My friend Rachel Graff Kirkham asked me to write a guest post for her blog for Mother’s Day. To be honest, I didn’t want to do it. I haven’t written a blog post since my snuggle bunny died. It’s too hard. It’s too scary. My muse and the whole reason why I started writing in the first place is no longer here. I have been afraid to trust my feelings and share my thoughts. I have been afraid that I didn’t have anything to say that anyone would want to read. I have been afraid that now that I’ve suffered the greatest loss any mommy can suffer, anything I write would be a downer and turn people away, not inspire them to get involved. When Liam was here, the Prince Liam the Brave blog served as a way to update people on his battle against cancer. His indomitable spirit was so inspiring. His face was irresistibly cute. His squeaky voice stopped people in their tracks. His loss is still very present and raw for me. In fact, just writing these words about him makes my heart swell with love and sorrow. He was just shy of his 7th birthday when he died. His birthday was close enough that he was already making plans for how he wanted to celebrate. His birthday is coming up in a few days on May 13th. He would be 11. I wonder what he’d be like as an 11 year old. But I digressed…a friend asked me to help her out and, well, as anyone who knows me knows….I have a hard time saying no. So, I said I’d try to come up with something for her. And then I started counting sheep because I couldn’t sleep. What did I get myself into? What if I couldn’t find any words to say? What if nothing I wrote made sense to anyone other than me, the mommy with the broken heart? What if having a broken heart meant anything I had to say would be tainted? I don’t know if I do have anything to say, but I’m giving it a shot.
I don’t know if this is “good” or something anyone will want to read. But it’s from my heart to yours on Mother’s Day.
XO x Million, Gretchen
On May 13th, 2004 I became a mother. Liam was born 5 weeks early, on a Thursday, three days before Mother’s Day. From the moment I saw him, I knew what the true meaning of life was about and also that life as I knew it would never be the same. Life was about someone else. Life was about giving life. Life was about taking care of my baby boy with a button nose and face so cute that it nearly brought me to tears every time I looked at him. Life was about loving with every fiber of my being.
Liam spent about 10 days in the NICU, and I spent those days sitting next to his incubator talking to him, stroking his body to make sure he could feel his mommy touching him and thinking about his future and everything it had to hold. That first Mother’s Day feels like a lifetime ago. That first Mother’s Day feels like yesterday. That first Mother’s Day, when I was less than a week into motherhood, I knew my job was to protect my sweet baby boy.
When Liam was diagnosed with stage IV cancer less than three years later – on February 26th, 2007 – being a mommy took on a new meaning. I was now fighting for my child’s life. Fighting for my child’s life. How did that happen? How did my sunny, funny sweet baby boy have the very disease that claims the lives of more children than any other? I breastfed him for a year. I ate the right foods. I didn’t do any of the things people associate with cancer from getting sunburns to smoking. I did everything I was supposed to do and didn’t cut corners on anything. But here I was in a place I never in a million years could have dreamed – fighting for the life of my son, my only son and his sister Ella’s only sibling, against a disease I couldn’t see and hadn’t detected other than a mother’s gut intuition that something wasn’t quite right with my picky eater.
The role of being a mother became one of lioness, protector and advocate.
The Mother’s Days we marked during his battle with cancer were vibrantly poignant. Liam’s birthday and Mother’s Day are always close to each other. The day of Liam’s birthday, the reason I became a mommy, usually falls within days of the day on which moms are celebrated. Each Mother’s Day during his battle took on a whole new meaning. Instead of a day that celebrated me as “the mom,” I thought about how lucky I was to even be a mommy. It wasn’t about me, but about my children and the gift they gave me. And motherhood is a gift of and for the heart and soul.
And then Liam’s battle was over. And the world became very dark.
My snuggle bunny was gone. Forever.
And I didn’t understand why I was a mother.
I couldn’t even do the most basic thing I’m supposed to do as a mother: protect my child.
It was 2011. The year that Liam’s birthday and Mother’s Day fell on the same day.
It was so cruel. Or was it?
Maybe it was a sign to keep going in honor of my snuggle bunny.
My daughter Ella has given me the gift of experiencing motherhood in a completely different way than I ever could have imagined. In her gentle wisdom that no child her age should have, Ella taught me to learn to love life through a new lens and live with loss. We wade through the landscape of loss and are there for each other in a very special way.
I often wonder if it would have been better to have not become a mother in order to protect myself from the searing pain I feel each morning when I wake up and realize it’s not a bad dream – Liam really isn’t here. But with that pain comes the privilege of always being Liam’s and Ella’s mommy. And it’s the gift of being their mommy that has given me the strength and conviction to do everything I can to help other mommies love their snuggle bunnies by doing everything I possibly can to battle the cowardly foe that preys on our children.
Being a mother gave me a gift of love so great that I want to move mountains. I am so grateful to have been given that gift first by Liam and then Ella. Being a mother for me means I will live the rest of my life trying to do anything and everything I can to help other mothers by funding research into treatments that can give children hope. I have to. It’s what Liam would want me to do. And when I finally see him again, I know it’s the very first question he’ll have for me after we hug and kiss and kiss and hug and hug and kiss…. “Mommy, did you make it better for others?”
Liam, thank you for giving me the gift of motherhood. Because of you, every day is Mother’s Day.
Mommy loves you.
Mommy misses you, Snuggle Bunny. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift life has to offer.