I woke this morning feeling sad, but couldn’t remember why until I wrote the date, 4/8/04, in my journal. Then I remembered. Fourteen years ago today, on a full moon, my first born son Jeremy (nicknamed Jake) died in a hiking accident. He was 15 years old, one month away from turning 16. I didn’t know when it happened, had no presentiments or intuitions. I found out the next morning that he was missing and, after a torturous day, found out he was dead when I saw his body at the bottom of a canyon, the lead story on the 5:00 news.
When I meet new people I’m often asked if I have children. I sometimes say “one,” and sometimes say “I have one living son and one who died,” depending on my mood and how I feel about the person I’m meeting. Invariably people, especially mothers, will respond “that has to be the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, to have a child die.” And I’m not sure that’s true. I’ve never been raped, or molested, or tortured for my beliefs. I’ve never known hunger or drug addiction or war. I think that the “worst that can happen” is different for every person.
“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, “breeding lilacs out of memory and desire.” He was quoting Chaucer if I remember correctly.
Not so cruel though, I think, to contemplate death and endings in the season of rebirth. I do not minimize the pain and shock of fourteen years ago, but I have not stayed there, frozen and stuck. I worked hard at healing for years (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). There are times when I remember with pleasure the joys of his childhood and the difficulties of his adolescence, and other times when the grief is as fresh and potent as the day it happened.
The best part is when I dream that I am a young mother again, and both my blond-haired baby boys are there, sweet and loving and full of hugs and sticky kisses.
I do have a soft spot in my heart for little boys.
Each year on the anniversary of Jake’s death, I have made a ritual of planting a tree or shrub for him. Some are in California, some here in the Northwest, scattered around the various places I was living or visiting at the time. This year I decided to plant a Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii), one of my favorite Northwest native shrubs. My friends at Tree Frog Farm gave me the one that Craig and I will plant a little later today. We will speak to Jake’s spirit and to the spirit of Mock Orange as well, welcoming, inviting, blessing. In June and July, when it blooms, the heady scent of sweet oranges will remind me of my beloved first-born son.