I stood over my mother’s grave, holding my son and looking down while tears collected in my sunglasses. When my thoughts failed to become words, I set Gabe down. He walked away and attempted to steal a balloon from a dead stranger. This was not the way I envisioned introducing my child to his grandmother.
I’m uncomfortable visiting my mother’s grave, and have only done so a handful of times in the 18 years since she passed. That is a long time to carry on a one-sided conversation, but I kneel and speak a few short awkward sentences, because beneath almost two decades of scar tissue, part of me is still the heartbroken 13 year-old who needs her to hear, even if the 31 year-old me feels ridiculous.
For years after my mother’s suicide, I blamed myself for not doing more to ease the pain she carried around. I would have given anything for the opportunity to go back and live with her, even if it meant leaving my friends to transfer to the school in her town. No matter what else was going on in her mind, if I would have done that, she might be here today. I still believe that.
But I would no longer give anything for the opportunity to go back and do it differently. I wouldn’t trade today or any of the days I have left to change the past. Not because I’m pissed or because I’m over her death – I'm not. It's because giving up one day of being the father I am would break my heart more than the baggage I carry over all the days my mother gave up.
So here we are - my wife and I – left to decide the appropriate strategy for teaching our son about the grandmother he’ll never meet. If you take your child to the resting place of a loved one, you want them to understand the meaning and remember it when they’re older. It’s like the shittiest possible version of planning a trip to Disney World.
I made the decision to stop at the cemetery, even though our son is too young for it to be impactful. I didn’t have the slightest idea how to introduce a toddler to the idea of a woman I only kind of understand myself, but figured the words would come.
With the exception of “No, that’s not your balloon,” in a raspy voice through muffled tears, the words did not come. My wife did her best to take the lead, managing, “this is where your grandma is,” before the moment proved easier to strategize than deliver. She decided to take our son back to the car and give me a couple minutes.
I kneeled down.
“We’ll be back...”
“I really hope you can see him.”
When I got back to the car, I wiped my eyes and sighed that exaggerated sigh guys do when they want to move forward from an emotional moment without talking about it. As I put the car in gear, I told my wife these trips would get easier.
“I doubt it.”