Trigger Warnings & Facebook’s Year in Review

About a year ago, I read an article about high school and college students wanting trigger warnings for material on the syllabus. I was irritated and thought it was unreasonable. I understood that if someone had PTSD or had been raped, that certain material may trigger some awful memories and emotions. At the same time, I assumed that these students participate in the real world to some degree, if they are able to sit in a classroom and do homework. If that’s the case, these students are probably watching TV and skimming Facebook timelines, where they will see movie trailers, commercials, headlines and video clips that may cause similar distress. My conclusion was that if schools agreed to label the reading list with trigger warnings, it would become a never ending list. The best literature is often packed with the hardest things in life. Reading some of the things might be hard, but working through the book may be good therapy. Or not. Student’s choice at that point.

This past week, as each Facebook friend’s Year in Review popped up, I felt a little kick to my gut every time I read the words “It’s been a great year. Thanks for being a part of it!” In fact, the first time it popped up, I felt a little hurt- how could someone close to me say that it had been a great year? My son died on July 7 after a nightmarish 13 day battle with E. coli. It was sudden and shocking. We watched our child suffer in ways no person ever should and we witnessed things that replay in our minds every day, like nightmares on a movie screen as we try to live without him.

Trigger Warning
So, when I read a Huffington Post article yesterday, saying that Facebook had apologized to a dad who lost his daughter this year, I was torn. I feel for the guy. I know how jarring it was to see the automated prompt, with my boy’s smiling face in the middle and confetti all around. I knew what the last 6 months of my year have looked like and I didn’t want a replay. But, I did not have to look! I think the app was a great idea- it’s fun for most people. It wasn’t fun for me. It wasn’t fun to see everyone’s happy year end while mine sucks. But, that is my life right now. I don’t expect a trigger warning on Facebook, or on the radio before an ad for Whole Foods, where we bought the ground beef that made Joshy sick. I don’t expect companies like Folger’s to change their emotional commercials so that they don’t highlight, for me, the fact that I will never wake up at my adult son’s home and tell his children stories of his childhood. I can’t expect to avoid seeing adorable, blonde boys playing with sisters and friends, searching for bugs, walking their dogs. I shouldn’t expect to avoid the feelings that follow the most traumatic events and the biggest loss of my life.

Sometimes, life is hard. Sometimes it sucks and is unfair. Sometimes awful, unthinkable things happen. We can not expect the world to think of every terrible possibility and walk on eggshells to avoid triggering our nightmares. We must do the best we can to work through and live on, hopefully remembering the happy times more often than the worst.

Life is full of firsts….

Josh's RainbowFirsts are so much fun when you have a baby. First smile, first time rolling over, first belly laugh, first steps, first day of pre-school.

We keep records of these. They go down in our pediatricians files to make sure kids are on the right track. Now with social media, we share them with friends and family, far and wide. Sometimes, we even prepare, searching Pinterest for creative signs for kids to hold- think first lost tooth, first day of 3rd grade- so cute!

Sometimes, firsts are not so great. On July 7, 2014 my very dear friend, Melissa Kaye, lost her 8 year old son, Josh, after a 13 day fight against E-Coli. Since then, she has experienced a whole new series of firsts. Heart-wrenching, can’t breathe firsts. He died in July, his birthday was in August, his first day of fourth grade would have been in September, first Halloween without Josh in October, first Thanksgiving in November, and the upcoming holiday season. Every day without him is an unimaginable first.

Our children were friends and went to the same school, where they arranged for a grief counselor come and speak. She was wonderful. She spoke about the different ways our children may grieve, and what we should look for and how to react. It helped.

Something the grief counselor said that night stuck with me. She mentioned that a lot of parents lose friends after losing a child. Their friends are usually parents who have children the same age as the child who died. The parents of the living child often have survivor’s guilt and that is beyond uncomfortable. But to lose your friends in addition to your child is just not right.

I can see why this happens. It is definitely easier to avoid situations that make you feel uncomfortable than to face them. This is a first for me. To witness my close friend’s loss, the loss of a child I knew well, but I have faced those feelings head on with my friend, her husband and her daughters. I am there for them regardless of how heart-wrenching life can be for them with all of these new firsts.

The first few months after Josh passed, I felt as though I didn’t deserve to be happy. Why should I get to enjoy my children when this wonderful, loving family cannot enjoy their son? Everything I did, I felt guilty about. It is such a desperately low, dark, and painful place to be. The loss of a child is just unthinkable- unacceptable. But time goes on and the days keep on coming even if you aren’t ready for them. I wanted to rewind time. These raw, emotional days happened over the summer, when I was surrounded by my own four children all of the time. I have never been as grateful for them as I was this past summer. I felt as if I was living in slow motion and really started to see life as it should be. I spent the extra time reading bed time stories. I paid attention to sunsets and rainbows, and really listened. I allowed myself to cry in front of my children and accepted hugs.

I don’t ever want to experience anything like this again. However, I have been shown just how beautiful life can be, even in the midst of the ugliest thing I have ever experienced. I cherish each and every moment I get with my children, even if I am yelling at them (which still happens more frequently than I care to admit). I take stock of all the good in my life a few times per day now. I count my blessings and the Kaye family is one of them. I am a changed woman, for the better. Josh’s death is still unthinkable for me; I don’t understand it. I do understand that the small bullshit things that used to bother me just don’t matter anymore. It may sound cliche to tell you to try and be more present with your life and give hugs when you can, but I have to say it anyway.

I’m Jealous of Your Noisy, Messy Days

There are a lot of moms and dads on Facebook, posting updates that chronicle their parental struggles- kids misbehaving, making too much noise or mess, fighting with siblings, refusing to get ready for school.

My house is relatively quiet. There are no noisy arguments or fighting between siblings. On school mornings, I don’t feel like I’m pulled in 5 directions. I don’t have to nag at everyone to get ready. And if I forgot to take the bento container out of A’s lunchbox last night, no stress- I have an extra in the cabinet.

Our bedtime routine goes smoothly-no chasing kids in different directions or playing musical beds to settle kids down. My husband and I have plenty of time to watch a show or read a book before bed.

Right now, you might be jealous, or think I’m a braggy mom- but really I’M jealous.

I miss the sound of sibling arguments. I would give anything for a night of being driven crazy, returning my son to his bed every ten minutes, not getting to watch that show my husband DVR’d to watch with me.

Struggling to get the kids ready, juggling schedules and different moods, 3 different meals for dinner, doctor’s appointments, dirty socks left strewn around the house, 10 thousand questions and 20 thousand strong opinions every single day.

I miss being nagged for screen time and begged to check out his Minecraft world. Reading “just one more chapter” before bed. And I hate that there is an extra of everything, because my son isn’t here to put those things to use.

When your children are healthy, and you can assume they will be driving you crazy for the rest of your life, it is normal to be frustrated and irritated by the things that we, as parents, find challenging.

I urge you, though- take a step back every now and then and think about how much you will miss those moments when your child is grown, or what you might have had more patience for if you looked back from my perspective.

Enjoy the moments with your children. Try not to take things too seriously. Remember that things can change in an instant. Love really is what is important in life. Surround yourself and your family with love.

M

Our sweet, crazy boy

Our sweet, crazy boy

*Read more about Joshua’s life & legacy and how we’re working through life without him here

Seeing the Good, Even through Loss

When I was young, I was told and I believed that “everything happens for a reason.”

That is bullshit. Things do not happen for a reason. We assign meaning to things to help make sense of them. And the truth is, there can be good that comes after pretty much everything. If you’re a silver linings kind of person.

I am. I am the ultimate optimist, guilty of always looking for and seeing the good in people.

My 8 year old son died on July 7, just weeks shy of the 9th birthday he was so excited for, after a 13 day illness that everyone thought he would walk away from.

But I’m looking for the good. Not the why- there is not any good reason in the universe for a sweet life to be cut short. But there are and will be good things to notice.

The outpouring of love and support (we knew it was there, but it was powerful nonetheless.)

The media focusing on the important facts- Josh was amazing, he should be remembered.

Joshua’s friends and school-mates and other children in the community taking action to show support and help fund causes he cared about.

Friends, family and strangers reaching out and speaking from their hearts, even when it goes against their personality to get so personal.

And most importantly- the parents who hear Joshua’s story. They are slowing down, taking more time with their children, loving them just as they are in that moment, breathing them in and appreciating them.

There is no good reason for Joshua to be gone. But there is good all around us.

Photo credit: Jonathan Kaye

Photo credit: Jonathan Kaye