Friday, December 21, 2012

Before/After

I decided to start Christmas shopping on Monday. Yes, as in just a few days ago. The mall has been a tough place for me for the past year, and I guess I put it off as long as I could. My big mission was to get in and out of Abercrombie without crying.

There's a lot to cry about in there, between the music playing so loudly it feels like your ears are going to bleed, the lack of standard sizes (with Margaret ranging from an extra small to an extra large), the prices, and the fact that I have to beg the teenage employees to unlock a frickin' dressing room.

All of those factor into my tears, yes, but the main problem is that Abercrombie was the last store I took the kids to before Jack's accident.

Before. After. Before. After.

I've been thinking so much about the Sandy Hook families and how everything is now marked for them in that way.

Before. After. Before. After.

Our last trip to the mall that early September day was a happy one. We had gone to purchase Jack 3 Lego minifigures as a reward for finishing Oliver Twist for school. After that, we went to Abercrombie because Margaret was having a clothing crisis. Yep, I spent less than $9 on Jack for reading and annotating a 500+ page book (during his summer vacation!), then spent $80 on Margaret, well, because even if a girl wears a uniform to school she still needs cool clothes. This disparity in spending would have sent me into a tailspin as a 12 year old, but Jack didn't mind at all. To hear more about his gentle ways, read what his Auntie has to say about him here.

When the music and the waiting around got too much for him, Jack asked if he could stand right outside the door to the store and play on my iphone. I said yes and kept him in eyeshot. In that moment, I was struck by how much I was enjoying my kids, because I certainly didn't always remember to, especially when they were younger and far needier. It felt really good that I wasn't dying for summer to end.

On the way over in the car, they had both started sharing some of their weird traits and habits including this classic, "I always check behind the bathroom door in case there's a murderer in there." Each weird habit garnered more laughter than the next.  I glanced at them in the rear view mirror and yelled, "I love my quirky kids!" And I meant it.

This felt like progress, because I hadn't always appreciated my kids' unique personalities, likes and dislikes. 3 year old Margaret  afraid of automatic flush toilets? Sheesh! 9 year old Jack peering at us with sunken cheeks and glazed eyes as if we were trying to starve him to death when we gave him, God forbid, turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing at Thanksgiving? Puh-leaze.

But that September day, I just got a huge kick out of being with them. Of seeing how they interacted with each other. Of knowing where they were and where I thought they were going. In just a few days they would start 5th and 7th grades.

Until.

Before. After. Before. After.

So this past Monday, I steeled myself for Abercrombie. I didn't want my trip to end the way it had a few months ago when after about 45 traumatic minutes I started crying and Margaret and I left without any jeans. Skinny? Super Skinny? Dark wash? Ripped? I was pushed to the limit.

On Monday I felt like every act I did was somehow a testament to the parents in Connecticut who, while I don't know exactly what they are going through, may likely be feeling that they can not go on living, let alone function through the mundane stuff of life ever again. 

I tried to stay on the girls' side of the store, only once drifting over to a checked button down shirt, feeling the fabric between my fingers, remembering how Jack seemed to have been born preppy.

In the check-out line I looked up and saw the mom of one of Jack's baseball teammates. Margaret and Jack had also attended acting camp with her son one month before the accident. She held teenage boy clothes in her arms. I looked down at the floor, willing her not to recognize me. I didn't want her to feel guilty that she got to buy presents for Jordan when I couldn't buy any for Jack. That Jordan needed teenaged sized clothes but Jack never would.  I bit the inside of my lip so I wouldn't cry. I kept my eyes down, exchanged pleasantries with the teenage clerk, bought the clothes, and got the hell out of there.

So I don't really know how I did. And how much of a testament I can be for the moms and dads in Connecticut.

But I did buy Margaret's over-priced gifts. And they are now wrapped and under the tree.

 
That's something, right?

76 comments:

Jeanette said...

That is more then "something", you are amazing. I hold you and these families from Newtown, Ct. in my heart this holiday season.

Jillian22 said...

When big, scary things happen, every little thing needs to be celebrated because in it's own small littleness, it is heroic. Hooray for you! :) Much love.

The Bipolar Diva said...

I'm so happy you have the memory of that time at the mall. The memories come, some good, some bad, they weave their ways into the fabric of our souls. Sometimes the smallest thing can set the bad ones off, but you have wonderful ones to help, not totally, but help keep the others in check. Things will never be the same, but good memories can help carry us through the worst of them. You're lucky in that way, you have good memories, really good memories. I'm envious, in a way, because with Isaiah all we have are tragic ones. And, yes, there is the before and after, the before and after.....and I only wish the before had taken a different path for us both.

Melanie said...

That is something. Something amazing really. And hopeful. Those mothers and fathers, all of those families will get there too, with time.

I wish you and your family a Christmas that has some happy in it, even when there is saddness.

Cara said...

Giving you a huge cyber hug and wishing you peace and hope.

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

One step at a time. xo

Halfway Between Hopes and Dreams said...

Isn't it amazing how we gauge nearly every aspect of our lives by the before and after measuring stick? Wishing you and your family the best that can be this holiday season.

Arnebya said...

It most definitely is something, yes. It most definitely is.

Lisa said...

God bless you Anna, Tim and Margaret

Erin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erin said...

Thank you for the generous and kind gesture of allowing grieving parents to post links to their children's stories. It helps to know that we can still share our beautiful child with the world. I have followed your blog since Jack's accident, and I have felt every word you have written. I have lived every word. So thank you. I pray you and your family find comfort and joy in this Christmas season!

The Empress said...

That's beyond something, Anna. That is HUGE.

That is doing what we, so many of us, can't see ourselves doing: Going ON.

Where, how, do we find the strength to go on.

I remember, being six years old, after my father's death, still in bed when it was clearly time to go to school--and not being able to get up. And no one making me. My mother herself, still in bed... and that's how the days went on for so long...

Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co. said...

Oh that is most definitely something Anna! Much love and huge hugs to your family this holiday season!

Anonymous said...

Way to go! It must feel especially good because your last visit there didn't go so well, understandably. Now those gifts are under the tree and will hopefully bring a big smile to Margaret's face. Maybe it will be a little easier, next time, even if you do wander over to the boy's section, for a moment. So proud!

I'm so sorry for all the losses, the kinds that are so sad that even the memories are all tragic, and the ones that leave you feeling like the walking wounded. I often think words are inadequate, but hearing things like this, words truly feel inadequate.

hmv003 said...

I have a few friends who have lost children through various events the past year or two. It makes me think of them and their Befores and Afters. I will wrap them in an extra tender hug this Christmas and pray for all of you... all of us, really... who are missing loved ones and hurting. May we all find something to be grateful for... and find hope to hang on to. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

I am from CT and I can't tell if I am still struggling because I am from CT or if I am just very emotional. Before/After is big for me even thought I haven't had a loss as big as yours. (2 miscarriages) but ... I think what was their morning like?, What memories did they make that week, what were they going to do that night. Today a week later was especially surreal for me.

Mom to JADE said...

By the grace of God, you did it. It will be meaningful for your daughter on Christmas morning, because she will know what those gifts mean. What you did to get them. She may not say anything to acknowledge it, but going there, staying long enough to purchase those clothes shows love to her. That is something!

NanaDiana said...

I so get the before.after mentality. It is one of life stages...not an easy one but one that certainly marks passages in our lives. xo Diana

Gigi said...

I think we can all understand the before/after measuring stick. Sending you lots of hugs and well wishes for Christmas and beyond.

Mimi said...

So proud of you Anna. I'm sure going through the motions was really hard. I hope some of the victims parents will find your blog and see your resilience and God holding you tight every step of the way. Even at the checkout line in Abercrombie.

Today, Sammy was eating out of his cousin's bowl that he was gifted during his baby shower and I was struck again in a random time by just how much was lost in his passing.

Lots of love and prayers Anna. Merry Christmas!! I hope Margaret loves her new clothes.

Jamie said...

I think you did great! You got what you went in for.That is success in my book. On one trip to the grocery store I was having a bit of a panic attack and came home with diet coke, water, vanilla frosting, and socks!!! No food! So you did fantastic! Be proud. Progress, no matter how small it seems, is progress.

Shell Flower said...

You totally rocked that shopping trip! Not only was it hard to just go in, but to face a mom you know living your "could have been" during an already tough moment, well, that's seriously rough, but you did it. You made it through and you're a little bit closer to settling in to your new life. I hope Margaret loves her presents and that you guys don't miss Jack too much on Christmas. I like to think our loved ones are a little bit closer this time of year. The veil is thin.

Heather said...

one step at a time. one day at a time. jack watching over you all the way - and he'd be so proud. hugs to you!

Anonymous said...

So many thoughts in my head swirling. I can't get the Sandy Hook families out of my head. I have been holding them in my heart and making space for them all week... but the reality I can't move past the thought of it all, and you live the reality of it all. I thank God they have you - and you them in many way. Your shopping trip was one more difficult milestone of your 'after', and it sucks that there is an 'after' but you did it and I am smiling through tears for you. I don't know your path and I pray I never do... but I hold you in my heart each day and pray the memories like that of your last trip to Abercrombie reign supreme and bring you joy and peace.

Jennifer Swedlund said...

I hold you and your family in my heart, and I lift you to God in prayer often. My son and daughter are 15 months apart, and my son is 2.

A Speckled Trout said...

You are a testament to life.

Lady Jennie said...

I always want to read what you have to say. There is always so much dignity and beauty and grace in your words.

I guess that's all I wanted to say for today, except that I love you.

:-)

Anonymous said...

Precious something. Big hug! -Paula

Debby@Just Breathe said...

That's huge! I can't imagine your heart when your facing those times.
(((HUGS)))

I have had the families in Newtown, CT on my mind each day often comparing our Christmas to theirs. My plan is to take a moment of silence before we start our day of opening presents, eating and loving each other.

Their lives are forever changed as you well know and it weighs heavy on my heart. xoxo

Life in a Small Town said...

My heart goes out to you. How wonderful that you did experience that wonderful day "before", and are able to remember it: what was said, what was done, and how you felt. I'm sure God had a hand in that!

Princess Kate said...

I wish you all the joy and comfort that you can find this holiday season. Merry Christmas and warm thoughts from my family to yours. You are not alone.

Anne said...

One day at a time.And you did amazing!I can't put myself in anyone's place because I don't know what I would do.But just know this please know that we continue to pray for you all.We are also keeping all those in Connecticut in our prayers too.They will never be forgotten.
Blessings to you all this Christmas!
xx
Anne

Kathy at kissing the frog said...

Yes, it is more than something. You are going on and living while still holding tight to all kinds of memories of Jack. That is an example to anyone who has lost a child - that it can be done, that they will get there. That we can push on despite the fact that lots of things are going to remind us of our precious children (for me this year, it was a green camo bear at Build-a-Bear. I stood in front of it and cried). Beautiful post as always. Sending your family a huge holiday hug and lots of love.

helenasc said...

You are an amazing mom and your posts inspire me and I know that they would inspire the parents in Connecticut as well. You have taught me so much about parenting, God, strength, and compassion. Thank you! I wanted to also tell you that the boxes we sent for OCC went to Seychelles, South Africa, and Ecuador. May many things bring you all comfort this Christmas and new year season.

Anonymous said...

Betcha this is going to turn into another Mrs Davidson incident. You'll see Jordan's mom again...be brave, she probably wanted to say something to you! Don't you see a pattern here?
Anyway Merry Christmas and we are all rooting for you!

Sherri Newman said...

Oh my gosh.....I so understand what you're saying and feeling. When will it get better? You did great! You made it! Love you girl!

Sherri Newman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meg said...

Its more than something. Some days it is everything to do this for your daughter. Within my thoughts of the Sandy Hook families, I have been thinking of you and your family. May Christmas bring you comfort and some joy this season.

Lesley T. said...

Your family will be in my thoughts throughout the holidays, Anna.

Geri said...

Yes, it is something, something beautiful. An affirmation of going on, being there for your girl, of your strength and God carrying you through a difficult situation.
You capture so well that feeling of life being a before/after thing in early grief. Everything was categorized as before Nick died, and after Nick died for a few years. For what it's worth, marking time that way has changed for me. Of course we're all different, so I can't say it will for you, but I realized recently I'm not feeling or seeing things as before/after anymore.
Holding you up in prayer and support.

Kelly Pack said...

Love this! You are a good Momma. Hugs and kisses.

Anonymous said...

i read all of your posts, and i've only commented once. i just feel like my measly words (especially when compared to your beautiful writing) won't help. just know that your reader from california is always here praying for you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you and your family throughout this holiday season. I am personally impressed that you could make it through Abercrombie before or after. That store puts me over the edge on the best of days.

Prayers and peace to your family from Colorado.

Theresa

Anonymous said...

((hugs)) today, & tomorrow, & the next
Sandie

Anonymous said...

I read and really enjoy your blog, though I've never commented before. Your writing is engaging and real and honest and never sugar-coated, which I so appreciate. Anyhow - this post made me think of a song by a folk-y artist, Carrie Newcomer. It's called "Before and After." Here are the lyrics - though I encourage you to look up the song on itunes and listen to it yourself.

Carrie Newcomer Lyrics: Before and After

The dust settles after a hit and run
Bewildered by the damage done
I don’t know why we choose the roads we travel
Or how a life could get so unraveled.

Chorus: We live our lives from then until now,
By the mercies received and the marks upon our brow
To my heart I’ll collect what the four winds will scatter
And frame my life by before and after.

Once a trick of light made me believe,
A red fire was blazing from every tree.
We held hands as the evening gathered.
I forgave myself for what I didn’t ask her.

I once saw the sky filled with falling stars
Bumped my head in the dark and it left a scar
Held on too tight before I let it go,
Then forgave myself for what I didn’t know.

Chorus: We live our lives from then until now,
By the mercies received and the marks upon our brow
To my heart I’ll collect what the four winds will scatter
And frame my life by before and after.

I’ve stretched my soul over fifty states,
I have lived on fumes and religious cornflakes,
And once I dreamt my shoes had grown thin and battered,
And forgave myself for what didn’t matter.

God said Cain where is your brother,
And who will tell his grieving mother?
Jacob dreamt an angel called his name
And he never was quite the same

Chorus: We live our lives from then until now,
By the mercies received and the marks upon our brow
To my heart I’ll collect what the four winds will scatter
And frame my life into before and after.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is something. You are amazing.

Kim said...

Thinking of you and sending love and prayers.

OSMA said...

Your voice will help those parents mourning in CT. They will see,, by reading your words, that it's possible to keep breathing after the most precious loss. They might not believe it's possible right now, in this dark and numb hour, but your words will reach them and guide them through their own grief and Abercrombies. I think you show up for so many, Anna. More than you can possibly know. May that bring you comfort and strength this Christmas and well into the New Year.

xoxoxo

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IrishRN07 said...

Your strength, courage, humor and how much you love your kids is so powerful Anna. It's powerful and beautiful. Your amazing spirit is the gift you give to Margaret and Jack gift every day.
-Maureen

Meredith Self said...

Every moment is a miraculous, heroic feat! Love you.

claire plante said...

Oh, Anna, it is something and it is everything. You are so strong when you could be otherwise. Your heart is so beautiful.

Sending you lots of love and prayers as always. My heart continues to ache for you and I pray for peace for you - a place where your sadness can be surrounded with the comfort of love - love from God, your family, and your friends.

Love,
Claire

Dawn said...

That's more than something. That is amazing. Truly. You are a wonderful testement for all those newly lost parents. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Many (((HUGS))) and prayers going out for you and your family this week. Much love to you, Anna. <3

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Ana B said...

Thank you for having the courage to share. These little things make me appreciate the three beautiful boys that God has given me. To enjoy them now. Because tomorrow is not promised.

XOXO - Ana B
www.loveanab.com

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Princess Kate said...

Thinking about you and sending warm thoughts and prayers your way.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Thought about you all through the holiday week... But then - you already knew that. Love you.

Kara said...

I am amazed you went to the mall at all! The mall is a scary place for me, in general, but the reminders of Jack must be everywhere. I thought of you a lot this year, as my son has finally fallen in love with Legos. I have told him about Jack and how he would save up for expensive sets hoping to inspire him. I also could not stop thinking of the CT families, of the gifts under their trees that would remain unopened. Hoping your Christmas was blessed.

handyman st paul said...

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to all.

Deb said...

you are a good mom - doing this for your daughter. I'm glad you have her to push you out into the world where you might not venture otherwise.

wishing you and your family peace in the new year.

Mel said...

Before and after. I wish I didn't understand what you're saying. But since I do, I also understand that that "something" you managed to do there was really, really a lot. Maybe even everything.

spedhead said...

Thinking of you often and wishing you peace and happy memories from before and after this holiday season.

Jess said...

thinking of you all and wishing you a peaceful, happy 2013!

Kristin said...

That is definitely something, Anna. The way you are describing your memories with Jack is a wonderful way for your readers to get to know and remember your son with you.
You are doing all you can.
Hugs.

Laura said...

Thoughts of your sweet family running through my mind as we ring in 2013. Wishing you the kind of happy, peaceful, and joy-filled new year that you are so deserving of.

anymommy said...

It's everything. Love to you and M and Jack. Always and always.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, Anna. Christmas can be so hard, for so many reasons. You are amazing!

Wishing all the best for you, Tim and Margaret in 2013.

Love, Coach Jess

Anonymous said...

OH! My 4 y.o. daughter is also terrified of auto-flushing toilets (just discovered this on our 24 hour road trip to Florida). If only she'd stay sitting the entire time instead of inching her way off the seat even as she's still peeing, perhaps she wouldn't be terrified when the toilet no longer senses her and decides to flush, causing her to leap (still mid-pee) off said toilet. /sigh Gotta love 'em!

okcamp said...

Dear Anna,
I have been a lurker on your blog for over a year now. I never 'followed,' because, well, at times it just seemed too painful. I have tears in my eyes after reading this post. I had tears in my eyes (cried, actually) when I learned of the Newtown tragedy. It hit me the night that President Obama named the victims. My husband and I were watching TV and both of us had a lump in our throats when he said Ana's name. Our daughter's name is Anna. It could have easily have been us feeling the excrutiating pain of losing a child. A reminder that life is so fleeting and fragile. You and your family are in my thoughts. I'm also your newest follower.
Diane

Anonymous said...

Happy, laughing in the car, new toy, you proud of the book...is probably exactly how Jack wants you to remember him, maybe the trip to abecrombie was his idea all along, to give you that memory as a present...to make you happy that you enjoyed them so much that day, that all three of you loved each other and showed it.

kenda said...

I feel like I could have written this. I lost my sweet Koralyn and now so many women in our church family are having sweet baby girls and it hurts a lot. Stores are some of the worst places for me, as I was so excited to have a girl to dress! I also think of everything in terms of before Koralyn and after her. Thank you so much.

Stephanie said...

Anna, I'm thinking of you. Sending a giant hug your way!