Chris and I met at 21, just young kids when we started our life together. When we met, I worked in the Johnny Garlic restaurants and he managed the docks at Lake Sonoma. As the years progressed, I graduated college and Chris followed his career dreams.
He was a firefighter, and a damn good one too. He was first responder EMT certified, completed the Fire Fighter Academy, worked three seasons for CDF (CalFire) and was loving his job. As time rolled around to start a family, we made the decision that he start Paramedic School so that he had a better chance of being hired in a city station, which would allow shorter shifts and more predictable hours. He wanted to be home for his family. It wasn't easy, years of school, focus and patience without knowing if his dream job would come to fruition, but he did it anyway with faith that it would.
When Ruthie Lou was born, I was full force in my teaching career and Chris had graduated Paramedic School, 2 years of working full time while going to school full time, interning at the hospital and studying for his exams. He had passed the manipulative test and was one test away from being certified, he was so close!! His final test was scheduled for 3 weeks after Ruthie Lous due date...and then she came early. By the time the test date rolled around, we had lived 5 weeks of a parenting nightmare, held Ruthie Lou and loved her as much as we could and she was gone. Just like that.
We had several conversations about him returning to the world of fires and medical calls and each time was ended in stress, fear, discomfort. He had held our daughter in her last minutes of life, she was in his arms for her final breath, how could he go on a medic call that involved a child? How could he live someone else's nightmare after enduring our own? He couldn't. I knew that before he did but he is a proud man, a family man and he had worked so hard for this dream.
Finally, a friend and he had these dream plans, they would talk about it all the time. Send Chris back to school, get a barber certification, cut hair for some time, learn the business, then open up their own shop, a pipe dream really. But every time they talked about it, Chris's shoulders would relax, his brow become unfurled and I would see a twinkle in this eye and a smile on his face that he had lost along with Ruthie Lou.
Finally, near a year after her death he went for it, he abandoned all "plans" of his career path and changed courses altogether. He took a leap of faith. He followed his heart without fear of opinions, without buying into the judgement of others. And he entered into another year (plus) of school, interning and working full time...again! I don't know how he functions with the amount of sleep he gets!
Yesterday, it all came full circle. Chris has been cutting hair for a while now at a barber shop he loves, his smile has returned, his pride through the roof. He LOVES his job. Yesterday was the St Baldricks Foundation fundraiser, an opportunity to raise money for childhood cancer research to show support by shaving your head. Last year, Chris participated by getting his head shaved and he really wanted to shave heads this year. Last night, Chris became the first barber to shave heads while also getting his head shaved for the event! As he said goodbye to me before getting on stage he said, "you know why I do this" and I completely understood. Chris is a man of few words but his actions speak his heart, it's why he does everything. Chris shaved heads and shaved his head for his family and especially for Ruthie Lou. He runs half marathons, he does Tough Mudders, he speaks for George Mark, he supports the Ruthie Lou Foundation, he faces his fears, EVERYTHING that he does is for his family and for our sweet girl.
Our life did not go according to our plan, it didn't go according to anyone's choice plan. So many times we remember the nightmare we have survived, but we are able to remember it with gratitude and love for all that we held in our arms. We love our family and our TWO children, we love each other. We continue to remember that time is precious and even in our most stressful moments we know that it could be worse and time will pass. We spend our time where our heart is called and we push aside unnecessary drama. We work hard, we love hard and we are best friends. We have an amazing son and we live life though Reid's toddler view of the world.
My husband is amazing. He is the best dad. He is a great barber. He is my best friend. And we are not only surviving, we are thriving in this life that we have created, even if we didn't get to make all the plans. I am so proud of him. I am so proud of us. We live this life because she cannot and it's a damn good life.
"Does It Ever Get Easier?"
I love those willing to step into this world with me for one minute and truly be present. Today, a question was posed in which I was completely unprepared for its honesty, "Does it get any easier?" This beautiful mother, who has all of her living children, looked straight into my eyes, hers welling with tears as I choked back, "No." Because it doesn't get any easier, everyday my heart aches for my daughter in the same way that it is full with my son. The weight of my grief has shifted and it has made its way into different parts of my being but no, it certainly does not get any easier. I have joy, I love my life, I am so grateful for all that we DO have but you never miss your child any less or stop trying to understand the devastating loss of the one you love.
The other day I appreciated reading something to the effect of, "The weight of the loss doesn't get any lighter, you just get stronger carrying it." That thought stuck out to me, I am stronger now. Time has passed and the loss of my daughter tears at my heart (probably much more than is apparent on the outside) but I can carry the pain differently than I once did in those terrifying early days. However, it is still there and becomes even more evident as more cousins are being born and as Reid gets older and talks about his sister regularly. But, I carry Ruthie Lou differently now too; I work her foundation, I am on hospital advisory boards, I have ladybugs on the walls of my classroom as well as on my body, all so that I can say her name with pride and joy in my heart and a smile on my face.
And when I am lovingly asked if it ever gets easier, I can honestly (and so grateful for her openness) say, "No, but I am stronger now." Although answered with us both in tears, that conversation was the deepest entrance into my heart.
I am a mama of three beautiful babes; two boys I have the honor of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.