Sylvia Bosma is the mother of three. Her only daughter, Kaitlyn – KK – Cook, died by suicide in 2017, when she was 14 years old. Sylvia got through the initial months of crushing grief by having to care for her youngest son, who has Down syndrome. Finding her community; support groups such as The Compassionate Friends; counseling; time in nature; and words – books, podcasts, journaling, storytelling – are what has helped her get to where she can offer hope to those early in their grief. Sylvia lives in Tampa, Florida with her family, the search for her new identity and purpose a work in progress.
Remember how the beginning of each September was always filled with excitement? The unofficial start of autumn, that deliciously hectic season of fall festivals and apple picking, pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating, decorating and cookie baking. You had already started listening to Halloween music, and probably already saw Nightmare Before Christmas at least once. You would watch it many more times in the months following.
I remember 6 years ago. It was the first week of September. Two months in our new home, you had painted a beautiful mural on your bedroom wall. I just had carpal tunnel surgery, and relied on you to help me do many things around the house. We had lost power, and needed to manually open the garage door to be able to leave the house. You and I did it together.
I remember 7 years ago. We had been on vacation in Europe, just you and I. What an amazing trip spent with family in Holland, horseback riding on the beach, and visits to London and Paris. Whenever I am in a dark place, I pull the memories from our vacation off the shelf and sit with them, especially that one day in Paris. You were so happy that day.
I remember 11 years ago. You had just started your last year in Elementary school. The highlight of your week was riding at Dana’s farm. I cannot remember the name of the horse you rode then, but I still remember your first love, Beau. You were a mere five years old when you first started riding, looking adorable wearing your bike helmet.
I remember 16 years ago. You were excited about your baby brother, to be born in a few months’ time. A natural artist, you were constantly drawing and writing. You loved playing with your bunny Lucky. Your Pre-K teacher would tell me how much she loved seeing you skip on the playground. “Such a happy child”, she would say.
I remember 20 years ago. You were crawling everywhere, exploring your ever growing world, just a few months from learning to walk. I loved watching you play, loved watching you sleep.
I was overjoyed when you finally started eating solid foods. I thought you would refuse anything but milk forever. We went to the beach, but you wanted nothing to do with neither the sand nor the ocean. You were so sweet with our cat Hootie and the ferrets, your love for animals already evident at six months of age.
I remember 21 years ago. I walked daily in a Miami neighborhood close to home, you safely inside my growing belly. I tried to imagine what you would look like, and how my life was about to change in just a few months. I was reading all the books, learning as much as I possibly could about what to do, and when and how, once you were born. One of the residents waved, commenting I was training a future speedwalker. I smiled, you undoubtedly dozing inside your ever-shrinking bubble, rocked to sleep while I walked and dreamed. I could hardly wait to meet you.
The poet and author Maggie Smith wrote how, as parents, there exists an unspoken agreement to take care of our children. Unlike with a marriage, nothing is written down, no documents signed. No vows spoken, other than the ones softly whispered in our child’s ear, promising we will always love them, forever keep them safe. From the minute I knew I was pregnant with you, I felt those invisible words imprinted on my heart: I will take care of you. I will love you for as long as I live. I will always be there for you for as long as you need me, and beyond. Until death do us part. I had no idea you would be the first to die.
That is when the words “forever” and “always” turned into “never”. You were never coming back. I would never again get to hold you, tell you I love you, never again whisper that I would keep you safe. I had been unable to keep that vow, and it crushed me. You were only 14 years old. I hadn’t planned on having to live life without you. Where do I go from here? How do I go on? Who am I now?
I remember when September 15th was not a significant date. Up until 6 years ago, it was simply another day in September, filled with anticipation of the joyful months ahead. Then it became the worst day of my life. For a long time I was more focused on your death than on your life. I was trying desperately to hold on to memories of you, lest I forget. Over time that turned into me trying to find my new purpose with a desperate urgency. I needed to know why you had died. There had to be a reason, because if not, your death would be utterly senseless.
Over the years things have shifted once more. I carry the loss of you differently now. While I miss you more than ever, while the pain is still there, for the most part a constant ache in my everyday life, I feel you in my heart. Most days I plan for time alone, just you and me. I believe I will find my new purpose when the time is right. I am once again able to feel joy alongside my sadness, having learned that grief and joy coexist. Also, my sweet daughter, I want you to know that my vow to you still stands: I will love you for as long as I live.