Charlie’s Room

I remember getting home from the hospital. I walked into his room and collapsed onto his unmade mattress. The darkness of the room blinding; the silence deafening. It felt like something was pulling me from under the bed and through the ground into a gigantic void. I could feel my soul emptying out of me and anchoring to this spot. This spot of my life when everything changed. This spot on his bed where I physically felt the weight of the universe collapsing in on me. Charlie would never sleep in this bed again. His bed was dead. His room was dead. Charlie was dead.

Every night I go into Charlie’s room to say goodnight to my dead son. I get that pit in my stomach and chills up my spine as I cross the threshold into his room without him in it. Death hangs in the air as I say, “I miss you. I love you,” and kiss a piece of fabric that has his picture on it. This is my routine every night. This routine is going to stop within the next three weeks. I’m dreading the halt of this routine more than I did the one year anniversary of his death. One year is just a metric of time. I’m going to hurt forever so one year is just that; one year out of forever.

We had to break down Charlie’s big boy bed and convert it back into a crib. We had to take his clothes out of the dresser to make room for newborn clothes. It felt like I was erasing his existence from our house. It felt like I was packing up Charlie, shoving him into our crawl space and out of my life. It felt like I had to do what I always fear others have already done- move on. When we decided to convert Charlie’s room into a nursery two weekends ago, I started by moving a package of overnight diapers from his closet and into Danny’s closet. I completely broke down. I felt that anchor pulling me back into that void. I couldn’t do it. Vanessa, her sister Jen, and her Mom did it while I was at work later in the week. That so-called “strength” people have told me that I have exhibited the past 13 months was nowhere to be found. I turned into a puddle after moving one box of diapers. Strength? What a bunch of bullshit. It’s more like acting combined with rote responses to give people the illusion that I’m ok.  And the Oscar goes to. . .

Our baby is due in under three weeks. I’m supposed to be thrilled. I’m supposed to be excited. Instead I’m afraid. I fear people will think us having another baby is a statement that we are all better now. That we’ve “finally started to move on.” We are not moving on. We are continuing to live. There’s a big difference. A piece of my soul will always be anchored to that spot of my life when Charlie died. I’m trying to be strong enough to carry it and my family through this life. I fear people will think our new baby will be a replacement for Charlie. No one can ever replace Charlie. Never. I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about me. . . except for this. I am beyond passionate about making sure people realize that we are not trying to replace Charlie. It’s borderline maniacal. I remember people telling me in those early days, “At least you’re young. You can have more kids.” It took a great deal of restraint for me to not put their heads into the wall. Honestly. I know, or at least hope, that they weren’t insinuating that we could replace Charlie but it still made me angry. I also wanted to tell these people who told me how young I am that we couldn’t have another baby b/c I got a vasectomy three weeks before Charlie died.

When we found out we were pregnant my Mom made me promise that our next child would never know that we weren’t planning on having him/her. But that’s not the right way to look at it. We weren’t planning on Charlie passing away. It’s not like our next child is a mistake. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I endured a four hour surgery, that was not even guaranteed to work, performed by Dr. Merrill Matschke to reverse the vasectomy. A lot of people have funny stories about riding unicorns over rainbows after awaking from anesthesia. When I awoke from the anesthesia the nurse told me the first thing I said was, “I have to go find Charlie.” She got choked up as she told me that while I was trying to unhook the straps and IV’s attached to me I kept repeating, “No. You don’t understand. I have to go find Charlie.”

I feel guilty about having another baby. I feel guilty about feeling guilty b/c we’re having another baby. Yes, I feel guilty about feeling guilty. It’s a paradox that defines my life. Don’t get me wrong. I am over the moon that we are having another baby. I can’t wait to meet him/her and I can’t wait to love him/her with my whole heart. We both knew immediately after losing Char that we wanted to have another baby not only for us but for Danny as well. We want him to have a sibling and he’s going to have one that will only be 17 months younger than he. We are excited to watch them grow up together but there will always be that undercurrent of sadness knowing their older brother is now watching them from heaven. I am genuinely excited for our new baby but I do still feel guilty. My conflicting emotions have drawn a proverbial line in the sand. It’s a fine line and I have to walk it forever. Hopefully I can get better at walking it.

There is still more work to be done in converting Charlie’s room into a nursery that I need to do. Pictures, books, and other items need to be moved b/c Charlie’s room will be our next baby’s room. Charlie’s personalized license plate and his “Best Big Brother” medal will have to come down from his door. This will hurt me the most. He was so proud of the Big Brother medal and what it represented. It has to be done though. The baby deserves his/her own room and spot in our hearts. I will always be anchored to that day when Charlie died. Everytime I walk into that room I will remember how I could physically feel my soul bleeding out of me and pulling me down into a darkness so deep and heavy that I never thought I would rise.

I came across this quote the other day. “There are only two places to go when dropped to rock bottom: You can wallow there forever, asking questions that will never have palatable answers, or you can climb your way out and live.” Part of this climb is changing Charlie’s room into the baby’s room. I’m trying my best to climb my way out b/c I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for Vanessa. I’m doing it for Danny. I’m doing it for our new baby on the way. I’m doing it for Charlie. If I was only doing it for me, I probably would’ve given up a long time ago but knowing I’m responsible for three other people keeps me climbing with that anchor on my back. Like I’ve said before, I won’t stop. I can’t stop. I have to do it for them and I can’t let them down. They need me.

I’ve noticed that most of my posts end with this rallying cry but it’s how I truly feel. Whenever I go to or get pulled into that dark place I let myself stay there for a while because I need it. It’s part of my attachment to Charlie. I also know I can’t stay there. I know that it won’t serve me or those I love. It will do the exact opposite. That anchor will pull me under and drown out the happiness and joy in my life. I know that continuing to live and love does not mean I love or miss Charlie any less than I did the day he died. You need to know that although I know these things it does not mean I always feel this way. It’s where the guilt originates and festers inside of me. It’s why I can’t bring myself to move a box of diapers out of Charlie’s room. It’s why I feel guilty about changing Charlie’s room from one that feels dead and infusing it with new life. It’s why I’ll always have these conflicting emotions.

Charlie,

I want you to know that I love you with every fiber of my being and I am sorry. I am sorry that we are continuing to live. I am sorry that we are changing your room into a nursery. I am sorry that you died and I lived.  We are not replacing you.  We are not moving on. I’m going to keep climbing while carrying this anchor of grief until I finally get to see you again.  I love you. I miss you.

– Dad

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10 thoughts on “Charlie’s Room

  1. What a heartfelt post. I could feel your conflicting emotions in every word. Charlie knows you are not replacing him and I am sure that he is smiling in heaven knowing that Danny is going to have a sibling here with him. I know you just want Charlie to be here with you. I had a somewhat similar situation and when I had to make a new nursery out of my daughter’s room, it was one of the hardest things to do. I kept a couple of things in there though that were special, not to keep it as her place but so that she could be with her new brother and he would know her. Maybe you could put Charlie’s big brother medal somewhere special in the new baby’s room because Charlie will always be her big brother and will be super proud of his new sibling. He can still be a part of the room and I promise you one day you will enjoy going in there and feeling the life that is in there and smiling when you think of Charlie. I know that seems like it won’t happen, but Charlie will make it happen. Thank you for sharing your beautiful post and all your beautiful children with us.
    Lynne

  2. Bryan,
    This hard road never gets any easier. I truly understand what you mean by feeling guilty. We are in the midst of the same battle. When do we take down Zayana’s room and prepare it for DJ? My wife has already tried and little by little I can feel it changing. Just like you I also have a routine, go in at night, say a little prayer, sing her a lullaby, and tell her that daddy misses her so much and that daddy loves her. Every night when I do this my heart just breaks. So I can understand what you are going through.

    We are glad to hear that you baby will be here soon. Know that we are thinking of you. Take care.

  3. Oh Brian…you have such an amazing way about you and how you share your feelings. I am only one small person out of the world of people who live and support you and Vanessa and your family, but so you know, I believe with my whole heart that part of you moving on means never forgetting Charlie. This baby could never replace Charlie or fill the part of your soul that you lost…but I hope he or she makes it a little easier to smile everyday. A little easier to celebrate little moments. And a little easier to enjoy the good times with family and friends. A little easier to remember all the wonderful joy Charlie brought to everyone. And I hope one day Danny will be able to tell you how grateful he is that you and Vanessa put your own feelings aside and blessed him with TWO siblings that love him.
    All the best in the coming weeks. Can’t wait to hear all the baby news. We think of you guys all the time!

  4. I’m not sure if my response will be appropriate, but I really wanted to write something to you and your family. Thank you for openly sharing some your thoughts and experiences. I’ve written once or twice before. Vanessa is a nurse, an AMAZING nurse, to my daughter Ally who has type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy and was given a life expectancy of less than 2 years, but just turned 6. Although I am blessed to have her still, I still often deal with grief of how things should be and fear of when she will be taken from me. Emotionally I have good and bad days dealing with her chronic condition. I know this does not compare at all to what you are dealing with and not being prepared for a sudden death, but I want you to know I am thinking of your family often and appreciate hearing your thoughts and sharing pics of Charlie. It is all so scary and especially unfair. I do want to congratulate you and Vanessa for the new little one that will be here soon. Charlie will always be the younger kids Proud Big Brother and (I believe) watches and supports you all from heaven . I have to hope and believe in this or life/death would be even scarier for me. (((HUGS))) from a friend of Vanessa’s (and online friend to your entire family).

  5. You and I think so much alike at times!! I had planned on waiting until the 1 year anniversary of Alexander’s death to deal with his room. But a couple of weeks ago I felt the need to start. It was actually okay that day. We packed a lot of things up, put some away. Started to pick out what might be GIVEN away. It wasn’t easy, but for me it wasn’t too hard either.
    We too have to start planning for a new baby (Due in July) sometimes I wonder what people think of us having a new baby so soon. on the outside they all express joy and happiness. But I wonder too if they think it is too soon? Maybe because sometimes I wonder if it is too soon?
    Some have asked us if we will put the new baby in another room. Well, that would require a lot of furniture rearranging and i don’t have the energy or time to do that! Besides, I can’t keep it as a shrine forever right?
    I am sure Alexander would have been a great big brother! It makes me sad to see the “big brother” shirts knowing he will never wear one. I am looking for something that I can leave for him at his grave when the baby arrives however, like a pin or a medal or something.
    I guess all we can do is BREATH and keep taking it one day at a time!

  6. I really like the middle picture in this post of Charlie holding Danno. That sums up his sweet face and personality. Uncle Philly misses you every day!

  7. Your writings are so moving. I truely hope you keep ever single one and perhaps someday publish them as I am sure they will help so many others who will experience the same thing.
    You may or may not know Fred and I lost a baby. He would be 34 now. I wish we would have had your words to read back then. It would have helped us sort out a lot of feelings.So perhaps one day you might consider that. Not now but way down the road when you feel better. You WILL feel better some day even though you think you won’t . You WILL smile again and breathe normal again even
    though you can’t comprehend that now. The fact that your grief is so overwhelming now is really a good sign that your recovery is moving upward. As you will never forget, you will eventually except God’s plan and be able to live with it. My prayer for you and Vanessa is that you can be patient with yourselves because it does take a long time but there will be a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.

  8. Bryan – Another wonderfully written and transparent post… It amazes me how the smallest thing can have such impact – like moving a package of diapers. Personally, I have given up on moving “on.” I am choosing to move “forward.” To me there is a difference; moving on implies that the pain of my grief is left behind. It is forever chained to me, so I muster the strength to at least keep moving. I anticipate that you will figure it out. You are a great dad – a great husband – a great man, and that is what great men do. If I have learned anything during the last year, it is that immense sadness and wondrous joy can (and do) co-exist. There will be both joy and sadness when your new son or daughter is born, and I expect that he or she will be loved with a powerful love – just like his or her big brothers already are. Praying that all goes well ~ Tim

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