Overcoming the Worst Anniversaries
He was 24.
I found him there, his lips purple, his body still as an empty shoe. He was hanging, a horror sculpture, motionless, silent.
I was pretty sure that his neck was broken, blue-black where the strap held him. I cut him down and he fell onto the grass below. I hurried down to his side.
His eyes were closed and his hands lay puffy — flat against his tan pants.
I tried CPR, but he was gone already.
From our home we have a glorious view to the east, and amazing sunrises. It’s the view that makes the place so special. You can’t visit our home without noticing the views, spectacular. But also this is where the deck is located, the deck from which our son hung himself.
There are many more details to our son’s death that day, too many: The way the metal buckle of the strap cut, bloodlessly, into his chin; the expression on his face, peaceful yet empty as a blank page; his last sounds, as I blew my breath into his body then heard that breath, a soft hissing slip back out.
There is my memory of his mother’s face, voice, and breath arriving home from work when the cops and firetruck, and ambulance were still blocking our driveway and when I told her what had happened.
There are memories of the way the sky looked that day, so peaceful and calm
In December of that year, at Christmas, I gave my wife a bird feeder to hang from the deck in the place where our son had died.
The bird feeder had a green roof and Plexiglas sides. It held a couple of quarts of wild bird feed.
It hung from a piece of raw, brown rope. I wasn’t sure about hanging something from that spot — I wasn’t sure what to do and what not to do. Christmas that year was going to be pretty painful and awful no matter what, so I took a chance on the bird feeder.
The sunrises, of course, kept on coming:
In April the birds began to arrive, mostly sparrows and swallows, lots of others I can’t name. They landed and, chirped, dipped their beaks into the feed.
Quail cleaned up the spillage on the green grass where our son had fallen when I cut him down.
The birds, all that life, singing, soaring, heads turning quickly, gracefully from side to side looking for what?
All that life kept the feeder constantly in motion twisting slowly, even on the stillest of days.
Soon, somehow it was May. The birdhouse swarmed with life, flying, squawky, life-feeding life in a flutter of feathers, claws, beaks, and eyes.
The birdhouse was alive, in motion and somehow it started to help.
But in the end, as we approached the anniversary of our son’s death, we cut it down and put it away.
Because, in truth, nothing ever really helps, nothing but time and the slow and fast unfolding of life as more death, more loss, more heartbreak builds up and gathers, like birds around a feeder, like quail nibbling below it on the new spring grass.