july 17th

Today was Ben’s birthday. He should have been six. We have now spent three birthdays without him – equal to the amount we spent with him. How can that be? I expected by now that it would feel easier on this day. But that was naive – it doesn’t. How could it? He is our son. And he is dead – the opposite of birthdays. There is no theme, no friends, no presents, nor candles to blow out. Instead, every year on July 17,we will be left imaging what could have been – what should have been. Trying not to overdose on something that would allow us to spend this day with him.

Tonight we attempted to “do” something to acknowledge this day. We went out to dinner at one of our favorite spots with Ryan. Checking into a restaurant the hostess asked us, “Three of you?” “Yes”, I replied. Just three of us. I wanted to stop her and say, “There are supposed to be four of us! But our son is dead. This is his birthday.” Perhaps she could still throw in the free dessert? Instead, we followed her quietly to our table.

During our meal we tried to talk about Ben, but for Ryan it is confusing. “Why is it his birthday?” “When is he coming back?” “Why is he in heaven?” In the midst of our conversation I told him he had to eat all his vegetables if he wanted to go to ice cream afterwards. He quickly proceeded to stuff them in his mouth all at once, thus gagging himself and vomiting all over the table. Niiiiiice.

I suppose that was appropriate though. Our life is messy. Even when we attempt to “celebrate” it is just so very hard. We have released purple balloons every year on this day in memory of Ben. As we struggled to do it again tonight, Ryan – done with the day – started crying, “I want that balloon back! I want that balloon baaaaack!!!” The whole notion of an offering or a birthday for a brother who isn’t here just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t to me either. I want my son back.

Yet, as I stared at Ryan tonight after he fell asleep, my heart felt grateful. Thank goodness there are three of us. For if it were just Jeff and myself, I am pretty sure in the wake of Ben’s death we would have destructed completely. But as it is, in some show of grace and mercy we have Ryan. There are three of us. Three of us trying to make it as a family. Attempting to acknowledge this day in some special way.

Better luck next year.

“Happy” Birthday Ben. Six years ago today you changed our lives forever. We miss you like crazy. Emphasis on crazy.

 

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