Sunday, August 30, 2015

Twenty One...

Today, we celebrate 21 months of cool.
Our sweet little princess Hope is inching closer and closer to two years old. We can't even believe how the time with her has flown. This month has been so, so much fun. Exhausting, but fun!! Hope is such a sweet little girl. She is filled with love for her family and is always wanting to hug and kiss us.
She's also very curious and wants to try everything. I mean EVERYTHING. She's fearless and daring and does more at 21 months than we ever expected. Her knees are constantly scraped from falling or climbing or riding her little bike or kneeling on the ground. When she does fall outside, she stands up - stares at her hands - rubs them on her clothes - and then moves on. I've never seen anything like it - at least not anything that has come out of me!! Ha! She is tough!
I am amazed at how independent Hope wants to be. She tries to put her shoes on, she wants to feed herself with utensils, brush her hair, brush her teeth... it has really made me examine how I've been parenting my children, to be honest. I know it sounds dramatic, but it's true.
Gavin was dependent on us to feed him and dress him and, well, really help him with most everything. When Brian came along, I stayed in that mode and probably did (and still do!) too much for him. I expected to be the same kind of Mom for Hope - but she won't let me! It has forced me to examine if I do things to hold my children back... not in a malicious or selfish way, of course. Hope has helped me realize that I... gulp... do. 
So I have stepped back a little, let them get dirty, calmed my nerves when they were taking a chance and trying something new... and let them do things for themselves instead of instantly jumping in to do it for them. I feel grateful every single day that Hope was sent to our family - that I was chosen to be her Mom. But now I feel especially lucky that she has helped me grow as a Mother.
She has been trying to talk a lot lately and has a lot of words including little sentences like "Hi Bian" "Love you" "Night night" "More, please!" and "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!" which is just about the highest pitched scream (usually in public) that calls dogs from miles away and trips off car alarms in a 5 mile radius. She is tiny, but she is fierce.
And she is hilarious. It's not always hilarious when she screams to hear her own voice and get people to look at her in public - but I'm trying my best to not acknowledge that behavior. Part of me wants to laugh - sometimes I want to cry - and every so often I'll say "HOPI" in a stern voice which prompts her to... MOCK ME! She'll growl right back at me! (Admittedly, THAT is pretty hilarious.)
I really enjoy watching Hope play. She loves to pretend, which is a lot of fun. She'll feed her dolls or burp her bunny or pretend she's a monkey - it's adorable!
Tomorrow morning, Hope and I will wave goodbye to Brian as he starts First Grade. She will miss him terribly!
But I am looking forward to this time with her.
Brian won't be the only one in school this year. I am so excited to learn more from this child who has already taught me so much.
Happy 21 months, Hope Margaret!!
We love you so much.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Resilience - A Guest Post...


If you've ever wondered what members of my family might be like, here is a great representative. Friends, meet my niece, Julia. She is my oldest brother, Tom's, daughter and is a 21 year old student at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. She majors in International Development and Spanish and is destined, in my opinion, to change the world. She is a great role model as a cousin (as are all of my nieces and nephews!) which I am grateful for.
 Julia is kindhearted and passionate and was very close to my Father - and still very close to my Mom. I see a lot of my Dad in her and I am exceptionally proud of the woman she has become. I know Pop is smiling in Heaven watching her every move. Julia has something passionate to share and I felt she needed a wider rooftop to shout from.

Thank you for listening...
********************************************************

Resilience 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” Many people will remember the last words they exchange with a loved one before he or she dies. After my Pop died I didn’t have the memory of a conversation but rather this quote by Winston Churchill. Though I wish my memory was stronger and I could know what our final words were, it seems more fitting that this quote, which I shared with him, remains as my last living memory of Pop. 

Almost three years ago I shared this reflection with my family because it was the first anniversary of Pop’s death. I made connections between the life of Pop and the life of Jimmy Carter while reflecting on my Pop’s famous line “keep the faith” in connection with Carter’s book called Keeping Faith. Though I think of Pop often I am especially reminiscent this week because one of my closest friends lost her grandfather a few days ago. Many of the feelings surrounding Pop’s death resurface and I think to our quote for comfort.


This week is also replete with reminiscent thoughts in the city I live in. The end of this week marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina here in New Orleans. The other day someone told me they read an article that detailed a survey asking Americans what word came to mind when someone says Hurricane Katrina. The largest response was ‘Brad Pitt.’ Had I never lived in New Orleans maybe that would be my response too. But after getting to know the city and its people, I see that not only would their responses be different from most of America but they would vary one from to the next. For me, the word I associate with Hurricane Katrina is resilience.


It is hard for me to tell the story of resilience as it pertains to Hurricane Katrina since I didn’t know it first hand. So instead, to speak about resilience since it is a theme of the week I will tell you the story of a woman who benefitted from the work of an organization for which I volunteer. Her name is Sarah and she almost singlehandedly stopped a Cholera outbreak in her village in Kenya. My organization called Mama Maji (meaning mother ‘water’ in Swahili) held a training on water, health, and sanitation in April in which Sarah not only learned the implications of these topics but also how to train others surrounding these topics as well. She managed to train 300 people in just three months and because of her reach was able to identify the beginning of a spread of cholera and stop it. Sarah would not let the lack of access to clean water affect these people the way it had affected her. She had to drop out of nursing school because she couldn’t afford the fees. Access to clean water would allow Sarah to grow and sell crops of higher value therefore allowing her to fulfill this dream. 


Because of people like Sarah I decided to run a fundraising campaign for Mama Maji so that in a village similar to Sarah’s they could have easy access to clean water and a health training as well. My fundraising campaign is coming to an end. My goal is $4,000 and I only need $132 more to reach this. My campaign has run all month but I am employing the courage instilled in me from Pop to “keep the faith and finish the race.” If you are interested in helping me achieve this, please click here. 


Resilience is never giving up. As Churchill describes it is not letting failure kill you. If you’ve read this blog you know my family knows a thing or two about resilience. Because of how good looking Pop was the one word association with Gallagher might also be Brad Pitt, but I would argue to say it is resilience. So in this week of remembering a city that almost drowned and our loved ones who face adversity with tenacity- here’s to resilience and continuing with courage. 

- Julia

p.s. - This is Kate. I was explaining to Brian today what his cousin was trying to do. He was so confused why people just like him can't just go to the sink and get water to drink - let alone get it out of a refrigerator door, which is the ultimate luxury! He was astounded that his COUSIN was doing all this work for people she never even MET - and likely never will - so that they could drink clean water.

"Why is she doing that?" he asked.
"Because she's a kind person and she saw something broken and decided to fix it!" I told him.
"But how? How is she going to figure out how to get them their water and all that stuff?" he asked with a really confused    and very concerned look on his face.
"Because she's a Gallagher, Brian. And you have Gallagher in you, too. We just get stuff done - it's in our blood." was my reply.
Somehow... he got that. And I pray that he remembers it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Epic Adventures...

Tonight I am writing this journal entry from an undisclosed location... in our backyard. Brian and I are on an EPIC adventure!

This afternoon, I surprised him with a tent I bought before we moved and told him that the two of us would be camping out tonight. He was beyond excited.
He hung out in the yard "helping" me as I set up the tent. I should tell you - not to brag - okay, I'm bragging - that I have never set up a tent before. I've never even slept in a tent before!! I'm not a "roughing it" kind of gal, believe me. I was sooo proud of myself for getting this tent up! This picture shows it "almost" done for those with eagle eyes.
Soon it was completed - with a hinged front door and everything. Nighttime couldn't come fast enough (for Brian, that is. Ha!)
He is finally asleep and as soon as I finish this journal, I will attempt to sleep as well. I am a little concerned about my arthritic body and how I'll feel tomorrow - but guess what? It's already worth it. Tonight has been so, extra special - and just what both of us needed.
I bought two books ahead of today for this special occasion. One about first grade and the other a sequel to a book we love that is filled with stories that have wisdom to take away. We read for a good 40 minutes.
Brian was far from tired after that so we laid on his sleeping bag and looked at the stars... had conversations about school starting... about his fears... about jealousy when his sister gets a lot of attention...
...we took silly pictures and talked about his top tooth being loose and reminisced about our old house...
...and we laughed. A lot. I know Brian felt very special tonight. Finally he said he was tired and that he was going to close his eyes.
"I'm not going to talk to you - and you don't talk to me - okay, Mommy?" he told me.
"No problem, Brian. Good night! I love you!" I replied.
Silence....

And then I heard...

"Mommy? Can you turn your light on for a second?" he asked.
I shined the light so we could see each other and he softy said...
I had a lot of fun doing this with you. Thank you for our adventure. I love you...
 Okay, now go to sleep."
To be honest... I can't believe we're still out here. I thought for sure he'd want to go inside the minute it got dark! 

Brian has another epic adventure coming up August 31st... the first day of First Grade!! This past week we attended an open house in his new classroom. I was very grateful to Granny for coming to stay with Hope so Brian and I could spend the time together. (Ed had to work and was so disappointed he couldn't make it) Brian's new teacher, Mrs. Korom, created a challenge for all the students that day. She gave step by step instructions - which they had to follow in order. The first step was for Brian to find his desk. He smiled from ear to ear and couldn't contain his joy when he saw that his very best friend, Daniel, would be sitting directly across from him!!!! And his good friend, Grace, was right next to him!! Seriously - he has talked about this every day since.
The instructions were quite detailed - "Empty your crayons and pencils and scissors into your plastic cigar box and place it in the left side of your desk..."
"Bring your cardboard cigar box to your teacher and tell her your name so she can write it on your box..."
"Sit in the reading circle and look around - count to 25 - write your name on the easel..."
"Bring your three copybooks to your teacher - find the stickers with your name on them and place them on the books. Then put them in the right piles."
"Sit at your desk and draw a picture of yourself. Write your name on the paper and take it to your teacher who will then give you a small treat..."
It was such a fun morning and really got Brian excited for First Grade. I commend Mrs. Korom for her unique open house! Brian was able to interact with her several times, she shook his hand and welcomed him, he toured the classroom in a relaxed way, he got to pick a prize from her treasure chest which thrilled him and he had fun! 

Everyone thinks their children are special - and I am no exception. Brian is honestly one of my favorite people on this Earth. Not just because he's my son... I actually really like the person that he is. Sure, he can be wild at times and need to be told to calm down... or get too bossy or act jealous when all eyes aren't on him... but he's 6. He's still figuring out this whole shebang called life.

But he is truly one of the sweetest little boys. And he's quite deep. One day last week he called my name while we were out in the yard and I turned to see him holding this leaf, shaped like a heart.
"Here, Mommy - I want to give you my heart!" he said. 
We spend a lot of time outside. When Hope takes her morning nap, the two of us love that time together. We go on the tree swing or take a walk on our little walking trail (thank God for the long range video monitor!)... he helps me water my flowers and we talk about "stuff..."
...we spy frogs and butterflies and tiny little caterpillars. And we often see Praying Mantis, which is very cool!
But when Hope is awake, he lights up. Ed and I really never imagined that they would be as close as they are. With such a big age difference, we thought they wouldn't play together all that much. Boy, were we wrong. They LOVE to play together - and Hope tries HARD to do everything Brian does. He can sometimes forget she's a baby and we have to remind him that no, she can't wrestle - but to be honest, we often forget she's a baby too. She's a tough little girl!!
This week I spontaneously decided to take the kids to a local Church carnival. The first thing Brian said as we walked in was that he wanted to pick rides that he and Hope could go on together. "We should go on all those rides first so she won't feel left out if I go on bigger rides without her later," he told me. She was thrilled to sit right next to him and the two of them laughed and laughed.
Then later, when Brian went on the roller coaster alone...Hope sat patiently in her stroller waving frantically and yelling "HI BIAN! HI BIAN" as he rolled by us.
I'll often come up on the two of them doing something sweet. Brian will take Hope to a window in the house that has the perfect view of our water fountain, which he knows she loves.
Or he'll ask her for a kiss and hug before bed with his arms stretched wide...
...and she always obliges him.
One of our biggest concerns when Gavin was dying - before we knew that I was pregnant with Hope - was that Brian would be desperately lonely. How would we ever fill that void even just a tiny bit?!? Then, when we found out Hope would be coming into the world, we worried that the age difference would be too great for a bond as great as he had with Gavin. Boy, were we wrong again. Brian kept his huge space in his heart for his brother - and opened his heart wide for his new sister. 

Brian chose a Superhero theme for his new room, which he still calls the "Brian-Gavin" room. He still sleeps in his brother's bed and wants Gavin's name near his on the wall.
He loves his room, which overlooks the trickling water fountain that Gavin would have loved. There's a nice desk for him to do homework or write notes (which I often find by my things - "I love Mom" notes will never get old and I've saved every one!)
He loves to "chill," as he puts it, in his bed.
Truth be told, every day is an "epic adventure" with this child. I am so proud to be his Mom. And when he wakes up out here under the sunrise - I will tell him just that.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Refuse to Freeze...

Gavin, from the second he was born, was my world. Literally. Every thought, every breath, every dream, every nightmare - every thing revolved around him. I spent my free time researching ways to help him... things we could try... doctors to stalk to get their advice... toys that would interest him. At night I would google syndromes and diseases, sure I could discover what would end up being the forever elusive diagnosis. I spent the most time with him and knew him better than anyone on this earth.
Then - in one moment - my world came crashing down.

I stood over his body in the emergency room and couldn't move. I couldn't scream. He was grey and looked...dead. Finally I got some words out - 

OH MY GOD! HE'S NOT BREATHING!! GAVIN'S NOT BREATHING!!!

And then... I froze.

I went to nursing school. I had been around emergencies before. I had even been around emergencies involving Gavin.

But I froze. My son wasn't breathing and I just stood there staring at him like my love and my panic and my frantic eyes could make his chest rise.

It was only seconds before the cavalry arrived and I was pushed to the corner of the room to watch them desperately try to bring my world back to me.

When Gavin was breathing again - barely - and they said the helicopter was on its way for him - I had a moment to say to myself, 

"You will never freeze again. Under any circumstance. Refuse to freeze."

And I meant it.

Look, Gavin had his share of issues. An undiagnosed genetic syndrome meant we had no idea what to call his collection of quirks. Delayed development, no speech, hypotonia, etc, etc, etc. But never, ever was "short life span" on ANYONE'S radar. Ours, especially. The biggest stressor for me and Ed was what would happen to Gavin when WE died. We saved for it... tried to plan for it... took Brian into GREAT consideration so he would never feel obligated or burdened. Never in a million years did we think Gavin would die. He couldn't die - he was my world.

But he did.

On the day people I loved would celebrate the very day I was born - the reason I was born would leave this world forever. 
Gavin was dead. And I had a choice to make.

Fall apart. Die a million deaths. Freeze.

or 

Live.

I really, truly believe that everything is a choice in life. You are born with the power to survive and get out from under anything that is holding you back. People, alcohol, food, circumstances, limitations... anything. Including the death of a child, which seems like it should be impossible to live through. It would have been easy for me to retreat into myself, start drinking again, let myself go... and people would give me a break for all of it. "Oh, she lost a child." would be the forever excuse. I have the "trumps them all" excuse, really. And I could use that any time I want.

But I don't.
I won't.

I was the biggest excuse maker of them all for years. I wasted so much of my life in a "sick" state. I used the things that happened to me to stay sick with eating disorders or depression or self loathing or alcohol. The love of family and friends couldn't snap me out of it or talk me out of it or buy me out of it. I was the one that had the power of choice all along. I don't quite think I knew that at the time - I wish I had. Because once I discovered that - I didn't look back.

Now I was facing the BIGGEST crisis of my life. Even I wondered how I would manage to get through it. I was unexpectedly expecting... grieving my child... and still needing to mother a grieving little Brian. 
Ed and I kissed Gavin one last time before they wheeled him into the operating room for the organ donation process. We would never see his sweet little boy body... his sandy blonde hair... his unbelievably light eyes... his happy little smile... ever again. We made our way back to his empty hospital room - scribbled out a DO NOT DISTURB sign to tape on the door - and sat in silence. What in the world were we going to do. We both dreaded walking out of that hospital without him.
It was in that room that we gave ourselves our first pep talk. We decided that our priority had to be Brian. He would be so confused... scared... looking to us to know how to act, how to grieve, how to remember - all of it. It was a huge responsibility. I knew Ed knew this way better than me - he lost both of his parents as a young boy. His Dad when he was 11... his Mom when he was 12. He knew all too well what it felt like to experience death as a kid.
We promised each other grace... acknowledging that the way I grieved might be different than his and both were okay as long as they weren't destructive in any way. We vowed that we would not let this destroy our marriage - like many before us. I mean, really - can you imagine? First Brian loses a brother... and then we would ask him to lose us together? NO way - not on our watch. We also decided that we had to celebrate Gavin's life - not overly emphasize his death. His life was so special. Too damn short, but so, so special.
I feel so proud that we have kept to our vows and promises from that day - one of the worst in our lives. It is not always easy. I know for me, I literally make the choice every single day to live my life in a way that will honor Gavin. And that will honor Brian and Hope, too. They need to grow up in their own light - not in the shadow of their brother's death or their mother's grief or anything else. They deserve to be my world just as Gavin was.

Our recent move was, in part, so we could have a "fresh start" as a family. That encompasses so many things - one of which was the deaths of Gavin and Darcy. I can understand how it would seem like an impossible choice - to move. I have talked to people who have frozen their lives from the second their loved one dies... never removing anything that was theirs, staying in the same home for fear of "leaving them behind," keeping to themselves. In my sincerely humble opinion... I feel that living this way is too hard. And I am sure - even without knowing anyone's loved ones - that this is not how they would want to be remembered...or would want you to live.

To me, moving was freeing. It doesn't matter where we are or what we do - all of our children are with us. I don't need things or places to cling to. Clinging too hard to anything stops you from moving... from dancing... from loving... from living. Really living.
We are not special people. We are not "amazing" - especially not because we are surviving the loss of a child. We are just people - living life just like you. We have happy days and bad days. We fight and make up. We are parents of the year one day and then crappy ones the next four days. All we do is try our best... and make the next right choice each day. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes not. 

As for me?
I choose life. Every day.
I choose love... sent to Heaven and back to Earth.
I choose to honor my children and my husband and my life by learning to honor myself - which includes making choices that don't require excuses or come with any burdens on myself or others.
I choose to use my son's death - a death that I never saw coming - to move. 
Move myself out of bed every day.
Move others with my words.
Move people to donate to help make things happen for kids like Gavin.
Move mountains to make sure Ed and Brian and Hope know they are loved and adored.

But most importantly, I refuse to freeze.
Freezing is just as tragic as death. Especially when you're alive.

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