It was a cold, gray, January day. All of the other kids were in school as it was a Thursday, but Kid A had checked herself out early. It was her 18th birthday, so she could do that now. She climbed into her newly-leased electric car and turned on her iPod. The passionate and emotional voices of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman spilled from the sound system. The words blasted her ears and bombarded her heart. The song lasted the exact length of time it took her to drive from parking lot to parking lot. She took it as a sign, like a cardinal at the window or unexplained feathers.
Sheepdog and I arrived together. We held hands as we walked into the waiting room. I noticed a giant eel slithering inside a 75-gallon fish tank before I even saw Kid A in the corner. The building smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol and burning things. We all hugged and walked over to meet with her guy. She gave him a piece of paper that had been folded and unfolded and looked at so many times that it had the worn feel of soft leather. They spoke to one another in the language of creative people. Then he scanned her paper into the computer and pulled it up on the big screen. A lone sob escaped from my throat before I could pull it back.
Seeing his familiar handwriting up there, larger than life, I was caught completely off guard. But seeing it a few hours later, permanently inked onto the slight wrist of my oldest child, it actually felt good. After all she had seen and experienced and lived through the past few years, it felt right. Well, as right as a tattoo can possibly be.
His life story will always be a part of hers. He left his mark on her heart. Now his handwriting is marked on her forever as well.
Today is the first anniversary of Braden’s death. One whole year has gone by. An entire year of holidays, and birthdays, and Mondays. One whole year passed of experiences, and change, and growth. One whole year of the regular and mundane too. One whole year of memories made without Braden. I feel like that is one of the worst parts.
I have thought of him so much over the past year. Sometimes I think of him intentionally, like when I plant flowers in his memory. I talk to him as I’m doing the work, updating him with new funny stories as well as the regular day-to-day stuff that’s been going on. And when these plants inevitably die, I think of him again because I know he is playing a twisted joke on me. All of my other plants thrive. It’s just the ones that I tell him are “his” that end up brown and crispy. I like to think that Braden enjoys our conversations so much that he is just making sure that I’ll keep checking in with him. So I guess I’ll keep buying him new plants. And I’m good with that.
Other times he pops into my consciousness accidentally, like when I recently came across the milk shake recipe for cancer patients that I used to make for him when his stomach could tolerate them. It was made with protein powder and coffee and chocolate sauce and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. It always made me so happy when he would finish one, because he was losing so much weight and what else packs on the pounds but the best ice cream on the planet? I also find him popping into my head when I’m listening to music in the car, wondering if he got to hear that really great song before he died. Or was he around for that game? Or did he get to see that movie? Or look at that blood moon? As more and more time passes, the answer is almost always ‘no.’ Not while he was here with us on earth.
So, to officially and reverently mark the passage of one whole year without Braden, Sheepdog and the kids and I went on a short hike up the Indian Seats Trail at Sawnee Mountain this past Sunday. When we reached the top, we found some rocks off the beaten path and we sat together as a family. We overlooked the valley below and Sheepdog said some nice words and reminded us that Braden is happy and healthy now and we shouldn’t ask for anything more than that. He also reminded us to be thankful for our own health and happiness and to make each day mean something. Some of us spoke about happy memories and fun times with Braden. Some of us weren’t able to speak at all.
There was a placard up by the Indian Seats that said mountaintops are considered sacred by Native Americans because they bring us closer to Father Sky. I don’t know about that, but I certainly felt closer to my God and to Braden that day. It was sacred and it was good. Well, as good as it can be when somebody is taken away before we are ready for it.
Wish me luck for tomorrow… come what may.