Grief Journal: Four Boxes

My son is contained in boxes now.

One box, the funeral box, sits next to my bed. In it are all of the cards and notes we received. A large bag with one dried flower from every arrangement sent. Copies of the program. Information from the eye and organ donor organizations about where his corneas and tissues ended up and how many people he helped. The guest registry. The notes his beloved second and fourth grade teachers used when they so lovingly and kindly eulogized him. A copy of the letter I wrote to put in his casket. My husband’s eulogy, the hardest thing he’s ever had to write.

Two more boxes are in the attic. They’re more storage bins, really; they hold everything from his room I couldn’t bear to part with.

One box has his treasures, like his original LEGO creations that were on his shelves or that he’d kept for a while. Special action figures, like his PACIFIC RIM jaegers. Some POKEMON cards. A few stray NERF gun bullets. A game cartridge. A tin box where he kept his “cool” finds and keepsakes—a snakeskin, interesting rocks, a Native American arrow head, a broken watch, a tiny singing bowl, some shells. An empty candy box I found, inevitably, under his bed. Other seeming odds and ends. The box holds nothing special to anyone else, but everything special about what my boy loved and spent his time on. Ten, 20 or 30 years from now, I could open it and be flooded with memories, just holding a tiny robot dog from Camp Invention that would look like trash to anyone else.

The other box is full of art. My kid loved to draw the way he loved little else, even his beloved computer games. His room was a storm of paper, where an entire forest had gone to be resurrected as endless Sharpie or pencil drawings (always black and white, rarely color; who has time?) on copy paper. He drew characters from his favorite video games and shows. He drew comics with his own characters. He wrote, too, and had a unique, funny voice. His assignments for school made me and his teachers laugh—why *do* kids have to get up so darn early?—yet showcased an inner wellspring of storytelling ability. He had talent—more than that, he had a gift.

The last box is the hardest. We chose to have our son cremated, and so we have a small box of ashes. It’s plain and simple, and labeled with his name. I picked it up myself and hid it away to spare my husband, who right now finds only grief, never comfort, in pictures of our son; I can’t imagine what seeing his ashes would do. Some day we will figure out what to do with them. Right now, we can’t even discuss it. So the box sits, quiet and hidden and always, always there, just like our grief.

I wanted to make some grand metaphor about boxes and our son being more than just the four boxes his 10 years fit into, or how he never fit into a box in life, so how could he in death? But I can’t. Because the reality is, I have four boxes.

3 thoughts on “Grief Journal: Four Boxes

  1. I love you. Apparently your husband isn’t the only writer in the house. I have a lot of boxes of ashes in my house right now, so I feel you. The last four cats (Samhain *insisted*, then I couldn’t separate Minerva from her children, then of course Magic and Mystic had to be with her). My step-daugher’s mom Jo is in the corner of my living room on the bottom of a shelf, waiting for Jenn to come visit from CA and figure out what to do with her. In the meanwhile, she has cats and books around her and is in the same room as the TV, so I figure she’s probably content.
    Grief is way too huge to put into boxes, but boxes are what we have left. That and our memories. And love.


  2. My dad is in a box too. My mom finds it comforting, like keeping him close. I look at the box and feel like I could black out from the grief. And I’m unable to look at pictures with anything but grief either, I hope one day I’ll find comfort in them. You and your family has been through something unthinkable and I think it says a lot about you that you work to understand the ways grief looks on each of you, and you try to make space for that. I’ve said it before but I’m so sorry. I think of you still every day and wish I could give you a hug. Love you lots, V.


  3. Because you should get to make those boxes many, many years from now when he goes off to MIT to create the first robot that is also a transformer. And after he gives a ring to his true love and you chose lovely momentoes from those boxes to give to them. Four boxes should be a happy reminder of the beginning of life. Not the cosmic slap in the behind that they are now. I remain sorry for your tragic loss. Many hugs!


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