My oldest son would have been 12 this year, 2016. In fact, it happened way back in February. It’s been 9 months since our annual Act of Kindness Memorial for his birthday and I’m just now putting them all together in one place. (Here’s 2013, 2014 & 2015 in case you are so inclined.)
I’ve thought about this many times over the past 9 months… “why haven’t I done that yet?”, “What if I don’t get around to it before his next birthday comes?”, “Do I really need to do it? I mean, it’s all captured on Facebook anyway…” I’ve had this little conversation with myself off and on over the past nearly-a-year and finally, here I am. Doing one little part of the small amount of mothering that is still left to me when it comes to my oldest.
Here’s what I think I know: mothering my dead child can be very similar to what mothering my living children feels like sometimes.
The rare days I push snooze too many times and they have to eat in the cafeteria because I simply didn’t feel like rushing to help them make their lunches. Somedays I just close the doors to their rooms because I don’t have the energy to lord over them long enough to get it cleaned up. Some weeks I pretend reading logs don’t exist…and feel pretty certain the only reading happening is Calvin & Hobbes. And sometimes they play video games before they do homework and chores because I simply want 30 more minutes to sit in my comfy chair and stare at Instagram or finish a book or listen to a podcast before the after-school grind begins.
And some years, apparently, it takes me 9 months to sit down and pull together the photos and acts of kindness from one of my very favorite family traditions… our WWS RAOK Day.
So here they are, from February, all TWELVE:
RAOK #1 – Ron and I had a vocabulary contest on freerice.com and donated over 2500 grains of rice to those in need around the globe. It’s super easy – check it out.
RAOK #2 – The boys helped out at Crescent Bend Nature Park with the bird blinds, which are 100% volunteer-supported. They cleaned out the baths and put out water and filled feeders… happy birds!
Then we headed to McAllister Park for RAOK #3 to share a little love with our four-legged friends:
RAOK #4 – Next up was the creation of a dozen blessing bags to have on hand for the many intersections in town where people are asking for handouts. The boys and I often talk about the individuals who hold the little cardboard signs and they decided that having practical things to hand out would be nice.
For RAOK #5 we donated eight brand new duffle bags to a local charity that supports foster children. Did you know that when nearly 95% of children are pulled from their homes by a case worker, they gather their few belongings into a trash bag? Some children move from home to home over several years with only a trash bag to hold their most precious items – stuffed animals, family photos and toys. Too sad. A local group aims to fill every case worker’s car with something more dignified than a trash bag and we support that for sure!
Quite often, while driving into one of the entrances of our neighborhood, Whitman will comment on the trash and scold imaginary people for being litterbugs… so for RAOK #6 the boys cleaned it up! (Don’t let Lincoln’s face fool you – they were happy to do it – he was irritated with Whitman’s lack of focus. As always.)
Our local burger joint has an awesome outdoor play area that is usually full of kids…and never full of enough footballs and basketballs. So we left a bunch behind when we had lunch… RAOK #7
RAOK #8 – Here we are shipping off all my old cell phones to a domestic violence advocacy organization – because for women trapped in a dangerous situation, a phone can make all the difference. (ncadv.org)
For RAOK #9 we distributed gift cards all over the place all day… lots of little surprises left on car windshields and in car doors all over town. The boys loved this one!
Lincoln wanted to be in charge of RAOK #10 this year, because he just turned 10. And he spent his own newly-acquired money to buy stuffed animals to donate to the emergency room “for kids that have to come in here and are probably scared and need something to help them feel better.” His sweet heart makes mine swell.
First it was birds and then it’s the bees!! We threw a ton of these seed bombs all over the neighborhood – which the boys thought was awesome, of course. We hope we added some flower love out there for our bee friends on RAOK #11. seedles.com
And finally, #12, was a crazy, ridiculous tip for our delightful waitress at Cured. Best of all, it was split by my sweet cousin and her husband who were so happy to get to participate in our WWS RAOK Day!
As regular readers know, this day is one of my very favorites. It seems to get sweeter and more fun every year even as the emotion and energy of the day continue to evolve. I’m still not completely sure what my reluctance/resistance was about to not put the final bow on this one for so long… maybe I was dragging my feet because 2017 means the dreaded teens begin and I was trying to put it off! 😉 Or maybe this year was simply one that felt weary. Twelve years is a long time to carry so much missing. As his brothers get older, it is easier to imagine what he might have been like and the relationships they might have had. I still look at moms with three boys and feel jealous – even after all this time.
One thing I do know is that I felt compelled to finally do it because a lifelong friend of mine had to bury her son yesterday. And today she drove for hours to his college campus to clean out his room and bring all of his belongings home. And for the last week, since I heard the news, I’ve just been trying not to throw up. I’m going to write another post entirely on that experience, but suffice it to say that I’ve thought a lot this week about the road that is ahead of her. The years she has still in front of her in which she will have to figure out how to keep mothering him when he is no longer on the planet with her. My heart is broken for her and it also knows that rituals and integration are key to surviving all of it. And so I could not neglect this any longer – this ritual of mine, this integration of my son’s death into my family’s life – it serves a purpose greater than most will ever understand and, after a week like this one, it deserved my attention.
So, at long last, my dear boy,
Happy birthday! …I’m sorry your letter is nine months late. My world continues to have a space in it that was meant for you. Your space contains all kinds of things at any given moment – wonder, longing, joy, connection, grief, laughter, and more. It is a space that is known and seen by many and because of that it is dynamic and connects me to all those who would have loved you. Mostly, though, it remains the space where you are best remembered. It’s my most important job as your mom – to simply remember. To remember the absolute perfection of you when you came silently into this world. Your dark, curly hair – such a surprise. My grandfather’s miniature nose right there on your precious little face. An intensity about you, visible even in your death, that has lent itself to my imaginings over your personality all these years. The unmistakable infant smell that lingered on your tiny blanket much longer than I expected it to, but not nearly long enough. I remember. I will always remember. Here’s to the first dozen years of remembering…
All my love, for all time,