They say that the second year of grief is the hardest. The first year you are in a fog anticipating the firsts. The first holidays spent without them, the first time you are asked “how many children do you have?”, the first time you reach for them and find that they are not there, the first time you realize that life here on earth is moving on without them. The second year is different. Grief surprises you. It sneaks up when you least expect it. Folding a onesie once worn by our son, dusting the candle lit to honor him, celebrating the milestones our healthy second son has achieved, being approached by a stranger that embraces you with tears in her eyes as she tells you that Owen made her a better Mom and that she thinks of him every day.
3 months ago I stopped writing. I set down my laptop and picked up Brody. I occasionally updated on Facebook and launched the bookdrive but I walked away from my voice. I set it down because my hands became very busy with our precious boy but also because I didn’t want to see the things my brain and heart were feeling. What feels like a long time ago, Jeff told me to be raw. When I write I am raw and I was not ready to see my thoughts in print. I’m not dealing with postpartum and while some things I could categorize as PTSD, I think I am mostly dealing with a torn and broken heart. A heart that is struggling with an enormous “O” shaped hole that continually gets squeezed by a “B” shaped joy. My heart was not ready to acknowledge the world it had been thrown into and the degree of emotions of love and loss.
On August 5 at 8:26pm, Brody Aaron Vatter was born. At 7 lbs 6 oz and 20.5 inches long, he came into this world pink, screaming, and ready to be placed in our arms. From the second he took his first breath everything we knew about being parents was different. The brutiful world we were introduced to with Owen was overshadowed by the “normal” experience of a healthy birth. From that second, unless we hired one of the MANY relatives and friends waiting to babysit, we would never be separated. He would not need to be “taught” how to eat or breathe, he would not need monitors or nurses/doctors to tell us he would thrive, he would not need regular medications and interventions to make it another day, he would just live. As a heart mom this was incredibly foreign to me and frightening! What do you mean I would not have rounds every morning telling me that I was doing it right? What do you mean it’s okay to let him cry for a bit and that it wouldn’t stress out his little heart and in fact was okay and strengthening his lungs? What do you mean I could pick him up unassisted and dress him in clothes that didn’t have to work around lines and breathing tubes? What did you mean you were trusting us 24/7 for the rest of our lives to raise this child and live life each day just the four of us? What do you mean that he is healthy and there are no specialists that we have to meet with to confirm this? WHAT!?!?!
3 months later, a lot of tears, a lot of laughs, a LOT of laundry and NOT a lot of sleep, I’m happy to report we are doing it. We are the same team we were in the walls of the hospital, only now we have a few less team members, we are a little stronger, a little more confident and everyday finding a tiny bit of balance in the “new different” as parents of two boys both with healthy hearts, one in heaven and one in our arms. We question ourselves often but hear that’s “normal” for parents to do and we celebrate the normalcy!
Although I haven’t been writing, I have still been sharing our story to anyone that will listen. The second year of grief also brings a huge absence of the one you lost. People stop asking about him, stop bringing him up, are scared to ask how you are doing, and some even feel that at this point we should be “healed of our grief” and think we should be “over it”. Recently I spoke at Southwest Church to an amazing group of women about gratitude. I struggled on what to say. How do I convince these women that despite our circumstances, I am truly grateful? Despite our sadness and occasional anger we are in fact, grateful? I procrastinated on what to write and how to put words to what we felt. One morning, I looked at Brody and realized that gratitude looks so different to each person. That I am not grateful for what Owen had to endure or the battle he had to fight but I am grateful that God chose me to be his Mom; that I was entrusted with this incredible soul and am forever changed by his 16 weeks here on earth. I am grateful that through Owen’s life thousands of people around the world were reminded to have patience, to have gratitude for their healthy children, to love them just a little more and to hug them just a little tighter. I am grateful that Owen and God gifted us with Brody and that he has only needed to see his doctor for his regular vaccinations. I am grateful that I was gifted with an amazing husband who is the strongest and best partner to face these struggles with. I am grateful that Owen made me a better friend, daughter, sister, and mother than I could have ever imagined. I am grateful that God chose us. I am grateful that He never stops showing up and meeting us in our sadness. I am grateful for His plan for our family and that He is not finished with us yet. I am grateful that He has given me a voice and that our story is helping others that He has given a similar path.
I miss writing and I miss talking to all of you. I have been reminded lately by many people on how much my writing has helped them as they go through similar situations and I need them to know I am not giving up on them. I won’t be writing every day and I won’t be sharing much about Brody. This blog/website was designed to draw awareness of congenital heart defects and then childhood cancer and now what it looks like to lose your baby. We will maintain Brody’s privacy and allow him to write his story and be the man God plans for him to be. We will continue to raise awareness of CHDs and childhood cancer through the LionHeart Owen Foundation. You can visit the events and donations page at any time to see what is happening with the foundation. Also, the Foundation is now a tax-exempt 501c3 and we have exciting plans for it as it continues to grow! We will be changing the face of the website soon to make it more user-friendly as well!
On September 4th, we launched the Second Annual LionHeart Owen Foundation Holiday Bookdrive and the link to purchase books can be found on the events page or by clicking here. I will continue to update everyone on the progress and so excited to reach our goal of 5,000 this year!
Thank you for welcoming my voice back and being a part of our continuing story.
Note: If you would like to continue to receive regular blog updates please sign up for email updates at the bottom of this page. You can also visit our facebook page at www.facebook.com/lionheartowen or find us on Instagram @lionheartowen.