Tomorrow will be two years since we said goodbye to Owen. Two years since we held onto him tightly as his soul left his body. I will never forget his adoring father and I whispering in his ear, “It’s okay to go. Mommy and Daddy will always love you. It’s okay to go.” While I struggled to say those words and was not truly ready, it was our job as his parents. We were being asked to do the hardest, most selfless thing and we could not let our son down. Deep in my heart I knew the Lord was waiting for him with open arms, he would soon be healed and be free of all this pain. His heart would finally be well and he would be safe.
I can remember walking, more like being carried by my husband, out of the hospital for the last time in a daze. We had a lifetime to pack in our car and only moments to pack it up. I remember quickly turning around and running back through the big doors of the hospital to give our monthly parking pass to the security guard. Through deep sobs saying we wouldn’t be needing it anymore but surely there was a family that did. I remember the quiet 3 hour drive home. The first time my husband and I had made that drive together in over 120 days. I remember the empty smell of our home as we walked through the door. I remember panicking looking for my phone “incase” the hospital called. I remember collapsing in the back corner of my closet hidden under my husbands dusty suits and crying, sobbing, screaming for my son to be there. Screaming for him to breathe. Yelling out for this all to be a mistake and for our son, not the ceramic foot prints made by the child life team at CHLA, to be safe in his crib. A crib in his nursery that was perfect, untouched, and waiting for him. I remember my husband picking me up off the floor and then it was morning. It was the first full day without Owen. Then it was day two, week one, month one, first holiday, first milestone, a first year without him. So many things happened. So many things I don’t remember because I was never truly present. The world kept spinning, while I faked a smile and showed up. I remember thinking, is this how life is going to be? Just a series of motions?
Then year two happened. Grief changed, life changed, I changed and I started living again. That’s what is so funny about grief. It’s not constant. It flows in waves and has a different current for each person it meets. It changes with each loss and it’s never the same. It has similar stages but they never visit the same way. Year two I found a new different. I started to fall in love with my new different and most of all my new different with our second son. Our gift forced me to push through my grief and find joy again. It made the bad moments become joyful moments with an aching for Owen to be there in a celebration. Year two changed grief from a constant sting to a deep muscle bruise. If touched just right it hurt like hell but mostly it just lingered with a soft nagging pain, a reminder it will always be there and I’m so grateful for the reminder. Being gifted with Owen changed me in so many ways. My eyes see differently, my heart feels deeper and my daily intentions are more purposeful and meaningful.
In year two, milestones surprise you. The grief sneaks in without you realizing it. One week ago I was at Sprouts grocery shopping with Brody. I was cracking up as he waved and smiled at each and every person that walked by. He was chewing on an apple about the size of his head and he was full of so much joy. I was just about to check out and realized I forgot lettuce. I ran back, grabbed the lettuce and checked the expiration date. There it was September 4. It was staring at me in the face and I just dropped the lettuce. Tears fell down my face and I’m almost positive people started staring. I quickly picked up the lettuce, threw it in the cart and pulled it back together. That drive home was hard, I sobbed the entire way home thinking of the word “expiration” and why was Owen’s life here on earth planned to “expire” incredibly too soon. I’ll never stop asking that question and I don’t think any of us that have experienced loss ever will. I pray for all of us that one day that question is answered. But, something tells me that by the time we get the chance to ask we will be surrounded by all of those that we Love and the answer won’t even matter. I pray for each of you grieving. Whatever stage you are at, I pray that you are finding balance in your new different. I hope you allow yourself the bad moments needed to grieve but don’t stay in those moments for too long and allow them to become bad days or weeks. I pray that you can talk about your loved one with joy and a smile as you get lost in their memory. I pray that your eyes can see each time they visit you, I promise you they will. Most of all I pray that if your struggle and grief is too hard that you seek the professional medical help you need and deserve. Grief is a dark and scary place and it can take over without you knowing. There is a whole world out here that loves you and I pray that you allow it in.
In memory of our precious son Owen Thomas Vatter, we challenge you to carry on his legacy by paying it forward. Buy coffee for the next person in line, become an organ donor, donate blood, send a surprise gift to a friend, do something entirely unexpected and make someone’s day. Please share your stories and tag them with #lionheartowen