It’s been three years. You should be sixteen, driving, wrapping up your sophomore year in high school. Thinking about college, maybe working a part-time job, any number of what everyone else sees as inane activities.
Instead, you’re a pile of ashes buried next to a stream, under a maple tree, with a lake nearby, over which there is a glorious fireworks display each July Fourth.
We chose that location on purpose, you know. You were obsessed with fireworks when you were alive, so it seemed appropriate.
I started this horrible anniversary with a visit to your gravesite. Stood over the bolder with your named etched into it and asked you to pull some strings and help take care of Grandma, because she’s really sick right now and I’d like her to hurry up and start feeling better.
After chatting with you for a while, I came home and immersed myself in a book, because losing myself in pretend worlds where I can dictate the happy ending is so much easier to manage on a day like today.
And then your sister texted me, asked me to send her pictures of you. Specifically pics of the two of you together. I didn’t tell her so, but man, what a tough task she set me to. So many grieving people find solace in perusing old photos, recalling the memories, reliving the glory days or at least the happy moments. Unlike me, who just gets sad, because those happy moments are all I’ll ever have, when we’re supposed to be creating new ones. Today shouldn’t have any significance at all in our lives, and yet, it marks the day I stopped looking at old photos with a fond smile on my face and instead do it with a tear in my eye. Or many, truth be told.
I did what she asked, though, because it’s for her, and even though she does a much better job at hiding it than I do, I know she’s grieving too. I know she misses you, misses the life we had before.
I found quite a few pictures of the two of you with your arms draped around each other’s shoulders, grins on your faces. Once upon a time, you were happy, you did enjoy your life. You cannot imagine how many times since you left that I’ve wished I could have pinpointed when that shift happened, so we could have intervened before the demons convinced you that leaving us all behind was the optimal option.
What if, what if, what if.
I don’t know what will happen over the course of the rest of the day. We don’t have any plans, beyond picking your sister up from school. Your dad will, I assume, want to go visit you. I’m not sure if your sister will. She used to, during the first year, but since then, she’s avoided that particular task when at all possible.
I don’t blame her. All that obligation does is slap us in the face with the reality of our new lives: We’re now a family of three, through no choice of our own.
Even though I hate that you’re gone, I hope you’ve found the peace you couldn’t reach while you were here, with the rest of us. I hope the afterlife is as wonderful as we all want to believe.
In my head, I like to think that you’re perpetually on summer vacation. Because some of the best memories we shared were when we spent the last week of July living in a house next to a sandy bottom lake somewhere in northern Michigan. Swimming, lounging, sitting around the campfire, playing cards, shooting off fireworks…just relaxing.
That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you, for us.
I love you, Brady. I will always love you.