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The Day Everything Changed…

kris and zach

The day everything changed in my life forever began as any ordinary Monday. On this particular day, I was up and running around early in the morning. Shower, coffee, getting kids ready, more coffee, daycare drop off, and off to work. On this particular day, Zachary had the day off from school and had an eye doctor’s appointment. I ran through my daily morning routine with meetings, questions, preparing information and left to run Zachary to his appointment.

We made it to his eye doctor’s appointment in Mount Vernon (about a hour drive from Lynden) and had a little time to spare. He was able to play in the waiting room. In typical Zachary style, he made a new friend. We saw the doctor and Zachary got the news he wanted. He needed glasses! Most kids would think this is not a good thing. Zachary how ever was completely excited to get glasses. He has been waiting for “his turn” to get glasses. He was head over heals excited about this news. We called John, my fiancé and his “step dad”, to tell him the news. Then, he had to call his dad too. He called him but got his machine. Instead of leaving a message, he said, “How rude” and put the phone down (later I learned that it was an open line for about 10 minutes…)

I knew this was an exciting moment for Zachary. I planned to celebrate with ice cream and a nice ride home. I wanted to celebrate this moment and make sure he had a good time. It was a beautiful day for March. A Warm, sunny, perfect day. We were going for ice cream, new glasses and going home. We were content and happy.

That’s my last memory of that day.

I woke up in a hospital bed unable to move or speak. It was like a strange movie I was watching. Moments that I can remember. Then time flew by and another moment. My level of consciousness was minimal and beginning to recover. On Easter Sunday, I was awake and alert. They took out the ventilator. I saw my mother come into the room. I said, “I know he’s gone”. She cried and nodded. He was gone.

In later days, I heard the details of the past weeks I was in a coma. How Zachary had died in the accident and no one knew if I would live and if I did, what would it look like? The fear, sadness, anxiety, loss, shock, disbelief and a mixed bag of intense pain and emotion filled my days. He was gone.

Zachary Dean Conzo was born on October 1, 2007 and died March 31, 2014. He is gone. His light continues to shine through my everyday. His life made a huge impact on mine and so many others.

In this blog, I hope to share my story with love and respect for everyone involved. My life is forever changed, now how do I go on?

Snow Days


After the crazy snowy week we had, all I could think about was, “Zachary would have loved all this snow!”. Western Washington does not get snow often but when we do we make the best of it. Boots, hats, gloves, winter coats and even a dust pan. Whatever we had we use it to make memories.  Snow is double edged both a blessing and a curse. For those who have to drive in it (like when you drive an hour to work) it causes anxiety and stress that you may not make it safely. When you can stay home, it can be magical covering the world in a blanket of sparkly, white beauty. Kids just see the beauty. He loved the snow. How I wish he could be here to see this storm and play for days in it. He would have made the best of it.

Triggers in my grief are everywhere. Even the simplest thing that seems so unrelated can cause an avalanche of emotions. It’s snow. How does that trigger grief? I grieve the loss of my son. My sidekick. My little mayor. I grieve the past and more than that I grieve the future. What could’ve been. What would my nine year old be doing now? How would he look now? What would he love now? Would He have outgrown Toy Story and Spider-Man? What would he be interested in? What would he be when he grows? A politician I was sure of it but I’ll never know. 

As parents we grieve as our kids grow. Grieve the loss of when they were babies, toddlers, kindergarteners and so on but we can look to what’s happening in the present and find joy as they grow into adults and make more and more milestones. As a bereaved mom, I dont have the present or future only the past. Frozen in time. My beautiful blue eyed kindergartener who was a friend to everyone he ever met. 

I miss him today and everyday. The memories hold me up but they are precious because their can be no more snow days to remember with him. Though I think he would think his sister was pretty cool on this snow mound and I can almost see him standing right next to her. 

She loves snow just as he did. I will cherish each moment because it’s fleeting and I wish for just one more snow day with my two kids. 

Xoxo

Another Christmas

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It’s Christmas Eve 2016, we are getting ready for Santa and to celebrate another year. The holidays bring joy and sadness to me. This ornament Zachary made for me the last Christmas we were together. Three years now. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long and yet, it has been an eternity. The pain of missing him at this time of year is palatable every moment. Every Christmas song, cup of cocoa, child’s joyous laughter and present reminds me of you. I know you are here in your spirit which lends peace to this pain.

One memory that comes to mind is Zachary at Christmas at 3 years old. We had just welcomed Grace into our little family of three. We were living in a small apartment, just us. Our little Grace joined us and he was so excited to pick out her stocking and presents. Grandma was here visiting and I went to pick out a tree while you were napping. We set up the tree including the angel on top and waited for you to wake up to decorate it with ornaments. Zachary came downstairs and abruptly stopped when seeing the new tree. Zachary sweetly said, “Mommy, why is the tooth fairy on top of that tree”.

The same year, Zachary was determined, as he always was, to get outside with a present. I finally gave in as long as he wore his coat and boots and stayed where I could see him. In the small amount of snow, he promptly walked to our neighbor (who was kinda grumpy) and said “I found this for you. I hope you like it. Merry Christmas”. He had brought her an angel from our tree. She promptly hugged him and thanked him. The next day, she brought him a small reindeer with candy and with tears in her eyes said he was the sweetest boy she ever met. She was alone in this area with her son who had passed away a few years before. He brought joy to her day.

I miss his laughter, his eyes, his hugs and all the other small things that make up life. I am blessed to be his mom.

Merry Christmas Zachary. We have a stocking ready for you and don’t wake us up too early. The tooth fairy is still on top of the tree.

Love you to the moon and back! Xoxo

Back to school with one less third grader

imageThis year marks the second back to school without Zachary. This picture was taken the first day of Kindergarten with his little sister Grace. He was so proud to be going to the Big Kid school and to be her big brother.

As time has passed, he will always be like this. He is forever frozen in time. My little adorable kindergarten man. As we walk forward, he is frozen in time. Forever in Kindergarten. This hasn’t been too bad to think as he was still older then Grace. Until now.

Now, she has begun her first day of school as a new kindergartener. She has gone through her first week of school. She has her backpack, lunch bag and folder. She is waiting anxiously for the bus each morning. She is a kindergartener but wait…. So is he. No, he’s not. He’s suppose to be in third grade now. He is suppose to be holding her hand as they walk to the bus each morning and showing her how to get to her classes. Being her Big brother except he is gone.

I thought I could deal with it. I knew it was coming. I counted down the days until her first day and I was ok. Really, I was ok. We went to see who her teacher was going to be and the lists where up. We looked for the kindergarten list and searched for her name. I found myself looking at the third grade list and felt a sinking feeling when his name wasn’t there. In my mind I thought, “why would it be! He is gone. What are you doing to yourself?” But I still looked. Searching for him there amongst the kids that were not frozen and we’re now no longer kindergarteners but big third graders. I couldn’t handle the feelings and left as soon as I could. Smiling, chatting, and just putting down the pain for a minute to enjoy her excitement. That is the thing. She deserves a happy mom for her new adventure even if it hurts to be missing him.

We made it through the first week. She had a great busy week of firsts. She is so excited about this new place and new things to do. I put down the pain and leaned into her joy. Until tonight.

At dinner tonight, Grace announced that she wanted to buy lunch at school. We discussed that she could plan what days she would buy lunch and we planned out the week. She is so excited to have chicken nuggets (although she is currently not eating meat because you don’t eat animals and she doesn’t think birds count).  It was decided that she would buy lunch tomorrow. She bounced down the hallway and I had to setup her account with school.

i signed into the school mealtime account and setup Grace in the system. I put money in her account and saved it. I checked my profile to make sure the money had cleared into the account and it was there in black and white. Zachary Dean Conzo. His account still has money in it. After catching my breath, I realized that I had transferred money into his account just days before the accident. Just days. It was still active. Still existing though he is gone. Now, I had to make a call to ask the head of dietary to close his account because he had passed away in 2014 and to transfer the money to his sister or send a check, whatever the protocol. It was done but it left me feeling empty. The last account with his name will be closed.

This loss is deep. This hurt is forever. I miss him so much it physically hurts. The fact that Grace is starting kindergarten scares me to death. This is uncharted territory after this year. Grace surpassing him in time. We all move ahead and move into new beautiful adventures. I hope and pray that his little life impacted others to the extend it did mine and he is frozen in their minds and the beautiful, caring, loving kindergarten man that he was.

 

 

Here we go again…

Thursday morning at 830 am, I was driving to work after a busy few days. I was happily contemplating my upcoming vacation with the family. 4 days off and a trip to see John’s family. And, a pool with a waterfall. Ok, it’s not Hawaii but not bad for a Memorial Day weekend. I was driving my new car and thinking how far I’ve come. We deserve the break and time together. Then the light went on for my low gas tank. I thought I could maybe make it to work but, better not risk it. I pulled over at a gas station in Bellingham and filled up the tank, collected my credit card receipt, closed the tank door and started to walk around the car. Then……

I felt my right ankle turn. My heart started beating fast. Oh no, I was falling. I heard the extremely loud crack and I was on the ground. Shocked, I quickly turned over trying to assess the damage and then I felt it. The burning pain in my right leg. This was well known pain. I tried to move and that made it worse so I stuck my left foot under my knee and screamed for help.

Now, you would think a woman screaming on the ground at a gas station would get some attention but, the other two or three people getting gas didn’t stop to help me. They just finished their transactions and drove away. “Are you kidding me” nope, it actually happened. Finally, the poor attendant came out and tried to help. I asked her to call 911 and get my phone from my car so I could call John and work.

I proceeded to call John first. I tried to stay calm as I was sitting on the cold concrete waiting for the ambulance to come help me up. I didn’t want to scare him. He had to stomach the calls before about Zachary and I. I had to tell him myself. He was calm but concerned. He would meet me at the hospital. Next, I called my colleague at work. I tried to be calm though my leg was burning in pain. She told me I was crazy to call her right after this happened. I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew how my colleagues had found out about my accident before. I couldn’t let that happen again. I would be the one to explain it.

When I hung up, the ambulance and firemen arrived. The paramedics asked if I could stand with help. I answered, “maybe”. They pulled me up in one quick movement where the pain leap up so much I was dizzy and nauseous. I proceeded to try to stop vomiting continuously as they tried in vain to find a vein. Nasal spray was the only way I could get in pain medication.

I got to the hospital and they ran a bunch of tests finding I had broken my right femur above the knee and needed surgery to put in a plate to stabilize tonight. So, here we go again….. More orthopedic surgery, non weight bearing, walker, wheelchair, therapy, pain medication and on it goes. Same old song and dance (well, chair dance at least).

Where am I now? I’m fine. That is something we all tell ourselves when you are trying to convince yourself that you are. What does it mean? FINE = Frustrated Individual Nearing Explosion. How can I do this again? I’m not strong enough. There is a strength that somehow takes over when you are back in your dark place. Back where you thought you would never be again. Broken, immobile, embarrassed, and frustrated.

I rolled into my Physical Therapy place today. As I have for the past two years to start all over again. I was calmed by the message that I received from my therapist. You still strong. You can do this no problem. Here are some exercises. Something to do to make steps towards independence again. I made my weekly appointments and rolled out to my car.

I know I can return to mobility again. This is not where I was before. I have gone through worse in the past years then just one silly broken femur. I have lost my son. I have lost my self. I’m fighting not only for him this time. This time it’s for me! I can do this and will return to my independence. God willing and with the support of the tribe of beautiful people around me. Still routing, praying, and supporting me one step at a time.

So, here we go again…

 

 

 

 

In the end

gracegrave

 

As I walk through this grief journey, I am faced with the questions of life and death. How do you cope everyday? How do you wake up? The answer is simple, I don’t know. It’s been 23 months now and I just do.

Tonight, I talked with my amazingly strong sister. She is currently helping her father in law going through hospice. They chose to take him home and help him keep his dignity in his journey to the end of his life. Listening to her describe his failing body and mind hurts my heart.

This conversation morphed into a discussion of what happens in the end. We, as humans, only have two ways out. To go quickly or to fade away. She pointed out that when someone goes quickly in a traumatic event that person is spared pain. The ones who remain are left to shoulder the whole painful burden without them. When they fade away, the person and those who love them share in the desperation and pain of realizing the end is near. The person dying has no control of their journey and neither do the loved ones. They share in constant worry that this is the last moments they will share. They have the honor and privilege of shared memories and goodbyes at the price of excruciating pain.

Neither way is better or worse, it’s just what it is in the end. Death is inevitable but it comes as a surprise whether it’s fast or slow. It comes with extreme pain no matter what the process. Whether you lose a child, spouse, parent or any other special person to you, you lose a piece of yourself. You lose the memories that you could’ve had with them. You can’t hug, laugh, smile, fight, make up, sing or dance with them.

In the end, death is a loss. No scorecard for who has a worse story. No judgement on how you feel. It’s just excruciating pain and loss.

Remember that life is fleeting. Each moment of everyday make the best of it. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Hug and say I love you often. Dance in the living room. In the end, those memories are all that will carry you through as you walk your walk with grief. beach

 

 

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and those in your life that matter. It’s saying “I love you” to everyone and not letting anyone go unnoticed.

Today, we celebrate another Valentine’s Day without Zachary. 2014 was the last Valentine’s Day I celebrated with my boy. With his sweet hugs and kisses, we celebrated together with candy and handmade cards. It seems so long ago now that I could feel his arms around me. I could smell his hair and hear his belly laughs. I long for one more moment like this.  I thank God for the memories that I can hold onto but wish, as do many do, for one more moment.

This Valentine’s Day, we celebrated as a small family. Cards, gifts, baked goods, gifts of love and bath bombs. I had an amazing bath with a bath bomb and a glass of red wine from my amazing husband. It has been a wonderful weekend but I needed to stop and say, “Happy Valentine’s Day buddy. I love you to the moon and back. I miss you every moment of everyday but today it’s especially hard. I just miss my buddy”.

Valentine’s  Day reminds us to say I love you. Give one more hug.  Breathe in the love around you. For when it is gone, it leaves a hole that can not be filled with anything but the memories of today. Make some good ones. I know I did.

Tolerance

Since the accident and Zachary’s death, I know I am different. I know that I have closed a book I never intended to close and been force to restart a new book. A new book of life after the accident. My life will forever be separated into before and after.

Due to this event, I have learned a great deal. I have chosen to be more compassionate to others. I have chosen to be grateful for every moment I have. I continue to chose everyday to make my life count towards something. Even if it’s just to smile more or laugh more. I try to be a good person and live life positively.

The thing I didn’t count on was that my tolerance of others frustration with the small things would be minimized. Don’t get me wrong everyone has the right to be frustrated, irritated, angry and/or sad at times. I don’t have a right to judge anyone’s journey. I do, however, have a right to call people on their rudeness and ill will towards others with the pure intention of being mean.  Mean people are everywhere. Mostly it is ignorance that makes them act this way but I can’t tolerate it anymore.

I have recently had experiences that have taught me that toleration and acceptance of behavior are two different things. You can tolerate someone’s reaction if it is emotional. You do not have to accept or tolerate someone who tries to make you feel small. My tolerance is gone when someone thinks they can judge your walk, specifically my walk. What my pain is, how I am coping, or my knowledge. It’s  just not ok.

My experience makes me pause and look at what has this person experienced to led them to act this way. Are my expectations to high of human behavior? I don’t think so. I hope not.

Tolerance of other people’s reactions to what seems minor to me in the after mode that I am living. The minor silly things that bend you out of shape. The way someone looks at you or the tone of voice are ok. It is when someone tries to speak with authority about something they have had no experience to compare to just to minimize you. For example, someone said to me, “You are too young to know what pain is really like!”. I was mad because they don’t know me or this journey.  Another time I was told, “it’s been 2 years, should you be better by now?”. How do I just bite through my tongue and not rip into them. It haven’t although I’ve wanted to.

The moral of my story is that you don’t have to tolerate it. You are not the problem, they are. Never judge someone else’s journey until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

 

 

Where am I now?

Where am I now? It’s been almost 22 months since the accident. I have been through surgeries, therapy sessions, days in a skilled nursing facility, sleepless nights, unending pain, frustration, depression, sadness, grief and the inability to comprend that this is my actual life. Waking up each day without his little voice to say, “Good morning mommy”. So, where am I now? Surviving and trying to live while he is gone.

The first year after the accident was raw and deep with pain. I worked through it a day at a time, even a second at a time. Trying to get back my life again. Fighting to sit up, move without help, and walk a little more each day. I was in survival mode. Grief was a study for me not a reality. Marking milestones like car transfers, standing for 2 minutes, birthdays and anniversaries. I felt successful in my grief. I could do this. Armed with the study of other parents who are grieving, reading posts and books. I learned to grieve openly through writing in Capture your grief project. I didn’t know how deep my grief was until it was examined. It was raw and beautiful. I felt for the first time in many months of holding it back. It was freeing.

After the first year anniversary, I felt inundated with the task of doing it all again. You reach the top of the mountain and learn there is another mountain to climb and it will never stop. Grief never stops. It just goes on into infinity. How do you grasp that concept. You can’t fix it. The is no breathing room. It feels like drowning, I stop writing for a while and just let the grief overwhelm me. I couldn’t keep going. Until I decided to do the project again in October. Again, examining my grief and learning the depth of sadness and the beauty that lives in it. I am a bereaved mom. I will always be.

Now, after yet another surgery, I had time to breath and examine me. I’m a mom of a beautiful five year old girl, Grace. She was well named as she bring grace into my life. Refocusing my energy into myself and to being her mom. I write notes for her lunch everyday to encourage her, just like I did everyday for Zachary. I read to her not one book but at least five until she’s ready for bed. I snuggle more with her. Encourage her. Hug and kiss her. She’s my daughter who lost her mom and her brother. She has watched me fight to come back to this mom. I will fight for every moment we have the joy to spend together.

So, where am I now? Living not just surviving. Finding joy with my husband in watching her dance. Laughing at her witty naming of her rocking horse, Charlie Horse. Fighting the grief by honoring his memory of light. I’m here and I’m fighting. That’s where I am now.

Happy New Year

We made it through another year. I celebrate all that we have done this year. Trip to Boston, bought a house, got married, went to Maui,  family here in Washington, continuing to heal and increasing my independence. I also recall all that  we have lost. Mostly, Zachary. It was a whole year that he wasn’t with us. It doesn’t seem possible. I have no 2015 memories of him other than the grief.

The new year brings promises of new beginnings. It’s a wonderful time for most. As a bereaved parent, it’s another reminder of time marching on without him. I just want him back. It’s an unfixable problem with a heart wrenching answer of “I can’t” from the all powerful.

The holidays were hard for me. Looking at the presents under the tree. Stockings hung on the mantle. His right in the center still where it always was. It was empty like my heart. I took the opportunity to make it magical. I carefully wrapped a small set of toy story toys (his favorite movie ever) and placed it in his stocking. The label read “To Grace From Zachary”. I felt joy seeing his stocking with a treasure in it and excited to see Grace open it.

On Christmas morning, Grace saw Zachary’s stocking was full. She said, “Santa didn’t forget Zachary”. I gave her the gift and told her Zachary have a present to Santa just for her. She was so excited that her Zachary have her a present. When she opened it, her eyes were bright and happy as she said, “Toy Story and Jessie! Thank you Zachy”. My eyes filled with tears of sadness and joy at the same time. My present was feeling his presence.

After multitudes of beautiful gifts being opened, I started to clean up the stockings that were on the floor now. When I picked up Zachary’s stocking, it was heavy. My heart dropped. What was in here? I saw a gift marked  simply “Mommy”. I opened it with the same excitement Grace had with her gift. It was an angel ornament from 2014 with the word Believe on it. It was perfect. A little Christmas magic from my forever 6 year old who left us on 2014. I knew it wasn’t Santa who did this but my mom. I cried for the magical feeling that my mom gave to me during a hard day. My mom gave me the magic of his presence as I tried to give my daughter.

My hope for this year is to continue to feel his presence in our life. To look for the small blessings that remind us that his spirit is still here and lives through us. Blessings to all in this new year.

The ride

It has been a few months since I have posted on this blog. We are starting to live In this “new normal” situation that we have been given.  It is funny how my life is defined by a single moment and split into two very distinct parts; Life before the accident and Life after the accident.

I have been quietly searching for what to say in this blog since the anniversary of that defining day in March.  We made it through the first year and we were still breathing. What an accomplishment. The celebration of his life, the candles, the love that shown all around was a mark of completing the first part of this new life. Then, the realization came. Tomorrow you have to begin again and he is still gone.

The mountain that I climbed that first year was a treacherous climb. Not only was a grieving the loss of my beautiful boy, I was fighting for my life. I fought each day to get back some degree of myself back. Although it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, it was a welcomed distraction from the reality of my grief.  Now, I have leveled out in my journey to gain my independence back, the grief remains.  The gut wrenching, heart pulling, unimaginable loss that is the reality of the death of a child.

As I have continued to fight through this journey, I have found that support of other bereaved parents to be a critical component in my healing. The parent group that no one would volunteer to be a part of and that there is no leaving. The sanctity of being a part of that group is healing and horrible at the same time.  The true miracle of the group I am a part of is knowing that I am not alone in this pain. The pain of this group is that everyone is walking their journey because they lost their son or daughter too.

Writing has also been extremely healing for me. This blog began from not wanting to post long drawn out Facebook posts about loss. I wanted a place to capture my emotions and to mark my thoughts now as I walked through my journey. Friends and family have been so supportive on this journey and I can’t thank them enough for all the blessings they have given me.

Tomorrow is a special day in the bereaved parents world. It is a National Day of Hope: Remembering infant and child loss. I didn’t know that when I took tomorrow off from work. We are going to the fair tomorrow with Grace. It is fitting to have a family day at the fair on this special day of remembrance.

One memory of Zachary that is poignant In my mind tonight.

One year, we went to the fair with Zachary. He was so excited to talk to everyone, the reason we called him “the mayor”. He got his first unlimited wrist band so he could ride all the rides he wanted. He rode the merry go round about a thousand times. Then, he looked at me and said “I want one special ride just me and you”.  He chose the rock and roll ride which was a fast spinning ride that went forwards and backwards ridiculously fast and he was pushed into me the entire ride. At the end, I was dizzy and he was smiling. He said, “I am glad I am with you mom because that was crazy scary. Let’s do it again”.

Tomorrow, we will remember Zachary tomorrow and everyday.  We will ride the rides, see the animals, go on the merry go round a thousand times, talk to all the fair workers, and smile knowing you are there in spirit. I will know that even if this new ride is crazy scary, I am glad I have him to guide me.