Last week, on the tenth of December, my wife asked me the date. I was caught up in grading and trying to finish the semester, so I didn’t know why she was asking. Later, as I was cooking dinner, she reminded me. Two years ago that day, we left home with Caemon for the last time. It was a day I will never forget. But I did. I forgot.
I forgot that two years ago, we were wrapping up a glorious three-day break from the hospital, that the day before, Caemon wanted to eat nothing but tuna sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I forgot that we had all slept in our big bed and that he had snuggled the cats and drank tea and helped me make pumpkin muffins. I forgot that we had gone for drives each of the three nights to look at Christmas lights and that he had helped me light fires and that we had had a little slice of normal, all for the very last time.
The realization that I had let a milestone anniversary slip my mind crushed me, spiraled me into a new sort of grief: the grief of forgetting.
I don’t forget Caemon on a daily basis. In any given moment, I might blurt out to a stranger that I had a son who died. There are photos of him all over our home. The hole he left in my heart will always be there. However, the day to day, even some of the anniversaries are starting to slip away.
It is agony to have lost my son; it is a new sort of ache that comes from forgetting anything about him. But as each day goes by without him here, he grows a little fuzzier. Without watching a video, it is hard for me to remember the slightly deeper voice he had before he got sick. It is harder for me to feel his arms around my neck. In the early days after he had died, I could access these memories so readily. Now, I find myself searching, fumbling, wishing for a stronger pair of glasses or a volume control I could turn up all the way. I’m so afraid he will slip away forever.
But the fact is, my son has been gone for 678 days, and while I think of him every day, there is no controlling the forgetting. For the rest of my life, parts of him will gently fade from my knowing, and I hate that.
The problem solver in me wants to be able to do something about this: Maybe if I could declare December 9th Tuna Sandwich and Christmas Lights Day in the Marston-Simmons family, somehow I would never forget our last full day at home. Maybe if I can see enough photos of him, I will somehow remember his myriad of glorious facial expressions. Perhaps if I write everything down, all of the memories and favorite sayings and places we went and his favorite foods and songs and books and clothes, I will keep all of those details safe from the precarious passage of time.
But something tells me that we’re not meant to continue remembering everything. Perhaps the only way to make this sort of loss more bearable over time is to let some of that life slip away, proverbial grains of sand taking time and memories with them. As his mother, I want to gather all of them up, cling tightly to them like my own life depends on them, but inevitably, some will slip away, and often without my knowledge. I fear how little I will remember in ten years, twenty, thirty—how faded and softened it all will feel.
Remembering Caemon is the last job I have as his mother, so on days like last Wednesday, when it feels I have shirked my responsibilities, I go into a state of hyper-remembering. But it’s not necessary. Caemon is part of me, forever intertwined with my identity, ever-present in my broken mother’s heart. I can take solace when my memories slip that much of his life I could never forget: the moment I first saw his face and heard his cries, the twinkle in his eyes when he smiled, his melodic, easy laughter, the way it felt to fall in love with that beautiful soul every day of his too-short life, and the way it felt to have him love me back.