A Flare of Grief for Mother’s Day

It’s been six years since I lost my son.

For six years I’ve been strong, and all of a sudden I’m just so… exhausted.

I don’t know why it’s hitting me so hard this particular Mother’s Day weekend. Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly why.

I’ve been plugging along fairly consistently for a while. The triggers have faded from triggering uncontrollable crying bouts to simply pulling up bittersweet memories. I can look at pictures and smile. Not for too long, but hey, that’s a big step from being almost entirely unable to even glance at an image of my son’s face for years and years.

It started yesterday, Friday morning, with a quick check of Facebook. Facebook, in all its infinite wisdom, now puts memories at the top of my feed, at the beginning of each day. And there it was, an image of Brady, grinning at the camera, happy, no trace of his demons clouding his eyes.

I couldn’t even look at it for two seconds. I had to darken my phone, put it off to the side. Sit and catch my breath. Wait for my heart to stop racing.

Once upon a time, those reactions were entirely commonplace and I had gotten so used to them it was just part of the process of getting through the day, like drinking a glass of water or putting clothes on, letting the dog outside. This one blindsided me because they aren’t so commonplace anymore.

All those articles and books and blogs are right; the grief doesn’t go away, you don’t get over it, but you do learn to live with it. You adjust mentally (and if you don’t or can’t, I strongly recommend talking to a grief counselor because their purpose in this world is to help you manage this stuff), come up with ways to balance the grief with living life. I’ve seen a picture depicting grief; it was like a wound that, with time, had scarred over. The area will always be sensitive, but a protective layer had grown over it, so it wasn’t a raw, gaping wound anymore.

I was fine for the rest of the day on Friday, mostly. Yes, I peeked at Facebook again, even posted pictures of my spring flowers. And then I caught a glimpse of a headline about getting through Mother’s Day while grieving (although probably the article was about dealing with the loss of one’s mother, but grief is grief and “getting through” isn’t all that different, if the person you’ve lost was someone very dear to you), so I shut it down again.

And then this morning hit.

You see, my daughter, who was once the youngest and is now, absolutely against her will or choice or desire, the only child, was scheduled to take the SAT this morning. She’s wrapping up her junior year in high school. We’ve started looking at colleges; she’s giving serious consideration to going out of state for school. Next year is it, her senior year. And then she’ll be gone. Not in the same way, of course, but still…

She asked me to drop her off so she wouldn’t be stressed out before the test, driving, trying to find a place she wasn’t familiar with.

She’s so self-aware these days. So grown up. Even the fact that she’s looking at a university that is eight hours away attests to how much she’s grown in the last six years.

Last night we went through the checklist of supplies to bring, the rules about phones, when to arrive, when it would be over. She woke up without issue, she was ready to go before it was time, she even worked on a few practice problems before we headed out.

Like the rules follower she is.

Except I don’t know if that is the way it was supposed to be.

Six years ago, she wasn’t a rules follower, in fact, she was the epitome of a youngest child; she did whatever she wanted, with a fairly blatant disregard for whether it was right or wrong. She wasn’t a troublemaker, but neither was she someone who would get up without complaint to take a test on a Saturday morning—not even counting practicing ahead of time.

What she was, was a Brady-follower. And he was a rules follower.

I drove straight from the testing site to my son’s grave, and then I sat there and cried bitter tears. It was the first time in a while that I wished and wished and wished… and got angry over what I cannot have. Two children. The chance to watch them both grow up and leave me (the far less permanent kind of leaving, I mean). If I hadn’t lost one of my children to death, I wouldn’t be so desperately afraid of losing my other to…a few hundred miles of distance.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six years, convincing myself that our little family of three is fine, that we’re surviving, that we’re thriving, even. Today, I was angry that we even had to figure out how to forge this new path. Usually, I simply appreciate how well we’re managing; today I desperately resented that we have no idea what it was supposed to be like. What should have been.

As it turns out, it isn’t at all surprising that this Mother’s Day is hitting me particularly hard. I’m grieving the loss of my son, and I’m fearing the loss of my daughter.

Note: I borrowed the above image from this article.

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