When your child dies before you do . . . so many things in life shift in a way you would never have thought possible. There is nothing that isn’t affected in some manner. Everything you see, hear and feel passes through your new reality. Slowly, you start to accept you’ll never be the same again.
I remember the last birthday I had while my daughter was still alive. In my early forties, I lamented the fact that I was probably about half way through my life. Only forty years left to watch my children build lives for themselves. Marry and have their own children. Four decades to spend loving my grandchildren. Not enough time left. Eleven months and three weeks later that all changed.
My first birthday after losing Becca was eight days after she was killed. Four days after her funeral. Thinking back, I can’t remember if we even celebrated. I can’t imagine we did. Or maybe we tried in an attempt to keep things normal for my twins. I don’t know. What I do remember is thinking that I had too much time left to live without her here with me. Forty years to live in tortured anguish without my daughter. The thought of four decades in front of me was too much to bear. How would I make it that long?
I understand now why birthdays are for the young. As we grow older, losses are gathered along the way. Suddenly, joyous occasions have another depth to them. A sadness that can’t be ignored. Joy and sorrow become inseparable companions. Where there is one you will always find the other. It’s just the way it is now.
This is just one of the thousands of ways life changes after the loss of our child. We try to be happy when we know it’s what others expect from us. Our sadness is kept at bay for as long as we can manage. Sometimes it’s for an entire day. Other times, just a few minutes. Grief is different from moment to moment. And this is o.k. There is no manual to help us navigate this new way of life.
In three and a half hours I am entering my 52nd year of life. Would my daughter recognize me now? I’m grayer. A bit more wrinkled. I walk a little more slowly each morning. I go to bed earlier. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I have bifocals. What would she think of the older me?
Another shift occurred recently. Somewhere deep inside, a voice that I hadn’t heard in a while, spoke up. Whispering, weak from lack of use, it said “pay attention . . . you only have thirty or so years left”.
I hope I hear this voice more often.