With the arrival of August, the steady, yet rapid peeling off of the days invariably signals the countdown to an anniversary that always fills me with dread.
Tomorrow it will be exactly nine years since Kieran, the older of my sons, took his life.
For others, if they’re even aware of it, the anniversary is probably uncomfortable and perhaps even embarrassing. After all, what can anyone really say after nine years? Maybe they’re thinking that it’s simply time for me to get over it. Or maybe the discomfort they often appear to feel is caused by their innate knowledge, even if they’ve never experienced it themselves, that a parent never “gets over” the death of his or her child. An anniversary is a reminder that time is passing and yet in the case of child loss the grief neither fades nor lessens. Instead, it must be carried like the unbearable, unmentionable burden it is until the day of one’s own death.
I remember Kieran calling from Ft. Bragg, where he was stationed at the time, around mid-July 2010, to wish me a happy birthday. The call may very well have been our last—I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know for sure—coming, as it did, approximately six weeks before he took his life. Obviously, I had no inkling of what was about to happen. Or did I?
As best I remember, our conversation was brief, which, in retrospect, seemed to hint at what was to come. (Even at the time, after hanging up, I remember saying to myself, Why did he want to get off the phone so quickly? Something must be wrong.)
Exhausted—I’ll admit—by my then twenty-two-year-old son, as well as by the years of disappointments and frustrations, was I allowing my injured feelings at the time to override my mother’s intuition, which, if operating correctly, should have told me quite clearly that I needed to take some kind of action. But what kind, exactly? What could I have done? Gone to Ft. Bragg and interfered mightily in my son’s life?
From what I remember, the phone call wasn’t unpleasant so much as it was vaguely unsatisfactory. Even though I feel certain that not so much as a single harsh word passed between us, I wish I’d been more loving, more caring during that phone call, especially since I can’t remember with absolute clarity ever speaking to my son again. This is the guilt that haunts many of us who are left behind following a death, and especially a suicide. But isn’t there a valuable lesson here, too, which is that shouldn’t each and every one of us, whether a major tragedy has touched our lives or not, treat our daily interactions, and especially those with our closest loved ones, as if they might be our last, taking absolutely nothing for granted?
Of course we should, but is living like this truly possible? I’d love to hear what you think.