I think it is fair to say that Gabriel's death is one of the top five Defining Events in my life.
Getting married was one of them. My mother's suicide attempt was one, I think; my not-yet-husband's was too. Gabriel of course. I'm not even sure what precisely else, but you get the drift.
Defining events - those big things (well, perhaps it could be a small thing that had a huge, reaching impact on you) that shape who you are as a person, that delineate the time of your life between into a clear Before and After. Those things that impact us in unprecedented and unanticipated ways, that alter who we are as people.
Certainly, the death of your child is one of those things. No way around that.
But I begin to wonder, as the pain is less acute and it has become mostly another fact about me, as central to me as being married to my husband or having long hair: is that becoming all it was?
Eric, on Glow, talks about 'it' as an event, and points out that there is no it, it's really them - him, in my case. He points out that it is an absence and a not-knowing, because our children were not long in the world and not cognizant enough to have a preference - at least none we were aware of. All the personality that they (he) displayed were mostly provided by our own flights of fancy. Elizabeth McCracken mentions that as well, that the personality is drawn by the parents and based on potential rather than reality.
It is in idea and a hope that we loved, and certainly, we loved our little boy, the realization of those hopes and dreams in the flesh, and now in a box of ashes and a photographic image. But that is so fragile. It often seems that what Gabriel really was is somehow less of a person - though he was that, yes - and more of an event that occurred.
As if the death of our son eclipses the personhood of our son.
But the personhood is such a small bit, he lived for such little time, and so much of it is conjecture, that maybe it's natural that the event take precedence as the thing which lingers on and continues to haunt us.
I don't like it though. It feels disloyal, unfair. It feels like a criticism, it feels selfish - as if it is the whispers of everyone who views us and thinks - Move On Already.
These days I'm feeling ok. I don't mean to say that Gabe is any less loved or missed, just that it is the normal ache, barely noticed any longer. The hole in my heart is still there, as open as ever, but I've learned to function with that, and I do. There is guilt that overshadows it though. I looked at the box of Gabe's ashes and wondered for the first time what to do with them. Is it morbid for them to be in their little box, sitting on the mantle? We don't think so, I can't even necessarily say I notice it that often. That's simply where Gabriel's remains are, much as the placement of the couch or the lamp - yet another simple fact. I wonder though if it's morbid, if perhaps I should move them. I feel no more emotional attachment to that spot for them. Rather like the tattoo I have planned. Originally meant to be Gabriel's footprints, I have shied away from that. Struck by a lyric in a song that spoke to me about enduration (the event again, rather than the person?), I recalled a previous idea and now plan something more symbolic and esoteric. I still think of it as Gabriel's tattoo, but it's not as transparently so as his footprints would have been.
And then I feel guilt. I have no desire to hide away the fact of my son's existence. I do not want to imply that I am ashamed or pretend he did not and does not exist. So moving his ashes feels wrong, and I won't do that; changing the tattoo feels right, and I will go ahead with the new design. But what is right and wrong? I know now that balance will change with time, that while the pain is less acute now, it may wash over me in full force again tomorrow. That as we age and as our family changes - however that occurs - we will have to re-evaluate Gabe's place and presence in our lives. He is fact, that doesn't change; how we balance his presence and absence does.
I get tired of it sometimes. I wish for a day away from being the mother of a dead child; perhaps that is one area in which my motherhood is universal - a momentary longing for time away, freedom from the mantel of responsibility that we wear as mothers. And yet, I do not wish it so, if it means wishing he never was. I only wish for the impossible, for him whole and healthy and alive - that which cannot be.
One of the biggest events of my life, perhaps the biggest to date. A painful one. Shocking how such a tiny, tiny little boy, known for such a short period of time, could have so large an impact.