Stepping Stones by Deneen Azzolino

There is nothing worse than losing a child. No matter what age they are. That child is always a piece of you. The bond between Mother and child is something that never can be broken and the bond between Mother and son is a bond that is extremely strong.

When I had my son, Matthew I was 17. He was the light of my life. He was a happy baby. Very smart and of course mischievous. I remember one time when he was about four or five, he actually opened up the screen in his window and jumped out to play with the little boy that lived between our house.

Life with Matthew was always an adventure. There was always a twinkle in his eyes. I had his sister, Amanda 15 months later. My little peanut.

Matthew never really got into any trouble. When he started driving he had a few fender benders. That was until his Senior year. His Senior class trip was to Disney. A group of kids decided to put adult drinks in shampoo bottles, mouthwash containers and pretty much whatever would look inconspicuous! One child didn’t wash his bottle out very well and he got very sick. Sick enough his parents had to come down from Massachusetts and pick him up.

Matt and a few of his classmates ended up with a week suspension and it was before a vacation break so it ended up being a two week break. I wasn’t happy about the situation at all but we as parents used it as a learning experience.

As Matthew got older, he graduated, fell in love, moved away, had a boy of his own, got married, and moved back. Life seemed great! After 14 years of marriage I got divorced. A few years later I got remarried to Mark. I had my two daughters. As the old saying goes Life is Good. I was in my own little world. Everything was great. I loved my life.

Then that fateful day. At the end of October Matthew had called me and told me he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. I tried so hard to say positive but it was so hard. This was my baby!

During all of Matthew’s treatments he always stayed positive. His motto was “Just Keep Swimming” I noticed as time went on, especially when his 29th birthday came around, he was growing weaker. He wanted a big family get together. Of course, I obliged. It was heartbreaking because I could tell how bad he wanted to enjoy himself but he couldn’t. He was tired and just not feeling well. As the holidays came and went, I saw my 1st born, my only son was just withering away.

When I was at work on February 25th, I got a call from Matt. He said they were sending him to Brigham and Woman’s Hospital. I told him I didn’t feel good about this. He replied, “ Mom, don’t worry, I love you. I’ll be fine” Those were the last words I heard from him. The following day my husband Mark asked if I had heard anything I told him no and I’ll call the hospital now. The nurse said that the doctor needed to speak to me. When the doctor got on the phone she asked where I lived and how long it would take me to get to Boston? I told her about a hour. I asked her what was happening to Matthew. She said, “You need to get here quickly, your son is a very sick man.” She also said he asked to be put into a medically induced coma. I called my oldest daughter, Amanda she said she was on her way to pick me up. I called my ex husband Eric, I told him what was happening and he told me to get there as soon as I could. Mark stayed with our two young girls. Isabella was 10 and Lilianna was seven at the time.

On the way to the hospital I had this dreadful feeling that just wouldn’t go away. I knew, I just knew! People always tell you to think positive thoughts but in my gut I knew. When we got to the hospital I walked into his room. I saw my son attached to so many wires and on a breathing tube. My baby!! I gave him a kiss and whispered in his ear “ Mommy is here, I love you always. Within 30 of us arriving, everything went downhill fast! He went into cardiac arrest, Code Blue! We were rushed out of the room. Everything went into slow motion. All that went through my mind was, this can’t be happening, my baby is dying! I don’t know who this person was or how he was connected to the hospital but he grabbed my hand and told me I should be in there watching how hard they are working on my son. I told him I didn’t need to and he pulled me into the room. I remember seeing them on top of him pumping his chest, pumping the bag, trying to get his heart beating trying to breathe life back into his body.

Nothing work, nothing brought my baby, my son, my first born back, nothing. I walked out of the room to face my oldest daughter, my son in law, my ex husband and my daughter in laws family. I just shook my head and crumpled to the ground. I couldn’t understand—how and why was this happening to my family?! How could this be happening at all? How could God take my son, my baby, my first born away from me?

A lot of people don’t know this about me but I got pregnant with Matthew when I was 16. When you’re young and unmarried, the first thing that comes to mind is HIDE it! I didn’t want anyone to know. I thought about it for about a day and I honestly think God intervened, I swear I felt him flip flopping in my belly! There was no way I could go through an abortion! Eric and I got married.

Now as I was sitting on the floor I was asking God why? How can you take my baby away from me? It took me a long time to start another relationship with God. That, in it self is another story for another time.

Telling people in the family we lost Matthew was awful. It was so hard. Each time I told someone it was like reliving it over and over again. I told Mark while I was still at the hospital over the phone. He was screaming “ How? Why?” I told him we’d tell the girls when I get home. I told my sister to tell my mom. I just couldn’t tell her. Matthew was her first grandchild. I didn’t have the heart. When I got home it was early morning. I knew I had to tell the girls. Mark and I called them into our bedroom. I told Isabella and she just fell to the floor and cried uncontrollably saying over and over again “why?”

Lilianna just crawled up on the bed and cried. It just broke my heart even more.

The wake and the funeral were hard. Seeing people you haven’t seen in years now you are seeing them in your darkest hour. I know people mean well but trying to keep it together was unbelievably hard. It’s true what they say though, you only see certain people at times like this and you don’t see them again till the next one. All I kept doing was looking over at my son thinking how can this be real?

After the funeral, I was just numb. I missed my son. I missed his crazy phone calls.“ Hey mom! Where is Scotland, CT? There is a farm for sale! I want to buy it! I want goats! I want to make goat soap!! Matty B’s Goat Soap!!!” You have no idea how much I miss those conversations. I miss hearing about his plans. I miss what he could have been. I miss him, I miss my son, I miss my baby. I miss my best friend. I felt like a piece of my heart, a piece of me was missing. I am so thankful I had my girls. To be totally honest if I didn’t have them and knowing how much they needed me I don’t know if I would have survived through this. There were plenty of times I was driving and I saw a tractor trailer truck coming from the opposite direction and for that split second I would think, ” wow this could end all this pain!” But then I would think of the girls and my husband. I would think of the truck driver and how it would affect his life. It was a struggle to move on. I knew I had to. I knew I had to not just for me but also for my family.

About two months after Matthew left us I had still been having a rough time. I went to bed early one night exhausted. I had a dream that was so vivid, so real to this day I remember every little detail about it.

I was walking with a man, hand in hand. His hand was a lot bigger than mine and very warm and comforting. We were walking in a building and walked down a hallway all the doors were opened to these rooms and we stopped in front of one of them. There was a bed and I went in a sat on the bed and was running my hand over the blanket. It felt so soft. I looked up at the man and asked “ is this where he sleeps?” The man shook his head and said yes. Then I felt someone sit next to me and I felt arms around me and hugged me. I then heard Matthew say, “ Mom don’t worry, I’m ok. I’m ok now. I love you!” At that moment I woke up! I was crying. I knew it was real. I could still feel his arms around me! It’s been almost 10 years and I still cry thinking about that dream.

There are days when you feel like you are walking down a path of stepping stones and moving forward sometimes even skipping a few but you are still moving forward. Then there are days when you fall backwards, you might even fall back three stepping stones. One thing you have to remember is to always pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start moving forward again! Inch by inch, stone by stone!

I don’t believe when people tell you; as time goes by the pain lessens. I truly believe you just learn to live with that pain. It never truly goes away. The heartbreak is always there. You always feel it. It never, ever goes away.

Matthew and I had this thing, I would always call him my number one son and he would always tell me, “ Mom, I’m your only son!” And of course I would tell him “ See! There you go, you are number one!”

Matthew, you will always and forever be my number one Son!  That my friend will never ever change.

Deneen Azzolino