We were 5.

5

Today was the first time that I’ve been to a gathering since James died. 26 days. How have 26 days passed me by without my son? How has he been gone that long? 26 days since he drew his last breath in our arms. It is simultaneously yesterday and a lifetime ago. Everything is cloaked in fog. I heard today was beautiful – bright blue sky, sun. To me, the day seemed dim, cold, gray.

We went to my nephew’s birthday party in Knoxville. I packed my suitcase with the full intention of staying one or two nights with my best friend’s family. Once we arrived however, I realized that I wasn’t ready to be away from home right now.

Going to Knoxville brought back memories of the last time we were there. I was pregnant and my hips were aching terribly. James was alive. He was safe within me. I could feel his kicks, turns, and hiccups. Now, I will never feel him again. He has gone where I cannot follow.

It was disorienting to be away from home, and I was ready to leave almost as soon as we arrived. Somehow, being here, in our home where he lived, keeps me feeling closer to him.

The children had a good time, but as I watched them play, I felt the missing piece. I felt James’s absence. He should have been there, in my arms. He should have been nursing, smiling, babbling. Instead, he has been in the ground for 26 days. We were a family of 5 for a short time, and now, we are 4 again. Our family is not complete, and it never will be again. It’s almost like he was never here. We didn’t talk about him today. No one asked how I was. No one said his name. Life goes on.

As I watched my sister-in-law sing “Happy Birthday” to her son, I could see the joy and love stamped on her face. My heart wept that I will never sing “Happy Birthday” to my son again. We sang it to him on the day he was born, and it was the only time that he’d ever hear that song. He will never have a first or second birthday party. At least, not one that he will celebrate here with us. He will never become acquainted with Lightning McQueen and Mater. He will never ask for a special toy or cake.

On the drive back, my brain replayed scenes of his life over and over again. I remembered singing to him in the NICU. I remembered snuggling in bed with him at night. I remember the joys, the victories, the scares, and of course, his death.

I think I am confusing numbness with denial. Denial isn’t what I thought it was. In reading about it, I have discovered that denial simply means having the perception – for however long – that it didn’t really happen. Sometimes, I wonder – is this a dream? Was he here? Did he really die? Did my child really and truly die? Did my worst fear come to pass?

26 days have passed in a total blur. 26 days ago, my family went from 5 to 4. People warned us that having three small children would be hard. They had no idea. Having 3 was a piece of cake. Losing James was the hard part. What I wouldn’t give to be annoyed that I’d been waken up to nurse again in the night. What I wouldn’t give to be dog-tired because of my infant. What I wouldn’t give to be struggling through my days parenting my three small children.

Instead, my nights are empty once the girls go to bed. The hours that used to be occupied with taking care of James’s nightly needs, snuggling with him – those hours stretch on forever. I can’t focus to read anything other than grief books. I have no interest in TV. I sit in my bedroom with his candle burning next to me, and I write and listen to music. Mostly, I occupy myself until I feel like I can go to sleep, and then I go to bed.

We were five. And now we are four.

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