It is September the fifteenth.
We have kept the boys home from school today. They wake around half past seven as expected, but we persuade them to stay in their rooms for an hour or more.
I lie in bed, keen to soak up more sleep. Instead, I drift in and out of consciousness, distracted by the hushed voices coming from the corridor. I feel numb, nauseous, and exhausted. It feels like any other day.
And yet it is not.
Close to nine, Rick surfaces. He checks his watch and announces the time. We have arranged to meet our parents at eleven, which means we have an hour and a half to get ready.
We proceed with our usual morning routine. Rick goes into the boys, and helps them along with getting dressed. I stumble down the stairs and serve up breakfast for the boys: big bowls of Weet Bix and muesli.
Rick sends them downstairs one at a time. “Breakfast time!” shouts Bear as he scoots backwards down the stairs on his tummy and heads straight for the fridge. I hoist him into his high chair and place his bowl in front of him, kissing the top of his hair. The other boys collect theirs from the kitchen bench and sit down at their seats.
“Eat quickly, boys, as we don’t want to be late today!”
“Because we’re going to the Memorial Gardens,” says Jamie.
“That’s right, darling,” I reply, ever so softly.
I start to empty the dishwasher, as I do every other day. Rick, having made all the beds and tidied all the bedrooms, joins us downstairs. We exchange a quiet hug. He then helps me put away the last of the pots and pans, makes himself a coffee, and starts measuring out the ingredients for a damper.
I head upstairs to get ready. I pad quietly down the corridor and peek into the boys’ rooms – they are all perfectly made up. I glance absentmindedly out the windows: the sky is blue, and the wind is strong.
I brush my teeth, wash my face, and tidy my hair. I change out of my pyjamas, slip into my blue linen dress, clean my glasses, and powder my face.
How can it be eight years already, I wonder.
And why does this feel so normal?
By the time I return downstairs, Rick has already packed our blue esky with water bottles and other peraphernalia for the day. When the damper comes out of the oven, he wraps it up in foil, then adds that to the esky as well.
We all pile into the car, and we are off. On the way there, we listen to our Bee Gees CD, and I suddenly recall that it is the music we listened to when I was giving birth to Cameron.
As we drive past the gates of the Memorial Garden, Pete reminds us all that we need to be quiet here. I turn around and give him a big smile, and agree that there is to be no shouting or screaming.
The carpark is full. We see Pa and Na, sitting on a bench together. We pull into the only free car space, and unload the boys. They all rush up to Pa and Nan, and hugs and kisses are exchanged. I hand out the boys’ hats and pass Nan the bottle of sunscreen.
It is extremely windy. I try to wear Rick’s hat but it flies off my head within seconds. I take two of the boys’ hands and lead the way to the spot under the big gum tree. We spread out the picnic blanket. Pete and Bear are the first to sit down. Rick brings our esky and our chair from the car. Pa and Nan carry their stuff over as well.
Por Por and Gung Gung arrive shoftly after, laden with buns from the Asian bakery, Vitasoy poppers, and the thermos of tea that I’d asked mum to bring.
I feel nauseous already, but am determined to eat some food. I nibble on a bro lor bow (ie. pineapple bun) and find that that goes down well, so I scoff down the whole thing. I sniff at the cup of tea that mum pours me but quickly realise there’s no way that I can drink it. Instead, I take small sips of water from my bottle. Meanwhile, the boys devour Nan’s muffins and a pineapple bun each, and Rick unveils his homemade damper. The grandies are suitably impressed. Por Por also distributes little cups of orange juice, which are happily received by the four boys.
Grandpa and Gung Gung sit side by side and are engrossed in a conversation. In between handing out food, I can hear Nan and Por Por exchanging sentiments about the latest pregnancy news – an amusing mixture of excitement (Nan), nervousness (Por Por), and surprise (both Nan and Por Por).
The boys finish eating and take off across the lawn. The wind does not bother them in the least. They run back and forth, and around and around. They gather round the tall tree on the edge of the grass and use it as ‘bar’ for their never-ending game of tip.
Bear is legitimately one of the boys this year. He has no trouble keeping up with the rest of the gang and is even dressed the same as the others: sneakers, cargo shorts, a blue/grey t-shirt, and a green hat. There is no doubt about it: they are four peas in a pod.
After about an hour, the six of us make our way to Cameron’s plaque, with Nan, Gung Gung, and Por Por in tow. Pete holds the bunch of flowers that Nan brought from her garden.
The way to Cameron’s spot is familiar to us all. Despite the number of new memorial sites that have been added since we were there last year, we are drawn instinctively to Cameron’s place, as though it has a pull on us.
I look down at Cameron’s plaque.
It is unchanged.
It is the same.
It is always the same.
Cameron Angus Mason, beloved first child of Richard and Rhonda. Died 15th Sept. Born 16th Sept.
I touch it with my bare fingers and feel numbness. Or perhaps it is heartache gone cold. I can’t tell which.
Cameron’s rose bush, as always, is sparse. Perhaps it has recently been pruned, but everytime I see it, I feel nothing but sadness.
The sun continues to beat down on us. The wind whips our hair all over our faces.
Pete kneels down beside me, and I give him a side hug. He is fully appreciative of today’s occasion, and he tells me how sad he feels. I kiss the top of his head. He starts to dig the dirt in front of Cameron’s plaque, and before I realise what he’s doing, a little yellow and blue toy digger emerges from the ground. My heart skips a beat, and I look at Pete in disbelief. He grins back at me.
“How did you know that was there, darling?”
“Daddy and I buried it last year!”
All of a sudden, I am overcome with emotion. The numbness in my heart dissipates, and my entire being is permeated with warmth and affection. And though it makes no sense, I find it comforting to know that this little digger has been here with Cameron for the past twelve months.
“Oh Petey, I love you so much. I can’t believe you remembered!”
I squeeze him hard. When Rick comes over, we show him the digger and he smiles knowingly. Together, he and Pete carefully bury it back under the dirt so that no-one will come and take it away.
We take a few photos with the boys and with our parents. I am keen to take a family photo with the six of us, as we do every year. Jamie, however, is in an uncooperative mood. He refuses to be part of the photo. Instead, he keeps running away and Rick keeps having to fetch him back. I can sense Rick’s increasing agitation with Jamie’s behaviour and I also know that no amount of coercion will cause Jamie to change his mind.
I suggest we go back to the picnic area and take a Vitasoy break. There is a whoop of agreement from the boys. Happily, they head back to our picnic area, weaving deftly amongst the maze of memorial sites as they go. I can’t help but notice the number of new sites that have been built, waiting to be reserved or purchased.
Grandpa is waiting for us back at the picnic area. I settle back down in our green folding chair. I am exhausted, hungry, and nauseous all at once. Por Por hands out the Vitasoy poppers, and I almost inhale mine. It takes the edge off my nausea as I hoped it would. Bear looks particularly pleased with his, and I manage to capture a few frames of his gorgeous, beaming, chubby face.
After several rounds of tip, Jamie looks happy and relaxed once more. Rick and I make eye contact. He rounds up the boys and the six of us begin to head back to Cameron’s spot once more.
“Should we ask my dad to take the photo for us?”, I ask.
“Let’s just do it ourselves…”
Back at Cameron’s spot, Rick talks to the boys about their oldest brother. I listen quietly, unable to speak. As always, I am amazed by our boys’ grasp of life and death and the coming resurrection. Someone asks about the cause of Cameron’s death, and Rick explains that we don’t know why he died but that we do know he is with God. Together, we pat the dirt in front of Cameron’s plaque and arrange Nan’s flowers as carefully as we can on the ground.
We line the boys up and sit them down. This time, everyone co-operates without fuss or argument. Rick and I take turns photographing each other with the four boys. The sun glares brightly into our eyes and we all end up squinting in the photos.
Rick takes the boys back to the others, but I stay behind.
This is my moment with Cameron.
I sit silently. I know I need to be still in order to let myself feel.
I glance at the other plaques nearby. I try to read the names but everything begins to blur.
Is this what my relationship with Cameron amounts to, I wonder.
Ten minutes together every year on his anniversary.
Ten minutes to remember, to feel, to mourn, to weep, to grieve, to question, to rage, and then at the end of it all, to accept once more.
I begin to sing.
“I cannot tell how He whom angels worship should set His love upon the the songs of men. Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers, to bring them back, they know not how or when…”
I sing with all my heart, and all my pain, and all my tears.
I sing knowing that Cameron cannot hear me and wishing with all my heart that he could.
As I begin the last verse, I realise that Rick has come back. He kneels down beside me. Together, we sing the last verse as we clutch hands.
At long last, my tears begin to fall, and I sob into Rick’s shoulder. We stay like that for some time – just us, and our tears, alone with only the memory of our son.
We embrace, and I ask for a bit more time to be by myself. Rick smiles and nods and leaves me to my final thoughts.
I sit quietly for a while. With tears drippng down my cheeks, I pray for the right words.
“I love you, Cam. I carry you with me, always. You are always in my heart, because you’re a part of me. I will never understand why God chose to take you away from us so soon. But what I do know is that I will love you forever. I will be your mother forever. And no matter where I am or what I do, there is always a part of me that is hurting because I am missing you. It breaks my heart that you cannot be here with us, but you are a part of our family, always. I love you, Cam, and I wish that there was more that I could do for you…”
I touch Cameron’s plaque as I speak, as if somehow this physical connection might channel my words into the afterlife.
For a moment, I simply stare. At his plaque, at the rose bush, and at the bunch of flowers.
I reach down and touch the dirt briefly. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…
“Goodbye Cam, I love you.”
Back at the picnic area, Rick spots me and smiles. I smile back, weakly. He and the boys are making a backwards video on Rick’s phone. I sit down and watch as he lines the boys up and gets them to let go of their green hats. The wind, however, has momentarily stopped and the hats simply fall to the ground instead of being carried away. They try it a few more times until Rick is semi-happy with the results.
Before we leave, I remember that I need to take some photos of the boys with all four grandparents. I take out my camera just as a big flying insect lands on Grandpa’s hand. The boys immediately gather around. I seize the moment to get the photos that I’m after.
We pack up and gather our things. Back at the carpark, there is a long procession of kisses and hugs as the boys say goodbye to their grandparents. I embrace each of our parents in turn, thanking them all for being a part of our day. Nan hands me the books she’s bought for the boys for Cameron’s birthday, and I am touched, as always, that she has remembered.
As we drive through the gates of the gardens, I once again feel that we are leaving Cameron behind, even though I know in my heart, that we are the ones who have been left behind…