You and I shared a fondness for entertaining movies and TV shows, as I now do with Aiden. When you were eleven, we rooted for Chris Rock and Bill Murray in Osmosis Jones. When you were twelve, we thrilled to Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black II. When you were thirteen, we tried not to pee in our pants watching Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles. And of course, in your teens, we watched the entire Monty Python’s Flying Circus DVD collection, from which you quoted liberally throughout your life.
A few weeks ago, I decided to re-watch all six movies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Hey, I’m retired. I can do that sort of thing now.
It wasn’t until I was nearly finished with all of them when it dawned on me that these films are just about twenty years old and that you were eleven when The Fellowship of the Ring was first released.
I watched these films with you by my side.
I don’t really get that emotional anymore about your being gone. You’ve been pretty well integrated into my life, and your story is, more and more, just a story. Okay, not just a story – a pretty spectacular story. What I mean is, your dying no longer pushes me over a cliff. I only very rarely find myself lost and crying in a puddle of tears and regret.
But every now and then, I do. The wave returns. (People often describe grief as coming in waves, there one moment and gone the next, and you never quite know when the next one will sweep you away.)
Watching this movie, which was just a movie … until I remembered seeing it with you. And suddenly, I’m sobbing all over again.
Don’t get me wrong, kid. I love the sobbing. I love the renewed sense of loss, of horror that you’re no longer where you should be, the pain that stings whenever my remembering that one of my children is dead really sweeps over and through me.
“Love” is probably the wrong term, but these feelings, especially when they’re so strong, remind me how much I miss you, how much I still wish you were here, and that you’re not just a story. You’re my son, and God damn it I want you back. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling. But thirteen years later, I’ve adjusted and, for the most part, I’ve successfully integrated you into my everyday living. I’m comfortable with that. But I also welcome those times when the discomfort returns.
So my life now consists of: I’m fine. And then I’m not fine. And then I am. And so on, and so on. And that, I think, is how it’s always going to be.
Back to these movies.
In The Lord of the Rings, Theoden is the King of Rohan. He spends a good while under the catatonic spell of the evil Saruman, until good wizard Gandalf breaks the spell and Theoden is able to rule his kingdom once more. Upon regaining his health and his power, Theoden asks for his son Theodred, only to learn he has just died in battle. Theodred’s body is returned to his father and a funeral is held.
That was the moment when I realized that you and I had seen this film together. This fictional story of a father’s loss reminded me how the very real story of your death is no fiction. It was all too real. And it will always be very real. Sure, I place the story on a shelf all the time. Because I have to be able to live my life. But the story comes down off that shelf all by itself just as many times as I reach for it.
As always, I speak for myself and cannot vouch for anyone else’s journey. But this seems to be the trajectory of my life. I carry on – I live life fully and happily – but I never move on. I have never left you behind nor, it seems, will I ever. Even if I could, I would never choose to do so.
I love my life, Jonah. I love your mom, and I love your sister and your brother. I also love the dog that you never got to know. I love the things I do with my life. I love the opportunities I have to be creative, to be with others, to be by myself, and to help out a bit along the way.
And I love you.
Always always, you are never far away. I carry you close to my heart and – I have a strong feeling about this – I don’t think I’ll ever let you go.
I so wish you’d gotten to live your life, Jonah. I won’t be doing so for you, but I will make sure you’re not forgotten. Whether it was a dumb movie we shared or a trip to help traumatized families in hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, your story now lives in me.
As long as I’m around, Jonah, others will know that your nineteen years meant something. That you loved and were loved. That you dreamed big, you laughed big, you hugged big, and you heaped kindness big. While in time, for others, those memories may fade. And even for me, that might also happen. But it will be in those unexpected moments, when bits and pieces of you return, if only for a moment – your stories will be told once again.
Love you forever,