I haven’t shed a tear in a very long time – and that makes me sad. But not sad enough to cry.
In December of 2014, 11 weeks after our only son was born, he was hurt by his caretaker. He eventually was rushed to the emergency department, blue from a lack of oxygen to his brand new – and perfect – brain. Not surprisingly our family’s life took an unprecedented turn for the worse following this heartbreaking incident.
Understandably, I wept a lot during the following weeks our son spent in a medically induced coma. When doctors finally woke him, I cried more as I watched him struggle to regain the intangible spark that was inside him before he was brutalized by a trusted family friend. Soon we found ourselves headed home with our boy only to begin the hardest year of our collective lives, as we came to grips with our new world that involved a severely handicapped child. Yeah, I cried a lot this entire first year, too.
While I didn’t always have control over my emotions, I rarely let the waterworks flow in public. I would find myself dodging off into random corners, staying in my car a little longer, or simply burying my head in my hands to hide my obvious sorrow. I’d blame red eyes on allergies and say things like, “No, I’m not sad, I just poked my eye,” when my little girl asked why my face was wet.
I wasn’t ashamed of crying but I was furious to be in a situation that could bring about such a wide range of traumatic emotions. Of all the joy and sorrow I’ve experienced throughout my life, these new, emotionally charged life reactions were the most powerful I’ve ever felt. They were unparalleled and impossible to verbalize to family and friends. The thought of being happy on some days felt as unattainable as being able to flap my arms and fly.
I despised being so emotionally broken, but I never wished to stop crying, though. I felt connected to my son, my family, and our horrible situation when I cried. You can’t cry without feeling. Of course, while I’d argue that what I was feeling is not something to be envied, it did keep me grounded in my new reality: despair.
Soon enough a year had passed and things, although different, were not better. Our son now had a feeding tube because he lost the ability to swallow liquid. His seizures were back and occurring upwards of a thousand times a day at its worst. Most importantly, he hadn’t met any of his milestones 14 months after he was born. No talking, no walking, no reaching, no ‘dada’ or ‘mama,’ and no ability to even hold his head up.
As the months went by, Holton slowly showed improvement but nothing that would make parents of healthy children impressed. In the second year of recovery something massive did change though: I stopped crying.
Things that used to inspire me to reach for a tissue box didn’t anymore. I became a bit numb to other people’s plight this past year. Nobody’s problems could subjectively measure up to my problems. I found myself wishing my biggest parental hurdle was that my kid was a brat or my son stuttered a little when he spoke or my daughter’s friends were being mean to her. I know it’s not appropriate to judge others or compare worlds – but fuck it, that’s what I did. Those problems all seem solvable and finite. My son’s problem feels impossible and forever.
So today it’s been a little over two years since my son was taken off his life’s path and placed on some stranger’s trail. As we enter this third year as a family, we are still figuring out how to traverse this bumpy, unpaved road to recovery. I still have not cried in a long time – so long I don't remember the last time I teared up – but I have regained empathy for others and their issues.
By talking with countless parents of sick children through our nonprofit Holton’s Heroes, I can now recognize that we all have our personal mountain to climb. While another family’s mountain might resemble more of a hill through my eyes, it doesn’t take away the fact that it might be the largest freakin’ hill that person has ever seen up close.
The last two years have taught me that it never helps to fantasize about how easy life would be if I were in someone else’s shoes. It’s a wasted wish and a stupid one at that. Besides the obvious, I now realize someone else’s life wouldn’t come with the only thing that puts a smile on my face – my memories.
Today, there’s a part of my heart that is forever broken because of my son’s injury. But there is a large part of my heart that has been fixed because of time, family, and love. I’m grateful to be able to hold my son, kiss him, and tell him I adore his sweet face, but it would mean the world to me to hear it back one day. I’m being selfish and unfair when I wish for such a lofty goal, but I realize the moment I give up on that fantasy is the moment I’ll finally begin to cry again.