Both sides

Sitting in the living room listening to my oldest and my youngest play a video game together while the second oldest hums along with whatever he’s doing on his laptop… A “normal” evening but it feels anything but for me tonight. This visit has been a lot of ups and downs as always.

Watching my youngest son last night at Karate was a surprise crash. Not really sure how it was such a shock to me though… being back in a Karate Dojo and seeing Kata practiced brought back so many memories. Willie was so good at it and so proud of how well he did at gradings and tournaments. He had a knack for Kata; his movements precise and sharp, his mind so focused when he was performing them. He achieved his brown belt before he gave up Karate… that was really at the beginning of when he started to first show signs of mental illness. Signs that, at the time, we thought of as nothing more than adolescent behaviour. He stopped Karate; his worsening moods and conflict with his step-father (who was his Sensei at the time) a major reason for him giving that up. I remember him and I talking about his decision and I tried to get him to agree to go to a different Dojo but he was done with it entirely. His anger at his step-father was what he used as the reason for pulling out. He wanted nothing more to do with it.

Taking Willie’s younger brother to Karate last night… watching him practice with the same determination and focus… seeing how happy he was that he was doing well and that I was there to watch him… the memories and the tears came flooding forward. They caught me off guard and I wished more than anything that I could leave but I knew that my son would be upset, so I stayed… I smiled and nodded at him when he looked my way. My eyes full of tears and my heart breaking – seeing Willie in my mind’s eye as he was. Anger filling me as I screamed inside at how unfair this all is. Hating myself for how badly I just wanted to be out of there. Mad that my ability to enjoy this moment with this son is hindered and tainted by what’s been lost when Willie did what he did. Trying to push away the sadness and focus on my son who is still here and so excited to have me here to see him.
Karate ends and we pick up a few groceries and head back to his older brothers’ place where we’re staying while I visit. Tending to bedtime tasks and readying for school in the morning. The normalcy of the evening magnifying the emptiness I feel with three instead of four around me. The truth that one will always be missing weighing on me heavy this visit …

The flip side on my mind as I settle in to bed for the night. The day was filled with fun laughter and conversation with the oldest 2 as we hiked earlier that day. A sweaty and demanding hike with amazing views in the quietness of nature calming my mind. The sheer joy of realizing that not only are my two oldest responsible and mature but they are fascinating, articulate and interesting young men with great senses of humour and sarcastic wit that makes for an afternoon of out-loud laughter and camaraderie. The smiles on my face sincere and heart-felt as I look at them chatter with each other and know that I’m proud of how they have turned out. The peace of sitting with them waiting for the youngest to get out of school. Us reminiscing about days long past when they were at the same school as little boys. Happy talk and memories in the sunshine as we joke about how small the elementary school kids look. The secret thrill that I have when I see my youngest catch sight of us and run – passing me to grab onto his brothers instead first. Tears spring up suddenly as it floods me how good it feels to be with them all – but knowing that Willie isn’t here.

The truth is that both the joy and the grief exist in the same blink of a second; and they always will.

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