It’s been a while, friends. I’d found that comfortable thinking/not really thinking mode that allowed me to float through a summer without Kai, prep for a school year without Kai, plan a holiday vacation without Kai.
The bubble finally burst four weeks ago with the onslaught of back-to-school photos. All the freshly-braced faces, all the clean haircuts, all the squeaky sneakers of all the thirteen year old, sweet, gangly boys, ready to start a new school year with their new backpacks and longer shorts. All those lives with so much promise, and Kai was not among them.
I could feel this visceral spiral into constant anxiety, where my gut twists in that horrible, unsettled panic of sliding sideways in my car on a patch of ice. It’s that feeling that I may still be able to keep this under control, but only if my tires catch traction in 3 … 2 … 1.
Right now, my daughter and my husband are dismantling Kai’s bed, the bed where I found him nearly a year ago, not breathing, tongue protruding, lips purple. That horrible, indelible moment is all I see when I look at that damn bed, and I thought I couldn’t wait to take it apart. Now, hearing the banging, the pieces dropping, the deconstruction of my boy’s favorite place to hang out – it’s eviscerating. We’re taking the bed apart because we’ve finally, finally acknowledged he will never sleep there again.
The shrine of condolence cards, secret romances revealed in notes, My Little Ponies, Rubik’s cubes, stuffed animals, pajamas, paper cranes, photos, certificates that had all assembled there? They’ve been put into a box without too much thought. No energy to linger over each memory right now. After the bed goes, we can haggle over what should remain. I want a freshly painted, earthy Zen retreat that holds no reminders of a 12-year-old boy. I want a fresh backdrop for new memories. The rest of my family wants to remember it as Kai’s space, and keep some mementos in place. We even debated washing the bedding and clothes that have sat for almost a year. Surely all the Kai smell has diminished by now and we can rinse away the last of the adolescent bugs?
The negotiations get tense, but we try to approach them with calm, loving, compromise. We all have different memories we cling to, spaces we hold sacred, framed photos that are meaningful. How do we honor each other’s memories, but still create a place that’s comfortable for each of us? It takes a lot of raw conversation, with tears, occasional yelling, lots of deep breaths, hugs, open faces, and acceptance. I keep praying with my breath one of my favorite quotes from Julian of Norwich: ““All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
It has to be done. Kai isn’t in a 10 X 12 carpeted space. Kai isn’t limited by our photos, our tschotske, our paper cranes, or even by our love. He is so much bigger than our perceptions and our memories. We want to keep him in this neat little figurative box, but that’s not Kai. He was an explosion of love, of life, of faith, of family, of friendship, of kindness, of Kai-ness. We debated what to do with the bed, and ultimately decided it had given our family 11 years of sturdy service, but that we didn’t want to pass any memories on to any other families. More practically minded folk may have said, ‘But, but, a needy family could have used those bunk beds!” To which I would say, “Ikea can help you make new memories, and they’ll be happy to sell you a box of pieces and an Allen wrench.”
I won’t miss that bed. Whatsoever. I’m glad it’s in pieces. I’m glad my husband is cutting it apart even now in the garage and sending it to a slow death in the landfill. It was a part of our story, but it doesn’t need to be anymore, and it doesn’t need to be part of another family’s story. It had a finite purpose. There are times I feel the same way about Kai’s life: it had a finite purpose, but with infinite meaning. His memory doesn’t need to be limited by things, or places.
As the one-year anniversary of his “Homecoming” approaches, I want to think of him without the parameters of this world. He’s transcended blankets and bean bag chairs and Legos. Do those things exist in heaven? Maybe, but I know we don’t have to cling to them to know Kai is still part of us, still part of our family, always. I like to believe Heaven isn’t geographically far away, but more metaphysically distant. Maybe it exists right next to us but we’re not able to comprehend the mystery of it? That brings me immeasurable comfort. Kai doesn’t need a bed to sleep in, but he still needs people to come home to sometimes. And he will always, always be welcome, bed or no bed.