Today would be Charlie’s 14th birthday.
One of his friends has a birthday just a few days before his, so I can guess what 14 would have looked like. Taller, for sure. Recently, I was talking to one of Charlie’s best friends, and I realized he was looking me in the eye. So yes, taller. His face would be thinning out, starting to look more manly. His voice would be lower, less childish. He’d be gangly, and in that awkward stage of not really being at home in his body.
What would he be like? I’m sure he still would love drawing, building, creating, making movies, and reading. I bet he’d love all of the new Marvel movies, and be into a bunch of anime and games. He’d be in 8th grade, though. Would he have joined cross country like his brother? I always worried that as he got older his peers would be less kind, less tolerant of his desire to march to his own, unique drummer. How would that have affected him? How would we have supported him?
That whole future is nothing but “what ifs” now.
I spent last week with a dear friend of mine, who lost her husband suddenly and far too young. I flew out to help her in the aftermath with as much practical stuff as I could, so she could grieve. What I couldn’t do was give her advice (other than, don’t make any major decisions for at least a year because that is so true).
I was just there to bear witness. To see her, to let her know that although her grief is uniquely her own, I truly do understand what it is like to have your world blown apart. Your heart cracked, seemingly beyond repair. To feel pain so great you do not know how you are still breathing. That you can get through it, even when you don’t want to. To start her on her journey through grief—which, as she astutely pointed out, is a journey without a destination and one you’d give anything to refund your ticket to.
Flying back home, I was half asleep on the plane and realized that grief is like one of those sci-fi shows with multiple universes. Boom! Suddenly you’re in a world just like the one you’ve always known except you’re missing something vital and loved and important. You’re not meant to be in this world, but you’re trapped, forever. That other world, the world where the person you love is alive and well and celebrating his 14th birthday is on the other side of a bubble you can’t see through and can’t break. So all you have left is grief, memories and “what if”s.
Happy 14th birthday somewhere, my Charlie. I sure do miss you.