By Alyn Dutkiewicz
We entered the cemetery as tentative fingers of sunlight began to greet the pinkish fringed morning sky. As we left the warmth of the car, it was cold enough to see my breath in the air. It was 6:41 AM, sunrise, on Sunday, October 30, 1994, the day my daughter Avonlea should have turned four. At first I was unsure of my decision to include my six year old son, Ben, in my personal foray into the pain on this day. It was not my fear for him, as much as it was my fear I would not be equipped to deal with the combination of our pain. My husband and I had decided not to include him in the funeral plans and grave site service when his sister, Avonlea, died on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. After all, he was only three at the time and we mistakenly thought a three year old incapable of understanding death.
Ben sat silently holding a crate with two white Homing Pigeons on his lap. One pigeon for our beloved Avonlea and the other for another SIDS baby, dear, sweet Meg Mihalko We had chosen pigeons since I learned that doves rarely survive long after being released. I could not bear the responsibility of releasing doves only to have them not survive.
I brought with me my book, Letters to Avonlea. I had been journaling my thoughts, and my tears these past few years since my daughter's death. I had chosen two special poems and some quiet music. Upon arriving I discovered I had forgotten the chosen music. A Clanaid cassette filled in nice enough. I felt strange in the crisp early dawn as I began reading aloud, my voice echoed back off nearby grave stones. Ben was anxious to get going, it was cold and he had forgotten his jacket. I could see he too was scared of all of the feelings. His face held that same haunted look he had worn for some time after his sister's death. It was then I knew he really did understand more about loss and death than I realized. I came to understand not long before this birth anniversary, how intuitive my young boy had become.
I sat him down one day and told him that a boy we knew had died and I was going to the funeral. After a few moments of silence he looked up and said, "Will you tell his mommy I'm sorry?" My son had grown up before my eyes, challenged by one of life's most confusing lessons -death.
After I read the poem, Ben opened up the crate. I reached in to get the birds, hoping to release each one with my own hands. The birds flew out together. They circled and dipped in a timeless cadence of freedom. I stood and observed their ritual of release in awe and whispered, "Good-bye, Avonlea. Good-bye, Meg. We love you!"
The sun burst overhead and we started back to the car, my son and I, hand in hand, wet tears still on our cheeks. A warmth began to fill the place in my heart I never believed would have feeling again. I am finally on the road to completion of my bittersweet journey.
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