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Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Grief and Back to School

As much as I have enjoyed the days when school resumes and my children put on new sneakers and carry clean backpacks with freshly sharpened pencils and empty notebooks to school, it was no ordinary Back to School for our family this year. On that morning, two weeks ago, when they trotted off to their first day, I sent fewer children to school. It wasn’t a joyous day; it was yet another milestone etched with sorrow.

Ushering the day in without any kind of acknowledgement seemed wrong. So instead of taking smiling photos of my living children and posting them on Facebook, I composed a letter to my friends, the mothers of my children’s friends, the mothers of my stepchildren’s friends, to the principals at my children’s schools. I just needed to be heard. And perhaps understood, if there is such a thing. I got the idea from another grieving mom who sent one less to school this year. It follows:
my son died
Flying kites near Riley's memorial before school
Dear Friends,

Every day is hard in its own unique way. Death means that Riley didn’t start 7th Grade today. It means that C, H, and B took their “first day of school” picture without Riley; it means they went to school with a photo of Riley in their backpacks. It means that I said goodbye to C at Brittan Acres and walked up the hill aching to send Riley off with a kiss at the middle school.

Imagine him walking to the new middle school gates with H and B. Imagine him walking the halls of the new school. Imagine him bounding up the stairs to the second floor with energy to spare. Imagine him excited to learn. Imagine him excited to be with the orchestra, ready to learn new songs on his viola--even though "Dragon Hunter" would always be his favorite. Imagine him humming as he does his math homework tonight.

Would he have been wearing a green shirt or a baseball shirt today? Would he be in class with your child? What teachers would he have? What would be his favorite subject this year? Would he still be writing poetry? Would he still be playing “butts up” at recess?

We flew kites near Riley’s memorial at Pulgas Ridge yesterday. We hung a flag in our garden this morning and all shared one of our favorite Riley memories. Say his name, talk about him with your kids, remember a day when we spent time together. Think of C, H and B, too. They are also navigating this loss; it’s twisting and churning inside of them. We are already trying to imagine how we’ll honor Riley on October 20.

With my hat pulled low and covering my eyes, I left school with tears dripping down my face. I suspect that the other parents who saw me imagined I was a mom who had a hard time saying goodbye to her child, which isn’t entirely untrue.

With love,
It feels like part of my job is to continue to help people have compassionate awareness for Riley who is gone from our physical world, and also for his siblings who need to continue navigating the world with a canyon of grief alongside them. Along with that is my need to share this journey with anyone who will listen. It’s almost like being heard is how I’m ensuring that people keep remembering that just because a new year has started, the grief over losing my son, like the universe itself, keeps expanding.

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