We’ll be honest, we’re no good at this and really don’t know what we are doing. Nothing about anniversaries or new traditions sounds appealing right now. We do know we’re not going to miss Grant Fieldon Brown any more today than we did a week ago or three weeks ago---or a month from now. My capacity to miss him is completely maxed out. Somehow the realization I’m maxed out on missing Grant staves off the “looming dread of a deceased child’s birthday” so many helpful, supportive authors try to predict for “grieving parents.” It sounds so impersonal to even write it that way about our son.
One ingredient we are planning to keep as a tradition for his birthday is simplicity. Every year, Carolynne masterfully created healthy carrot cakes that never looked or tasted healthy at all. Among some of her masterpieces are a blasting-off rocket, a fire truck (the firemen down the street brought a bona fide fire truck to the party that year unannounced, then had to roar off to a real fire!), the Sesame Street sign and last year’s Lego cake was the crown jewel of all delicious homemade carrot cakes. This year Grant had dropped hints of a “chocolate Ironman cake with super hero words on it” now that he “was getting bigger, he wondered if he could choose what flavor he wanted.” (I’m mean really, he did know the baker personally.) Of course, Mommy delivered and made it from scratch last night in the kitchen. We’re leaving it covered at Mt. Auburn today for anyone who wants to stop by for a bite. Please help yourself.
We’ve always hosted simple birthday parties in our back yard. We’ve played crowd-pleaser games like the “sit-on-the-balloon-and-pop-it-game.” Then, we’ve tossed a beach towel over a bungee cord between two wiry lilac bushes and fished for prizes with Grant’s rod and reel and a clothespin tied on for bait. The kids were always eager to see what prize their clothespin would snag and at the same time were a bit curious why Grant’s daddy was hunkered down in the dirt behind the big towel, claiming he could see some big fish ready to bite.
Grant also knew he’d get three birthday presents from Mommy and Daddy later in the day. He’d work hard for months deciding what suggestions he’d have on his wish list. Let’s hear it for delayed gratification at age 6. That same formula works for our family at Christmastime, too. We figured if three gifts from the wise men were good enough for Jesus, then it was plenty for the Browns. This year to honor Grant’s birthday, a few family members and friends are planting pink flowering dogwood trees like the one close to his grave. Feel free to plant any kind of tree today or in the next several days or weeks if you’d like. We’d love to know you have a Grant tree close to you, too.
When it comes to birthday presents, it seems we keep finding little gifts, sweet reminders you might say, that Grant unintentionally left behind for us to enjoy for a while. We gently rub our hands over the smooth spots on the catalpa tree in the backyard where his tennis shoes polished the bark when climbing. Also, we’ve got an assortment of white divots on one of the gray patio stones where Grant and his imagination chiseled and pounded away for special treasures that might be inside some curious rocks he found here and there. I’ve also found several water-logged baseballs and blue wiffle balls that weren’t picked up when we were finished hitting off the batting T in the back yard. (I’d like to add that I found a couple of those balls over the back fence—he was getting stronger and was becoming a much better hitter than his daddy ever was.) Of course, there are tiny Lego swords, colorful blocks and other mini-fig accessories between the wide-plank pine floors in our hundred-plus year old house. (By the way, Grant could teach you to speak the Lego lingo fluently if you had the time to learn.) Between our pairs of matching blue and white tennis shoes we bought around Father’s Day, do you want to guess whose pair is a few shades dirtier already? To me, those dusty shoes are evidence of his adventure, healthy legs and feet and endless motion that Carolynne and I are used to seeing on a daily basis.
Lastly, Carolynne and I found the gift of a squishy, saggy white balloon last week underneath the piano. Just a few weeks ago it had been blown up and tied proudly by Grant himself. Carolynne and I sat together on the sofa where Grant loved to lay and watch Abbott and Costello or Grizzly Adams. We unknotted the top of the wilted white balloon and inhaled deeply the last couple of breaths that we knew were his. You see, our attempts to sooth our pain is evidence that we are inextricably connected to our kid, just like God designed bonding to be. He knows about bonding just as well as we do. He lost a Son, too.
We are learning that our Lord has intricately designed so much for us beyond that which we’ve really ever expected or thought to give Him credit for: the steadfast power of family, the strength and sacrificial love found in friendships, and the patient intimacy of relationship with Him in our grief and our future.
Amidst our daily heartaches, answerless questions and emotional chaos, I’ve tried to follow closely the wisest parental advice I would have ever given Grant if somehow the tables were turned and he was the one unnecessarily left behind. Here’s just part of a long list of what I would have told him:
“Grant, just keep believing that God knows what’s best, even if it doesn’t seem or feel best right now—no matter what. Also remember that Heaven is a place so wonderful that we can’t even really imagine it while we are on earth. Heaven’s not boring or lonely at all—and time flies there, too. It may seem like a long way off, but we’ll see you soon enough. Be sure to let family and friends know when you’re hurting, when you miss us or when you think funny thoughts about us—it’s OK. They’ll want to share all of those feelings with you. Big boys do cry. Daddy knows and it’s perfectly fine. And by the way, I know you won’t believe me now Grant, but birthday parties in Heaven are out of this world compared to the ones we had in our back yard. They last forever!”
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