For years, I’ve lived by the belief that grief is like a rock in your shoe, an analogy shared with me by a friend only months after Charlie died. It was life-changing in the way that I remember exactly where I was and how my heart fluttered when I realized that YES! This is so true.
Grief is different for everyone. It’s always there.
But sometimes you find yourself surrounded by reminders. Little snippets of memories. They seem to be everywhere. Numbers, names, colors, smells…
My newly joined family recently moved. The thing about being married to someone who wasn’t part of your life when your child died, is knowing how much “Charlie stuff” is too much. I have one photo of Charlie that has always stayed in my bedroom, almost looking over me. It’s the only picture we have, other than the one they took as he left the hospital, where his eyes are both open and he looks awake and alert and you can really SEE him.
This photo feels really private. Really personal. Really real.
So anyway, we moved. And the first thing I wanted to do was hang his photo. Why? Well, all our other kids were there, in the house, with their own spaces. He should be there, too.
But it felt weird. I didn’t want to make it feel like he was sneakily watching us. I didn’t want it to feel like a shrine to my dead kid. I didn’t want to make someone else uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be the person who brings the sad into the family.
So I carefully hung his photo on the wall behind the door and went to change out the laundry.
I felt immense guilt within 5 minutes and went back to my room, took down the photo, and hung it on a wall that faces the side wall but not the bed. It wasn’t something that would be seen all the time.
I felt much better. He’s mine to see and to share with my new husband and family. Right? Right. No more guilt.
In March, my step-daughter turned 15. I knew that she and Charlie were the same age; I’ve known it since day one. She was born exactly 2 months before he was. But it never clicked until all of a sudden there was talk of driving and learners’ permits and college.
It didn’t really hit me until her birthday when I seemed to have Charlie Kisses* all week. The knot in my stomach that lasted a week was as intense as it was when I realized he should be starting kindergarten or turning double-digits.
It’s amazing looking at her interact with Henry. Most of the time I don’t think anything of it, but sometimes I see a glimpse into how he and Charlie would interact if he were here. But if he were here, would Henry be? Would I be where I am today? Questions…
The Charlie Kisses haven’t stopped, and they had for a while. I missed them terribly.
I’ve come to believe there are times in my life when I NEED to know he’s there, hovering over my shoulder, nudging me to remember. To remember he was real. To remember he breathed and smiled and cried and ate and nuzzled up under my chin with his baby milk-breath and snored his tiny baby snore of happiness. I NEED to remember. I HAVE to remember. I don’t know the rhyme or reason behind when he shows up, but he does.
The other day I was poking around on Instagram, clicking on Stories which is something I never do. I’ve followed a woman named Bridget Foley for years, since I read her novel, Hugo & Rose, and fell in love with the characters and thus her. We’re friends on Facebook and have interacted a normal amount for people who kinda once-removed know each other.
See, Bridget is an artist as well as a writer. She’s brilliant at both, but that day a painting of hers, in her IG Story, stopped me in my tracks. It was a giraffe. With Charlie’s eyes. I know you’re like, “what does that even mean?” But you know when you see someone and automatically know who their grandmother is because they have the same exact smile or eyes or way they tilt their head? That’s what it means. I knew this giraffe.
A little back story: When I was in labor with Charlie, I was given an Ambien to help me sleep for a bit since my water hadn’t broken. Little did we know, I was allergic to it. I was one of the people who hallucinate and get violently ill. My hallucinations, before the violent puking started, were of giraffes who were not only talking about how filthy under my bed was, but they were cleaning under my bed. Their necks kept pushing my bed and making it bounce and I kept yelling at them to stop. They had brooms and mops and were yelling back at me, wondering why my area was so gross.
The giraffes had blue spots. It was so insane. They had what we now call Charlie Blue spots. Everything surrounding Charlie’s life made no sense and all the sense in the world. This color, and giraffes, has spent the last 15 years haunting me in a happy, magical way. Charlie Blue and giraffes show up when I least expect them.
Back to Bridget. Here was a painting of a giraffe. With my son’s eyes, staring at me. Big, almost black they were so dark, wide, aware. So very aware. Eyes that knew things. Eyes that knew they would never see past 24 days. Eyes that weren’t supposed to grace this world with the knowledge and beauty and soul that was behind them.
I messaged Bridget. I said, “Do you do commissions? I NEED this giraffe, but done with a different color spots.” I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy, and I felt a little crazy asking. She answered with a simple, “Ha! Sure! What colors?”
A few days later, a painting appeared in my mailbox and left me speechless. It was the perfect giraffe. It was just like the ones under my labor & delivery bed. It was the same one I’ve had in my head for years, waiting for it to just appear magically in front of me. It had his eyes.
I framed the giraffe and wondered where to hang it.
This painting felt and feels really private. Really personal. Really real.
I walked confidently upstairs with a hammer and a nail, pulled the other picture off the only-see-it-if-you-want-to wall, and hung them both front and center, right beside my bed, so they could watch over me and my husband every night.
If I can’t have him here to see, hear, touch, and love, then the best I can do, I can see him first and last thing every single day. He is part of this family, too.
*Looking at the clock at 9:19, morning and night, the time he was born. Happens all. the. time.