We named our son Tobin because it means the gift. And he truly was. He was grace, he was courage, and, more than anything, he was love.
I remember when he was born and all the hopes I had for him, as any other mom would have. Hope that he would find his place in the world, contribute to bettering the planet, find a spouse who makes him happy, have children to love of his own. And when we found out he would not survive to his first birthday, my only hope for him, more than anything, was to know just how much he was loved.
He took his last breaths in my arms on a Sunday. We knew it was happening, as much as we wanted to pretend it wasn’t. Of course, we didn’t know the day or moment we would have to say goodbye, but we were warned by his doctors and hospice nurses that the time was nearing quickly. And when that moment arrived, I had no idea the brokenness that would encompass my soul. Brokenness so deep, I didn’t think I would ever be whole again.
I heard it said that many gifts can come through grief. I didn’t understand it. Surely not my grief, I thought. Mine is excruciating and unfair. Cruel and agonizing. It took me a number of years to truly understand the meaning of those words. And I would eventually understand them. Not only the definition, but I would be fortunate enough to live those words with gratitude.
All the knowledge we gain in this life does not come without a price. Some learning comes at great cost. But with great cost comes great growth if you choose to accept it. After losing Tobin, I felt like I had to learn to live all over again. I felt unsure of my place in the world and all the meaning I had previously assigned to it. The world was a new place for me now. A treacherous, painful place. Time is part of that healing of course. A small part. The other is finding joy again which seems an impossible task in those first days, weeks, and years. But it’s there.
During our darkest days, so many amazing people stood by our side. I can’t imagine what we would have done without them. The people who sat with us when we cried, had terrible decisions to make, were given horrible outcomes. But they remained no matter what, even when others did not. Loss is very isolating. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to look at it. And for those forced to experience it up close, they can feel very alone. But for us, we had the great fortune to have very special people stand beside us through it all. And I hoped that one day, I could be that for someone too.
First things first I had to relearn a thing or two:
- Get out of bed.
- Know what day it is.
- Go to the grocery store when the refrigerator is empty.
- Smile back at the clerk in the checkout lane.
- Remember to breathe even when it hurts.
And then came a little bit of strength, a little bit of courage that I thought had left me for good. I began to work with other families who were grieving. I stood by others as others had done for me. And with that very difficult task came healing and even more strength and courage. Along the way I’ve met other grieving families who have established foundations and charities, people volunteering and donating time, money and items of need. My eyes opened to a whole new world of love that I didn’t even know existed. More than anything, I learned we don’t have to be isolated in our grief because those who choose to name it and acknowledge it and grow from it say it out loud.
My debut novel, Lemons, is a fun adventure about two children searching for the elusive Bigfoot, however it is also a story about loss and friendship, acceptance and kindness, and most of all hope. The life journey that Lemonade Liberty Witt and Tobin must endure is not unlike journeys others may face — it’s full of hardship and sweetness, struggles and friendship, lemons and love. Lemonade learns in the end that the best way to endure her own lemons is to find gratitude in adversity and embrace new changes with optimism and courage. She learns to recognize the gifts given by loss despite the sadness it can bring.
I wrote Lemons because of my own loss experience and because of all the others I’ve met along my journey. It is a way to start a conversation with children about how to come out the other side of grief and find joy again. In life we must all find our own lemonade. Tobin continues to teach me things I never knew I needed to know and being able to share his spirit and his name in story, as well as share him with other children in the world is one way I am making my own lemonade.
I have grown in many ways because of my son, Tobin. Ways in which I didn’t know I would or could. He opened my eyes and my heart to so many things, and he continues to inspire me in directions I would never have seen on my own. Loss is one of the most difficult things any of us will go through in our lives. However, it is what is hard that shapes who we will become. And what we become is up to us. What an amazing thing to teach our children.
We named him Tobin because it means the gift. And for that beautiful gift, and all that I have learned and shared and loved, I will forever be grateful.