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COLUMN: Five years later, my friends help me remember

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By Linda Ireland

 Anniversaries are thought of as joyful occasions. Birthdays, weddings, engagements, first dates – all bring smiles.

You pull out old photos and laugh about old times, good times.

Then there is the other kind.

My son died five years ago on Saturday. The date began creeping up just before Halloween as it does every year. Whether it’s the change in the temperature or an internal clock, I can feel it looming even when I’m not actively thinking about it.

The funny thing about long-term grief is that it is always there. Always. Every second of every day.

Grief rides my shoulder like a parrot. Sometimes it whispers in my ear – other times it hooks its toes in my collar and beats me about the head with its wings. Sometimes it just sits there until my shoulder is numb, biding its time. But I can feel its weight. 

Ask me a question when the parrot is squawking and yammering and it will take a few seconds before I respond. It takes that long – sometimes longer – to silence it so I can hear you. 

It’s distracting. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to concentrate. 

Sometimes I fight it until we’re both beaten and bloody and exhausted. Other times I hold it close because I need to know it’s still there.

It’s there when I sleep, if you can call it sleep. A good dose of Nyquil sometimes will shut it up for a few hours.

It’s a crazy relationship I have with that old parrot – my constant companion for lo, these five years.

Another funny thing ... I’m a lot better than I used to be.

And the world goes on. 

Ask me how I’m doing and I’ll say I’m fine. Don’t bother asking the parrot because he says what I tell him to say. We both lie, by the way.

As the years go by I find I’m starved to hear the sound of my son’s name. No one wants to say it because they fear they’ll upset me. (The truth: I get upset because my son died, not because you said his name.) 

His name was Daniel and he was kind.

The year he turned 13 – the little old lady who lived across the road asked if I would send my “little boy” to trick-or-treat at her house. He was much too old to go trick-or-treating. He was interested in X-Men and wrestling.

But the little old lady – who could not see well and could not leave her home because she had only one leg (she lost it to diabetes) – was disappointed that no children came to her door.

Daniel dug around in his room and came up with an old Frankenstein mask, a hoodie and a grocery bag. He went trick-or-treating at the neighbor’s and visited with her a few minutes. He came home and enjoyed his candy very much.

Memories like that are bittersweet. As time goes on, I try to focus on more of the good things of Daniel’s life than that awful day in 2008. 

Thank you to those kind souls who remembered the anniversary. As anyone who has gone through a loss can attest, the support eventually drops off – mostly because people have their own lives to lead – others think you’ve carried the parrot long enough. (Ever hear, “Get over it, already?”)

It’s a fact that grief lasts longer than sympathy.

And to those priceless few who have carried me the last five years – whether you knew it or not ... bless you. 

And if you’ve mentioned his name to me – or made me laugh about old times (you know who you are) – you’ve gained a friend.