August 20th was the second anniversary of my son Neal's death. Seeing those words on my screen still perplexes me. Neal's death. One day he's in his room crazy laughing at some video and the next - he's gone. Through that summer and into early winter, I visited his grave daily. The house was so quiet and I didn't know what to do with myself - so I stayed near him.
I was drawn to the cemetery because that's where I left him. I knelt on the ground and lowered a small mahogany box into a new concrete container. On top of it, I placed a set of car keys - owned by his step sister & now junked - a car he talked about incessantly. When I stood, a man place a concrete cover over the container and it was done.
His grave site is really pretty. We chose it because it's quiet and there are not a lot of new neighbors. It's on a dead-end lane, backed by a long, single row of pine trees. His grave is directly in front of the tallest tree in that stand. Neal was big - six five, 200 lbs, which is lovely symbolism. If you're ever in Pine Grove Cemetery in Manchester, NH, head for the far back right corner of the cemetery and find the tallest pine. That's where you'll find my son.
The first year is the toughest. It's the first ... everything. The empty chair that we decided to include at Thanksgiving dinner? Totally not necessary. We didn't need an empty chair to remind us of him. He was so big and so noisy - the relative quiet was deafening. Christmas came and went - our dwindling family (dad left 6 years ago) subdued and thoughtful. Of the difficult days, and there were many, the hardest was his 21st birthday. Like other parents who've lost a child, I also lost his milestones, the steps and missteps he took toward manhood. It sounds cliche, but I'll never see him marry or marvel at the birth of his first child. That is so incredibly sad that I'm crying as I type the words.
For 19 years, I've been Neal's mom. I've been a lot of other things too, but before everything else, I was a mom. My life, plans and dreams all included my blue eyed boy. He loved me the way little boys love and resented me with the firm resolve of a teen who knows everything. And nothing. Without a Neal to make me crazy, make me proud, give my days meaning, I found myself in the middle of an intense identity crisis. Who am I? What do I care about? What kind of life do I want to create? I'll spend the rest of my days - however many I've left, finding the answers.
So the days go by, the emptiness filled in by the steady cadence of routine. Most days, I'm OK. Some days, I'm answering a knock at the door all over again. Even now, as I write this post and look at his graduation picture on my screen, I feel a sense of unreality. Gone. Gone where? He died. He died? According to dictionary.com, to die is to "cease to live; undergo the complete and permanent cessation of all vital functions; become dead." According to this definition, Neal is dead. I've looked everywhere and cannot find his tall, goofy frame. He's not in his room yelling on his Xbox, not hanging out in the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot with his noisy friends, not driving around Manchester in his noisy Chevy S10. No matter where I look, I can't find him anywhere. It is so fucking weird.
In a quest to understand where my only child has gone, I've become a seeker. I've consulted mediums, learned to meditate, joined the nearby Spiritualist Church and take their mediumship development classes. I've learned that beneath the noise of the physical world, quiet voices speak to us. That the son I thought I'd lost has just stepped out of the room. That if I'm really quiet and listen with intent, I can hear him. He whispers in my inner ear, fills my heart with his, walks with me. Loves me. Waits for me. I know this as well as I know anything and am comforted by it. I love you, too, Neal. I'll see you when I come home.