Today our son Jack would have been 5 years old.
Every parent knows that the fifth year is a banner one. The child is officially “school-aged.” They transition from baby to little kid. They are funny and busy and sweet. It would have been so wonderful celebrating today with my boy.
Birthdays are harder for me than death days. A birthday shouldn’t be mourned. It should be celebrated with cake and balloons and presents. Half a dozen five-year-old boys should be running around my house with lightsabers or shields. We should be singing happy birthday and blowing out candles. Phone calls should be rolling in from the boy’s grandparents, aunts & uncles, and cousins. Instead, a hush has fallen over the house. Passers-by pass by, completely unaware of the absence of what should be or the presence of grief and sorrow that is happening behind closed quiet doors.
I’ve gone various routes when it comes to celebrating Jack’s birthday. From the all out party with cake and balloons and gifts at his grave, to just quiet and simple acknowledgement behind closed doors. None seems to uplift me. Today we will release balloons with messages as we have done in the past, because I think it’s important for the children’s sakes to do something.
I did decide this year to take on a little project for me for this day. Every time I look at a family photo of ours, there is an ache in my heart that just throbs and throbs. No picture can portray our family accurately because Jack is such a real and integral part of it. When I post and share family pictures, or pictures of the three children together, I always wish there was some subtle way to include Jack in the photo. Every year when we’ve taken family pictures, I’ve included a little private symbol or token that represented Jack.
This year, for his birthday, I did something a little different with our most recent family picture. I created a composite sketch of what our family might look like today if Jack were still with us. It is a little strange and very sad for me to look at this picture. I feel like Harry Potter as he looked in the “Mirror of Erised.” Harry stumbles upon a mirror and when he looks into it, he sees himself reflected back as well as his deceased parents whom he lost in infancy. Night after night after night, Harry stares into the mirror at the image of him and his parents whom he never knew. Speaking of the mirror, Dumbledore explained, “it shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desires of our heart.”
And that’s what this picture is to me. The deepest most desperate desire of my heart. Side by side with my husband with all our dear children gathered near. Sweet precious Jack in our life; raising him in mortality.
Dumbledore eventually removes the mirror and tells Harry to no longer seek it out. He explains that the mirror does not give knowledge or truth. “Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or have been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
This photo has entranced me as I have spent a great amount of time studying and staring at it. It is such an ideal image, yet it also saddens me so. Looking at this picture, it is so easy to envision what our life might be like if Jack were a part of it and we get idea of what he might look like; no longer frozen in babyhood in our minds. I have felt the danger of obsessing so much over something that is not real nor possible.
But I do have knowledge and truth. I do know that the picture of my eternal family is so much more wonderful and beautiful and glorious and desirable than this desperate attempt of my natural man to create what my family truly looks like. And what I have created is a preschool finger painting in comparison to the Lord’s veiled masterpiece.
I can’t say for sure if I won’t do this again, five, ten, maybe twenty years from now. It may seem totally inappropriate and strange to some, but anyone who knows what a loss of this magnitude feels like will understand and appreciate the motivation behind it.
A very happy birthday to my firstborn son. While I grieve deeply this day, I am eternally honored to be your mother. We love you and miss you every minute of every day.