Tonight we went to Target to finish up a few holiday purchases. I wasn't expecting it, and there it was. It had been missing the last few times we'd been shopping but someone had replaced it and it was staring at my husband and I like it had been put there just for us, to mock us.
I made it through the rest of the shopping trip not realizing how affected I had been by this stupid sweater. I was getting my other kids in the car when it hit me like a slap across the face. Our minivan has an extra seat now. It has an extra seat because Jonah's not in it. I started to cry. An empty sweater, an empty seat.
We made another stop on the way home and while my husband was in the store I decided at my own risk to go through the pictures on my phone. There are many of Jonah. It's hard to look at pictures of him chronologically backward as he progresses from a very delayed child to a perfectly healthy newborn. The hardest part of all is seeing his beautiful face and it feeling almost like a dream. Losing him, there's been a paradox where he feels so close and yet so far. He looks so familiar, so tangible, but he doesn't feel like mine anymore. It feels like just yesterday I held him, but also like a lifetime ago. I cried harder. An empty heart.
My daughters asked why I was sad. I told them what I always tell them, that I am missing Jonah, and I added that I wish Jonah could be here for Christmas with us. I don't remember which one tried to comfort me by saying maybe Jonah could come home after Christmas. It's exhausting to remind them over and over again that he is never coming home. They are beginning to understand. Explaining loss to toddlers and preschoolers is another post entirely.
I pulled myself together, and when we got home I put the kids to bed. My husband and I watched a bit of White Christmas. He commented that it must be hard to be deployed away from your family. I replied that, in a way, we are. We are deployed and Jonah is home. We are longing for home and longing for him. I am happy for Jonah and sad for us.
Tomorrow afternoon I will go to Mass with my family and wrangle my little ones. I will sing and pray and likely cry. I will celebrate the birth of a baby boy when I am longing for my baby boy. I will go spend time with family when I wish I was showing off my sweet little guy at the charming age of 9 months in his darling penguin sweater and new glasses.
I will remind myself of the work God has done in my life in the past two months, of how far I have come, of how well I have been used. I might lose it if I have to sing or hear "Silent Night."
I will remember all those who are struggling with grief this season. I will give thanks for my blessings.
I will celebrate. I will cry. I will pray. I will remind myself that all longing is really a longing for Christ.
I'm not mad at you, penguin sweater. You're adorable. I just miss my baby.