The lights were brighter this year I think. The decorations were more colorful. The streets were lined with garland and signs were posted in store windows counting down the days. I put our lights up outside, helped my wife put the tree up inside, the Christmas music was on, and I was awaiting the inevitable Christmas joy I should have been feeling. Only, I wasn’t feeling joy. I felt pain. I felt guilt. I felt lost. It had been months since I’d lost my son and Christmas was supposed to be the conduit I used to relinquish my guilt, my pain, and my frustrations. It was supposed to allow me to be happy again. Only, it didn’t.
From Love to Loss: A NICU Odyssey is a book about the parent who has loved their child more than anything, but still felt anxiety. It's about the families in every NICU around the globe longing for one more day with their baby. It's about the parents who have experienced loss, a pain no parent should ever have to go through. It's about the odyssey we all undertake in our lives when we love so much and then lose. It's about persevering when everything inside of you is telling you that you should fail. To all of you, you aren't alone.
You can get this book on Amazon and Kindle for now, but I'm working to get this available wherever books are sold. If you have a bookstore close by, provide them the ISBN 978-1702387477. They should be able to order it for you through their distributor.
I was on my way to work one morning, listening to an Audiobook, and as we often do I wasn’t really paying attention. I was glaring off into the morning sunrise and I was thinking. The audiobook was called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. It’s about a defense attorney, getting up in front of folks who question the existence of Jesus, and making a case for why we should believe in him. Specifically, the section of the book I was in was Strobel’s case for the resurrection of Christ. Lately, I’ve been consuming scripture and religious textbooks like they are pumpkin spice lattes in October.
It’s a funny thing, growing up. When you’re young, you feel like you have the whole world figured out when, in reality, you’re just beginning to think about it differently. When you’re an adult, you feel as if the world is crumbling around you and you realize just how little you thought you knew. The problems I thought I had when I was young are minuscule to the ones I actually have now. And yet, I now find myself counting the problems I do have as blessings. Instead of problems that happened to me, they are blessings that happened for me. What happened to me?
Adults have reservations about everything. You’re either a democrat or a republican, pro gun or anti-gun, pro-life or pro-choice, Fox News or CNN. The status quo dictates we have a strong dislike for the people who oppose our opinion. You literally CANNOT BE a democratic presidential candidate in 2019 who happens to be pro-life and pro-second amendment. Why is that? Why can’t two grown adults with opposing opinions sit down and have an educated, yet respectful, conversation regarding their differences? Why are these questions we still have to ask ourselves in 2019? Better yet, what do we tell our kids?
Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults (ADAA, 2019). It can lead to compulsivity, panic attacks, and depression. It affects many people, yet the majority of us still treat it as though it doesn’t exist or can’t affect us. There are a multitude of things that increase my anxiety. I’ve been epileptic since 2012. Having a cognitive electrical imbalance in the brain predisposes me to anxiety. Having a sick child in the NICU, I’ve had to teach myself ways to combat it, lest I be mentally unwell enough to care for my son. These are the things I’ve found that help.
Every Disney movie is inundated with life lessons. Whether it’s communicated via a farting warthog, a roaring lion, or a wily meerkat, it really doesn’t matter. The universality of these lessons are meant to portray a simplistic scenario, which you can then use to apply to your own life. Being in the NICU with a sick child is as difficult a test as they come. When you’re there, you have no comparison to base your current circumstance on, as everyone’s path is unique. You are tested in more ways than you could ever imagine, mentally and emotionally. At times, you’ll want to give up as Simba did, but it’s important to remember your place, responsibilities to those who rely on you, and that you are important and needed. Here are six lessons NICU parents can learn from Disney’s The Lion King.
The most difficult job of a NICU parent is that of the mother. While others sleep, she lies awake. While others hug their children, she stares at hers through a plastic box. While others relax, she anxiously awaits the inevitable darkness. For months, she was the closest thing her baby felt to a home. And then, it was all taken away. Mothers in the NICU are heroes without a cape, warriors without a sword. Along with my son, my wife is my hero. But just like any hero, they need someone to pick them up when the task at hand is insurmountable for one person. Enter the NICU dad.
We’re prepared from a very young age to lose. Small children are told not to lose their toys, that old people and animals die, and that it’s the lessons we learn from losing that help us become winners. We’re prepared, yet we still expect to win. When it’s something we can control, we feel insufficient when we can’t win. For the most part, losing is transient. We think it’ll last forever, but it doesn’t. Failure precedes future success. But what if our preparations were futile? No parent is ever mentally prepared to lose a child. I wasn’t. But I came closer to it than I ever want to be again in my life.
Some days I find myself so overcome with emotion, it seems it would be easier if I didn’t feel anything. I try to make myself feel better, remembering that someone out there has it worse than I do. But it doesn’t always help. “I feel, therefore I am” is not necessarily uplifting. The world we live in does not discriminate when it comes to anxiety. We all feel it. Whether it’s to-do’s, never did’s, or should have done’s, we all feel as if we are inadequate, like we are competing against something immovable. All we are really doing is competing against what we think about ourselves and how others perceive our performance.