Gavin’s birthday is only 3 days away. Much like last year, the rate of its approach outpaces my ability to prepare for or comprehend the significance of this day. It caught me unprepared last year, and it threatens to do so again. There’s so little time, so much love, so much loss. I don’t know how to process all that is happening. I fear that I will panic until Wednesday comes, it will fly by in a blur, and I’ll be left wondering what even happened. This is what happened last year. I still don’t understand.
I have been trying to carve out moments and spaces in my days to breathe, to notice how I’m feeling, to be mindful and in the moment. But lately what I’m sitting with is just overwhelming sadness and pain, more than I can stand to allow myself to fully feel. And yet avoiding it leaves me feeling disconnected and longing for escape. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to feel this. I don’t want this to be my reality. And yet it is.
How do I get ready for this day? Do I buy balloons? Order a cake? Plan a gathering of friends and family? Write a letter? Release a butterfly? Print a t-shirt? Organize a charity event? Run a 5K? All of these things and more have been done in memory and in honor of a lost child. All of them have brought a measure of comfort to a family in the midst of their deep pain and darkest grief. All of them are wonderful options, but I don’t have it in me to do any of them. I have not been able to bring myself to do anything in preparation for Gavin’s birthday. A friend asked me what my plan was, and I jokingly said, “close my eyes, hold my breath, and hide under my bed until it’s over?” I was kidding because, of course, I know that’s not a healthy way to cope with this anniversary. I know I’ll ultimately feel better if I go out, plan something, have something special for my special boy, spend time outside with friends and family. And yet I’m really, really struggling to prepare.
Because what, really, is a satisfying way to honor the birth of your child that is now gone from this earth? How do you make something happy out of that reality? I am at a loss. The only thing that would satisfy my heart is to have Gavin back in my arms, and that will not happen. As many times as I hug my other boys, and believe me, I cling to them as often as I can, it is not the same as feeling Gavin’s own unique, distinct, warm little body against my chest. No weighted stuffed animal or blanket or pillow can fulfill the longing to hold him, smell him, kiss him. Nothing can give me that satisfaction.
The truth is that Gavin has been gone from his body for almost a year, and yet I’m still waiting for him to come. He was outside of my body and held breath in his lungs for 6 hours, and I largely missed it. It feels like it never happened, because it was so incredibly traumatic that it doesn’t seem real. It’s like he never came, because he didn’t come in the way that I’d expected or hoped. I didn’t get to hold him for long moments where both of us could take deep breaths and be present. He struggled to breathe his entire earthly life. And so did I. I still do.
He didn’t get to snuggle into me, relax into my arms and feel my love surround him for hours. He didn’t get to nurse, never ate anything at all. He didn’t get to feel the warmth of bath water against his skin while he was still alive. Didn’t get wear any of the clothes I’d bought for him while his heart was still beating. Didn’t get to watch his brothers play, didn’t get to hear his daddy play guitar, didn’t get to watch the light dance through the leaves on an overhead branch on a breezy summer day. That day was right outside the hospital doors the day he was born, but he never exited those doors alive. My grief is not only for myself, but for the life that my child never got the chance to live. Yes I know he was surrounded in love his entire life. Yes I know he was celebrated and cherished beyond measure and that he will be honored and remembered and deeply loved every day that I continue to live. But it’s not what I wanted for him. Not what I prayed or hoped for. How can he be gone almost a year now, when he never lived in the way that I’d hoped? It was so fast. Too fast. Did it even happen? Was he real?
I still search for him everywhere. Watch for his lifeforce to still be active in the movements found in nature. Feel for the edge of his spirit to graze me as he wings past on the breeze. I search the skies for some sign of his existence, a message that he is real, that he is waiting for me just like I wait for him. That he is in a safe place and that I will join him one day. I hope for those moments of breathing deeply together, of being mindfully present with each other, for as long as we’d like. I pray for long sunny afternoons filled with nothing but watching the clouds roll by, hearing the bees buzzing, watching the long grass dance. I long for a chance to be his mom, to love and nurture him, to grow our connection. To discover his face and his voice. To learn who he is becoming. To watch him grow like I watch my older boys grow.
The suitcase that I packed for the hospital a year ago still sits by my bed. I cannot bring myself to unpack it. I know that if I open it, so much pain will come pouring out. His clothes are in there, the ones he wore after he’d died. His hand and footprints, a lock of his dark hair. The gown I wore while I held him as he died. I’m not even sure what else. I will not let myself remember. Remnants of a life never lived. Too much pain to face. In the early months I didn’t worry about not being able to open it. I thought I was just saving it for a day that I had the strength to face what was inside. I had hoped that surely, by now, a year out, I would have opened that suitcase and thoughtfully sorted and catalogued it’s contents. I imagined myself holding each item and savoring a sweet memory of Gavin. But I haven’t opened it, and I don’t see myself being able to open it without having a significant panic attack any time soon. And so it sits. Maybe I’m afraid that once I open it, the last remnants of his actual earthly life will escape and blow away into the regular, non-sacred spaces around me. Maybe I’m afraid to remember that this awful thing was real. Maybe I just have no idea how to process this, still.
Maybe I’m afraid that if I open this last intact symbol of his life and time here, it will really be over. I’m afraid that when August 23, 2017 comes, that this sacred time and place that I’ve been living in, where I get to carry him with me, will come to a close. That people will expect me to be normal again, to stop talking about him, to “move on.” Those are the words that every loss parent dreads, because it is impossible to do. You never move on. Most days you don’t even want to move forward, because you are moving further from the time and place where your child existed. There is no closure. Closure after child loss is a false construct. The connection never ends. My hope is that it just continues to grow, that I will find and feel and see my boy every day from now until the day I go to be with him.
I am still waiting for Gavin. I will say his name and actively love him until he is with me again. My heart still bleeds love for him, and it will not stop.