Happy Birthday. You should be sixteen today. We should be going to the DMV to get your driver’s license. You should be a sophomore in high school. I wonder if we would have figured out a way to give you a car for your birthday?
I wonder if you would still be in band. Would you have gone to homecoming a few weeks ago? Would you still be a straight A student? What would you want to do when you grow up, at this point in your life?
We’ll never know. And I need to stop with the what ifs, because all that does is lead down a rabbit hole of misery, and I’m getting better at avoiding that particular path.
Your sister’s doing well. She’s really quite beautiful, and intelligent, and is gaining confidence, although she’s still reserved, still prefers to hide in the background instead of take center stage. Sometimes I wonder if she’s hiding behind your ghost or if this is really, truly the personality she’d have even if you were still here.
I remember one year ago today, writing you a letter and telling you it doesn’t get any easier. But that’s not really the case anymore. It’s been two and a half years since you left us, and we’ve found our routine as a family of three. We’re making it through life, finding joy despite our loss.
You’re always there, of course, a constant reminder in my heart, but I’ve mostly learned to divert my thoughts when those emotional waves start crashing. It’s only fair, right? Just because you died doesn’t mean I should stop living.
Wow, it sounds so selfish when I actually write it down, instead of chant it like a mantra in my head.
I dreamt about you, about eight six or eight weeks ago. I haven’t told many people because I wasn’t handling it very well. It was such an intense dream, so real that I can still describe the red shirt you were wearing, the crooked smile on your face, your mused blond hair.
You had come back, but it was temporary. Like an extra chance to say goodbye, I guess. I knew what was going on, but you didn’t—you didn’t know that you had died or that you were going to leave us again soon—so you didn’t understand why I kept hugging you and couldn’t stop crying.
Suffice to say, it was the hardest day I’ve had in quite a while. I’m not sure what it was about, the reasoning behind it. Lord knows I have zero desire to relive those few days after your death, even though I often do because, well, sometimes you just can’t help thinking about the point when your life took a sharp turn no one saw coming and frankly, no one ever wanted to happen. There’s a logical order to this thing called life, and you threw it all out of whack, and we’re left here to figure out how to journey down this new path. Without you.
It’s only the second time I’ve dreamt about you since you died. The first was a few months after your funeral, and you were a toddler in that dream. That one felt more like a picture show of memories in my head, whereas this one was, well, real.
Except it wasn’t.
So anyway, your birthday is here, the beginning of what used to be my favorite time of year. Your birthday, followed by Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. I suppose it still is my favorite time of year, but like everything else in my life now, it’s different. Until you died, I loved the idea of creating traditions, anticipating doing the same thing each year, like pumpkin carving together or hunting for the perfect Christmas tree or taking the annual Christmas morning family pic in our pajamas.
Now I struggle, because I don’t want to give up those traditions, but it hurts to do them; the memories of years past are still too potent. We’ve compromised on a fair number of them, mostly by changing the tradition just enough that it’s similar but not the same.
We’ve started exploring different pumpkin patches and apple orchards than the same one we went to year after year when you were babies. We found a new Christmas tree farm two years ago, too, and actually, I think we are going to try another new place this year. The Christmas morning pic has been a group selfie since you’ve been gone. So while I’m still capturing that memory, it’s more relaxed, goofy even. Just different enough to allow me to get through and even find some joy.
Because, like I remind myself on a daily basis, we’re all still living.