An Open Letter to my Son on his Birthday

Dear Brady,

Happy birthday up there in heaven. Seventeen today.

To be honest, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to celebrate your birthday anymore (in the normal way, not the obligatory-visit-to-the-gravesite way). For your last birthday before your death, we went out to dinner with the extended family, and then we headed to the cellular phone store to get you your first phone. You’d outgrown parties by your thirteenth birthday. Would we still have celebrated in the same way this year?

I no longer have the ability to picture the ‘what ifs.’ I can’t imagine what you’d look like, I can’t figure out what your personality would be like. I can’t even determine what our lives would be like, if you were still with us.

You’ve been gone that long.

Well, really, it hasn’t been long at all. Three and a half years. But the thing is, when you’re living, it is a long time.

So much has stayed the same: I’m still working in the same place, we still have Kaya, and she still insists on going for a walk every single day (except when it’s raining). We still live in the same house and a lot of the same pictures still hang on the walls.

And yet, just as much has changed. Your dad started a new career. Your grandpa moved back home. I know every single day he wishes he’d done it a year sooner, so you could have been around. There’s a new family portrait hanging over the fireplace, missing one key component, unfortunately. We hadn’t meant to have one done but the sitting fell into our laps so we did it. Carrying on and all that.

Your sister’s in high school now. She went to homecoming and she looked beautiful and had a great time. She’s doing wonderful in school, really blossoming. And she’s starting to notice boys (I wonder how you would have reacted to that).

Your bedroom is now a catch-all for everything we didn’t have room for before: it’s where the dog crate is now, and we moved a bookshelf in there, and I’ve taken over your dresser with my clothes. To be honest, I have no idea where the heck I kept all those clothes before.

We don’t use the basement much anymore because we don’t need to. This house is the perfect size for a family of three.

Family of three.

I don’t know if I ever told you that after you were born, I didn’t want to have any more children. I hated being pregnant and your labor and delivery was horrible, plus the whole anesthesiologist forgetting to give me pain meds after the C-section bit.

That’s another ‘what if’ game I prefer not to play.

Yesterday, your sister told me I needed to be happy for the years we got to spend with you, instead of focusing on what we’ll never get to share with you. She’s wise beyond her years, that one. I’m infinitely proud, and yet I hate that she has become so wise, because if she had never experienced the trauma of losing her brother, she wouldn’t even have to think about choosing to be happy.

Well, we’re off to the pumpkin patch today. One of many traditions we’d shared with you and then had to decide whether to carry on after you were gone. So much of life after loss is forcing yourself to find joy despite the shadow of grief that’s always there, always hovering.

Happy birthday, son. As always, I desperately hope you’ve found the peace you couldn’t obtain while you were here with us.

Love always, Mom

Me and Brady

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