Tonight, both of my living children are in bed with us. They sleep the deep sleep of the innocent – arms flung wide to the world, rosebud lips parted, hair mussed, eyes twitching as they dream childish dreams. I lie beside them and stare at the black windows, the vague shapes of skeletal trees outside. Sleep doesn’t come easily, and when it does, it flees just as quickly.
One year ago today, I held my son alive and warm. It was a peaceful and solitary sort of day. The kids were gone with their father to Tennessee to visit, and I stayed behind with James. I ate leftover Thanksgiving food, read a book, and snuggled with my James on the couch. It was an endless day in some ways, and I believed that it could last forever – that maybe it would last forever. Time hung suspended in the golden light of fall.
And now, here we are, one year later. He is gone. It didn’t last forever.
Once, I thought of death as the loved one receding from us, an ocean of sorrow carrying them away. Now I realize that’s wrong. The loved one is static. They are on the shore, and the river carries us on without them. They are receding, receding, receding away from us. James is always frozen there, at 5 months old. He will never change, never grow older. The river keeps carrying me along. On the bank, he stays, and he becomes smaller and smaller. I feel like I’m floating through my life these days, just on the surface really, afraid to go any deeper. My heart cannot stand any more loss.
It’s hard to keep moving when your loved one does not. It’s hard to accept that you can’t freeze time, freeze the river, and spend one more moment with them. It’s hard to realize that here we are, a year later, and so much as changed, and so much continues to change.
For a moment today, I glimpsed happiness again. It was an ordinary sort of day. I spent it mostly alone. It wasn’t a bad kind of solitary. I didn’t slump into my grief and stay in bed. I was out, in the world, moving around, interacting. Sometimes I think I need to be reminded that the world still exists outside of my sorrow. And sometimes I think that the reminder is too painful. Why should the world still exist when mine has crumbled?
Today, I went out into that ever-onward world. And when I came home, for a second, my mind was clear, almost weightless. For a split second, I wasn’t really thinking about anything. Then grief draped itself around my shoulders again. Wrapped its arms around me in an embrace that I’ve come to know intimately. And I realized that nothing would ever be weightless again. True, unshadowed joy can never be mine again. Every joy will come with the knowledge that something – someone – is missing.
And still, yes, still, I count my blessings. I can bear both grief and gratitude at the same time. I am grateful that I knew him. I am grateful that he was mine. I am grateful that we were holding him when he died and that we brought him here, to his home, his only home, to say goodbye to him. There are so many things for which I am thankful, and it makes the grief maybe a little less heavy on some days.
But I miss him so terribly, and I always will. His DNA is woven into mine, and for that, I am grateful. I will always carry him with me.
Happy Thanksgiving, sweet baby boy.