You might be surprised to know that the hardest day of the year for me is not the anniversary of Luke’s death. It’s his birthday. This might feel counterintuitive as birthdays are about the beginning of life, but that, in fact, is what makes it so incredibly difficult. When a child is born you are filled with hope and possibility. You spend all that time deliberating over a name and dreaming about what he or she might become. Whose nose will they have? Will they love music or horseback riding or football? Entwined with all those possibilities is every parent’s need to reimagine their life through their child’s. Every mistake, every regret, every wrong choice recalibrated in this new life that will be bigger and better than the one the parent has lived. All of you living vicariously through your children, please raise your hand! lol Yep, that’s everybody.
When your child passes away, those hopes and dreams and that future comes to a grinding halt. You end up with one hell of a case of “what might have been”. What would Luke have been like at 24 and 32 and 45? Would he be married? What would he be doing for a living? What kind of father would he be? On every birthday I would say to my boys, “Today we celebrate the day you were born!” and I would go through the story of their births (grueling and torturous, of course lol) and we would talk about how far they had come in the past 365 days and how proud we were of them. At the Inwood house the rule is you do exactly want you want to do on your birthday, which some years translates to doing nothing at all. But it’s YOUR special day. Birthdays to me are like New Year’s, your New Year and a chance to reflect on how important it is for you to be on the planet Earth at exactly this time.
Luke has had four birthdays since April 2015. Each one has been difficult in its own way. The first, what would have been his eighteenth birthday, was difficult because all Luke ever wanted was to be an adult, his own man, and he never got there. Luke was the youngest of his group and it was driving him crazy that every one of his friends was turning 18 and headed to hookah bars. lol. His death was still so new and it was heartbreaking to watch his friends moving on, graduating, and starting to fulfill some of those dreams. Oh, to be full of promise.
This past Tuesday would have been Luke’s 21st birthday. I feel like this one is a big deal. You’re finally legal, you’re headed into your third or fourth year of college (if you went), but overall, you are just getting the sense that your life is headed somewhere. You’re starting to live with purpose. I see it in the children’s eyes when they visit. They are settled, confident, more comfortable in their own skin. It’s a tremendous thing to watch a young person grow and develop over the years. It’s also tremendously awful when you don’t.
And so every year I anticipate Luke’s birthday with a whole lot of angst. Usually the King of the Courts tourney comes first (Best Day of the Year) and I inevitably crash into the 19th. I try and tell myself that each year will be better, but it’s not. There is nothing I can do or try to tell myself to make me feel better. My heart just aches with his missing and my fists are clenched all day with the overwhelming need to hold him just one more time. On the day that gave him life, I miss his life with every fiber of my being. I want to bake his favorite cake and wrap presents that he will roll his eyes at when he opens them. I want to hear his relief that he can finally go out legally with his friends and then worry about how they are all going to get home. I want to watch my child grow up, but instead I cry that he is Forever Young.
So here’s what I need you to know: When you are missing part of your heart, some days are harder than others and for me, birthdays are hardest of all. Today we want to celebrate the day you were born, but it is entwined with the mourning of all the possibilities now lost. So take the day to be sad. Try and find a little peace whether it’s making that cake or cooking a favorite meal or toasting your now legal son. It will feel like the worst kind of hell until you climb into bed that night and close your eyes. But you will get through it. We get through it. We make Tomorrow a better day as a last great gift to our children.
Happy Birthday, Lukester. Xxx