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To My Son on Your Death Anniversary

by | Apr 19, 2024 | Facing Death, Healing

No matter how many years pass, I miss you more than words can say, my son–not just on your death anniversary but every day, every season, every moment I long to share with you.

 

Dear Jacob,

This year feels different. Some years I have raged against the reality and permanence of your absence; others I’ve descended into a spiral of grief so isolated and immense that I fear I may wish to follow you into the abyss.

However, –and however I may wish it not to–life goes on. Like the wild grass that forces its way up through rusted train tracks (an image on the homepage of this website under “Options,” very symbolic to me), nature has a way of carrying on, beginning again … healing. Other family and friends who loved you seem to have reached “life goes on” long before I am able to; and in fact, I’ve felt furious at them for not seeming to remember your birthday, death day, or all the ways you were an incredible human.

This year, however, my external life has borne so many changes–my city, my job, and my home, and relationships that have dissipated along the way–that the space and time I shared with you begins to fade somehow, a life lived before but not in sharp focus now.

In fact, I could not bear to stay in the town where you lived most of your life, and I am in a state now where I cannot summon the strength even to visit it. I suppose if I still lived in our house and passed your old room every time I went to do laundry or exit via the garage, our past and your presence may still feel visceral.

 

And maybe that is why I fled.

 

I need to say this, however, Jacob: Grieving for you feels different than any other loss or pain I’ve ever experienced. I wonder if it would be this hard if you died in a car accident or from cancer rather than from suicide. I think the hole that is left in a parent’s heart never does truly heal; we just teach the tissue around the void to somehow continue to pump our blood of life.

And I think I have learned how to keep my heart beating, and even to love the family left surviving here without you, with gratitude and hope. Years and years of putting the broken pieces of myself back together, pieced around the scar tissue, never again smooth or innocent or even fully joyful … years of reading books on grief and loss and healing, filling journals with memories of you and wonderings of what could have saved you, retreating for hours and days to weep and remember and recoil.

 

I have blamed myself for every single flaw as a person and mother, every mistake I made in raising you and your brothers, every time I failed to protect you from violence and harm. I have blamed myself for your pain, your depression and withdrawal into drugs and then psychosis, and I have held myself accountable for the death you saw as the only solution to your anguish.

 

But no more, Jacob.

 

I cannot embrace this life I’m left with–which is a beautiful, abundant, and blessed life–while remaining shackled to that guilt. The guilt leads me down, down, to a scary place from which I may not return. And do you know what? Even if I had absolute certainty that my own death would lead me to you (ah, how I envy those with strong faith in afterlife reunification), I think that I would not go.

There is too much here for me, among the living. Every day, every moment, is a chance for me to love my partner–whom I know you also deeply loved and felt safe with–whose love has profoundly healed the wounds of my own past and sustained me through the loss of you–and our children, our extended families, people I encounter at work or the gym or the grocery, and people enduring injustice and violence for whom I attempt to pray all around the world.

I need to forgive myself, Jacob. It’s funny, I have heard so much about the natural anger bereaved people feel toward the one who left them, but I have never been able to be angry with you. I simply do not blame you–for your intense sensitivity, for your involuntary holding of so much pain in our family and world, for your vain attempts to change yourself and medicate that pain, not even for your choice to leave the world at such a young age (21). You did what you had to do. I believe that now.

As for me, in time I wrestle with my memories and strive pitifully to come to terms with my failings alongside the real and steady love I did give to you and your brothers.

Recently, I purchased a digital frame and loaded it with photographs spanning from my youth to my partner’s, all our children, and up to the present day full of holidays and meals, hikes and vacations, weddings and babies, sunsets and mountains, shorelines and flowers.

There are so, so many pictures of you, Jacob. In a few of them, you show clearly your childhood pain and fear, and even your protectiveness of me. In many of them, you look like a happy little boy having adventures with toys and trucks, silly Halloween costumes and piles of birthday gifts, giggling with your cousins and smiling with your brothers.

As I watch the photos scroll by I am struck with both sides of the truth: You WERE happy (you even wrote that, shortly before you killed yourself) and you were wounded. I DID neglect you at times yet loved you unconditionally all your life (you also wrote about that–thank you). It’s all true. It’s horrific beyond imagination and your life was cut way too short, and yet your presence and love for the time we did have, have gifted me in ways I will still be discovering all the rest of the days of my own life.

 

Thanks to sandy-millar-cQ-66Evaf5g-unsplash for the open-source image a the top of this story.

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