In 2014. Tom and Misty Livingston lost their eighteen-year-old son, Keith. Wednesday, on what would have been his twenty-second birthday, Misty wrote poignantly about the freshness of their grief.
This is for every mother, every father, every sibling, every grandparent who lost a child.
Keith’s birthday is tomorrow.
I haven’t been even able to wrap my head around the time passed in this world without him, and people are asking me what my plans are, what I am going to “DO” this year. I may, in fact, do something, but anything I do will only be to help myself and Tom survive through the agony of facing another year without Keith. We may also do nothing at all but be with each other and bear the weight of this loss. No words or gestures are needed between us. No mask.
One person said we should have a birthday party because she is over being sad all the time and that my son would not want me to be sad but to celebrate that he had lived. That she has “grown beyond” the being sad “part of it” and that in time she hopes I will come to the place where I can appreciate that being alive in the here and now is a gift. I know this was not meant to be cruel. That someone who has not been in our shoes could never know what it means, what it feels like. How do you get someone to understand that no matter how grateful I am that my child lived, I will never feel like celebrating his birthday? That when your greatest gift in life, your only child, has died, life becomes a curse there is no way out from under?
This is not a phase of grief that Tom and I will move past. There is no going beyond the sadness because every day in every moment we are constantly aware of Keith’s absence. I have learned not to constantly or openly say that I am hurting to spare others the discomfort it brings them, but why is it so hard for others to acknowledge the pain? Spoken or unspoken, smiling or unsmiling… my heart is irreparably broken. I try to make so many things “not about us” and our feelings, but damn it, selfish or not what is more about us than the day we brought a life into this world together and how we deal with that life being snuffed out?
My memory of every birthday Keith ever had is entwined with the horrible awareness of every birthday he is robbed from ever having… of all those birthdays stretching out into a future I never imagined having to live through without him except in my worst nightmares.
The marking of this calendar date doesn’t hold for me just the reminder of the pure joy I felt when he was placed in my arms at birth, but also of the day he was ripped from these same arms and rolled on a gurney to a coroner’s van.
The red face of my child in the delivery room screaming his first breaths of life as I was silenced with overwhelming emotions is crystallized in my mind… but it is now linked forever to the image of my child’s colorless face in the room where he was silenced by death no longer breathing and I was the one screaming.
The happiness I felt in those times is also just a memory now. I will never experience that again. I will never again be a happy mother creating that special day WITH her child ever again. I see the ghost of that woman in the old photographs and jealously wish I was her like I am spying on someone else’s life instead of my own.
All of the pain does not mean I do not feel Keith’s life was a gift to Tom and me, and that I do not hold precious every single moment we had with him. The gratitude I have for being his mother is not at all diminished by my inability to treat Keith’s birthday as a holiday as we did during his life. That if we “do” or choose “not to do” those are both valid ways for parents to survive grief.
In Loving Memory of Keith Richard “Flurrie” Livingston
Mar 21, 1996 – May 29, 2014