There are so many things that I should be doing right now – the laundry, dusting, vacuuming, and dishes among them – but Will is sleeping, Lucy is at school, and this rare moment of solitude is mine. The house, while messy, is quiet. I can think clearly and without interruption.
I’ve been melancholy lately. I guess it’s just that time of year – the summer of my discontent. As the hot sun rises in the morning sky, my mood begins to darken. Starting with Andy’s angel day in June and ending with SMA Awareness Month in August, the warm summer months leave me feeling cold.
Lately, even the simplest of things seem to frustrate and overwhelm me. The tears hide behind my eyes, constantly threatening to emerge at the slightest provocation. I fight to stay positive, but it’s exhausting. So here I am, more tired than usual and harder to please as I endure another hot and seemingly endless summer.
A season that my son Andy never knew.
While I miss Andy every day, I usually try not to dwell on the pain – the empty space in our lives and in my heart. But with the summer comes memories of his final days and all that was stolen from him – and from our family. I try not to think about the beaches he never visited and the pools in which he never swam. The day trips to the zoo or to the children’s museum that he never had the chance to take.
I try to focus on the blessings that I have – my husband, my surviving children, and this life we’ve created – but sometimes I just can’t. On days like today, our busy and mostly happy life has left me feeling frazzled, instead of fulfilled. I know that I need to take this moment to regroup and reconnect.
So I look at Andy’s pictures, losing myself in memories of him. I remember how it felt to hold him, his heavy warmth so different from his wiggly siblings. How he smelled of floral baby lotion, antiseptic hospital sheets, and milky formula. How the sound of his quiet cry broke my heart and how his squeaky laugh renewed my hope. How overcome I always was by the love reflected in his blue eyes and the pure joy in his smile.
I only had 20 weeks, 5 hours, and 13 minutes to spend with him. There are a finite number of pictures and videos – moments stolen from time and saved. Organized in folders on my computer in weeks numbered one through 19, these images span the singularly happiest moment in my life to the day that life as I knew it ended. As hard as I’ve tried to keep these memories alive, the details still are beginning to fade. Time is my worst enemy.
And, time also is my greatest ally – an incredible paradox that I struggle to understand. Because, even though the days that Andy was with us were fleeting, I had the privilege of spending each and every one with him. I had the honor of carrying him inside me and introducing him to the world. A world changed forever by his existence. Without our time together – however brief – I wouldn’t have this crazy, complicated, and beautiful life that I have now.
In the early weeks after Andy died, I honestly thought that I’d never know happiness again. As those weeks turned to months and now years, I’ve had to work hard to heal, slowing making my way through the stages of grief. In doing so, I made a conscious effort to find joy again and to give myself permission to feel it. I’ll never get over his loss, but I have learned to embrace life again – to live in a way that honors his memory. I couldn’t have done that without Andy.
Without Andy, I wouldn’t know how soul-satisfying it is to laugh through the tears. I wouldn’t understand that beauty and grace can live in some of the ugliest, most painful moments. I wouldn’t know how light and free I could feel after emerging from the depths of depression. I wouldn’t know the real promise of a new day, and why it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Without Andy, I wouldn’t be here, in this quiet hour, writing. I wouldn’t have given up my career, refocusing and reprioritizing my life around my family. I wouldn’t have stopped in the middle of a stressful day to notice the dragonflies. I wouldn’t have known how inconsequential the little every day dramas really are or have the ability to look past them to find and resolve the bigger issues.
Most importantly, without Andy, I wouldn’t be a mother at all. I wouldn’t have found my true purpose. I wouldn’t have realized – in bearing the weight of his journey – how strong I could be. And, I wouldn’t have Lucy and Will now.
Simply stated, without Andy, I wouldn’t be.
In losing Andy, I have gained perspective – it’s a tough lesson to learn, and I find that I still need a refresher course each summer. So, right now in this moment, I won’t worry about my to-do list. I will let the clothes pile up and the dishes linger in the sink. I will leave the vacuum in the closet and allow the dust settle. I will open the windows, and let the sun shine in.
Today, I will not allow frustration and sadness to conspire against me. When it feels like my memory is failing me and my grief is threatening to take over, I will not give in. I won’t torture myself by wishing for what once was or by speculating what life would be like if Andy was still here. Instead, I need to concentrate on what is. I have to let it be.
I look over at Will, peacefully asleep in his bassinette, and I see his brother reflected in his face. I think of how happy Lucy will be when I pick her up from school, running towards me with that smile so like Andy’s. I take a deep breath, pull myself together, and face another summer day.
–Audra Perry Butler