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Two Years Gone

Sheree Burlington6 Comments

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, 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.

Rest Easy, My Son

Sheree Burlington5 Comments

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.