Friday, May 25, 2012


J nb6
This picture isn't the one I'm talking about in this. It's just one I like.

I wake up early now.  I never used to.  In college, my roommate worked as a radio morning show DJ and woke up around four or five.  We used to joke that his day began when mine ended.  I scheduled classes late and spent more time without the sun than with it.  That changed by necessity in law school, and as I age the hour seems to keep creeping up on me.  I rise earlier and earlier, a habit my body now stubbornly clings to even on the weekends.

Morning is always the hardest time.  James is clearest to me in the morning.  Literally and emotionally, it’s the easiest time to find him. As the day goes on I get more easily distracted.  E-mails, texts, phone calls.  Anything you want to do and many things you do not want to do.  I have tinnitus, and my ears ring loudest in the morning, fading as the day goes on as the ambient noise provides a distraction.  James fades in the clutter of the day.  He’s always there of course, just in the background.  I think about him every hour.  But he is clearest in the morning.  The focus is sharpest and almost complete. 

As I go through my morning routine, with nothing to do but brush my teeth and stare at myself in the mirror, I catch myself thinking of him.  Lately, I think about him growing up.  I think about Saturday mornings and cartoons, of toy bats and what it might have been like to have a kid rather than a baby.  I wonder how he would have disrupted my mornings, breaking the silence of me standing in front of a mirror and brushing my teeth.  I’ve started turning on the shower before I brush my teeth, and if I’m honest it’s at least in part to break the quiet so I spend less time dreaming up scenarios like that.  The morning is the hardest time to distract myself.

Because I wake up early, I tend to go to work early as well.  Again, I prefer to be doing.  I am most productive in the mornings, again, because there are no distractions to keep me from doing the things I need to do.  Early this week, in a fit of early morning productivity I elected to clean out my desk.  I had not done so in over two years.  Two seasons worth of Christmas cards, two years worth of napkins I kept from to-go lunches because “that will probably come in handy” which did not come in handy.  Farther down, no doubt deliberately placed there, a whole series of condolence cards.  I’m not sure I’d read them before.  I do now.  They’re touching and heartfelt.  I wish I’d responded. 

Beneath those I discover something I do remember doing.  A whole set of James’ newborn pictures.  When he was born I asked the facilities guy at my office to install a bulletin board beside my desk.  I put all my James related memorabilia up on it.  His pictures, the Valentine’s Day card he made me.  The idea was that the board would continue to grow with James and keep him close during the day.  The pictures, all but three, came down the day I came back to work.  I just couldn’t deal with all of them.  I left the card.  The pictures went back into the sleeve and joined the heap at the bottom of my drawer. 

I take each one out of the sleeve individually, pausing for a moment.  Some have tape from where I attached them to the board or holes where I pinned them.  I’d never be so careless with pictures of James now.  It takes me until the fourth to start crying.  It’s easier to cry in the morning.  He’s wearing a knit hat, his hair peeking out from beneath the cap.  I remember the photographer who took them not being quite sure what do with all of his hair.  He’s swaddled and looking to the side, a dimple on his cheek.  His eyes look bluer than I remember.  “Who is Daddy’s best friend?” I ask the picture.  I used to ask James that all the time.  He’d laugh and laugh, especially if I made a particularly ridiculous face for him.  “Jamesie!” was always the answer. 

I spend a little while longer looking at it, long enough for the tears to dry, then I put the picture back up on the bulletin board.  I feel close to him, and the extra picture feels right.  The next day, I put up another picture.  I did the same thing everyday this week, always in the morning, until I filled up the board completely again.  It feels good to have more pictures of him.  I’m still not great with mornings and I probably never will be.  But I’m glad I least tried do something with that focus.

Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


After James died, I ran. I ran away from conversations, polite nods and eyes crinkled in sympathy. Sometimes when running I even faced them, mastering thank yous and polite handshakes before immediately changing the conversation subject, my aggressively ok facade offering an escape of its own. Just pretend it's not happening, I thought, and it won't. I ran as far away from these things because it seemed for a time if I ran fast enough, I could in some way manage to escape the roiling terror of the reality nipping at my heels, that in reality my son, whom I loved before all others, was gone. In his place there was nothing in a particular, a life indifferent at best. A solar system with the sun snuffed out, the planets carrying on as if nothing happened, orbiting a void.

But I got tired eventually. The hours in the day added up, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not fill all of them. The trouble with running is that you need somewhere to go, something to do. When I ran out of things to occupy my time, James inevitably filled the void. When something lingers in the back of your mind all the time, it takes very little to draw out. Four or five months after James died, I began to run out of steam. My distractions proved increasingly less effective. James started to creep out of the boxes I'd made for him in my mind, even as he did in life, popping up in unexpected places. An avocado popping out my sandwich, neatly sliced and perfect for his fingers. Television shows I used to "watch" with him returning to the airwaves, everything back from the summer but James. Holidays, over and over again. More blocked facebook feeds of kids exactly his age than I can remember.

It would be incorrect to say I stopped running. It would be more appropriate to say I collapsed, exhausted. My self-induced fog began to lift, and I saw the world clearly. I cannot say I particularly liked what I saw. The fragmented bits of my world matched up much less clearly, and with less purpose, than they had before. Having the entire context of your life shift suddenly and without warning is disorienting and not particularly pleasant. I spent a long time angry about that. I spent more time sad about it.

In the end, it settles. Not settles in the sense that it's ok, or not horrific in some way, but settles in the sense that it is not actively debilitating when it hits you. Loss of any kind, especially the loss out of order of someone you love, is not a wound that heals. Closure is an impractical and misplaced goal. James is not a torn ACL, something a surgery and a few months of rehab will set right without further ado. You live with it. Your only choice is how you choose to do that. Twenty years from now, I will still love my son and miss him very much. It is very likely that I will think about him everyday until the day I die. I can choose either for that to be the saddest part of my day or a bright spot. James never brought me anything but joy. I wouldn't trade having him, even for the short time we did, for the world.

I receive a lot of messages from people who are losing, or who have lost, their children. I cannot say I understand their pain completely. Each child, and each loss, is different. I would never presume to know their experience. People sometimes ask me what I did. So I thought I'd say. I'm not particularly proud of running. Given a chance to start over, I'd probably do a lot of things differently. Of course, no one chooses this in the first place.

Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gray for May

I'm far too late in posting this, but May is Brain Cancer awareness month. The color is gray, as in gray matter. I tend to think brain cancer is rather underreported. Of course, I'm biased. That said, cancer is the leading cause of death of children under the age of 14 and pediatric brain cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in children. Approximately 4200 children are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year. If you have time this month, tell someone about it.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Here's a picture of James playing in his bouncy/multi-station playpen. I loved watching him play in this. It combined his two passions, slapping things and bouncing. The toy was made for much older children but James tried it out before the recommended age guidelines. He always soared well ahead of his various developmental targets, and this just seemed like another one. In retrospect, it's only fitting that he hit his milestones early, as he had so few to hit. I loved watching him play with this toy, Kara took a video of him watching the dogs fight from it. It's one one of my favorites.

A few days ago I looked up James' great-grandfather, my grandfather and James' namesake, James Edward Sikes, Sr. I tried a google search just to see what would happen, and much to my surprise, he came up on something called findagrave, which is possibly the most morbid website ever. There he is along with my grandmother, who died exactly a year before James. Kara was pregnant with James when she died, and one of the last things I said to her before she died was that I told her I was going to name my son James, after her husband. She could no longer speak, but she squeezed my hand and met my eyes for a moment, pleased. She died the next morning. I like to think they were waiting for James when he died.

Even more interestingly, along with the findagrave link helpfully letting the entire universe know where he is buried there's his obituary, fresh from 2003. I wrote it. I remember when I wrote it. Like James, he got sick all at once and died shortly thereafter. I did not arrive in time to be with him, which I regret. My brother and I were his only grandchildren. I remember welcoming my grandmother back at his house in after he died, when she and my father came home from the hospital. She buried her face in my chest and cried, saying over and over again that "He loved you so much." I never doubted that. I do not know why writing the obituary or giving the eulogy fell on me but it did, so I did. I did the same for my grandmother, and sure enough, there's her obituary as written by me, right alongside his. Interestingly, findagrave also serves as an impromptu geneaology site. I can click on my great grandfather, Arnold Larkin, the exception to the James rule, all the way back to James Franklin Sikes, my great-great-great-great grandfather. Perhaps more disturbingly, someone has taken the time to go to Sikes (as a rule, one should not visit Sikes) and actually take pictures of these people's tombstones. Somehow, the obituaries follow back all the way until James Warren Sikes, Sr., my great-great-great grandfather who died in 1925. The florid language reeks of 1925, invoking the silent call of the "death angel" to Sikes, Louisiana.

You cannot follow findagrave all the way from my grandfather to his son James Edward, Jr. to James Matthew to James Camden. I suspect that my father and I are inconveniently alive, but the process will be resolved following my death when I join James in Denton. I did not write an obituary for James. I buried him in the poplar casket we picked out a few days before, the one most like a little boy and least like a baby. I did not want to bury a baby. It seemed demeaning. He was a person. James was already playing with the big boy toys, afterall. Google reveals an obituary, a boilerplate web posting by the funeral home we hired when he died that gets my name wrong and provides dates for the service with a play lock letter background, to make clear its for a baby I suppose. I am sure they asked if we wanted to write one. I am sure we declined. I do not remember. I do not remember much about the days after he died. When I wrote my grandparent's obituaries, the trouble was always with punctuation. The appropriate way to write survived by, etc., etc. Semicolons or commas? A host of nieces and nephew. I'm sure I used that phrase. What would I say about James, survived by three Uncles, no cousins, five great-grandparents, four grandparents, and two parents? Just as well I didn't bother.

The act of the obituary celebrates. It memorializes the life of the deceased, referencing the accomplishments and the family- the survivors- of the one who has passed. In James' cases of course no such memorial exists. James died without survivors except for his ancestors. He died without cousins, siblings, or anyone of his generation. I rather think that's not the idea of an obituary, From these old ones, they give a path as to what happened, rather than what did not. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews. There is no movement in the opposite direction. 

Strange things like this pop up when you lose a child. The template fails you. I remember answering questions at the funeral home after he died. Education level? You actually just asked me if my eight month old son graduated high school? He did not. Yes, less than junior high. That sounds right. There's no place for it in the pantheon of grief, a fact reflected in all of the standard fare grief literature. Celebrate life, they say. How do you celebrate a life that never got off the ground? I wonder these things, and I wonder if I shouldn't have written James an actual obituary.

I wonder a lot of things.  To me, an obituary provides a bit of finality to the community, who may open up their Sunday paper and watch their acquaintances go, one by one, with all the details of life conveniently congregated in one place. With James, its more personal. Sometimes it gives me comfort to think of James with his family, my grandparents and Kara's. Other times I just feel bitter, wondering if we aren't a few obituaries or a findagrave link short. Mostly of course, I just miss him, playing and slapping the dials on his toy, fascinated by the different sides of it. You miss all of the small things. The big picture is too uncertain to dwell upon.

Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.