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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Grief and paint

My son died
Today's project: Improved garage door
There is no coincidence that Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day coincides with Valentine’s Day. It's the day of the year when heart defects make national news and stories about children battling against nature with the help of medical technology come into the spotlight. But in my family—and probably in many families who have a child with a CHD—there really isn’t much to differentiate CDH Awareness Day from the other 364 days a year because there is no such thing as forgetting about it, even for a single day. It’s always there, beating in the background of our lives. With every medicine dose. With every visible (and invisible) scar. With every extra doctor appointment, hospitalization, and blood test.  

Four years ago, I tried to reclaim Valentine’s Day as the one day of the year that I would forget about congenital heart defects and just be in love the way that Hallmark intended. In love with my children, in love with my boyfriend (now husband). I thought I deserved that one day off, even if Riley didn’t get to take a day off from his medicine or have a day where running—or even walking—was easy.

Now that my son has died, I won't even pretend to imagine a day without CHD awareness. He is synonymous with it, and he is everywhere. Even when I'm not looking for him. As I checked in at the lab this morning for some routine tests, I saw his health insurance card and realized that there will never be another day when I present it to a receptionist at any doctor's office. As my blood was being drawn, I thought of all the blood tests he’d endured during his lifetime. When I was at the library, I found out that his card had expired. I paid the overdue fines accumulated when he was in the hospital and felt another loss realizing he won't be checking out any more books. I renewed his library card anyway. As I considered the Valentine's Day card I need to decorate for his brother's school party, I was reminded of CHD Awareness Day, the official day that everyone is supposed to care. The day when people like me want to think that all those news stories and ribbons actually make a difference. 

And as I painted the garage door with the words: "Riley lives in our hearts," I realized that painting things green doesn't actually do anything, aside from making me feel like his spirit is slightly less invisible. But that's probably only to people who are looking for it in the first place...and, of course, to our across-the-street neighbors. 

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