While this post is about how I have held onto and let go of my son’s tangible things, It’s also about how I’ve held on and let go emotionally. There is a strong pull in my heart and a choice I have to make daily, do I want to stay stuck in the past with Caleb or go forward in life with my husband and girls? While the choice may seem obvious, it is not easy in the least. I want to sit on my couch, close my eyes and stay in the loving hug he gave me on Sunday, August 11, 2019, one day before he was gone from my arms forever. I want to stay in the moment where he is with me, when I can hear his voice, when my eyes can look into his with love and pride, when life is normal and good again. Emotionally I want to stay there with him and never leave and grief would make It very easy to do so, but life does not. Life pulls you forward whether you want it to or not. My physical world no longer includes my son so here are some ways I have found to live with him, without him.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that going through a loved one’s belongings after they have died is a horrible experience. If the death is very sudden and unexpected, it makes the process even harder. They’ve left behind a collection of their memories and personal things that are proof they were here and they were real. Everything they owned paints a picture of the life once lived.
After Caleb died we stayed at a friend’s house for nearly a week. When we went back home, well, there’s really no adjective fitting enough to describe just how painful it was to be home without him, and knowing he would never be there with us again. His favorite shoes were in the middle of the floor, his dirty socks under the couch, his toothbrush in the bathroom, his backpack, wallet and keys right where he put them. His closet hung full of his favorite shirts and a basket full of dirty clothes were proof that he was here. In those early days, weeks and months I spent a lot of time in his room laying in his bed, staring at the closet while crying and screaming, just wanting to be close to him and wishing him back home with me. As time went on his room got more and more cold, dark and sad. I hated the door always being closed, the light always off, the bed never being slept in and I didn’t like his favorite shirts and shoes not being worn. It was so hard to open the door and see it look exactly the same day after day.
Within a few months we started wanting to give some of his favorite socks, shoes, and shirts away because we wanted to see them being worn again. We also had a lovely woman in our church who offered to make us t-shirt quilts. We each kept what was meaningful and important to us, we chose the shirts we wanted to use for quilts and we gave several away. We wanted his clothes to be worn or used in some way and we wanted his friends, cousins and other family members to feel like they had a piece of Caleb with them. Keeping the clothes or giving them away, neither is easy, but knowing that little pieces of him are going on and he is being honored and remembered is healing for our hearts. When I see a boy and he’s wearing my Caleb’s shirt, I smile, I cry and I hug him a little bit longer than usual.
I had teddy bears made for his sisters from two of his favorite Bayern Munich soccer jerseys. These memories are precious and painful. I wish I could blink my way right back to these moments when they had their big brother right next to them.
These are the quilts, and also pictures of Caleb wearing the shirts. There are only a couple that I don’t have a photo of…I’m so thankful I have all these pictures! One of the quilts is made of his favorite shirts and a few that were special to me. The other is made of his jersey’s and sport shirts from different sports he played growing up. I wrap myself up in one every time I sit on the couch and they are very comforting to me. They were lovingly and beautifully made and I will cherish them forever.
My bond with Caleb continues as I find ways to stay connected to him in my everyday life. Whether it’s wearing one of his shirts, a pair of his silly socks, his fingerprint around my neck, wrapping myself in a quilt or hugging his friend whose wearing his shirt, I feel him with me throughout my day, everyday. While they bring me sadness over the boy who once was, I hold on to the tangible things because they will always bring me a lot of joy, laughter and happy memories.
I’ve not let go of my child and I never will. I’ve lovingly and happily passed on some of his things to people who miss him and can continue to make memories with a piece of him. What I have been able to let go of, is believing that Caleb’s suicide is my fault. Aside from him dying and learning how to live without him, the guilt I feel has been the hardest, most painful thing piece to process. It has taken a year of therapy, education, coping skills and self reflection as a mother to get to this point. The lie rears its ugly head a lot…I feel it, process it, pray and let it go again. Letting go is difficult and guilt is hard to manage, but I’m dedicated to working through it and not being controlled by it. In moments when I’m stuck and really struggling, I ask myself, “What would Caleb think if he could see me?” He would be devastated if he knew his death was destroying me, if I believed it was my fault and if he knew how much pain it has caused me. I know he didn’t want it, I know he didn’t mean it and he would take it back if he could.
My heart aches and longs to have him back with me, but I will hold onto the good, happy, meaningful, impactful and influential life he lived with me for seventeen years.