I don’t know exactly when it was that Mike (my husband) and I decided to not keep our child’s room as a shrine. It was one of those topics that we talked about way before Henry got sick and died. It probably came up in a casual conversation after watching a movie where someone’s family kept their dead child’s room in pristine condition for several years after their death. I do remember that we had talked about it and both agreed that if ever that were to happen to us, we would not let the room stay that way permanently. It never occurred to either of us that a day would come where we would have to put that decision into action.
A few months after Henry died, and after I graduated from Early Childhood Education, I brought up a difficult conversation that both Mike and I would need to discuss more. It was about Henry’s room and what to do with it and when. For me, there were many memories where Henry and I would spend time snuggling and talking before bed in that room. In those many conversations, the best part was the talking and snuggling on his bed. Laying on his bed without him was not the same and didn’t give me the same feelings as it had when he was alive. I think it was because I was so connected to him that without him there, it was just another empty space.
For Mike, Henry’s room gave him something else entirely. Mike needed the room to stay the same to help him grieve Henry in his own way. Henry’s room gave Mike the space and the cues that prompted loving memories with his son.
At some point, Sofie (age 12) decided that her room was too small and she should move into Henry’s room, now that he is not using it anymore. Sofie already had her own room that was renovated just two years before. She believed that an upgrade was due.
Around 4 months post-death, I was ready to start changing the room. In fact, I felt like I had to start changing the room because keeping it the same just made me stagnate in my grieving process. It took a big compromise from both Mike and I to agree not to do anything drastic for a year. I think Mike had read somewhere that after a traumatic loss, no big decisions should be made until after the one year anniversary of the event. I agreed that it was a good decision as at the time, Mike was deciding that our 7-seat minivan was too big for our needs now and he should trade it in (with 4 years of payments left!) for a Dodge Challenger…(um, ya.) But month after month of letting it sit the same was tearing me apart. I needed to move on.
So slowly, I would take down a poster or two and put it in the recycle bin. These were posters that were given to us and were advertisements for future console games. I think I did it because each one was a small nudge toward change for me, without giving away too much at once. A little change is easier than a big one and I figured Mike wouldn’t notice. (Eventually, he did. And then we talked some more.)
Around 10 months after Henry’s death, I had my first university Christmas study break. I had about 3 weeks of time to spend with family doing the Christmas thing, and also to wind down after a studious 4 months. It was the perfect time to actually clear out Henry’s room and prepare it for Sofie to move in. Of course, she wanted to paint it and design it to her own standards, which required puttying, sanding, priming and painting.
At first, I didn’t think it would hurt to move everything out. But as I worked more and more on his room, I became sadder and sadder. Moving out his toys and books brought so many memories flooding back. Priming over his penned drawings on the wall was heart breaking.
Removing his photo-booth picture reminded me of when he got it and how goofy he could be. The friend who was in those pictures hasn’t been over since Henry’s funeral. I miss him and all of Henry’s friends. Not only did I lose my son, but I lost the connection with all of his friends too, who I have watched grow up over the years. No one thinks about those secondary losses.
And there was no end to this. Of the many hours that goes into changing a room, the memories continue to come and thoughts of his gone-ness remain. It hurt. A lot.
It also feels good.
It feels so good to keep going and not stop in the sadness. It feels good to keep living life and being a part of the changes it makes. It feels good to age. Changing with the times reminds me that every day is one day closer to being with Henry again. Every day that goes by is one more day I have been given to do the work I have been assigned to do. I am certain that the choice to keep going will be rewarded with a ‘well done’ by God when the time comes. Because… I think that living without someone will be hard whether we stop or keep going.
When I am uncertain about a future course that affects my Henry memories, I think to myself ‘what would Henry want me to do with the decision in front of me.’ Henry was a good boy, and he always would want others to be happy. So with Henry’s silent blessing, I make the choice to continue living.
He would want Sofie to have the bigger room. He would also want her to remember the times they had together while in there. Regardless of the colour of the walls, it will always be the room that Henry was in with an new title of ‘Sofie’s room’.
For now, Henry’s stuff is sitting scattered in my basement. We have plans to build a Henry chest, and store all of the items that trigger strong memories of Henry for our whole family. It’s going to be a big one, because the memories of 4 people take up a lot of space.
I hope this post helps those of you who are having a hard time letting go. If you remember anything, please remember this: that just because the space is changed doesn’t mean that your memories will change. They will forever be the same with your loved one safely there. And no change will ever take that away.