Growing up, I didn’t really understand much about Golden Birthdays. I am a September 30th birthday, so it really didn’t seem to make much of a difference… it was so far off. By the time I finally turned 30, I was married, great job, nice house, pregnant with my first… I had everything I ever hoped for.
Getting all we ever hope for is a complicated thing. You can have everything you could ever imagine… and in a split second, it can be gone.
Benjamin, my first was born in November 2008.
On April 11, 2011, Alex was born.
I had everything I ever dreamed of. Two boys and my life was perfect. I had fulfilled everything I ever wanted.
Two months later, Alex died on June 9, 2011. I put him down for a nap and he never woke up.
This was 11 years ago. It has become a reality I have had to deal with, and a terrible experience I have tried to forget. Having two sons in my arms was *also* one of the most wonderful times in my life. The whole thing is very confusing and hard to process.
Fast forward 11 years to our lives now. Benjamin is 13. Molly is 9, and Emily is 7. One step in our stairs is missing, and life with our kiddos is *also* full and busy. We have unimagined joy, tears as you expect them, and lots of laughter.
It is hard for me to reconcile the differences between what I thought our life would be and what it is now. Two boys is different from what we are now.
Two boys is shared clothes, and playing baseball in the yard.
Two boys is flashlight tag at night, and wrestling after bedtime.
Two boys is a blue bathroom, with coordinating dinosaur towels.
Two boys is legos forever, and easier agreement on TV shows.
Three kids is also great. There is wrestling, and towels, and TV shows… Just different.
Sometimes I feel like I fill my life so full so there isn’t any room for sadness. I schedule the time so there’s no gaps for grief. And a Golden Birthday comes up and I’m not sure what to do.
I want to take a mental health day. I want to check out of my life and just have 24 hours to celebrate a life. To take stock of how this all feels. And there is never any time.
The kids have positive associations with Alex’s birthday. They think about birthday candles and birthday plates and cupcakes. They want to release balloons up to him in heaven, and giggle and sing him happy birthday.
And sometimes it is hard for me to get there. Just under the surface, there is still so much sadness that it surprises me. I feel like it froze over the years. It’s like ice that I can walk on, and glide over. It is cold, but sometimes beautiful. The ice is peaceful and serene. The ice has hardened under my feet, and I take confidence in how it supports me. It is strong and solid underneath.
On his birthday, the ice thaws instantly and gobbles me up. Within seconds, I go from sliding on ice to drowning, and the world is wet and dark.
Even the tears are painful. They feel like little icicles stabbing from the inside. My head pounds and I’m just shaking my head in wonderment.
How am I back here again?
I fought my way out of this darkness. I swam my way to the top and I froze all of this to make it manageable, and to live my life.
And in an instant, the whole world is wrong again.
I don’t have PTSD about tucking the kids in for bed.
I don’t have arresting anxiety when I check on them at night.
I have fought my way through all of that to come out on the other side.
What I do have is grief so profound that it can take my breath away in a single instant.
What I have is complete and utter confusion about what to do with all of this.
Our lives were different 11 years ago.
Our friends were different 11 years ago.
What I don’t have is a way to explain to people in my life today, how complicated the last 11 years have been.
Elements of coping with Alex’s death were easier years ago… when I could let go and people would know what was wrong.
This time of the year is confusing. The change of seasons brings so much joy to winter, and yet these warmer temps remind me of our joy before the loss.
I am still a mother of four. I still birthed and nursed four beautiful babies. One of those babies lives only in my memory, and that creates a pain too powerful to explain and too deep to ignore.
On his golden birthday, I choose to remember him as a sweet, snuggly baby who would make little piggy noises when he ate. We will have cake and sing, and I will do my best, knowing some days I will glide, and some days I will drown.