I woke with trembling hands.
It was the first thing I noticed. “I’m shaking, why am I shaking?” I thought.
No sooner had I peeled the sleep from my eyes, than they brimmed with hot, knowing tears.
I don’t know what I expected on a day like today. Not much. Certainly not this.
I sat up in bed, still trembling softly through my tears. “Happy third birthday, son,” I silently breathed.
I had known today was coming. She didn’t sneak up on me the way these kinds of days are prone to do. No, Today announced her arrival from down the street and around the corner. I spent the entirety of last week in anticipation.
Anticipation of what, exactly, I’m sure I don’t know.
“One week from today, he’d have turned three.”
“Once the weekend is over, there will only be three days to go . . .”
“The day after tomorrow. . .”
“Tomorrow is the day. . .”
Even then, you still wake up with trembling hands.
And so it goes.
I got the kids off to school (2 hours late), and settled in to cry the day away. You know, like you do on your dead son’s birthday.
Then, there was a knock.
A few deep breaths (and a quick wipe of the nose) later, I cautiously cracked open the front door.
I stared into loving, albeit somewhat reluctant and unfamiliar eyes. A moment later, all propriety fled, and I fell uncontrollably into safe, generous arms.
“I didn’t know what I could do,” she said, eyes wet with tears, “so I brought you the ocean.”
In her outstretched hand she held a candle, deep blue as the California coast.
On a day like today. . . this new friend brought me the sea.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Surely, if nothing else, that’s what my son taught us to do. That was Baby Gavin’s legacy. . . bring the sea.
When we bring the sea. . . we give the best of ourselves to the people around us.
We reach to the depths of who we are and offer unconditional love, freely and without requisite.
We smile, we laugh, we dance, we sing.
We respect and treasure what we have right in front of us.
We let go.
We don’t get carried away by tomorrows or pulled under by yesterdays.
We cry. . . deep, harrowing sobs. . . that crash over us without remorse.
When we bring the sea, we LIVE, today, because we know that it is the only day that we are truly guaranteed. . .
Son, I love you more today than ever before. Loving you taught me how to live. In grief, I have learned more of life than I ever knew I could live.
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy.”
There has been much “obliterative” hurt, I have been “inconsolable” and quite “literally crazy.” Missing you has been “dislocating to both body and mind.” I have prayed for your return. I have begged, bargained, pleaded with the Lord . . . to do for me as he did for Lazarus. . . for Martha.
And yet. . .
This is my life. There are unique lessons to be learned. Grief has been a mighty teacher, cruel and kind in almost the same breath. And I could never have learned in any other way.
This is my time to LIVE, to laugh, to cry, to connect, to give, to dream. . . this is my time to bring the sea. But YOU taught me that, little boy. Not grief. You.
Until that blessed moment when you are again in my arms, I love you with all of me. . . no, more.
The quotes in this post are from Joan Didion’s extraordinary exploration of grief, The Year of Magical Thinking. I recommend it to anyone who has ever experienced great loss.