At the boys' tennis lesson the other morning, I met a lovely couple: a grandma and grandpa who were staying with their grandsons and helping babysit for the summer. We talked throughout the lesson, and I really enjoyed the conversation with them.
At one point they remarked on the size difference between Slim, my twelve-year-old, and Knox, my ten-year-old. Knox is a big boy for sure and Slim smaller than average, but I couldn't help mentioning that Slim is also a twin.
And then it begun - how his brother got cancer and died (it was a brain tumor), how we discovered one morning that he was having a seizure, that he lived for a year after that (but he still went to kindergarten until he was too sick), how I was forty years old and was done with babies but had another one (who reminds me of Joey, by the way), and how the kids at Slim's school are nice to him because they know his brother died.
And on and on and on.
I've always been a good listener. Or maybe just too polite to tell people to bug off. As a result, I often get cornered into listening to total strangers tell me their life story.
Now I am that total stranger telling someone my life story.
It's been six years since Joey died. We've been without him almost as long as we were with him, and not a day goes by that I don't think about him or say his name aloud.
Because missing someone never goes away. It never gets better or easier. It never becomes routine. You never forget to do it. You never have to remind yourself to do it.
It's just always there.
The ache in your heart is ever present. It tells you that a part of you is missing, that you will never again be complete. Sometimes you can hush it like a baby; but like a baby, it will just start crying for attention once again.
Your grief is a part of you now. It becomes a story from your life. It's certainly not the only story you have, but it is your story to tell.
Or not to tell.
There are times when people remark to me about my four sons: "You have four boys?! You must have your hands full." And I choose not to tell the story.
But it hurts my heart.
It hurts my heart because I want to scream, "I HAVE FIVE BOYS. FIVE." But only because I so desperately want that fifth boy to be tagging along behind us, helping his brother at the soda fountain at Costco, or offering to push the cart and unload the groceries for me.
I want to see that smile that radiates from his eyes and hear that laugh that's contagious and feel that hug that warms every part of my body.
But I can't.
So I talk about him. I tell his story.
I talk about who he was and what happened to him, not because I want to make you sad or feel your pity; but because it is my way of letting that grief have a voice. It is my way of never forgetting how I felt and still feel.
It is my way of honoring his short life.
I will always talk about him, because his is my story to tell.
I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable,
I get it, I do. It makes me all of those things, too.
But I feel grateful when you indulge me, when you listen to my story, when I can see in your eyes and your heart that you are really listening.
Even if it's the 75th time you've heard my story.
If you are a grieving parent reading this, I want you to know that I will always listen to your story. The first time or the 101st time. It's your story to tell.
Or not tell.
If it's safe in your heart and it feels right there, that's okay, too.
But if you need to let it out, there are those of us who are listening.
Now, and 839 times from now.
Because it's our story to tell.
You might also want to read some of my other stories about loving and missing Joey:
When Party Games Go Horribly Wrong
Not Broken, Just Bent
Remembering Joey: What I Loved About My Son
My Dear Sweet Joey