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Writing Love Messages in the Sand After the Loss of My Son


Every year on the 24th of February, we celebrate Happy Harry Day; a day when the sadness can (sometimes) be parked, and a little bit of joy can be allowed to seep through the cracks of a broken heart.

This year was the fourth Happy Harry day. I have to stretch my fingertips way back into 2013 to recall the last time the day was simply Harry’s birthday. We celebrated with a delicious meal at Strawberry Fare, including an embarrassing faux-pas on the part of the restaurant who wrote, “Happy 16th,” in chocolate around the edge of Harry’s plate, mixing my newly minted 18-year-old up with another diner.

The first Happy Harry Day was due to hit exactly three months after Harrys’ death by suicide. I experienced a considerable amount of trepidation as the date approached, not really sure how it would be possible for me to do anything other than sob over Harry’s grave, or hide away in a dark room counting down the minutes until midnight.

And then life intervened and made an already challenging day slide in towards the impossible. The father of my children died, three days before Harry’s birthday, the birthday that already found me in duck-and-cover mode.

What do you do when the impossible comes knocking at your door? How do you “celebrate” your forever 18-year-old son’s birthday without him for the first time, and the very next day fly to the funeral of the man who was the only other person in the world who felt the loss of Harry in the same way I did? When you have to pull it together, because no matter how impossible it felt for me, it was black-hole, void-like for my daughter? What do you do?

Like any other day, I simply had to take it one step at a time. I had to allow space and time in the impossible — to simply be — to give my mind and my heart and my soul time out from a pain that was too big to grasp. I calmed the waters of my grief, and called for a temporary lull in the crashing waves that wanted to steal away my breath.

I decided that we needed — desperately needed — Happy Harry Day. My daughter and I went out to the beach and wrote love messages in the sand for Harry on the day he was born. It was our courageous attempt to drown out the pain of the day he passed away.

And each year that rolls by, as time chugs along, we re-visit the beach and write our messages in the sand, washed clean by the incoming tide. Sometimes I stand there thinking about the waves that will sweep in and wash the beach clean again and swallow the love for another year. I never wait to see it happen though; I walk away, and I remember that on this day my miracle baby was born. And while life can be as mercurial as those messages written in sand, it can also offer incredible strength.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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