What do you wear to your son's funeral? Your son who flew out of his bedroom window because he couldn't stand the pain anymore; your son you had taken to so many doctors, therapists, emergency rooms and hospitals; your son whose birth was the happiest day of your life; Your son whose lifeless body you finally got access to by desperately ringing the neighbor's bell and going through the dark labyrinth of the basement with a flashlight, screaming his name; your dead son whose eyes you closed when you went to the hospital to see him one last time; your son who loved you but left you anyway, whose beauty had always made your heart skip a beat; your son you loved with all your heart and more...
That question played over and over in my mind. Does it matter? Does anything matter now that he is dead?
My son Evan was 15 and bipolar, diagnosed at age 11 following a suicide attempt at school and his first hospitalization. He finally decided it was time to be done with his suffering. We always kind of expected to outlive him, but didn't -- couldn't -- imagine, on that sunny October afternoon as we sat at lunch with him, laughing and joking, that it would be that very night.
Day Three: a Wednesday. Evan had jumped out of the window that Sunday night, dying instantly. Our personal 9/11. Like terrorism now, it was not a question of if, but when. How long had he been planning this? Was this suicide in his back pocket, waiting for a stressful moment, and a blip on the radar of his illness, to act?
Mom came to New York City immediately to stay with us and help with funeral arrangements. The apartment exploded with flowers, food and friends. Phones ringing, e-mails flying -- the doorbell, letters. I had been outside only once by then, to the funeral home around the corner. So I said to Mom, let's get out of here -- we'll shop. I have nothing to wear on Saturday. Maybe if I act normal, I will become closer to being so.
We set out in my neighborhood, Chelsea, first stop Barney's. One quick tour around and an immediate exit. It was all too trendy, too young, too casual. Uptown would have been better.
We worked our way down Eighth Avenue towards the meat-packing district. I'm not much of a shopper, but I remembered a proliferation of new clothing stores around there. We turned right on 14th street. Bad choice. It took us right by the funeral home where they had, just the previous day, been trying to sell us all sorts of urns and services -- all we wanted was his ashes in a box. "Just take care of the cremation," my husband and I had said. "We'll do the rest". Mom asked if I wanted to turn back or go another way. "No," I said, "I'll have to walk down this street eventually. I'll still have to see his friends. I'll still have to sort out his clothes. I'll still have to go through his backpack, clean out his locker and cancel his orthodontist appointment." Might as well get used to it.
We stopped by several stores on West 14th and it was the same -- more expensive, trendy, young, happy stuff. Still nothing for my baby's funeral.
Don't they know a child is dead by his own hand? A child who suffered so much but also brought so much joy, love, passion and humor? How can they sell over-priced low-rise jeans and belly-baring spangly tops when there are children, like mine, leaping out of windows and ending life as we knew it?
We turned up Ninth Avenue, about to give up. We suddenly came upon a beautiful store I hadn't noticed before. It was clearly out of my price range, but I thought, last chance -- let's try anyway, and entered.
There it was. A top and skirt, tasteful, seasonal -- beautiful. Deep brown flowered silk with blue accents- - cornflower blue like Evan's eyes and mine. We had immediately donated all his organs, including his corneas. Poor thing, I had thought to myself, wondering idly if the recipient would have to wear glasses or contact lenses. Would he see what Evan saw? Feel what he felt? Of course not, silly me. They were just body parts -- at least they could help someone who was alive. But I could not forget how happy Evan was when he finally got his contacts. He had seemed happier in the past year, more comfortable, pretending to be well...
I went into the changing room, a fat tear squeezing from my eye. How is it that I am here trying on something to wear to my teenage son's funeral? Why am I not shopping for a Sweet Sixteen, a graduation, a wedding? The skirt was fine but I needed a smaller top. By now the tears were streaming down my face. I worried about ruining this exquisite garment. I came out of the dressing room to ask for the six. My eyes drifted up to my face in the mirror -- now a permanent map of loss and despair. Evan's eyes looked back at me. How is it that I'm shopping for my son's funeral? Mom, meanwhile, had told the nice salesman what had happened, in order to explain my odd behavior. "I hope you don't mind," she said. I didn't.
The salesman looked at me with pity as he handed me the six. It fit perfectly. I didn't even look at the price tag. Turns out it cost more than I had ever spent on any article of clothing my whole life. It didn't matter. I had something to wear to my son's funeral.
Boy Interrupted will air on HBO on these dates through the month of August: Aug. 5 (8:45 a.m.), 9 (4:00 p.m.), 11 (7:15 p.m.), 15 (10:30 a.m.) and 21 (1:45 p.m.); on HBO2 Aug. 6 (8:00 p.m.), 10 (7:15 a.m.), 18 (2:55 a.m.), 22 (11:00 a.m.) and 27 (10:00 a.m.), as well as on HBO On Demand. The film can be purchased on DVD via www.amazon.com and www.hbo.com.