I remember the feeling so vividly… wanting, needing to be near him. I would wake up knowing. I knew where he was, where I was. Chris and I would get ready to leave our house and drive to the hospital to see him. I would wait for Chris to bring a wheelchair and I would feel the anticipation mounting. I would weep from it. There was nothing else I could do. Until I was in that room with him, my body, my heart, would yearn for him. My mothering instincts searched everywhere for him, until I was in that room. The parking garage, the lobby, the elevator, the receptionist, the scrubbing in, the automatic doors, the long hallway, the video monitors, the nurse, the sliding door, the warm, dark room, the beeping and humming, the bed, then him. He was everything. All of the other things around us then are now permanent parts of my memory of him. Little details that collectively are all I have of his physical life, that individually cut to the depths of my broken heart. There is no Joe without all of that “stuff” surrounding him, and so it is that there are none of those little details without Joe. He is everywhere in my mind, in my heart, and he is connected to everything that I do.
Today, on his second birthday, the details are flooding my consciousness and I am helpless to their power. My heartache remains as profound as ever, with time’s additions compounding it all. With two babies to take care of, life simply goes on. However, despite the distractions they bring, I am, for today, letting it all come. I am looking back and forward at once, I feel sorrow and joy at once, I am burdened and blessed at once. I have the duty of being his mama and theirs at once. Tying those two roles together today feels insurmountable. I have been blossoming into the twins’ mama for six months now, but before that, my motherhood looked so incredibly different. For so long I mothered a baby who was no longer within my reach. I mothered on in the absence of his soft, sweet little body, staying steadfast to serving his message of love. There was a giant shift when the twins came, making my role as servant much more complex. Blending my two motherhoods today for one of their birthdays for the first time feels like a huge opportunity that I hope I do not squander. Our intention regarding Joe’s life and memory is what Chris and I pride ourselves on. We want to make sure all three of our babies’ lives are integrated with each other and with our own. We have five people to keep together in spirit and in love.
But figuring out exactly how to execute the perfect way of integrating Joe into this new family of ours, it feels overwhelming. Of course, his brother and sister are just six months old, so whatever we do today will just be for Chris and me, and at best an impression for them. But, nevertheless, it is important to me that we try to begin a tradition worth upholding for years to come. Weather permitting, we will all be together today for Chris’s lunch hour, and we will take that time to speak to our babies and each other about Joe. We mention him regularly in our day to day life, but we have not told them the story of their older brother and his time on Earth. We want to do that today, for their spirits and ours. I also plan to read them the book I shared with my class last year, Wherever you are, my love will find you. Other than those plans, I am not sure what else will arise in the moment and feel right to do or say. Mainly, being together today and creating space for Joe within our lives as they are today is most important. It would not be right to disrespect the lives we lead today out of grief or longing for what used to be. We much rather honor the life we have so intentionally created for ourselves and for our family by bringing Joe into the present. After all, the twins are only here because of him. Chris and I choose to believe that Joe is guiding us, our little family, on this life adventure. Right now we are busy, we are tired, we are sometimes at our limit with all the chaos. But, Joe is our reminder to slow it down. The words in his song could not be more true: “Through chaos as it swirls, it’s us against the world.”
Five Wallens, against the world. And not “against” like, we’re at odds with the world. It’s more like we know we need each other to lean on, to depend on, to lift each other up, to remind us to seek joy, and find the Joe love and light in the hardest moments and the most joyous moments life has to offer. He is there, love is there, always. All we have to do is pay attention.
Happy second birthday, Joseph Michael. And to all of our loved ones who question or wonder about what this is like two years later, I hope it’s clear that it is no different than it was before, and yet it is completely different, and that’s ok. As we move forward together, we get to continue being the love he brought to the world. So simple, so beautiful, so Joe.