It has been six weeks since my beloved son Ivan died. Since numbness doesn’t produce much coherent thinking, I haven’t figured out much I want to share until now.
One of the themes of early grief is the screaming desire for a do over. Just a chance to have him back, give him one last hug, try one more thing. But when the death comes, as Ivan’s did, after a long, agonizing end stage from which there didn’t seem to be any other escape, I would only want him back healed and happy. If there is anything after death, he is both of those now, and reunited with his brother Adriano, who is healed and happy as well. It would be utter selfishness to want it otherwise. Still, the drone in the background of this stage is two words: Too Late. For anyone who cared about a dead loved one, those words are heartbreaking.
I think about the new hard facts. There is no one now I can share memories with about our family. I will never see either of my sons settled into happy relationships with women they love. I will never have a grandchild. No one will ever say, “Hi, Mom” to me again. I had difficulty for years looking at photos of my intact family because we never saw all of this pain and loss coming. My last chance for a happy outcome is gone. Except for me, I remind myself. I will go on, and though I already know I have changed, I will find a way to be happy and at peace in this new reality.
I sometimes thought that if I had to do it all over again, I would still marry their father, not because he was a good choice for me, but because I wanted those two beautiful people to come into this world. But giving the gift of life to my sons and having them in the end not want it calls for some difficult reckoning. I can’t imagine any mothers of children who ended their lives not wondering whether it was a good thing to have brought them into this world. Yet, when I look at photographs of Adriano and Ivan as children, I see that their faces are happy and that there were many, many good times. They knew how much I loved them and they loved me back. I will have to settle for that love being enough of a reason to have taken this journey together.
I feel as if I am beginning another stage. I accept that Ivan has died, but I can’t quite grasp that there is no more Ivan. Nothing that happens from now on will include him. That is where the ambushes come from and will never completely stop. The French writer Colette put it this way:
‘It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”
A few years back I was going through some memorabilia and came across an old audiotape of Ivan when he was in preschool. He was telling me what he had learned that day about keeping safe in a fire. In his tiny voice, filled with solemnity, he told me I was supposed to stop, drop, and roll. I wish I still had that tape, but maybe Ivan is still trying to tell me that.
Stop, drop, and roll, mommy. Just stop, drop, and roll.