The night before Easter, I knelt on the rug in the middle of my basement, and I cried. In front of me sat an Easter basket I had just filled with candy and small toys. One basket for one child. Next to it sat the empty space where it felt like another basket should be.
It was our first big holiday in a year without our four-year-old foster son. The only holiday we never experienced with him because he was placed with us very soon after Easter last year.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced true grief before. I guess I naively assumed it started at its worst, most painful point and slowly but consistently got better from there.
But that’s not always true, is it? Sure, sometimes there are a few days in row where I feel normal. Relaxed, even. But even in those days, I can feel the grief hovering inside my chest like a weight. I can feel it lingering behind my eyes like a shade, ready to be pulled down by a memory that makes my eyes glaze over. Or pulled down at the discovery of the tiny purple rubber dog that he loved that I overlooked when I was packing up his things. Or because for a split second, I could have sworn I heard his voice down the hallway.
Some days, the grief envelopes me unexpectedly when I hear a song that reminds me of him. Or in innocuous moments like when Ryan asks me to put the humidifier in his bedroom and I remember how BlueJay pronounced the word with the emphasis on the wrong syllable, “humidiFIer.”
I struggle with this grief because a part of me feels like I have no right to it. BlueJay was never my son; he was only ever my foster son. And, I signed up for this. I agreed to – and still do – support reunification with his biological family.
I even struggle to label what I’m feeling as “grief” because he did not die. He is out in this world right now, playing (likely) or eating a snack (also likely) or throwing one hell of a fit (most likely). He still has his whole life ahead of him. He can still learn to play the trumpet. He can still figure out some way to land his dream job, which he often told me is to be “a mommy.”
This grief, it feels a little selfish. To admit I’m sad he’s not with me could also be interpreted to mean I think he is better off with me, and I simply don’t know that to be true. Mostly, I grieve at the idea that he could already be forgetting my words. He could already be forgetting that I will always love him, even when he can’t see me. He could already be forgetting that this choice was not mine to make.
He could be thinking I simply abandoned him, sent him away. He might think I don’t call him because I don’t care. He might feel like I broke his heart; he may never know how deeply mine is broken, too.
Mike and I are often asked how we’re doing. Better, we say. Finding our new normal again, we say. It takes time, of course, but really we’re fine, we say.
It’s true. At least most days, most hours, most minutes, we are ok. We are moving along. We are laughing. We are kicking the soccer ball around the backyard and taking walks around the block. We are closing BlueJay’s bedroom door each night and opening it each morning.
But it’s also just easier to answer that way. It’s easier to say “Getting better every day!” than to say, “Well, I haven’t yet been able to scroll through pictures or watch a single video of him on my phone since he left, but that’s normal, right?”
Easter morning felt quiet with our one deliberate, methodical kid hunting for eggs. At one point, Ryan pried open a plastic egg ever-so-slowly to find a small handful of M&Ms inside.
“(BlueJay) would have opened that so fast and hard that they would have flown everywhere,” Mike whispered to me.
“Oh, for sure,” I laughed back. “The living room floor would have been covered in candy. It would have been a total disaster.”
We smiled for a moment in that thought. Then, it was time to start cooking for the Easter brunch we were hosting for our family, so I forced myself to stand up and move on.
And that little weight in my chest stood up and moved along with me.