewhere within the depths behind his beautiful blue eyes and hope that one more “I love you” might reach beyond the rage and pull my son back to me. I watch him die and be reborn daily. And it breaks my heart.

Last night, when he finally began to settle and the tears were streaming down my face, I stroked his sandy blonde hair out of his eyes and I thought he might be falling asleep. And then I felt it. The sting of a smack to the back of my head and the diabolical laughter of a mad man. I kissed his forehead, looked into his eyes, and said what I have said over and over since the day he was born. I love you, son. I love you.

For far too long, I have numbed myself to the pain. I have stuffed my own emotions and tried to be strong. I thought I was doing it for him. Really, I was doing it for me. You see, feeling the pain requires a great deal more than stuffing it does. Feeling the pain requires me to work on my own “stuff” while simultaneously coaching my son though his. It requires slicing myself up the middle and bleeding out while my son sits beside me pleading for help. It requires that I put on my own proverbial mask first, and to keep my wits about me while the burning plane careens dangerously out of control and everything around me is pure chaos. It requires me to be the eye of the storm. To watch the devastation closing in around me while seeking tranquility within.

Let this not be confused with sitting idly by, for this is profoundly different. To observe the situation from the outside is to form an opinion about it without having to actually be involved within it. Allowing oneself to feel emotion, be completely vulnerable, and all the while work on the deep-seated beliefs that have caused the emotion is to become a beam of light in a sea of darkness. It is offering that beam of light to those in need so that they might see just how possible it is to create their own.

This morning, I went into the garden to talk to my vegetables as I often do. It might seem crazy, but they say it’s therapeutic for both me and the vegetables, so why the hell not? I have one plot which Steve and I loving amended, watered diligently, weeded, and pruned, and yet, while the vegetables in that plot are growing, their growth remains slow and calculated. It seems as though they struggle to reach the surface, as if our attention has been a kind of smothering love that hasn’t allowed them to reach their full potential. When I pulled up the old lettuces that had gone to seed, I placed them on the concrete for a couple days, until the greens waste came around. Those seeds somehow found their way into another plot of rocky, hard soil which I had hoped to amend next. But guess what? That plot is now filled with lettuces and even, somewhat remarkably, a random melon plant. The lettuce in that plot is two to three times as robust. It grows with wild abandon. Without the constraints or expectations of a doting gardener.

Sometimes, I think our desire to give the absolute best to our children becomes riddled with an unspoken expectation. It isn’t conscious, of course, but rather a product of a society that places value upon both giving and receiving. But children often have nothing to give other than their love and their pleasing behavior and so when we give, there is an unspoken desire to reciprocate. As Little Man has begun to realize, he hasn’t been able to reciprocate and this has likely caused some extreme frustration. As much as he would like to give to us, he needs all his reserves to rebuild himself.

Perhaps also, the struggle to thrive allows for more growth, more love, more joy, and more strength than the ability to live free from it. Maybe it isn’t ideal to live a life free from heartache but rather, to live a life that attempts to find the joy within the deepest of sorrows. Maybe, while growing in rows is ideal for the gardener, it is actually a hindrance to the plant. Maybe the unpredictability and wildness of it all is our true nature. And maybe I am reading way too much into my plants.

And so, while Little Man continues to improve, it’s the setbacks that have helped me understand the magnitude of the growth. The sweetness of the joy lies not separate from the heartache but within it. I have not (yet) met anyone free from struggle. We all have our own challenges. And it isn’t brave or admirable to face them. It’s just life.

And as I look at my wild lettuce patch thrive, I realize that we all have the ability to thrive through the heartbreak and that though today it might feel as if we are living our worst nightmare, the sun will shine again tomorrow and help us grow just a little bit more.

Hugs and Healing to All,

Mama Bear