I cannot believe it has been 4 years since Joseph died. 

4 years since I held him in my arms.  4 years since I snuck into his bedroom in the middle of the night to sing him a song.  4 years since I nuzzled my face into his perfectly golden brown head of hair. 4 years since I snapped his picture or picked out a TV show for him to watch.  4 years since I put on his pants or a shirt or gave him a treat to make him smile.  4 years since I told someone about the funny thing he said to me just earlier that day. 4 years since talking about him was a normal and expected part of life.   How has it been 4 years?

It feels impossible.  It seems like he was here just yesterday.

And where did he go?  Little kids have asked me that.  I don’t pretend to know the answer.  Is he here?  Is he there?  I don’t know.  I know he is still in my mind - all of the time.  He lives in me and I live, in part, for him.  I am very conscious that I am one of only a few people who have the ability to keep him alive in the only way that he can be.  He also lives in the minds of his brothers even though Thomas doesn't recall him and "Baby" Bryan never met him.  We watch movies of him.  His pictures are all over our house.  We tell funny stories about him and (daddy) Bryan and I make sure we tell our kids when they are doing something he used to do or expressing an interest similar to or opposite of one he had.  We take every opportunity we can to bring him with us to new places in our lives so that we can all feel him in our world.

And those are good things for our family.

But where he is now…that I do not know. I hold on to that slippery notion of “Hope” that he still exists in some way that will allow me to reunite with him again upon death.  But even that Hope doesn’t come close to tempering the pain and sorrow that both Bryan and I still have to manage every day.   The stark reminders of the gravity of the loss are plentiful and can range from seeing another six year old kid’s toothless grin requiring a visit from the Tooth Fairy to watching our two boys run across the beach knowing there should be a sandy-haired boy, one head taller than Thomas, leading the way.  Life’s neverending ways of reminding us of who Joseph would be if he were here are another one of its cruel blessings I have learned to be grateful for.

This 4th year has been quite hard.  The path of travel seems even less marked than it did at the beginning of the journey.  A new challenge in this 4th year has been society’s general expectation that we have “gotten over” the loss as if that is a realistic, or even desired, goal after the death of your child.  Something we have learned in the aftermath of losing Joseph is that you never, ever “get over it.” It never gets easy to live without your child or to revisit the memories that surround his death.  You do, however, get better at managing the relentless pain that comes with being a bereaved parent.  For me, in this 4th year, the waves of pain have been more acute but the moments of peace have been more peaceful than they once were.  Different than the first three years after Joseph died, my emotional life linked to Joseph’s death seems more like a slow-moving roller coaster of highs and lows instead of a superspeed Tilt-A-Whirl with sickening, uncontrollable spins in unpredictable dirctions.  In some ways today is easier than yesterday and in some ways it is harder.  In some ways today is more painful than yesterday and in some ways it is less painful.  But the loss is always present.  It permeates every aspect of our lives and runs alongside our good moments as well as our bad moments.  This type of loss is nothing to “get over” or “heal from.”  It is a way of life.

Also something more prevalent for me in this 4th year is the notion of gratitude versus pride.  When Joseph was born I was so, so proud.  Everything he did made me proud starting with his first smile and continuing with when he batted his toys while laying on his back on his baby mat at just 2 months old.  I never had any doubt that he was the cutest, smartest, most adorable, sweetest child ever created and, for that, I was so proud.  I could actually feel a sense of pride at being his mother that filled my chest when I was with him.

That view of my children has completely shifted for me.  I no longer feel pride with any of my children.  I no longer feel like my children's accomplishments are a credit to me.  I understand that while I may facilitate certain environments that allow them to grow, their growth, accomplishments, skills and talents are their own. I have almost no control over what they do or who they are or where they go in their lives or even whether they live until their next birthday.  When Thomas turned 4 this year and Baby Bryan turned 2, I felt nothing but gratitude.  Gratitide that I had a child old enough to attend preschool; gratitude that my children seem healthy thus far; gratitude that they both walk and talk and enjoy life;  gratitide that I get another day with them and gratitude that I have yet another opportunity to bake them a birthday cake.

Gratitude has become a dominant life force for me.  I am grateful for its presence in my life because I think it is healthy and honest.   And that gratitude, finally, even extends to having had Joseph for as short of a time as we did.  I have actually become grateful that he lived for a mere 9 months gestation and short 2 ½ years on this Earth.  I am grateful for the pictures we got to take of him, the moments he made us laugh, the countless hugs and kisses we shared, the memories we made and the imprint he left on my heart.  And, finally, I am grateful that none of us knew he had cancer until just four short months before he died because, even though that monster of a brain tumor made his life short and our hearts shatter, its sneak attack on our world allowed us to live blissfully ignorantly with him for two whole years.  It was that very ignorance that enabled our lives with him to be as full as they were. 

I miss Joseph even more than I did the day after he died.  I still cry for him regularly and buck the unavoidable reality of having to live the rest of my life without him.  But I take comfort in the Hope that he may indeed be just one breath away and in the Gratitude that he bestowed upon me.

We miss you, Joseph, and though we’d welcome our former mediocities in exchange for having you back, your life and loss has made us better parents and people.  For that, we are forever grateful.