Every January 5th for the last seven years, I have asked this question and I suppose that it will continue all the years of my life.
I could easily write about depth of love I feel for him and how we are doing better on his seventh birthday than we were on his first. However, there are times like today that there is so much behind my eyes and it takes all the strength I have not wear my pain.
So let me give you a raw authentic account of how this day has gone.
I’m the mom who couldn’t sleep last night because I relive all the moments that led up to when Sutton was born. I was also thinking of another family who spent the entire day trying to deal with the first birthday after they lost their son last year.
I wake up to two fabulous rays of sunshine and know that Sutton was not the first thing they thought of this morning. I throw on my comfiest sweats, a ponytail and splash cold water on my face. I look up in the mirror and remind myself that to the boys, Sutton’s birthday is not a source of sadness.
I make breakfasts, pack a lunch, start a load of laundry, and convince the boys to brush their teeth for a full two minutes without punching each other. It is just like every other morning to them but for me I am somewhere else. I am in survival mode. One kid off to school, cleaning up the breakfast mess and remembering preschool tuition. A quick preschool drop off in 5 degree weather and smiling because my lil man is so excited to see his friends after a long break.
I can’t get home fast enough. I don’t remember the drive. I am home and find myself completely lost and unsure of what to do with my time. I stand there in my kitchen staring and motionless. After a few minutes, habit takes over. Shower it is. This is where it really begins, the tears. The pain, sadness, anger, confusion are all fighting to get out first.
I have tried many different ways to celebrate his birthday and yet this part is inescapable and has now become tradition.
I know I only have so much time before my lil man is done with preschool and suddenly I’m in a rush to look okay. Where are the eye drops? Maybe a little jewelry and lipstick as a distraction for the tired and bloodshot eyes will be the trick? However, there we are holding hands on the way back to the car and he asks. He asks if I’m okay because apparently I did a crummy job of hiding it. ‘Mommy’s okay, love’ seems to be an acceptable response for him.
The lil man and I are now off to the store to buy all the ingredients we need to bake a birthday cake. Do I want to bake a birthday cake? No, not really. Would anyone mind or say something if we didn’t? Probably not. Nevertheless, it seems like something we should be doing because we are celebrating that he is our son, brother, and special angel.
It’s lunchtime, board games, reading and then nap time. I debate whether or not the lil man should nap because that would mean that I would be alone in silence. Will it be another chance to sit and really soak in the amount of pain my heart is in? Should I take a chance on sitting quietly imagining what he would be like and all the things we are not doing with him? Maybe Amos should stay up and we can do something fun and distracting or maybe I will be resentful that I am not home allowing myself to feel sad. This is a common debate on tough days and I never know which way it will go.
Today the lil man naps and I decide to work. I head up to my office and very quickly find myself distracted. I’m busy, not productive. Tea is cold. I’m not doing much anyhow, so I head to the kitchen to warm it up. Then I sit with hot tea in front of the fire with continuous tears streaming down my face. My thoughts and memories are only half complete before they move on to the next. I’m also remembering that today is the first angelversary for another friend who lost their son last year. I think ‘get it together girl’. I know that Cooper will be home soon and he will notice, he will pick up on my sadness, so let’s purge if possible.
I hear the door open and a big hello, I’m now back to survival mode. Life is going on all around me even if I’m stuck. So we talk about a missing library book, homework and the fact that he is starving because he spent so much time chatting at lunch and he didn’t eat much.
Then we bake. We write his name on a cake. I am feeling a lot of love and the laughter and normalcy of the boys is helping.
When we are all home tonight, together as a family, I will feel safe but I know that it could go either way with the tears. Especially when the hubby comes home and looks me in the eye. We will each make small comments and the response from the other will be ‘I know’ and ‘me too’.
And then night will come and the house will be quiet again. Maybe I will cry, maybe I’ll be numb and maybe I’ll just sit in gratitude. And then tomorrow will come and it will be just another day.
We do not grieve his loss or celebrate his birth alone. Today I have received calls and messages, and even flowers from our tribe. Although I wish they were brightly covered packages with Sutton’s name one them, these small and meaningful acts of kindness remind me of the many blessings we have in life.
I’m not sharing because it’s a pity party or I want people to take notice. I do not need anyone to feel sorry for me and we have been pretty open about our journey. I simple wanted to share for those who follow our adventures or is curious about what others may be experiening. We put a lot of effort and intention into recreating a life. We have many days filled with laughter and have worked and struggled for those smiles, which makes us cherish them even more. And we will always be parents of a son who died which means there will be days like today throughout our lives.
Some days will be trial and error. Sometimes we will mindlessly coast through life and then there are days when we can wholeheartedly enjoy the moments. We learn from both.
We are beginning to recognize the people that loss has shaped us to be. This is part of what we celebrate on Sutton’s birthday.
Many things have changed in seven years. What hasn’t changed is our crazy, adoring love for Sutton and the experience and appreciation to be called his parents.