Today is your seventh birthday – a celebration of the day that you were welcomed into the world and the start of our family. Our house should be filled with your little friends, birthday presents, and balloons. You should be a gap-toothed first grader on a cupcake-fueled sugar high. Our family should be intact and our hearts unbroken.
But that’s not our reality.
Sometimes I feel like our time with you was spent in an alternate existence. Who your father and I were then – the dreams we had for you and the life we planned – seem so foreign to me now. We never considered a future that didn’t include you. That you would be born healthy was a basic assumption. That you would thrive and grow was a given. You were so wanted, and you were so perfect. Your birth was our beginning.
Looking back over the past seven years, I question if that day – January 8, 2009 – was the last day I was completely happy. I was so enthralled by the wonder of you. The absolute miracle of your birth. The precious first moments we shared as a family of three.
Certainly, I was very naïve then. While I generally knew that terrible things happened to innocent people, it didn’t occur to me that we could be those people. While I had heard stories of other mothers who lost babies too soon for too many reasons, I never considered that I could take the place of that mother and you that baby.
I worried about all of the wrong things. I agonized over how soon I’d have to return to full-time work. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to juggle my career and my responsibilities as your mom. That my love for you wouldn’t be enough to make up for the mistakes I’d surely make. But, as I held you close, your warm weight pressing against my chest and breathing in your milky baby smell, my fears would abate. You were the balm to my soul.
Never once in all of my anxiety-fueled musings, did I think my arms soon would be empty and that you would be forever gone. That you wouldn’t be here to celebrate any birthday, be it your first or your seventh, with us. That life, as I knew it, and our family, as I dreamed it, would be devastated. That we would have to find a way to begin again in your absence, a seemingly impossible task.
Which brings us to today.
Seven years is a long time to live without you, sweet boy. I’ve grown accustomed to the constant ache of grief and learned to function again despite it – that my heart will always hurt and my arms will always long for you is my truth. And, that acceptance has, at times, fooled me into thinking I’d gotten past the questions of what could have or should have been. But, the truth is, for as long as I live, I’ll wonder about the life you left behind. Today, I envision you as a tousle-headed boy with a cheeky grin and an answer for everything. I find solace in these daydreams. This reverie that only we can share.
And, then I wonder if you can see us now and if we are still recognizable to you. Everything is just so different. Our family of three is now a family of five. Your little brother and sister dash around our house, filling it with the cacophony of their happy play. Your father and I rush from one responsibility to the next, trying our best to manage the chaos. Our day-to-day life is fast-paced and often frenetic, in a way that it simply wasn’t when you were here.
After your SMA diagnosis, time almost seemed to slow down. We rarely left home, secluding ourselves to try to control the uncontrollable and to keep you safe. We had steadfast routines, and each day was filled with quiet order. The calm in the storm. You and I would cuddle together in our rocking chair for hours. Back and forth we’d go, the only movement in the stillness of the house, soothing both of us.
Right now, with your brother and sister at school, there is a similar moment of tranquility. And so I look for you in the quiet. I listen for your whisper of recognition. I close my eyes and picture us together once more, celebrating your birthday as we planned it long ago. I stroke your head, and I kiss your sweet face. And, I never want this fantasy to end.
Happy seventh birthday, son.
Loving you always and forever,