Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of my son’s death. It was in all ways that matter, the worst of worst days. Although I will say that for me, as time goes by, his birthdays are sadder. Yesterday was about endings, whereas each passing birthday marks what could have been. He was only 25 when he died – so much life still ahead. I try not to dwell on these thoughts because being maudlin won’t change a thing… still, on days like yesterday, it’s hard not to.
Not too long ago (and completely by chance) I happened to be reading about the history and traditions of bereavement. In the late 1800s for instance, it was commonplace for a loved one to go into mourning for two years following a death in the family. They would wear black, retreat from society, and do everything they could think of to pick at the scab that was their grief. Thought being: pain, suffering and penance were tantamount to caring; to hurt was never to forget.
But then at the two-year mark, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, they’d rejoin a life. Just like that: poof! I’m not sure what the thought process was — that it was time to forgive themselves for the temerity of survival? That it was finally okay to move on? That a half-life was tantamount to its own kind of death and therefore no way to honor the dead or the living?
I suppose I’d like to think it was a mix of all the above; the mourners emerged sadder and wiser, and also with a greater appreciation for what really matters. I can only imagine how the audacity of hope (thanks, Obama) after so long in the dark must have dizzied them. Survival is both the easiest and hardest thing you’ll ever do. And make no mistake – death marks us all eventually. If you haven’t walked in these shoes, you will one day, and for that I’m sorry.
Many times over the past 24 months I’ve picked at my scabs and turned myself inside out for the sake of suffering. I’ve had moments when it seemed I was better off dead because it just didn’t feel right to draw breath when he couldn’t. I’ve dwelled on all the ways I failed– failed my children, my spouse, my community — myself. I left no stone unturned and no thought unexplored when it came to my suffering. If pain and penance equaled caring, then by God I cared a shitload.
But to what end?
So here I sit at the 2-year mark of my mourning, straining against the confines of my chrysalis and wondering if I dare to rejoin life again? My child is gone. How is that something I’m ever to move on from? Do I even want to?
He was here one day – beautiful & flawed & perfect & suffering – and gone the next. Life is cruel that way. And for this, I am forever altered. But there IS a small part of me (a part I’m often ashamed of) that wants to occasionally laugh without guilt/smile without sadness/endure without torment.
I’m not sure I’m ready to be a butterfly yet, but maybe from time to time it’s okay to wish I one day will be?