Today is my son’s birthday. If he were still alive, he’d be nineteen.
He’d probably be in college, although I have no idea where he might have ended up. Somewhere that has a good computer programming or maybe engineering school, if his interests and abilities at thirteen were any indication.
I took the day off. Took a “mental health day” from the day job and had no expectations of myself, other than to go visit his grave.
Which was how I started the day. Well, after dropping my daughter at school. She’d left the radio station on “The Blend,” a Sirius XM station that plays the most sappy, depressing music, or so it feels when you’re grieving.
So naturally I was crying before I even turned into the cemetery. Which was okay. It was still twilight, and there was no one around, and that’s what cemeteries are for. If you can’t cry there, they’re doing something wrong.
He’s buried next to this tiny, burbling stream, with a wooden foot bridge built nearby. It’s really quite peaceful, but I suppose most cemeteries are. I like to visit early in the morning, when no one else is there. I hear stories about people who have met others who were grieving, while at the cemetery, and how they became lifelong friends, but I’m not interested in that. I’m happy with the friends I have and that is the one place I am comfortable grieving all by myself. I prefer it, actually.
Ultimately, I spent the day writing, which isn’t a big surprise. When I write, I get fully immersed in a world that is not this one, and I can forget, for a few hours, that I now have one child instead of two. It’s always a little jarring when I surface from that make-believe world, but dear God, it’s so lovely while I’m there.
Today, I surfaced long enough to take the dog for a walk and pick my daughter up from school, and make a quick trip to the grocery store for a dinner that wouldn’t require a great deal of prep. No stress, that’s my motto today.
Well, no stress above and beyond the grief, that is right there in the forefront, demanding a place of honor on this day that should be all about celebrating.
Now it’s early evening, the daughter has gone to work, the husband is locked in his office, pouring himself into his job, and I’m sitting on the front porch, enjoying an incredible, unseasonably warm, late October day. (I’m in shorts and a T-shirt, in Michigan, in late October. Tell me that’s not almost impossible to believe.)
The dog is chilling, lying in the grass, soaking up the sun, fantasizing that I’ll forget the time and feed her dinner an hour early. Except if I do that, she’ll stick her nose in my face at five a.m. tomorrow morning, demanding breakfast, and no, thank you.
I’m on my laptop, typing away at this interesting romantic suspense I had no idea I would be writing, but hey, you all will get to reap these benefits, hopefully in a few months.
And then I pause, glance up from the screen to work out some complicated scene in my head, and there, perched next to my feet, which are resting on the porch railing, is a dragonfly.
Seemingly not significant, but let me explain.
My son died in March, 2016. That following summer, we went on our annual week-long vacation with my brother and his family. My sister-in-law and I were out on the lake, lounging in floaties, enjoying the glorious summer day, and yeah, the cloak of grief rested heavily on us; it had only been a few months by that point. Although, newsflash: that stupid cloak drapes over everything, every single miniscule moment of my life, and will, I am sure, until my life ends. That’s one aspect of grieving I don’t think is talked about enough: the constant battle between grief and enjoying life, because after all, we are still living.
Anyway, as we were floating in the lake, a dragonfly flitted up and landed on my knee, hanging out there for long, long moments.
“It’s Brady,” my sister-in-law said, sounding awed and excited.
“Huh?” For a scant second, my grief-addled brain thought he was back, he’d never died, it was all a terrible, terrible joke…
“Dragonflies have an extra set of wings so our loved ones can come down from heaven to visit us. Look,” she said, pointing, “it’s blue.”
Brady’s favorite color.
I canted my head. “You think so?” I wanted to believe. Oh, how I desperately wanted to believe.
“I know so,” my sister-in-law said, with a whole lot of conviction. And then she fell quiet, and we both floated there, watching the dragonfly, who was awfully darn content to just hang out there on my knee.
“Hi,” I finally whispered, and he flew away, and the spell was broken. I blinked away the tears and turned to gaze out at the lake, really glad my sister-in-law seemed to understand I wasn’t ready to laugh and joke like we had been doing before our little friend visited.
And then he came back. He hung out with us for a long time that afternoon. It was probably minutes, but it felt like so much longer.
And you know what? That beautiful, sparkly blue dragonfly did give me a little bit of peace that day.
And he continues to do so, every summer.
Every year, we vacation on the lake, and every year, he makes an appearance. Usually a blue one, but there’ve been green and gold ones too.
I’ve never had a visit from a dragonfly in October before. Typically, it’s too damn cold by now. And yet, today, this little guy dropped down to perch on the porch, next to me, and like that first one back in 2016, he seemed awfully darn content to just hang out for a while.
And I was awfully darn content to just let him.