Monday, February 23, 2015

Wrestling With Grief

Jacob was always different. But in our house, different is normal. He was our third boy, our second with Hartsfield Syndrome. He was born into a house filled with wrestling. I've had a lifelong on again/off again love affair with the squared circle. I have introduced my children to it as a distraction from the pain, frustration and sadness of our every day lives.

Our journey as parents hasn't been an easy one. That history is well documented on this blog, and freely shared by Traci and myself. One thing that Tommy, Matt, Jake, and I, and someday when he is a little bigger, Collin will share is our fondness for escaping reality via the goings on in the WWE.

Traci will tell you Matt is wrestling obsessed, and I agree the kid is in deep. Matt loves to wrestle his stuffed animals and he likes to do it on our bed, gets a pretty good bounce plus it makes a soft landing spot for his particular high impact style. Jacob loved to be a spectator, having mom and dad hold him while big brother hit devastating cross body blocks and pile drivers on his stuffed teddy bear, delighted Jake to no end.

I love to toss the boys on the bed and wrestle them, Tommy is almost getting too big for the show, Matt is a good size and likes to play, Jake was just getting into it. He was finally shedding those infant fears and trusting that if daddy put him in the air daddy was going to bring him safely down. He was finally getting big enough that we could include him in romp time. What I had at one time dubbed the Living Room Wrestling Federation, because I used to toss the boys around during commercials of Monday Night Raw without getting off the living room floor.

And now he is gone. No more Jake the destroyer of bed time. No more soft giggles as I land him gently on the pillow after an amazing maneuver. No more sitting in dad's arms watching Raw, or Smackdown, or that month's Pay Per View.

I used to "squish" him  together by pulling his shoulders in tight, if I pulled just a little he would cough, laugh and look up at me ready for one more squish. I miss that, a lot.

I know Tommy had several wrestlers that he was a "mark" for, he used to squeal and get excited for John Cena. Lately though I am not sure Tommy has a favorite I think he just appreciates being included in the watching of the show. Matt's taste is decidedly heelish, he is a fan of Kane and seemingly every heel on the roster. I'm not sure Jake was old enough to have chosen a favorite. I think, much like Tommy, he was just happy being a part of it all.

I just woke up from a dead sleep, dreaming I was discussing a match. Discussing in ring psychology with Daniel Bryan, explaining how to tell a story through the match. Something Bryan can do quite well. When I woke up my first thought wasn't, "huh I'm dreaming about Daniel Bryan." It was about my Jakers. It was about making sense of his loss through a cartoon world we immersed ourselves in to forget.

A world Jake was too young to express true interest in. A soap opera of athleticism, and pageantry. Wrestling was always the siren song of escape. Three hours on a Monday night, Smackdown a couple times a month, a PPV spectacle once a month. It allowed us to escape into a place where there were no doctor's appointments, no syndromes, no struggles questioning my adequacy to parent these four boys; three of them saddled with this terrible syndrome.

Lately it has been my own personal escape from my own depression over finding out that I am the carrier of the bad genetics which gave my son's their genetic failings. Now in the week and a half since Jake died I'll take any escape I can get.

Anything which turns my brain off a little bit. Anything that can do that while still maintaining the appearance of normal, if for no other reason than Matt deserves as much normal as we can maintain right now. My four year old is currently showing us the way through our grief. If we cry he points at the picture board we made for the visitation and implores us to look at it and be happy. He reminds us we can talk to Jake any time we want. We can still blow him kisses and tell him we love him.

That is true we can do all those things, but I can't pick him up, toss him into his mommy's pillow and then hold him down for the one, two, three count.

Last year one of the biggest luminaries of the pro wrestling world passed on. The Ultimate Warrior had just made peace with Vince McMahon and been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. On the night after Wrestlemania he came out and told the fans what makes a Superstar one of the immortals:
"Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized."

Traci and I can struggle with the pain of how Jake's life ended. (Caution amateur medical evaluation ahead) Apparently he was in a state of near constant seizure activity that ultimately didn't allow his brain to realize he could fight through the respiratory illness he had, so his body shut down.

We can affix blame about things done, by ourselves and others, that may have contributed to Jake's death. Or we can tell his story. We can let the things he did cause the blood to pulse in our veins and he can live on, through us, through his brothers, through everyone who ever met our little divo.

He was very much one who loved to be the center of attention. I am sure he arrived in Heaven, saw an altar and assumed it was placed there for him. I hope Jesus was able to convince him, that he didn't always need to be the star, because his mom and dad sure couldn't.

The house is so much quieter, too quiet, without him. Collin is beginning to find his voice and I am sure his big brother is up in Heaven encouraging it with his sly little smile.

I guess in some ways as long as I have been a father I have worried about outliving my children. Tommy was such a mystery in the early days and seemed so fragile, but as he grew Traci and I begin to believe he was indestructible. A quality we quickly ascribed to Jake and Collin as well. Perhaps that is why this hurts so much. We were invincible, we would see the stories on the Families for HoPE Facebook, mourn the loss of children younger than our own, and wonder about how tough our little guys were.

Jake was tough as nails just like Tommy. From the minute Jake was born I was so sure he was Tommy 2.0 that sometimes I had to remind myself he was Jake 1.0. They handled their pain differently but they were both tough as a two-dollar steak.

I hope Jacob knows how much I loved him. I spent so much of his life angry. Angry at our lot in life, angry at finding out I was to blame for the poor genetics, angry at so much. I wish I could do it all over, I wish he could see the me that wasn't angry all the time. Irony of ironies, Traci and I had just started counseling. The tipping point there was her pointing out my anger, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew I needed to change, I didn't want my sons to see their dad as a bitter. angry man. That's not who I am.  

RIP Jacob. I know you are up in Heaven now looking down on us, trying to find a way to ease our pain. Ask God to give us the grace, the strength, whatever we need to mourn your loss, while we keep moving forward. Be there for us in the quiet, speak to us in our pain. Hold us as we cry, comfort us as we mourn.