Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Soft Shroud

February 20, 2008 started out as an ordinary day. I got up to go to work about 7, dressed and made my coffee. Before I headed out, I poked my head into Pierre's room to check on him. He was sleeping soundly. His heavy snore told me he'd been up late again--I'd heard him come back in the middle of the night--so I crept up close to see if he was alright. His posture was a bit odd and the sound of the snore wasn't the same, but details like this appear only in hindsight.

As both Readers know well, that day was the day Pierre died.

This year, as that day approaches now for the third time since his actual death day, the question of what to do about it becomes more acute even as I learn to cope with it. The pain of his death has begun to fade just a bit, falling back from the constantly excruciating to the merely constantly painful. It's a matter of degree, of course. There is one degree past which the human body ceases to function. Because of this one day, I will ever exist just a hair's breadth below that line.

Given that, I suppose I should not wonder why I am so moved to do something on this day, as opposed, say, to his birthday. Both days are worthy of marking, so in some ways, it's silly to imagine not marking either one of them.

Pierre's birthday was something we always celebrated, of course. We will continue to do that. Not in the same sense that one remembers a birthday with greetings and good wishes, but in the sense that every parent feels about their children's arrival dates, particularly their first-born.

There's no other experience like it. The births of subsequent children, while not necessarily a been-there-done-that sort of feeling, are simply different from what that first time was like. The moment when you realize that you've changed the world by bringing a new person into it is a factor in all births, I guess, but it is that first time that is really life changing.

Obviously, Pierre's death day was equally life changing, but for reasons that I would never have thought of at first. For example, one of the hardest questions I have to answer these days is, "How many children do you have?"

This question is hard to answer for a couple of reasons. It's such a simple, often innocently asked question, I can't fault people for asking it. But it does present me with a difficult dilemma.

My instinct is to answer as I always have since Maddie's birth in 1990, "Two."

While this answer isn't wrong, it also isn't truthful. I want to add, "But one of them died." Now that, as you can imagine, is a great conversation killer that I have learned to avoid. No one knows what to say after that, especially me. I hate to put people in that kind of an awkward situation so I often just dodge the question altogether. But why? Why shouldn't I be truthful? Why can't I simply say "Two" and just leave it at that?

Well, because it rarely gets left at that, and the subsequent conversation can be even harder to bear. The next question is something like "Oh? How old are they?"

If the previous question presented a difficult dilemma, this follow up is even harder to answer. Unknown to the questioner, the answer is difficult for me to even contemplate for a couple of reasons. Quite honestly, it means calculating how old Pierre would be today. Now, while I have no trouble remembering that Maddie is twenty, figuring out Pierre's potential age is an exercise in painful math. And as both readers know, for me, even simple equations are painful enough without some sort of a death factor.

The math will never get easier, I suppose, but talking about and dealing with the day itself certainly will. Thankfully, those awkward conversations with strangers become rarer with time and I find it easier to cope with when they do occur.

While it has been over a thousand days since Pierre's death day, we have only had just three chances to observe and cope with that anniversary. Time will not erase the memory of what happened that terrible day, but it has begun to cover the date itself with a soothing veil of grace, a soft shroud whose layers are spun and woven from our loving memories.

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