Thursday, February 20, 2014

Graveside Valentine

Who knew Valentine’s Day would be so hard? I’m not a sentimental person but since my sons were little, I always made sure to give them little hand-cut hearts, candies and other silly trifles. This year, I had a nice visit with my living son a week before and texted him a virtual valentine. I realized I would need to go to the cemetery to give Noah his. 

I thought the cemetery would be full of mourners bringing valentines on February 14, but it was empty. I had only been there once since the gravestone was installed and had marveled at the little things left at its edges: a bronze Class of 2009 decal, half-smoked cigarettes with lighter, seashells, a child’s inked stamp, a pair of plastic solar-powered flowers moving up and down, a set of earbuds. It was comforting to see signs that others had been there. I was still getting used to that little square of earth as our family’s place to commune with Noah. This time, I brought an envelope of pink paper hearts with “Mom” on the back, which I staked out around the edges of the gravestone with toothpicks to prevent their blowing away. Thus festooned, the marker looked suddenly festive.

I wanted to shower Noah with love--the love I should have showered him with in his time of need, when the will to live was slipping from him. Since leaving home, he had walled himself off from me and I didn’t know how to get through to him; I was waiting for an opening, not realizing I needed to open my heart. In his last, low weeks at home after leaving college, I should have told him every day that I loved him, that I wanted to help him, that it gets better with help and time. Instead, I stole an occasional kiss to his head or squeeze of his hard shoulders and showed my love by pushing him (in vain) to see a psychiatrist. Thank God I blew him a kiss the night before he killed himself. Yet I am left with the crushing sense that my son died without a mother’s love.

Suicide makes those of us left behind doubt our love. Over and over, we retrace the missed chances to show our love, to fling it out as a lifeline. Over and over, we realize that our love wasn’t enough to save our loved ones or keep them close. We wonder whether they felt our love or truly loved us. 

When a child is terminally ill with physical illness, parents keep vigil at the bedside, declare their love and try to mend old hurts as they prepare to say goodbye. When a child is in psychic distress or mentally ill and secretly planning to end their life, there is no chance for loving vigils and farewells. Loved today, gone tomorrow. How differently we parents might have loved had we only known. 

My boys never acknowledged the valentines I gave them over the years. I could only hope that they received them and felt my love. I can only hope that if not at the end, then at some point in his suffering, Noah felt or at least remembered my love.

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