Last month on Joseph’s 13th birthday I braced myself for the tsunami of grief to wash over me, still wiping me out despite all of these years treading water, still taking my breath away with how much it hurts to wake on my child’s birthday without him. And whilst many were so supportive sending messages of love and support, those little blue hearts flooding my social media, gentle words falling into my inbox, the kindness of strangers never ceasing to amaze me, it still hurt to compare that to his first birthday, his second birthday, even his third, his eighth, his tenth birthday. It still hurt to know that with every passing year his memory ceases to exist in another handful of people, that with every passing year he is lost in the abyss of their long term memories.
And you know what? I get it, I really do. Life is crazy, we are all busy, we are all juggling, we are all just trying to get through the day with our to do list checked off and our sanity intact, and I forget things too, all the time. I forget birthdays and anniversaries, I forget party invitations and lunch dates, I forget what I went upstairs for at least five times a day if we’re being completely honest here. I understand why it’s easy for others to forget why this date is so important to me, to forget that this day is any different from the other 364 days in the year, but what you may not understand, and what I hope you never will, is that this date, and these memories, they are all I have.
I don’t have those days when a friend calls me up and says, “Hey, how’s your Joseph doing?”. I don’t have those days when we bump into an old work colleague in the supermarket and they say, “Oh wow he’s getting so tall already!”. I don’t have the days where others scroll through my social media and like his photos or leave comments about how handsome he has grown, how well he is doing in school, how alike he and Lewis are becoming. I don’t have anything else but the memory of those precious months when he was mine and I was his, of that Summer day when he came silently into the world, and those final moments when we said goodbye. And without those memories, what do we have left?
I can still remember how thirteen years ago, when I left the funeral home after the final time we would ever hold our son in our arms and kiss his beautiful face, I broke down in his Dad’s arms and sobbed, “But what if we forget him?”. And as he reassured me that we would never forget him, that his face would be etched in our hearts for always, that every step we took, and every memory made, we would carry him with us for always, I distinctly remember how my next thought hurt even more than the last. “But what if others forget him?”
And this is why nothing makes me happier than those random messages from friends, or even strangers, which simply say, “I saw a rainbow today and thought of Joseph.” I have cried countless tears of joy over the years at those messages, holding my phone to my chest with utter gratitude, breathing a sigh of relief that he is still right there in the hearts of others. Nothing beats the messages that land in my inbox, “Thanks to reading your story I went and got checked out when my baby’s movements were reduced. He arrived safe and well this morning.” Those messages make my heart burst with pride that Joseph’s memory is making a difference, that those beautiful little toes have left the biggest footprints on this earth.
Nothing beats the times when I am asked by a new acquaintance to tell them more about Joseph, even when they aren’t sure whether it’s the right thing to ask or not. Those moments leave me feeling such happiness that one more person has heard his story, that one more memory has been refreshed, even if just for the short term. Nothing beats chatting with friends and hearing his name said out loud, just thrown out there so casually without even batting an eyelid, as easily as saying the names of our other four. Those moments when I hear his name are like music to my ears.
And I guess this is why I am asking you to please remember my child, not just on his birthday, or at Christmas, or on the times I talk about him or write about him on here, but just on a regular Monday or a Thursday, on a Summer’s day or in the April rain, on the days you look at your own family and feel blessed to have each of your children held safely in your arms.
Remember him with every sunset and every sunrise, every time a butterfly flies in through your window or the winter snow falls at your feet. Remember him on your travels, up the tallest of mountains and across the deepest of seas, with every new day and every new destination, think of him and take him with you.
And remember him when you think of my family, when you congratulate me on the beautiful children I have been fortunate to keep, when you comment on how proud I must be of my four little miracles. Remember not just how sad we are without him, or how hard it can be to navigate the storm of grief, but how proud we are of our gorgeous boy, how happy we are to have known him, even if just for such a short time, how utterly grateful we are to be carrying his memory forward living the life we had so hoped for him to share.
Because I need to know that his story is not over, that he still counts, that he still matters, that he lives on in the moments we share and the tales that we tell. I need to know that I do not carry the responsibility of remembering him alone, that with every year his legacy will shine brighter than the last. I need to know that there is no time limit on his memory, that his name will still be spoken loudly and unapologetically by those who knew him and those who did not.
I need to know, regardless of how the years unfold, or how the plots of our lives twist and turn, that he will be loved and missed for always.
And this is all I ask of you.