Prior to Tanner’s death, I loved everything about Autumn. The beautiful colors, the apples, the pumpkins, the brisk fall air…everything. We loved raking the leaves, hiking through the woods, and heading to soccer games bundled up with blankets and sweatshirts. Now that he is gone, I sometimes find myself struggling to enjoy a season that took so much away from me. I’d love to be taking his goofy “first day of school” photos with his big “sissy,” but instead we find ourselves getting ready for another year without him and his infectious laughter. Tanner passed away in August, and now the fall brings painful memories of what should have been.
As I watch my daughter get ready for a new school season to start, I know that she is thinking some of the same things I am…..what grade would Tanner be in? What would he pick out for new school shoes? Would he still be wearing the same basketball themed wardrobe like the one he left behind? I know this because, in the fall, she speaks of him every day. Not just the occasional mention, but with detail. “Tanner would love my Nike shoes, wouldn’t he, Mama? They are like his basketball shoes. He would have needed all basketball clothes, and he would want soccer cleats, too. He would have been great friends with Rylan, and they would have been in the same class! They would be crazy together. I miss him, Mama.” To hear her speak of him so openly is music to my ears, as it took her several months to learn how to speak of her loss without emotions taking over and shutting her down. She now has her own way of coping with his absence, but hearing her say “I miss him” and watching the pain appear across her face opens the wounds as if they were new. She tucks his picture into her folder and walks to the car as her “Tanner” key-chain dangles from the front of her backpack. To us, the beautiful leaves remind us that Tanner isn’t coming back.
You see, in the fall, we lost our son, little brother, family athlete & clown, our snuggle bug, protector, green eggs and ham lover, crazy dancer, playmate, and all that his future would hold. We lost the ability to photograph his first day of school, take him camping, enjoy late night movies, watch him play in a championship game, attend his graduation, meet his beautiful bride, to hold his children, to have afternoon coffee together….we lost all of those memories that we were not given the time to create. Losing a child is a horrific experience, but what so many fail to realize is that it’s not just the child you lost, but also all that he would become. I too, thought I had all the answers before it happened to me. I remember reading articles about children who had gone too soon and thinking “Oh, that is horrible. I just couldn’t go on.” The thing is though, you can go on, and you do…and you’ll need to find a way to cope. Eventually, the good days will outweigh the bad, but you’ll need to realize that the pain of your child’s loss will never “go away,” and you’ll always have moments in time that are more difficult to get through than the others. For us, Autumn is that moment.
To ease the heartache of Autumn this year, we took a vacation to Maine and walked along the beach by our old house. When we lived there, many hours were spent combing the shoreline for sea glass and small crabs to pick up and befriend. After losing Tanner, my daughter and I liked to pretend that every special treasure we found was one that he had left for us. Somehow, I had forgotten this, until she ran up to me with the most beautiful piece of blue sea glass and said “Mama, Tanner must have known we were here…look what I found!” It amazes me that she continually finds ways to feel connected to him even at her young age. Through her I remember that he’ll never really be “gone.” For the rest of the trip, we found more treasures than we ever found while we were living there….starfish, sand dollars galore, sea glass, & sea urchins……and each one convinced us even more that he was watching and enjoying our vacation with us. We chose to visit “our beach” the week of his death, and apparently he knew that we needed him and knew just where to find us. Even though we’ll never really know where he is now, it’s memories like this that keep us from falling in Autumn.