The school year is almost over. It’s usually a time for family vacations and days spent in the pool or at the beach. I think back to the summers of days gone by and reminisce. Memories of my boys when they were little flood my mind. Trips taken to theme parks around the state and visiting with family are memories that I will forever cherish.
This summer, however, I am not planning a family vacation. No trips to theme parks, water slides, or long weekends at grandma’s house this year. No road trip adventures to new places.
I should be planning a party for Erik’s twenty-first birthday in August. I should be figuring out what kind of cake to bake for him. His brother and I should be shopping for gifts and wrapping them with paper and ribbons. It supposed to be a fun day, a milestone into true manhood.
If only that’s what we were doing.
This year I am planning a memorial for him. It sucks.
Instead of reaching that milestone and turning twenty-one, August will mark one year since Erik died. I hate saying passed away because it has such a peaceful tone to it. Equally, I hate saying we lost him or he left us. He did neither. He is not lost. He did not leave. He was taken, suddenly, violently, and tragically taken without warning or preparation. It is as if someone physically ripped him right out of my arms and cut my heart out of my chest and took that too.
All these months later, the pain is still unbearable.
I have tried a few times to drive down that road where the accident occurred. Each time I have to go in that direction, my hands clench the wheel. My breathing becomes shallow. I wonder what he was thinking about in those last minutes. My eyes overflow, a river of tears flowing steadily down my face. I replay each detail in my mind. I have not been able to drive all the way to where it happened. A feeling of intense sadness and panic take over. I always change course, opting instead to take the long way around to my destination.
I have not been there since that day. I go out of my way to avoid that road altogether. Where I live that often means a twenty mile detour.
As much as I don’t want to go back to the scene of the accident, I feel I must. I can't explain it but it is something I have to do. I feel the need to face my memory of this tragedy, horror, and mangled metal. I want to remember the life Erik lived and not how his life ended. I feel this is a necessary part of the grieving process for me.
For his birthday this year, Erik won’t get gifts and cake. He won’t get to celebrate with his friends. This year Erik’s gift will be a road sign bearing his name installed at the scene of his accident reminding people to “Drive Safely”. This year his family and friends will gather together, maybe leave flowers or notes and pay their respects once more.
So I am working out the details to plan this memorial. I want those who attend to remember Erik with joy and laughter, not sadness and grief. It’s weird though, because it is similar to planning a birthday party. I have a guest list. I have invited everyone and am keeping track of how many will be attending. Hotel accommodations and transportation from airports need to be arranged for those coming from out of town. Arrangements for food need to be made. So many other details need to be tended to.
I feel strange asking people if they are coming to the memorial. Unlike a birthday party or wedding, no one looks forward to going to a memorial. In spite of that, I hope this day will allow us to lean on each other as we remember Erik and what he meant to us all.
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