Today is September 18, 2009. Tomorrow my son Dan would have been 29. In the Septembers since he died (May 2002) I have had a variety of emotions. Some years I can celebrate and be glad he lived his life at all, other years I wonder what was the point. The first birthday after he died was the hardest. We won’t go there but know that I was smart enough to know that I needed to have people on alert to come to NYC to take care of Chris (Dan’s older brother) at a moment’s notice in case I felt the need to check myself into a safe place. I am not ashamed to admit that there were very, very dark days that first September. It was also the first September after 9/11 and even though I didn’t lose anyone that day, that day changed the direction of my life. But that’s a post for another day.
Chris was unhappy that I was unhappy because even though he grieved the loss of his brother, he also felt it was his responsibility to take care of *me* and felt he was failing. Grieving is not easy to explain and is different for everyone, and I tried to explain that to him. I worked for a doctor’s group at the time, so I was on a variety of medications, had started counseling and was “doing all the right things”. But I was overwhelmingly sad. Counseling helped, medications made me insomniac and zombie like. That September I found out what a nervous breakdown was. People talk about them all the time. Most never really experience one. Ok, so maybe we will go there. I started this post to just express that this year his birthday is pretty difficult again, not nervous breakdown difficult, but just difficult. Instead maybe I need to talk about that first birthday so that other parents that have lost a child unexpectedly can understand that it gets really bad, but then it gets ok, and then sometimes it’s bad, but never “that” bad again. Your child wouldn’t want you to “go there” repeatedly.
Daniel and I had a special bond. He was the baby. He was brilliant. He was intuitive. He was an old soul. Elizabeth (his oldest sister) understood it and was not jealous or offended. Chris knew it and acknowledged it begrudgingly. He knew he was special too, each in their own way. When I was pregnant for Daniel, I had been married for a few years, had Liz and Chris close together, then a miscarriage because of an illness. Stress had started to erode the marriage. Lots of disagreements, but I was the “good wife” and tried to keep things mostly to myself. My husband was possessive and I knew if I divorced him, he would try to take my kids. Daniel would be my child I told myself during the pregnancy. If my husband took the other two, I would have Dan.
I didn’t leave my husband while I was pregnant, nor did I leave him while the kids were young. I had a way to cope, I had children with health issues that took up most of my time, I was a wedding photographer and was out working on weekends. He worked evenings so there wasn’t as much stress, at least not too much to not be able to handle it at the time.
Dan was demanding, but not in a bad way. He didn’t sleep at night, his brother and sister had to be up for pre-school, so I basically lived on coffee for several months, in a rocking chair or with him in a sling. Liz and Chris were happy in those baby swings, where they would play and sleep and rock. Dan needed to be held. It was ok, it’s just the way it was.
Life happened, I got divorced, my kids had special needs so I was never far from them. Liz went off to college, got married, had a baby. Dan went off to college, Hofstra, for a year on his own. Chris and I still lived together, showed cats, he went to community college and acted. Then summer 2001, Dan got accepted to NYU Scriptwriting program, Chris got accepted to Hofstra. Wow, my kids would be all away from home. And I had to move because of it, but again, a story for another day.
Our Septembers, as a family, always started with volunteering for the local Labor Day Telethon. Our family was deeply involved with fundraising for MDA. Another facet that made Septembers hard later on.
Summer 2001, I had to move 2 handicapped young men to two different colleges. Because Dan had already been to Hofstra, Chris was all set with Dan’s old room, and an aide to help him out. They couldn’t get out of bed themselves, nor could they get themselves to bed. This gets to be important. Dan at NYU we thought was also all set, but when we got to the dorm, they had no clue what we were talking about. Aide? What aide? So I had no choice but to stay at the dorm “for a couple of weeks” while they figured out where to get him an aide.
Then 9/11 happened. Suddenly the health care folks in lower Manhattan had other worries besides finding an aide for a young man at NYU. So my life changed. I lived in a dorm room with my son for 9 months. Again, another story for another day.
So Septembers have some issues for me. Mixed joy that I had a beautiful son born to me in 1980, and the pain when that day comes each year and he is no longer here to celebrate it. The memory of many family activities that we did each year, the pain that we will never do them again.
I guess the point of this post is that there is no point. Some years I can breeze by his birthday with a tip of the hat and do something special (one year I sat in a hotel room and read all of his movie scripts and plays that he had written, some for the first time, others for the 10th. Some I had “written with him”, participating in the the writing process, others just knowing bits and pieces). Other years I can’t function, I can’t breathe, I can’t believe he was taken from us.
Chris died quietly 3 years after Dan. I had the same reactions after Chris died, but accelerated. A nervous breakdown, but no meds and no formal counseling. They didn’t work the first time. Friends got me through the dark days after Chris died, because Chris had gotten me through the dark days after Dan died. After all, I still had Chris to take care of. When Chris died, I had no one to take care of. Liz had her own family. She needed me as a Mom, but not like her brothers did. And she understands. She feels it too. She had a special bond with her brothers too, and especially with Dan. There was something about him….
There still is….
(this is one of the unhappy years, even though I have great friends and a man that takes great care of me, there is no accounting for grief and what it is going to do and when it will pop it’s head up.)
Hope my rambling somehow makes sense and helps another parent feel better, or at least not feel like they are alone in their grief.
The worst thing people ever could say (including Dan’s dad) is “get over it, move on, the past is done”.
This year his birthday is also Jewish New Year. Maybe tomorrow will be better than I think and today (this week actually) is just a “bad day”.