The birthday of our son is a little over a week away. It falls on a Saturday this year. Saturday’s are not good days for us. The new renters will move into his apartment this weekend. Our daughter is dreading it. She has worked so hard to prepare the place. Both she and her husband have worked on it.
One of our son’s fellow students from the Philosophy department picked up the books our daughter had carefully packed. Over 350 books that our son used in his studies during the past seven years will go to help form the departments library. My daughter called me in tears when they left.
The objects are just that, inanimate objects. He touched those spaces, those things and used them for himself. They are not our son, but it is very hard to part with those things.
We humans seem to be big into symbols. A diamond set in ring and placed on the left hand symbolizes love and a contract. The elements of that symbol separated from the emotion are just pretty shiny things.
Our son’s body was cremated. We had a gathering in his honor the week after his death, on a Saturday. There were people who wanted to attend from out of town, and since his body was cremated we were at liberty to plan the event to accommodate his friends.
His friends were important to him. If you were privileged enough to have him as your friend then you were fortunate indeed. Loyal, patient, a good listener, a thoughtful counselor, he did not pretend to know everything. If you were talking about something he knew was important to you, whether it mattered to him or not, he would give you his undivided attention. He did not belittle you when he recognized your concern, even if he felt your concerns trivial. He was a compassionate man. He was impatient with blatant insensitivity and would fiercely defend those he loved.
He spent a lot of time by himself. He read voraciously. He thought about things-all sorts of things, considered them carefully. He was quiet and private. Curious, seeking, willing to consider and take on new challenges; he found the world interesting. The natural world fascinated him as did the perceptions man had of the natural world.
What can I use to symbolize him? The pictures of his red-tail hawk and his little kestrel remind me of him along with his falconry books. They were just one facet on the stone. His rock climbing gear and shoes, and books on climbing are another. They are included whether I like them or not. His philosophy books are now going to their new home. His car with over 100,000 miles on it is being driven by his dad. I don’t know where his guitars are, I don’t know if he had been playing in the past few years. There is a growler with stickers from New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins. There are pictures of him smiling his lopsided smile, chin bristling with stubble, knitted cap on his head beside his buddies in front of some rocky backdrop. There is a framed diploma, that he never saw, beside the box that holds his ashes that says he earned his PhD. There is a stained cup. A piece of pottery that he used to drink his tea. There are boxes of his clothes. A computer whose battery won’t stay charged. His two dogs that now live with his sister. I can stack them up and glue them all together and none of them begin to encapsulate the man that he was.
There are times when I can hear his voice commenting on what I am doing. I can picture how he would react to certain situations. I can see him so clearly in my mind. It is hard to be here without him sometimes. Hard, but not impossible. Impossible to me would mean that all that he was, is all that I am too. He had facets I never saw. I do not know what the man was like when he was a “boyfriend.” I saw him as a brother, but he was not my brother. He was a huge part of my life, but he is not my life. He had a life of his own, which unfortunately has ended. I have a life of my own too. It was stitched together with his, as it is with my husband and daughter and friends. The threads are intact and I hope they have a lot of give so that I can continue to grow on.
In memory of him I do suduko puzzles and try to beat my time. I drink a cup of tea around 3:00 p.m. each day. I read more. I know these things sound like they are for me, but they are things I did with him, and do because he encouraged me to do so. I hope to hike more when the weather clears. I loved hiking with him. I am gathering my courage to travel.
My daughter is a reader too. I actually find her choice in literature more close to my own. I knit, she knits. She loves crossword puzzles. I am not good at that, but I am trying. She sends me funny internet videos and pictures of the dogs. There are unnoticed symbols that we share because we focus on each other since we still have each other.
It is with the passing of our son, her brother that we scramble to find all the scattered facets and put them together into something we can hang on to. It is a shame that we sometimes don’t realize the value of these things until loss presents the need.
I am not bragging, but I have always been a person who has celebrated my children. I am thankful for that. Watching them grow to become the people they are has been one of my favorite activities. I am totally smitten by them.
In the past few years it always seemed that my son’s birthday snuck up on me before I knew it. Coming just after the Christmas/New Year holidays it was always a struggle to figure out what to do for it. I don’t remember the last one I spent “with him.” He was in Colorado, or traveling, or in Ohio. No cakes, or special dinners were made. I usually sent something, or else he ordered something for himself that he particularly wanted. It was no big deal.
This February he would have passed the 30 year mark. That is a big one. When I had my 30th birthday, he was almost three.
I think my behavior, attitudes and choices that I have allowed my son to influence are the best memorial I can keep to him. The positive impact he made on my life for 29 years. My children have influenced me in ways no other people have. I think most parents would agree that this is true for them too.
There are more “things” we need to sort through. There is no hurry, and if it never happens while I am still here then so be it. Someone, when I am gone can box them up. Hopefully the things will have no significance to them. Strange impersonal comfort that gives me. Or maybe it is comfort in knowing that the symbols, the memories belong to those that have them in their own heart. We have that at least.