Yesterday was my son’s 27th birthday, the first June 28th in that many years without him in the world. I cried several times the day before, particularly when reading my ex-husband Larry’s Facebook post, which quoted lyrics from Forever Young and ended with “Happy Birthday, son.” Sometimes witnessing the pain of the other people who love and miss Kyle hurts as much or more than my own pain. (This photo is of Larry and Kyle celebrating Kyle’s recovery and the new life he was launching in Amherst on his 25th birthday…Just two years ago, one of the many days when everything seemed possible.)
Fortunately, on the morning of Kyle’s actual birthday, I did have something to celebrate, thanks to the wise forethought of my daughter Jamie, who had insisted we start our road trip from Chicago to Portland that day. She sent me a message in advance of the trip outlining the intentions she wanted us to set for the journey:
- to be honest and authentic, naming our feelings when they needed attention;
- to connect to a higher power through nature;
- to stay present, practicing mindfulness and gratitude;
- to stay open to new experiences, including unexpected changes in plans;
- to practice self-care and body-love (hydration, nourishment, stretches);
- to lead with loving-kindness in all our interactions with ourselves, one another and everyone we encounter along the way;
- to honor Kyle every day.
How could I not be excited with an agenda as thoughtfully outlined as that? (Honestly, who even cares where we go if that’s what we’ll be doing?) Also, I marvel at how this list demonstrates how much growth can come from trauma and loss. Jamie and I have had to work so hard to get through this past year that we’ve adopted many healthy new habits — daily yoga; more art, writing and reflecting; therapy; deep breathing; prayer; even flossing — or, as I sometimes say, “self care like a mother-fucking job.” We had to build new spiritual muscles just to carry us through each day.
With all that said, I know we both feel a painful conflict between our relentless grief and our efforts to be joyful, present and grateful. So one of the best parts of this trip, starting as it did on such a heart-breaking day, is how much our dissonance eases when we’re with each other — because no matter how much we are laughing, singing, dancing, and celebrating, we both know without having to say it out loud that we are simultaneously feeling deep grief. Having our painfully discordant feelings silently recognized and reflected in one another is a comfort.
More specifically, yesterday was a long day of driving through flat midwestern plains — the longest drive we’ll have for the week. But paying attention to all Jamie’s careful intentions made the day a pleasure anyway. Jamie packed us a cooler full of delicious fresh food, which we fed one another by hand in the car. Our stop for yoga overlooking a beautiful vista kept us feeling stretched and refreshed despite the super cramped car. The sun stayed out until almost 10 p. m. (how is this possible?)– so I didn’t ever have to drive in the dark, even after 12 hours on the road. And then, even though we arrived at South Dakota’s only gay bar an hour after most customers had left, we decided to honor Kyle by dancing as he did: fearlessly and for maximum fun. Jamie danced with his spirit, and we missed him like crazy, just like we do every day. Happy Birthday, son.