January 17, 2040, is a significant day for me. It will mean I have gone through 10,000 days without Phil. My son. My baby whom I held in my arms and looked deeply into his eyes. The baby I bonded with, my foxhole buddy. My first born. My boy.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell outlines the concept that you become a master at something after you have practiced it 10,000 times.
I will be 76 years, 10 months, and 7 days if you count that day. You know, the day Phillip died. The day a normal 22-year old boy made a decision to drive fast enough to get there early. The day he chose to go to the beach. To drive unsafely through heavy traffic. To casually push the accelerator a little more, a little faster. The beach. The one he didn’t make it to. The day he was flippant about his responsibility of protecting his life. The day he lost. The day we lost. The day Alyssa lost. The day her family lost. Forever. The day he took from so many. Alyssa. His mom. His dad. His daughter. His wife. His siblings and his friends.
Each and every one of us take. We take from others when we drive too fast. We have all driven over the speed limit. Eager to get there a few minutes sooner. We don’t even calculate in our mind or even on paper how much sooner we will arrive. We just know, if we move faster, we will get there sooner. Is it five minutes sooner? 30 minutes? An hour? It doesn’t matter, sooner is better. Faster is better. Except when it isn’t.
Each of us has pressed that accelerator a little more to get there. Faster. Faster. Risking our lives. Risking others’ lives. Casually taking and hoping for the best outcome. The chances are good, you will make it. The chances are in your favor.
Hope and chances and risk didn’t work for Phillip. The risk did not go in his favor or in Alyssa’s. She died too. Tremendous loss. Tremendous grief.
Turn the music up. Open the windows and feel the breeze. Life is so good, we are going to the beach. It will be so amazing to hear the waves crashing against the beach. The boogie board in the back seat, ready to have fun in the sun. Fun that was stifled early by a tree.
It’s not like the ocean is going anywhere. 30 minutes earlier, it would still be there. Hell, I was there this last weekend and it is still there. He could have slowed down. He would have made it home and back and now, six years later would join us for yet another Labor Day weekend. He would be 28 years old. Swimming in the pool perhaps. Perhaps playing with Ava in the water.
Faster. Faster. Gotta get there sooner.
Maybe there was a phone call or a text message. Maybe there was a distraction of sorts. Maybe it was missed judgment. No one knows but them and they take it to their grave. Not that it matters. The end result is still the same. Final.
Was there pain? Was there awareness in the last seconds? Did they die instantly like the report says? No one knows for sure. It is left to the imagination. And I am so creative.
I am six years in, 2,192 days, and it is such a long journey to master the process. Yet people say, “Oh, six years? It was a while ago then?”
It is more of a statement than a question. It hangs on their lips. Then they add, “That helps. Time heals all wounds.”
Yeah right. I think quietly. Time heals all wounds. Maybe when I have 10,000 days under my belt, there will only be a massive scar on my heart. I will sing Hallelujah, I am healed. I put in the time.
I know they want to help. The intention is good. They simply do not know the shallowness of their words. The words get stuck in the web of grief through which everything is now filtered.
So for now, I tick off the days on the calendar. And though I am aware I am looking at the time, it isn't the time that heals. It is the learning to go through each day and becoming stronger that heals. My mom used to say, "Inch by inch it is a cinch." I'm not saying it is a cinch by any means. I am saying that I am aware that each day the habits we develop form our results in life. This isn't about arriving at a destination. It is about the journey. It is long. Hard. Bumpy.
I work hard to lift myself from the quicksand of grief. It takes diligence. Patience. Awareness. I am aware that I must behave my way into the feelings. The feelings cannot rule. I will never feel my way into a behavior. I will not hide out either. Grief is not contagious. You won't catch anything from me. Although, at some time in your life, if you live long enough, you will have grief knock on your door.
I don’t do this because I am some noblewoman. I don’t do it because I have a strength of character that others don’t possess. I do it because I am just like you. We can all call forth a greater sense of strength because we have the power to choose.
Choice is my Superpower. It is my weapon against grief. I do it because I choose to. I do it because I CAN. I choose to live a life to honor my son. I choose to live a life that is an example of what is possible for my other children. I do not choose anger at him driving faster than he should. I choose to focus on the lessons he gave his very life to teach me. I choose to put down the phone, leave the text messages, lift my foot from the accelerator. I choose to not come from blame, regret, guilt or shame. I choose to forgive. I choose to offer grace.
I was his mom. I love him. I will love him until the day I die. When I get to January 17, 2040, I suspect, I will have gained more tools to share with others starting the journey of grief. I will share with them how they can master loss. If it is what they choose. Choice can be their Superpower too!