As the parent of a little boy whose body took its final breath in the spring of 2006, I feel a darkness approach when the calendar delivers notice that another year has passed since the awful news telling me a fall from a swing set was not survivable for my child.
Without fail, this darkness settles in like a grey and unforgiving winter and lingers for six weeks between March 16th and April 23. March is the month Wesley Cowan entered this world with ice-blue eyes and deep dimples framing ruby red lips. April is the month all of those things I loved about him grew still, resting under a layer of embalmer's makeup inside a silk-lined casket.
That April anniversary is when the bells of my grief and trauma over what I saw in his mother's backyard ring the loudest. And perhaps, this is why on that anniversary, I devote all of my attention to try and flip the pain on its head.
The first couple April 23s after Wesley's accident, I found myself in Kenya's Masaii Mara opening the schools named after him, all springing to life from the kindness of donors who tried to assuage my pain and make pain have a purpose in the world.
Aprils since then have brought other tributes. Blackbird tattoos adorn my arms marking each passing year, along with the famous line from Finding Nemo: (the story of a dad looking through an endless ocean for his little boy). Just keep swimming.
Always on that April death day, candles and incense burn, flowers are delivered, and tears mix with my own version of sackcloth and ashes.
I'm close to a decade since that April night that took my little one, and looking back I can tell you; I owe my son an apology.
While determinably marking the day of his death, I've missed every one of his birthdays.
And for that tragic oversight, I am forever sorry.
Why do we, as a culture, mark a person's death anniversary with more focus than the anniversary of the very miracle that brings life in to the world?
Why have I sent flowers to be placed on the front lawn of the home where Wesley died and flowers to his grave on the anniversary of his death every year?
Eight years after Wesley's spirit took flight, and after enduring calamities and messes that come from putting one's life back together in the wake of such a trauma as a child's death, I finally experienced a breakthrough.
I learned to meditate, and I began feeling space open in my heart wherein I could be filled with a calm and serenity I have not known in all the days since Wesley's tragedy.
Calm, serenity, and yes, acceptance.
In the silence of meditation, in opening those spaces, I have begun contemplation on his life, all the moments strung together that were truly magic. I can see him in my mind's eye. I can feel him alive and vital somewhere in the universe. And, feeling his life, I can once again focus on his best day... his birthday.
No more April 23 tattoos or trips to Kenya. No more doing anything to mark Wesley's worst day.
No, this year, Wesley's dad is going to mark his March 16th birthday.
Some weeks ago, my sister in law turned 50, and sent each of us a 50-dollar bill with a challenge to do something good in the world with the money to honor each of her 50 years of life.
Her call to random service, stirred a voice in me that drove my inner-vision to the Hospital where Wesley drew his first breath and where I first looked in to his eyes.
It is a remembrance giving birth to a knowing of what to do with those 50 dollars.
This year, the mothers giving birth to new life in the same hospital where Wesley entered this world, will get flowers from Wesley.
The shift in my grieving will be focused on mothers and fathers holding new life in their arms.
Celebrating the miracle of Wesley's short life, marking the spot where it began, is why I'll never again buy flowers and hold vigil marking the place and day of his passing.
My own practice of marking life instead of death causes me to hope we send flowers to mark birthdays and not days where death swept in. Marking miracles instead of the tragedies that mar each of us no matter what the loss seems to place grief in to the alchemy of transformation.
It's a transformation principle that can be applied to any situation of loss. Perhaps if we as a culture can adopt this paradigm, we can celebrate the sparks that make life delicious.
Imagine the shift if you marked the day on your calendar honoring the first time you knew you were in love, instead of marking the day your relationship fell apart.
Imagine celebrating the remembrance of the day you got the call about being hired for the job, instead of mourning the day the job ended.
Perhaps if we celebrate beginnings instead of mourning endings, we would attract more beginnings and enjoy them mindfully as they happen.
When I picture new mothers and fathers getting spring bouquets on Wesley's birthday, I smile thinking I'm participating in the newness of life such shifts can bring.