My son Joel died nearly 9 years ago. Joel lived at home and for a few years after, his room remained exactly as it was on that day. A life cut short, never knowing this would be his last day on earth. Memories filled every drawer, cupboard, hanging space, pictures on the walls, teenage stuff on his desk and the contents of his computer. Then of course there was his sound system, complete with turntable and mixer, he really loved music.
‘Take as much time as you need to’, people told me, and that’s exactly what I did. There was no need to rush in and do anything, and I was pretty numb those first few years as anyone who has lost a child knows. Plus I was working pretty much full-time and just didn’t have the physical or emotional energy to deal with it.
Slowly as the years went on I changed little things, new curtains, bedding, moved the bed to a different spot in the room. I took things off the desk and stuffed them in drawers or cupboards – more sorting through involving emotional time and energy would have to wait for another day.
One of my other sons, Ben, who lives interstate, stayed in Joel’s room when he came to visit. It gave him comfort to still see Joel’s posters on the walls, his computer on the desk…. My granddaughters had their first sleep over and one of them slept in Uncle Joel’s room. Things were beginning to change and time moved on. I was beginning to feel that I could pack up more things.
When Ben was visiting last year, he helped me go through some of Joel’s things in the cupboards. We had a smile and shed tears, for the son and brother who had gone too soon, and what would have been. We only got about half way through. It will wait for another time, we said.
Today I decided it was time to change the bedroom from being Joel’s room, to a spare room. This meant the desk and contents would have to go, along with his computer, which still sat there, and also his beloved sound system where he spent many hours listening to his favourite music. The turntable he got for Christmas when he was fifteen years old, and the amplifier his grandmother handed down to him around the same time. He had big speakers hooked up to these, which were made by his grandfather long before Joel was born and had stayed in the family. Joel was so excited to get all of these.
I was dusting in the bedroom a few months ago and I turned the power on the amplifier, thinking I would listen to some music in Joel’s room. It went for a few minutes then let out a big spark and crackled, and smoke poured out the back. I think it was Joel telling me ‘it’s time Mum, you have me in your heart, you don’t need these things anymore’.
I wanted to be sure I had everything from his computer that would bring memories of him, photos, music, anything. I copied it all to my external hard drive so I could get rid of the actual computer. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at things then, but once again looked at a few things which brought more smiles and tears. I found things that perhaps I wouldn’t have done if he had grown up and moved on, teenage boy things….. some things that made me feel uncomfortable. I felt like I was prying into his private world, it felt wrong, but I was desperate to find anything to bring me memories, something else to hang onto.
It was an incredibly hard few hours and it felt so final after all these years. I still have things to clean out, it’s a big job, and while I coped on one level, underneath my heart was heavy, thinking this isn’t how it should be.
While I was waiting for the files to copy from Joel’s computer, I watched a short video by a speaker at a TCF convention a few years ago, Darcie Simms. She spoke of how in the early days of our grief, we cling to things, we may have pictures, jewellry etc. to remind us of our children, and she spoke of how one day she realised she didn’t need these things anymore because she had her child in her heart. In the midst of my cleaning the room and wanting to hold onto things, I knew it was time for me. I may never look at anything I have taken from Joel’s computer, nonetheless it was something I needed to do at that point in time, wanting all I could retrieve, which reminded me of him.
I will definitely hold onto special mementos I come across, but I know now that I have Joel and his love in my heart. I will learn to thank him for ‘the little while’ he spent with us and be grateful for those memories.
Mum to Joel 10-10-1988 – 19-08-2007