Charlie Jo came around the corner, with her little sister not far behind. They were both extravagantly clothed in dress-up and princess garb, carrying suitcases and backpacks stuffed full of random toys and pretend equipment. “We’re off to camping Mom!” Charlie hollered. “Wait!” Eleanor screeched, “We forgot baby Sam!” “You’re right, come on Sam, time to go camping.” sang Charlie. And the ‘three’ of them began to scurry off.
“Wait,” I stammered. I steadied my voice and tried to mask my pain. “Is your cousin Sam going to camp with you?” Of course, what I really wanted to say was, “Why aren’t you taking your brother? Why can’t Graham come?” Charlotte looked at me and paused for a moment. She intuitively knew what I was fishing for and she answered me bluntly, “Sam’s alive, Mom.” I nodded my understanding and blinked back hot tears.
You see, I’ve been using fantasy to escape truth. I create stories in my mind where Graham is still here. I bring him along in my thoughts, I talk with him and daydream about his future. I pretend February 11th never happened. I remember what it felt like to be happy and full. I can convince myself that Graham is the missing piece to my happiness, and in my fantasies I don’t have to be separated from him.
My daughters also spend a large part of their day in one imaginary story or another. The difference is they pretend as a way of practicing what’s real – not escaping it. Samuel was no more here on that day than Graham was, but Sam could have been here, and Graham never can be again. It’s a subtle but powerful difference.
I considered joining my daughters in their play that day, but I couldn’t find a way of doing it without bringing Graham-Bo along. And I couldn’t bring him when it was obvious that they needed to leave him behind. I watched them play effortlessly, joy and laughter flowing freely and I doubted the healthiness of my version of pretend. So I kept my mouth shut and I watched them play.