The Ties That Bind: The Evolving Relationship of Angel and Surviving Heart Moms

"I love you I love you I love you. Just wanted to flood you with all the love I can muster." 

The day I learned my dear heart sister lost her child, this was the message I sent her via Facebook. Her son and mine had undergone the Fontan within less than two months of each other. Our journeys mirrored each other, as did our personal lives. We both love craft beer, rock music, and many other things that connected us outside of The Heartland.

My heart ached for her from over 1400 miles away.
In the early years of our friendship, we traded stories about our boys and their interests. Both fair haired little guys with a passion for Yo Gabba Gabba and a smile that spread for miles, we were certain they'd be instant friends. We comforted each other while inpatient, and celebrated our boys as they progressed.
The very same week my friend lost her son, I became engaged to my son's now stepfather. He saw how hard I was taking my friend's loss. It struck him that life does not give us any guaranteed days. He wanted us to be joined as a family forever, and from this grief came something beautiful.
She contacted me immediately, and through her sadness found some joy in our new relationship status.
In the weeks after his passing, I let her take the lead. Everyone processes loss differently, and I wanted to give her space. Several times, I sent her a brief message, just: "I love you," or "I'm thinking of you today."
I wanted her to know that I was still the same friend she'd always had, and I would be here for her when she was ready. 
Mere months after the loss of her child, mine was hospitalized with high fever and dehydration. Despite wading through the muddy bog of her grief, she reached out to me while we were inpatient, just as we'd always done. She set everything aside to offer me calm and sage advice. It takes an amazing, special person to be able to step outside of their anguish to show emotional support to a fellow heart mom, after losing their own child.

Over the next several months, I began finding heart shaped leaves and other signs her sweet baby was watching over us as we planned our wedding. I found a heart shaped leaf while picking up my fiancee's wedding band. I discovered a tree with a heart-shaped knot, in the park where we held our wedding ceremony. When I checked in with our florist, there was a heart shaped leaf on the ground. During our honeymoon, my husband and I made a spur of the moment trip to a garden. We relaxed on a bench, holding hands. We looked up to find a wall filled with heart shaped leaves. I took photographs of each heart-shaped symbol I found, sharing each with my heart sister, to let her know I always carry her son in my own heart.

I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around the pain one experiences when they lose their child. I have confided in my friend that I carry the fear of losing my own son. 
He has not experienced any heart-related complications since his last surgery. But the nagging worry drifts in and out of my mind, like the ocean's tide I watch my son playfully splash in on sunny days in our home town. 
Sometimes in our conversations, we hesitate in finding the right words. I feel a pang of sadness when she wishes my son a happy birthday, or celebrates a milestone that her son will not have a chance to see. I want so desperately for my friend to have her child back, and to hold him as I hold mine before bed every night. 
We navigate our friendship in the most respectful way: Though we came to a fork in the road, we hold hands across our separate paths; forging a relationship that is evolving, just as any other would. 

The best thing you can do when faced with this situation, is just continue to offer your unwavering love and support. To those grieving, we do remember your children.  Every day.  We may not show it or speak it on a daily or even weekly basis, but your children are in our hearts and on our minds, always.  Please forgive us for our silence.  Sometimes silence is our escape.  It’s our coping mechanism. Your reality is our greatest fear. 

Check in with each other, when you're feeling up to it. Know that some days, each of you will need to retreat to your corners, for different reasons that are completely valid and understood. Keeping a dialogue open, and respect each others' needs is crucial to the evolution of your relationship.

In the coming months, my friend is planning a trip to visit us. For the first time in the course of our friendship, we will meet in person. I am looking forward to embracing her, face to face and heart to heart. The gift of her friendship is something I am thankful for every day. When we share our best and worst with each other, and bare our souls for a sliver of hope, the ties that bind us cannot be broken. 



Erin Acevedo
Program Events Coordinator, Sisters By Heart