Friday, April 1, 2016
When Your Son Turns 17 in Heaven
Jack's birthday this year was terrible.
He would have been 17.
I don't write this to try to bring you down. If anything, the full-on crappiness of that day reminds me that most days are good, very good, which would have seemed like a ridiculous notion a few years ago. Good days? Without my child? Really?
I would have guessed that even 4 plus years in, each day would be a slog through the muck and mire of sadness and grief. Instead, the grief has wound its way through all aspects of my being like a vine I can't shake off. It shapes me, but does not choke the life out of me. It is now integrated into a life where I no longer want to die young. A life where I have hope for the future, and laughter every single day.
Except, I guess, Jack's birthday.
I was hoping to go to the drugstore and buy small chocolate Crunch bars to give out to the little kids in the neighborhood when they got off the school bus that afternoon-- a birthday tribute to a boy they had never met.
But not too far into the day, I said to myself, "Screw this shit. Screw candy bars. Screw trying to celebrate anything when all I feel is LACK."
The tears started early, and I was grateful for them. I hadn't cried in so long, and I needed the cleansing power of release, of salt water, of feeling all of it. I've only cried once, maybe twice in the almost 9 months of this crazy blessed pregnancy journey, which I would guess isn't that much even for a non-bereaved pregnant lady.
But they didn't stop.
Tim and I drove across town to pick Margaret up early from school, not because it was Jack's birthday, but because they were heading to Florida for Tim's parents' 50th anniversary. Because of my pregnancy, and my desire not to have a preemie out of state, I was staying home. On the short 6 minute drive, in the middle of the day, I managed to see two separate people who sent my longing and anger and loneliness into a downward spiral. You never know when grief triggers will spring up, and after that, I could tell today was going to be a doozy. In my head, I cried out to God, "How much, Oh Lord, how much? How much do you think I can take? I am tired of taking it and being strong!" All that came out of my body was snot and quiet tears.
Tim sat next to me in the car, and I wanted him to touch my knee, or put a hand on my shoulder while I sobbed, but I think my emotion scared him, so he drove on silently. I wanted the one who had lost just as much as I had to reach across the widest 12 inch gap in the world, because I knew he must be hurting, too. He would have been more comfortable organizing something to commemorate Jack's birthday, such as a race or maybe buying the stupid chocolate bars. Anything other than sitting with me in the car, uncomfortable, silent. So I cried some more. When Margaret got in the car and heard the remnants of my snuffles and nose blowing, she asked if I was sick. "No, I just really miss Jack," I said. I. Miss, Jack. Even in a small car with my closest family members, I felt so lonely.
Before long, I'd dropped them at the airport, taken a wrong turn in DC, and seen some of the nascent cherry blossoms. It was predicted that that very day, March 18, would be their peak. But the blooms were lackluster, the wind chilly, and it would be another week before they hit their full beauty.
I spent the rest of the day taking in an outpouring of love from friends and family on the blog, through Facebook, texts, and emails. Hundreds of people lovingly tried to lift the burden, not even aware that I'd be alone all weekend, greatly pregnant, sad, and with two diarrhea-afflicted dogs. It meant so much to me, even as it barely made a dent in the pain.
Barely a dent? Does that mean it's pointless to remember a friend's loss on important days like birthdays, anniversaries, and the like?
I can't imagine HOW MUCH WORSE that Friday would have been if no one had acknowledged our loss of Jack. If everyone had stayed away. If you are lonely with messages of love pouring in from around the globe, lonely on a bright spring day with buds bursting in the trees, how much more devastating would it be to have nothing but silence? We need each other.
Our dear friend Brian's 40th birthday is tomorrow. He died in early December. I don't know what this first birthday without him will be like for his wife and three kids, because I am not in their shoes. It is theirs to experience, to navigate. To cry or not. To share stories or not. Regardless of how Brian's family marks the day tomorrow, I'll be here, remembering, bearing witness, saying his name out loud, reaching out through helplessness and discomfort, hoping that my tiny part can be a pinprick of light through the hazy darkness.