James had not had any time off since Austen's birth, and I was anxious to be there for Ewan's second birthday. It surprised even me how much the geographical distance separating his physical body from mine pained me on his first birthday.
I was anxious leading up to that moment. We went to the grocery store down the hill from the cemetery, selecting gerbera daisies and balloons to decorate his resting place, a stuffed alligator, cupcakes. A big, colorful candle in the shape of the number "2." My Dad told the florist he asked to arrange the flowers we had purchased: These are for our grandson's grave. He died when he was 16 days old.
We weren't even there yet, and already I felt the prick of tears behind my eyes.
Upon arriving, I felt like I had to throw up. This is what I had wanted-- to be here, all together -- but I felt a sudden and visceral need to retch up all the wrongness I felt: a birthday party in a cemetery. Instead of cake and frosting on his face, jammed into the crevices between his fingers, they sat in a circle around his marker. We struck match after match to light the candle, huddling around it to protect from the breeze long enough to sing "Happy Birthday."
I'm still not accustomed to how wrong it feels. It still feels as though it might not be entirely real, like a very vivid and long ago bad dream, even though everything -- his body in the ground, the dates on his marker -- tells me that it is.
Austen sat near her brother's grave, jangling the car keys up and down, pressing the button to change the music on her Baby Einstein toy. She reached for the stuffed gator, stretched out a hand to touch the flowers.
Here we all are.
It wasn't lost on me that day, the interplay of sunlight and shadow: my buried son, my vibrant living daughter. Grief and joy, ache and elation, letting go and holding on. Smiles and laughter alongside tears and throat lumps. It was all there.
It isn't one or the other anymore -- maybe it never was. Those opposites are always there, not tugging against one another as I once thought.
They are holding hands.