5. Strong Men Don’t Cry

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I use to look at a man crying as weak.  It would have to take something major to get a tear out of me.  I had hardened myself for some stupid reason.  That all changed when we lost Brad.  I was about to learn so much about crying.  There were different types of crying: some were easier than others, some last longer, and some even left a headache behind.  Though there were many tearful moments in the 24 hours after losing Brad, there are three times that I remember the most: when I took him out of the room for the last time, calling the funeral home, and when we left the hospital the next morning.

Taking him out of the room, I felt, was my duty as a father. The normal procedure was to call the nurse after our final goodbyes and she would come take him away. I did not want that. I wanted Sarah to see him leave with me. I would escort him to wherever he was going.  It instinctually felt so important. I was able to hold it together as I exited the room. Sarah needed to see me strong, that was my thinking anyway. I took him to the newborn room, gave him back to the nurses, and exited.  As I approached our room, I crumbled. I found a hidden area in the hallway, went there quickly, and sobbed. I could not let anyone hear me, but I was so loud.  I was not use to this. This was not just crying; it was a flood of emotions out of my soul carried by my tears and gasps for breath. I got it together and went back in the room.

The next morning, I had to call the funeral home to set up the cremation. I was good until the lady on the other end of the phone asked me how she could help me. She did nothing wrong, but I was not prepared. How do I say that my child died and I now need him cremated?  I felt an emotional gut punch. It struck me, and like any gut punch, breathing is not exactly simple. The words were hard to say over my gasps, but somehow, I got through it. That was the hardest phone call I ever made.

It was time to leave the hospital. Just like the last two moments, I did not see it coming. As we were driving out of the parking lot, I glanced up at the rearview mirror. For some reason, I felt like I was leaving him behind. Sarah asked me what was wrong as I began to cry. I explained the thought I had, and now we were both sobbing. I mean, what other way would you imagine leaving the hospital after that? 

Crying became normal after a while. It was a daily occurrence for the first couple of months. I remember the first day I made it without crying; it was bittersweet. I cried again the next day. I finally started measuring the days without crying as personal records. Slowly I made it a week, then a month. That was around one year later.  Through the first few months, Sarah and I often told each when we cried. If it happened sometime in the day, we would tell each other that night. We would talk about what triggered it, how long it lasted, where we were. That was ours, something we both had. Though one thing always confused us. We never would breakdown at the same time. When I was good, she was breaking down, and vice versa. We kind of liked it that way. It helped. She would often send a text asking me to come home and hold her, or just walk up to me and be crying with her arms extended out. We always had at least one of us strong.

Months later, there was a day that we were both home, doing different things. I felt the tears coming, I went straight to the front porch. I did not want to trigger Sarah. I cried for a few minutes, and then my phone dinged. It was a text from Sarah. She was asking me to come hold her. That was an immediate indication that something had caused her to start crying too. Finally, we had broken down at the exact same time.

I am not sure why I feel the need to write these moments down. They are hard memories to think about, but I do not want them forgotten. I have learned that when something bad happens, you try to find something positive to take away from it. Sometimes it can be impossible, but if you just try, you may find something. Sarah and I liked it that we never broke down at the same time, but when it happened we felt a sense of relief. It was a small sign that things were going to change for the better. It felt like we were finishing one chapter and starting another.

 

 

4. His Name Is Sean

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After everything happened, there was one thing for certain: we would try to have another child. We made that decision almost immediately after. We were unsure about so many things, but that was one thing we knew.  This bad thing was not going to stop us from trying again.

On the day we left the hospital, we asked the doctor how soon we could start.  He said we should wait about 6 months to give Sarah’s body time to heal.  This made sense.  She needed time to physically heal.  What we did not know is that it would take much longer to mentally heal.  Even a year after, we were nowhere close to being able to try again.  This in no way reflected the bond between Sarah and me.  We were closer than we had ever been.  I had heard of cases where a couple lost a child and it created this divide in their relationship that often led to divorce.  A friend of mine even told me of a couple he knew personally.  As he explained the details, my body physically hurt.  It was heartbreaking.  I had no clue how this could happen.  It is hard enough losing a child, but I cannot imagine the pain of losing your partner as well.  Of course, there were times where it felt like someone was adding gas to our fire, but nothing ever made us think that the other person was to blame. I never resented Sarah and she never resented me. I felt some relief.  It was a small win in my head.  Sarah and I were ten times closer than we had ever been.  Prior to Brad’s passing, I thought we could not get any closer; how wrong was I.  Sarah and I endured so many battles together.  We were kicking ass, but still hurting so much inside.  We spoke about it often, which, looking back, is probably what made the biggest difference. We knew we were in this together, so we teamed up and helped each other along the way.  Eventually, having another baby became the elephant in the room.  We did not have issues talking about it, but it was hard to commit.  This was going to be an emotional journey.  Maybe this is the reason why I had made so many changes in my life; I was subconsciously preparing myself.  All I knew was something inside of me was pushing my transformation and I was not going to ignore it.  With so many things going right, there was no better time.  What were we waiting on?  I guess we had healed enough, though we are still nowhere close to being fully healed.  Realistically, we never will be, but this was the right time.

After a few months of trying, we got the news; Sarah was pregnant.  I cannot describe the outpour of joy from the people in our lives.  It was like everyone was quietly sitting on the sidelines, cheering us on, and finally they could share their excitement.  The reactions made me appreciate the fact that there is some level of goodness inside of every person.  Again, we had another small win.  Did Brad’s passing actually create something good?  Was there an answer somewhere out there to why it happened?  Deep down inside of me, I felt like somehow I can figure this out.  I am a problem solver, a thinker.  This was the same time that I decided to pull the trigger on writing.  Too many things have pointed me in this direction, and if I intended on getting an answer, I would have to do it this way.  With the new baby on the way, I was reliving so many painful memories, so why not use that time to make it as positive and meaningful as possible.

This was and is a happy time for us.  Sarah and I felt deep down inside there was no way we are not having a boy.  We were so convinced that we had only decided on a boy’s name.  We had little doubt.  Then the day came, we got to find out the baby’s gender.  It was a boy.  Sarah cried hard, I just shook my head; we were so happy.  We knew this would happen.  It was a small piece of validation for me.  I had changed so much, not knowing exactly why.  I just tried being a more positive person, removing the negatives qualities of myself.  When I did, positive things came in return.  This was the ultimate reward.  Our new baby’s name will be Sean Alexander and, of course, I have told anyone that will listen.  You can choose to look at this however you want, but, to me, there are two different explanations:  First, the life that was not able to enter this world, because of whatever reason, is now getting another chance; or secondly, that his beautiful soul is somewhere out there and he is sending us confirmation.  You may agree or disagree, but all I ask is for you to dig deep. We have the right as humans to formulate our own opinions.  My goal is to ignite the positive inside us all.   When you find it, you will experience how positive thinking and acting can create tremendous rewards.  I want to end this chapter a different way. Ironically my good friend, a guy of great inspiration to me, sent me a text message just before Sarah and I received the news that we were having a boy. He had no idea where we were, but his timing is unexplainable. He had been listening to a Podcast and heard someone discussing this subject, so he put it in his own words and sent it to me. The text read, “Happiness generally does not come from the addition of positive, but more so from the removal of negative.”

3. She Is A Star

I could not begin to tell you much about the morning leading up to what would be the worst day of our lives. Though two things about that morning, I do still remember. One was the fact that I had stopped in to the local barber shop for a haircut that morning. Nothing was abnormal about that. I used to go there every other week. However, the second thing I remember was quite abnormal.

I will start by giving you a brief description of one of my co-workers, we will call her Star. She has an extremely positive outlook on life. Her positive energy can be felt while you are in her presence. There is not anything negative you can say about her. If she had one downfall, it would be that she smiles so much it makes you envy her happiness. Those that know her know that she is one of a kind. There is no duplicate.

I had worked with her for a couple of years at this point. It was not uncommon to bump into her on a daily basis around work. Though on this day, the encounter was different. It was time for me to leave work and meet Sarah at our final doctor’s appointment. This was to be the last visit. We were to discuss with the doctor the final details about inducing labor in exactly one week. As I walked out the gate and turned the corner, I noticed Star from behind. She was in the process of hugging two other girls from work, on the sidewalk. This was not surprising to me. It was not abnormal, but the three of them were blocking my walk way. I was only a few feet from my vehicle. The two other girls could see me trying to walk by, but her back was to me and she did not see me. This entire process did not take long, maybe 10 seconds. As she turned around and saw me waiting to get by, you could describe her initial emotion as one of slight embarrassment. Maybe I startled her, but her next move was not what I anticipated. She looked at me and smiled, and without much thought at all, she hugged me too. She had never hugged me. Hugging co-workers is not something that I do very often, it is just not me, but she did not care or even think about it. Could her hug have symbolized something? She did not know where I was leaving to go to. She had no clue that within 30 minutes of our contact I would be in the worst experience of my life. What did it mean? Why did it stick with me? I thought about it almost immediately after hearing the horrible news. I knew she would remember this moment too, because it was special. I knew that this was not just something that happens every day in her life. It was like someone was trying to give me some sort of comfort, and they chose the perfect person to send it through.

It took me a few weeks to return to work after that day. I had not spoken to many people at work until I returned. Truthfully, I wanted to talk to her so bad. The question was there. I thought about it almost daily. Did she remember this? Was it as meaningful to her as it was to me? Finally after days of her not being at work, she appeared. I was so joyed, but I had to keep in my happiness. What if she did not remember? We bumped into each other in the alley way. I immediately knew she wanted to talk. We stopped right where we made contact and we poured it all out. I asked her within the first minute of our initial contact. She remembered, I was so happy. She went on to explain the impact it had on her as well. She did know the irony of it. She put it together after she had learned the news. Our talk was great, it helped me so much. The anticipation was finally gone, I had my confirmation. She was the last person I made contact with prior to the horrible event. How fitting, the most positive uplifting person I know, giving me the ultimate sign of care.

I think that when we go through tough times, something inside of us tries to find the source, or the reason for why it happened. We lost our child that day. Nothing was going to change the severity of that, but I cannot let that be the end. Who knows if we will ever know the reason? What I do know is that there were so many positive moments that came wrapped deep within this. My biggest fear is that those multiple small positive moments will be forgotten and the only memory that remains will be the large negative one. I will not allow it.

I assure you that these occurrences happen to you more than you think. You will notice them if you keep your mind open, and full of positive thoughts.

2. This Was The Moment

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Let me start by apologizing. I am sorry for the sadness that you are about to feel. Though I feel that the details of this moment are very important.

Even for the routine visits, Sarah always wanted me there, for every appointment. Yes, Sarah can worry a bit, but what made her so cautious? Why did she think I needed to be there? She basically explained that I needed to be there just in case something bad happened. Is that some sort of intuition?  I presume that most women probably feel this way during pregnancy. I guess it is heightened senses. Whatever the case, she wanted me there and I never questioned it.

Each visit always started the same. First, we have a brief conversation with the nurse, a few questions, and then a quick listen to the baby’s heartbeat with a small handheld device. At this point, we knew the routine. With only one week left, this was our last appointment.  If she did not go into labor before then, we would induce. It was the exact same thing we did with our first child. Nowhere in my mind did I think this would not be a normal visit. Previously, there were times the nurse could not find the heartbeat immediately, but after a couple of tries, it would appear. So when this occurred, I did not think anything of it and remained calm. The nurse went out to get a more experienced nurse. This woman was full of confidence as she walked in.  “Let me find this will quick,” she said.  She gave no signs of doubt, so I did not either. However, I could tell Sarah had doubts. I maintained my optimistic look, as the second nurse tried for a few minutes and decided we should try the ultrasound machine.  So we went to that room and, again, we were met with the positive and optimistic approach of the ultrasound tech. She made us feel like this was not anything to worry about. We would get to the bottom of this and she would prove that everything was fine. The doctor was with us now.  He tried with the hand held device, but also had no luck. I should have known something was not right, but I would not allow myself to believe the worst. I remained optimistic up until the words came out the doctor’s mouth. The moment can only be described as a wrecking ball suddenly crashing through our souls. As soon as the ultrasound showed a clear picture of Brad, the doctor knew. He wasted no time. He was as professional and considerate as you could be in a situation like this. He looked at Sarah and said, “I’m sorry. He has passed.”

I did not see this coming. I was not prepared. The wrecking ball came crashing in and our souls laid in ruins. It immediately caused tremendous damage, taking a part from each of us. I wish I could remember everything the doctor said after that. I had a million thoughts rushing through my mind as he explained the process of how we would deliver Brad’s lifeless body into the world. He made it quick.  He said we could take as much time as we needed, then stepped out of the room. Obviously, we were both crying. As the door shut, my first thought was, “If I am hurting this bad, Sarah must be hurting 10 times worse.” Some sort of switch went off inside of me and I went straight to her. I repeatedly told her that this was not her fault. We did not know at the time what caused his passing, but I knew she would immediately start thinking the worst. It was the only thing I could think about: Just make her understand that she was not the cause of this. Truthfully, in that moment, the cause did not matter. The reality was that he was gone and we were hurting. We held each other tight for what seemed like an hour. At that moment, we let go of each other and faced the inevitable. It was the beginning of something that was about to change our lives forever.

The process of inducing labor and delivery would take about six to seven hours. It is the exact the same way you would induce and deliver any baby. It was the same way we were supposed to do it in just one week. We were assigned a specific nurse by the doctor. He explained that she was a cut above the rest.  He assigned her to us specifically and we were to utilize her as much as we needed. She came in with the utmost confidence and told us the details. Upon some of our initial questions, she did not have the answers. She told us that she too was going through this for the first time. She knew this was not a normal child delivery, but she was willing to go through it with us. We could tell she was fully committed. Her lack of experience in still births (a term we hate to use) was not going to hinder her support. She maintained the upmost professionalism, poise, and confidence. I am sure behind the scenes she had other emotions, but she did not let us know that. She was a small rock of stability, not a mountain, but a small rock. Nonetheless, in that moment, she was our only support.

Family came in and the questions began. The most difficult question was why it happened. No one had that answer. Then, it was time. This is supposed to go so much differently. This is when the excitement is supposed to occur, when you should have tears of joy upon seeing your new baby. I could not look. I just stayed as close to Sarah as I possibly could. Our faces’ were side by side, mine looking away. The doctor gave the command for the final push and I heard him gasp. He was the first to see the cause of death. The doctor asked me to look down at Brad. I hesitated, but my curiosity took over. I trusted our doctor and I knew he would not ask me to look if it was not a good reason. I looked down and saw the doctor holding him. Brad’s umbilical cord was entangled in his legs. The reason was clear now. A small sense of relief was present, but it was short lived. The emptiness inside of us only grew larger. He was now here in our presence, but he was lifeless. We knew this was going to be the reality, but now we were facing it. How was this fair? I became angry. I am still angry. I cannot explain our pain. We were somewhat lifeless too. We physically felt pain inside of us. It makes no sense, but it is the only way to describe it. Sarah was hurting. I was hurting.  As I saw her pain increase, I felt more and more useless.

I wish I could end this post with some sort of positive takeaway, but there is no way to do that. However, this moment is important. This moment is the base of the story. This is where we were mentally. We were empty. It seemed like there was a dark cloud hovering over us.

1. She Kissed The House

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On the day it all happened, I had no idea we would not return home that night. It was supposed to be a normal day. Our final doctor’s visit was scheduled around 11:00 a.m. This visit would go over how the final week of pregnancy would play out. The plan was to induce labor in just one week, if she did not go into labor before that. The new baby room was complete too. We were ready. That appointment did not turn out to be routine. We spent the rest of the day and night at the hospital. After almost 24 hours, we returned home the next day. The real journey was about to begin. In running terms, we just finished a sprint of horrible sadness, and the marathon was about to start. Our home felt different. Something was missing. Something that was there and now it was not.  Brad’s room became a safe place to us. We placed half of his ashes in a heart shaped keeper. It would lay nicely in his crib for months. From time to time, we would visit, just to talk or just feel like we were near him. The void inside us was enormous and his room filled a small part of it. I began to wonder if we could ever leave that home. It was the first home we ever owned. We had so many memories there. It was a part of us. As time went on, we knew that if we wanted to continue to grow our family, we would need to move into a larger place.

About six months later, we made the decision to start looking for a new home. Although half a year had passed, we still referred to the room as Brad’s room. Nothing had changed. It looked the same as it did the day it all happened. When our realtor came to check out our home, she saw his room and I could immediately tell that she had no clue of what had happened.  Before she could say anything, I gave her the news. She was blindsided. This was the same person that sold us the house years prior. She had kept up with us on Facebook throughout the years, but she obviously did not know what had occurred. She immediately went to Sarah and hugged her tight. We were becoming use to these situations. I knew I would have to be strong for Sarah in this time.

As we went through the process of buying and selling our home, we encountered several obstacles. We learned this was common, but we were still not prepared for it.  I just wanted to get this process done with as little pain to Sarah as possible. With so many emotions already around it, each hurdle took a tremendous toll on me. The final hurdle hurt worst of all. It had me in a mental choke hold. I called our realtor and broke down. Crying like a child, I explained to her that this was more than just the normal transaction. This had strong emotions attached and I could not keep this up much longer. I started to feel like nothing could go right in our lives. Finally, after another week went by, everything had worked out.  We sold our home to a lovely couple.  They reminded us of ourselves when we were starting out.  This was their first home too.  It was quite fitting that they would own it now.  Since we had such a strong emotional attachment, it was important that the new owners care for the house as we did.  Now was the hard part.  How do we move out of here?

We packed and moved pretty quickly, but now it was time to make our final exit. I knew what Sarah would do.  I knew she would walk in to Brad’s room one final time. I knew she would say a few words about how she was going to miss it so much. Then it happened.  Something I did not expect.  Something that would change me. As we were about to walk out of the kitchen door into the garage, she stopped, put her hands on the wall, and gave it a kiss. What was this? My mind went into overdrive trying to process what I was seeing. Was it a kiss goodbye? Was it her way of saying fair well to the memories? If so what memories? The bad ones?  The good ones? Both? I was dumbfounded. It was a gesture that I had taken for granted. Kissing someone goodbye was important to Sarah.  Why did this surprise to me? I held back my confusion. I could not say anything, I just tried to understand it. At that moment, I knew I would never forget it. It was something I thought about often. As time went on, I thought so many times that I needed to write it down. It had such an impact on me, but I was never able to tell Sarah of the impact.  I had already realized there were so many things I needed to write down. I did not want any of the memories, good and bad, to be forgotten. I was not sure who needed to read them, but I knew I needed to do it. I kicked around the idea of writing for a few months. Finally, I had found time; I sat down and started with a letter to Brad. I wanted to tell him how we came up with his name. I also wanted this information saved, in case I got old one day and could not remember exactly how we came up with it. I knew that would never happen. I wrote the letter to him and it felt amazing. I had no idea that I could ever feel so much relief from writing. If I would have known the sense of satisfaction I received, I would have done it much sooner. Despite all this, I still could not tell Sarah. I do not know why exactly.  We often spoke of our emotions and we supported each other.  I just did not know how to explain it to her. We had a habit of telling each other when we had cried each day and why. It was always because of Brad, just different reasons each time.

After writing the letter to him, I had such great ambition. It gave me so much strength. I did not write again for months. I was a changed person and I was on a mission. I just did not know what mission. I had this passion inside of me and I was determined to discover what it was. I decided to tap into it, set some crazy goals, do something that was out of the ordinary. I set a near impossible New Year’s resolution, and I completed it to perfection. I ran my first marathon, and completed it exactly the way I planned. I started reading books, something I had previously hated. I removed myself from social media, because it had become a negative place to me. I had found something inside me that never knew I had. All of this was sparked by a Housekiss. One day I would be able to explain to Sarah the impact of her Housekiss, but it would need to be the perfect time.

In the two years after Brad’s passing, the amount of ironic or coincidental things that happened to us were adding up quickly. They happened so much that Sarah and I began to laugh about them. Maybe they were all coincidences, but maybe they were signs. Things that were intentionally placed in front of us to lead us to something great. Whatever they were, we payed attention to them. What could it hurt? Sarah knew I was changing myself for the better. She knew I had something deep down inside driving me. She never questioned anything. She stood right there beside me as she always has. Despite all the bad decisions I have made in my life, she has never stepped away. She only came closer. My love for her grows every time she does that. Why does she do that? She did it before Brad and she does it now. Maybe that is how true love is supposed to be.

One day, Sarah and I were talking about our finances and our future. She likes to plan things out, as well as write things down. A topic came up and it made me think about the Housekiss. I told Sarah that I needed to explain something to her before we spoke anymore about that topic. Something inside me told me that this would be the time to tell her. We would have to wait until we got home that night. I became anxious. She was sitting at her desk in our home office. I had the letter I had written to Brad. My words were choked by emotion. It was so hard to make them come out. I had started crying immediately. There were multiple pauses. I had trouble getting my words out over my tears. She listened without saying a word as I explained the impact her gesture. I told her about my need to write and gave her the letter. She read it and I immediately felt relief. I could tell that this was a lot for her to take in. We went from talking finances that morning to book writing and a Housekiss that night. She gave her full support. We did not talk anymore about it that night. The next morning I went off to work like any other day. I felt good, like I had lifted some weight off of me. I received a text from Sarah when she got to work. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was speechless. Her text read, “Did you know. Yesterday we had that emotional conversation… kissing the wall right? Check the date.” Also attached was a picture of her daily motivational reading book. Each day of the year had an excerpt. On this day last year she had written down a note to herself, it read: ” 2/21/16 We said our goodbyes to 218 Ridgewood Dr Daphne AL.” How could it possibly be? It was the exact one year anniversary of us leaving the house for the last time. I was blown away. All our other ironic or coincidental moments prior to this were child’s play compared to this. This was the last sign I needed to see.

As you read this, your spirituality, religion, or personal beliefs may give you reason to why these things occurred. My belief is that it happened so that each person who reads this can take something from it to help them. This was real! I was not going to let this powerful moment go to waste. I started the plan of writing this blog.  What did I have to lose? If it was not received well by others, and it did nothing, at least I had it all written down for myself. That is my original reason for writing anyway. I did not want to forget anything. I was always scared that if I forgot details about Brad, that somehow meant he did not exist. HE did exist!  I held him that day. I took him away at our final visit. I spread his ashes in the bay. He was gone, but he still existed, now more than ever. Sarah’s small gesture had lit a fire inside of me. It was our home for so long, not just a house. Though in that very moment, she kissed it goodbye and it was just a house again.