In the past 11 months, I have experienced a lifetime of firsts. Your first birthday….after your death, Memorial Day….after your death, the anniversary of your injury in August that started us down this road, September…the week Taylor and I came to visit you. November….my birthday….the first one without you here…last year you were here. Thanksgiving….one of your favorite holidays was different with that extra, empty chair. Christmas….I can’t even explain…it was your absolute favorite holiday….the one we, as a family, celebrated with fervor. This year, I faced Christmas with excitement, but not the fervor in which we used to celebrate. And January marks the month where you were sent to a new command while waiting for you disability to go into effect..”I remember you saying, “Mom, I’ll be home in June.” But now, the most significant anniversary I will face is the anniversary that changed my life into the before and after…..life before your death and life after your death. The event that fabricated a new perception of you…you will forever be young. As I age, you will forever remain 23….never a day older. And, there will come a day when your sister will surpass the age you had reached before your death. That, before, was an impossibility. Now, it is a reality.
It’s ironic…I experienced a plethora of firsts with you when you were born…your first steps, your first words, your first haircut, your first time on the ball field, your first loose tooth….your first movie….The firsts that I can remember from your younger years are endless. Now, it’s a whole new set of firsts to experience. Yet these firsts aren’t jubilant…they are mind numbing, earth shattering, and surreal. It often feels like a dream world…I’m physically present, but at the same time, mentally, I’m somewhere else. Through these experiences, I still live in my world…And I have some exceptionally good days on rare occasions and I have good days often. But even on those days, I almost feel as if I am an observer standing outside of my life, looking in on someone that has experienced the most tragic loss possible while continuing to enjoy some of life’s most enjoyable events. No matter what enjoyment comes my way….you are still 23…forever and forever, and that is something that is so hard to grasp and to come to terms with. I don’t have the answer either….I’m still quite new to this child loss experience, but I just take it day by day and even moment by moment sometimes. Anything other than that is paralyzing.
As I think about your forever state of being 23, I am reminded of the song, “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart. I’ve listened to it many times…but I’ve never really payed attention to what the words really said. I mean….if the song came on the radio…I would be guilty of singing off key to every word I could remember. But, it’s funny how much more aware you are of your surroundings after the loss of a child. Some words become stronger and take on more essence and worth…feelings become more intense, more capricious, and more mystifying. As I listen to this song now, the words that stick out to me are the ones that talk about remaining in the heart and being forever young. That is the new chapter in my story…and it’s a chapter with which I am not enamored. None the less, it is my chapter, and I must live it…hard as it is…this chapter of my life will forever be a continuation into each new chapter of my life. You see, each chapter builds upon the events and lives of the characters with each successive part. From the beginning of this chapter, I have lived two existences unknown to me before your death. The one existence is the place where you are forever 23….the second is the place after your death. It’s been an arduous task to learn to live in these two worlds, because each world tugs at your heart, your mind, and your being. The forever young world never leaves me…no matter what I do or try to do…..it’s always there. I can’t escape it, nor do I want to, because that was my world with you. On the other hand, the world after your death also pulls at me to remain present in this world with our loved ones here. It’s a constant tug of war with your mind, your heart, and your spirit. One that I think will remain with me the rest of my days. The edge may soften over time, but it will always be with me.
So, as I approach the most dreaded anniversary any parent will ever have to bear, I think about the fact that you will never reach the age of 24, which is what you should have turned last April, two short months after your death. And anytime I hear of anyone turning 23 or 24, it almost takes my breath away. Something that would seem so insignificant to anyone else…but just the mere mention of an age brings back haunting memories that drag you back to THAT day. Despite the fact that what I long for can never happen, I can often feel you in my heart. Some may call me crazy for that, but the other day, I said out loud, “I miss you, Aaron.” At that very moment, I felt a warmth in my heart that I haven’t felt since your passing. Call me crazy if you want, but I know I felt him in my heart at that very moment. And while that may not ease my pain in the next few weeks as the dreaded occasion draws near, I know that he is ith me….in my heart. And in my heart, you will forever reside, and you will be forever young.