A few weeks ago my daughter was in her first school play. It took place outside, every student sewed their own costumes and I nearly disintegrated with pride as my sweet little girl looked right at the audience and recited her 5 lines like a boss. Afterwards I hugged her with the same fervor as if she had just won a Best Actress award. The entire school seemed to be out there on the playground, milling about. There were flowers for the performers, pieces of cake going around, people screaming and crying (any event with children involves people screaming and crying). We hung around for awhile afterward talking to friends and waiting for the mob to die down before heading to the parking lot.
Finally, after every child on Earth was given a carnation and a piece of cake, we were able to navigate through the halls and go home. I wound up walking ahead with Floyd in the stroller as my daughter walked behind me discussing her performance with a friend. Floyd looked up at me with his little teeny smile. I felt my heart blossom inside. I leaned over the front of the stroller and whispered quietly, “You make me happy.”
It was the first time I had ever said that to him. It has been true all along, but it’s a scary thing to be happy these days. Anytime anything positive has happened to us since the day Jay died, it’s always “Oh wow, that’s grea…oh my God, Jay’s dead.” It’s impossible to avoid that. “Are you having fun? Well, Jay isn’t. What a beautiful day it is outside. Too bad Jay will never sit in the sunshine. Is that a funny joke? How nice it must be to laugh away when your son is gone.” Any happy thought is quickly replaced with a grand helping of guilt for enjoying a life my son will never have. Does Floyd make me happy? Immensely. But he’s here because Jay is dead.
But something happened in the days after I said it out loud. I started letting myself enjoy life a little. I told myself that Jay dying was enough sadness for a lifetime, and that I didn’t need to push future happiness away by reminding myself that he will never enjoy all of the things I wanted for him. For awhile, the cloud was lifted. It felt good. The other night my husband told me go outside and smell the jasmine. I opened the front door and inhaled it with all my might. It didn’t even cross my mind to feel guilty. We have an upcoming overnight trip where Floyd will have to stay in the travel crib. The last time we used that was when Jay took a nap less than 2 hours before he died. I haven’t even washed the sheet. It’s one of my many artifacts in my underwear drawer that I pull out and smell from time to time. But I will take it out and I will use the crib and the sheet. Why? Because in my heart it will always be Jay’s, but it’s also Floyd’s, too. I cannot take Jay on an overnight, but I will take his brother. Both of my sons deserve all of my love, and part of that is to not treat every single thing Jay touched as a relic. At some point the relics need to be stored in your heart. Well, at least most of them.
A few days ago I picked up my daughter from preschool and we headed over to her soon-to-be new elementary school for their kindergarten orientation. It felt so good to drive over there. I started thinking about the route we were taking, and how this will soon be the roads we’ll travel over and over again for the next 6 years. I stopped at a red light at the same corner as the mortuary where I laid eyes on my son for the very last time. It was there that I saw him not just brain dead, but everything dead. That was the worst time of my life, there in that building. Approximately 60 minutes of a deep, dark, dread that nearly cost me my sanity. A feeling that only those who have walked in my shoes have felt. I don’t think I will ever write about those 60 minutes. I have tried before, but it always feels wrong. I can’t let how I saw him enter the minds of others. He deserves more than that. There are situations where words are uninvited, banished even. This is one of them.
The light turns green. We drive the rest of the way while Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of The Heart plays on the radio. I find it oddly fitting.
The orientation is exciting and inspiring. My daughter exclaims that she can’t wait to start. It is music to my ears. We walk happily back to the car as I hold her hand and hold a sweaty Floyd against me in the baby carrier. I feel pumped and am smiling from ear to ear.
I’m not going to be clapping along to Pharrell Williams’ song any time soon. That kind of simple, carefree happy isn’t here anymore. But even though my sadness is always right there at my fingertips all the time, the happy is genuine and real. Maybe even more so because I see the other side so often. When I laugh at a joke, or revel in the scents of our garden, or bite Floyd’s delicious tummy, it is a happiness that I know is so deep that it transcends the sadness of losing Jay, at least for a time. That is some real happy right there.