They aren’t lying when they say it is a pain and hurt that you have never experienced before, one that you can never fully imagine unless you are one of the unfortunate people to be a member of that damn exclusive club – that club no one really wants to be a member of, that club that signifies loss, broken dreams, dashed hopes, and empty arms. It’s a club of parents left behind, trying to pick up the pieces after the death of a child. Sure, with time, the sting dulls a bit, but you never forget and you never relax. Each year is marked with anticipation, wondering if when those magic numbers come screaming off of the calendar you will handle it with strength and grace or if you will completely break down and play unintended games of “what-ifs” and “should-have-beens” and “if-onlys.” Those dates that jump off the calendar as if lit by neon lights are especially hard on those milestone years: when they should be walking, when they would be starting school, when junior high would start, when the teenage years come, getting the driver’s license, and when adulthood would begin
You create rituals, a way to keep them apart of your life in whatever way you can, memorializing them with special traditions at Christmastime and on birthdays. The death date, that nasty day that signifies the day life changed for you, no matter how many years it has been, that’s always a tough one – marred, torn and tattered for the rest of your days. That day, for me, is the day before my birthday. I haven’t been able to enjoy getting a year older, not fully, since then. There is a certain guilt that comes with that, mourning the day before and celebrating the day after. That’s been my experience, anyway.
This year is a tough one, in the back of my mind and sneaking up on me at the same time – leaving me a bit unprepared. It’s a milestone year. Two of them, actually, and one cannot help wondering how different life would be had you not received that damn club membership – the one you didn’t ask for, the one you would trade away if you could.
Today, he would be sixteen. Sixteen. It’s been sixteen years since I entered into motherhood the first time. Sixteen years since I held him in my arms for the first time. Sixteen years since I accepted that life would always be a bit different for him, born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, requiring a different level of care from me as a young mother. Sixteen years since I didn’t give a damn, loving him so much from the first time I held him, certain that in my life, he was going to be the one thing I did right.
It’s his golden birthday – a day I spent most of my life looking forward to, being born on the last day of the month. My golden birthday, almost five years ago, was my first birthday in the South. I spent it with a group of new friends at an Irish pub. I didn’t feel much like celebrating, so much change happening in such a short amount of time, but that birthday held with it a certain type of hope: maybe with the move, life would be different, happier.
On days like today, I want to be left alone, but resent when my husband has to work. It’s not his fault. This is my loss, not his. What they say about couples not making it through the death of a child, for me, was true. It’s better, anyway. But with my parents both passed on now, as odd as it is, I long to have someone there that mourns with me, that remembers him, the smile, the coos, the small moments of his life I have memorized, my only concession to the short 10 weeks I was given with him. I long to have someone ‘get it’ – get what his loss was, get how it changed me, get how it changed life. It’s true what they say – unless you have experienced a loss like this, you can’t understand it. I long to have someone else understand it with me, hell, maybe for me. Today, I am exhausted from trying to understand it all on my own. Selfish, I know.
I wonder who he would be. Would he love books, writing, movies, and learning like me? Would science be his favorite subject or would he enjoy band? Would the beach make him as happy as it makes me? Would he athletic? If so, would be prefer football to basketball or would be scoff at both of those for track? Would he have a wicked sense of humor? Would be like to laugh and goof off? Would he have been a protective big brother? Would he look like me? Laugh like me? Enjoy the very simplest of things like me? This is where I get lost; those are my what- ifs.
In my mind, he’s in this mystical place, surrounded by my parents and the friends of mine that have left this world for the next. I think of him fishing with my dad, laughing with my mom, and looking down on me from time-to-time, especially those times when I need extra strength, when life and its challenges are especially difficult on that day. I’m not sure if he has aged or not, but in my thoughts, he’s always a little boy, bigger than he was when he disappeared from my life, but not too big where he no longer needs me. And I know that I need heaven to be real. I need to know that one day, I will see him again.