Tonight we celebrated Sean’s birthday in a traditionally nontraditional way. Greek food. For a man who didn’t like to profess to having favourites, this was something he enjoyed immensely as a family in those moments when he wanted to celebrate a victory or to even embrace a defeat. He would have been 42 today. It’s a far out emotion. Unlike my shallow self, he loved birthdays and the entering into a new year of life. I panic with birthdays. I panic with the inevitable process of aging. But 42. I think of the dreams he had and the visions, the endless vision he had for our family, for our community, for the church,and for every person he befriended. It was nonstop…and it is mind blowing how that the vision has stopped in time- to some degree- when he died at 40. Life has continued to move forward, of course, and I do believe we are beginning to learn the rhythm to this unfamiliar tune. Tonight after putting the kids to bed, I saw that it was only River who drew pictures in the birthday journal we made for Sean last year. Nola said earlier she wasn’t ready to write in it and Memphis, well, he’s a thinker.I don’t want to put pressure on the kids to have to do anything. I want to leave this journal as mere option- write it or not. Be free. My heart broke for River, though. He was quite young when Sean was diagnosed and really witnessed a lot of the gruesomeness sickness does to one’s well being. He missed out on a lot of the fun things his dad did or at least would have remembered him doing. To have been a 4 year old with a dad too sick to play or to go on adventures with, he seems to have this unspeakable grace for the whole thing. Does he not remember how horrible it was? Or perhaps he only remembers how loved he was by his dad and those other things don’t really matter to his young heart. I am not sure. For this Dennis the Menace meets Tom Sawyer boy, there is a kindness and an inner strength I pray continues to grow and develop with whatever diversity comes his way. God I pray he would remain grounded in the solidness only love truly can instil.
I remember November 18th well. It was a Friday and I went to a cremation place to pick my husband’s ashes. I remember what I was wearing. The weather. Who I was with. I remember I did not drive. My friend Lizzie was my chauffeur for two weeks after his death. After we picked him up, we went for pizza. The day before I had shopped for the outfit I would wear to his funeral. When I got home, because my house was in the process of being absolutely renovated, Sean’s dream, I put his ashes in a storage place in our basement and didn’t look back. And I hadn’t looked back at that white linen bag with the cardboard box containing the urn with his ashes in it so carefully placed, since then. Until yesterday.
Yesterday morning, I woke up before six, went into the basement, removed Lacrosse sticks and school projects from the hiding void. I grabbed the white bag and the weight of it all surprised me. I remembered the great details of our waiter and the exact lunch and beverages Tiffany, Lizzie, and I shared that day in November, but the weight of these ashes? No. I was surprised how heavy they were whileputting them in the trunk of my vehicle. I knew Monday the 21st of August, I had to spread his ashes. It was time and it was what I had told him. August. It was in August we had difficult conversations last year about where he would love to be and it was always in August we would be together as a family enjoying our favourite place to rest.
My hands shook uncontrollably as I really faced the box for the first time. I cut through the tape with the scissors and had to break to stare in awe of my hands trembling. I walked away for a moment to collect my thoughts and pray under my breath…It was time. I didn’t want to deal with it, I really didn’t, but I had to. This is how life is sometimes. There are moments when we just have to seize it and not refuse or run from it. Death is the only guarantee we have in this life. No escape. No denial. Only acceptance. I just didn’t know that I would be doing this at 38, that’s all. However, like his death, this day now too has sealed us. A connection that is beyond tangible. A marking, an awareness, and a depth that only death, tragedy or even trauma brings. I don’t walk this journey alone. I know that. I have not once thought it. Can everyone relate to it? No. But that is okay. I don’t need that, what I need is presence, and sometimes that is all anyone really needs.