February 2nd, 2009 | by Matt |

Today marks 9 months since Kevin died. I continue to write down my personal thoughts, and Dawn thought I should post some of it here too.

Monday, January 12, 2009
Sand Castles
The last time I was at Emily’s therapist, she asked me to tell her a little more about Kevin. I showed her the picture that I carry in my wallet and described him to her. She asked about his personality compared to Emily’s, mine, and Dawn’s. I like it when people ask about him. Parents always love to talk about their kids. But nobody ever asks about a child who died.

The other day at a doctor visit for Dawn, there was a little boy in the waiting room. He must have been right around Kevin’s age when he died. He had little jeans and boots on, and kept looking at me and smiling and laughing from across the room. He walked up to us and peeked around the corner a bit and smiled really big. He reminded me of Kevin quite a bit, and it reminded me of how great it was to have him around. I wanted to pick him up and hug him, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I like moments like that. Everywhere I go I see the little 2 or 3 yr-old boys and I see Kevin. But sometimes little kids like this are just so much like him that it’s different. Comforting. Happy and sad.

It was the day that Dawn had bleeding and we were both a little worried and anxious. It almost felt like Kevin’s spirit was there with us, saying Mom, Dad – it’s going to be okay. Smile. Laugh.

I visualize grief as waves on the beach hitting a sand castle. At first the waves are strong. They tumble over the castle and wreck it’s structure. It’s turbulent and unpredictable. Then the waves draw back and there is a moment of calm. The castle is worn down, but still stands. The waves come and go, each time a little calmer and a little further apart, each time wearing the castle down a little more. Smoothing its edges. Pretty soon it’s mostly calm, but every so often the sea rises and slowly comes in to the beach, taking with it a little more sand from the castle and then retreating silently. I imagine this often.

My memories of life before continue to fade. Life with Kevin seems further and further away. The sand castle continues to be worn down a little at a time. Waves still come, but they are getting gentler. It’s hard to believe that one year is around the corner. I’m not sure where last summer went. Sometimes I think last summer we were playing with him, then I have to stop and think that that was actually two summers ago.

My mind can adjust to a different life and our new normal much faster than it can really comprehend everything, I think. It’s still sinking in, which is hard for me to believe. Life continues to chug along, but inside me there is still a part of my mind that is trying to catch up. I can feel it. It really feels like part of me was left behind last May. That part of me doesn’t continue on with life – it stayed with Kevin. The person I am today is broken. Missing a part. And at times I feel like I’m turning around and looking back for it, wondering if it’s going to catch up. I’m losing sight of it behind me.

I think my mind is starting to pick up leftover thoughts and process them now. The other day I had the thought that the last summer he was with us (only his second summer, actually), we had the backyard torn up with septic repairs. It made me sad that he didn’t have the whole yard to run around and play in. I’m sure he didn’t notice. But my brain is picking up pieces like that lately and deciding to process them.

We saw a whole bunch of outdoor summer cow stuff at Target the other day. Boots, umbrellas, folding chairs, watering cans, the whole bunch. We thought of how excited he would have been.

Emily was at Bald Eagle Days yesterday and got called up on stage. She told us they asked if she had any brothers or sisters, and she said she is going to. She’s pretty good at knowing what to say, I think, but it makes me sad for her that she has to have that moment of wondering how to answer a simple question. We talked to her about it and told her different ways she could handle situations like that. We wanted to make sure she knew that it was okay to always acknowledge her brother and talk about him, but to know which times and which words are most appropriate. We face it too, especially with Dawn being pregnant. Is this your first? Well, third, but…. Do you have any other children? Well, we have one daughter at home. You have a girl, so must want a boy so you have one of each! Yeah, I guess. It’s kind of more complicated than that.

. . .

I love the videos of Kevin walking down the mall. They make me smile every time.

He visited me in my dreams the other night. I held him. I miss my boy.

Monday, January 5, 2009
Iowa City
Going to Iowa City was strange. It was the first time we’d been up there since Kevin died. I think sometimes my brain isn’t ready to process everything, or doesn’t know how yet.

Iowa City still seems like Kevin’s place to me. It’s very familiar to me, from the drive into town to the drive past the Ronald McDonald house to the hospital itself. But every memory I have of it is tied to Kevin, and it’s hard to shift that into it being about a new baby.

It’s kind of like walking into your old high school again. Everything looks so familiar, but it seems like a lifetime ago when it all seemed relevant. My mind has a hard time wrapping a new context around this place that, to me, is Kevin’s. We weren’t there just a couple days, we were there almost 24/7 for 6 weeks. And many more visits after that. He died there. There are a lot of memories floating around that building for me.

We parked in the parking garage that was being built while we were first in the PICU. I remember looking out the window many days, just watching the construction crews work on it because there was nothing else to do. So when we were in the lot, I could picture where our room was from the outside of the building. That’s also the room where he died.

I don’t like the smell of the hospital. Smells have a way of transporting you back to a different time, and it’s hard to think of all the time we have spent at that hospital. And yet it was time when Kevin was still with us, too, so it’s also kind of nice. I can imagine going to pacemaker checkups, echoes, etc. We went right past the place where we took him for his vocal chord checkup back when we were still worrying about that. I can still imagine things going back to the way they were, him being with us, and life going on as if nothing happened. It seems like part of my brain put life on pause when he died, and part of it kept going. The part on pause is just sitting there waiting to start up again. It’s ready. Different memories bring it up and make me feel for a split second like that life can continue somehow. I wonder if that will always be there.

I told Dawn on the way up that we are way too good at this. We could go to an Iowa City checkup in our sleep. We know exactly how long it takes to get there, how to make sure Emily is taken care of, where to park, how to maneuver the parking garages, how to check in, which halls and elevators to take, etc, etc. It feels like second nature. Most people going up for a scan like we did today are probably scared or really uncertain about where to go and how it all works. We’re on automatic pilot. I bet there are a lot of people that way at the Iowa City hospital, actually.

Since we had many checkups with Kevin that obviously weren’t good news, our natural feeling is to expect something bad. It’s hard (impossible?) to get back to the place where you assume things are fine. It’s a strange feeling to go through an ultrasound like this and not see the look of dread on the tech’s face, or have to explain that we already know about all the things that are wrong. Things are okay. What? Everything looks fine. Are you sure? Really? Is this what a normal pregnancy feels like? Wow, it’s so nice!

We joke about weird things. That’s our style. I’m sure many people would think we’re mentally unstable if they heard us. They wouldn’t understand. They can’t relate. Maybe it relieves stress. Maybe it’s our way to cope. Maybe it’s just the view of the world we’ve grown to be comfortable with after 4 years of stress, medical overload, uncertainty, random bad news, and sometimes futile hope.

We laugh about things we could say or do to the doctors and nurses that would freak them out. Or ways we could act that would completely throw them off guard, because we know that everyone who sees us is surely made aware that we had a child die last year. We look around for “the room” and joke about telling them to take us there because we already know something is wrong. Maybe it’s our minds trying to prepare us just in case that were to happen. It actually kind of sucks to know how all that goes down. What people look like, where they take you, what they say and how they treat you when they have to give the worst news to an expecting couple. I kind of feel like we’ve been down a number of the “very bad roads” that one can possibly go down. What can they possibly do to defeat us now? We’re invincible, and yet as fragile as we’ve ever been.

My mind is still sorting through a lot of feelings. I can almost feel my brain chugging away at it sometimes, like it’s still trying to process and file everything that is still confusing. I have a lot of feelings about having a baby and still missing Kevin so badly. About having life contain both happiness and sadness at the same time. About how to separate my feelings about another child from any expectations, sadness, or unresolved feelings about Kevin. How to deal with it if it’s a girl and I never have another son. Or if it’s a boy and it’s obviously not Kevin. About how to make sense of a life that still doesn’t seem to make sense a lot of the time.

I’m glad christmas and new year’s are over. We had some good times, but it was pretty tough. I was definitely ready to get past it all and go on. With Dawn being so sick all the time and so tired, and with all the emotions and thoughts that we have in our heads, sometimes adding things like holidays in seems like a bit much. Things in life that may deserve our attention don’t necessarily get it or get crowded out because it’s just too hard to deal with everything at once. It takes a toll emotionally and mentally, and then that takes a toll physically. But you know, that’s life, take it in stride, keep going, make the best of it.

We’ll probably go back to Iowa City once more during this pregnancy. And to Dr. Pyevich’s office to check the baby’s heart. That will be another surreal experience. One day at a time.

  1. One Response to “Thoughts”

  2. By Liza Mueller on Mar 4, 2009 | Reply

    You guys are really amazing. I read this and cried and cried. Not only are you an amazing writer, but you seem to really have your mind wrapped around all of this really well. You are really able to put into words things that I don’t know if a lot of people could even be thinking about. I read the words you write and wonder if I would even be able to make that much sense. I think about you guys and pray for you often. You are a great family….all 4 of you, plus the one on the way. I hope you are able to have a sense of peace throughout this pregnancy and that everything continues to go in the right direction.