Loose Boards

Early on, in my grief journey, someone told me about “Loose Boards.” When you are in the store, and a song comes on that you weren’t expecting, that’s a loose board. When you are at a place that you had gone with your loved one and the memory comes flying back, that is a loose board. When you are cleaning and you find something that you hadn’t seen in a long time, that is a loose board.

Loose Boards can smack you down so fast.

This morning, I was cleaning the laundry room, of all places. When I moved the detergent, I found Jackson’s wallet that his friend Mya made for him. Inside, it had his first library card.

It’s these moments that can bring you to your knees multiple times in one day.

It’s when you are faced with the reality that your child will never use his wallet again.

He will never go to the library again.

In those moments, all of the memories come flooding back. I think back to all of the times that we went to the library together. We would visit the library weekly so there are a lot of memories attached to something so simple.

Then I think about his friend Mya, who made the wallet for him. She also had cancer but she beat it. We met her at Little Gym, while she was fighting cancer and I told her mom about St. Baldrick’s because she didn’t know about the organization. I shaved in honor of Mya the year after we met her. And her family started to do fundraisers for St. Baldrick’s. And Jackson shaved his head at their event raising $1200 in one night. This was 4 months before cancer took him from us.

It’s crazy how something so small can de-rail you.

As a bereaved parent, it takes so much to get through one day without your beloved child. It’s almost unbelievable how your mind can think about them every single second of the day. It’s like I have a movie playing in my head all day. It is nothing short of a miracle that I can accomplish anything with as busy as my mind can be. And add parenting a busy, demanding 4 year old all the while, it reminds me why I don’t have much to give when the day is done.

Some may see this as a sign and maybe it is. These signs are a mixed bag for me. I love to think about Jackson saying hello to me but I want him here and I can’t have that. I’m hopeful that when the grief is not so raw that I will be able to see these loose boards as signs but for now, it causes me so much pain.

Anger

I made a big mistake.

I did not tend to my anger

…and it has come back to bite me.

Hard.

I was so terrified of having Postpartum Depression that I chose not to camp out on anger. I was thinking (in my jumbled up grief, postpartum brain) that if I wasn’t angry, maybe I could avoid PPD. Just another situation I was trying to control when I felt completely out of control. I have known people who had PPD and it turned into Postpartum Psychosis and they took their life. I didn’t want that to happen. In that time, I chose to see the silver lining and did not acknowledge my anger. Of course I’m angry that my son died but I felt like it wasn’t going to serve me well to focus on it. Well, what I didn’t realize was that I didn’t need to focus on it but I did need to acknowledge it.

Now that I am forced to sit with my emotions, I have no choice. I don’t want to be angry with Ivan but the truth is, he makes it hard for me to grieve. He is VERY needy, and with good right. His brother was here and then he was gone. That must be terrifying for a little 3.5 year old child. He was very angry when this first happened and I had no freaken clue how to help him. I was barely surviving myself, let alone being able to understand what was going through his mind.

When Jackson first died, we were obsessively looking at pictures and videos of Jackson, bawling our faces off. Ivan did not want us to be sad, he wanted his happy, silly family back. He would get so frustrated with us crying that he would hit our faces and say, “STOP CRYING!” But I couldn’t stop. I could not control my emotions at all. He was so confused and it was and is heartbreaking to watch. While I will always be so thankful that I have another child who needs constant care, it has made grieving properly next to impossible.

Ivan did not want to be away from me. I became his security and he can hardly stand to be more than 5 feet from me. THIS IS SO HARD!! Sometimes, I need space!! At first, he didn’t want to go anywhere without me. Getting him to school twice a week was difficult to say the least. He needed so much reassurance. It took several months for him to be able to go to my mom’s even for a few hours. After a while, he was able to go to certain friends houses that he felt comfortable with.

When he was gone, I should have been taking that time to do what my grief therapist calls, “cave work.” This is when you do your heavy grieving; looking at pictures, thinking of memories, feeling all the feels. In time, you learn how to go in to the “cave” and come out. Sometimes, you get stuck in the “cave.” Sometimes you avoid the “cave” at all costs because it is too painful.

Doing projects and activities that honor Jackson seemed like “cave work” but in all reality, it was just a distraction. I am very proud of what we’ve done and I will continue to do these things but I can’t get back to them until I tend to my grief. I wanted to hurry up and do it and get it over with so I could move on. Well guess what I found out, it doesn’t work like that.

Avoiding Pain

While I am so thankful for my community and their willingness to always step in while I’m struggling, the pain of losing a child can not be fixed. I have been extremely busy since Jackson died (some by my choice and some not.) Having a very active 4 year old has forced me to get out of bed every day and tend to his needs, which are many, he was needy to begin with. Holding events where I have asked my community to lock arms with me has done wonders for my heart, but none of it change the fact that my 7 year old son is gone. It has been a bit of a distraction and I will always acknowledge that it has been purposeful. I haven’t really wanted to face the truth.

He was the boy who made me a mom.

I had 12 hours from the time I was told that there was nothing more the doctors could do until he took his last breath. We never have enough time with our children but trust me, 12 hours is not enough time to say goodbye. Everything has been going 100 miles an hour since he left this earth. I have not allowed myself much time to slow down and tend to my grief.

What I have learned over and over again is that grief is like an angry monster and if you don’t tend to that angry monster, he will come and slap you down. Well I’ve been slapped down. Being forced to not do the things that are good for my heart and soul and having zero control over it, puts me into a bad place.

I spoke to another mother who lost her son suddenly and it put me back into the place when I was thinking about Jackson’s brief but tumultous hospital stay. I could not fully process everything that was happening because it was happening at the speed of light. I could barely sit down before another doctor needed to come and talk to me. And on top of that, we were making arrangements for Ivan to be cared for. Oh and I had just given birth too so I was dealing with postpartum issues. I have literally had no time to process. And now I have all the time in the world and I am terrified. I don’t want to face it.

I will never hear my son’s voice again.

I will never get a 30 second hugger from my boy again.

I need a 30 second hugger from my boy more than anything right now.

I will never go to another school event for Jackson and I have never felt more pride then when I saw him in his element. My son did not get to go to 2nd grade, he didn’t get to turn 8, he didn’t get to lose a tooth. He will never kiss a girl, have a broken heart, get married or give me grandchildren. I have chosen not to focus on those things but don’t think for one second that I don’t realize it.



Today it’s hard for me to focus on the gifts, even though they are many. Today, I am being forced, against my will, to face what I haven’t wanted to face. My 7 year old son is dead. He died. I will never see him again. And I hate everything about it.

I will get back to doing the things to feed my soul and help me to feel better. But today, no one can fix the pain I’m in. I just have to face it. Jackson Julius Schmitt, I will never be the same without you because loving you and raising you for the 7 years I was given, were the greatest 7 years of my life. I need strength and prayers to get through the years of giving your brother the life that he deserves. He didn’t deserve to lose you but I will do my best to give him what he needs. Mommy’s heart is shattered. I cried myself to sleep last night. This hurts worse than anything I could have ever fathomed having to endure. There are things you can do to help with physical pain but nothing helps with the pain of losing the apple of my eye, my pride and joy, my precious baby boy. You have been and will always be my baby and I was the only woman you ever loved and that is such an honor.



To all of the women who have lost children, my heart breaks for you. This is not how it’s supposed to be. I hope you have a good support system who can love you through this pain. If you haven’t lost a child, consider yourself fortunate. You could never fathom this kind of pain. Think about how much you love your child and multiply it times a zillion, then you have one iota of an idea how much this hurts.

Social Isolation While Grieving

I know I’m not the only one experiencing anxiety related to current affairs in the world, but I would imagine that my reasons are a little different than the average persons.

I am a self-proclaimed control freak. It’s probably why I don’t like to drink or do drugs because I am not in control. Losing Jackson was the ultimate “I have no control” over anything. Having a tidy home is something I can control. Being on a quarantine with my needy, grieving 4 year old, who doesn’t understand his brother’s death or the Coronavirus is making me nervous. He is an extrovert like me. He needs to be around people. He likes to be active and doing our normal routine. I will enjoy some of the time we have together but I am not going to sugarcoat things and act like we are going to be baking homemade bread or I’ll be teaching him math and making crafts. That is not reality.

We will have time together and we will have fun but the thought of being home, and not busy, is terrifying to me. I have chosen to stay busy and do very involved activities to honor Jackson. They have been great therapy for me. I have also found a few other things that have proven to be therapeutic for my mental health and I will do them to the best of my ability. Having to face the pain that I’ve been somewhat running away from, well let’s just say it has me in a state of anxiety.

No one in their right mind would just sit in the pain of losing a child. Numbing your pain is something I have chosen not to do with substances but I have used events as a distraction.

I am in immense pain.

“The trauma of his brother’s death … is immeasurable.”


But I haven’t had the option to sit around and sulk and cry and wail. I have a 4 year old child who needs me for his security. I can’t be away from him for long without him experiencing high anxiety that I won’t come back. When we are at home, he calls out to me sometimes every 20 seconds (this is not an exaggeration) to make sure I am still here. This is a direct result of his brother being seemingly ok and then dead 6 days later. The trauma of his brother’s death, for Ivan, is immeasurable. And while I can logically understand it, it does not make it easy. I am not functioning on all cylinders and I have to CONSTANTLY reassure him.

I will do that.

I do that but it wears on me.

Honestly, I need a break from him for my own sanity. Sometimes I feel like I might explode with all of the different feelings and emotions that I experience.

Our story is crazy enough that it being shared on sites likes Yahoo and SheKnows. I want the story to be told. I want to raise awareness. I will shout it from the mountaintops that we need to raise awareness, but realizing that our story is that drastic doesn’t really feel great.

“…we need to raise awareness, but realizing that our story is that drastic doesn’t really feel great.”


So needless to say, I am entering a time of what could be profound grief. The uncertainty is hard for me to handle. Ivan is hard for me to handle. I am hard to handle. I try to keep my focus on the gifts and how we have helped but I can’t ignore the pain and anguish that I live with and probably always will.

Intensity and anticipation

Recently, I have been very reflective about my grief journey. Thus far, it sometimes surprises me just how intensely I feel everything. If I get angry about something, I get very angry. When I find joy, it is intense joy. When there is am injustice, I want to right it, if at all possible. I’ve read that people almost actually miss the intensity of early grief. Most of the time, I don’t know how to feel and I can’t really anticipate much in the future because I try really hard to stay in today. When I go too far one way or the other, it’s too much for me.

With Christmas just passing, I realized so much of my anxiety came from the anticipation of it. How would I feel? How would I handle it? How could I be happy for my little guy while missing my big guy? At this point, it feels like the anticipation of an event seems a lot worse than the actual event. I’m not saying the actual event is always amazing or easy.

When I’ve been in an unfamiliar situation, I find myself anticipating someone asking me how many kids I have. Well I have 2 kids, but one of them died. When I’m around people who know our story, I don’t have to worry about this, but I get nervous to have to bring the conversation to that level. So far, I haven’t had anyone run away in horror. I’ve actually had people tear up instantly. It always shocks me to be the one delivering this horrific story. There are times that the weight of my grief feels so heavy that I don’t want to get into it. Other times, I am waiting for the question to be asked so I can tell them how amazing my sweet boy was. I really don’t know until the event occurs.

Ive already learned so much about myself, other people and grief. I have so much to learn but the most prevalent thing I’ve learned is that everyone has their battles. While I don’t feel the need to categorize whose loss or battle is the worst, because I know our loss is a huge one, losing our boy has made me empathize with others even more than I have before.

Trying to get through

The holidays. I’ve always enjoyed the holidays. I’ve never gone over the top with any of it but it has always been enjoyable. Now that our son us died, I am not enjoying myself one bit. I am not going out of my way to go see Christmas lights, I’m really avoiding the stores and I do NOT want to hear Christmas music. For some reason, I keep hearing a song by Pentatonix and the words are loud in my ears. This particular song says, “there can be miracles if you believe.” That doesn’t sit well with me. In our situation, that is not the case.

The holidays are a time focused on happiness and family and being merry. How can I be merry when my 7 year old isn’t here with us? How can I be merry when I only have 1 child to buy Christmas presents for? How can I be merry when I look under the tree and there are half the amount of gifts? Watching both of my boys open their gifts was always such a joy because I could see that I got them what they wanted and they were so happy and excited. I know our little guy will be happy and it will be a joy to watch him open presents but it will be painfully obvious that his big brother is not here and not getting to enjoy the holiday that every kid looks forward to.

Im finding myself just wanting to get through things now. I’m doing it for our little guy. I will have to do hard things all the time to make things happy for him even though I am destroyed. This does not feel good. It feels horrible. This has shown me that the holidays aren’t happy for everyone. I am a bit envious when I see pictures of people enjoying all of the holiday festivities and I’m just trying to make it through until the next way lay of my heart.

“How are you doing?”

Please don’t take offense to this because I realize that this is a very simple question that EVERYONE asks but I have come to HATE this question. I started hating it while our son was in the hospital. At that time, I didn’t know which end was up and I was getting by on sheer adrenaline. Now that my life has been shattered and I’m picking up the pieces every day, I hate it even more.

I will never get upset with someone for asking me this but there is one thing I will always promise, you will get an honest answer from me. Most people give the canned answer, “I’m good.” Well the truth is, I’m not good. I’m not great. I am surviving. I am getting by. I am alive. Those are the answers you will get from me. Every second of my day is filled with a mix of: sadness, confusion, shock, memories, emotional exhaustion, guilt, longing, denial, overwhelm and much much more. Then when you add taking care of and tending to a grieving 4 year old, running a household, trying to keep a marriage afloat when both of us are grieving differently, a constant barrage of messages (which I’m not complaining about and will always welcome), thoughts about how I want to honor my son, it’s a wonder to me how I get through a day. This is not easy, and I so wish this was not my story, but it is my story. I am constantly coming to terms with that. Our story needs to be shared and I will share it for as long as I live.

Some days, I might be ok. Some day I might even be able to say I’m good. I will always be broken. I will never be the same but one thing I will always be is honest. That is a guarantee.