So many painful milestones face you when your child dies. The obvious ones - his birthday, Christmas, Halloween. Annual events that you must learn to face, to get through with some semblance of keeping-it-together. Then there are the single milestones that he’ll never reach - learning to drive, prom, high school graduation. The ones that you know when they should have happened.
In a perfect world . . .
As time goes by, I am finding that there are other milestones that are even more painful because you don’t expect them. There is no bracing for the pain.
We have moved twice since Keeghan died. Because of that, I now know people who never knew my son. But few people who know me for more than an hour remain ignorant to the fact that I have a son, and that he died. I am not quite as in-your-face about letting people know as I was in the first couple of years after his death, but if someone asks me how many children I have, I tell them. Two. The fact that one is no longer living does not make him any less my child.
What took me by surprise, however, was finding out that someone I know and talk to fairly often didn’t even know what my son looked like. I know, weird. Why would she? She’s never been to my house to see his picture on the wall. I don’t carry his picture around and show it to everyone I meet. As silly as it sounds, I guess subconsciously I assumed that anyone who had ever spoken to me about him would somehow see him in their mind’s eye as I see him. Vibrant, beautiful, alive.
The other shock came from the realization that she might not know his name. Don’t people automatically know both of my kids’ names? If they know Mackenzie’s name, shouldn’t they know Keeghan’s also? For so many years, when referring to our children, it was always “Mackenzie and Keeghan.” But that isn’t the case anymore, at least not in the minds of those who never knew Keeghan. But I didn’t realize that.
It’s hard reaching these milestones. Facing the fact that there is a lifetime ahead of me of meeting people who will never know him. A lifetime of reacting to the gut punch of realization that comes with the reaching of these milestones. A lifetime of knowing that there is a huge part of me missing, but only those who knew me before his death will even realize it’s not there. Some spark of the old Shannon, the one who was whole, that is gone.
These milestones are like another death, one with no ceremony to mark its passing. Only more tears.