Handprints in our Home
Boxing up our son’s room was one of the hardest afters we faced in child loss.
I caught my husband cleaning it in the weeks past his death and made him stop. He was trying to help but I wasn’t ready. Even the dust was special to me.
Austin’s room and things were all I had left of him. Some nights I crawled into his bed and listened to his playlist through headphones. Sobbing into his pillow, his hoodie covering my shoulders, I could almost imagine him hugging me. And his scent still lingered in the room.
Months passed, as I tidied and packed things away in spurts, leaving traces of him behind. Three years after, we were forced to finish his room quicker than planned, when our niece landed unexpectedly on our doorstep.
This time, my husband couldn’t do it. He walked out in tears. Alone in Austin’s room, I cried with every piece I put away. It was as if I was saying goodbye all over again.
His closest was large so most totes were stuffed to the back. My intention was to eventually move them to storage but life proceeded, spaces were filled, and the timing never seemed right.
All these years later, there are still handprints of him in our home. Things that have remained. And probably always will.
One is a sign that hangs in the hallway. It’s a parking sign, probably a keepsake from some souvenier shop. In bright red letters it says, “Austin’s parking only – all others will be towed”. It’s even lopsided, either from the haphazard way he hung it, or the many scuffles he and his brother, Noah, had between their rooms.
Pictures of him remain on the wall. He is forever young, while the rest of us age and change around him. One of his baseball bats still by the backdoor. Keepsakes he bought us scatter throughout. A quilt made from his favorite t-shirts is draped over our couch. In the driveway, his actual handprint sealed in concrete, from an extension we added shortly after moving in. A little bit of Austin is tucked into the corners of just about every room of our home. But at times he seems so long and far away, as if a bit of him fades each year.
Seasons change, years passed, and his room became empty. His brother purchased a pool table and asked to put it in there. Once again sounds of happiness was heard from his room and, when all three of us gather there, I feel a strong sense of Austin, as if he’s smiling down. When littles or Noah’s friends come to visit, it is often where you’ll find them.
I’ve contemplated bringing out some of his things and hanging on the walls for decorations. But a part of me isn’t sure I can handle unpacking the memories that will come flooding back. For now, I’m grateful that opening his door doesn’t bring the pain that once filled the space. The emptiness of his room has been replaced with life and laughter.
Austin would’ve wanted it that way.