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  • Writer's pictureJody Pupecki

One Less Child

How can my heart soar and break all in one breath?

Everywhere I look on my Facebook scroll there are back to school photos, proud parents, excited teachers and living students ready to start a new year. I, too, am part of that scroll and got my obligatory first day of school pictures of your siblings.

Your big sister will be a senior in high school this year...a SENIOR! I look at her kindergarten picture and then see her now and I wonder how, in a blink of an eye, she's almost ready to be on her own.

Your little brother, well, he's not so little anymore. He's starting 8th grade this year and is really coming into his own. Since they go to the same school it's strange seeing them drive off together, knowing they are bonding and having conversations and experiences that I no longer have any control over.

And it's strange to think that YOU should be in that car with them, laughing and joking, fighting for shotgun, looking forward to seeing your friends and looking forward to...well, I'll never know, since you were 1 year and 21 days old when you died.

But then again, since you died, nothing has really been normal about our lives.

After a year and a half of the COVID pandemic, remote learning and NOTHING normal about anything, I am so happy for them to emerge this school year into somewhat "normalcy". But then again, since you died, nothing has really been "normal" about our lives.

I want to be happy for all my friends and family who are celebrating another year around the sun for their child(ren)...I am one of those people, too. I am thankful that I can take a first day of school photo of your siblings...even if they grumble about it and wish I didn't.

The depth and heartache of your absence effects every moment of every day...sometimes good and sometimes bad. That moment that I take the photo (any photo actually), my heart and mind and soul knows, from losing you, that this could be the last photo I ever take of them. At the same time, I know, from losing you, how much I will forever be grateful that I have that photo...I look at the 1 year and 21 days of photos I have of you ALL. THE. TIME.

The depth and heartache of your absence effects every moment of every day...sometimes good and sometimes bad.

15 YEARS since I last held you.

15 YEARS since I last heard your voice or belly laugh.

15 YEARS since I last squeezed those cheeks!

15 YEARS since the definition of "normal" was SHATTERED when I found you gone.

15 YEARS since I became part of the most expensive club that no one ever wants to be a part of.

15 YEARS since the old me, the one everyone knew, expected, loved (or hated) ceased to exist the same moment you took your last breath.

You don't know me; I put back my pieces, differently. ~unknown

I am sorry I had to learn the hard way...your truly appreciate each day knowing it could be the last.

I am losing you...that I FULLY UNDERSTAND now that people are sooooo much more adept at wearing masks in public that I could have ever imagined. You never really know what someone is going through. Just because they seem fine on the outside doesn't mean they are not lost, struggling or suffering on the inside. 15 years has given me plenty of time to perfect my mask, but also to realize I don't need it as often anymore.

Life lesson...just be kind. You never really know what someone is going through.

While the cliché, time heals all wounds, sucks to hear, it does carry some truth to it. My heart will NEVER heal fully after losing you, but the hurt does soften over time and is less sharp - I know this from experience that only time could have shown me. I have learned that I don't have to walk this grief journey alone - sharing the burden lessens the load.

I have been completely surprised by who shares that burden with me - often the people I thought I could count on the most either never showed up, or showed up for just a blimp, but think I should be "over it" by now and don't understand. It used to break my heart, but now I am thankful they don't get it and no longer am hurt by their ignorance. They are lucky for their ignorance.

And those that are still helping me to carry the heavy weight of your loss 15 years later - good thing I didn't place any bets on who'd step up because I'd be in bankruptcy many times over at this point. I've found that instead of focusing on who isn't/wasn't there, it's far more important to be grateful for who IS here, not shying away from the uncomfortable space your loss created, never making me feel wrong by still including you in our yearly Christmas cards.

While I have had plenty of time to try to put back together the broken pieces, milestones have a way of silently, or sometimes explosively, undoing all of that. Since you were so young when you died, there are just too many milestones that you'll never have here on Earth. Driving, high school graduation, voting, going to college, getting married, having kids...those are the obvious ones that tear me apart each time I think of what could have - SHOULD HAVE been.

The less obvious ones are knowing I will never know what your favorite color is, what your favorite subject would have been, if you would have been an athlete or an artist or a musician, who you would have fell in love with and what you would have named your children. Gosh, would you have even gotten married or had children?

Every milestone I grieve is a reminder that there is #onelesschild in this world. And with that realization it breaks my heart just a little bit more to know that so many in the world don't even know you're missing - like the 10th grade teachers this year that should have you in their class.

Like a broken plate glued back together...[my heart] will never, ever be quite the same...

15 years later I can honestly say that my shattered heart, my shattered world has done some mending. I said SOME. Like a broken plate glued back will never, ever be quite the same, nor will I ever be the same person I was before you died.

I have learned that I have moved from just trying to survive each day to actually living each day. Living comes with smiles, joy, laughter, friendship, family and sadness, loneliness, grief and heartache - that's NORMAL. But my new normal has been amplified by your loss. My joys, smiles and laughter are RICHER because of you. And my sadness, grief, heartache and sometimes loneliness are somehow "truer" because of you.

All of my experiences in life have shaped the person I am today and you, my little man, in your short time here on Earth, have made my life richer in ways that I am still uncovering. Know that I will be one person who will always remember that there is one less child in this world and you will never be forgotten.

In the end, I can say with my whole heart - I wouldn't trade any of it in - I am LUCKY I got to be your mom for 1 year and 21 days on Earth, and for every day after that I am your mom who keeps your memory present and living in a different way. I love you to the moon and back.

Jody is a mom of 3 children (17, forever 1 year and 21 days, and 13) and is active in her local Compassionate Friends of North Central MA.

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