Today would have been Richie’s fourth birthday. Instead of wrapping gifts, purchasing balloons and baking a cake, I find myself staring at the pictures of my little boy who will never grow up. Meanwhile, messages are pouring in from our website about all the acts of kindness people are performing on a day set aside in New York State and Suffolk County celebrating Kindness in his name. As I sit here writing this, I feel one thing: overwhelming sadness. Why? Well the reason may surprise you…
My sadness is fueled by the realization that I am selfish. I want nothing more than my little boy back, and I would trade every kind act, ReesSpecht Life card, book, toy drives, meals, “Kindness Days” and scholarships to do it. If I ever had a chance to make that impossible decision, I would not hesitate to erase it all and be with him again – and I know Samantha feels the same way. Armed with that knowledge it makes me feel disingenuous about our mission and what it is my wife and I hope to accomplish with the foundation. How can I be sincere if I would be willing to throw it all away just to be with him again?? I realize that I will never actually even have the chance to make this choice, but the fact that I would be willing to sacrifice everything we have done in his name just to hold him again vexes me and leaves me feeling incredibly empty…
I wish I could adequately express, in words, what the emptiness of losing a child feels like. After the initial shock wears off, the pain becomes a thin veil that casts a pallor over everything in your life. Even after more than two years after the loss, its presence remains; a persistent, dull ache that takes permanent residence in the heart. There is nothing you can do to shake it off. Nothing. The only recourse is to try and counter the pain with happiness. Unfortunately, for the most part, those happy moments rarely bring you to the euphoric highs they did before the loss; instead merely countering the pain and “leveling you off”. Of course, engaging in these activities takes energy – and the irony lies in the fact that the pain saps that away too. It remains a constant struggle to try and keep the pain masked and all that work takes its own toll.
I know that my few close friends recognize the toll it is taking. I can’t tell you how many people commented that, after looking at the pictures of me after Melina was born, I looked truly happy for the first time in two years. Those precious few are the ones who know me best and know how much of my perceived “strength” is really just a facade. People tell Samantha and I all the time about how “strong” they find us to be. The reality is that neither of us are really strong. We are merely struggling our way through an unimaginable experience for most parents. Every parent with whom we sadly share this sad connection with, and with whom I have had the chance to speak, tells me that others echo similar sentiments to them. It is not strength; its merely the perception of it framed from a point of view that one can only understand by experiencing the loss.
My own reality is that I am not strong at all. I am weak. The weakness is readily apparent to anyone who looks at pictures of me. Since Rees’ passing I have gained a considerable amount of weight. Every pound added when I look down at the scale becomes a tangible reminder of my weakness. What makes it sting even more is that I was losing weight and getting into shape (well a shape other than round) for several months before Richie passed away. When he died, it all stopped. Recession of the numbers on the scale were quickly replaced by ever burgeoning numbers that seemed to quantify the pain I was storing, and continue to store, inside. The proof that I am not strong stares back at me every morning when I look into the mirror…
I have always struggled with my weight. Food has always been a comfort to me. Not just eating it, but preparing it, sharing it – enjoying it with others has always been something that made me happy. I know that in my subconscious search for joy to counter the pain, I have turned to food more and more to compensate. I wake up every morning lately disappointed about my size, but finding the will to do anything about it sapped away by the pain. This vicious cycle continues, day in and day out and I feel powerless to stop it. That powerlessness serves as a catalyst for the pain – and vice versa. Each day I find the snake eating its tail; self consuming and never ending…
I see the weakness in Samantha too – it just manifests itself differently in her. Sam is much better at putting up the facade of strength than I am. Sam’s laugh is so infectious that it fills all those around her with joy. I know that the laughter is sometimes a defense for her. I think she feels like if she can keep others smiling they can’t, or wont, notice her own pain. I wish I could just fix her pain somehow. If only I could just take it away from her and just pile it on to my own. I’ve already piled so much on, why not hers too?
I think that is what hurts the most. In reality both Sam and I are unable to actually stop this process from playing out. We can only be there for each other… ready to prop the other up when they fall. The fixer in me so wants to stop the fall, but it isn’t possible. In so far as I was helpless to save Rees, I feel the same helplessness when it comes to her pain. Sam rarely shares her feelings to others, but last night she posted these words that I think sums up exactly what we are both feeling today:
On December 19, 2010 my son was born. I was so excited to have a little boy. He made me smile from ear to ear and made us all happy every day he was with us. He woke up smiling and went to sleep in his crib each night with a smile. He loved Mickey Mouse, jake the pirate and tractors. I am so glad we went to Disney world the summer before we lost him. He was so happy and you could see the magic in his eyes.
There is not a day that goes by that I wish I could see that smile again and hear his voice and giggle, to feel his arms around me and receive a kiss from my sweet son.
I wonder what he would be into now. What would he be hoping to get on his birthday? Who would be coming to his party? How would we being celebrating? What would be his favorite meal that we would prepare for his special day? He would be turning 4. Where has the time gone. We were so robbed. We only celebrated 1 birthday with him. I have “celebrated” more angel days instead. It’s not fair but I can only hope that he knows how much we love him and miss him.
Look out for your birthday messages tomorrow on your balloons. We love you sweet baby boy. To the moon and back my love.
Do something kind for someone for my son’s birthday tomorrow.
Sam is exactly right. We were robbed. Robbed of a lifetime of experiences that were supposed to bring us joy only to be replaced with sadness over the “what if’s?”. I was robbed of a best friend who turned his back on me when I needed him most. A friend who I stood by concerning the accident, but who cowered in silence when CPS hurled their accusatory slings and arrows my way, hoping to avoid any himself. One day, ONE MOMENT, is all it took to rob Sam and I, and our entire family of a beautiful little boy. I would trade just about anything to have that one day back – but I know that is impossible. So now my “one day” takes on a whole new meaning.
One day I know I will see him again.
One day Sam will smile a smile that conceals no pain.
One day I will hold him again.
One day I will be able to forgive my friend for abandoning me when I needed him most.
The problem with my “one day’s” is that they are all in the future. I can’t think about the future. I need to worry about right now. I need to make sure that I make this one day that I am here, right now, count. We all do. There is nothing I can do about the past. I can’t control the future. The only day we can ever control is the one we are in. Today just happens to be my little boy’s birthday – yet it is also now something bigger. This one day… December 19th, 2014 is now officially “Kindness Day” in New York. I can’t have my little boy back, but we will all have this one day to remember him and spread kindness in his name. This one day will not erase the pain, but it goes a long way towards us achieving our goal of making this world a little kinder. Today I can appreciate what I have, where I have been and have hope for where I am going. I hope that when that last day comes I can look forward to reuniting with my little boy and be content with what we accomplished in his name. Moving forward I am going to do my best to not hide the pain anymore. I need to own it, use it, feed off of it. The pain is a part of who I am now. Today. I think I am ready. I just need to take it one day at a time…