I wondered if I'd escape it this year, I thought, hugging my knees to my chest. It seemed such a silly thought; naive, even, now that the pain had hit again with the same bitterness of all the years behind. The cemetery was still, the only movement coming from the wind. I could feel it softly brushing the wisps of hair that had escaped from my ponytail. I could hear it gently rustling the leaves in the trees. I could see it playing in the grass around the running shoes on my feet. Such beautiful grass. Deeply green. Cool. Alive. I suppose there was movement inside my head and inside my soul, too, but though that movement was consuming me it would have been invisible to any other eye. My breath came in deep from the short jog up the mountain, probably would for another minute or two, but my lungs felt awake and capable of handling the extra air gracefully. The earbuds to my iPod shuffle still sat in my ears, though I'd run the last quarter mile in silence. The podcast had become irritating and distracting as soon as I had seen headstones in the distance.
I wasn't planning on coming here yet. Not like this. Though, you wouldn't have believed it from the direct route I'd taken. I hadn't been in Utah for more than 12 hours, and 9 of those hours had been encased in darkness. I had awoken feeling happy, invigorated by being close to so many people I loved, excited about the next two and a half weeks I would be spending with them. I had tied my running shoes to my feet with a smile, anxious to enjoy a 0% humidity run, energized by the spark Utah had ignited. I had set out at a brisk pace, feet pointed toward the cemetery long before my head caught on, noticing the beautiful flowers and carefully manicured yards along the way. The run had felt great, my podcast was interesting, I barely felt winded as I climbed the mountain... I was about as far from pensive as one could get.
And then the headstones came into view.
Wait... I don't want to be here. Turn around. My brain scrambled, but my feet kept along their direct route. No... I'm enjoying my run... I'm happy and lighthearted... this is not the right time. Yet deep inside, as I approached the section of the cemetery dedicated to babies and children, I knew I had come here purposefully; of course I would want to come as soon as I could. As soon as I could... but not yet. I flinched at the conflicting emotions... why are they so common when it comes to Jess?
I've asked that question hundreds of times. And, after seven years, I think I'm starting to understand that it's just a consequence of being a spiritual soul in a mortal body. My spirit, my soul, connected with Jess's when we were together for that short time, and consequently is always reaching for him, yearning to be with him, to feel him, wishing to see him again. My mortal mind doesn't understand that connection and is always reaching for closure, reminding me to live today, working for less pain, encouraging me to let it go. I appreciate both parts of me. But, they don't understand each other unless I consciously sit and give them quiet time to sync.
Which usually happens every June. Around his birthday.
I hadn't had time to let it happen this year though. The weeks leading up to June 11th had been so full... Each time my soul felt Jess's birthday approaching, my head pushed it away in an effort to save it for a more appropriate time. A more appropriate time that, if left to my mind, would probably never come.
But there I sat, two days before the date engraved in the stone next to me, realizing that my soul had overridden my mind this time and led me to this place. This place where I could sit by my son's headstone in complete silence and solitude to let that sync take place. There's a protection I enjoy in keeping the two apart, though; it's not so painful when your spirit can't speak to your mind about what it's feeling. But when the communication is opened, the pain that flows from it is not buffered, and the spirit communicates fast. In seconds my cheeks went from completely dry to being soaked with the tears dripping from my chin.
Eventually my soul and my mortal mind began to feel more understanding of one another, though never completely. Much like the way in which a husband and wife often come to understand each other, I think. My soul weeping, I miss him, and it hurts. My mortal mind thinking, I know. I can see that. I wish I could understand exactly why so I could try to fix it. But I care, and I'm sorry it hurts. But no matter how hard my mind tries, it cannot actually feel the pain, which leaves my soul... me... feeling alone. Misunderstood by even myself. I wonder sometimes about what it would be like to lose an older child. A child that has had time to fill your mind with memories and experiences. Would those memories be an added source of pain, or would they console? Probably both. I wonder if a mind full of memories would help bring my mind and soul together more...
After 30 minutes, a black SUV pulled into the small, empty, parking lot and stopped on the far side. A woman jumped out, around my age, carrying a handful of flowers. She walked briskly to a small headstone next to her running car and, after arranging the items in front of it, walked briskly back to her car and drove away. I wondered if the land for babies and children extended across the small parking lot, and if she had lost a child, too. Yes. Only one date inscribed. Two years ago. My heart reached out for her, knowing how fresh her pain still must be. I wonder how different my early grief would have been had I been close to Jess's grave through it all.
I took another long while meandering among the headstones. Unexpectedly, my heart started swelling with love for the babies surrounding my own little one. I hope someday to meet them. It's comforting to have that visual cue reminding me that Jess is not alone; he is surrounded by friends.
When I realized my heart felt better and that the last tear had dried several minutes before, I walked back to Jess's headstone. I stood in front of it for a few seconds and let my lips naturally turn into a gentle smile. I would be a different person today without you, I thought. Thanks. I lingered, sending love I hoped would reach him, then turned my back and slowly walked back to the main road. As the cars sped past, my steps became faster and eventually transformed into a light jog. I felt contentment and peace as my pace quickened and my breathing became deeper. But even though an understanding had been reached between my mind and my soul, I knew it would be several days before my life returned to normal again. In the meantime, I would handle myself gently. Take a few long walks. Disappear to my room for a while to read the uplifting book I had brought. I was lucky to be with my in-laws. Though we'd all be staying together in a little cabin, they wouldn't notice when I took an hour here and there to myself. And my sweet husband would be there to pick up the slack. Just like he always is.
With the cemetery at my back, and a little more peace with Jess's sweetness filling my soul and mind, my hand paused at my side just long enough to push play on my iPod.
*Title quote by C.S. Lewis