I miss you. I imagine you hugging me in my mind. I close my eyes, and I breathe you in. Your smell, your whiskers brushing my cheek, the way you squeezed me and would rub my back. You were so much bigger than your momma, tall and broad-shouldered. Sometimes, it hurt my neck, but I’d never complain. Remember when your grandma died and you rushed to the hospital? You scooped me into one of those giant hugs, nearly lifting me off my feet. You cried while you held me.

I miss you. 

I always wear your necklace, so I can bring you with me. It’s wrapped three times around my wrist. I should clip the tail off because when I’m cooking over the stove, sometimes it gets hot. Burning hot. But it just reminds me of you, so I leave it.

And I miss you. 

I tattooed your handwriting on my other wrist so I can always look down and see “I love you.” We would have laughed at the neatness of the handwriting–that wasn’t normal for you. You were sort of messy, but you wrote particularly neat in one of your letters from boot camp, so I chose the legible one. I thought about putting your name there as well, but I didn’t. I imagined too many questions about “who is John?” and then I would have to tell people you died. I can’t believe you died.

And I miss you. 

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When you were a baby you loved to snuggle, and as you grew, that fact didn’t change. You liked to be close. Remember that cruise we took? You were so wound up and couldn’t sleep. I just reached my hand over to your bed from our bed, and I laid my hand on your pillow. Palm up. You rested your cheek on it and were sleeping almost instantly. I miss that.

And I miss you.

Sometimes I go into your room and open your closet door. The memories hit me in waves. I see you wearing your hockey jacket, the flannels you loved so much, your camo, and all the T-shirts that are stacked in a row. Every piece holds some image of you, a picture, an event, a game.

You were 24 when you died.

And I miss you.

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Sometimes when I miss you, I stand in the doorway and look at your bed. The bed you died in. I see you lying there, so peaceful . . . so cold. You had the covers pulled up under your chin.

And I miss you.

I wonder what happened that night. I wonder what time you left us and went to be with Jesus. I wonder if you had any idea the drugs that had their hooks in you were about to take your life.

Dear God, I miss you.

I think about the puppy, sleeping in there with you that night. Did she realize what was happening? She didn’t bark. She didn’t cry. She didn’t have to go outside all night . . . why was that? And sometimes I ask God why he didn’t wake us up? And I hear His still, small voice whisper, Beloved, do you trust me? And I cry.

And I miss you.

Your pictures are everywhere here.

Somedays, I stare into your eyes–those beautiful, hazel eyes that were gray or green, the scar in your eyebrow, and the right eye smaller than the left one when you smiled . . . and I can’t believe you are gone from this earth. I see the evidence all around me that you lived. That you were ours. That you were born and grew and died.

And I miss you.

My heart aches and my arms ache, and I want you to be here with me. 

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Every day I carry a shoulder bag made from your Army fatigues. It comforts me. I see the flag, your name, and your rank patch, and I remember how hard it was to go six months at a time without seeing your face. And yes, some days I hug that purse, that beautiful gift from a friend.

And I miss you.

I look at six months now as a blip because I could call you and text you and see you on Snapchat or FaceTime . . . and now all we have are memories.

And I miss you.

One day, because I miss you, I will watch the home videos. But right now, it’s too much. It’s too real. To hear your voice and watch you grow all over again, to see you with your sister, and to imagine how our family was broken . . . I just can’t. I don’t think I could survive that.

Because I miss you—so very much, John.

And I love you always,
Mom

 

Kristin Schlegel

Kristin and her husband have been married for 30 years. She found writing to be very therapeutic after losing their son, John, to the opioid epidemic at the age of 24. She hopes her writing will help other bereaved parents know that they are not alone.