It is a cruel element in the anatomy of grief that your birthdays continue to come and go even though you are not here.
You would have turned--should have turned--18 this year.
Every day I miss you, of course. But on your birthday, especially, I miss the marking of your journey toward adulthood. I am supposed to still be parenting you, helping you navigate this beautiful and scary passage. Soon we will reach the time when you would have (most likely) been gone from our house, living on your own. Adulting, as the kids say. But for now, I still grieve for the loss of young you, growing and maturing but still needing a mom and dad to help you along.
We spent the early morning of your birthday in the ER with M. Peevie, who passed out in the shower. It seemed an uncannily fitting way to start the day. You spent so much time there during your short life that the ER staff knew your name and your face. The scary circumstances evoked an egregious flashback to that traumatic day, three years and seventeen days ago, when we lost you.
In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl observed,
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
For a long time, I felt unable to choose anything but grief and sadness. There were distractions, of course, primarily those that involve loving and taking care of my family. But everything else had been sucked into the black hole of grief.
Nothing is permanent except change. Now my grief is composed of the constant ache of your absence. Certain triggers cut my heart, and I cry: hearing American Pie, visiting your grave in the West Portal, an unexpected remembrance from a friend. But I am learning to live with this "new normal." I'm beginning to experience feelings other than grief, sadness, and depression. I am gradually gaining the strength to set aside grief in order to pursue meaning and purpose. I'm remembering to be grateful.
We spent the evening of your birthday eating pizza with your pals Ben, Nick, Alex, and Gabriel. Being with these boys--young men, really--gave me the feeling of having a part of you back for a time. I could almost picture you sitting at the table with us, abandoning your fear and anxiety and reveling in the silliness and comfort that these friendships brought you.
Your pal Dr. Steve stopped by, too. We were so touched that he would take a break from the demands of his patients to celebrate and remember you with us. He loved you. He told me he thinks of you every day when he sees your poem on his desk. Your case comes up in his medical conferences frequently as the team of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons continue to improve their understanding of how best to care for their patients. He said that he has started recommending prophylactic cardiac catheterization to his asymptomatic teenage patients. If the parents decline, he tells them your story.
You are still having an impact on the world. I always knew you would.
All of us miss you terribly, darling. I wonder if you are OK. I want desperately to see you again, to receive a gangly, spontaneous hug from you, to hear your voice and your laugh. I yearn for the other side of eternity where the pain of losing you will be destroyed by joy and peace in the presence of Jesus.
When green buds hang in the elm like dust
And sprinkle the lime like rain,
Forth I wander, forth I must
And drink of life again.
Forth I must by hedgerow bowers
To look at the leaves uncurled
And stand in the fields where cuckoo flowers
Are lying about the world. --A. E. Housman