In moving from the world of Before to the Afterloss there was a series of first I had to navigate – the first birthday without him or her, the first holiday, the first winter, spring, summer and autumn. (To this day, when summer changes to autumn I still need to move a little slower and rest a little longer in my thoughts and feelings.) Entering life in the Afterloss became a series of first and it took a lot of gentle easing into those experiences without resistance or expectations.

Sunday, February 2, will be another anniversary of Bryan death. In the beginning, birthdays and death days were difficult, but the hardest part for me was the week leading up to the day. If I could just get to the day, there would be a crescendo and a release in a rose ceremony I did for each one.

The first birthday that Bryan never had was on May 13, 1986. Matt was in his third year. May 13 happened to be Mother’s Day that year. Lydia was incredibly close to Bryan. How harsh can life get?  Lydia, a woman who wanted above all else to mother her child, spent Mother’s Day mourning the death of her baby on his birthday. There are a lot of things I’ll never understand, but this is right up there.

On Bryan’s first birthday, we decided to plant a tree in the front yard as our present to Bryan. We wanted to make the experience a natural part of life and a celebration of Bryan. Not only did we want to do this because this is how we felt, but we knew Matt would ultimately have to face his own death. Everything we did was to lessen Matt’s fear of death. Most people get to teach their children how to live. We needed to teach Matt how to die.

After we planted the tree, we sang Happy Birthday. At the end, Matt instinctively sang, “And many more.” Then he realized what he said. He looked at us in that awkward moment with embarrassment. Lydia and I laughed and hugged him. Then we sang, “And many more.”

There have been many more birthdays and death days. As the seasons have changed I have as well. They are softer, more expansive and deeper as the years have gone by.

I was asked recently what I miss most about my family. When I think of them, as I think of Bryan this week while I prepare for my rose ceremony on Sunday, I don’t focus on that day when I was holding his warm eight and half month old body as it grew cold. I don’t dwell on that time Lydia and I placed him in the casket dressed in a little blue and white sailor suit.

Those memories pass by, but that is not where I find the hurt and sorrow.

What I miss most is not knowing what he would be like now. What would he be doing? Would he be with someone? Would he be living his dream? What would Bryan be contributing to life today? Would he be happy?

Even that really isn’t the core of my sorrow. What I miss more than anything is not being able to pick up the phone and hear his voice, drink in his laughter or tell him how much I love him. That’s what I miss. And that’s what I will always miss.

The thirteen years I had with Matt were not taken lightly. One of the games we played was I would snuggle up to him and rapidly kiss him on the cheeks. I’d say, “You need a thousand kisses a day!” He would laugh and squirm, loving every minute.

I once kissed his cheeks. Now I kiss a rose pedal. On the anniversaries of their births and their deaths, I take a rose to a body of water. If possible I like to go to Half Moon Bay where I spread their ashes, but any body of water will do. I’ve sat by streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc. I take a pedal off of the rose and I think of a beautiful memory. They are joyful memories, sad memories, funny memories, painful memories… any memory that rises to consciousness.

On Sunday, I will sit with memories of Bryan, one by one, one pedal at a time. As a memory comes to mind, I will sit with it as long as it needs to be, then I will say “Thank you” and kiss the pedal and drop it into the water. When the stem is empty of pedals, I have one more kiss to make. I will kiss the thorns and say one last “Thank you.”

For some reason life gets easier for me on the other side of the rose ceremony. I walk away more expansive and I’m able to walk a little lighter into the preceding days.  The first season of sorrow, which took everything out of me, has gently evolved into seasons where I can see everything that has been given to me. And part of the reason this shift has come to me is due to a memory, a kiss of a pedal and a “thank you”, including the thorns.


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