I put your tree up today for the 10th time since you moved on from this world. It is such a cataclysmic experience every year, the collision of joy in who you were combined with sorrow for all you were not able to become and my selfish wish to have you here, the cascade of memories in what we were all going through at this time of year. It is a form of PTSD I think, these flashback clips of treatments and sorrow and struggle and fear. Yet I do it every year and look forward to it, though it bring me tears and an internal ache. You were real. You were here. We really did go through that. You really are waiting for us on the other side of whatever this world is. In that, I find peace and in my silent memories I find comfort and hope. If we were strong enough to do that, we are more than strong enough to weather this thing called Death.
Your brothers have taught me that even were you here, you would no longer be the boy whose tastes and passions now decorate this tree that I dedicate to you every season. I look at it and wonder if it is fair to you, to memorialize you at 13 years of age....and I know it is not. It isn't fair to anyone who has to find ways to get through times such as these. I wonder what you would say to me, if you saw it and, if you did, who would you be? The boy of 13? The man of 24? Would you laugh at the things I remember about you? Would you be touched? Would you roll your eyes and be embarrassed now at how you loved your Pokemon and would I laugh and wish you could understand how I treasure your innocence at this age? Would you get a soft smile, like your brothers do, remembering what these things meant to you at the stage in time this tree represents?
The tree isn't pretty, but then neither was the hand you were dealt. It is imperfect and cluttered, full of angels and snowflakes and wiener dogs and all the little things that I can find to represent the reality of your personality. The lights are colored (not in style) and flashing (also not in style) because I believe these are things that would have appealed to your youthful soul. There is a box under the tree every year filled with letters we, your family, wrote to you right after you died when attending the Camp Sol Christmas party - a "camp" just for families who have suffered the death of a child. Every year I am tempted to read them. Every year I leave them alone in there. There is a box in the attic filled with your clothing and shoes and a few Christmas presents still wrapped, intended for you from your brothers when you came home from the hospital. You never did. I could not, can not bring myself to unwrap them.
Joe and Mom and Ryan and I are going to see A Christmas Carol tonight and in that performance I will find the familiar, reassuring message that what we do in this life does matter and that the spirit of Christmas is both alive and pure. I choose to believe in this message. I choose to know you are there, waiting for me one day. I imagine smiles and conversations in which we catch up and none of what it took to get to that moment will matter anymore. Today, in this moment I am not there because I just miss you so much. I think much of the world thinks after nearly 11 years, I have "moved on". What they do not know, can not know, SHOULD NOT know is that you never move on. You just learn to carry it. I carry it best I can and I am happy to do...to not have to means I didn't get the privilege of knowing you as I do. Those of us who did...we carry it. We carry you.
I love you Joseph. I wish Christmas were different. There are so many things about the world and my adult life that isn't what I thought it would be and sometimes those things really, really hurt and some of them are unbelievably wonderful. But you? You were one of the very best things I ever got. It is no secret I love getting gifts. I like to tease that Layla, my cat, is the "best present ever"....but the truth is, you are. You, your brothers and Joe and my mom and brothers, my friends and all the people I have gotten to help in my life, all the souls I hope I get to help still more....those are the real gifts. I am lucky to get those. I love getting those.
Someday you will teach me what Christmas is about in the next life. You have already taught me in this one. Merry Christmas season Joe-Gi. I still think of you and I still remember. You are with me.