The 4th of July is coming quickly upon us and really, the time to shop for unique patriotic fashion is drawing to a close. I decided to do a round up of some of my favorite Prime finds on Amazon. Two day shipping means you should have it in time for all of your celebrations! But all of these can last you for the rest of the summer too. So yay! And on top of that, most of these things are less than $30…”It’s A Party In the USA!”
I remember so clearly, I was 12 years old when a dear family friend’s 9 month old baby was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As a child, I did not understand the devastation of the news. I assumed she could get help from the doctor, maybe have a surgery and all would be well. When this sweet girl passed away 9 short months later, I was so sad for the family. They had 4 other children and I remember thinking, “Well at least they have other kids at home to make them happy.” Throughout the years, this family slowly closed themselves away from the world. We no longer saw them as often and the friendship fizzled because the family moved away.
I remember being confused by the way they handled the death of their child. “Why are they so devastated if they have 4 other children to fill the void? I know what it is like to lose someone I love, I lost my Grandma. It is sad, but I am fine now. Plus, their little girl really must have been special and had an important mission to fulfill, because God needed her close to Him.”
As the years went by, I can say that my viewpoint and understanding of their reaction really didn’t change much. I always knew it must be devestating, but I couldn’t comprehend what it must feel like to lose a child.
Heartbreakingly, I now understand that very pain and I wish with everything I am that I didn’t know this devastation. I remember when I came to the realization that I was losing my Hayes, I finally understood that family. Everyone handles grief differently, and in all honesty, I completely understand every single emotion they had felt. Their way of grieving was anger and depression and I have felt both of those and still do often. It comes in waves. Some days I feel grateful for my life and other days, I can’t lift my head off of my pillow and cry the day away. It changes day to day and moment to moment. I respect every emotion because that is my love for Hayes making its way to the surface.
I recently had someone ask me what they should say to a friend that had lost their daughter in a tragic accident. I told her to just let them know you are so sorry for their loss. If you don’t completely understand their pain, do not try to make them feel like you understand by telling them about losing a grandparent or an uncle. It isn’t the same. It is sad, but it isn’t the same. When people reach out to me and tell me they understand because they lost a grandparent, I immediately feel hurt. I have lost grandparents also….it does not even come close to touching the gaping hole that I now feel in my heart. Losing a child is a pain that is unequivocal to any kind of possible pain because this being that grew inside of my body, was connected with my soul on a deeper level than anyone ever and now, that person is no longer there for me to hold, to smell, to touch and to see. This huge part of me is ripped open. My baby didn’t get to do all of those things that my grandparents and your grandparents got to do. Hayes’ life was mercilessly cut far too short. It is not the same!
I also told my friend to please not tell these sweet parents that their child is in a better place. When you lose a child, it is impossible to imagine that there can possibly be a better place than a mother and fathers loving embrace. I believe in God, I know He has my sweet boy in His arms, but I have a belief in my heart that my Father in Heaven is devestated for me because He knows the pain of losing a child. He knows the pain in my soul. He knows my Hayes should be in my arms.
The last thing I told her not to tell this family was that they were stronger than her. That she could never handle the loss of a child. What other choice does a parent have? When you say they are stronger than you, in that moment, they feel like people don’t realize how much they actually love their child. When someone tells me I am stronger than they would be, I feel guilt. I question my strength. Just because I smile doesn’t mean I don’t cry. Just because I laugh doesn’t mean I don’t wail in heart break. And just because I get out of bed each day does not mean I am moving on. Grief is different for every single person. There is no right or wrong way to react. “Grief is the last act of love we have to give those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was deep love.”
I guess what I am getting at is that it is easy to judge when you don’t completely understand. I have been there. All a family wants to know is that their child is still loved because that child still exists. Their child will not be forgotten and Hayes will not be forgotten! Thank you for understanding and allowing me to express every emotion I feel. I am grateful for you. This journey is easier because you all have lifted me and carried me through the pain.
I have a major weakness, always have. I am seriously embarrassed to admit this. I have been blessed with good genes and eat somewhat healthy, but if I am being honest, I intensely suck at exercising. I have always gone through times throughout my life where I will be pretty good. Before I had the triplets I remember going to the gym and running at least 4 miles on the treadmill at a time. Now, if, and that is a big if, I run a mile, I want to cry my eyes out. When it comes to working out, I am extremely weak minded. I feel like I am revealing my soul at an AA meeting. “Hi, my name is Savanna and I have an exercise problem.” Time to actually admit that I have a problem.
Maybe I haven’t found my love and maybe I dread the monotony of a boring run, but I really don’t want to be this way forever. I know I would feel a lot better if I just put forth effort to take care of myself. I know I would be a better mom and frankly, I want my kids to see me as an example of this.
To solve this, I have decided that I need a mid year overhaul. I am so nervous about this, because I haven’t dedicated myself to really taking care of myself since Hayes was in the hospital. I guess I lean toward the easy way and getting by has always just been the easy way. But I owe it to myself and especially to my children to really love my body. It is a miracle that has given me the gift of 6 perfect babies…3 all at once.
So, my goal is to overhaul myself for the entire month of July. We don’t have anymore road trips planned…not sure if we will for a very, VERY long time, but I digress. Basically, I am giving myself 30 days to see how I feel, completely taking care of my body. I am going to start with a short term goal that will help me not be overwhelmed. Hopefully that is enough time to get rid of some bad habits I have developed over the past year. Starting on July 1st, it is time for no more excuses. I crave feeling good. I have no doubts it would help me fight the sadness that sometimes threatens to take over. Hayes will get me through. Maybe he can be that little tap on my shoulder telling me to get the heck out of bed or put the freaking junk food down. Why wouldn’t he?! He loves me! He is the perfect example of fighting through rough times. I need to be more HayesTough!
Please tell me I am not the only person to experience this rut! Has anyone out there been here where I am and overcome? What are your success stories? Please shed some light on this for me and who is with me?!
In the past 2 weeks, at least a part of our family has been in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, California and now Colorado. We have gotten Brave in our adventures and we have figured out things that work for us when it comes to managing toddlers strapped in a car seat for hours on end. I love that we have become more adventurous, but like anyone, we have moments where we want to pull our hair out. These items at least help buy us a few minutes here and there of quiet. I throw in a lot of technology, but I am a big believer in “Why Not?” When you all have to survive in the same stinky and cramped place! I load up our iPads and pretty much encourage my kids to watch endlessly! 😂
This portable charger is an absolute must. Pretty much your road trip life is over without one! I love this one because of the built in cables. We actually have 3 because we use them constantly…. now that I actually put it down into words, I am kind of embarrassed with our love of technology.
Ok, so these next two items are random and weird, I know. Just have an endless supply of both on hand for your toddler and I swear you will thank me later!
This last item is obvious, but the reason I like having one is because I absolutely despise feeling claustrophobic in a messy car. I like that the kids have. Place to throw away all their garbage. Plus this one comes with bags!
Only because I can’t seem to stay home for more than a few days at a time, I would love to know what I am missing! What are your secret weapons for traveling?
The cold hard truth about the fight against childhood cancer is that when a child gets cancer, the whole family gets cancer. Looking back, I can’t begin to explain how amazing it is that we made it through. We are wounded and heart broken, forever changed, but we have lived to tell our experiences. I am always told how strong I am, but honestly, I couldn’t have made it through without Steve. To so many of the dad’s fighting for their children, I know it feels like they have been forgotten. They don’t get enough support for the pain they also experience. Steve is a warrior and he experienced the cancer fight in a different way than I did. Here is Steve’s perspective….Hayes’ cancer journey through Steve’s eyes! I am so proud of him and forever honored he is mine.
A Dad’s job is to solve the issue, take away the pain. For the first time in my life I was unable to do that for one of my kids. In fact, for the first time in my life I was unable to just fix it. I feel like I have always been able to succeed at whatever I have put my mind to. Whether it was with sports, with my career, or parenting, I have had the ability to overcome any obstacle. But not cancer. I felt helpless when I sat with Hayes. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I would sit and watch him go through the pain of the side effects, with fevers of over 103 degrees and my hands were completely tied. I couldn’t just take it away. Hayes and I shared some incredible moments together, some of which I have never shared with any of my children. I think Hayes understood that I craved the need to help him, but he also sensed that I was doing everything in my power to help him.
Life was exhausting. I stayed home with the kids while Savanna stayed overnight at the hospital. Those were loneliest nights of my life sleeping in my bed by myself without my wife and one of my children. I usually couldn’t sleep until around 1:00 am. I had nobody to talk to or decompress with, so falling asleep was always so hard for me. I would wake up at 6:00 am so that I could shower and get dressed before the babies woke up. They typically woke up around 6:45. I would get them up, change their clothes and feed them while the older 3 kids got ready for school. I made sure the kids were ready, dressed and fed before 8:15 am. My Mom would come over to watch the babies at 8:30 while I left for the office. My drives consisted of a lot of tears during my 10 minute commute. They were tears of complete exhaustion, both physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion. I would then have appointments til around 3:45 and head straight to the hospital to be with Hayes. I craved those moments of hanging out with Hayes until around 10:00 at night. When I was in the room with Hayes nothing else mattered. It was my own little world with just me and him. This is where we bonded. We talked, we played, we laughed. We laughed a lot. I would feed him fries and roast beef sandwiches while we watched his favorite television shows on repeat. Despite barely being able to keep my eyes opened from my full schedule, these were the best days of my life and I miss them. I miss those days. I crave those days.
I still find myself finding things to do at home after work so that I can fill that void. It’s amazing how slow 4 hours goes by after I get home from the office. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I was up at the hospital with Hayes. I know that sounds weird, but I miss that daily grind. In some ways, that daily grind kept my mind occupied. It allowed me to concentrate and admittedly, even though I was in basic survival mode, it kept me fighting. It allowed me to feel as though I was “solving” the problem, despite not being able to take his cancer away. It was the only way I could feel “accomplished” as a Dad, because the guilt of not being able to solve the problem was extremely heavy.
I have now had to re-route my fight to keeping Hayes legacy alive and honoring him. I have also had to learn to occupy my mind and energy through the various kid’s activities, coaching football, writing my book, and running my usual 2 miles every morning.
My stomach had been a bundle of nerves in anticipation of these moments. I was nervous. This place was a place where 7 months before, life had been beautifully perfect. Our kids had played in the sand, the babies had climbed on the playground and Hayes had swung in the swing, tube free and cancer free for a moment. Our lives had culminated to that day on the beach with Hayes and pure bliss and the true meaning of life was felt. I was nervous. What if we never feel that again? How can we possibly feel that ever again without Hayes?
We walked up to the beach, the one that now belongs to Hayes. The beach is on Balboa and there is a playground right on the sand. A row of swings is lined up along the side and during the day, it is usually hard to find an empty swing. This day was no different. All of the swings were packed with parents pushing their happy kids. But, there, in the center, was Hayes’ swing, sitting empty and lightly rocking in the beach breeze. He was waiting for us. His soul had pulled us back.
It was a quiet, peaceful feeling. A part of our family will always be there. We cried, we hugged and we talked about our sweet boy. Bo was touched more than I had expected. Our older children seem fine but sometimes it hits them and thankfully, they let it out. Bo cried in my arms and was my little boy for a minute.
One of the reasons we started the foundation is because we want other families to experience the joy we felt in California. The Make-A-Wish foundation is so amazing and does so much good for the world. But, a little known fact is that they don’t grant wishes for children under the age of 3. But cancer affects the whole family, so a huge group is neglected and forgotten. We hope to fill that gap. We have been able to help several families already.
The next day, after the beach, we had arranged to meet a family I had found on social media. The Ellis family has a little 16 month old baby girl that has Choroid Plexus Carcinoma which is exactly what Hayes had. She is being treated at the Children’s Hospital of LA. We arranged to visit them and it meant so much to us that they welcomed us into their lives for a moment. We had raised money for them during the month of May, brain tumor awareness month. Gifting them a check and telling them to make memories with their children made all those painful, fresh wounds worth it. Hayes wanted this! I feel like Hayes directs us to those kids and families that need us. He has the wheel, I am just sitting there while he directs me!
That day I received a message in my inbox. A follower I do not know reached out to me and asked me if he could gift our family tickets to Disneyland. To be honest, we hadn’t planned on returning to Disneyland anytime soon. It was still too fresh, but once again, it wasn’t up to me. I truly felt like Hayes was giving us the go ahead. He wanted us to return. The next day we went and it felt like one HayesHint after another. A Mickey sticker on the cement, Mickey ears found unclaimed for Mia, a tiny Mickey Mouse bead on the ground, walking into a shop and seeing a Disney “H” on the ground, getting the green car on our first ride, seeing two separate sets of triplets, and lastly, seeing a butterfly land on the Mickey Mouse hat of the man in line in front of us. While all of these may seem small, I felt like it was our sweet Hayes, encouraging us every step of the way. Love that boy so much for the joy he continues to give us.
Newport was so perfect. It will continue to be a Mecca that we return to every year, in honor of our Hayesey. Our plan is to return every November, a yearly trek to honor our boy and recognize the happiness he gave and continues to give us. How lucky are we that he is ours?! We know him, we love him and we now live for him. I feel hopeful that although he isn’t here, he will continue to give us opportunities for bliss, memories and hints. Those are the truly meaningful moments of life!
Here is the Father’s Day Interview we made for Steve. There might have been a few tears shed as he watched it. Feeling incredibly grateful for this man that made me a mom, the man that makes me laugh and the man that loves us unconditionally! Happy Father’s Day to all the men that give their all for their children! Steve does that and more! Tate Party of 8 YouTube channel.
Coming back from a beach vacation gives me a lot of insight into how I actually feel about my body. Honestly, I love my body because it produced 6 perfect babies, but if I am being honest, I am hard on myself. I feel self conscious just like anyone. But, I have found that some swimsuits work better for my body and I feel more comfortable in some styles more than others. So here are my favorite styles right now.
The off the shoulder ruffle look is killing it right now. Completely obsessed in both one pieces and bikinis in this off shoulder style.
There are so many amazing one pieces right now. I love that there are so many flattering and sexy swimsuits.
We made it to Newport Beach. We weren’t planning this trip, but that is how life works now, we do things on a whim and live in the moment. The drive was surprisingly not difficult. But, there was an obvious missing piece as we made the identical trek we did 7 short months ago. How do I live in a world where he isn’t here? How is it that 7 months ago he was a shining light and the peace maker in our family? He was the epitome of joy! He is still our joy, but this missing piece, this hole in our hearts is so unfair and painful.
We are making all the same stops, retracing our steps. Today we stopped at the lighthouse park where Hayes went down the slide over and over again with the help of Steve and said “one, two” over and over again as he slid his froggy legs down the slide. Seeing that slide made my stomach drop. When we were here, we had no idea that our world was about to change forever on the drive home. We watched as Hayes experienced sand in his fingers and his toes. He even ate a few grains of sand and I loved it, because that is what babies do….he was experiencing life as a normal cancer free baby. It is surreal. I was so naive. I sat on the beach and felt fresh heart break. I looked to the side, and there, sitting in the sand next to our family was a bright green ball, lying unclaimed in the sand next to us. A #HayesHint, a love note from our baby. He was there.
It was then time to go to that all too familiar swing at Balboa Pier. As we walked up to the park with the swing I found myself questioning if we did everything we could for our baby. I know we did, but there was this little doubt that kept creeping in as I remembered how perfect and healthy he was when we were here. Cancer was a bump in the road, we had made it through mostly unscathed. We were the lucky ones. Tears burned my eyes and heart break squeezed my chest as memories slid through my mind of a day when life was more than anything we had hoped for. How quickly life changes! Being there was spiritual, though. I felt him close. What are the chances that his swing was empty, slightly swaying in the ocean breeze? He was there! We all held each other and cried. I reminded Bo that our hearts were remembering the love we have for him and that is why it hurts so much.
But the most amazing thing is, I feel like Hayes pushes us to do everything we do. In May, The HayesTough Foundation raised money for a brain tumor family. We found a beautiful family in Southern California whose baby girl has the same exact cancer Hayes had. She is midway through treatment and in the throws of the sicknesses that are all too familiar. We weren’t supposed to be down here, but things fell into place and now we are able to go visit them in person and give them the check from #HayesArmy in honor of Hayes….little miracles reminding us that Hayes still has a mission.
On top of that, we had no intention of taking our kids to Disneyland. We did it with Hayes in November and part of me wondered if it would be too hard and too sad of a reminder of a life that is gone now. But then Hayes acted again. A follower that we have never met sent us tickets to Disneyland as a gift. He paid for our entire family to go enjoy ourselves again. What an incredibly kind gesture. One that I cannot begin to express gratitude for. There really are amazing people in the world that are truly being a part of the good. All of which have been #HayesInspired. I have no doubt, Hayes had his hand in this.
The world is not the same without my boy physically here, but he still lives. He is still leaving his mark. I see it around every corner. In the messages I get from you all. In the hints he leaves me everywhere. In the good that is coming from his legacy! Hayes still lives and I am honored to be his mom as we retrace the steps that remind me of him. One step at a time.
I have mentioned it before, but there is a cancer club…a club I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it exists, nonetheless. Whenever I find another cancer warrior mom, I try to reach out and send her a letter. It always starts out with this same line, “Welcome to the club…I am so sorry you are now a member. I know you don’t want to be here and I know you are heartbroken. I have been there. Still, I promise you that you’ll one day be proud of the journey you are on. You’ll celebrate and grieve alongside those who are a part of this same club, for you are now parents of a child with cancer. You are never alone. You have an army behind you!”
I reached out to one of these moms recently to get her story. I wanted to get a different perspective, outside of my little Hayes. I asked her to write about her experience and I just cannot begin to say how much I relate. I wish I didn’t…frankly, I wish no one did! But we do, and it is important not to turn away because all of these stories deserve to be heard. All of these children matter. I feel honored to share the story of Brendan Peck from the beautiful perspective of his mom, Kerry Peck.
Never Say Never
I must be a slow learner. All my life, it seems, I’ve made statements that have come back to haunt me. Comments like, “I’d never marry an attorney!” and thoughts like, “If I had that many little children, they wouldn’t look like homeless waifs!” (Yes, I arrogantly thought that after seeing a bunch of runny nosed, PJ-clad kids dropped off to be tended while their mom scurried off to a doctors appointment.) Well, I should have known better. I did end up marrying an attorney. (Although, in my defense, he decided to attend law school after we were married.) And I did have nine beautiful, runny-nosed, PJ- clad children who grew up happily running around looking like homeless waifs. You think I would have learned to never say “never.”
In October 2015, our 11- year- old son, Brendan, suddenly lost the vision in his left eye. During the previous week he had suffered a few severe headaches and had even thrown up suddenly one day without any apparent reason. A doctor’s visit, a quick check by the eye doctor, and a rush MRI found an aggressive tumor filling his sinus, pushing through his cribriform plate, pressing on his optic nerve, and getting dangerously close to his brain. Thus began the demolition of all of the “I could NEVER. . .” thoughts I had ever had, starting with, “I’m glad we’ll never have to deal with cancer.”
Everything I ever thought I could never handle stared me in the face during the next 10 months. I watched my child go through two major sinus surgeries, one eye surgery, one craniotomy (brain surgery to remove cancer from the dura,) and a neck dissection to remove strings of cancerous lymph nodes from his neck. I watched him suffer through two bouts of excruciatingly painful meningitis. I suffered with him as he endured five recurrences of C. diff infections, two LifeFlights, five rounds of chemo, six+ weeks of radiation treatments, and one seizure. (Yes, I may have made a comment that sounded something like, “Well, I’ve learned I can handle a lot of things, but I could never handle a seizure.”)
After I found out we could both live through seizures (not to mention brain surgery), I think I learned enough to keep my mouth shut. I never voiced another “never.” But there was still just one, terrifying, unspoken “never” shoved into the darkest, farthest corner of my brain. I knew I’d never say it, and even thinking it felt like a betrayal of faith. But occasionally, unbidden, the thought crept out of the darkness and tried to be heard. “What if my son died? Could I handle that?“ I didn’t want to answer that question. I didn’t even want to ponder it. I never wanted to find out if I had that kind of fortitude. So back that thought would go — banished from the conscious realm once again.
Six months later, when Brendan went from being declared “cancer-free” to being re-diagnosed with metastasized bone cancer, I knew I finally had to face the ultimate “Never Say Never” question. Ready or not, I was about to find out what I was truly made of — and what I truly believed. I found that death staring you in the face shakes you to your inner core. It sifts out all the unnecessary things in your life and leaves only the things that matter most. I never said out loud that losing a child was the one thing I could never do, but I wasn’t sure how anyone survived something that trying. As I finally had to face the worst “I could never” question, I opened my eyes and my heart to see how other mothers had survived.
I returned to stories I had learned about my family. I knew that all of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers had lost a child, some more than one. A farming accident, a blood infection, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, and typhoid were just some of the things that had taken their children’s lives. I saw how they continued to live and love despite their broken hearts. As a child I had only seen them as “old.” Now, I was looking at them as one mother to another. I’m grateful these grandmothers shared their experiences so I could learn that even the death of a child is survivable.
Then, I began looking more closely at mothers around me. As I looked, I saw mothers everywhere that had endured, survived, and even thrived through all the “I could never. . .” scenarios I could ever imagine. They seemed so strong. I watched as they moved forward through their pain with faith — promoting causes, helping other families, and sharing what they learned from their experiences. And I saw love and empathy. Lots and lots of it.
How did I survive the death of my son? My beautiful, precious child? I don’t know. I’m not sure you ever do. Most of the time it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Some days I wish there was some way to get rid of the terrible hurt in my heart. Other days I’m so full of gratitude for life and being able to live it with family that I can’t contain all the joy. But every day I’m grateful I had Brendan in my life and that he taught me courage and faith in the face of challenges. And I’m always grateful that he and others showed me the way past “never.”
Of all I have learned, I found that you do what you have to do, and you can always do more than you think you can. The saying is true, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” And, of course, I’ve learned to never say “never.”