Joe took me to see the new Toy Story movie yesterday. Toy Story III. Oh my. I wept through such a huge part of it, more than is probably "normal" for that flick. It brought back so many things and my heart is just aching, my limbs heavy, my mind fuzzy. Andy, the boy in the film, is pretty much exactly Joseph's age. We were addicted to the first two movies; Joseph had the Buzz Lightyear that made all the fancy noises and had the wings that would pop out. We saw the first movie in the theater with him when he was little and bought the VHS of it as soon as it came out. Seeing all of those characters again, hearing thier voices just brought it all back. I was crying during the opening scene pretty much from the git go. Thank goodness the movie has been out a while and the theater was mostly empty. The thrust of the movie was of the toys adjusting to what would happen to them now that Andy was 17, grown and heading off to college. Whew. Big exhale. So so so loaded with emotion for me. And I found myself engaging in magical thinking, rewriting the movie in my head, wondering how it would play out if Andy had gotten cancer while still young enough to enjoy his toys now and then. And how the toys would have adjusted if Andy had died instead of grown up and outgrown them. And then, of course, it hit below the belt in that this is the start of a new school year. We probably have one more of this anniversary to get through. It is stunning how hard this time of year is and it is the one that always seems to sneak up on me. At least this particular one has a finite life. Joseph would have been entering his senior year. He would be 17 years old and graduating come May from the same high school his father and I graduated from. And I admit, every second I find myself alone I am crying like a baby. But this is finite. After this year, there will be no feeling that I should have more school supplies to buy, more shoes, more clothes. The pictures of the first day won't seem as unbalanced anymore, because Joseph would have moved on to college and would not have been in them anyway. Next summer may be hard as we muddle through hearing about other kids in Joseph's class heading off to their universities of choice or start classes at our local community college. And I know it will punch me now and then as I hear of them getting married or starting families. But the regularity of it will no longer be there. Something in me is both sad and yet relieved. One less outward sign of his absence.
This year feels particularly hard, as my own first day back is the same day as the boys. I won't be able to be there when they go to class or there taking pictures, as I will be starting my own class, my own semester, and my start time is actually prior to theirs. I have so much homework to do, so many things I need to get into my head prior to the 23rd, but this week I feel so disjointed and fuzzy, scattered and unable to concentrate. It felt like that movie pretty much put its finger on it for me. I am not very "together" right now. And I am lonely in the darkness of this sorrow. It feels like something silent and voiceless in me retreats into shadow and just cradles there until the storm passes. It is isolating, waiting for the dreaded moment to pass, knowing it comes forward like the roar of an oncoming train, making the heart pound with fear, dread and adrenaline.... and then passes in a whisper somewhere through the soul, leaving you breathless and stunned. The anticipation is always, always worse than the actuality. One of the little lessons I have learned in the years since Joseph died. But it is lonely too, drawing this firm line between myself and others. Part of me hates that; part of me just wants to be quiet and alone anyway. Kind of stuck.
Camp Sol, a local grief support group, has a back to school get together every year where the families eat together, do some craft projects and then break into groups. The boys love going. Not my favorite thing, support groups, but maybe this year I should see what I can get out of it. I am stumbling right now. I think perhaps it will center me a bit, to see if nothing else how far I have come as I meet other, more newly bereaved families. Joe's son is up this weekend anyway and they are probably going to go golfing, so I will not be missed. I work a 12 hour shift today and nothing takes me out of myself more than being at the hospital, so I look forward to that. We are going out to sushi with my brother and his wife tonight, and tomorrow night we have an awards ceremony to attend in which I get one of the scholarships I have been granted for the upcoming school year. Things to look forward to; things that take me out of myself and remind me there are happy people in the world and that there is much opportunity and growth still to savor. I will be okay. The next couple of weeks may be rough. Maybe it is time to get the bin of Joseph's belongings out, go through the few toys I held on to and finally let them go. After all, they are waiting for a child who will not return and as much as Joseph loved them, he would like those things to be played with and cared for. I think I just might do that.