On the anniversary of my friend’s son’s death

Close up on shiny black stones with a green leafy sprout coming from the ground beneath

By Brianne DeRosa

On the anniversary, I sent you a terrarium.

Almost as soon as I had done it, I second-guessed myself. Sending a terrarium was probably an incredibly stupid thing to do. Would the lilies have been better? What about the blue hydrangeas? Should I have sent food instead, or tea, or a card, or cried my tears for you into a little vial and sent them in the mail with the hope that you would understand?

But the polished black stones and the little waxy plants, starkly surviving in their glass dome, spoke to me. So I sent you a terrarium.

I sent the terrarium because it seemed exactly the opposite of everything that was in the funeral home on that evening nine years ago when I sat slumped in a tastefully mauve armchair, and the faces of our mutual friends were a gray that matched the colorless feeling in the pit of my stomach. Everything around us was soft and muted and pink, and we were dark and cold and flinty. Today you have stark and beautiful words carved into your arm in remembrance of David, deep and black, and I have sent you stark black stones in a bowl because there is nothing pink or floral about surviving your child’s suicide.

I recall you telling us once about the fear and wonder of raising him, how his brilliance refused to conform to expectations, and how after wrestling with the conflict of his beautiful otherness, you chose to simply stop and love him. You chose to just love him. You loved him.

You’ve never known, I think, what simplicity and wonder and power that revelation held for so many of us. We are parenting our own children and when the struggles arise, when we live the days when their own uniqueness and otherness are at odds with what the world expects of them—of us—we can remember you wrestling with this, wrestling with David, like Jacob wrestled Esau’s guardian angel. And we can remember that you chose love above all other things.

Love does not conquer all. We know. We see. But how much joy there was in loving him and refusing to try to change him, ah, we see that too.

I sent you a bowl of black stones because of the hardness of loving a child for exactly who he is. I imagine you throwing those stones in the faces of everyone who ever wanted David to be different, wanted you to make him different. I sent you a bowl of black stones because when you sent off the boat for his Viking funeral and you set it afire, when you took a class in blacksmithing and you forged a weapon out of flame and steel, I imagine that what grew for you was deep and hard and polished and cool. What sprang from those flames was refined, solidified, made with the permanence of stone birthed from upheaval.

What sprang from those flames was you, nine years after.

So today, my friend, I have sent you a terrarium, and I have written you these words to tell you that what is permanent—after David’s death—is your eternal fierce choice to live in unflinching, unyielding love.

Brianne K. DeRosa currently finds herself very much in the thick of parenting two intense pre-teen boys, and turns frequently to the wisdom of the mother friends who have gone before her. Sometimes their wisdom leaves her speechless; then again, sometimes she finds she suddenly has a lot to say. This essay is in honor of her friend Rebecca, who needs to know how much her unimaginable strength has inspired everyone who loves her.


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