Year Two

Dear Charlie,

It’s been two years since I have last felt your embrace.  It’s been two years since I have last heard your voice.  It’s been two years since I have last seen your smile.  It’s been two years since I’ve felt your presence and not your absence.  What I feared from the second you went to heaven is slowly materializing with each passing day.  My memories of you are creeping away from me.  I’ve been trying so hard to hang on but they have been making room for the new memories life keeps producing.

When you died I feared that people would quickly forget who you were as a person.  I know most people that know me or your mother will always remember that we, “had a son named Charlie who died when he was close to 3 years old.”  I feared they wouldn’t remember, or never knew, that you were a tender, sweet, and loving little boy with an undying love for his Mommy and little brother.  You shared, had good manners, and took your turn.  You loved puzzles, books, and Spiderman.  You were witty and sharp.  I’ll never forget eavesdropping on you when we had Uncle Eshoo’s groomsmen at our house before Aunt Liz and Uncle Eshoo’s wedding.  You were holding court with nine grown men telling them your old war stories about stepping in dog poop and how you made Daddy clean off you shoes. . . as I was cleaning dog poop off your shoes from a few minutes earlier.  I used to have more examples off the top of my head but they’ve slowly creeped away.

I was afraid everyone would “move on” from your death.   I feared that people would forget you.  Not forget about you but forget you.  I was afraid my memories of you would fade and it’s been happening.  Mommy feels the same way and it kills us.  Our lives and love have continued to flow and with that so have new memories.  We are not moving on.  We are moving forward.  Moving on is reserved for something like a bad breakup or job layoff.  (I’m not saying your death wasn’t bad.  It’s the single worst thing to have ever happened to me.  It’s so terrible, the possibility of you dying never crossed my mind until I saw you on that bed in the elevator at the hospital.)  What I’m trying to say is that your life was spectacular.  YOU were spectacular!  I can never “move on” from you.  This hole in my heart and lump in my throat will forever be a part of me.  Our world stopped the day you died.  But it quickly started up again for most people while your Mother and I remained in that same spot.  That spot in our lives to which we are forever anchored.  I used to be confused as to how people could just go about their lives knowing that you suddenly and unexpectedly died but I learned that life does indeed keep going.

Life kept going and it dragged me right along for a while.  I’ve been trying to recall that first year after you died and not much comes back to me.  I remember a lot of running/training for muddy obstacle races and crying.  A lot of crying while running/training, actually.  Other than that, not too much really stands out.  I was in a state of shock for over a year.  This past year has been filled with more anger than sadness.  I am mad, Charlie.  I am not mad b/c I no longer have you in my life.  I am mad because you didn’t get to experience yours.  (Ok, ok.  I’m beyond angry that you aren’t physically with me but I swear on your life that it’s not as angry as I am that you didn’t get the chance to live yours.)

The past couple of months have been better for me.  The holidays were tough and I’ve had some outbursts sprinkled across the proverbial infield but I’ve made progress.  At least I feel like I have made progress.  Dan and I keep getting tighter with each passing day.  The guilt of loving Danno has subsided greatly and it’s fostered the solidifying of a father-son relationship similar to the one I cherished with you.  He’s become my shadow, much like you were, and there are many times when I swear I’m looking at you.  I’ve begun to call him by your name countless times.  You and he are very different, however, which is what makes our bonds unique but not any less strong.  While you were sweet, obedient and passive; Dan is physical and rambunctious.  If I set a limit, he WILL blow through it. . . and probably punch me as he passes it by.  He’s big, strong, and athletic along with being the kid who takes toys from other kids for no other reason than he can.  I cringe when he does this but he is improving so much and has almost stopped that behavior entirely.  (And don’t be misled by my words, I LOVE the fact that he’s big, fast and athletic with a little bit of an attitude.  It’s what makes him The Danno.)  I know that our grief over losing you severely impacted Dan’s growth and development.  Since our grief has begun to be more manageable, he’s made huge strides in everything from his vocabulary to his sleep and behavior.  He’s become more gentle and kind with others and most importantly, his sister.

Oh Charlie, I wish you could have known sweet little Reese Charlie Tobin.  She’s the sweetest and most beautiful little girl you’d ever meet.  She melts me with her smile and her blue eyes.  I swear I sometimes think the answer to the universe lies within her eyes.  She’s a feisty little thing that is constantly in your brother’s dome.  While I get on Dan for pushing her away at times, I have to admit that she’s asking for it ninety percent of the time.  She’s already big into puzzles and I think she’s going to be a lot like you in that regard.  There is so much about her that reminds me of you.  She’s such a good baby and has helped us move through this devastating time of our lives.  I remember initially thinking that we may have gotten pregnant too soon after your death but as my cousin Mike said, “Forever would’ve been too soon.”  Now I can’t imagine life without her.

Which is what kills me about today- and everyday.  I can still remember our life together but the soul crushing feeling of life without you is what I recall most.  I have a hard time imagining life without the physical pain of your absence.  Life keeps moving forward.  It doesn’t stop for anyone.  The ones who try to stop it are the ones who get stuck.  I knew this the day you died.  I knew I couldn’t get stuck.  It’s been two years and exactly what gutted me the day you died has become true.  I didn’t want to live because I didn’t have you anymore.  I knew that I had a very long life ahead of me that would produce more memories.  I feared these memories would eventually outnumber the ones I had with you.  I didn’t want to make new memories without you.  I wanted out.  I was seriously hoping for some sort of accident that would quickly take me out of here and to you.  I don’t have those thoughts anymore.  I want to live and I want to live with purpose and love.

We love you more than anything in the universe and we hurt every second of everyday.  The pain has become a part of us on a cellular level.  It used to flood out the hope and love in my life but I’ve been able to better navigate the darkness lately.  While your death will always be a part of me, it will not define me.  I’m trying to recapture the love we had together and share it with Dan and Reese.  The guilt that accompanies this lifelong endeavor will always be there but I know I need to work through it for not only Dan and Reese, but for all of my loved ones.  I love and miss you with all of what remains of my heart and soul.  My promise is to use what remains of each to be the best person I can be in honor of you.

I love you,

Daddy

Here are a few pictures we took as a family in the fall.

IMG_5169 - Copy IMG_4670

IMG_4854 Reese

I Know. . .

I’ve been wrestling with whether or not I should write a post in response to the tragedy that occurred yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I haven’t posted anything in a long while and I fear that if I wrote a post it would come across as self indulgent or self serving.  While I do not know what it feels like to have my child murdered I do know what it feels like to have my child die.  I fear that people may feel I am making this unthinkable tragedy about me.  Please know that I am not trying to do that in the least bit.

I think about the parents who went to that fire station desperately seeking to hold their children that instead walked away with their arms empty and souls obliterated.  I think about the suffocating feeling of helplessness knowing their beautiful babies are only a couple hundred yards away lying dead in their classrooms.  I know all they want to do is go get their babies and hold them but they can’t.  (Try to imagine knowing that you’re holding your child- even though they’re already dead – for the last time in your life.  We couldn’t let go of Charlie at the hospital.  I remember getting home late the night Charlie died and watching Vanessa have a break down in her friend’s, Alissa, arms while she continuously muttered, “I just want to hold him.  Can’t I just hold him one more time?”)  I know that knowing the fact that their children’s last few minutes of life were filled with absolute terror is something that none of them will “get over” or learn to live with over time.  It wasn’t a peaceful death for these children.  It was horrific and extremely frightening.  I know that the shock they’re feeling right now will wear off within a year or so and then they will be carrying anger, resentment, anxiety, hopelessness and depression long after people think they’re “better” or “over it”.  I know that every single one of them would change places with their dead child right now.  I know that they will forever physically feel the absence of their children in everything they do for the rest of their lives.  I know that this indescribable pain is forever and it’s why I’ve been a complete wreck since the news of the first fatality was brought to my attention.  I can’t handle seeing other people in so much pain.

The innocent children that perished in this heinous display of humanity will hopefully be remembered for the immaculate souls that they are and beautiful people that they were.  I hope they don’t become a lesson to people to love their kids more or hug them a little tighter.  I fear that they already have, however, by countless media reporters, the President, and even fame-whoring parents of surviving children from Sandy Hook.  One woman in particular infuriated me with her smug smile and aura of elitism as her sweet, red headed and toothless daughter regurgitated scripted answers to questions.  She said she was doing the interview to support the families that had lost children.  No, she was not.  If she was concerned about them, she would’ve been with those families and not shamelessly grabbing her 15 seconds of fame.  As a bereaved parent, I can speak for the parents of the 20 kids that died yesterday and tell this lady that nothing she said in that interview came close to making anyone feel better about their deaths except herself.

As Vanessa and I were watching coverage last night I remember seeing a man in a red jacket stumbling away from the fire station.  I knew immediately that one of the victims was his child.  Even though I don’t “officially” know, I know in the way only another bereaved parent could know.  I could see it in his eyes.  I know that look.  I know that feeling.  The feeling of the universe crushing his soul as everything he’s ever known and believed about life has been shattered.  I know that he faced his now incomplete family for first time yesterday.  I know that he walked into his child’s empty bedroom for the first time yesterday.  I know that he fell asleep for the first time last night.  I know that he woke up this morning for the first time.  I know that he did all of these things and will do more for the first time. . . after his child died.  Like me, his life will be remembered in two halves.  Before his child died and after.  Everything is different for that man and the rest of the parents who lost their child yesterday.  They are not the same people they were before yesterday and they never will be again.  The pain they are experiencing will forever be with them.  I wish there was something I could do to ease their pain but I, unfortunately, know there is nothing I can do that would ease it even a little.

My heart breaks for the surviving children that witnessed their friends get killed and have had their innocence hijacked from them.  My heart breaks for the parents of all of the victims as I know their pain all too well.  Most of all, my heart breaks for the children that died yesterday at Sandy Hook.  I’ve broken down numerous times imagining the chaos and fear those children experienced in their last minutes of life.  These sweet and innocent children never harmed anyone and they were mercilessly gunned down in cold blood before their lives even started.  I hope they are remembered for more than just being victims of a most horrific tragedy and not be used as a lesson to people whom still have their children to love them more.  They deserve much more than that.

May they rest in peace and God bless their souls.

Danny Turns 2

The weeks and months leading into Charlie’s 2nd birthday were filled with many practice renditions of Happy Birthday. My man loved him some Happy Birthday.  It was his favorite song and birthday celebrations were his favorite occasions. He’d perfectly sing it to random people, toys, and our dog Laney all of the time. The more I think back, and unfairly compare Danny to Charlie, during this stage in both of their lives I realize just how advanced Charlie’s vocabulary was compared not only to Danny but to every 2 year old I’ve come across.  I’m not making him better in death than he was in life, either.  Ask anyone that knew him or watch the videos that I’ve posted and you’ll realize that Charlie’s vocabulary was not just a little advanced but “get the eff out of here, did he just say that?” advanced.  I thought it was normal but when I would compare him to other kids his age or even a year older than he, I’d realize just how advanced it was for him.

I compare Dan to Charlie all of the time.  It’s all I do and it’s monumentally unfair to Dan.  They are different people.  More importantly, I am a different person than I was 20 months ago.  I used to think I was a really good dad.  I was obsessively involved, loving, and patient.  Constantly reading him books, helping him solve puzzles, and teaching him how to pronounce words.  We were connected at the hip.  Always spending time together and having fun.  He could do no wrong in my eyes.  Even when he had temper tantrums, I thought they were cute and would patiently work him through them.  I’ve been almost the complete opposite with Danny and it’s severely damaged my relationship with him.

Dan had a bad stretch of sleeping from about May through August.  He’d wake up every night and scream from 1am to 3 or 4am.  Literally, every night for at least an hour straight.  There were many nights when he’d wake up and scream bloody murder until 5am- the time I wake up to get ready to go to work.  I don’t care who you are but if your alarm clock is your son inconsolably screaming two hours before you have to get up, it’ll wear on your patience.  It broke mine after about the 4th night.  After about the 56th night in a row, I lost it.  I’d go in there like a silver back gorilla screaming at him to be quiet.  I once pinned him down in his crib so he couldn’t stand up and smack my face as I pleaded with him to just go back to sleep.  When I quickly realized that “technique” didn’t work, I just quit.  Everything.  I stopped all interaction with him.  I wouldn’t give him baths, put him to bed, or get him out of bed.  Trying to get him to do any of these would result in him crying and smacking my face.  So I avoided him altogether.  I definitely didn’t try to read him books, do puzzles, or play with him because he’d cry and run away from me.  I figured if I didn’t interact with him, he wouldn’t hit me or throw epic temper tantrums that included throwing objects, headbutting the ground, and screaming his lungs out.  All I could think about was how Charlie never acted this way or how he never woke up at night like Danny.  I resented Dan for living and I resented Charlie for dying.  I was angry.  I would wallow in my grief and ignore my life.  I checked out entirely.

“The opposite of love is indifference,” Stubborn Love by The Lumineers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uoCPHwPtZM.  I’ve been jamming this tune a lot lately and that line cut me to the bone the first time I heard it.  (As I’ve mentioned before, all songs- especially about breakups- speak to me about my loss of Charlie.)  I began asking myself, “Who am I?  What have I become?”  Just another one of those fathers that I can’t stand?  I spent the better part of three months faking it.  I didn’t care about anything.  I definitely didn’t care that Danny outwardly didn’t like being around me which was evident by his avoidance and fearful responses to my presence.

As I got off the train a few weeks ago -in my typical head down/ear phones in fashion- someone stepped on the back of my foot and caused my shoe to come off.  Not a big deal but it forced me to look up and I was stomach punched by a billboard with a picture of a man shaving and a little boy watching him in awe with the tag line, “Know you’re someone’s hero”. I broke down in the middle of the train station.  (Perhaps a sign from Charlie?)  I’m supposed to be Danny’s hero.  I’m supposed to be Danny’s protector.  Not someone whom he cowers in fear from when I walk into his bedroom.  I need to stop comparing Danny to Charlie and start comparing myself to whom I was 20 months ago.  It’s on me, not my 2 year old.  Yes, I’ve had a rough go at life but that’s no excuse to take it out on my living son.  He didn’t cause Charlie’s death.  He has no idea what’s going on other than the guy he calls “Dada” sometimes loses his cool and scares the shit out of him.

I regretted nothing about my relationship with Charlie. If I knew that he was going to die just ten months after his 2nd birthday I still would’ve lived my life exactly the way that I did with him. It’s my only silver lining. I regret nothing.  I can’t risk not having that same conviction with my relationship with Dan.  He deserves more.  He deserves to have that dad that Charlie had for his short 2 years and 10 months of his life.  The involved, loving, and patient dad that helped develop Charlie into the person I adored.

I’ll never forget a comment that a fellow bereaved parent and reader of my blog, Tim Hayes, left on one of my posts.  “Charlie did not get “it” in a vacuum. He obviously had a great dad.”  It’s one of the few comments that has truly moved me.  That comment has stuck with me over the months because it used to incite anger inside of me.  It made me mad b/c I was not that father anymore.  I was angry b/c even though I’ve been dealing with an unthinkable loss, I’ve allowed it to overwhelm and turn me into someone I am not.  Yes, Danny is not as advanced as Charlie was at this point in their lives but that’s on me and my indifference.  It’s on my avoidance of loving deeply and fear of attachment b/c I know how crushing of a loss it is to lose your child.  It’s not on Danny.  All he’s seeking is his father’s unconditional and unrelenting love.  These are the most important years of his development.  The difference between an ill-mannered, bratty kid and a polite, kind kid is forged now.  I can no longer sit on the sidelines being pissed off that he isn’t Charlie.  I need to be there for him now more than ever.  That doesn’t mean for one second that I’ve moved on from Charlie or have “gotten over” his death.  It just means that I’ve finally woken up and realize that I’m accountable for raising my two living children and can’t use the death of Charlie as an excuse for being a shitty dad.

I’ve written similar sentiments in the past but I haven’t really meant them.  At least not like I do today. I actually feel the need for change in that same spot of my soul that was ripped out 20 months ago.  Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a noticeable difference in my attitude in everything from my work, my friendships, and -most importantly- my role as a father and husband.  (Danny has also been sleeping through the night, which helps.  A lot.)  There’s also been a significant swing in Danny’s behavior for the better.  He’s been sweet and gentle with fewer temper tantrums and I honestly think it has a lot to do with my behavior towards him.  As Tim said, kids don’t get it in a vacuum, they get it from us- their parents.  If you’re struggling or unhappy with your child’s behavior, look within b/c therein lies the problem.  It’s easy to blame your kids or simply write it off as them “being difficult.”  Or in my case, it’s easy to give up and quit because Charlie died and I “deserve” to be angry.  It’s time to step up and hold myself accountable for the upbringing of my children.  I’m done feeling sorry for myself.  It’s destructive and grossly unfair to Vanessa, Danny, Reese, and Charlie.  I’ve been feeling and noticing a difference in myself lately.  Like I excitedly said to Vanessa the other night after I patiently calmed Danny down at bedtime, “I’m back!”  With tears welling up in her eyes, Vanessa admitted, “Yes.  You are back.  And I’ve missed you so much.”

Happy Birthday to my guy Danno!  For your 2nd birthday I’m giving you something that can’t be unwrapped or opened.  I’m going to try my best to give you more of what I used to be.  Hopefully I can take this change I’ve felt in my soul and forge a path back to the father I once was and that you deserve.  I love how you’re a rough and tumble boy that’s always pushing the limits and testing me.  You’re a great kid and I love you for who are and not who you are not.  I promise to remember this today and forever.  Now let’s go break some stuff.  (I promise I won’t tell Mommy.)

Danny getting ready to blow out his candles today on his 2nd birthday.

Danny and Reese on the couch on Danny’s 2nd birthday.

Wedding Anniversary

“I hope that I don’t sound too
insane when I say there is darkness
all around us.
I don’t feel weak but I do
need sometimes for her to protect me
And reconnect me
to the beauty
that I’m missin’”

January Wedding, by The Avett Brothers.

I was once told by someone after they met Vanessa that I was “out-kicking my coverage.” It’s a sports’ cliche that refers to a punter kicking the football too far thus allowing the return team to have an easier return b/c the coverage doesn’t have time to set up. When he said it to me he was referring to the fact that Vanessa is too good for me. In Charlie’s eulogy I made a reference to the many people that had commented on how being a father to Charlie had changed me for the better. I also mentioned how I suspected no one ever said anything like that to Vanessa because she wasn’t in need of a change for the better. Vanessa has always been a genuinely kindhearted and selfless person. Someone I’ve always secretly known who is too good for me.

Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. We’ve been together for 17 years. Just over half of our lives. No one on this earth knows me better than Vanessa. She can take one look at me and know exactly how I am feeling or what I’m thinking. We’ve been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Together. We had so much careless fun with our friends and family while in high school, college, and mid-20′s. We leaned on each other when our best friend, Marc Sargis, unexpectedly passed away ten years ago. We lived our lives to the fullest celebrating weddings and new babies with our family and friends in our late 20′s and early 30′s. We experienced a level of love neither of us knew existed when Charlie was born. It was brought to an even higher level once Danny joined our family. Four short months after Danny was born our souls were crushed and we were forever changed.

I’ve been so consumed with being a father to my dead son that I’ve neglected and damaged my relationship with my living children and wife.  It’s as if I won’t allow myself to move forward with my life because I have a hard time accepting that each day I’m moving further away from Charlie. The memories are fading and I’m trying to hold on so tightly that my living children are slipping through my grip. I miss him so much it physically hurts. I can feel the emptiness in my heart and soul. Unfortunately, that emptiness is all I have left with Charlie. It’s my only connection to him. This pain I feel, the darkness that is all around us, is all I have so of course I’m going to hang on to it. You get to hug your kids “extra tight” tonight.  I get to cry into a computer screen while watching an old video of Charlie. I’ve been focusing on what I don’t have- my oldest son – and not on what I do have- two healthy kids and an adoring wife. Vanessa has been trying to reconnect me to the beauty I’ve been missing and in the process has kept me from drowning in this darkness.  Vanessa sees through the emptiness in my eyes and into the void in my soul because she’s swimming in it too.

I remember in the days right after Charlie died some people warned us that bereaved parents are more likely to get divorced than other married couples.  Um. . . thanks? Truth be told, I think the odds of us getting divorced have decreased since Charlie died.  It’s like we are floating in an ocean of darkness all alone but we’re surrounded by all of our loved ones who are in boats.  Everyone is passionately trying to help us get into the boats but no one can figure out how.  It’s impossible.  We’ve been permanently tossed overboard.  We can feel the love but we are still very much alone out here and we’ll never let go of each other.  We’ve been through the worst and we are still here. Together. Some days I hold her up. Some days Vanessa holds me up.  All of the days, we are in this together.  And that won’t change until one of us gets to see Charlie again.

Happy Anniversary to my wife Vanessa.  I love you more today than I did yesterday and I look forward to loving you more with each passing day.  I want to thank you for providing me with three beautiful children and loving them with every fiber of your being.  Danny loves you.  Reese loves you.  Charlie loves you.  Thank you for always being there to support me when I’m down or to calm me down when I am angry.  Your compassion and unrelenting love is the glue that has kept this family together through the tragic loss of our son Charlie.  You’re an amazing mother, friend, and spouse.  I’d be lost without you.  I’ll love you all of the days in this life and the next.

Vanessa, Danny, Bryan, and Reese on Father’s Day 2012

Spread Over Everything

“There is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness. . . of something amiss.”

- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I wake up thinking about my dead son. I go to sleep thinking about my dead son. Every thought, decision, and reaction spread throughout each day are all doused in the soul numbing reality that my son Charlie is dead.  It doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with, or what I am doing; Charlie not being with me is all that I’m thinking about.  Some people try to tell me that time heals all wounds.  None of these people have felt their child die in their arms.

Do you know what I miss the most?  His shoes being left in the middle of the front hallway.  His Spiderman underwear on the floor of the bathroom when I go take a shower before work.  When he would pronounce the letter “L” like it was a “W” and correct himself immediately.  “NOT wwwoo-otion, Daddy.  Lllloo-tion.”  When we’d fight about me not letting him climb on top of the toilet to reach the sink to wash his hands after he went potty.  I miss showing him off at people’s parties and at restaurants.  I miss when he would drop the “f-bomb” in perfect context- totally my influence- and then put himself into a timeout- totally Vanessa’s influence.  When he’d follow behind me with his lawnmower to, “make sure he got the spots I missed.”  When he’d beg me to jump off that fucking diving board.

Intellectually, I understand how “time heals all wounds” but my emotions will not allow that train of thought.  And truthfully, I don’t want to ever get “there.”  The only thing time has done is take me farther away from Charlie and that is not what I want.  I miss the feel of his sinewy body wrapped around me as I held him.  He would gently dig his heels into me and hold onto my thumb as I carried him around.  I miss the sound of his raspy and melodic voice.  I miss his penetrating brown eyes that were filled with love and wonder.  There is so much more about him that I miss but fear I’ve already forgotten.  Those “15 second” interactions that made up our life together have slowly and unwantedly faded from my memory.

When I started this blog my original intention was to share stories about Charlie and his beautiful life.  He was such a great kid with a pure heart.  He was tender, gentle, and loving.  Instead of giving his sports’ class coach a high five like everyone else, Charlie had to give him a hug too.  He loved to sing songs, read books, and do puzzles.  Char could sing his ABC’s before he was two and his vocabulary rivaled that of most 4 year olds.  He was an engagd and protective older brother.  Always quick to get a diaper, bottle or pacifier to stop Danny from, “ccwwwying.  Not ccwwwying, Daddy.  Cccrryying.”  I remember one time walking in on him trying to feed Danny his yogurt because, “Danno told me he was hungry so I gave him my yogurt.”  He shared, took his turn, and always said his “please and thank-yous.”  He would look at other kids who yelled, “Mine!”, like they were crazy.  (Full disclosure:  Danno yells, “mine.”  A lot.  And hits people.  And throws things at their faces.  “The Shark” cannot be stopped.  He can only sometimes be contained.)

There will be no more memories made with Charlie.  We will always be “less one” no matter what we’re doing.  Vacations, eating out, and going to the zoo.  Going on walks, doing yard work, and going to the pool.  Responding to e-vites, signing thank you cards, and sending future holiday cards.  (We didn’t send one out last year.  We weren’t having a Happy Holiday season so why fake it?)  We’re a family of five physically represented by only four.  Why send out a card with a picture of an incomplete family on it?

What most people may think provides me a respite from my grief is what actually makes me hurt even more- living children.  Especially mine.  I can’t count the amount of times I’ve begun to call Danny by Charlie’s name.  I can’t look at Danny without seeing Charlie.  My stomach hits the floor when I walk into a room and see Dan because he looks exactly like Charlie.  I’ll catch a quick glimpse of Dan and there’s a brief instance when I seriously think I’m looking at Charlie.  A chill spreads over my body as I feel that void in my soul swallow me whole.

It always feels like something is amiss.  Nothing ever feels right or complete.  I’ve read that amputees can feel pain in their amputated limbs.  This sensation is called “phantom limb”.  Instead of having a phantom limb, I have a phantom soul.  I am constantly hurting.  It does not matter what I am doing or who I am with, Charlie’s absence is what I am thinking about.  There is no hiding from it.  There is no disguising it. There is no sugar-coating it.  Charlie is dead.  He is not here.  This little boy filled with love and promise is gone forever and all I’m left with are memories, pictures, and videos.  And pain.  And guilt.  And anger.  And sadness.

The worst kind of loss is the death of your child.  Your hopes and plans for the future get smashed.  The constant and unrelenting pain of their absence is tangible.  The sleepless nights and depression take an emotional, mental and physical toll on you and those that love you.  You feel alone, isolated and hopeless.  You feel broken and incomplete.  There is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness.  “This I learned without wanting.  Holding my brow,” One Sunday Morning by Wilco.

Oops

I began writing a post this morning and left the laptop open while I went to change Reese’s diaper.  I sometimes forget that my son Danny has shark DNA and I left the laptop open.  Danny can’t resist but to smash the keyboard when the laptop is open and he accidentally published an unfinished post.  The Danno.  Always seeking and destroying.

 

Happy Birthday Charlie

Above all else, Charlie loved birthdays.  It didn’t matter whose birthday it was, Charlie would be pumped to sing Happy Birthday and watch/help blow out the candles.  Once was never enough.  We always had to sing at least twice whenever we were celebrating someone’s birthday.  Witnessing Charlie’s love for birthdays made me appreciate them more.  It was just one of a million things about Charlie that made me love life more.

I remember the week before he died we went to a 1 year old birthday party.  When it came time to sing Happy Birthday to her, Charlie grabbed my hand and led me to a spot where he could see all of the action.  Instead of watching the birthday girl, I watched Charlie throughout the song.  He belted that song out to the back row as he hopped from foot to foot to the beat of song.  At the end of the song, Charlie took a breath so deep it came from his toes.  He then unleashed his breath to help blow out the candles. . . from seven feet away.  He lustily clapped when the candles were extinguished thinking he factored into it and shot me a look that looked like he had just participated in the best rendition of Happy Birthday ever.  My man talked about this birthday party for weeks before it was scheduled and I saw all of his pent up excitement and joy come to a head at the end of that song.  I’ll never forget watching him sing and trying to blow out the candles from afar that day.  I can picture it perfectly in my mind right now.

Charlie would talk about his impending 3rd birthday often in the weeks preceding his death.  Actually, he would talk about everyone’s birthdays.  He would tell anyone that would listen, “My birthday is March 30th.  Daddy’s birthday is May 27th, and Mommy’s birthday is July 3rd.”  We would practice singing Happy Birthday to the toy shark in the tub.  We’d talk about what kind of party he wanted.  He was all about Spiderman, Diego and Dora, and Buzz Lightyear at the time.  He said he’d like to invite all of them to his party.

I wonder who’d he invite to his birthday party this year.  I wonder how he would sound when he talked.  I wonder how much more advanced his vocabulary would be.  I wonder how tall he’d be.  I wonder if he and his brother would get along all of the time.  Danno and Char are complete opposites when it comes to some things.  Charlie would calmly immerse himself into books, puzzles, or building blocks at 19 months.  Dan takes those same items, bashes them together while screaming, and then throws them as far and hard as he can.  I find myself laughing, and crying, thinking about what Charlie’s reaction to Danno- whom I now call “The Shark” b/c he’s in perpetual motion seeking to destroy- would be.

We got a birthday card from Toys-R-Us for Charlie last week.  We cancelled it last year but I don’t think the people in the marketing department give a shit that he’s no longer alive.  They just care that they sent out a certain number of mailings.  Seeing this in the mail gave me a bolt of that pain I felt the night I he died.  The tangible pain of the void in my soul.  I’ve been weepy all week.  I can’t go anywhere without encountering an emotional trigger.  I can feel the stares on the train to work as I wipe tears out of my eyes before they fall down my cheeks.

I’ve said before that all days are painful so the days around anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays aren’t any different but this one is feeling differently for me.  Just further proof of how unpredictable grief is and how it affects me.  I remember how much Charlie loved birthdays.  I don’t remember too much of his birthday from last year.  I was still in shock.  (I sometimes think I still am in shock, to tell the truth.)  I remember having  a hard time letting go of my balloon last year.  When we sing Happy Birthday to my son who is not here and release balloons to him up in heaven;  I will feel that void in my toes.  I’ll take a deep breath from my toes and try to blow out the candles on his cake. . . no matter how far away I feel from Charlie.

Dear Charlie,

Happy 4th Birthday!  I wish you could be here with Mommy, Danny, and Reese so we could sing Happy Birthday to you today.  I miss you more than anything in the universe.  I feel your absence every second of everyday.  I would do anything to hold you again.  My love for you will never fade and I’ll always talk of you proudly.  I love you and Mommy loves you.

Love,                                                                                                                                    Dad

Here are a couple of birthday videos with Charlie:

This was the first time we sang Happy Birthday to Charlie on his 2nd birthday.  This was with my side of the family.

This rendition was with Vanessa’s side of the family.

This was Charlie singing and helping me blow out my candles.  He was 2 years and two months in this video.  You also get to see me lose my temper with my Mom for a moment before realizing on I was on camera.