"Our Little Trooper"

"Our Little Trooper"
"Let me live, that I may praise you!" Psalm 119:175

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Our little trooper, Rowan, listed in the TAPS section of the National Guard Association of Texas News

Our boy, our soldier, our Rowan..."our little trooper" (as we called him from just days old), was listed in the TAPS section of the Winter 2017 edition of the official publication: National Guard Association of Texas News.

Let that sink in.  He died at just 10 years old.  He was sick his entire life.  He wanted to be in the Army so bad.  But even if Rowan had survived transplant...even if he had grown to be of age, he would never have met the medical requirements. He would have never made it into to military.  The Texas National Guard made it happen anyway though...they made his dreams come true.

If you have followed his story, then you already know that Rowan dreamed of being in the military since he was a small boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old.  Thanks to the help of one of the hospital CNAs, David Hixon, a National Guard reservist at the time, that dream came true.  In a surprise ceremony, Rowan was inducted as an honorary member, into the Texas Army National Guard, at Camp Mabry in Austin, in March 2015, when he was just 8 years old.  He told the room full of fellow cavalrymen that it was "the best day of his entire life".

The Guard embraced Rowan as a brother from day one.  He was so proud to be among them.

The Texas National Guard rallied around Rowan even more a year or so later, as he prepared to leave for his bone marrow transplant in Seattle, and then, when things took a turn for the worse for Rowan, and he started the entire transplant process over again (after the first one failed), the Texas Guard reached out to the Washington National Guard, who also stepped up.  They visited us weekly in the hospital, brought him many special mementos, and prayed bedside over Rowan with our family when he lay in a coma in ICU for days on end.  Rowan may have been unconscious for most of their visits, but our family was still filled with immense comfort by their presence, and their support was something we can never truly repay.

Our family holds the military in very high regard.  Rowan has never walked past a serviceman or woman in uniform without breaking away from me instantly, telling me "wait a second Mom".  Then he would run over to them, reach his hand out, nod, and say "thank you for your service".  This was engrained in him well before he ever considered himself a member of the military himself.  It is just how Brian and I have always raised our children.  But Rowan, Rowan took it more seriously than most...his face would light up, and there was no stopping him.  Even if they were eating, or with their family, and I would try to stop him from interrupting them...Rowan HAD to go thank them. 

So, even though we received this NGAT News publication late (it was mailed to a different address), the timing of it, I believe is just as perfect as everything else that surrounds Rowan.  I have been struggling with missing him...struggling with the separation...struggling with the "why did he have to die".  But the timeliness of this magazine, the weight of how monumental it is to our family, and the impact we know it would have on Rowan, reminds me of what Pastor Lisa spoke of at his memorial service:

"Instead of asking why did he have to die, ask why did he live...and then you have ALL the answers!"

It's true!  Who gets to experience the things that Rowan did?  Who has the impact that Rowan did on this world?  Who's dreams are realized in such fantastic ways, even after their death?  Who continues to impact the people who knew and loved him, so positively?  His life had GREAT meaning.  Even if it was only for 10 years, we KNOW why he lived!

Thank you Texas National Guard, Washington National Guard, National Guard Association of Texas NEWS, and many others, for making Rowan's life dreams come true, but more over, for making him proud to be among you, to be one of you!  Thank you for your service, and thank you for making Rowan's dreams come true in his short 10 years of life.

God bless you all.

The Windham Family:
Brian, Carrie, Zoe, Ian & Rowan

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Grief is not linear...

Rowan taught me so much, so very much.  During his life, and yes, even after his death.  I try to remember his thoughts, views, and positive way of living...and they are often what keep me going...but I am simply not as strong as he was.  I'm just not.

Some days I feel ok.  Some days I can barely breathe.  Some days I am actually able to smile and laugh...briefly (then, I cry myself to sleep, as usual).  One thing I have come to realize, is that grief is not what I thought it would be.  Grief is not linear.  You don't feel better every day.  You don't get stronger day by day.  It doesn't get easier as time goes on.  You don't start to forget the pain and separation...ever.  No!  Some days are good.  Some days are just ok...you are simply existing.  And some days are hard...very, very, hard.  Today was one of those most difficult days.

I just returned from Seattle again this week.  I have only been home four days, but I was immediately yearning to go to the cemetery.  I know it is only Rowan's earthly body that is laid to rest there, but I feel closer to him there...I just do.  I NEED to visit him there, often.  I usually do so weekly.  Today, I did, again.  

As I pulled up to the cemetery, out here in the Texas Hill Country, something was different this time though.  It was a cloudy, rainy, dreary day...and perhaps that affected my mood.  But, as I drove into the cemetery grounds, I immediately cried.  I cried before I even got to Rowan's gravesite.  That is not typical.  Usually, the tears come as I lay next to his gravesite, talking to him.

The thoughts running through my head as I drove through the cemetery gates this time were:

"This is not fair."

"I should not be visiting my child here."

"He should be with me still."

even, for just a second, the thought ran through my mind...

"I can't keep doing this."

I wish I was as strong as you all think I am, but I am not. 
In this post, I am showing my weakness...my vulnerability. 

Today, was just not a good day
...at least not at first.

I laid next to Rowan's grave, on his National Guard Army blanket, given to him from SGT. Leal, as I always do.  But the view was bleak today.  Winter has dulled the grass and the trees, just like my mood today.  It was sad.  I was sad.

I cried, oh how I cried.  For hours, I cried.

Of course I brought flowers, both for Rowan, and for his friends buried there.

I left Olivia these pink and purple carnations.  I saved one for Rowan's grave though, and one for me to take home too.

Then I walked through the brown and gray, dormant, grass...barefoot. Up the hill to Cristabella's site...

...and back down the hill to Justin's.  I left them each one iris and a small bunch of little daisies.

Then, I returned to Rowan's grave, where I left him beautiful orange roses, and one of each of the flowers I had left at his friends' graves (the ones who are buried at the same cemetery at least...he has many other friends buried elsewhere).

As always, Rowan (and God) never fail to give me signs... even during the most difficult of days, no...ESPECIALLY on the most difficult of days.

This was what the sky looked like today.  It was dark, cloudy, rainy, dreary.

While I was there at the cemetery for hours though, I called two other bereaved Moms.  I needed someone to talk to, someone who understood, someone whose child was buried as well.

All of the sudden, as I talked to them on the phone, this happened. The sun didn't just peak out, it shone brightly...but just for a moment...just long enough to remind me..."I'm ok Mommy.  We are all ok Mommy."

It was my sign.  It was our sign.

A beautiful orange and yellow sun peaking from behind the dark clouds...just for a moment.

It left as suddenly as it appeared, but that was ok.  I had already talked to the other two bereaved mothers.  They had already lifted my spirits. 

I eventually headed home...

with me, I took:

yellow daisies,
orange roses,
and a pink and purple carnation...

each of the flowers that I had left Rowan and his friends who are buried near him in that cemetery.

I took some with me as a reminder, as a reminder that these beautiful flowers represent these beautiful children...and the precious moments we got to share with them.  

These flowers will die, just as our babies did...

But, I am reminded of the verse:

Isaiah 40:8

"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever."

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Rowan wasn't buried...he was planted!"

Today is the first anniversary of the day we held Rowan's memorial service at "Live the Life Church" in San Antonio, and had his graveside service at Hill Country Memorial Gardens in New Braunfels.  One year.  One year since I watched them lower his tiny Iron Man casket, and his body, into the ground.  As I posted earlier, I don't remember breathing at all that day...I couldn't.

To say this day was difficult isn't a big enough word.  The anniversaries have been so hard.  The first birthday he wasn't here, the anniversary of his cardiac arrest, the anniversary of his death, and now of his burial...you relive every moment...even a year later, they feel like you are experiencing them all  again...you just do.

I slept in today.  And I woke up like I have every day for a little over a year... for a split second, looking to my right to check on Rowan in my bed.  But like every day for the past year, he isn't there.  For a split second, you forget, or more like you just don't remember yet.  You don't remember that they are gone.  You are in that early morning fog, where you are still waking up, collecting your thoughts.  

Then, it hits you, like the same ton of bricks that has hit you every day for a year.  They aren't next to you.  They aren't even in the next room.  They are gone from this world. They are in Heaven.

Today the same thing happened.  Then, I looked at the time on my phone and I was relieved that I had actually slept until after 10:00 am.  It was a gift.  I had less of this day to relive...or so I thought.

I went in to the bathroom and took a long hot bubble bath.  I stayed under water as long as I could, multiple times.  I talked to Rowan.  I talked to God.  When I got out, I laid on the floor of my bathroom and cried, for well over an hour.  I watched the entire Memorial Service from last year on my phone sideways, as I lay there on the ground, wrapped only in a towel, on the floor of my bathroom.

Don't get me wrong...the service was beautiful, so at times I smiled through my tears...Edwin's voice singing "Let it Be" and "I know the sun will rise" from Broadway's Lion King , Kainoa's voice and ukulele playing "Hallelujah", Christa's heart-felt personally written poem "Requited Love", Jen and Lorraine's personal accounts of Rowan (each of them had a special relationship with him, had lost their own daughters, and had received messages from their angels through Rowan), and Pastor Lisa leading the whole blessed service.  I laid there and cried, and smiled, and remembered every single second of that day.  It was both heart breaking, releasing, and necessary for me.  Everyone grieves differently.  But this is how I needed to start may day.

Next I met Zoe for pedicures.  It was one of Rowan's favorite things to do.  Ironically (or not), Anne, who was the last person to do a pedicure for Rowan (blue polish for his special eyes), just one day before he and I left for Seattle for transplant, came up to me.  She remembers.  She knows.  She was there to do my pedicure today.  She let me know that she just lost her husband suddenly 2 months ago.  We hugged, we cried, and then she did my pedicure, just as she had done Rowan's in June 2016...his last one.  It was a blessing.

As I left, I drove past the New Braunfels branch of the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, I suddenly felt the urge to turn around..  Since Rowan passed away, I have donated platelets nearly every two weeks, every other Monday.  The past few months have been so difficult though that I haven't been able to do it.  Today, even though I wanted to be sad, I felt Rowan whispering to me "Mom, make the good, c'mon".  So, I listened. It was too late in the day, and I wasn't scheduled for platelets but I went in anyway, and I asked them "Do you have time for a whole blood donation at least today?"  They did.  So I did.  The whole time, the staff talked to me about Rowan and his story and his impact.  I was so happy that I stopped.  That I listened to that little voice in my head...Rowan.  I will resume my biweekly platelet donations next month, but today, the day Rowan was buried last year, I gave the gift of life in his memory.  He was certainly smiling down.

After the blood bank, I went to the cemetery.  I go often... almost every single week.  Today was different though.  It was the day we placed his Earthly body there last year.  So, it was different...special, but different.

I laid out his special "woobie" military blanket from his Texas Army National Guard fellow soldier and friend Sgt. Leal. 

I brought several special flowers...Bells of Ireland, Irises, and orange roses.  They all reminded me of Rowan and I, and were some of our very favorites. 

I also brought the "Rowan's Reach" article from the Express News a few weeks ago, and I read him the entire story out loud.  He would be so proud, so happy that his positive message was still being spread.  Lisa Krantz, he would give you the biggest hug if he could, and tell you how awesome you did.  At times, I had to stop and wipe my eyes repeatedly until I could see the pages of the newspaper again, but I eventually got through the entire piece. 

I also brought a special little tin of magnetic poetry words of "Hope", yet another perfect gift from Lorraine Patterson. 

When I opened it and started breaking the pieces apart, several absolutely providential words jumped out at me...a sign from Rowan, undoubtedly.  Here are the sentences I formed with those words.  

I laid on the ground as I ended the day, just as I began the day, but this time beside his grave, not on my bathroom floor. 


I cried out to God, I wept to Rowan, I again wanted to sink down into the dirt where I lay.  I used to spend nearly every minute of every day with Rowan, by his side at all times.  Now, his body being six feet underground feels too far.  His soul being in Heaven feels way too far.  

I clutched at the dirt and grass, I scooted my blanket over his grave, not just next to it...I cried out...loudly.  I wrote in the journal I write in to him every week.  I begged him for more signs that I could make it until I get to hold him again.  

The sky had turned a beautiful orange as it set...Rowan. 

Then it was dark, pitch black, but the bench near Rowan's grave had the reflection of a cross shining on it.  It was from the grave of a recent burial, where they had placed a glow in the dark cross. 

I have been there at night since, but tonight was the first time that I had ever seen that cross reflect on that bench next to Rowan's grave.  It was another sign...Rowan.

As sad as I was today...as monumental as it is to lay your child to rest, or bury their body in the ground...as many tears as I shed today...I kept hearing Pastor Lisa's voice throughout the day... "Rowan wasn't buried...he was planted!"  

She was right, so very right.  Every one of the "Rowan-isms" that we each recall or remember, is a seed that he planted in our brains and in our hearts.  Rowan made this world a better place while he was here...but we can continue to make it better by living the way he did, by thinking the way he did.

"Make the good."

"Love your life!"

and all of the other words of wisdom we heard from our special boy, our angel.

Tonight, I will go to bed missing his physical presence in my life, feeling to the right for his body in my bed, listening for his breathing, or waiting for his pumps and monitors to alarm.  But I will try to remember (once I am fully awake tomorrow, and the nightmare becomes reality once again), that while he is physically gone...

"Rowan wasn't buried...

he was planted!"

Thank you Pastor Lisa for that message, for the impact you had on Jalene's life, on Rowan's life, and on countless others, like mine. 

Your message from Rowan's service one year ago today...got me through today, one year later... and so many days since. 

Rowan would love the irony of that and he would explain God's perfection in that.