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Giving Myself Permission to Be Happy Being Sad

Photograph by Eric Weingrad

I'm allowed to be sad and you are, too.

Long story short, some evil woman hurt my 11-week-old son by cracking his skull and causing him to stop breathing. Yada, yada, yada, he's home with us now and hasn't met any of his milestones almost two years later. So, yeah, you could say I have a Visa Black Card to sadness. No limit.

However, here's the thing with a tragedy like the one my family deals with every day: You get used to it. I know that sounds insane, but it's true. It's not like we ignore the figurative elephant in the room or aren't tortured by the thought of "what could have been," but short of having a mental breakdown—which I'm pretty sure I've had a few times—you sort of start moving about your life as if it's always been this way.

My son was so young when this occurred that I don't really know any other version of him. Fuck, that's possibly the saddest thing I've ever written. Great, now I'm sad again. See what I just did to myself? But that's OK. I'm fine with it, and you can be, too.

Every day something will affect me: an ASPCA commercial, an announcement at the super market or stumbling upon a YouTube video of swimming newborns. It can easily trigger a waterworks show worthy of being featured in front of the Bellagio.

The reality is, I've been an emotional basket case ever since I got a call that my son was being rushed to the hospital because he wasn't breathing. I hold it in as much as possible until something—typically, something meaningless—sets me off.

I don't fight the emotions any more. I allow myself to be sad and marinate in it like grandma's meatballs, letting all the sadness seep into my heart, turning it into a ball of tears mixed with an ugly cry face, some manly grunts, onions, minced garlic and sweet peppers. Then bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. And then—like an eaten meatball—it passes.

I'm aware that sounds a bit tortured and sadistic (and freakin' delicious), but I feel like if I continued to push away the sadness, or continued to tell myself to "buck up, kid," or just pretended like life is hunky-dory (what a stupid word), then I'd begin to be comfortable with my son's injury. And I don't ever want to be fine with something so horrendous. #Ever

Now with that said, I'm learning to accept my son's disabilities and all that comes with them. I'm doing my best to overcome the constant reminders that I'll probably never throw a ball with him in the yard, or watch him graduate from college, or help him move out of a psycho ex-girlfriend's apartment in the middle of the night. Accepting something versus being OK with something are two very different things. I'm not OK with my son's situation, but I'm doing my best to accept it—and any crazy girlfriends he might have one day.

Don't let jerks run your life any more than you would let a dog do your taxes. It's just plain stupid.

It's understandably easy for friends and family to tell me not to think like that or to "try and cheer up," as they probably equate it with giving up. But, as far as my experience in life goes, you can't control your thoughts and I'll be damned if I ever give up on my children. But shouldn't I be permitted to feel sadness in waves as I mourn the loss of my once healthy child? And is it possible for people to merely comfort me instead of attempting to lift my spirits? Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.

My son, whom I adore and love with every fiber of my being, is not the son that was born to me on October 1, 2014. No, instead this is a new gorgeous baby boy with different dreams and life goals. He might have the same soul and heart and fight, but the intangible properties that make us up as individuals has been altered greatly. And this cannot be undone.

Look, it's confusing to me, too, so I can't necessarily knock you for not understanding my stance. I imagine some people will even be offended at my outlook of mourning the loss of a child that is still alive, but to those people I say: "I think you're an idiot, too."

However, speaking directly to all the parents out there that are dealing with the recovery of a child who was abused, or suffered a brain injury, or just have some heavy shit going on in life: It is perfectly OK to be sad. It's quite healthy to live in your moment and deal with your emotions as they're presented to you. It's perfectly normal to miss your child, even though they are still here. It's fine to let yourself think about the future you once dreamed of, as those wishes still carry very important values.

Don't ever be ashamed because someone makes you feel you aren't being strong enough. There is popular name for people who try to force us away from our true feelings: jerks. Don't let jerks run your life any more than you would let a dog do your taxes. It's just plain stupid.

I believe we have one shot on this planet, so best not to continually screw it up. Don't waste your life with emotions that belong to someone else's ideals. Don't force yourself into a box that someone else constructed.

For me, I know this is my one shot at life and it's time I start treating it that way because there are no mulligans or do-overs.

Unless I was a cat. Then I could screw it up eight times but really nail it on the ninth.

Pro tip: We are not cats.

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