Our youngest son says, “the last word I said to him was ‘day.” I raise my brows and continue to untie his shoes. I ask, “what do you mean? Day?”
He’d said “have a good day” to you. This he remembers. He remembers that he didn’t say goodbye in any way that spoke to the coming loss. I reassure him that of course, of course!, he could not have. And I say that “have a good day” was a nice thing to have said. “But mom, he didn’t have one. He didn’t have a good day! He diiiiiiied!” he cries out this last part, his voice pitching high with outrage and injustice, the tone of it striking this mother’s heart worse than a blow across the face. I gather him against me. I silently pray and curse and plead and hope. And I rub his trembling back.
They will tell us all about stages, those counselors we seek out. We feel better to think there will be a progression, and that at some point, there will be an end to this process we didn’t want. We hope for that magical stage…when we will reach sweet “Acceptance” and we will have come to the end of this episode. But this is a dirty little lie. There is no end. It goes on, and on. We will mark anniversaries: your birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas, the first anniversary of your passing…but in those markings, we find our hearts still constricting, our breathing still stilted. I find myself squeezing my eyes shut, pushing away the terrible sorrow, trying to write with tentative hands…finding my keyboard bathed in tears, thinking of you and the absence of you.
Our eldest stands in the goal, his brown hair lifting on the wind and his narrow shoulders tense. He is crouched in that intense way he has, ready to block a goal, and I think how many hours we stood on these fields, and how we would both teasingly take credit for his athletic abilities. After this game, I will tell my child how proud you would have been, and I know I will be greeted with a quick look filled with questions. But I know I will not be asked anything–the questions are too painful to form, to be uttered aloud. This child cannot bear to give life to the ache of it. And so, to assuage his tender heart, I will guess at the questions and will provide answers I hope will somehow help: “He’d be proud because you have worked really hard. He’d be proud because he was really sure you’d become a great goalie, and look, you have!”
I comfort them and remind them in the ways that I can. Still, I cannot drive that stretch of road without remembering you. Always, I remember you.
I imagine you in the car, I imagine the radio station you must have been listening to. I wonder if you had your coffee that morning, if you’d watched the news. I cannot help the grief from descending every time I let my head dwell on these things—my cheeks become wet again, my throat aches with unsung sobs. I am astonished at this grief, like a scientist who discovers a clinical truth where they weren’t looking for one. I did not know how changeable and odd this would be. I didn’t know how demanding and brutal mourning would be. I didn’t know that it would come and shake me until I rattled, and that it would unceremoniously release me to go make dinner or help with homework or drive to baseball practice. It is odd, grief.
And a year is not a long time.
But the days that constitute 365, the sun ups and sun downs, the progression and the monotony and the marching onward–those moments that merge together into a song lasting one year have cut a wide swath over my life. We have earned a golden lull in the pain, and we have paid for our household peacetime over this year. It was bought with sorrow, our broken hearts and the embraces that we needed to keep ourselves whole (how many times I thought we would fly into a dozen pieces, unable to keep body and soul together, so many nights wishing wishing wishing it had been me, if it had to be someone). Peace has been an expensive commodity, purchased by the currency that is anguish, those coins plunked one, two, three, into that miserly vending machine where all you get for your money is a great, shaking intake of breath, a swipe at the eyes to wipe away the tracks left by weeping, again (and again), and the courage to somehow get up out of bed.
I see you in the children, in the way their faces and hands move, in their senses of humor. I feel you in their hugs. I find mercy and hope and caring in their love. We hold each other aloft, surrounded by the succor of my partner, by the company of our friendships, by the support of family, by the camaraderie of sports teams and the school community, with the aid of therapists and professionals who trade in the business of helping mend the fractures in our hearts, in our lives. We move forward, defining our family and learning to live on earth without you, but not forgetting what it was to have you in our lives. We remember you. We remember you. With love, we remember you.