This July marks three years since Joseph died.  There’s always a feeling of self-absorption and inappropriateness that haunts me when I post on this site in the wake of our loss but to not post doesn’t feel quite right either.  After Joseph died, I felt a bit paralyzed in trying to figure out how to memorialize him.  I was hesitant to do anything ritualistic for fear of what it would represent if there ever came a time when I abandoned that particular ritual.   If I didn’t post on the anniversary of his death would that mean that we, as a family, had healed? Would it mean Joseph was no longer as important as he once was?  Or worse, that he was forgotten? 

In my more grounded moments I know those fears will never come true but, nonetheless, they enjoy haunting me.  I have come to understand that as essential as evolution is in the grief process the ability to evolve and grow is fostered by the root concept of remembering.   Contrary to popular opinion, you can only reach the former by holding tight to the latter and that understanding has provided comfort for me.  Executing that notion is more complicated though.  I still find the ultimate challenge to be keeping Joseph’s memory close, fresh and accessible without allowing the loss to keep me at a standstill. 

This year we were invited to a lot of life events.  There were many graduations and several weddings.  The rituals that typically mark the passing of time were ever present.  On a smaller scale, this week, the grocery store that I enjoyed zooming Joseph through closed its doors.  For typical Genaurdi's shoppers the closing of the Genaurdi’s in Springfield was, at most, a minor inconvenience but for me it meant that I would, once again, lose a setting that housed some really great memories for me with Joseph.  As I shopped there for the last time this week I recalled the different moments I had there; for example, ordering Joseph’s 2nd birthday cake, bribing him with a miniature Sesame Street “Bert” balloon to keep the peace as I shopped (which we stuck in our outdoor basil plant until the sun washed the color out of it) and having full conversations with a life-sized helium Dora balloon while onlookers wondered if we were serious. Sometimes we’d float Dora with us to various aisles but we always “returned” her to her post at the front of the store.  And then there were the mysteriously funny moments when Joseph used to giggle each time the store’s loudspeaker announced “Service desk: Attention, 2-0-1.” which it did many times during each shopping trip.  I will never forget the “memorable” (substitute: “embarrassing”) moment when we were going down the jelly aisle and, Joseph purposely swiped fours jar of grape jelly onto the floor then looked at me and asked, “Who did that?”  …the little devil!!  That store was not only the canvas for the creation of many happy memories but was also the same store that I had to re-enter with Thomas and without Joseph proving what I had been told which is that one of the hardest things to go through after the loss of a child is the food store.

The closing of this store got me contemplating the “small hours” of life; the ones that Hollywood always misses.  The ones that exist between breakfast and morning snack time, the ones that occur in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep, the ones that zap your energy and your sanity but foster the kinetic bond between you and your child.  They are not marked by balloons or invitations or fancy clothes and, often, there aren’t any photographs of them.  They are the moments when you have played with your child for three hours straight and all you can think about is closing your eyes and taking a nap.   They are special and tiring and beyond measure.

We had so many “small hours” with Joseph.   Those invaluable, precious moments are the ones that made our life with Joseph and his life with us extraordinary.  His mark on our lives and this Earth will never be articulated by spelling bees or dances or college acceptances.  I will never be able to justify buying him that monogrammed backpack from Pottery Barn Kids that I naively envisioned on him shortly after he was a born.  But the absence of these events in his life doesn’t make his mark any less indelible.  After countless tears, irrepressible anger, heavy soul searching and tremendous love and support from our families, I can honestly say that I am grateful to Joseph for our abundance of small hours.  Though they bring me to my knees in grief they also sustain me. They are far more powerful than the anniversary of his death.  I have come to learn that the small, dateless, timeless hours are what matter most in anyone’s life and they are the ones I happily draw on when I need to warm my heart with a blanket full of Joseph.

So, as we enter into the unimaginable, our fourth year without our oldest son, Joseph, please know that it is with perseverance and your support that we have managed to walk this road.  We have developed gratitude for the small hours we shared with Joseph and it pecks away at the rage we have for not having enough of them.  Three years later we are not “better” and we have grown too wise to think we ever will be; however, we acknowledge, accept and, now, embrace that the world is forever colored for us without Joseph and we also, finally, find ourselves grateful for its rainbow.  We are so appreciative for those people in our lives who have allowed and continue to allow us to let our family of five mature, evolve and flourish in its own unique and magnificent way.  Thank you.

Joseph died on July 7, 2009, and though that sounds like a long time ago I am proud and happy to report that, for us, it seems as though he was here just yesterday.  His spirit and laughter echo through our home in every way that it can. Our whole family, especially Thomas (3 years) and Baby Bryan (14 months), enjoy an untraditional but spectacular relationship with him.  Being the parents of three has been more joyful and challenging than our wildest dreams. 

We miss you, Joseph, and we take comfort in knowing you are just a breath away. We love you, Bud Bud.

(BELOW: The jelly aisle at Genaurdi's-Springfield)