This summer we’ll commemorate the seventeenth anniversary of Peter’s death. It doesn’t seem possible that seventeen years have passed; that I have seventeen years of experiences that don’t include Peter; that I am even alive. The truth is that seventeen years doesn’t feel any different than ten years or fifteen years or, probably, twenty years. It does feel very different than one or two years or, even three, four or five years.
Mostly, people think I’m “over it.” Well, in the words of a recent ex-president, it depends on how you define “it.” Am I over the gut-wrenching, physical pain? Yes. Am I over the disbelief, the why’s, the inability to breathe? Yes. Am I now able to organize my thoughts, put a sentence together, remember where I put my glasses? Yes, mostly (I still have trouble remembering where I put things). Am I over the incessant crying, screaming and mind-numbing despair? Yes, I am. The early intensity of pain, disbelief and breathlessness has been replaced with a deep unrelenting sadness, sadness for what Peter has missed and what his father and I are missing.
No one even suspects how difficult it is for us to celebrate the joys of our friends, but that’s what life has become for us. As their children marry and have children of their own, we laugh with them and share their joy. But after each celebration, we retreat to our unwelcome solitude and share only with each other how painful the celebrations really are. We have no joy to share. The “neverness” of that often seems unbearable.
But if “it” is defined as the wonder that was Peter, I’ll never be over it. Peter will always be our magical child. He will always be bigger than life to us and we will never get over that we had him or that we lost him. In the beginning my greatest fear was that I would forget—forget what it felt like to look forward to his coming home from school, to the sound of his voice, to how much he brought to my life. I was afraid life would make him a distant memory, but I was wrong.
Peter is a constant presence in our lives. His absence grows bigger with each passing day. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve watched our friends’ lives seem to get bigger even as their years diminish. With weddings and grandchildren, their futures are extended. No need to even think about the end of days for those whose families continue to grow. For us, our future is immediate, short term. Now, it’s all about us. While a day doesn’t go by that we don’t wonder about what Peter would be doing now, those thoughts are always accompanied by wondering what we should be doing now, now that we clearly see an old age devoid of children and grandchildren. We wonder how we should prepare for that.
So, people look at me and think I’m “over it.” They see me laugh, but they never see me cry. They see me totally engaged in life and living, but they don’t hear the conversations I have with Peter or his dad. They are comforted by my apparent survival, and no one is forced to confront my sadness. The fact that sooner, rather than later, Peter and I will be together again might cause those who think I’m over it some discomfort and a need to assure me (and themselves) that I have a long time to live, and I should put such thoughts out of my mind. Talk like that will no doubt encourage those who survive me to one day say, “her son died very young, and she never got over it.” In fact, they’d be right.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
On a dark, rainy night in New York City in August, 1993, a car with four young men went careening out of control, killing only one passenger, Peter Levine, 22, the only child of Marie and Phil Levine, just blocks from his home. The event launched Marie on her unimaginable journey that continues to this day. Not long after the accident, Marie discovered The Compassionate Friends, and that group became a lifeline for her. In 1995, she became newsletter editor for the Manhattan chapter of TCF. In 1997, she became chapter leader and served several terms. In 2004, Marie published her inspirational book, First You Die: Learn To Live After the Death of Your Child.