Two years. This July 16 it will be two years since we lost our Charlie.
What does grief look like two years out? Basically, the same. In fact, in many ways, this year feels harder than the first. Grief literature supports this idea. The first year is all about adjusting to the physical reality of your loss; the second year is when you truly start processing the emotional impact of the loss—realizing that this is how it’s going to be for the rest of your life.
I think it’s especially hard right now, too, because I’m writing this as we are in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. Time seems strange and elastic right now, with every day the same. We live our lives in limbo and anxious about the rising number of cases here in the US; as of today, there are 3.2 million cases with 134,572 deaths.
Most experts talk about grief as a process or journey. One of the things about year two, for me, has been facing what I did wrong—my own cupability in my son’s death. So many people tell me it wasn’t my fault and in a way, they are correct. Yet my heart feels keenly each thing I know I did wrong—all of the moments that stick out where “If only” I had done x instead y, maybe there would have been a different outcome.
I also harbor immense anger at Charlie’s doctors, especially the psychiatrist that prescribed him a black box medicine. And yes, I blame myself for not pushing back harder against it and trusting what the “experts” told me; I, of all people, should know doctors don’t know everything.
So right now, my journey is about accepting that I did my best, but it wasn’t good enough. That’s hard for people who love me to accept—that I need to understand and take responsibility for how I failed as a parent. Only then can I move past those feelings.
Because only then can I be a better parent to Charlie’s siblings. In some ways, Charlie’s loss drew me and my oldest closer together, and we were always close and in synch to begin with. Parenting my youngest has been harder, if only because she demands so much, in that relentless way they have in the single-digit years.
Yet Charlie’s loss has taught me to truly not sweat the small stuff. I say “yes” a lot more frequently. I’m more relaxed and I’m trying very hard to be more patient (never my strong suit) and just “be” with my kids. It’s not that I love my children more following their brother’s loss, but I do cherish my time with them, understanding how precious it is.
This week, despite the pandemic, we are going away as a family (renting a house, so being socially distant). We just can’t be in the house Charlie died in, on the anniversary of his death. I’m not sure when we will ever be able to.
We will be together as a family, having fun. We’ll talk about Charlie, telling stories and remembering the funny, smart and sometimes annoying brother he was. My husband and I will cry, missing our beautiful boy. And we’ll go on to next year, and all the years after, with just his memory walking beside us.