Thirteen years ago today, we threw a first birthday party for our blond, apple-cheeked boy. Three months later to the day, he would be dead, from a virulent and rare form of strep. One day he was sitting in my lap with a book, clapping his hands when we came to his favorite page, and within 48 hours he was gone.
Thirteen years sounds like a long time. It’s not.
The experts say losing a child is one of the most wretched things to experience. It topples the natural order of things—your children should bury you, not the other way around. It’s completely upending.
Worse, it mixes an odd cocktail that you are forced to hold to your lips and shoot—something like one part of furious anger and one part defeated vulnerability. You gradually learn to stomach it, to cocoon it someplace inside, because it’s dangerous and scary to walk around like that. But grief is not linear. Sometimes, cyclically, you can taste it rising in your throat again, like bile.
Birthdays are one of those times. A child’s birthday—without the cake, the candles, the presents, the child—is an empty day. We sit around now and look at each other blankly.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” I hear. “What do you want to do?”
It strikes me that, if our boy were here, he’d hardly recognize us. He has a little sister now, born a year and three days after his death. His older brother, who used to tower over only him, towers over us now, too. His parents live in two different houses. And the patient black Lab who tolerated a toddler’s straddling her like a bronco is gone, too, replaced by a trio of small, silly dogs and another Lab who doesn’t tolerate much.
The life he might recall ended when his did. I wonder what he’d think of that… and, in an odd way, I think he’d be okay with it. As the second son, the one who grabbed a nap in his car seat while I drove his brother to and fro—preschool, play dates—he was used to accommodating.
The night of the January 5, 1996, the snowy evening before we buried him, I shut the door to my office and thought hard about my boy. I thought about the cards that had come those past few days, the flowers, the hugs, the number of times I’d heard the cluck of the tongue and the words that went something like, “Such a shame. Such a life unfulfilled.”
They meant to soothe, but they stung. So I wrote this, below, in part to counter the unbearable thought that his life was, in any small way, lacking. From his perspective, I decided, it was very full. To the brim.
Someone—I don’t remember who—read this at the church the next day. And here, today, almost 13 years later, with that odd familiar taste in my mouth, I still have to believe it’s true.
* * *
January 5, 1996
To those of you who grieve because our Colin’s life was taken from him quickly and much too soon, I share your sorrow. We all grieve for a life seemingly unfulfilled.
But though brief, Colin’s life was indeed very full. And knowing that he lived his short life fully can give us all comfort during some very difficult days.
As a newborn, Colin was full of mother’s milk, which made his cheeks and belly grow round and his eyes shine.
Never happy to be set down for very long, he was full of yearning for the people closest to him, and he wanted to feel them holding him as often as he could.
As an older baby, Colin was full of curiosity for his big brother, reaching for his toys and projects, and reaching for hugs and kisses as only Evan can give.
He was full of affection for our dog Syd, and received much enthusiastic affection in return, as only a Lab can give.
As a toddler, Colin was full of lots of things; full to the brim.
Loving animals, music, toy cars and balls, he was showered with attention and full of wonder on his first birthday and during this past Christmas season. He especially loved books, and he was full of the joy of reading his favorites again and again.
He was full of excitement to see the people that mattered most to him: his Daddy coming in the door at night, his small friends and their older brothers and sisters, his family arriving for a visit.
And he was full of delight for smaller things, too: the guinea pig at his brother’s school, his first lollipop in his Christmas stocking, crayons and paint and paper to use them on. He was full of generosity; always ready to share any of these treasures.
Full of geniality, he was ready with a wide smile for family and friends and those who saw him only in the front seat of a grocery cart.
Colin was full of humor, waving bye-bye to me as he slipped down off the bed in the morning, padding down the hallway, and bursting open the bathroom door on Daddy; playing peek-a-boo around corners and in cupboards.
And sometimes, Colin was full of mischief. Stepping with his shoes on into Syd’s water bowl; scaling a flight of stairs before I knew he had left the kitchen, and working faster as I chased him.
Most of all, Colin was full of love. Full of the love poured into him by his parents, his brother, his grandparents, his aunts, his uncles, his cousins, and many special friends.
Every day for me, Colin was the sunshine, symbolized by the sunflowers present here today. With his blond hair, blue eyes and gentle ways, he was to me more beautiful than I could ever dream. Sometimes I worried about the heartache such a gentle soul would have to endure in this world. My angel is at peace.
We can grieve for Colin, today and for many days to come. But I ask you all to remember him, and talk about him, and to keep his light alive.
Remember Colin’s life not as one unfulfilled, but one that was filled to the top, and indeed overflowing.
Photo credit: Andrea Hart