This evening our little Charles would have turned 3. Three years on, the thing that probably surprises me most is how much the kids still talk about him. Just today at Jasper's football game Ruby said, "Mom, see the way that little girl is climbing all over her big brother on the ground? Do you think if Charles were alive he would be climbing on me like that right now?" I don't remember that my sisters or I talked quite as often about our sister, Kathryn, who died as a baby. Maybe it's because she came before all of us, so we didn't experience her death.
This feels like the first time we're truly experiencing what it will be like to have his birthday come and go every year in our busy lives. The first year his birthday meant a lot of other things besides a birthday--we had survived one year since that horrible day of our baby's death. I had anticipated the anniversary with fear, but then realized the anticipation was worse than the actual day. I thought of him on my own, and didn't need a certain day to remind me. My friend Charlotte, whose son Mason had just died a few months earlier, came over and helped me make a birthday cake for Charles. She was the perfect person to spend that day with.
That first birthday passed with little acknowledgement from friends and family and that hurt a bit, but only because I had been so afraid all along that people would forget Charles' existence. It sounds irrational, but that was a tremendous fear of mine while I was pregnant--I felt defensive of him, and how little his life might matter to people when it was over in the blink of an eye. That's why I made a point of letting people stream in to the delivery room and hold him right after he was born. I desperately wanted him all to myself for those short minutes--but I also wanted others to feel him. To love him as I did. So I tried to give him to them. It was really, really hard.
And now I'm crying. I'm quite surprised. I haven't cried about Charles in a long time: probably almost two years. I realized early after his death that there were two parts to my grieving process. There was the sadness over the son I would never know, and there was the trauma of what I had been through, anticipating a child's death, pushing him out to face it, and then holding him in my arms--powerless--as it happened.
After the first year, I felt my strongest feelings about the experience came from the trauma, not the loss. I felt peaceful about having Charles again someday, and about enjoying the children living at my feet. But it was still hard to think about that day, and that time in my life, and that time in my children's lives.
His second birthday we spent in Ethiopia, in the midst of our fingerprint troubles. And though we thought of him, the trauma felt pretty far removed, and the loss felt about-to-be-filled by the girls. I felt Charles' approval and happiness for us.
But today I've felt the loss. Now that we're settled in as a new family, and a mainly girl family even though I've actually birthed more boys than girls, I've felt the loss of my little boy. Today I've felt frustrated for the lack of a little three-year-old brother climbing on the girls, and running out on the football field after Jasper in his football gear. That would have been sensational. I can't say I miss you, Charles, because I don't really know you. But I can say--I can really, really say--that I wish you were here. I wish you were here.
Phew. I'm embarrassed to admit to being that emotional about this. But it's good to get that out. It's great, though, to remember that most of the time I don't feel sad about it at all. How marvelous that life, and joy, go on.
Thanks to those of you who remembered Charles today, and sent us messages. I really appreciate it--again, from that place inside that still fears sometimes that people forget he was born. But also to those who didn't (lest I get phone calls), don't worry about it! I've realized since that first year that just because people don't mark a specific day doesn't meant they don't think about or remember you. In fact, I myself am not good at marking specific days or places. I don't go to Charles' grave often, and we didn't do anything special today, because we've learned that we're just not special-place or special-day people: we think about Charles when we want to think about him, and visit him wherever we want to visit him.
Since I don't have any video to post of a Charles birthday party, here's a little video from a party I threw for the kids last week, to celebrate one year together as a new family.