Yesterday was my son’s fifth birthday.
Losing Conor was the single most painful experience my wife and I have been through, and it definitely tested the strength of our relationship.
Every year since Conor was born, we would take his birthday off work and spend the day together, not committing to anything that would put a toll on us. We would pick up a helium-filled balloon from the card shop in Dundrum, and go to the beach in Bray, where we’d talk to Conor and, when we were ready, let the balloon go.
It was a cathartic, but exhausting, process. We’d dread it, a week or two beforehand. Get snappy at each other and at friends. Lose energy. Sleep badly. There is a special kind of discomfort from standing in a shop while the balloon gets filled, the staff naturally assuming you’re off to a kid’s birthday party, smiling as they serve you. The first time I was asked if the balloon was for a boy or a girl, I almost collapsed.
And the beach isn’t exactly a private place for two grieving parents. Your self-consciousness gives way to tears, but it’s yet another weight to bear.
Letting go was the worst; watching the balloon fly away over the sea. It was like saying goodbye to Conor all over again. We’d go home, in silence, spent from crying and holding each other. We’d order takeaway or cook something simple, then watch a movie and try to put ourselves back together for the next day.
Looking back, I think we needed this ritual. Whether due to guilt, or fear, or just wanting something to fill the empty hole where Conor should be. But somewhere along the way, it went from being a way to release the pain and sadness to a way to keep hurting. As If we’d forget Conor if we didn’t do it. It became time to change. To let go of letting Conor go.
This year, we didn’t get a balloon. We will always miss Conor, and want to know what he could have been, but he’s got three little sisters we have to look after, and we’ve got so much ahead of us. So much to be happy for. Conor wouldn’t want us putting ourselves through a painful ritual that had served its purpose. The change in each of us when we made the decision was instant. Weight lifted and we spent the rest of the day feeling more at peace than we have for a long time.
July is always going to be a hard month for us. And Conor’s birthday will always hurt. Only now, we’re letting it hurt a little less.
From now on, we’re holding on. Holding on to all the love and happiness that we have, and all that’s yet to come.