When your child dies, every day is the hardest day you will face. Colors are muted. Laughter is muffled. Taste is bland. There’s a bleakness that surrounds you and creates a barrier between you and Life. You exist in a fog seemingly forever. A wasteland, desolate, dry, harsh. Your life stops with your child’s last heartbeat. Their last breath takes all the oxygen out of this world. You stand in a vacuum. How long you stay in this place is anyone’s guess. Some people stay forever. I refuse.
It was a simple comment from Ray that really resonated and started my steps along a stronger path. We’ve planned a vacation for March, and I casually commented that it’s a good time and that it gives me something to look forward to. I stated, “I’ve survived Thanksgiving. I’ll survive Christmas and New Year’s. Then I’ll survive Nolan’s birthday. Then right after I’ll get my toes in the sand and take a break from Grief.” Ray sat quietly for a minute and responded. “You know, someday I hope you’ll be able to do more than just survive. I hope you’ll be able to feel some joy around the holidays. I don’t want Nason to grow up associating the holidays with sadness.”
I felt a lump in my throat. A hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. The absolute truth in what he said hit me like a ton of bricks. He’s right. I’ll probably never live down uttering those words, but it’s true. He is right. I can survive. I have survived and will continue to survive. For Nason’s sake, I need to find joy. It’s necessary. Necessary Joy.
Last year I refused to put up the Christmas tree or decorate. This year we did. It wasn’t easy. Meri came over and helped take my place. It was always my job to pass out the ornaments to the kids and reflect on how they were at the age they made them. I couldn’t do it this year. I took Eli to play and Meri took over for me. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met. Nason commented to me later about how I didn’t do my job. It bothered him. I was simply honest and reminded him that last year I couldn’t even put a tree up. Next year maybe I’ll be strong enough to face each ornament, each memory.
Passing the tree each day is a struggle. Some days I avoid looking at it. Nolan has made more of the ornaments than anybody else. Sometimes it makes the emptiness so vast. Other times, I am able to take an ornament in my hand and remember him at that age and smile. I cry, always, but sometimes I smile too. Like when I found this written on the back of an ornament. I don’t remember noticing that Nolan had signed it before. Maybe it’s a message from him for all of us. Even at 11 years old, Nolan understood what was really important.
I’ve given Nolan his own tree. It’s a work in progress and we will continue with the tradition of adding an ornament each year. Nason helped me decorate it this year. We were able to talk about Nolan and think of what kinds of ornaments we would put on it without tears. We laughed at some memories, and it was exactly what we both needed.
I’m still struggling each day with each breath, but I’m getting stronger. I have to find honest Joy in my life. For Nason, for Eli, for Ray, for Meri, for Heather, for Nik…for Nolan, and for me. Nolan and I shared this zest for life, this spark for experiences. We shared a passion for nature, for laughter, for music, for love. If I don’t find a way to allow that back into my life, I’ve lost yet another connection to my precious boy. Nason also shares that same zest. It connects us with Nolan. I don’t want Nason growing up seeing nothing but sadness during the “happiest time of the year.” He’s my touchstone, and I refuse to allow his childhood to be miserable because of this tragedy. He deserves better, and so does Nolan.
For both of my boys, I choose Joy. I choose Life. Until I can feel it wholeheartedly, I will take the little bits that come as progress. Sometimes I forget how strong I am. On the days I can’t feel it, I look at Nason, and he reminds me. Joy is absolutely necessary.