When my son first passed away, each time that I would be missing him more than I could stand, I would start to see little lizards and butterflies everywhere that I went. It was like they were him, telling me hello. The first few times that I saw them, I figured it was just coincidence. Loving lizards as much as I do, seeing them at those times always brought a smile to my face and made me remember that there are things in this life to find happiness in. When I started seeming them at his gravestone and on the tree that hangs just overhead of it, I realized that there was something more to my sightings of them, than simple coincidence. I would step outside and they would be running around the front porch and door to whatever home that I was living in, while the butterflies swarmed the bushes a few steps away. Immediately those sightings became a reminder of him. Of his innocence, and his joy. Of his transformation. It became my sign that he was nearby and watching over me.  

Today is my son’s 17th birthday and as I think about all of the years that have passed without him here and imagine what today would be if he was still here to celebrate it with, I am of course missing him. This morning I heard a high-pitch squeal come from my four year old daughter’s room and ran to see what was wrong. We’ve had a problem with very large wolf spiders showing up dead, randomly throughout the house and I was sure that my daughter had just seen one. I grabbed my flip flop and ran to her room to kill the menace. As I opened the door to find my toddler in her closet, standing on her toy car and screaming that there was a big bug in there, I leaned down ready to smash the life out of the creature terrorizing her. After moving a couple of items that I figured this bug had crawled under, out ran a tiny lizard, straight towards my feet. I smiled and remembered him, and all of the times that I had seen them before. I told my little one that it was only a lizard and we didn’t need to kill it. I couldn’t bring myself to put it outside, so I let it run off to find a dark corner of the house to relax in.

For many years, my son’s birthday was a day of sadness. I just couldn’t seem to let go of the pain that I felt within the absence of him. I selfishly wanted him still here, with me, to hug and hold and tell that I love. I wasn’t willing to let go of that pain because I felt inside that if I did, I would somehow be letting go of him. A couple of years ago, I started on a quiet journey of healing that pain from grief and learning to accept the loss of him in my life. Unexpectedly, that journey took on a whole new life of its own. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It became not only a painstaking walk through my own despair, but a treacherous walk through all of the other parts of my life that had been a constant source of sadness and not so comforting memories. It unfolded into not only being about letting go of my loss, but about letting go of everything that was in the past and no longer serving a purpose to my present and future. In every facet of my life, the past hurts, arguments, broken relationships, lost loved ones and all of the mistakes I had made that I was holding onto and torturing my conscience with on a daily basis – continually flooded to the surface. In order for me to heal this one area of grief and guilt, I had to heal the whole ball of mess that lived inside of me. I had to forgive myself and others, the hardest part – forgiving myself. Things that I didn’t quite feel ready to let go of or forgive, I had to in order to heal myself as a whole. There was no shortcut, no other way around dealing with all of the things that I wasn’t ready to deal with in order to face my grief head-on. It was as if all of these things that calloused my mind and heart had grown together, all interconnected as one huge source of pain. To get to the grief, I had to trek through the wilderness of bad memories, traumatic experiences, and everything else looming, just to get there.

It wasn’t easy. Each time that I started to tackle one area of my discomfort, a new can of worms would open in my present life that I had to prove my own desire and willingness to change within that new set of problems – All while I was still trying to sort through the disheveled confusion that was my past. It’s hard to do things differently as not to create new injuries, while you’re still trying to figure out your own culpability within the past injuries. I failed, too many times to count – but learned to appreciate those failings as just another part of the lesson. Each time that I felt like I was a lost cause, and that my mission to bettering myself was going to end horribly – I felt him push me to keep going.      

As a parent it feels wrong and unnatural to let go of your child. To accept that they are now just a memory, stored deep in your heart. But after all of the discomfort that I forced myself to move through in order to finally feel peace and acceptance with him being gone — I woke up one day and the memory of him was no longer shrouded in hurt. It was filled with smiles, laughter at all of the funny and precious moments that I had with him. I was no longer walking around in the fog of gloom and depression that had infiltrated every part of my being for fourteen years of my life. I could smile at the thought of him, as happy tears ran down my face and for the first time not feel pangs of guilt for choosing to smile.

Today as I watched that little lizard run happily towards my feet I remembered my son crawling towards these same feet as a baby. I remembered how he would look up at me with an adoring smile, like a drunk person who loves everyone in the moment of their inebriation. I pictured that look as he made his way across the living room floor to my feet as if to say, “I love you, Mom – now pick me up!” I remembered his big beautiful eyes staring at me like I was the best thing in his world as he smiled and touched my face. And that mutual shared feeling of adoration and awe rushed over me, as it quickly filled each empty space left by the loss of him.

The loss of my child, changed me. First and for many, many years after — For the worse. I let my heart become hardened and closed off. I let my guilt consume me and the thought of my failure to save my child, dictate the life that I would lead. I let it grow into bitterness and anger, and I let that bitterness destroy the many good things that surrounded me. I know it was with his nudging that I also let the loss of him, eventually change me for the better. I felt the gentle push that it was time to let go of it all, a couple of years ago and I heeded that push – To make the uncomfortable change that proved necessary to my life. And I am grateful to him for this because it saved me. I couldn’t save him, but he saved me.  

We forget how our own presence can serve as fuel to awakening for someone else. How we simply change other’s lives just by having the smallest role to play. We think there’s nothing all that great or profound about us to really leave a mark and make a difference in this world, but that’s all wrong. Because I look up, fourteen years later and I remember what all has served to change me about my son. Within the short three years of life with him, his struggle and his pureness of love, changed me. Knowing him, loving him, being loved by him — Left a permanent imprint across my heart and soul. In that, maybe his life was more to influence change for others than to be a life lead fully to old age. Maybe that was his purpose here. He couldn’t speak and yet he changed me. His love, changed me. That is the effect that we all have on each other – The love that we give and show, is what has the ability to turn another person’s life into something better. I will never forget the day that he came to be in my life and in my arms, just as I will never forget the day that he left. But today, I celebrate the memory of him and all of the joy that knowing and loving him has brought me. And for all of the lessons that having lost him, has taught me.

Happy 17th Birthday to the best son that this mother could have ever hoped for. Never forget just how much you are truly loved.