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Friday, March 13, 2015

Grief and Opening Day

I’d forgotten about all the socializing and cheering that happens at Little League games. I am not up for socializing or cheering. I hid under the brim of my cap at the edge of the field or against the wall of the nearby school when C played this past week. He had two games since Opening Day, and Opening Day was last Saturday. All that playing put me in the middle of more social situations than I’ve been in since Riley died in October.
Life goes on

Over there, across the blacktop is a mom whose taken C after school several times since Riley died. She’s talking to a woman that I recognize, but am not sure I’ve ever officially met. She scoops her long hair with her arm and it cascades down her back. There is smiling and laughing and small talk; there is clapping and an ease at just being in the moment talking with a friend. I’m largely scared of the non-grieving population, as I’m sure they are largely scared of me. Sunglasses are adjusted, hair is twisted and tied at the back of her head. The sun bakes our mid-March bodies, forces layers to be peeled away and pale skin soaks the up the heat and threatens to become pink.

Their interaction seems effortless, easy, relaxed, normal. I wonder about the baseball season three years earlier when Riley played on this field. At the time, the kids seemed so big, grown-up, skilled for eight- and nine-year-old players. They whacked the ball into the outfield. They sprinted to first base. They dove to catch balls that seemed almost out of reach. I notice the kids on the field doing those things now. When did C become a big kid?

When Riley played on this field those three years ago, I made a connection with another player’s mom. She marveled at my son who’d endured five heart operations, yet was very much alive. Very much a part of the game. Very normal looking despite his mixed-up insides and uncertain future. That season she joined me in celebrating Riley’s accomplishments. To an outsider, my enthusiasm and praise may have seemed beyond what was called for, beyond what a child with normal abilities may have received for hitting, catching, running, and just swinging his bat. Every at-bat was praised—every walk, every foul ball, every strike out. For trying, for getting back in there again and again, even though it was hard for him, the boy with the faulty heart and not enough oxygen to nourish his cells.

Riley didn’t run fast—it was more of a shuffle—so if he shuffled to first base after getting walked, it was a big deal. If he snagged the ball from the air, it was a big deal. As he trotted to the grassy spot where the ball smacked the earth after missing his glove, I cheered. Him showing up again and again for every game and every season—he played for seven years—was a big deal. He was out there trying, even though each of those things involved an effort so far beyond normal effort. He loved the game.

I always feared the day he would decide not to play another season. When the games became more about winning and less about having fun. When he felt his struggle on the field was hurting his team and decided to use his energy reserves for something more stationary like art or reading. He never made that choice. And I’ll never know if he would have signed up for this season. I like to think he would have. In the meantime, I go to C’s games and wonder about the cheering and the life-goes-on normalcy around me. Like so many things in life, I will always feel sad about all of the things that did not happen, the life experiences un-experienced, the milestones met and marked by others, the seasons coming and going, the beginnings and the endings.

C had been invited to throw the first pitch on Opening Day for the league Riley would have played for. Some of Riley’s friends showed up and helped C warm up his pitching arm. C told me: “I feel sad all of the time, even though I don’t always look sad on the outside.” I was amazed at his eloquence; that's definitely how I feel too. That morning on the mound, he looked proud and happy and sad and nervous. That’s probably how I looked too, at least when I wasn't hiding under my hat.


  1. You and C should be thanked and praised for being at those fields. I am so sorry Riley is not there with you.

  2. Love you Suzanne. I have a bittersweet relationship with your posts - I love them and I dread them - I so wish I could do something to ease the pain. Please know that you are in my thoughts and my heart - any time you need a bolt hole in burlingame where there are fewer people to hide from, let me know - coffee, wine, a few minutes volunteering in a classroom (? Not sure why that would be good?!) I'm here. Anyway, sorry for my lack of eloquence, I just want you to know I am still here in the universe, caring about you xxxxxxx

  3. elizabeth r12:43 PM

    I just learned about Riley's passing. I'm so sorry to hear the news. I read this post through facebook. A mutual friend of ours had shared it.

    I read your blog from, well, it seems like the very beginning. Riley and my son were born weeks apart. My son also had a heart defect, which was repaired in Boston at the same time that your son was going through one of his surgeries. At the time, I was a Product Manager at a software company and enjoyed reading Ken's blog. So I read your blog with interest. You're a beautiful writer, Suzanne, and I felt like I got to know you through your writing.

    Many years ago, I sent Riley a present when he was in the hospital.

    I'm so sorry to hear the news of Riley's passing If it's helpful to know, there are people who care about you and send you healing positive energy - even if you don't know them.

    Kind regards,

  4. I shared this as an example this year, when my students recently completed a memoir. This was Riley's from last year, and is a great example of capturing the emotion of a moment. I was always so impressed when he talked about baseball, without reflection on the difficulties that came with sports. #teamRiley

    The Time I Made a (Diving) Catch By: Riley Norton
    I was just standing there out in Right Field, just standing there: And that’s when I saw it. I heard it actually, I heard the crack of that metal stick whacking a ball and I stopped daydreaming. It was almost like a wake-up call. Then I “saw” it: I saw the little white pellet take-off from Home Plate. It took me a second for me to calculate where the ball was going to land,(in deep Right Center) then I ran. Even I (who had been playing baseball for 7 years) never knew that a baseball could descend so quickly. I was almost there, I dived for it, I reached out my glove and… I fell. I hit the turf with a loud “Thump!”. Then I heard it: the cheers and whoops of the fans. I got up and I saw one of my teammates reach his glove out for the ball, he was looking at me, then I looked inside my glove and…I felt that same white thing in my glove! Then my coach picked me up, After the game my mom asked me a question. She asked if I knew that I had caught the ball right away and I said I didn’t.

    Riley, may you keep running those bases, and catch that line drive! - Angela Naughton