Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Recap

The year 2016 was a year of chaos and change for me.

On January 16, 2016, I had a small stroke. I was fortunate that it didn't leave any residual effects, but it was definitely a huge wake-up call for me. I realized I needed to make some changes in my life.

March 25th was the 5th anniversary of Caleb's death. For the first time, we did not do a balloon release. I just couldn't. I didn't see the point in continuing to focus on the day he died. I wanted to celebrate his life, not his death.

In May, I made the decision to leave Richard after almost 18 years of marriage. I will not go into details about why. Please do not ask either of us. And if you are one of the few that does know, please do not spread our business to anyone else. We have told the people we believe needed to know. Even then, some of them don't know all the details and won't. It is a very private and personal matter.

In June, Caden and I moved to Louisiana. We moved in with my parents so I would have help looking after Caden while I looked for a job and a place for us to live. That was quite an adjustment.

In July, I went back into the workforce full-time after 11 years of being a stay-at-home mom. I started working through a temp agency so I could get accustomed to the changes in technology and procedures since I quit work in July 2005. I was placed as an administrative assistant for a major health system in the area. I didn't realize just how much I missed working. And I certainly didn't remember how tiring it could be!

August brought the Great Flood of South Louisiana. While we were fortunate not to get any water where I'm staying, both of my brothers wound up with water in their homes while living in an area that wasn't supposed to flood. Ever. So many people lost everything they owned. It was a terrible time and people are still rebuilding their homes and their lives from it.

On August 16, 2016, while the flood waters were starting to recede in some places and just beginning to rise in others, I had to have Samson put down. He had cancer in his snout that had spread to his brain, and I didn't know until it was too late to be able to do anything for him. I was so preoccupied with other things going on, I just didn't pay close enough attention. Samson was Caleb's faithful companion from the day we brought Caleb home until the day Caleb left for the hospital the last time. It was so hard to say goodbye to Samson. I remember apologizing over and over to Samson for not realizing he was in such pain. I stayed by his side and held him in my arms until he breathed his final breath, just like I did for Caleb.

Caleb and Samson were reunited in time for what should have been Caleb's 11th birthday. This is also the first year since Caleb died that I did not do a balloon release for his birthday either. Caden was visiting his dad and I just didn't want to do anything for it. I was still mourning Samson's death and trying to console myself with the knowledge that Caleb and Samson were together again. I have to admit that it didn't help much.

Caden started a new school in August that requires school uniforms. He was not happy about that at all! I wasn't thrilled about it, but I understand the reasons for it and it does make it a bit easier when it comes time to buy school clothes. He misses picking out what he wants to wear, but has finally adjusted.

In September, I met someone new. It was quite unexpected as I wasn't even looking for anyone. I was still in the process of working on getting divorced and had been making plans for it to be just me and Caden for quite a while. There will probably be more news about him in the future.

October 31, 2016, was the day Caleb was officially dead longer than he was alive. Five years, seven months and six days.

In November, I became a permanent employee at the health system. I absolutely love working there. I like all the people and the work. And, it's not far from home.

Caden turned 8 just after Thanksgiving. We had a very small gathering to celebrate then he went to play with the neighborhood kids.

He spent Christmas with his dad so it was my first Christmas without either of my boys around. Was a bit of a hard day, but I made it through. Then, I turned 46 just after Christmas.

We've welcomed in 2017 with more torrential rain and I'm sure there are many in the area having flashbacks and panic attacks while wondering if they are going to flood yet again.

Chaos and change. Yep, that's the way I'd describe 2016.  I hope to describe 2017 as the year of new beginnings and things to look forward to.

Samson Whiteheart:  October 1, 2003 - August 16, 2016

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Angel and Memorial tickers
We still miss Caleb every moment of every day. He is always in our hearts, always in our thoughts, and is loved today, tomorrow, in all ways to infinity and beyond.

Angel & Caden

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Camp Sol - The Beginning

The other day as I was cleaning out the notepad on my iPad, I ran across my notes from our very first visit to Camp Sol in 2012. It was almost one year after Caleb died when we went for the very first time. I went back through the blog and realized that I never posted these notes. I find it fitting that I found the notes just before we are ready to head to our fourth year of Camp.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

We're finishing up day 3 of our first bereavement camp at Camp Sol in Meridian, TX. It's been a very emotional, yet fun experience. We've gotten to know many new families on a closer level who are at various stages of the bereavement process -- some as short as 4 months, others more than 10 years.

Like us, these people have all lost at least one child and are reaching out to find ways to cope with the loss. It's a group we never wanted to belong to, yet are honored to be part of. We can share things that most people will never really understand. Thanks to some of the "regulars" at camp, we have some ideas of things to expect from Caden as he continues to grow and learn more about what it means to have lost his brother.

We've been reacquainted with several of the staff from our time at Children's, including our wonderful Child Life Specialist, Jennifer, whom Caden absolutely adores now. I got to speak at length with Dr. Winick, who was the oncologist who initially told us about the seriousness of the tumor. And Caleb's music therapist, Lisa, is here as well. She was surprised to find that we still have the CD she made for Caleb during that last week.

Facebook Post: I'm finally able to breathe somewhat normally again. Been a long and emotional day at camp. Got to spend some great time with one of our oncologists from last year. Didn't mean to make her cry, but it still happened when we gave her one of Caleb's BEFORE pictures. Have made a lot of new friends who understand all too well the road we're currently traveling. So comforting to know we are not alone.

I did have a couple little concerns coming to camp this weekend. First, of course, was my health. I'd been at the Urgent Care center twice last week with a severe case of asthmatic bronchitis and wasn't sure I'd even get to come to camp. Caden has also been a bit "off" this weekend. Constantly hungry, yet not really eating anything and complaining off and on that his stomach hurts. Has never run any fever, still playing normally, so we came.

Early Saturday morning around 2:30 a.m., Caden started coughing and then we heard that sound we don't like to hear -- vomiting. Oh, great. NOT! We get him cleaned up & back to bed. I was awake for the rest of the night worrying that we'd be sent home from camp. When Caden got up, he seemed totally fine. I got to thinking that it was just sinus drainage that caused him to vomit.

We had several activities scheduled through the day. Since it was raining, our fishing activity was changed to an indoor stargazing program. Caden fell asleep during it. Not normal for him to fall asleep at 10am. I chalked it up to his waking during the night & not getting enough sleep. He still wasn't eating like normal. During our afternoon craft session, he fell asleep again. Richard woke him up just before dinner to get him to go to the bathroom. Caden got so upset that he threw up again. Then, he wouldn't eat a cheeseburger (his favorite food) for dinner. So, I decided we needed to have him checked out. We had Dr. Winick take a look at him. When we tried to take his temperature under his arm, he started screaming, kicking, fighting & yelling, "It's not going to happen!" You would have thought we were torturing him. Temp was normal, so we gave him some Tylenol and sent him off to play with Dr. Winick's blessing.

We left camp Sunday at lunch & Caden slept the entire way home. We got home, unpacked and started getting ready to go to Life Team. I put Caden in the tub and went to put something in the bedroom. When I walked back in the bathroom he says, "Mommy, I threw up in the tub." Now I'm really starting to freak out. This is 4 days in a row that he's thrown up at least once. It took all I had in me to keep from taking him to the ER, but he still wasn't running any fever. I barely slept that night. I kept going over all the things that could be wrong & how similar the symptoms were to Caleb just prior to diagnosis. I was totally freaking out.

Monday, March 12, 2012
Facebook Post: In need of some prayers this morning -- Caden has been a bit "off" for the past week or so and some of the things I'm seeing are reminding me of early things we saw before Caleb's diagnosis. I'm trying really hard not to freak out, but not succeeding well. I have him scheduled for a 10am doctor appt this morning. Please pray all is well with Caden's health and that I am able to calm down. Thanks!
I called the pediatrician as soon as they opened and explained what was going on. They got us in that morning. As I walked in the office, I was already crying & so scared of what was going on. I told them I couldn't go through all this again.

When they took us back to the room, I was still crying. Caden's acting fine - no fever, nothing. I explained his symptoms & the nurse says, "Let's check him for strep." So we did. When Dr. Paruolo (best pediatrician in the history of ever!) came in, he confirmed that Caden had strep. Strep is easy to handle & a simple antibiotic. I started crying again, but this time it was happy tears. The relief was palpable.
Facebook Post: I never thought I'd ever be happy to say that my child has strep as much as I am right now. Considering all the things running thru my head, strep is a welcome diagnosis. Thanks for the prayers!!!
Well, after I got home, I realized that he probably had strep the entire weekend we were at Camp. So, I got in contact with the folks from Camp Sol and let them know so if any other kids developed strep, they'd know where it came from.

All in all, our first experience with Camp Sol has been a good one. I think next year we may attend the October camp because this one was so very cold and rainy the entire weekend. And, I bet the camp will look wonderful with fall colors starting.

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Angel and Memorial tickers
We still miss Caleb every moment of every day. He is always in our hearts, always in our thoughts, and is loved today, tomorrow, in ALL ways to infinity and beyond.

Angel, Richard & Caden

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Happy 10th Birthday, Caleb

On August 20, 2005, I was blessed to witness the birth of a beautiful baby boy. I was privileged to cut his umbilical cord. As the doctor handed him toward his birth mom, she pointed at me and said, "Give him to her. She's his mom, not me." It was the most selfless act I had ever seen. 

Today, we should be celebrating Caleb's 10th birthday. There should be football players running through our home. It should be so loud from the boys playing, that the adults can't even hear themselves think. However, there will be no party today. Instead, Richard, Caden and I will spend the day in reflection.  We'll remember Caleb with stories because that's all we have left. We'll tell funny stories about him. We'll talk about things he liked to do. We'll eat things he liked. We'll play games he liked. We'll release 5 gold balloons (if the weather cooperates) that represent the 5 short years Caleb was with us. We'll laugh and we'll probably even cry as we remember. Caleb is my hero and always will be.

Happy 10th birthday, Caleb! I hope the Angels throw you a party in Heaven. 

#HappyBirthday #CalebIsMyHero #MissedAndLoved #ToInfinityAndBeyond

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A New Beginning (a.k.a. Caden & Football)

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to share this for a few days now. It’s a bit of a long story. I’m still not sure how well this will come across, but I’m going to try anyway.

Let me start by saying I had no idea what God had planned for us when I took Caden out to eat lunch on June 29th. While having lunch at Chick-Fil-A, I was approached by a gentleman whose children were in the play area with Caden. He asked if Caden was my son and how old was he. I told him 6 1/2. He asked if Caden played football. I answered, “Not yet.” He then asked if Caden was interested in playing because he was with a league just starting its first year of play. He gave me some information about it then handed me a card with contact information. I liked what we had to say so that evening I talked to Richard about it. We agreed to call the number and find out more information. I called that evening, really liked the information I received from Coach, and we made plans for Caden to attend training camp the next night. Tuesday came, and training camp was cancelled due to rain. We attended camp on Thursday night. Caden LOVED it! He didn’t want it to end and couldn’t wait to go back.

After everything that happened with Caleb, I wasn’t sure I even wanted Caden to play football. There were just so many memories and emotions to sort through. I finally realized that I needed to let go of my fears, worries, and concerns and let God do what He was going to do. So, on July 5th, I posted the following on Facebook:
“The moment I have been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to has finally arrived. Are you ready for some football? I'm not 100% sure I am, but I better get ready soon. Caden is registered to play football, has already had two practices, and he's still excited about it! Let the fun begin.”
Last Tuesday (July 7) while talking with another parent, I found out the kids can pick their own number if it is available. Towards the end of practice, I had a talk with Coach to verify. He confirmed and asked what number Caden wanted so he could write it down on our paperwork. I said I needed to check with Caden to see if he wanted to use his brother’s number in Caleb’s memory. Coach asked me to explain. I told him how Caleb was in his first year of football when he was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. I further explained that his team won the city championship, and we were presented with the team trophy after Caleb died. And during the start of the next season, we were presented with a team jersey to honor him.

Coach said if Caden did want to use Caleb’s number, it would be his and just let him know. He then asked if it would be okay to play a game in Caleb’s memory. I said that would be fine and thanks for considering it. I asked if it would be possible to have one of the September games be the game for Caleb since September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. I also said the Childhood Cancer Awareness community has been trying for a few years to get the NFL to “Go Gold” in September in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month. He didn’t see a problem with that request.

After practice, I talked to Caden. I told him the decision was totally up to him. It would not hurt my feelings one way or the other. He chose to use Caleb’s number. We let Coach know before we left and thought that was the end of it. I relayed the information to Richard that evening and we were both kinda pleasantly surprised about the situation. Well, that’s when things got interesting…

Late Wednesday night (July 8), I received a text from Coach that said:
“Mr. and Mrs. Huffines, I sincerely apologize for the late text. I wanted to let you know that, after speaking with our board members and coaching staff, we’ve decided to dedicate our season to the memory of your son. We’ve decided to switch our color scheme from purple to gold. That way we’re not only wearing gold in September, but year around. We’re also going to present you guys with a game jersey to add to the collection you have for him. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow at practice. Have a blessed night.”
I didn’t even read the text until Thursday morning and when I did, I shared it with Richard. We were both blown away by such an awesome gesture. It was more than we would have ever thought. Just one game was a privilege. When I talked to Coach about it that evening, he said that it had been really heavy on his heart after we talked, and he really felt that it was something he needed to do. He said the entire Board and coaching staff was totally on board with it.

He asked me how old Caleb would have been for this football season. I told him Caleb would have turned 10 on August 20th. Coach told me which age division Caleb would have been in. He surprised me even more when he said we would receive a team jersey not only for this year, but also for every year Caleb would have played until he aged out of the program at 14. He also said that no one else on that team would be able to wear #89 during that time. (Caden will be able to wear #89 since he is in a different age bracket.) He said the players would also have Caleb’s initials on their jerseys and have the gold cancer ribbon on their pants as an additional way to honor Caleb.

There are several other things we’ve seen and heard that would take up too much time to share. Needless to say, we are so very honored to be a part of such a great organization. We know we have made the right choice in choosing the team we did for Caden. God is so extraordinary. Never would I have imagined this type of situation happening to us. God still shows us how much He loves us and is taking care of us.

Caleb is not forgotten, nor will he ever be.

Caleb's first day of football practice (July 5, 2010).

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Angel and Memorial tickers
We still miss Caleb every moment of every day. He is always in our hearts, always in our thoughts, and is loved today, tomorrow, in ALL ways to infinity and beyond.

Angel, Richard & Caden

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Final Note?

For the past three years, we've released balloons to Caleb on the anniversary of his death. Usually, we do it in the evening after Richard has gotten home from work. This year, due to other things already going on in the evening, we decided to release the balloons in the morning, before work and school. Knowing what a difficult time Caden has with releasing the balloons to begin with, I wasn't sure how well he would handle doing so right before school.

It was a bit emotional, but he made it through. He even told us, "I hope school can take my mind off the balloon release."

Now that the release is done, Caden is at school, and Richard has gone to work, I sit here trying to "wax eloquent" when all I really want to do is hide under the covers for the rest of the day. I've been sitting here at my desk for the past two hours trying to figure out what to say. I'm really having a hard time updating the blog today.

Quite honestly, I'm getting tired of trying to keep up with blog. It's become more of a depressing chore lately than anything else. Of course, I guess it's kinda noticeable since my last update was in August 2014 at the beginning of the school year.  I'm not even sure I'm going to keep up with it any longer. At this point in our journey, I'm ready to move on and just keep living my life without feeling the need to update here. It's so much easier to just post a quick status update through FB to my friends and family. I think the blog has served it's purpose.

I may occasionally post something here, but I think I'm pretty much done with it at this point.  I want to thank everyone who has stopped by to read. I hope that, somehow, we have managed to touch your hearts through our struggle. I pray we have been able to draw you closer to God.

Thank you.

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Angel and Memorial tickers
We still miss Caleb every moment of every day. He is always in our hearts, always in our thoughts, and is loved today, tomorrow, in ALL ways to infinity and beyond.

Angel, Richard & Caden

Monday, August 25, 2014

1st Day of Kindergarten

Today was Caden's first day of kindergarten. This was a day I have been both looking forward to and dreading at the same time, but maybe not for the reason other kindergarten moms are. I've been looking forward to Caden being in school. Meeting new friends. Learning new things. And, I have to admit, I've been looking forward to having some time to myself. Grocery shopping is so much easier when I'm by myself.  But I've been dreading it because it reminds me of the past.

It is a day of memories. Memories of taking Caleb to school on his first day of kindergarten. The pictures we took. The excitement on his face as we drove to school. The joy of meeting new friends. Watching him console a classmate who was nervous. The exhaustion at the end of the day for the ride home.

But today, was a time to celebrate Caden. It is the first day of a new step in Caden's school journey and a rite of passage as he continues to grow into a wonderful young man. He's been nervous and excited about school. He's been looking forward to riding the bus and was most excited about that. He's a little hesitant because he's realizing he'll be away from me for almost 8 hours a day.

His teacher said he had a great first day. Richard and I are so proud of him, and I'm sure Caleb is proud of him as well.

The good news is that I made it through the day without crying. The best news is that Caden is still excited about school and ready to go back tomorrow. And, he still wants to ride the bus.

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Angel and Memorial tickers
We still miss Caleb every moment of every day. He is always in our hearts, always in our thoughts, and is loved today, tomorrow, in ALL ways to infinity and beyond.

Angel, Richard & Caden

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Happy 9th Birthday, Caleb!

Wow! It's still so hard to believe this is your 4th birthday away from us. I got up this morning and had a hard time realizing you weren't here to enjoy your special day. So, I decided I would spend the day with Caden doing things you liked to do and some things I think you would have liked if you were still here.

We started with going out to breakfast and having donuts. We'd told Caden how much you liked the white sprinkled and pink sprinkled donuts. Caden much prefers the chocolate ones. Of course, he loves just about anything chocolate. I still have trouble believing you never really liked chocolate. Anyway, Caden decided he would have white & pink sprinkled donuts this morning since those were your favorites. He still wanted his chocolate milk to go with it.

For a little boy who normally eats every single bit of donuts and wants more, Caden got full sooner than normal. Surprisingly, he actually ate them more the way you used to - eating all the frosting and sprinkles and then some of the donuts. That was something I had never told him. And, I didn't tell him that until after he was done eating this time. 

After breakfast, we came home and played on the Wii for a bit. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the game of the morning. We turned it off after a couple hours. It is amazing how time flies when you're having fun playing a game together. I didn't even realize we'd played that long.

We went to the store to buy the balloons for the balloon release after dinner. I ordered them and made plans to pick them up at 5:00 p.m.  Since there's a chance Gma and Nana will be here, I got extra balloons. This year, we'll have a full rainbow and 5 gold balloons.

 I also had to get 2 extra blue balloons because Caden still doesn't want to send all the balloons to you. He wants to keep a couple to remember you. He actually still has the two balloons he kept from March's balloon release. They're looking kinda rough, but still have a small bit of air in them. He keeps them on the shelf in his closet so the cat won't mess with them.

When Gma and Nana arrived, we took the balloons to the back yard, took several pictures, said a few words each, and released the balloons. Caden decided at the last minute that he did want to release a couple of them himself. When we did the release in March, he didn't really even want to be outside with us. So, that's a small step in the right direction.

After the release, we went inside for dinner. Dinner/dessert plans changed slightly from what I had planned. I planned fried shrimp and french fries with pineapple upside down cake for dessert. We ended up having the shrimp with tater tots instead. And the cake was a total bust. I just couldn't bring myself to make it for some reason. I'm still trying to figure out why. So, when I went to the store to get the balloons, I bought some Angry Bird cupcakes and ice cream for dessert instead. 

While we were at the store, Caden says, "Mom, did Caleb ever like to have dessert-first nights?"  

"Yes, Caden. He certainly did."

"Well, I think since we're celebrating Caleb's birthday, we should also have dessert first tonight."

And, we did.

We all miss you so very much. Not a day goes by that we don't think of you or talk about you. You are so very loved. Happy Birthday, my sweet, sweet boy.

Lilypie - Personal pictureLilypie Angel and Memorial tickers
We still miss Caleb every moment of every day. He is always in our hearts, always in our thoughts, and is loved today, tomorrow, in ALL ways to infinity and beyond.

Angel, Richard & Caden