In a way, every day, every moment since June 3, 2015 has been a "first" in this first year since I went from being merely a parent of four boys or an adoptive parent to a bereaved parent. Every day, there are things that trigger my tears. Some of them are quite small and seemingly insignificant--but even something that might seem small to others can leave my heart weighed down by stones too heavy to lift for most of the day.
My husband never questions what is wrong when he sees me crying. Why should he? Most of the time, the answer would be the same, and the specifics of what triggered the outburst matter little. Even if I might like to talk about it, I realize he probably doesn't, so we don't. We grieve very differently, he and I.
But, as an early spring peeks over the horizon of the Northern Hemisphere, my heart remains buried in the snow and chill of all those "firsts", like it is buried deep in the plot my boy doesn't even have.
It was March 22, 2013 when Levi Simon entered our family. It was a date I thought we would celebrate always as his "adoption birthday". The day itself was incredibly hard for everyone involved, and I looked forward to the day we could mark this celebration with only the sweet, not the bitter, in our memory.
Had he remained with us, this year we might have come close. As the months after he came to us passed, the scars left by the sudden grafting in healed, and the new shape of our family tree grew into something beautiful and amazing. By last spring, we were able to celebrate his adoption without regret for the pain it caused to those whose difficult choice it was to give him up, as they, too, had found joy in the way our families had been blended.
The celebration we could have embraced with complete joy for the first time this year has been overcome by pain and dread. In three days, we will, for the first time, celebrate the day he came to us without him present.
Eleven days later, we will mark his fourth birthday.
If I could go back to this day, three years ago, knowing what I know now, I would make the same decision again. I wouldn't give away a single precious moment we had him with us, no matter how difficult it was then or how difficult it is now that he is gone.
But until we have passed that marker of his first "heaven birthday", the next three months will contain three increasingly difficult milestones to pass.
Pass them we will, as time has proven to me over and over in the past nine months that its march is relentless, regardless of the legitimacy of the reasons one may wish for it to pause or reverse its pace. And I doubt they will be as difficult as those early days were.
But that doesn't mean I don't expect them to be really, horribly difficult.
When a tragic event happens suddenly, with no warning, all of the emotional upheaval follows in its wake. However bad it was, you know that you have already survived it, and all that remains is to figure out how you will manage from here on out.
But sometimes, it is the dreading of a thing expected that makes it so bad, a fact that many parents have used effectively as its own form of discipline through the millennia. Maybe that will be the case, here. Perhaps my dread of the anniversaries will be far worse than the days themselves.
Or maybe not.