It’s odd how you can experience the same tragedy as someone else, yet handle it totally differently. Grief, for example.
My son’s old bedroom is now my office; I’m typing this in the spot he used to cover with LEGOs. I’m the only one in my family that can go into his bedroom. Everyone else avoids it, even now, spending as little time as possible.
For weeks after he died, we kept the door closed and the room was just as he left it–except for where the police had scattered papers every where, looking for a note that didn’t exist. I would steal in quietly, breathing in his smell on his blankets, bargaining with the universe that I would never again ask him to clean up his mess if I could just hold him one more time. But I knew his room couldn’t stay the way it was. It was like having a mausoleum in the house (and it gave my daughter, whose room is next to his, nightmares, thinking she heard her brother in the night).
So I gradually cleaned it up. I packed a couple of boxes of things I couldn’t bear to give away, things that were quintessentially my son, things he loved and that 10, 20 or 30 years from now—whenever I can bear to see them again—I will instantly know what they signify. I filled many, many bags of trash because, let’s be honest, clean and tidy were not words ever applied to any space he inhabited for long. I gave boxes of books and his beloved LEGOs to his school. I shared a few treasures with his friends. And I passed on his bedroom set so another little boy could enjoy it.
I emptied his room as I emptied my tears, hauling them up in buckets from the well of grief in my soul. And when it was empty, I cried some more because that damn well is bottomless.
Then I filled the room with what I need for my office space, so I can work from home and support my family. I sit in here every day, doing all the things I need to do.
And it doesn’t make me feel sad to be here. It’s the only place in my house I can have pictures of my son, because my husband can’t bear to see pictures or any reminders right now, just as he can’t bear to be in this room.
And that’s okay, because we are grieving differently, you see. We both lost a son, but our experience of him was uniquely our own and we grieve based on who we as individuals are.
For me, I couldn’t bear to keep my office in the basement, next to the play room where he died, because I know all I would think about is how maybe if I had been home working instead of traveling, this would never have happened. I never set foot in that office to work again; I worked at the dining room table instead.
I couldn’t bear to be where he died. I wanted to be where he lived. The place I tucked him into bed every night and said, “Hugga, hugga, hugga, kissa, kissa, kissa, love you, love you, love you. Sleep tight.” like I had done every night of his life. Where I had read him stories, and come to marvel at his latest creations, and had so, so many heart-to-heart talks. I can’t bear *not* to be reminded of my beautiful boy because then it would seem as if he never existed.
Maybe from the outside it looks cruel that it’s only been five months and I’ve already transformed his bedroom. But I think it’s helped—my daughter doesn’t have nightmares, we can keep the door open. It will always be his room, but in our daily lives, it’s becoming something else. We don’t have to call it “Charlie’s Room” any more, but mom’s office. It’s okay if there’s a light on because our first, gut-wrenching thought isn’t that he’s back.
To me, it feels like I’m still close to him, in the space that was his refuge, where he spent so many happy, peaceful hours. A place where he really lived. And where maybe I can figure out how to live again, too.