On 8/20/12, one month ago today, I lost my 19 year old son, Neal, to a motorcycle street racing accident. My life will never be the same. I could say all kinds of things here about how parents should never have to bury their kids. How this is the worst possible thing to happen - all of it's true. After a month of having heard & said it all, I'm left with the emptiness of knowing he's never coming home. Ever.
Losing my only child has changed me. A self-described cynic, I have spent the last years shaking my head at people, amazed at the idiots we are. These days, the John Watson quote better speaks my heart: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
I went to the grocery store the day after Neal died. I was surrounded by people shopping and standing in line, knowing that not one of them had any idea of my pain. Which meant that I had no idea of theirs. Something like unconditional love for humanity, for our flawed and fragile selves, overcame me. In that moment, I knew that if even one person in that store was feeling even a fraction of the pain I was feeling, I'd better be gentle. I forgave us, me - so caught up in daily life that it takes a slap by the hand of God to get our attention.
I sleep in his room. In his bed. I no longer wake only to remember that he is gone. I know it the moment I open my eyes. Some days, it fills me with such grief that I'm crying before I turn off the alarm. Other days, I say hello to his room, his big-ass TV, his clean shirts hanging in the closet, his painfully empty shoes. Then I start another long day.
My days are filled with questions. Where are you? Are you safe? At peace? Are you near me? Can you hear me when I talk to you? When I grieve out loud at your graveside? Will I ever see you again? A quiet inside voice tells me that he's safe. At peace. With me. With us.
I face a life that is suddenly very different. For nearly 20 years, I have poured myself into raising this child. Most of the time it was just the two of us. His toothless, dimpled smile made me forgive all men and I was healed by his presence. His birth changed my life. His death changed it again.
I need a new purpose, a new direction for my love and energy. A Neal Burlington Race Fund speaks to me. My mission is not to get kids off of their bikes. That's never going to happen. Racers gonna race. I want to launch an effort to get street racers off of the streets and onto the track. Track racing takes place in a controlled environment. There are no oncoming cars and no telephone poles. One killed my son. The other seriously injured his friend, Justin.
In 1989, after a premonition of his own death, my brother Russell, an avid street racer, left the streets and signed up for the Penguin Racing School, held monthly at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. For the next 5 years, the entire Burlington family was involved in Russell's racing. I worked the motorcycle safety crew as a corner worker. Mom manned the stop watch. Dad the grill. Rain or shine, our family & friends camped, cooked, laughed, made fun of each other and watched Russell & his crazy friends zoom around that track. Our family relationships thrived. We developed life long friendships with other racers & their families. Our loyal participation kept Russell safe.
Stay tuned for the next leg of my journey as I face life without my only child, Neal Michael Burlington. He was born on May 4, 1993 to a single mom, searching for meaning. He died on August 20, 2012, leaving behind a single mom searching for new meaning. Rest easy, my sweet boy. I love you.