Friday, April 1, 2016

When Your Son Turns 17 in Heaven


Jack's birthday this year was terrible.

He would have been 17.

I don't write this to try to bring you down. If anything, the full-on crappiness of that day reminds me that most days are good, very good, which would have seemed like a ridiculous notion a few years ago. Good days? Without my child? Really?

I would have guessed that even 4 plus years in, each day would be a slog through the muck and mire of sadness and grief. Instead, the grief has wound its way through all aspects of my being like a vine I can't shake off. It shapes me, but does not choke the life out of me. It is now integrated into a life where I no longer want to die young. A life where I have hope for the future, and laughter every single day.

Except, I guess, Jack's birthday.

I was hoping to go to the drugstore and buy small chocolate Crunch bars to give out to the little kids in the neighborhood when they got off the school bus that afternoon-- a birthday tribute to a boy they had never met.

But not too far into the day, I said to myself, "Screw this shit. Screw candy bars. Screw trying to celebrate anything when all I feel is LACK."

The tears started early, and I was grateful for them. I hadn't cried in so long, and I needed the cleansing power of release, of salt water, of feeling all of it. I've only cried once, maybe twice in the almost 9 months of this crazy blessed pregnancy journey, which I would guess isn't that much even for a non-bereaved pregnant lady.

But they didn't stop.

Tim and I drove across town to pick Margaret up early from school, not because it was Jack's birthday, but because they were heading to Florida for Tim's parents' 50th anniversary. Because of my pregnancy, and my desire not to have a preemie out of state, I was staying home. On the short 6 minute drive, in the middle of the day, I managed to see two separate people who sent my longing and anger and loneliness into a downward spiral. You never know when grief triggers will spring up, and after that, I could tell today was going to be a doozy. In my head, I cried out to God, "How much, Oh Lord, how much? How much do you think I can take? I am tired of taking it and being strong!" All that came out of my body was snot and quiet tears.

Tim sat next to me in the car, and I wanted him to touch my knee, or put a hand on my shoulder while I sobbed, but I think my emotion scared him, so he drove on silently. I wanted the one who had lost just as much as I had to reach across the widest 12 inch gap in the world, because I knew he must be hurting, too. He would have been more comfortable organizing something to commemorate Jack's birthday, such as a race or maybe buying the stupid chocolate bars. Anything other than sitting with me in the car, uncomfortable, silent. So I cried some more. When Margaret got in the car and heard the remnants of my snuffles and nose blowing, she asked if I was sick. "No, I just really miss Jack," I said. I. Miss, Jack. Even in a small car with my closest family members, I felt so lonely.

Before long, I'd dropped them at the airport, taken a wrong turn in DC, and seen some of the nascent cherry blossoms. It was predicted that that very day, March 18, would be their peak. But the blooms were lackluster, the wind chilly, and it would be another week before they hit their full beauty.

Good.

I spent the rest of the day taking in an outpouring of love from friends and family on the blog, through Facebook, texts, and emails. Hundreds of people lovingly tried to lift the burden, not even aware that I'd be alone all weekend, greatly pregnant, sad, and with two diarrhea-afflicted dogs. It meant so much to me, even as it barely made a dent in the pain.

Barely a dent? Does that mean it's pointless to remember a friend's loss on important days like birthdays, anniversaries, and the like?

Absolutely not.

I can't imagine HOW MUCH WORSE that Friday would have been if no one had acknowledged our loss of Jack. If everyone had stayed away. If you are lonely with messages of love pouring in from around the globe, lonely on a bright spring day with buds bursting in the trees, how much more devastating would it be to have nothing but silence? We need each other.

Our dear friend Brian's 40th birthday is tomorrow. He died in early December. I don't know what this first birthday without him will be like for his wife and three kids, because I am not in their shoes. It is theirs to experience, to navigate. To cry or not. To share stories or not. Regardless of how Brian's family marks the day tomorrow, I'll be here, remembering, bearing witness, saying his name out loud,  reaching out through helplessness and discomfort, hoping that my tiny part can be a pinprick of light through the hazy darkness.

Cherry Blossoms, spring 2011

33 comments:

Terri Jackson said...

Thank you for your honesty. I find my myself crying for a little boy I never met, but that I feel like I know, and crying for a boy that I miss so bad I can't breathe. We struggled so last weekend with Justin's birthday, we just couldn't seem to make anything work, nothing felt right. It helps to know that birthdays are like that for other families too. Thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Tim is like my husband, in that it makes him feel uncomfortable when I cry. I lost my Dad recently (not even remotely trying to compare my loss to yours) so I cry easily nowadays and it frustrates him.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I can relate to wanting that hand on your knee or reaching across empty space.

Sending best wishes.

Jill Smokler said...

Sending you love, Anna!!

KelBel said...

I both look forward to and dread your honest posts about loss, because they are so real and raw, I feel like I am walking through it with you. I have two boys, and just the thought, the THOUGHT of losing either of them is enough to make me shake.

I'll stop there. Your words are so important, that any lengthy comment after all that would feel dismissive or hollow.

Praying for you. Hugs and Love.

Holland Lidke said...

My son turned 1 in heaven this year. I never thought we'd get to this point. One slow breath at a time.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry, Anna.

Jen said...

Oh, Anna. I love your heartfelt words, as always. "It shapes me, but does not choke the life out of me" - what a lovely, hopeful message. I am so sorry that you have to experience such sorrow in this life, but so grateful to you for sharing your beautifully honest pain, as well as your light and hope with all of us. Some years there will be candy bars. Some years there will be tears. I'm sure some years there have been (and will be) both. But every year, we are all here for you, sending love and prayers, and remembering.

A Speckled Trout said...

I knew Jack's birthday was coming up but 17?? The difference between 13 and 17 is huge as I am more than sure you have noted among his friends. Your loss continues to send ripples through the world. We still notice and remember, friend.

NanaDiana said...

I have been away from blogging because my hubby has cancer and we are walking that dreaded path...but....the interesting thing is that I was thinking about you the other day and wondered how you were doing. I pop into blogland today and here you are--a survivor. You were one of the first blogs I followed and I could not believe the open rawness that you were able to portray..that you let us share. That sharing, believe it or not, made me stronger.

God bless your son in Heaven. He turned 17 at God's feet---but oh--to have had him here instead. I am sorry and my heart aches for you---from one mother to another. xo Diana

Erika said...

I relate to you so much, Anna! Sometimes I feel like I don't even need to say things because you say them for me. Even though our situations are different, I feel a cosmic connection to you and Jack (gosh that sounded weird). Grief is hard. I'm so proud of you. Jack is proud of you. I wish I could give you a huge hug. Thank you for your honesty and your truth.

Laurie said...

It is so wonderful to know that you've experienced so much joy amidst the grief. I, too, hope for those moments, for now, it's raw and painful.....

Anonymous said...

My son turns 14 in heaven this year. I totally agree with not knowing when or what will trigger that intense grief. I remember early on, someone saying to me that grief was like the tide. Sometimes high, sometimes low and everywhere in between. In an odd way, I like days like you have had on Jack's birthday. I don't ever want to stop feeling that intense love and longing I have for my son and the intense days make me feel as time passes that connection. I don't know if that makes sense or not. May the God of all comfort comfort you as you celebrate your son's life.

Paula Bicknell said...

Oh, Anna, my heart just aches right now. Thank you for sharing your pain. It helps me process our family's pain. We just bought tickets to a fundraiser for our Anna's one year anniversary of going to heaven. All the proceeds for this special day in a park go to scholarships for kids who want to attend the Catholic school our Anna attended. This day will be held in May, the week Anna died, and I'm dreading it. But I believe it will be beautiful because Anna was beautiful and God is beautiful and my heart is filled with hope that this special day will help Anna's mom and dad and sisters and brother celebrate how much we all loved Anna. Grief is like a river, sometimes wild, sometimes breath-taking, and sometimes you think it will drown you. Thank you for helping us navigate this unpredictable river.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Anna. I am so sorry for your loss. As the mom of three teenagers, I cannot fathom the grief which must take you unawares so often. Your writing has touched me and made me understand more fully the risk all of us parents take in bearing these beautiful children. Thank you for sharing your raw emotions. Please know your expression of them is helpful to others.

julie gardner said...

No words. Just all the love.
And then more love.

Vicky92569 said...

One of your most way-down-deep-in-the-ugly and honest posts ever, Anna. Thinking of you, and I hope that there is some small measure of comfort that will come from me telling you that I think of Jack all the time. Thank you for entrusting your readers with the sharing of your journey through your written words.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry Anna. Hugs and love to you....Cindy

Heather Kopp said...

Oh Anna, oh Anna. Your words give me a glimmer of hope that I will someday be able to want my life again and see a future that's hopeful without Noah in it. Your quote about the unfixable was amazing. You, my dear friend, are amazing. To say I relate is an understatement. But you reminded me this morning that honest words can create healing connections. I don't yet see a way Noah's death can contain anything good or how I will get over the guilt and shame. But then as Jack would say, "with God all things are possible." Thank you. Love ya.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Sending so much love Anna! I'll always be here for the harder than the usual hard days.

Callie Feyen said...

Dear Anna,
I am so sorry. Your story has been imprinted on my heart (and I love that imagery of grief as a vine) for I guess two years now. I was just re-reading parts of your book yesterday as I am getting ready to teach my current 8th graders Creative Nonfiction. Twenty-one more people will be touched by your and Jack's story, and I hope we can be part of that vine, helping you breathe. (We will write "Heaven Had Better Be" poems.)
Love,
Callie

Vickie said...

Sending love to a friend that I've never even met!!

Anonymous said...

Oh Anna:

Jack was totally in my thoughts on March 18th as were you and Baby D. He will never be forgotten even by we who only know him through your blog. Hugs to you from Canada.

Janet

Jessica said...

I'm so sorry, Anna. All the hugs.

Elaine Alguire said...

Reading this I am overwhelmed by your candidness. And grateful for it as well. Not that my feelings matter in the least but knowing exactly what you feel, going through this loss always, makes me feel closer to you as a friend and helps me better understand. So thank you. And much love, always.

Sharon in Indy said...

Anna, you may not be able to see the light shining through when you share your intense grief this way, but it's there. I had been meaning to read this earlier but put it off until I knew I wouldn't likely be interrupted - and now we have news of your second son about to arrive!

I can't imagine what a minefield of emotions this must be for you, Tim, Margaret, and the rest of your family. I'm not even sure how to pray about that, but I'm already asking for a safe delivery and healthy baby, and God will know what else you need when I ask him to take care of all of you.

Sending love.

Anonymous said...

I understand your tears and have found myself in tears lately, also. Easter Sunday would have been my son's 18th birthday.

Deborah said...

Anna, my heart goes out to you. I'm thinking of you and lifting you in prayer. You have become my "barometer" of how my life will be after the loss of my sweet Ryan last September. I was blessed to be his mother for 34 years. Your words to me both directly and through your writings have brought me comfort where comfort is often hard to find. Thank you for sharing the good and the bad. I have the feeling that sharing my grief makes others so uncomfortable, even in my own family. Whether it's perceived or real, it's how it feels. I love that you have many days of joy now even when sad days are mixed in. I think they both have their place and I find myself praying I will come of the season of having days of joy again in my future. I'm still in the stage of "good days, are you kidding? my baby boy is gone". Thank you for being there for me.

On a happy note, I just saw on Facebook that your in the hospital to have your baby. A day of joy indeed.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

My heart is with you and my tears are for you. ((Hugs)) I cannot imagine your pain and will never pretend to. I can however relate to wanting something so badly from my husband, like a touch, that he is unable to give to me. Sending my love and prayers......

Jennie Goutet said...

I only saw this after I read your FB Post. What. A. Weekend.

Holding you in my heart.

MamaIan said...

Oh Anna. I am so sorry. Of course you miss your beautiful Jack. There are no enough words. Sending you love and hugs.

green said...

I'm so so sorry.

Anonymous said...

I missed this date, but think of you daily when I see the rare blue bird hanging on my mirror. 17...wow!

Much love,

jbhat

www.robinbotie.com said...

Those birthdays in Heaven are really hard on us who are not there yet. Who else is gonne make them a cake if not us? Yeah, they are really rough. It's been 5 years for me now and when it comes to that birthday (coming up soon), I know better than to believe it's going to be anything other than ugly. Sending you hugs.