Something about the spring grips my heart and lungs... Every year it comes around and I am transported back in time, to the exact same moments that occurred nearly three years ago. As soon as the warmer winds begin to blow and our windows are open through the night, and as soon as I can hear birds greeting the dawn before Chris has woken up for work, it sets in. The pit in my stomach lays heavy like a bowling ball I’ve somehow swallowed and can’t digest. There’s no breathing through it, there’s no exercising it off. This extra weight I carry in my chest remains there no matter where I go, whom I speak to, or what music I listen to. It’s part of me now. Spring awakens it and reminds me it’s there more than any other time. The air is a little more humid. The ground smells damp all the time. And I am raw once again with the wounds of my first born child.
Admittedly, this spring has been mild in comparison to the last two. I haven’t had crippling mornings, nor have I had moments of sheer despair. Progress. Tears still come freely, though. Families, other people’s children, pregnant women, my children, Children’s Hospital, any hospital, the air, the wind, the color of new nature, the feeling of school ending, countless songs and basically the entire collection of Coldplay’s music are all potential triggers for some sort of emotion to seep out of me uncontrollably. The other day while shopping for groceries, I heard “Fireflies” by Owl City, which might sound at best like a loose connection to my experience with Joe, unless you know that the Upper Elementary class at my school the year Joe was born learned and rehearsed that song all year so they could sing it to me on his birthday.
Trigger. What a weird but accurate word. “To cause an event or situation to happen or exist,” is quite right, and the whole symbolism of it being the part of a gun that causes it to fire seems fitting… but truthfully I hate the word. I hate using it, I hate hearing it, and I hate that it will forever be part of my life. There are too many things and people and places to give all of them that sort of power over me. I can’t live in fear of “being triggered” of BIRDS in the morning or the actual smell of a season change. Allowing my emotions and traumas to rise to the surface and then overflow however they may need to is absolutely necessary, and the circumstances that are so arranged that they ensue such a surge of emotions mustn’t be feared or given a negative word like “trigger.” At least not for me. Things remind me. Things awaken parts of my broken heart that still need to be mended. I am not always aware of the ways I’m still healing, and I absolutely need outside influences to assist in my doing so. I need my children to occasionally spark a thought about what Joe might look like today, so that I can mend that part of my aching soul. My poor soul can’t do that work on its own. Thank goodness I have all of these meaningful things in my life that reopen my eyes, reattune my ears, realign my heart, and simply get me the F out of my own way sometimes. I maybe just need a word of my own, a word that brings me joy that means the same thing. A word that is worthy of who Joe is in my life.
Many of the people who will read this know what I mean when I say I am still connected to Joe in a very real and positive way. The veil between us is hardly noticeable most of the time, and I work very hard to keep myself in that place. This means I have to make time for myself, and since having Brooks and Reagan that effort has transformed. “Me time” looks nothing like it did before they were born, which makes sense because I’m not who I was before they were born. I’ve shifted and adapted, and elevated, and *insert a better word for “grown” here* in ways that make me feel unrecognizable sometimes. But there is a common thread that ties this new version of me to all of the old versions I’ve ever been - and Joe represents that for me. He is my reminder of the strong, tender, compassionate, and grateful heart that beats in my chest without me even consciously giving it a thought. When I go to yoga, I check in with Joe and I feel like myself again. The real me, the me that transcends Aubrey. It is a sacred relationship that I rely on for hope and direction. I’ve forced myself to find a hideaway that allows me to come home to myself, and luckily I didn’t have to look far or wide. My sister invited me to a yoga class, I suggested a studio that my lifelong friend introduced me to, and then one day after many weeks of showing up, I arrived home again to my mind and body while lying on my mat.
I tried a new class this week that was exactly what I needed. It was a little harder than what I was used to, like really super physically challenging. But the group in the room and the teacher had a great vibe and the music was excellent. I heard a song during savasana that I’d never heard before, and I noticed I could sense Joe more strongly. Since there was a heightened awareness of him at that moment, I turned my attention to the lyrics. “When my body won’t hold me anymore, and it finally lets me free, where will I go?” And tears. I didn’t need to hear another word. It was exactly the feeling I had while sitting by Joe’s side in the hospital room almost three years ago. I knew his body was not able to contain his incredible life force - his body wasn’t all of him. And we had to decide together when the right time would be to let him free. And what then? Well I knew he would still be with us, he would be able to find Chris and me wherever we were, and we would never, ever stop looking for him. I knew he would let us know we were all together. I have never been more right about anything in my entire life.
One final thing that actually “triggered” me happened today - still dedicated to finding the right word. We smuggled approximately eight bottles of hand sanitizer out of Children’s Hospital the day we said goodbye to Little Joe. The hand sanitizer smell became part of our experience of Joe because every person in or out of the room used it, to the extent he actually smelled like it. So, yes, we needed that smell with us wherever and whenever we wanted it. It has lasted all this time and I still use it everyday. Today, and actually if I’m being honest it’s also happened a few other days already this season, but today it hit me harder for all kinds of other complex reasons, I was quite *Joe’d*? by the smell of the sanitizer. It was actually what prompted me to sit down and write this journal. I rubbed the foam into my hands after putting B&R down for their nap and began setting up to do my schoolwork, and suddenly my lungs were heavy again. My chest felt tight and my diaphragm was pulsing. My mind flooded with images of Children’s Hospital and the fragile babe that captivated my every waking moment for seven incomprehensible days. Why today? Why this particular use of the sanitizer? Who knows. But it’s been a MINUTE since I’ve opened up and let the inside tumble out, and apparently today was the right day to revisit the action.
With Joe’s birthday on the horizon, I am a little bit at a loss for words. Talking about how I feel on his birthday feels overwhelming, so I won’t worry about it right now. We are running the Flying Pig relay again this year - by that I mean Chris and I are both running for the first time. The Pig being two weeks before his birthday makes it the perfect way to honor and celebrate him in a big way that isn’t specifically even about him. It feels like the exact right moment of gathering together, doing something hard, and letting the sense of pride and accomplishment wash over us at the end. There is something magical about Cincinnati on race day, so it makes perfect sense to seize the opportunity to sprinkle in our own magic. Perhaps that’s what the feeling is after all, so many people bringing their unique magic together for the entire group to benefit from. I like thinking of it this way… if nothing else it will make running those six miles feel a little less like work and a little more like Joe.
Thank you for sticking with me through all of this and for believing in our magic.