My birthday yesterday began with a cry. Not a gleeful cry, but a cry as in crying, weeping, sobbing. I’ve been having a horrid few days (horrid months, actually) what with the year anniversary of Matthew’s death on March 11, my mother’s two-year death anniversary on March 24, his birthday on April 28, and then my birthday without two individuals I loved so dearly. I don’t even want to think about upcoming Mother’s Day.
When had I morphed into a sixty-something senior? I never imagined this day would arrive. But what did I think, that I was immune to time? The unfathomable happened when my thirty-six-year-old son died of an extremely rare heart cancer, so I’m definitely not “special.”
I’ve made lots of wishes in the past. One wish I never made was for my children to survive me. The natural order of death exists: grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren. Who expects the death of a child to be inserted between grandparents and parents? No, that was never a wish of mine. I had never considered such a situation, so how could I have wished for it to never happen?
But unfathomably it did.
I’m into the second month of the second year, and life is worse than the first year. I assumed it would get easier not harder.
It’s gotten so much harder. Some days I can barely breathe. Some days I swear I’m having a heart attack. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed. Some nights I don’t want to go to bed. My son is the last thing on my mind at night, the first in the morning. I always shed tears for him before I sleep and again upon waking.
I can’t go on any longer. How do I? How can I? My life’s not the same, and no matter what I or anyone else says or does, it never will be. I can’t wake up and say my day will be great, that I’ll ignore bad words spewed about me, or I’ll do “this” instead of “that” and I’ll feel better, or that my diet will start today and I’ll feel better once I’ve lost weight. Such mundane issues now. Who cares?
Nothing I’ll ever do for the rest of my life will make me happier. Or glad to be alive. Or grateful for what I have.
I know I’m wrong. I should be grateful. I have two other wonderful children. Gorgeous grandchildren. A husband. A home.
But I have such a void. And no matter what happens, it’ll never be filled. It’s as if I’ve fallen into an insatiable sinkhole that is determined to smother me. I can’t claw my way out no matter what I do. Because I can’t. It’s impossible. No matter what I do. It’s indescribable, actually. That’s my life now though my words are inadequate to accurately describe how I feel.
I was to have taken minutes at my writers group yesterday morning. Committed myself a month ago. It’s been months since I’ve attended a meeting. I went to bed knowing I wouldn’t follow through the next day. How easy it is to promise something weeks or months—even days—before an event. I’ve never reneged on duties, no matter what they might be. Until recently.
I had nightmares I’d break down at the meeting and have to escape and wouldn’t be able to gather all my belongings, and I’d have to wait outside or in the washroom and hope someone would find me to hand over my things, or I’d have to linger like an idiot and sneak back into the room after everyone left. I don’t want to break down in front of others. My grief is mine. It’s private. I don’t share, at least not much, because no one can possibly know my agony, and everyone is sick of my gloominess and glumness and sorrowful posts. Because unless you’re in my shoes, you don’t know. And I don’t want you in my shoes.
I had thought I was in pain when my mother died a year before my son. I’ve horribly neglected grieving for her because I’ve been consumed with my son. But the pain over my mother’s death wasn’t this kind of agony and heartbreak though at the time I thought it was. That was grief. Grief is different than pain and agony and heartbreak and lack of breath and nil motivation. Grief for a parent or a grandparent or a cousin or a friend, even a spouse, is so much different than grief for a child.
Yesterday morning, an hour before the writing group was to meet, one of my fellow writers messaged me a happy birthday and “see you soon.”
No, you won’t see me soon. You may never see me again.
I hate I let people down. I hate I was a no show. I hate people not knowing what I’m suffering—no, I take that back; I wish for no one—ever—to feel my pain. It’s too horrendous.
But I went to the meeting the day of my birthday, not that I cared it was my birthday. Got within five minutes of the venue and turned back. It didn’t help that “Broken Halos” came on the radio during the drive.
At noon, I met my granddaughter and her mother for lunch. I put on a brave front. I wouldn’t break down in front of a ten-year-old, not the daughter of my son. She suffers her own unimaginable pain. I can’t begin to comprehend hers; I only know mine. Hers: so much different than mine.
Hubby came home early from work. “It’s your birthday. I want to take you shopping,” he said. “You need new bras and undies.” I didn’t want new underwear. I could buy my own, thank you very much. But he insisted, so we went to The Bay at the mall. He means well. He’s sick of my grey bras and ripped panties. I am, too, but I’m comfortable wearing old friends although I always pray before leaving the house that I won’t be in an accident. How horrid that would be (for me!) if hospital staff saw my grossly discoloured, stretched, and torn underwear.
After hours traipsing the floors and numerous trips to dressing rooms, I ended up with three pairs of undies, three bras, and two pairs of jeans. All expensive. More money than I would have spent. “It’s your birthday,” he insisted at my every complaint. He wanted to buy me more clothing, too, but I was shopped-out. I was also disgusted with my looks when trying on the items. Rolls and cellulite and sag, so much more noticeable with fluorescent lights and three walls of floor-to-ceiling mirrors inches from my body, freaked me out. When had I gotten that out of shape? When had I morphed into my eighty-year-old mother? Never had I imagined I’d look the way I do now. But what did a sixty-seven-year-old look like beneath clothing? Everyone tells me how young I look. Perhaps I did, once upon a time: before my son died. But I’ve aged ten years in the last year. And the clothed me looks one hundred percent better than the naked me.
I’m old. I’m disgusting.
I’ve let myself go over the past year and a half. My son died! That’s my excuse. Excuses are great! Always excuses! I can have those French fries, the cheesecake. The ice cream cone. The bags of Goodies and licorice. I can eat no food at all! The beer. The too-many glass of wine. What happened to my exercise regime? I had been on a routine once upon a time. But I’m grieving. I’m allowed, right?
I’m paying the price now. Or, at my age, would I look like this even if my son were alive?
I didn’t want new clothes yesterday. “Take me shopping after I’ve lost weight.”
“Today’s your birthday. We’re going today,” Hubby said.
We went to a pub for dinner afterward. I had two beer. Fries, too. It was my birthday. Definitely okay to indulge. But I formulated a plan: tomorrow—no, Monday; always Mondays—I’ll eat healthier. I’ll exercise. I’ll drink less.
“What’s wrong?” Hubby asked in between the fries and beer. “Your eyes are glazed over.”
“There’s something. It’s your birthday. Why are you crying on your birthday? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” I kept insisting. I tried desperately to hold in my tears. He wouldn’t understand. He hadn’t lost a child; I did. He couldn’t possibly understand.
“I’ll tell you later,” I finally said, to shut him up.
Tears rolled down my face all the way home. I don’t sob and weep anymore. I don’t scream or rant or rave. I just tear. Big, bottomless tears that hide behind my eyeballs, tears that creep out every second of every day and careen down my cheeks. Silent tears. Puffy-eye tears. Sore-eye tears.
It was dusk, but I donned my sunglasses. Hubby makes fun of my sunglasses, that I wear them when there’s no sun. I wear them more and more often now.
We got home, changed into grubbies, and watched TV. I was glad Hubby didn’t question me. My pain, my agony, is mine alone. Even on my birthday.
Later, when on my tablet, I noticed a stranger had commented on my “Two Candles” poem on my blog that I had posted on Matt’s birthday.
“I’m so sorry,” she wrote. “It’s just really hard. Hugs.”
I went to her blog and read one of her posts. She was going on ten years without her son, who was killed by a drunk driver. Entering the second year after the death of a child, she wrote, is even worse than the first. During the first you’re still in shock and disbelief, but by the time the second anniversary rolls around, reality has set in.
How true that is! I was a tad comforted that how I’d been feeling was maybe sorta “normal.”
I continually see my son, unannounced (surprise! surprise!), entering the kitchen, sporting his sly grin. He’d sometimes carry an armful of clothing he needed mended. Oh, the repairs and hemming I’ve done for him. How I miss it even though at the time I inwardly cringed. Mending and ironing: two chores I’m not particularly fond of. Hubby used to comment that Matthew’s mending got done immediately whereas his would sit on my sewing table for weeks. In retrospect, I’m so glad I finished Matt’s clothes as quickly as I did and that I never complained. Such little things that comfort me.
Ironically, before I went to bed last night, I came across a friend’s Facebook post: “Please be patient with me. You see, I lost my child. And while it may seem like a long time to you, it’s every day for me.”
Yes, it’s every day. Even on my birthday.