I tend to avoid the cemetery where my son Noah is buried. So it took my older son Ben’s suggestion that we go together to get me there as part of his recent New Year’s visit home.
I hate that Ben was robbed of brotherhood in adult life by Noah’s suicide.
I hate that I was thwarted in my resolve that no child of mine would be an only child like I was.
I hate that our family has to spend time in cemeteries talking about death and remembering Noah.
But those are the facts of our lives. And it was a comfort to spend time at the grave with Ben, to see him stride directly to the spot and set up the golden Nepalese prayer wheel he’d brought from his travels while I added tiny redwood pinecones to the side of the marker. He settled himself cross-legged on the ground above the gravestone, slumped with silent crying. Does he cry, as I do, as much for himself and the hurt our family suffered as he does for missing Noah?
I’m pleased that Ben is not afraid to cry, to talk about death, or to be among the dead. At 30, he’s asking more questions about the cemetery and the sorry business of death in America. He was appalled to learn the cost of burial and how my husband and I were offered a nearby plot for ourselves as part of a package deal at a time when our minds were so addled with grief. (All I could think of then was how I wanted to be close to my child forever; we took the plot.) I felt wistful imagining how Ben would have to come alone to these patches of ground someday.
We sat for a while in the breeze amid the whir of nearby pinwheels. I put my head on his shoulder.
My husband had left a little red dreydl (spinning top) by the grave when he was there at Hanukah. Ben picked it up and gave it a spin on the gravestone. Noah would have laughed at that. Our boys used to have dreydl wars, setting a dozen spinning at once and trying to knock each other's tops off the table.
A week or two after Ben left for his home overseas, my yoga teacher told me, “I can see your son is with you during meditation.” Not sure I’d heard right, I agreed it was nice to have shared her yoga class with Ben during his visit. “No, I mean your other son,” the teacher said. She’s known about Noah’s suicide for a while and not said anything. Did it take meeting my living son for her to be able to visualize my dead one?
How much of Noah is still channeled through Ben, in his own eyes and in the eyes of the world? What part of Noah does Ben carry with him? I hope it doesn’t bother Ben that I keep asking that question among the many questions I ask about his life. From his brother, cousins, friends -- I still desperately need to know any way that Noah’s spirit lives on within them. It helps me to cherish his memory.
To my fellow survivors: What’s it like lately for you to visit your loved one’s grave or other place of memory? Have you tried going there with someone who shares your grief? I treasure the visits another survivor mom and I made to each other’s young son’s graves, lawn chairs and lemonade in tow, just as I appreciate the visits I make with Ben. Bringing someone with you can lighten the dread of those visits and stir conversations that might not happen otherwise, bringing you closer to each other and to your loved one's memory.