I’ve been putting off writing this letter to you this year, struggling to find the words to commemorate what would have been your 13th birthday, finding it impossible to imagine that tiny baby I held in my arms as a teenage boy, feeling as though my heart might break at the reality of all we have missed, and all we will never know.
I cried in the supermarket last night buying your flowers, walking along pushing the trolley with tears streaming down my face, wishing with all my might that things had been different, that I had been grumbling about the cost of PS4 games, or deliberating between chocolate or sponge cake to share later this evening. It physically pains me, even now, after all of these years, that I don’t get to see you open your cards in the morning, tear open your presents, and blow out your candles. It kills me that a bunch of flowers is the most I can give to you, that whispered words at the cemetery are the only moments we will share on your special day, that all we have left of you is encompassed in such sadness and regret.
Last night I lay awake for a long time thinking about what I wanted to say to you this year and panic began to rise in my throat as the harsh reality hit that I have nothing new to say. No new moments to share, no new stories to tell, no hilarious anecdotes from your twelfth year, nothing but sadness and longing at all that we lost; nothing but confusion and heartache at never knowing why you couldn’t stay.
I lay awake for a long time thinking about all of the things I would say to you had you been here with us this last year, imagining memories of your face at the dining table tucking into Christmas dinner, an extra person in the car surrounded by luggage on the way to the airport, an extra voice to join in with the laughter as we enjoyed every moment together. A family of seven.
And I guess at some point I fell asleep because when I woke this morning I felt a tidal wave of emotion hit me, taking me right back to that moment you came silently into the world, so perfect, so beautiful, so very still. And as the children nestled into my arms and kissed away that sadness, once again I understood why you had sent these precious rainbows to brighten our lives after the darkest of storms.
Through all six of your siblings you continue to remind us that you are never far away, and, although you were unable to stay, you made sure our arms would never again feel empty. Through each of them we see glimpses of the person you would have been – a cheeky five year old with that mischievous grin, a studious six year old with your head in a book, a shy seven year old with those big soulful eyes, a towering fifteen year old with your whole life ahead.
And although today I feel your absence more than ever, with your siblings beside me, I take comfort in the thought that you have still very much been a part of our lives this past year, in all of our shared moments and each of our memories. You have been there on Summer days, in the waves crashing on the beach, in the swooping of the seagulls, the wind tugging at our hair, the sound of the children’s laughter and the sparkle in their eyes.
You were there through the coldest of Winter’s, in the children’s breath on the the frostiest of mornings, the flush of their cheeks, the whooping of their cheers at the first sight of snow, the brightest star in the sky on the clearest of nights.
You’ve been there on lazy Sunday mornings as light flooded in through the curtains, on sunny days in the garden when the birds sang and flowers bloomed. You’ve been there in the flicker of birthday candles and the shimmer of Christmas fairy lights, in our smiles, and our tears, through the good times and bad.
You’ve been there there in very sun beam when we paddled in Lake Windermere at Easter, in the rainbows that shone when the clouds parted in Italian skies. You’ve been there as we climbed mountains on the Isle of Man, as we huddled round the campfire and toasted marshmallows in Northumberland last month. And you were right there with me just last week, an angel on my shoulder as I explored Romania, reminding me with every sunrise that life still goes on and, although you could not live your life in the way that we had hoped, I can still continue to live mine for the both of us.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that today hasn’t been hard, nor claim that my grief has ebbed or the pain has lessened. But with these babies in my arms and you in my heart, I am determined to make you proud, to seek you out in every adventure, to hold on to those moments, thirteen long years ago, when I was yours and you were mine and remember how lucky I was to have had you, even if just for such a short time.
Happy 13th birthday Joseph. You are loved and missed, always.
Love you all the stars in the sky.