On the street, there are only a few signs of life this morning. I am awake early, a night of tossing and turning. Insomnia, I guess. It's "that" time of year. I walk outside to get the morning paper, greeted by a pair of doves collecting twigs to build a nest. This gives me reason to smile on an otherwise uncertain day.
Caught in my annual grief relapse, tethered to that moment in time when everything in our lives changed, I wonder how can it be 10 years, an entire decade since we lost our son, Alex. Friends have been especially kind lately, knowing the day was approaching, going out of their way to send cards filled with love messages, texts that read, "Thinking of you." Many, I imagine, are silently quizzing themselves about how we will cope, manage, on such an unhappy anniversary.
When this column goes to print, I will be in Seattle, Wash. Months ago, I was invited to speak at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's annual conference about the making of our book, "Griefland," and the process of co-authorship. It's odd knowing I'll be out of town on the actual date, July 17, but Dan was rather insistent I accept the invitation, saying it would be a fine way to honor our son's memory. Alex, after all, was the catalyst for my book-writing. He's right, I know, but as the day approaches, I feel my heart nose-diving toward my feet, the ground quivering as if there is an earthquake in progress.
Joggers and cyclists, oblivious to my state of mind, smile as they carry out their early morning routines while I cross Friant Road en route to Highway 41 South heading toward the airport. Some are holding Starbucks coffee cups, others talking on cellphones, a large pack holding leashes and trying to keep pace with frisky pets. The road is full of travelers. The summer heat I normally love is an irritant this morning as I wish for it to pass, bringing cooler temperatures and another season — one with less angst attached.
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Yesterday, I received an email that caught me off guard. Its tone was somber and tentative, from a long-time friend whose notes generally bring a smile to my face. She writes that a childhood friend is grieving the sudden loss of a son and wonders if maybe my book might help. She also asks if I will inscribe it with words of encouragement. A message of hope from one mother to another. I'm still wondering what I'll write. That the ache dulls with time? That the journey feels like a blindfolded walk through a dark and dangerous wilderness? That I'm still crashing into walls after 10 years? My pen will write, "I'm so sorry that you're here."
Across the country, in Boston, a father writes about the steady trickle of mail that arrives almost daily, addressed to his son who died 21/2 years ago. The postal service, IRS, banks and credit card companies, even colleges and universities, are unknowing of our losses. Like me, he keeps every envelope, each solicitation, welcoming their arrival as if to suggest our kids might be hiding around the corner and about to find their way home any minute now. The mail stacks up.
There is no equator line when it comes to pain and suffering. It knows no ZIP code, transcends the rural and urban boundary lines, and is color blind to race and ethnicity. The outer landscape of our lives paints a diverse portrait with varying background scenery — more smooth lines and pastels used on some; more vivid, lively and attention-getting colors on others, but no one, I have learned, goes unscathed.
During the past few weeks, I have reread the early grief journals stored high in my closet and carrying words I was too scared to read until now. I have also scavenged through boxes of notes and letters, printed out emails from members of this unlikely cemetery club to which I am now a lifetime member. Nancy. Gail. Terri. Octavia. Liz. Dakota. Robin. Christine. Kristine. Karin. Sue. Pearl. There are so many of us holding vigil, leaving the porch lights burning, hoping our kids will show up, come home. For all of us, life was normal and then, suddenly, it was not.
Ten years is a very long time. I should be better at this by now, but I am still fumbling through my grief. The air still hurts. I am terrified his face will fade from my memory. Drowning myself in writing, I befriend the silence that arrives this time of year. Some may feel that this is a moment, a memory, too personal to share. But those who know me will know it is a writer sharing her truth and being human. A column without a bow tied at the end.
My mother will call me later today to make sure my plane landed safely and gently tell me the words were too harsh, too sad for her to read. I will convince her I'm better now that my thoughts are on paper. And then I'll hang up and cry.