Every day is hard. The very first thought in your mind each day is, “He’s not here. Another day without my son.” Each morning you have to re-orient yourself to this “New Normal” that everyone tells you about. It doesn’t matter how much time goes by. Day after day it’s the same thing. You wake up and that jolt of adrenaline hits you. This is your life now. It takes a minute. Eventually, the air makes its way back into your lungs and you put your feet on the floor. This weight is familiar, you remind yourself. You know what this feels like. It’s heavy, but you’ve been carrying it for some time now, and you know you will bear it just like you have been. A few more breaths, and you are able to put one foot in front of the other again. Keep moving, you just keep moving.
The sights and the sounds of the day greet you, and in those mundane moments, you feel stronger. You know there are blessings to be had this day, you need only notice them. So you look. You hear the sounds of your youngest child getting ready for school and feel so blessed that he is still here, healthy enough to be giving his Dad some sass. You hear your husband responding and feel so thankful that this man is steadfast in his commitment to your family. Your blankets are warm, and you feel lucky that they have wrapped you in comfort as your body struggled to find rest. It’s the little things you no longer take for granted. The sink full of dishes, knowing your family had food to start their day. The piles of laundry, for it shows your family has clothes to wear. Warm water in the shower, a clean towel, fuzzy slippers – these are your blessings, and you count them one by one. You wrap these blessings around you like armour to protect against the onslaught of Grief that can grab you unaware and rip the very fabric of your Soul to shreds.
Every day is hard. There are some days that are harder. Holidays, milestones, anniversaries are some of the hardest. Then again, any random Tuesday that the sun is shining brightly and birds chirp merrily in the air is enough to break open the tenderly covered wound of your heart and cause you to go crashing to your knees, begging for the sweet relief of death, the only thing that will ever free you of this pain.
Then there are birthdays. Yours, your other childrens’, and his. Another year has passed and there is no escaping the iron clad fist of Grief as it steals your breath, your strength, your mind, and your heart. You are forced to face the fact that he will never be any older than the sweet 14 year old boy he was. Past tense. Nobody ever warned you that a simple verb would destroy you. You are faced to wonder – what would he look like now? Would he have the creepy pedo-stash he always talked about growing? Would he be as tall as his Dad? Taller? What size would he wear? What would you be buying him for his birthday? A car? A new phone? He should be here still arguing with you. He should be here still asking for your advice. You should be going to visit colleges and plan for his future. You should be frustrated because he leaves his shoes out all the time. You should be annoyed that he stole your comb – again! Your grocery bill should be double what it is. You should be talking about girls and cars and life.
You’re not. You’re crying. What used to be one of the happiest days has become the epitome of despair. You desperately want to focus on his life – he was HERE! He grew inside your body and took his first breath in your arms. You heard his first words! Try as you might, you can’t quiet the knowledge that he “was,” but is no longer. He took his last breath in your arms as well. You hear his last words to you echo throughout your body, “Mommy it hurts.” You see only your child lying on the floor and watch as the last breath escapes his lips. You are frozen, panic setting in as you realize he isn’t breathing. You still feel his warm skin under your hand as you notice his heart isn’t beating, merely fluttering. That same heartbeat that was as quick as a baby bird’s. Your world turns inside out. You remember hearing that heartbeat for the very first time and the excitement in your heart, in your husband’s eyes. Then you remember hearing that heartbeat for the last time inside his precious body.
It doesn’t make any sense. How can you be there at the start of his life, at the end, and still exist more than 2 years later? All you have are memories. Past tense verb. History. His future is gone. Your family’s future is forever changed. The sun continues to rise each day and set each night. Breath after agonizing breath continues to fill your lungs. The moments come – in between those breaths – a crack in the darkness, a whisper in your heart. “I’m still here.” There is a nanosecond between the inhale and the exhale where possibilities still exist. You can feel him as lightly as a feather passing by in the breeze. You can almost see him next to you and feel his heart holding you. Then the breath leaves your lungs and the weight returns. It’s inevitable. You search for those moments. You would do anything for him. You would die with gratitude if only it meant he would come back. You cry to the Heavens for something to do for him. There is no present you can buy him for his birthday. In that moment, between one breath and the next, you hear it. The whisper so softly you think you imagined it. “I know you would die for me, but will you live for me too?” It’s too hard. It’s too much. Yet, nothing is ever too much for our children. You have to. You know it. You strive to live in those moments between breaths, where he still is. There is no past tense or future tense in the moment. There simply is. Love, peace, and stillness. That is where you find him, where you find courage, where you find purpose.
You would be 17 now, my dear Nolan. Hardly a boy and not yet a man, although I know you would argue that with me! In my mind I see you a little bit older, in my heart you are still my baby boy, as you will always be. I work hard each day to focus on your life and not just your death. It’s not ever easy, but it’s worth it. I see colors brighter now because of you. I hear more clearly now because of you. I taste more sweetness now because of you. I touch more tenderly now because of you. I feel love deeper now because of you. My life will never be what I wanted it to be. It will never be as I planned. That doesn’t mean it won’t be filled with joy and laughter. It will be filled with even more – because of you.