In the film (also a book), About a Boy, the quirky adolescent boy is telling the character played by Hugh Grant about his fear of coming home from school to find his mom after another suicide attempt. The self-centered, “boy man” character played by Grant meets this fear with “Fuck, Yeh.” While the Grant character inwardly chides himself for his immature response, the boy feels relief, perhaps for the first time since his mother’s suicide attempt, in this honest acknowledgement of his fears. And so too, when you tell me about your feelings of guilt over your son’s death, even now—five years later, I don’t know what to say. Especially since you already anticipated that I, like your ex-husband, would say, “it wasn’t your fault.” After thinking about it all night, I’ll just say to you “Fuck, Yeh.” How could you not spend your life rerunning the events of that night, wondering “if only.” I remember leaving Montana after the funeral, thinking that I would allow you lifelong amnesty; amnesty from living as an adult, from being able to abstain from substance abuse, from being a useful, productive participant in the human race; from holding onto even a shred of faith. Yet, here you are, five years later, still doing all of those things and you continue to parent your other three as the champion mother that you are, have always been—even on that hot night in July.
When I arrived at your home after Tommy’s death, there was an in-process Monopoly game set up at the table, still awaiting the return of its players. I know there was so much love in your house that night, and always. That night, you were just living your life as we all do, not anticipating every possible thing that might go wrong. You didn’t know that the tiny stitches around his heart would come loose that night. And if you had known, would you have forgone the Monopoly game? Would you have kept Tommy from the River House over the 4th of July? Would you have instead sat in a hospital room, asking the doctors to do the impossible? And what if the now fine-tuned genetic testing had shown you early on in Tommy’s life that his heart could not make the leap into adulthood? Would you have spent all of his almost-14 years so much differently? Would abject fear have replaced all the love and joy that wonderful boy had to give and receive? Would you have kept him from darting down the mountains on his treasured snowboard? Would you have kept his life quietly contained, and partially unlived, only to still see his fate unravel as dictated by his congenital heart defect?
No mother should have to bury her son and more so, no mother should have to hear, “Save me, mommy, save me,” as her child’s last spoken words before he slips to the other side. For some reason, though, you are the mother who must accomplish this feat. And now you must begin to live for him and all he would want you to be. Do not ask me how I know, but I do know that Tommy has matured to an 18 –year-old Tom, in this other dimension, yet inaccessible to you and I. He looks upon you with grace and forgiveness and love. And he desperately wants you to move on now, to live your life just as fully as you allowed him to live his.