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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Surprised

I realized something today.  I received an invitation to Step 2's tenth birthday party next week.  Her birthday is on the 10th and the party is being held on the 11th.  My first thought was "Oh, no!  I don't think we are going to be able to make it this year!"  It is in Austin and I have a conference to attend that weekend so while I think her dad will be there, her brother, little sister and I will probably have to miss.  

None of this seems particularly interesting, I realize.  But you don't realize the significance of August 11th.  It was in the wee hours of the morning on August 11th, 2007 when my little boy went home to be with the Lord.

It is therefore singular, unique and surprising to me that my first response to seeing the date in black and white on an invitation was a reaction to the event at hand, not to the catastrophic date in the not-so-distant past.  I realized that this was the first time since Eddie died that I have not been having a mental countdown to that day since sometime in July.  Normally, I am steeling myself, trying to fortify myself against the inevitable breakdown that will occur on or around the 11th.  Not so this year.  My feelings on this fact are mixed.

Ask anyone who has lost a child:  it's complicated.  The majority of my heart is happy with this revelation.  I take it as a sign of healing and hope.  A validation of the fact that my life is not and does not have to revolve around the death of my child.  Then there is the flip-side.  I feel guilty.  Like it is somehow disloyal to his memory that I had all but forgotten that I was only one week away from the anniversary of his death.  It is at the same time right and very, very wrong.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem that was one of my favorites, decades before there was a reason for it to be.  It is called "Surprised By Joy" and I recall that it is about the death of his own daughter, who died as a child.  I loved it from the moment we studied it (I believe it was sophomore English?).  If you will indulge the English major in me for a moment, here it is in its entirety:

Surprised by joy--impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom 
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb, 
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind-- 
But how could I forget thee? Through what power, 
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return 
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore, 
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn 
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

Ok, so I realize probably not everyone is as big a fan of 18th century Romantic poetry as I am.  But this poem sums up better than anything else I have ever read the strange fluctuation of emotions you experience when you have suffered a cataclysmic loss.  

Sorry for the fifty cent word there, but I've already used "catastrophic" and, besides, Wordsworth has me going.  "Vicissitude" means the quality of being changeable.  He says in a fancy way the simple fact that once someone is dead there is absolutely no changing it.  Phillip's little cousin Ethan put it in much simpler terms on the day Eddie died.  We were gathered with various family members at my mother-in-law's house, going through pictures of Eddie, deciding which ones to use at the funeral, laughing, crying, and reminiscing.  Ethan, who was four at the time, came in and, upon seeing the stack of pictures, said, "That's Eddie!!"  We all agreed, lumps in our throats.  He then asked, "He died?"  Swallowing hard, I managed, "Yes, honey, he died."  There was a long pause.  Then he asked in a very matter-of-fact tone, "Can't get him back, huh?"

It is one of the hardest truths there is to face.  No, we can't get him back, not in this life.  I have confidence about the next; I know that we will see each other again once I cross the threshold and join him in heaven.  But the fact remains that "neither present time, nor years unborn" will restore him to me on this earth.  That I can't hold him, inhale his wonderful sea-salt smell, or kiss the curls that gathered at the back of his neck.  So I guess it does not really matter on which day he died.  Whether I take the anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate his life, to mourn his death, or just simply let it pass by.  Because the truth is I miss him everyday, I celebrate him everyday, and everyday I am surprised by joy.

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