33 months - already? Time is no longer marching but whizzing by - at dizzying speed. In a few short weeks, it will be January 16th, which would be his 20th birthday. A few weeks after that, his third-year death anniversary. So strange to think that it will soon be three years since he left us. In most cases that would seem like a long time but not with death. There is a different time frame associated with grieving which I wrote about last summer. The words still ring true.
It has now been 16 months since Josh's fatal decision. One might think that it has gotten easier with the passing of time. But grief does not travel in a linear fashion. In my experience, the connection between grief and time is better described like an archer's target, with concentric circles around a bulls-eye, representing Josh's death. Each circle around the center corresponds to a period of time, say a year. As time moves on, the distance to the center increases but not by much. Meaning that any memory, word, song, thought, movie, photo or innocent question can bring back all of the emotions of that time. It is never far away. I know that five, ten or twenty years will bring some distance, but I don't think it will be that much.How can I, thirty-three months later, still be writing on this blog? Why does each anniversary month still feel significant? Why does this grief journey, almost three years old, feel like it just started?
In her poignant memoir, My Brother, writer Jamaica Kincaid ponders the death of her younger brother, Devon. He died of AIDS at the age of thirty-three.
It's not as if the whole thing has not happened before, it's not as if people have not been dying all along and each person left behind is the first person ever left behind in the world. What to make of it? Why can't everybody just get used to it? People are born and they just can't go on and on, and if they can't go on and on, then they must go, but it is so hard, so hard for the people left behind; it's so hard to see them go, as if it had never happened before, and so hard it could not happen to anyone else, no one but you can survive this kind of loss, seeing someone go, seeing them leave you behind; you don't want to go with them, you only don't want them to go.And the same thought repeated at the end of the book...
...if it is so certain, death, why is it such a surprise, why is everybody who is left behind, who is not dead, in a state of such shock, as if this thing, death, this losing forever of someone who means something to you, has never happened before. Why is it so new, why is this worn-out thing, death, someone dying, so new, so new?I've never thought of it in this way. Kincaid is right - death is an everyday occurrence, there is nothing new about it. In fact it's presence is part of our subconscious; we know and accept that mortality is a part of life. But I know now that this understanding is only intellectual and superficial - it does not hit the heart. In fact, I am jealous of the un-grieved, those whose knowledge of death is simple theory and whose heart is unschooled.
For when death comes, and for me it was on a sunny Wednesday morning, March 18, 2009 when I found our son, that innocent world is shattered and life can never be the same. A hard, cold, shocking reality covers and overwhelms every physical and emotional circuit. The feelings are strange, suffocating and debilitating. A trauma to the heart and psyche has occurred and full recovery feels uncertain.
One would think that the acceptance of death as a part of life would adequately prepare us but it doesn't. Nothing can. I guess what I am trying to say is that Death is a common occurrence but when it happens to you, there is nothing common about it.
I will end this post by sharing about what happened the other night. There is an end table in the living room on which a large picture of Josh sits sturdily on a photo holder, along with other pictures. While the girls and I were decorating the Christmas tree, the large photo came out of it's holder and tipped over - enough to make a noise and get our attention but not enough to wipe out the other pictures. We couldn't understand why this happened for no one bumped the table. Was Josh saying, "I'm here"?
An all white tree - in memory of our beloved Josh