Carrying Him With Us

They say you always carry loved ones in your heart. But sometimes it’s just not enough. In fact, all the time it’s never enough.

A few days ago, I got my first tattoo. A clean, simple, curved line in the shape of a “J” culminating in a heart, all in the shape of an eternity symbol. I knew I wanted it on my wrist, but hadn’t decided left or right. I ended up choosing my right, so that I could carry Jackson with me in everything I do: eating, writing, dressing, driving, bathing, shaking hands, cooking food. I wanted him front and center, visible through every step of my day, and exposed to the world.

But mostly, I just needed easy, tangible proof of his existence. Sometimes, in this strange new life, I begin to wonder if he was ever even here, as if maybe it was all a dream. It’s a disturbing moment when the surrealness of his death is replaced with a surrealness of his life. It’s in these moments, when this strange new life starts to feel a little bit too normal, that I must remind myself that only four months ago there was a little boy named Jackson who lived in that room. That room with the closed door that used to be open.

My tattoo comforts me by providing physical proof that he was really here. It’s a permanent, visible modification to my body, much like my beloved stretch marks from pregnancy, and the shape of my breasts after two years of breastfeeding. Who knew that standing naked in front of a mirror would become a sacred moment of reflection in my daily ritual. A moment to pause and honor his footprint. An occasion to take in the physical testaments of Jackson’s presence here on earth.

We all find our ways of carrying Jackson with us. Some of us have chosen tattoos and jewelry. Others carry his photo on a keychain, tucked in a wallet, or saved on their lock screen. And many continue to wear his pink memorial bracelet. I am comforted by mental images of my future self: nursing our next baby as they play with my Jackson necklace, giving them their own pink Jackson bracelet to wear to school, attaching a locket with Jackson’s photo to his sister’s bridal bouquet, customizing cufflinks for his brother’s wedding day, and imagining myself as a wrinkly old woman still kissing my wrinkly Jackson tattoo goodnight.

Whatever we choose, it gives us comfort to know we can continue taking some part of him with us on this journey of life. He was always here. And we will always carry him with us wherever we go.