A grave revisited

  • Thursday, August 29, 2013

The death of one of your children is cruel pain. No matter how long the lifespan – from youngster to senior – the loss is deep and devastating. Part of you has gone.
But part of these offspring remain in the memories and methods you choose to keep them alive in your mind. It’s hard to write about – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. It’s how these recollections – old and new, and the way we preserve them – are woven through our lives that I want to share.
Our first son, Christopher Joseph, was born and died before he was 24 hours old. I was extremely ill and never even got to see him. We were stationed at Oxnard AFB California, at the time and it was up to Jim to bear the burden of our little guy’s final arrangements. All we had left of him was the small little nickel toned crucifix that adorned his tiny casket. This cross, as a quiet reminder, has hung on our many kitchen walls for 54 years. We also put up an angel Christmas stocking for him every year.
What meld of ancestral features would he have had if he’d lived? What would he be like? Would he have been in the Air Force like his dad or a writer like his mom? How about taking after one grandmother with her love of and skill at music or an aunt, who is an artist. Perhaps he might have been into propagating and showing camellias like one of his grandfathers. Or he might have been a safari hunter or a pro footballer. Whatever. He would have been as loved as our other children. We often talk about these things on his March birthday. But just last week his younger brother David did something so special, it marks a new and lasting chapter in our family story.
He was representing the Hills at a relative’s California wedding. Just before he left, David, who had named his second son Adam Christopher, asked just where Chris was buried as he had something special he wanted to take to the gravesite. He came by the house to show us the memento.
It was a U-shaped pewter bracelet, the kind you can slide bead charms on. He’d gone to one of those bead stores where they had thousands of selections and picked out six personal icons. There was an airplane for Jim and a heart for me. Our oldest daughter Cathy, a stylish college exec, was represented by a glittery spike-heeled shoe, and David, an architect, selected a sleekly designed house for himself. The final two charms were for our twins: Jimmy, our special child, was shown as a Raphael angel and a treble clef ended the family sextet for our jazz saxophonist cum music teacher, Mary Clare.
Last Saturday David drove two hours each way to install that bracelet for all of us. It was a way to come full circle. It’s comforting to believe in an afterlife when we can be together and Chris can catch up on all our lifetimes – no matter how long they were.
But I have the feeling he already knows.

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