I want to say thank you. Thank you for remembering me on my second birthday, September 19th. I know it must be hard for you and Mom, trying to celebrate when you miss me so much. It must be hard trying to explain to Madelyn and Jack that their brother appreciates the notes they sent to me. I can read and write (in Heaven, I’m not just the 4 day old kid you knew) so I know what they say. I think it was a good day, all in all, or at least as good a day as it could have been under the circumstances.
You celebrated me by taking personal days off from work and daycare, I did my best to say hello in the morning with the thunderstorm (I know Madelyn thinks I was playing extra hard because the thunder was so loud), you Built-a-Bear for me at the mall (I’ve named him Chance), went out to lunch (complete with cupcakes for the whole family), and finally, let some balloons go into the bright blue sky with notes of love tied to the balloon strings. Hopefully, the cemetery grounds crew will be so kind as to replace the bear on my headstone if the wind knocks it over. One can hope.
I appreciate it and thank you. It makes me happy to know that even though I’m not with you day in and day out I’m still part of the family.
But the reason I’m writing you today isn’t just to thank you although that is a major reason. I’m writing to you specifically, Daddy, to hold you to a promise you made to me on my birthday. Do you remember that promise?
You promised me two things—last year it was just one. You promised me that you would continue fighting for me but you also promised me that for the first time you would fight for yourself.
I’m here to tell you that I’m going to hold you to that promise.
Grandpa tells me that in your thirty two years on earth, you’ve never been in a fight. Well, I take that back–you’ve never thrown a punch he says. (There was that time in elementary school when you got punched in the nose during a kickball game but that’s a different story.)
I know you hate confrontation. And when I say hate, it’s not an exaggeration. Grandpa tells me that you would willingly walk ten miles just to avoid it, crack bad jokes at your own expense to lighten the mood or simply walk away from situations that have the slightest possibility of conflict. You’re not afraid to make a fool of yourself or take a backseat to anyone so you can avoid the elephant in the room. But that elephant doesn’t forget anything. That elephant haunts you.
You’ve never liked the idea of bringing it to the attention of others that you believe they’ve wronged you in some way. The way you’ve looked at it in the past—if they don’t care about you, then you don’t care about them and you will move on with your day. There’s no use in making a scene.
Until now, that’s been a serviceable, if not, convenient way to avoid your feelings. No more. Not now. You can’t keep that inside anymore and function the way you need to, the way Mom needs you to, the way I need you to. It’s not sustainable anymore.
I know my death has affected you. I know my life and death two years ago has become the cornerstone of the life you lead today. You see yourself differently. You see Mom differently. You see Madelyn and Jack differently. You see the world differently.
And over the last two years, you’ve become convinced that society doesn’t know how to deal with loss or with the dangerous chasm between pity and frustration. People will pity you with their cocked heads and raised eyebrows but they’ll also have expectations that you continue on like nothing happened, like you didn’t lose a part of your soul.
You’ve learned that someone who grieves is asked to walk a tightrope that is almost impossible to navigate. If you celebrate your lost child and milestone days for them throughout the year, you’re looking for attention. You’re not moving on. You need to seek counseling. If you don’t, you are cold and heartless or you’ve just lost all ability to have emotions of any kind.
Understandably, grief is an individualized journey with no end. People talk about those grieving like they’re damaged goods but then expect them to be unaffected. And if you do grieve, it needs to be on their terms, on their timeline, within their rules.
I know that you know that grief doesn’t work that way. You can’t live a life of measured correctness, where you never fully say how you feel, Daddy, because it leads to emptiness, misunderstanding, and resentment.
You have a voice, Daddy, and people can’t read your mind. Use it. You are in a fight, Daddy. There’s no getting past that now. And in this pacifist’s fight, I know you will win.