The Fifth Year

The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly. (Proverbs 20:27, KJV)

Two days ago, our next-door neighbors marked the birthday of the adult son they outlived. Yesterday, my wife’s childhood friend commemorated what would have been her son’s Bar Mitzvah. I feel for them deeply. And tomorrow, had he lived more than three days, our own son would have turned five.

It is a significant age in our culture–the beginning of more than a decade of compulsory education, and also therefore the end of the need for full-time care. It is when most parents place their child at the top of a long chute ending in adulthood, by taking them nervously in hand to their first day of kindergarten.

Late last year, in response to a wave of teenage suicides, the It Gets Better project reached out to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gender (LGBT) teens with its simple message of encouragement. After five years of complicated grief, I am here to say it can get better for bereaved parents, too. I say “can” because I credit not only time but a number of important activities for bringing me increased solace, including: community service, counseling, meditation, nutrition, exercise, supportive friends, and, of course, writing. While all of this has helped, both in the moment and over time, it has not been some steady upward progression. Far from it. Some days, just getting out of bed in the morning is still my greatest victory.

In March, my debut short book will include several poems about infant loss, subsequent infertility, and the poignancy of so much beauty and sadness that somehow coexists in this world. While many of the poems touch on other topics, it still feels like a “coming out” of sorts about my grief–a way to describe, in the only language I know to do so, some of the emotional landscape I have traveled these past five years.

Like any attempt at art, I can rest assured that some people won’t like it. But like those LGBT teens who will later come to discover thriving communities of support, I, too, have found in fellow poets and poetry-lovers a sense that I am among “my people,” and accepted. It is for them, and for myself, that I go on trying to write, and be, most fully who I am.

I am not looking forward to the next three days–the memories, and the longing. But I do look forward to the rest of my life, and the ways in which our son, by his too-brief visit, has showed me how to live it–embracing more fully the paradox and complexity of being human, located in both an inner and outer landscape all at once. Once again, I say, “thank you” to my much-loved son.