Today is Tyler’s birthday. He would have been seventeen-years-old and enjoying a special summer before his final year of high school. Instead, for the second time, he will remain fifteen. My forever fifteen-year-old Superman.
Most would assume that with the passage of time the journey without Tyler would somehow grow easier – that with time the rough edges would become a little more rounded each and every day. For me it does not and they do not. Just as Tyler would have changed in many ways over the past two years, the void he left behind now changes in his place - or perhaps the void is the same and my ability to manage the void has changed.
Imagine returning home from work one day to find a giant sinkhole has swallowed your family room. You are afraid and quickly try to fill the hole, but it consumes everything you offer it. No matter what you try you cannot fill the hole. You are cautious around the hole staying away from it’s edges for fear you will fall in. As time passes the hole remains - it never leaves and it is never filled. You see it every day and while the fear of falling in is always with you - somehow you learn to live with the hole. It becomes a part of your home. That is the void he left behind. Always present, consuming whatever may fall in, but you grow accustomed to it’s presence. It is never welcome and the fear never leaves - you just learn, no, you try to learn to live with it’s presence.
Since Tyler died I have maintained that I would rather stay in the moment of indescribable pain and sadness when he died than watch the days, months, and years pass by. Recently, I expressed this feeling to a close friend - he was surprised by what I said. He had felt that the passing of time and the distance would make it easier, but to me it only makes Tyler’s existence more past tense – too past tense. I would rather say my son died last week than my son died last year or two years ago or ten years ago. How will I feel on the sixteenth anniversary of his passing? The marker that tells me he has been gone longer than he lived.
In the days after Tyler’s passing I planted a tree in our backyard and installed a decorative water fountain next to it – something that would represent him and the day he left us. The tree has grown – almost doubled in size. I don’t yet know how that makes me feel. As time passes everything grows and changes – but him.
My forever fifteen-year-old Superman.
How tall would he be?
What would he look like?
What would be his first job?
Would he cut himself shaving for the first time?
What car would he drive?
Earlier this week I received a message from my sweet mom after she found an unexpected reminder of Superman. She said, "I came up to the cabin with your dad today. I was walking outside and looked down at the gravel and saw a painted rock and it took my breath away. I remember washing the rocks and putting them in the oven, then Tyler and Tanner melted crayons all over the them and when they cooled I placed them in the gravel around the deck and steps. How can I smile and cry at the same time?"
I told her I have those moments too and while they are hard, they are also good. They make us feel closer to him even though it hurts. I would rather hurt and have those moments than not have them at all. Today is her birthday too.
Over the past two years I learned that we all need a guiding light or a symbol to keep us from falling into sinkhole of our lives - something that will bring us back to center. Each of us will find our light or symbol in different places and they will take many forms. If you stop and think right now you will find you already know what your light is – what symbol brings you back. It’s that something that reintroduces perspective, that realigns priorities, and keeps you moving ever forward on the tough days. Days like today.
I find my light on my wrists. I wear three wristbands every day and I will wear them for the rest of my life - two on my left wrist and one on my right. The right band is blue with white lettering and it says, “Whatever It Takes Be Like Tyler.” It has been replaced dozens of times as I have taken it from my wrist to give to another that was touched by Tyler’s story. On my left I have a white band with blue lettering and it says, “My Life is Amazing. Believe. Fight. Endure.” The last is the most important because it was Tyler’s. It was given to him as a gift and was a little big on his small wrists. This band is also blue with white lettering and it says, “Band of Brothers.” After Tyler died my brother-in-law searched far and wide to find more wristbands like it, he did, but only a few. Prior to closing Tyler’s casket I took the "too big" band from his wrist and replaced it with a smaller one - it fit better. I slid his over my hand and on to my wrist then gave a third to Tanner. I told him it was to remind us that we will always be connected to Tyler and to each other - we will always be a band of brothers. We may be separated from Tyler now, but we will always be together.
These wristbands are my light. I just look down at them and they remind me to be brave, to be resilient, to be hopeful – they remind me to be like Tyler. They help me manage the void and are three of the many gifts Tyler left for me. He knew I would need them - he knew I would need the light.
Today is Tyler’s birthday, but once again he leaves gifts for me.
My forever fifteen-year-old Superman.
I love you, Tyler.
Cherish every moment.
Whatever It Takes