Numerology of Grief (The Sixth Year)

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.”

-Albert Camus

Six is my favourite number. It is the number of years between my younger sister and me. It looks like the lovechild of zero and “C”. The only single digit that is divisible by two as well as three, it seems to encompass both even and odd with a swirling, round-bottomed equanimity.

This tadpole, half of a yin-yang symbol, is also the number for idealists. Six years ago today, I counted myself among them when our son was born. I was determined to be the ideal father to an ideal son. Three days, eight hours and forty minutes later, when the doctor pronounced him dead, that idealism shattered, not by twos and threes, but into innumerable pieces.

His death certificate reflects that he was never issued a US Social Security number. The boxes for “years of education” and “years in country” each contain a single zero. Other boxes: “white”, “male”, “never married” all increment statistical records somewhere. His occupation was listed as “infant”. I wonder how often that column gets a tick.

Recently, strolling through a nearby Victorian cemetery, I was struck by how many headstones were laid for infants and children. In the developed world, in modern times, losing a child is unexpected. I was told that what happened to my wife and me only affects one-in-one-thousand like us these days.

We are now living approximately 5,500 miles away from the Santa Barbara harbor where we scattered his ashes, and from the community that so lovingly supported us through the long, dark aftermath. (The only constant–change.) I miss them terribly.

In the heart of a London winter, in the middle of my life, I am facing down problems for which the answers are not numbers, but a way of life. Throughout the upheaval of the past six years, a few things have remained invincible in me. Among them: a need to make art, and a desire to give back.

Once again, I take this day to be grateful for my son’s short life, and the ways in which it has taught me about how to more courageously live my own.