Yesterday was Frac's birthday. He was typically excited for his day of revelry. He had been hoping for a compound bow or a recurve bow, and if not that, maybe I'd purchase that submachine pellet gun he had been eyeing at the store. You know the one. The one where you can launch a steady stream of white plastic pellets at your sister's arse for 30 seconds before your mother comes out and threatens to break the gun but only after putting a cap in your arse with it.

He didn't get any of that. He got a watch. Don't look at me like that. Punctuality is important. I could have gotten him socks and underwear but I'm not completely heartless.

Frac's birthday is always a tough birthday for our family to get through because it will always be the reminder of what was to come in just five days. Frac's birthday was the last thing we celebrated and shared as a whole family. Five days later life ended for Frac's little brother and none of us has ever quite recovered.

That was the last photo we took of Shale. It was the night of Frac's birthday, the boys were high on attention and birthday cake and goofing off and when I saw the giant shadow on the picture I tossed the photo into the trash. Days later I dug it out because I couldn't bear to lose one single more piece of my dead son.

This time of year is always rough on us. It's compounded and worsened by the fact that when we adopted Jumby, his birthday is Oct 21. The day Shale died.

Six months after Shale died, my kids were floundering, my mental health was deteriorating, and my husband had left the building (literally) to start working out of town in an effort to cope with his grief.

I didn't know what to do. I could barely breathe. But I couldn't sit for one more day and watch my children slide further into the pit of despair I was trapped in, so I went out and I got a dog.

He wasn't the dog I wanted. The one I wanted was brown and white and barked a lot but the women who was giving me the dog, having heard my story, my loss, handed me this runt who never barked and said, "Trust me. He's the one you want."

And so I grudgingly took home this puppy who was the wrong colour and looked kinda weird and wondered what the hell I was doing.

I named him Nixon. And I wrote my very first blog post about him here. 

It turned out that strange lady knew what she was doing. Nixon was exactly the glue I needed to keep my heart together and he helped heal Fric and Frac who were only 8 and 9.

We were inseparable, him and I. He was never more than five feet from me wherever I was, and he'd bite anyone but me if they tried moving him away from me.

He was my warrior spirit and my protector. He listened to me talk softly about the son I lost and he let my wipe my tears on his fur and he always slept next to me, pushing his weight against mine so that I would never feel alone in the darkest parts of the night.

He let me abuse him for blog fodder and dress him up for amusement and he never even sighed when I brought out the iPhone and told him to smile.

 He hogged the monstrously large oversized couch whenever he could, he sat like a grumpy old man and he was always on the one rug he wasn't allowed to be on. Whenever I chastised him he would look up at me with those big brown eyes and say, "What? You love it and you know it."

He would burrow his dirty body into the mountain of warm laundry, fresh out of the dryer and he liked baby carrots better than any dog treat.

When he slept he snored so loudly you could hear him across the house and when he farted his silent little 'Poof' bombs, he could clear a room. Which he did. Nightly. With great glee.

Nixon was more than the family dog. He was the embodiment for all the love that we had for a son, a sibling we lost and we didn't know what to do with it. So we transferred all that love and attention onto a DOG.

He was our four legged brother, my doggy son. He saved me from myself when my child died.

He was the best dog ever.

Yesterday, just before lunch, I noticed he was missing. Nixon doesn't go missing, because he was too much of a pansy to leave the yard. He never strayed far from me. Ever.

A panicked search ensued, where I found myself cursing our property, because how the hell was I supposed to find my dog if he was injured on a land so vast. Needle meet haystack.

My husband, and all our neighbours continued the search long after I called it quits.

A mother always knows.

I knew.

Nixon could have one leg and been on his death bed and he would come to me when I called. We were inseparable.

Nixon love bombed me. So gross. And yet I miss it so much.

My husband eventually came in, and between the tears streaming down his face, he told me he couldn't find Nixon. Some of the other neighbours reported seeing a big feral black dog traveling with a coyote. The duo had been terrorizing my neighbours yards for the past couple of days.

He didn't find Nixon. But the Rottweiller helped him find a very large pool of blood. They followed the trail until it disappeared but with that amount of blood it was clear what had happened.

I spent the afternoon worrying my dog was out there slowly dying a torturous death on the afternoon of his brother's 15th birthday.

How do I tell my son our dog died on his birthday?

Nixon was found, later that night due to the generosity of a friend, and a kindness I will never be able to repay. There isn't much left of him, but enough that I can give him the goodbyes he's earned.

I can't give back my son his birthday. I can't erase all the pain that seems to swirl around this date. I don't know how to make it better for any of my kids, most particularly Frac.

I can't stop the flow of my kids tears.

I can't bring Nixon back.

He deserved better and it will haunt me for a long time that he didn't get it.

My children deserve better. It will haunt me forever that I can never seem to give it to them.

I miss my dog.

And my kid.

Rest in peace Nixon. You will be sorely missed.

Nixon, a.k.a Snickerdoodles, Fartmonster, Snixon.

April 1, 1996 - October 15, 2012

World's Greatest Dog. Forever.


Six And Eight: Hell By Numbers

I put on a happy face this morning when I woke up and greeted my children like today was another regular day.

I picked Knox up and held him tight and whispered birthday wishes into his ear as he squirmed for freedom. "You're eight today, cub," I announced as I slathered kisses on his cheeks wet from drool.

I hugged Fric and Frac and told them to try and enjoy their day and to remember it's their little brother's birthday and I promised them it was okay to feel any way they wanted to. My daughter blinked back tears as she nodded; clutching her Shale bear tight and bravely smiled and said "Today's the day we celebrate for Knox."

Frac was remained quiet but I caught him singing Happy Birthday to Knox as he wrestled his brother into his splints and shoes. Frac is the only one who can seem to get them onto Knox's feet.

I watched all three of my children walk down the drive, somber and confused, and then I cried.

I was surprised I could hold the tears back for as long as I did, to be honest.

I feel like a failure as a mom, because what type of mother can't celebrate the birth of her child?

The type of mother, I suppose, that watched her other son die on the same day her other child was born.

Beginnings are hard, endings are harder. And it's all too much when they fall on the same damn day.

October 21 took one son away from me and then later gave me another. The irony of this is lost on me as I struggle to maintain my composure for those around me. I don't know how to graciously accept birthday wishes while listening to hushed whispers of condolences. It's the hardest thing to do and it's my own personal version of Ground Hog's day hell for every calendar year to follow.

The gift of my beautiful child Knox and his life has been marred by the loss of the brother he will never know. Nothing in life is free or fair. My new son came with a price tag, one that we were willing to accept but without really understanding the cost.

One day of hell for a life time of gain, I suppose. A deal with the devil, a fair trade.

But it's so fucking hard, and I haven't found the balance yet. I don't know how to weep for the loss of a child I loved so dearly my world collapsed in his absence while celebrating the birth of another son who I love so dearly my world is righted by his presence.

I can't wish October 21 off the calendar because without it my son wouldn't be here.

But with it, my other son is lost to me forever.

I haven't found a way to reconcile the two just yet and I don't know if I ever will.

Six years ago I watched as my Shale died, uselessly and without purpose or warning, taking with him a joy I've never been able to replace. Our family fractured forever and there is no glue in the world to fix the cracks we all collectively share. That Tanis, that mother, that person, she no longer exists. And I'm learning six years is still not long enough to dull the pain that flows through my heart and cripples my soul.

I miss my son. Wildly. I still wake up at night to be crushed with the realization he isn't just down the hall from me, snoring softly in his room. He no longer exists except for in my heart and the memories of those who loved him.

But eight years ago, my son Knox was born, unbeknownst to me. A culmination of circumstances and horror lead him to our family, and his presence breathed new life into all of us. His unrelenting joy and loving spirit has brought a peace to all of us as we listen to him snuffle in his sleep.

A bed that was empty is once again filled.

But the memory of who is lost haunts me, us, and casts a permanent shadow on our lives.

Six years and the shadow is still long and dark. I was foolish to hope this grief and sorrow would be a terrible memory by now.

I'm so sorry Shale that I couldn't save you. And I'm so sorry Knox that I can't celebrate your birth with wild abandon and joy. I'm still broken inside. There is not a day that goes by that I'm not gripped with a fierce love and thankfulness that you exist and that I can call you mine. But for one horrible day of the year I am all yours. Completely and unreservedly.

But today, today you have to share me with the brother you never knew. And I am so terribly, absolutely sorry for that.

Happy eighth birthday my beautiful Knox. We love you more than any words can ever express.

I'm so sorry Shale. What if's and wishes tear at my heart and we, I, miss you so much it hurts to breathe. You are not forgotten. We love you still. Absolutely. Always.

One day I'll be able to let go.

But it likely won't happen on an October 21.

Happy Birthday Knox. We love you to the moon and back.

We miss you Shale. Every day. Look for our love; it's brought to you by an angel's wings.

Tracks In The Snow

It's his tenth birthday tomorrow. I only saw him for four of them, his life snuffed out just shy of my son blowing out the candles for his fifth. His heart has been still longer than it thumped thumped under the pale white skin covering his chest.

I thought I'd be further along by now. I thought the pain would be numbed by the tic tocking of the passing of time; I believed I'd grow immune to this dull throb that aches my heart daily.

The canvas of my life is barren, whited out as though a blizzard swept through and covered everything with heavy white snow. I'm washed out. Only now the snow isn't pristine, it's riddled with the footprints of my grief, trudged back and forth through this never-ending winter as I hunt for signs of life, of joy, once more. I miss the pristine, freshly fallen snow. When the pain was razor sharp and the air was so cold it burned my lungs as I drew it into my body. I'm numb to it now, perpetually chilled, alone. He was closer to me then, when the snow was fresh. Every footstep I make in this snow of grief seems to tamp his memories further away from me.

It's a weird thing to grieve a son the world, I, barely knew. They, the world, the authorities on grief, they all told me there was no time limit to this pain. They told me it would haunt me until it wouldn't anymore. They told me to try and move on. To forgive. To forget.

But I can't.

I can't forgive. It's too vast and I don't know who to ask forgiveness from. God? He has long since abandoned me, even as the cries from well meaning Christians argue otherwise. Myself? I was his mom. My sole task in life was to ensure he outlived me. I failed. My son? He died on me, leaving his siblings and his father alone with me to struggle in this pain forever.

I can't forgive my relatives and my friends for no longer sharing this pain with me. They've moved on while I'm still stuck, spinning in this snow, looking for a way out.

There is no one to forgive, nothing to forgive and yet forgiveness is the one thing I seek and the one thing I can't seem to find.

On his tenth birthday for my son, my ghost child, I'm mad. I'm mad at myself for feeling like this, mad at everyone who doesn't. I'm mad small children have grown up and forgotten he lived, I'm angry new children have been born and will never have the chance to forget him.

I'm furious his siblings have had to trudge through this blanket of snow beside me, making their own indelible footprints in this blizzard of pain. They were children. They are children. Smalls who should have never known a pain like this. It tears me apart even wider with every tear spilled over their lashes as they miss their brother.

Failure has defined my parenting and marked itself all over my life and there is little I can do to erase the stench of it. Failure to protect, first Shale and then his siblings. The smell is everywhere, like the cloying smell of mothballs in an old wood trunk. I can't escape it, I can't cover it up.

I've spent the past five years, the past six January fourths trying to overcome this pain. This day. I've dedicated my life to remembering joy, to teaching my children to forget survival and aim for thriving. I practice what I preach, I own it. I work hard to make sure this tragedy hasn't shaped us all into misfits unrecognizable by our community, abandoned because we couldn't rise above our own misfortune.

But this year is different. It feels as though I'm on a precipice. The cliffs of time are crumbling beneath me, dragging me further away from the life I knew, the person I was, the son I had. I'm struggling to find a foothold to hang on to, to cling to the walls of these memories. I don't know how to let go. I'm scared of what awaits me when my fingers tire and I slip off this cliff. Will he be forgotten for good or will I be further ravaged by the monster of guilt that has nibbled at my soul for years?

Nothing has changed yet every thing is different.

They, the world, the authorities on grief, they left something out as they dumped their sage wisdom of grief survival on me. They forgot to tell me the more joy I felt the harder it would be to remember, to cling to my son. The more memories I created, the bigger the hole in my heart would seem when fresh memories of my son failed to fill my soul. The more I heal the harder my heart bleeds.

I wish I had known. I wish I didn't know now.

I'm tired of pretending. I'm not okay. I'm not fine. My soul shattered like a mirror dropped on the floor and while love has helped glue it back together, the edges are jagged and I'm not whole. None of us ever will be and the weight of this is heavy on my tired shoulders.

I don't know how to stop loving my son or being his mother and I'm tired of only having two days a year to acknowledge he lived. He lives. In me with every breath I take. I'm tired of parenting an invisible child no one else can see but me. I'm tired of all the days in between his birthday and his death day and for every moment I have to push aside this boy memory of mine and live. When he does not.

It's my son's tenth birthday tomorrow and there is no boy to blow out the candles on his cake.

But there will be more tracks in the snow as I search once more for peace, for forgiveness.