Today you turn 19 years old in heaven.
It struck me yesterday how in June this year, you would have been gone for 15 years. How our lives have changed. How you must be all grown-up now.
I wonder how you look like at 19, and to find the answers, I always take pause and smile when I have students in my class who are your age now. I sit down and take time to find out what their interests are, and at the back of my head I wonder if those would have been your interests too if you were still here.
Your sister does the same thing. Every now and then, she tells me wistfully about the times she sees her friends younger brothers, those your age who are now all in college. Their paths cross on campus once in a while, and when they do, two things can either happen – a piece of her heart breaks, or she breaks into a smile.
It never really goes away you know, the longing, and the missing. We just learn to handle it better through the years and continue to move forward with the memories we have.
On days like these, and in what I like to call the “milestone” years – those divisible by 5, or those years when you should have graduated grade school, high school, or college, I really stop and wonder how our lives would have been if you were still around.
You have a younger brother, Leon, who arrived, a few months after you left, and he has brought so much joy into our lives. He’s 14 now and I’m sure he would have benefitted a lot from having his kuya around. He’s quiet, and very introspective but lots of fun too. He has a sharp wit and is a sensitive young man. Now that he’s an adolescent, he has many questions about growing up male that I try to respond to as candidly as I can and most of the time we laugh and end up shocking your Ate Pia. I think about you and your deadpan humor, even then at age 4, and how you would have probably responded to those questions too.
We keep you in our hearts, and take you everywhere we go, Migs. And we know that in all our activities, and trips you are just there. God in his infinite wisdom and kindness somehow always allows a manifestation or a sign to come down from heaven as an assurance for us that you are just around and looking after us, all the time.
Your sister is almost done with college, just another year, and hopefully she’ll go into medical school after. Her twin passions to put it simply, are healing and history. She misses you a lot too even if she doesn’t say so all the time. I see it in her beautiful writing, in the photographs that she takes, in the way she cares for the many children she has encountered through outreach and as a college student.
This is the first time I’ve done this – write you a letter directly – since you passed away. I don’t know why I never thought about doing this earlier, maybe I wasn’t ready? I don’t know. Writing has always been my way out of the dark and writing about you and the experience of losing you is certainly what has helped keep those who love and miss you deeply, afloat, these last several years.
Your sister and I wrote “Heaven’s Butterfly” together in 2008, about the first year after your loss, and I learned last year that it’s now required reading for the fourth grade at Miriam, where I went to elementary school. Imagine that? Many children know of you now, and when they lose someone, and see a butterfly, they think of your story and find a degree of comfort in knowing that death is but a transition to an even better life for those that go ahead of us.
A little over two years ago, I wrote “Between Loss and Forever” this time, it was a book to guide other bereaved mothers on the journey towards healing. That was a tough book to write! In listening to other mothers tell their stories of loss and hope, I found you, and parts of myself in their stories too. You know that writing that was my response to the last question you asked me that day you were wheeled into the operating room – “Will you be with me forever mom?” You were four years old then, and today you are 19. And fifteen years later, I keep you with me, and I know that you will be with me until we see each other again someday.
I hope that up there from where you are, you are proud of who we have become, how we have all evolved, and hopefully become better persons in the wake of your loss. Your leaving changed all of us in profound ways. In losing you, I found myself. Many things changed, Migs but also many things remained the same.
Your brief but full life continues to inspire us to do good and one day when we see each other again, hopefully, I’ll see you smile and hear you say, “Good job, mom!” I miss you every day, more so on days such as this. The pain dissipates through the years but the love remains unchanged.
Happy 19th Birthday Migs!! Hugs and love from here, to infinity and beyond 🙂