I distinctly remember a time in my life when I felt invincible. Nothing could harm my family; life was all roses and rainbows...or something like that.
Then one day we struggled with infertility.
Then one day we had two babies in the NICU.
Slowly our "perfect" reality was a bit shook up. Slowly my perception of the way my life should be or the way I wanted my life to be had changed, but I could still smell the roses. .
Then one day, just 17 days after our third baby Charlie was born, we had to hand his body over to the doctors in the PICU at Children's Hospital.
Abruptly this time our reality changed. From that moment on we were going to be living in the after.
At first life in the after is like the crashing waves in the ocean. You have only small moments of time that you can take a breath, you have nothing to stand on, and you can see no end, no light. People try and pass small kid size inflatable rafts out to you as you drown and they give you only a little bit longer periods of time to breathe. It helps. Don't get me wrong. Those moments may have been the moments you would have drowned without that small raft or quiet conversation before school.
Then things change a little bit. You feel a brief moment of joy. And then your grief changes to guilt. Life in the after is tricky. I can't be happy, can I? I shouldn't sing out loud in my car, should I? I shouldn't laugh when someone tells a joke, right? What will people think? You hurt because you want your life back before the after. You want to hold your baby in your arms. You drive by every flower shop in town searching for the roses you used to smell. And then someone very wise will tell you you are no longer allowed to say should or shouldn't. Every single part of the after has to be part of the after. It is part of the healing and without those moments you may lose sight of who you are. You have to learn to smile again and you have to be okay to continue to cry.
The waves make their way back. The storms come and go. The ocean is deep and wide. The life jackets, floats, boats, and hands pulling you out of the water are the only thing that keep you alive.
Then there is a part of the after that comes and you do feel joy again. Against everything in your hurting heart you plead for help and ask for someone to pull you out of the depths. You make it and you smile. Maybe not for long periods of time but you do; you smile. You are going to be okay.
Every single part of the after is hard in its own way but right now for every one else, Charlie is a memory. He is a "sad memory from last summer that wrecked the Gesenhues." For me, he is my baby. The moments of extreme grief, guilt, frustration, sadness, and anger still rise up. The after will never be like before when I saw rainbows every afternoon. But as hard as it is I'm ok with it because when I do smell the faint scent of a flower I cherish it and when I see a rainbow after the rain I stare at it and remember the promise of perfection in heaven. What joy we will have when we finally get to walk those streets of gold.