A Day in the Life of My Grief

I wake up and immediately miss Jackson.

There is a hollow, empty ache in my chest, where my heart used to live.

I ask Bryan if we can watch some Jackson videos and we watch many. We cry so much. We smile in awe at his perfection. No sound sweeter than his voice, nothing sweeter than his mannerisms. I watch my previous self so blissfully enjoying hugs and laughs. Then I watch myself watching myself, realizing I will never experience such naive, carefree, happy parenthood again.

I finish watching videos with a less-empty hole in my chest. At the same time full of love, but also full of loss. I am both smiling and my face is so wet with tears. This is the nature of my grief, so simultaneously fraught with loss and shock and sadness and fear – and also deeply connected to the fiercest mama love that is rooted in every memory and fiber of my being.

Time to get ready for the day and, like every morning, painfully notice the absence of our familiar rituals. No morning cuddles still in his PJs, no requests for mama milk, no playing “Jackson sleepy”, no smelling his hair and rubbing his arms and legs. I make a motion to stand but the weight of my entire body prevents me, as if saying “Do you really want to face this day?”.

I head straight to the shower and notice I am alone. No Jackson turning the corner to come visit Mama in the shower. I see his face, playfully asking to be splashed. I hear his voice “What doing?”. I put on lotion and brush on my foundation. I hear him again. “Jackson want some makeup”. I give him my blush brush and he carefully and gently grazes his face with it. He asks for my mascara and I tell him it’s only for mommies. He asks for my chapstick and insists on holding it. I watch him apply it all around his lips and mouth and chuckle at his imprecision. I give him my headband and tell him he looks beautiful. He looks in the mirror and smiles at his reflection.

I get dressed. I deliberately choose the non-nursing bra, the one I wore almost exclusively for 2 years. As I get ready the silence is so loud, like a trumpet blaring through the house. I put on my clothes and walk downstairs, past his bedroom that sends a familiar waft of “Jackson” that reverberates through my entire body. I turn the corner and face the kitchen, bracing myself for the memory that hits me every morning – seeing him eating toast with cream cheese in his high chair facing Daddy, smiling, head tilted, “Hi mammaaaaa”. I smile and greet him in my mind, “Good morning my sweet boy”.

I gather a small breakfast for myself. Not remotely hungry because every food is laden with Jackson. Oatmeal squares are “Mama’s cereal” and every time I made yogurt and granola he would say “Jackson want some” and he’d fight me for control of the spoon. If I gave him a bite without raspberries (so rude) it was “Boo-berries pleeeease”. And when we finished the bowl, “it’s all gone”.

Time to put on shoes and my body pauses. I remember his love of shoes and how he knew who each shoe in the house belonged to. I see him putting on one of my flats. “Other one?”. I watch him struggle to put on my boots. “Helpy you?” I watch his face light up when I help him zip them up, all the way up his leg, and watch him tromp around delighted with the sound of the heel on the floor. Then I watch him hand us our shoes, like an excited puppy eager to go on a walk. “See you later!”

I walk down to the car, and notice the light weight of my bag on my shoulder. No additional toddler backpack packed with extra undies and wet bags, no green and grey toddler jacket, and no Jackson on my hip. I traverse the quick but seemingly long walk through memories in the yard, and unlock the car door. There is a noticeable quickness which I get into the car. No demands to hold the keys, no struggle to get in the car seat, “Jackson do it; Jackson all by self”, “Jackson click”. I turn on the car. No feeling late pulling out of the driveway and no Casper Babypants song blaring through the speaker. I instinctively check the rear-view mirror only to find the car seat missing. My Jackson, missing.

It’s 5pm and my heart flutters with excitement, which is almost simultaneously replaced with a deep, heavy sadness. I slowly, reluctantly, gather my things and head down 15th Avenue toward the car. I walk down that same path towards the day care, only now less giddily.

I get to Pacific Ave. and make a hard right, instead of walking straight into Portage Bay where, in some other universe, I imagine Jackson playing with his friends, finishing his favorite snack of cheesy crackers, or sitting on the potty with his teacher by his side. I notice myself painfully longing for the moment our eyes meet at the end of a long day, watching his face light up when I tell him that we are going to go home to see Daddy and Tita and Stella, and witnessing his pride as he walks down the stairs all by himself holding on to the toddler railing. I yearn to learn about his day on the daily report – how he slept, what he ate, and what and who he played with. Usually, some variation of playing with Cohen, Willow, Eliana, or Grayson – and any activity involving water, sweeping, or cars. Most of all I miss the elevator ride to the car where he would so enthusiastically shout “OPEN SESAME!”, hand gesture and all, to the slowest elevator in the universe until it opened. Then we would say “up up up up up up” together in progressively higher voice tones until the door opened again. Then we’d look for “Jackson’s car”, a mission he accepted with seriousness and determination, until we found it.

I drive home in silence, missing the chatter and even the requests to “get-a out”. Again, I instinctively check the rear-view mirror only to find my car seat still missing. My Jackson, still missing. I drive through our old neighborhood, past our flower walk roads and familiar streets. I drive by our old house and the park. I drive by the school he was supposed to go to when he started Kindergarten and by the bakery he loved to visit on the weekends for “mo’ bread”. I notice that the bench where we’d sit has been removed and burst into tears. I watch all the parents with babies in their carriers and toddlers in their strollers and feel angry that their children are alive. And then shudder with disgust at my own thought. I notice the rain and all the sirens and wonder how I can simultaneously feel so much anger at how rarely children die (why did the world have to single mine out, then?!) meanwhile so much fear at how common this tragedy is (this will most certainly happen to me again).

I pull up to our house, which looks so sad now in the rain. I turn off the engine and quite literally hear nothing on our already quiet street, only quieter now without Jackson. I open the car door, then open the gate, then open the house door, pulling my self and my body forward through each motion, in shock over how difficult such an easy sequence of events can feel.

Once inside, I hug Bryan and Stella. I feel grateful for their warm bodies and their love. I change into warm clothes and turn on the fireplace. I force myself to walk through the motions of the evening, like a soldier on a treadmill. Painfully aware of the discrepancy between evenings now and evenings past. My body tells me when it’s time for dinner, time for bath time, time for stories, and time for bed. I wonder how I can tell my body what has happened, as it so clearly continues to expect him to be here with constant, relentless reminders of all mealtimes, naptimes, bathtimes lapsed. I wonder how to tell my body to stop making milk, and then even more painfully wonder if it already stopped.

We turn on the TV, or play a board game, or talk about something other than Jackson. Except that everything is a reminder of Jackson. Everything he loved or would come to love, places we went or were hoping to take him, things we taught him or never got to teach him. We occasionally enjoy a moment or laugh at a joke, and yet Jackson’s absence and inability to laugh with us is always just underneath the surface, never forgotten. We say mundane phrases like “be right back”, “oh”, “right there”, “makes me sad”, “no likey” and hear his voice, sending us into waves of love and loss. We pause often.

It’s late evening and I notice myself tip toing around the house, trying not to make the floors creak, only to remember there is no sleeping toddler downstairs. I decide to go to bed, put an end to yet another day. I walk over to the mantel and visit with my son, but with intention this time. I touch his urn with my hand, running my fingers over the small flower grooves of the box, and kiss him goodnight. Then I immerse my face into his blue owl lovey – the only remaining source of his smell – and luxuriate in his scent. I feel tears fall down my face and whisper “Goodnight my sweet boy. Mama loves you so much”.

I turn off the lights and trudge up the stairs. By the time my head hits the pillow I am exhausted. I lay in bed in Bryan’s comforting embrace and, with the permission of my grief who feels properly attended to, fall asleep.