For most people, the word conjures up images of happy occasions, like weddings. Its a milestone each year where they measure their success at their endeavor.
That’s not true for all of us all of the time though.
Some anniversaries mark the date we lost someone, someone important and loved and a huge part of our lives.
On those days, for me at least, it’s as though the wound left behind is ripped wide open once again, and all of the agony and pain is right there as I have my annual confrontation with grief.
Strong women don’t cry, right?
Then again, I never started out on this life trying to become a strong woman. I wanted to be contented and wise.
Sometimes, I think back to the person I was before, and I think how foolish I was, how many moments were wasted…
but were they really wasted when I became “Kung Fu Mama” and we played our silly game?
The first time in my life that I cried in public was when he died. It was as though someone had blown a hole in my chest the size of Texas, which is about as big as I can actually visualize anything. I was empty. I hurt, I was angry, it wasn’t fair, he was such a wonderful boy, how could this happen? Why me? Why him? What had I done wrong? I had tried to be a good mother, and I had failed, he had died, and I didn’t know why.
Outside, the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and that seemed wrong too. It should have been dark, my boy was dead. The world had just come to an end.
I had no energy to help his sister, who grieved as much as I was for the little brother she had just lost. I couldn’t see how I was going to live through the day.
I worried that he was cold and scared and alone. I was angry because it was so unfair. I could barely look at his friends, and I was angry at their parents. I was jealous. They still had their boys, and I didn’t have mine.
His favorite song the weeks before he died was “The World is Not Enough” from the James Bond movie we’d just gotten for him, as he was a James Bond fan, as well as a massive Star Wars fan. We couldn’t play it at the funeral though because the pastor said it was “secular” music and not allowed.
His toys and clothes were packed up and stored, sort of like my grief. His clothes were eventually given away. This past spring, we discovered that someone had stolen his toys and other treasures. I hope they bring them pleasure.
I don’t understand people sometimes.
Those dark days are only re-visited annually, but the pain and sense of loss is always there, like a familiar pothole in my inner being. I can remember when I grasped that dark sorrow for its cold comfort, afraid that if I let it go, I’d forget all the things that were silly and important, like the way his hair smelled when he’d been out playing in the sun, or the way he would wrap his arms around me in an impromptu hug, nearly throwing me to the floor.
Then, one night, I had this particularly vivid dream. In this dream, I was at a big family picnic, the kind where everyone from the entire extended family is there, even cousins that you’d never seen before. The kids were all playing, we could hear the innocent joy in their voices as they laughed and called out to each other. My grandmother was there too, but not as she looked in her later years, but as she had when I had been a teenager.
She watched me fix him a plate of food, call him to me, and then hand it to him. As I looked at him, I could see that he was rotting around the edges, which was pretty gruesome, obviously. I frowned as he ran off with his food, concerned about this appearance of rot.
It was then that she spoke, saying “You have to quit doing that, you know. If you don’t let him go, he’s going to keep on rotting like that.”
I woke with a start at that point, feeling sweaty and clammy. It wasn’t easy to go back to sleep either.
Was it a vision or a message from my grandmother about my grief? A message from my own subconscious pointing out the futility of my grief and how I was managing it? Did it even matter? The message was heard. It was time to start letting go.
The darkest of days, I didn’t feel like I could do it, there was no way I could keep on living. On those days, the thought of meeting him in the afterlife, and having to admit to him that I wasn’t the woman he thought I was provided the inspiration to keep on keeping on. He thought I was the toughest and coolest and smartest mom on earth, how dare I even THINK about giving up?
Eleven years. He’s been gone longer than I got to have him, and both his birth and his death seem like yesterday. He’d be thrilled with his little niece. He would find my life amusing and a grand adventure too.
He loved camping and hiking and eating…probably eating most of all. I can remember his eulogy, delivered by the sensei from his dojo, a family friend and his best friend’s step father as well. He recalled something my son had told him about how he wanted to be a sumo wrestler because they could eat everything they wanted to. I laughed, it was so very much the way he thought sometimes, and I missed his silly remarks so much already then. I guess I miss them just as much now.
He was my fishing and gardening buddy too. Once, we built a “Hand of Thyme” in the yard. It was a giant handprint shaped herb bed, filled with herbs and flowers, of course it had to feature a lot of different kinds of thyme too. It was silly, frivolous and an awful lot of fun too. It’s also a great memory of time spent together.
So, tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, I will go fishing with Greg, and we’ll have an invisible boy riding in the boat with us, sharing a favorite activity, even if its only in the memories of my mind. He always hated it if I cried, and fishing is something he loved doing with me. I guess I better pack a picnic too–he used to give me very disappointed looks about fishing trips that didn’t include anything to snack on or a lunch.
Sometimes, for those of us who are left behind by the ones we love, life is about figuring out how to keep going, and carrying their memory along with us without turning it into a shrine. So, I baked a cake on his birthday, though I can’t say it was really a celebration. I’ll go fishing on the anniversary of his death, and while it’s far from a celebration, it’s a great coping mechanism and a way to remember the good times without nursing that grief that can so easily turn into a cancerous monster eating away at the joy and passion we should be greeting life with.
That’s the key. Keep greeting life with joy and passion, as though you’ve never lost a soul, yet never forgetting that tomorrow just might be too late to tell someone how much you love them, how much you care. Don’t waste your time here, you never know how long any of us has to spend here. We’ve all got an awful lot to do while we’re here, even when it is just for a short time.
Life. Love. Joy. Passion.
If we leave this world a tiny bit better somehow than it was when we arrived, we’ve done something noteworthy. What are you doing? How are you spending today?