I vividly remember the moment Derek was born. The doctor laid him across my chest and there he was, my first baby — his round face like a pale moon, his eyes open and unblinking, his little body warm and wet, his heart beating against my bare skin. I won’t ever forget his first smile, his first word (It was butterfly, and I have a witness), and his first steps in the wooded acre behind our house in Ohio.
September 29th, 2016 would be Derek’s 37th birthday.
On October 26th, it will be five years since he’s been gone.
The Death of a Child
Losing a child, especially to suicide, must be the most lonely, desolate journey a parent can take. We know one day we’ll lose our parents, and one day we may lose our spouse or siblings, but we don’t ever expect to lose a child. The death of a child is the death of our dreams as parents. The profound loss of being robbed of an adult relationship with our child is a continuing hurt.
Dealing with each passing anniversary of a child’s birthday and death is difficult, even years after, as writer Roberta King will attest. Sometimes I feel that the only people who appreciate this loss are those who share the experience. Roberta is a Michigan writer I met on Twitter who lost her only son, Noah, when he was seventeen. Her blog post on the anniversary of his birth, Birthday, Not Birthday is so poignant that I want to share it:
Birthday, Not Birthday
I wouldn’t want to do the math wrong and make a mistake about how old he’d be today, so I pull up the calculator on my laptop just to make sure. Noah was born on September 23, 1988 so today he would be 28 years old. Without ritual it’s hard for me to remember his exact age. When you take away the cake, singing, presents, dinner out and the old Scooby Doo birthday banner; the marking of another year becomes nebulous.
I’ve lost my ability to imagine what Noah would look like as an adult. I guess he’d still be very thin, tallish and he’d have a good head of sandy curly hair; men from my side hold onto their hair. But that’s as far as I can take that vision.
Imagining his adult life
I have a better mental picture of what his day-to-day life would be like had he lived—it was something we were looking ahead at, preparing for, like gazing down the highway a half mile or so, to see what the traffic is doing. I expect that he’d be living away from us by now, probably in a group home with other young men with disabilities. He would have aged out of educational programming two years ago, so he might have a job somewhere. He worked at Meijer for a bit in high school–he might have stayed on there, slapping circulars in the hands of incoming shoppers. I imagine that we’d still travel together down to the Keys in the winter and maybe he’d drink a beer with us.
All too infrequently, Noah visits me in my dreams and when he does, he’s never older than he was when he died. He visited once as a fully mobile person and walked right up to me. In that dream, I was awestruck by his ability to move on his own, “Noah, you’re walking!” I said. His gait seemed a little stiff, perhaps from all those years of sitting in his wheelchair. In that dream, he just smiled his crooked smile and then walked away without me.
He will never be any older
Maybe I can’t envision him growing older because he isn’t any older, he’s stuck at 17. Today isn’t really his 28th birthday—Noah ceased to age on the day he took his last breath.
Today is, more accurately, the anniversary of his birth-day.
So, it has been 28 years since we first brought him into the world and 10 years, 7 months since he left us. It’s all just time, an ancient measurement system based on the movement of the sun and the moon, and it truly passes like a white hot flash. Those 28 years, those 10 years are just gone.
What give me the worst sort of ache though, is the sense of drifting from him that I feel. I still miss him every minute of each day, but his presence, which used to be so powerful, is fading and like the passing of time, there’s no way to bring him back.
Some people believe that holding on to loved ones who are no longer with us keeps us stuck. They think it’s better to keep your feelings to yourself and push on through — in other words, suffer alone. But a parent will never forget their child is no longer with them, and honoring and loving someone despite their physical absence is a positive thing to do. Your loved one’s birthday, for however many years they spent on earth, can still be a day for you to celebrate them. They aren’t here now, but the day can still belong to them.
I’ll light the candle in the N. Carolina driftwood candle holder we keep by Derek’s framed picture. We’ll have pepperoni pizza for dinner, even if it gives us heartburn. And if there’s a hockey game on television, we’ll watch it and think of him with love. So much love it’s painful.
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My thanks to Roberta for allowing me to share her post.
When Roberta isn’t writing, she might be running, reading, cooking vegetarian meals or traveling with her husband, Mike Miesch. She is the Vice President of PR & Marketing at Grand Rapids Community Foundation and outside of her writing about philanthropy, her work can be found in literary journals and in The Rapidian. She was the National Asparagus Festival’s Mrs. Asparagus Runner Up, 1989.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of adult contemporary fiction In the Context of Love, 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist, 2016 Readers Favorite Finalist, 2015 Great Midwest Book Festival Award
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River, and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters
“With tenderness, but without blinking, Linda K. Sienkiewicz turns her eye on the predator-prey savannah of the young and still somehow hopeful.” ~ Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the #1 NY Times Bestseller, Deep End of the Ocean