Blake's mom, grandmother, and I made our first visit of the day early in the morning. As we pulled up to his plot, a flood of memories from his funeral rushed through my brain. I remember it vividly as if it happened three and a half days ago, not three and a half months. I thought about the huge school bus of his friends, the embrace of his family, and the rose I was given to leave over his heart. What a draining and unforgettable day.
When we got to his grave, one of Blake's best friends was already there visiting him. Before he left, he helped us dig a trench around Blake's headstone so that I could sprinkle his gift in it. I brought him sand, shells, and sea glass. Blake loved the beach, especially the beaches of San Diego. We always planned that I would move there for graduate school and then he would move there to meet me as soon as he could. San Diego was always our dream so I've struggled with the unfairness of how I am able to live it and he can't. These gifts became my way of bringing the beach to him and letting him be a part of that life.
After talking with Blake's mom about the beautiful symbolism of the gift, we decided that I should bring bits of the beach from down my street to give him every time I come to visit. This would remind both of us that I have the privilege and honor of living our dream for both him and me.
Blake's mom and grandmother left me for a while so that I could have time alone with Blake and they could go visit his grandfather. I laid a towel down and sat staring at his picture. I felt the over 100 degree heat, the slight and oh-so-necessary breeze, and a great deal of "so now what?"
I heard Blake's voice in my head urging me to say something, anything! "Hello, it's my birthday why aren't you telling me how much you love me and how great I am?" But I couldn't. I just sat there, frozen, wondering why this was so awkward for me. I looked at the trees, the sky, the other headstones next to his. Who were his neighbors? Were they nice? Is he friends with them? His voice again, "Hello! Focus on ME!"
I looked down at the sand, shells, and blue glass I gave to him. I sat there blankly staring at it for what seemed like hours. Then suddenly, one of the dark blue pieces caught my eye. I picked it up and noticed that it was almost heart shaped. I rubbed it between my fingers and started to close my eyes. I squeezed it tightly in the palm of my hand and brought it up to my heart.
I'm not even sure what I said to Blake in my mind, but I instantly knew it was the right thing to say. I felt calm and at peace as I took a second look at the glass. It was a weird kind of heart shape that reminded me of the chubby, circular heart on his headstone. I decided to rest the glass on top of it to see how it matched up. It was the perfect size.
When Blake's mom and grandmother came back I told them about the heart shaped glass. His mom immediately said that I needed to find some super glue so the blue heart could become a permanent part of his headstone. At that moment, hearing her say that filled my heart so completely with love that I felt like I could burst. What an honor. I have always felt accepted by his family, but this was on another level. Here was this gorgeous, expensive headstone and she thought enough of me to encourage me to stick a random piece of glass on it. I don't think I can ever express how much that gesture meant to me.
I went back two more times today, once with three more of Blake's best friends and again with his whole family. Neither time was about seeing and talking to Blake again, but rather to be around the people who loved him. The love they were emitting made me feel good. Experiencing their love for him made me feel like everything was going to be ok, we would get through this together.
Tonight ended with a family dinner at Blake's sister's house. The people were perfect, the food was delicious, but I was silently a mess. I looked at these wonderful people and thought, with complete amazement, about the lengths they went to to make me feel included and cared for. These strangers had become my family and it was all because of Blake. But the most essential link to our relationship wasn't with us tonight. He was supposed to be sitting right next to me squeezing my hand excitedly because his family and I got along so well. The way I fit in seamlessly almost made me feel worse. To have developed such a strong bond with them that he would never witness was a reality too sad to believe.
Blake's birthday was hard, but we got through it. I felt such a range of emotions throughout the day, but the one constant was the love I felt from his friends and family. Never once did I feel alone on a day that could've otherwise emphasized my loneliness. I realize more and more every day how truly lucky I am to love and be loved by so many wonderful people. And it's days like today that make me feel even more blessed to have the new friends and family Blake brought into my life. Although this love will never replace Blake's, it helps sooth that hole in my heart.