I’m still here. It’s harder to find time to write when you are in graduate school…for writing. But I am still here, walking this journey. Some days are better than others and as time drones on, I’ve discovered another phenomenon that no one warned me about. The art and fear of forgetting.
This idea that somehow you make it through the first year and some proverbial weight will be lifted from your soul is a fallacy. It just means that for a year, we’ve endured the most painful memories possible, reliving the last year of our life with Noah. As we move toward the end of the summer, the “firsts” being over doesn’t make us feel any better. As I was refreshing the blog categories (more to come on that) I glanced briefly at some of the posts I’ve written in the past year about losing Noah. Honestly, I never made it past the first few lines in most of them. Each reminds me of pain I’d rather forget, which brings me to this new kind of struggle.
I’m trying to forget as a coping mechanism. I’m not forgetting him in the sense that I don’t think about him every day. I talk to Noah every day on my way to work even if it’s just for a second. He’s in my thoughts all day long in one form or another. But I’m forgetting or at least suppressing the good. Thinking about the good forces me to acknowledge that this incredibly complicated, loving soul that made me whole is gone.
It’s easier for me to talk about the tough stuff with Noah: how difficult he was as a child; how much we fought; how he was nearly sent to Papa’s for the summer when Dan was on that last deployment. It’s easier to share his stubbornness and remind myself of how tense our relationship had become that last year I was working full-time. And then, of course, I feel horrible because I think people may actually believe that I am somehow relieved that my son is gone. I could write an entire book on the guilt of loss. Ugh.
It’s easier to try to forget how he used to make me feel the other 90 percent of the time. Whole. Proud. Like he was my purpose and that I would do anything in the world just to see him smile. That Cheshire grin of his lit up my world. There are times when I allow myself to think about him and I remember the feeling of his little hand wrapped around my finger when we walked through a parking lot or the sounds of his breath as he slept on my chest, sucking his thumb. I allow myself to remember what it felt like when he would play with my ponytail or lean into me on the couch when we watched TV together. And I still vividly remember the way it felt to hold his hand in the hospital to make his final handprint. I can still feel the limpness of his fingers as he slipped away from us.
Did you know I haven’t listened to a snare drummer or a marching band in more than a year because it’s too painful? When I share videos on Facebook, I do it with the sound off. Every day, I walk up the stairs and see his pictures and have to look away. Because when I really look at the pictures and gaze upon that precious, precious face, I will start to remember the moment the picture was taken and I’m reminded that those days are gone. It’s the everyday reminders that I have to suppress. If I don’t, I can’t function.
Gavin goes to places he used to go with his brother and I’m terrified he’ll break down, but he doesn’t, which also terrifies me. Because I know I couldn’t visit any place that we went together without falling apart. I avoid Dairy Queen, the car dealership where we bought his car, his room at my dad’s house. It’s just easier for me to shut down the good. But how can I forget such a driving force in my life? How can I not look at his face or hear his voice and be instantly transported back to a time when life was perfect in spite of the bad? The other night I panicked. What if I spend so much time suppressing the good that I actually forget? So I went through old pictures and found some of the good.
My oven barbecued pork chops were his favorite meal. Noah had an “mmm” face. We all do. His made me laugh as he rubbed his belly. It was rare to see him so excited about food but he fell for the pork chops every time.
He used to race BMX bikes in Orange County. When Dan was deployed, we would pack up the bikes in the back of the truck and head to Irvine to race bikes. For whatever reason, Big Girls Don’t Cry always seemed to be playing the radio during warm-ups. I think they had it on a loop. Noah, who wasn’t half-bad at racing, got his jeans caught one night, which cost him the race. He was so sad–but he kept going and learned from that point forward to tuck in his jeans or wear different pants.
His favorite bands as a child were Good Charlotte and Green Day. No real surprise there. When I took him to see Good Charlotte in concert he sang along to every song, so proud that he knew every word. He thought he was SO cool in his fedora and checkered tie with matching black and white brackets on his braces. Such a sweet kid.
His favorite bedtime book was Goodnight Moon. Part of the reason we played this song at Noah’s memorial was because I used to sing it to him and it talks about Noah’s favorite mouse. He could have picked any book at night, but he always picked the mouse and sucked his thumb as we curled up on his bed eagerly reading every page.
He was really good at basketball. I would never have pegged Noah for a basketball player but he was actually really good from the minute he picked up the ball. It was something we did together, not often, but I did coach his team when he was eight. He played up until high school when he had to choose between music and sports. He chose music. Obviously.
He made it to Webelo in CubScouts. Oh yes, we did that too. A few months back, when I looked for courage in the bottom of a box of memories, I found his uniform with the little “Tiger Paw” still attached and his pinewood derby car that we made together.
We attended President Bush’s second inauguration on the National Mall. Ah, the perks of working in government relations. Uncle Chad and I took little man to watch the inauguration in the freezing cold with snow on the ground. Chad held Noah on his shoulders so he could see the speech. He was more interested in throwing snowballs at us but it was a great day for all of us.
He was really good at skateboarding. Much like basketball, I was blown away the first time he dropped into a bowl at the skatepark. He had no fear and begged to go every weekend. When Dan was deployed, Amanda and I would grab Starbucks and sit while the boys skated…and skated…and skated. I always admired his fearless nature and willingness to try anything–though it also terrified me.
I could go on and on. The reality is that even if I wanted to forget the good–to push it down so that I could ease the hole in my heart–it doesn’t work. It just causes guilt, which is the most useless part of the grief process. The fact is that Noah was a beautiful soul and he changed every part of my life. He taught me patience, love, empathy, kindness, laughter, trust–all the things that make up the most admirable people on earth. I don’t know if I will ever be able to look at his picture and not cry or if I will ever look at another snare drummer and not think that it should be my son marching, but I’m hoping that at some point those types of memories will bring joy and not pain. Not today.