Sunday, July 16, 2017

Six Years Gone

This year felt different. Six years removed from the cataclysm, it occupies a new place in memory, farther removed than ever from the day to day concerns of every day life. What's for dinner? Did I remember to pay the water bill? These and the other tedious minutia of everyday occupy the more present parts of my mind. The grief and the horror are still there of course, on command I can call up the messy details of the final days or the more wonderful details of James life and be reduced to tears if I dwell on them, but they're less apt to burst onto the scene and kill a day, the feedback loop more controlled and less erratic. 

Just now, I thought of the TPN packets James was prescribed in hospice, after he was no longer able to eat. A milky and gelatinous fluid suspended in a bag, like mush specially distilled for the vein. We were advised that it was unsustainable to feed someone like this in the long run, a casual aside that meant nothing, because we no longer had a long run.  For the dying, everything is relative. I recalled that each one cost tens of thousands of dollars, and how in the great purge of all things medical from my home after he died, when I could no longer bear to see them, I tossed them in the trash bin outside, marveling for a moment at the sheer waste. I was told they could not be returned, and literally throwing tens of thousands of dollars into the bin struck me as an apt metaphor for the long line of futile interventions that defined our month of cancer. A thousand memories like that are kicking about. I remember the joy as well, of course, James crawling, laughing his way across the floor at the old house, refusing to use his legs. In many ways, my memories of James are some of the most vivid ones I have, because in my terror at losing them I have recycled them for years now on loop. But they're not playing all the time. Most of the time, I can control whether or not a certain memory or a certain thought ruins my day, week, or month. This is plainly progress, though I will admit a certain guilt about it. 

I still think of James everyday, of course. He is my son, and no less present with me in death than in life. I believe a certain part of each of us is reserved for the love we feel for our children, an irrevocable, involuntary emotion that cannot and does not disappear simply because death has deprived it of an outlet. It's an emotion and a love that's with me everyday, and I fervently hope that it's one James never doubted in life. Though I think of James everyday and carry this with me, I've made room for the water bill again. I've made room for to do lists and all the minutia that goes in to living, the humdrum banal acts that carry us forward on daily basis. It's not the same as it was before, it never will be, but I am past the point where I fear that I will simply be consumed by my grief, eventually broken down and rendered unable to function in any way. Nowadays, the passage of years and time has assured me that I will survive, even if I will never be the same or whole, because a piece of me will always be with James, and he isn't here. 

This anniversary, then, strikes me as the beginning of a new normal. The years continue to recede from when James was here. Last year, five years, was a significant anniversary. These next few are marking time, less milestones than realities, in the same way your birthday at 10 is a much bigger deal than at 32. How will I feel at Six? Seven? 17? They're all coming, and with them, more and more time will have passed since James was here. I remember the rawness of the first few anniversaries, but this is different, something else. There's a sensation of unreality, even, about it. Has it really been six years since I held my son? Since I hoped that he might smile at me, since I talked to him and ran my fingers through his angel soft hair? It most assuredly has. Life has gone on. I have gone on, and I will continue to. I will make grocery lists, pay the bills, go to work. The world, though I certainly wanted it to, did not stop for us when James left, when it made no sense for it to continue. 

It's easier to talk about him now, in fact I enjoy it (most of the awkwardness in these conversations accrues to the person who is not grieving) because it's good to talk about him as a living, breathing, wonderfully alive person. Everyone likes to talk about their kids, and James was a wonderful child. He was so much more than just a baby who got cancer and died, and I hate letting that be the only reason anyone ever talks about him. It used to take more out of me than it does now, even though I always enjoyed it. This is what progress looks like, I suppose. 

Nothing will ever be the same though. I have room for the grocery lists, but James' death means that were the grocery store to have burned down with everyone in it by the time I got there, I would not be surprised. Experiencing a great tragedy means that you cannot deny that great tragedies occur. You are robbed of the ability to drive past a horrific wreck on the highway and think it could never happen to you. You've been there. You know there's nothing special about you standing between you and catastrophe. You're not expecting the bottom to fall out, but you can't be surprised when it does. Bad things happen, not in the abstract, bad things happen to you and to your family. I never appreciated that innocence before, and having lost it, I cannot help but be envious of it. Grief, six years on, means that your loss still echoes, even if it no longer consumes you. It means knowing both that things will never be the same and never expecting them to. 

I take this day off every year when it's not a weekend and visit James. This is our day. We say hello, we talk. Everyone misses James and he was very loved. We're not going to forget him. No matter how many grocery lists we might remember. 

Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.


  1. Beautiful writing Matthew! He is still in our hearts and minds everyday.

  2. Every once in a while I track your blog down to see how you are. I followed your writing throughout your journey and it has impacted me in a way that I will never forget James' story. My son was born only 3 months before James and I grieved in your loss. I still have my giraffe pendant hanging in my car. Take care and know your family is still in my thoughts.

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  4. You always have such beautiful words for your sweet little boy. I think about you often.

  5. Just checking in on you...and Jamesie...


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