Birdie

Jay had one Halloween under his belt in his one year of life, and on that Halloween, he was a parrot. His sister had gone as a pirate, I dressed up as some pirate wench character, so it was befitting to purchase a parrot costume for him. He wasn’t walking yet, and it seemed like a funny idea to carry him around like a little birdie. Anyway, he was a parrot.

After he died, I kept his clothes in his drawers. At first because I couldn’t bear to remove them, and then because we were having another son. I liked the idea of his brother getting to wear his clothes. Jay wore a lot of my daughter’s handmedowns as a baby, so it felt right not to just box up these little clothes. As my youngest son grew out of them, they were eventually boxed up and put away. I didn’t box up everything. I kept a few clothes in my own drawer, like the clothes he died in. I left his shoes in a shoe bag in the closet. And I left the parrot costume in the closet too. I don’t know why I did that. There was something about it that just made me want to keep it in there.

A couple of weeks ago I went into my younger son’s room, which of course used to be Jay’s room, to find him prancing around at 8 1/2 years old wearing a parrot costume made for an infant. Initially a shock, it was actually hilarious. I didn’t feel sad about it. This was my son, wearing his older brother’s Halloween costume. He looked so cute. The parrot headpiece, which was way too small for Jay’s 13 month old head, fit my younger son perfectly. I hugged him, and I felt this weird happy feeling of joy, seeing him enjoy this costume. He went to bed that night wearing it.

Today I was loading wet bedsheets into the dryer and noticed the bird costume in the back of the washer. I pulled it out. I hadn’t washed it since Jay wore it last. It didn’t bother me that it was worn again. But whatever little particles he left behind on it, were now gone. Just one more little teeny bit of him vanished from the world. One less thing I could touch that had him on it.

I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I went downstairs and got his ashes down from a high shelf. I had to dust off the urn because I hadn’t gotten them down in so long. I got in bed and held him. I asked him why life keeps taking him away from me. I cried and cried, thinking about the well meaning people who cleaned my house or accidentally removed fingerprints. All of these little things that just made him further disappear from my life. “I have so little left of you,” I weeped.

I took his ashes out of the urn and laid the bag on my chest. That made me cry even more, but it felt good. I just wanted him close to me. I held the bag and talked quietly to him. I talked about our lives and what it was now, and what it would be like if he popped back into our lives at 13 months old and lived with us again.

Mid conversation with Jay’s ashes, I heard my husband coming down the stairs to see me. I felt terrible; he was walking in on me laying in bed with our son’s ashes sitting on my chest. Unbeknownst to me, there was also hole in the bag and some of the ashes had floated out and were on my chin and chest, so this vision must have been next level disturbing. “What’s wrong?!?” he asked, eyes wide. I told him about the bird costume and he apologized, saying he had washed it. I wasn’t mad at him at all. I knew it was ok. I was just sad. Not about a piece of clothing being washed, but about the feeling of losing a tiny piece of a person I actually completely lost 9 years ago.

I eventually put Jay back in the urn after finishing my conversation with him. I came upstairs to the kitchen and thought about how all of these little pieces I’m gripping to will one day be gone. Even his little blue coat, which I have kept in my drawer this entire time, will one day hold no meaning to anyone.

Before I came upstairs, I read a message board for people who have lost children. People who were days or weeks along, right in the worst possible hell imaginable. It’s hard to read those posts. I remember being there. That level of grief is devastating. Today, 9 years in, I went from cruising around the house tidying up, to laying in bed bawling with the dust of my son’s ashes landing on my face, to being upstairs making eggs and reminding myself to drink more water. Grief is different now. It’s not overwhelming. As time goes on the grief can feel almost hard to access, like it’s far away. When things like this happen, it feels like I got to visit with him. I welcome it. If you’re a friend reading this, don’t fret. Just be glad I got a visit. It may appear crazy and sad, but it was also lovely, I promise.

About A Life After Loss

I lost my son in 2013. I lost a lot that day, but I never lost it all. I still have hope, albeit it wavers sometimes. I still have my love of writing, and I still have my humor. Let's learn how to do this grief thing right.
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