Sometimes one person can be missing and the whole world feels empty

~ anonymous ~

JoniBouchard.jpgWelcome to my Love Letters to Will. I am the mother of three boys; two who run and one who soars. Tragically, on the long weekend in May 2011, I lost my youngest son, Will, at the age of 12 1/2. Losing Will has changed me and life as I knew it forever. To imagine is one thing, but to have to live it is another.

In the first year, I wrote Will a daily love letter. I talked to him everyday for 12½ years and I wasn’t about to stop. I couldn’t stop. This daily ritual helped me to, quite literally, survive. I looked forward to some time each day to be with him, to talk to him, to write to him, to imagine that he was sitting with me talking like we used to.

I still write to Will, though not every day. Sometimes I sit in my comfy chair, sometimes I lay in his bed propped up against his pillows like when we used to read together before his bedtime. I’ve taken my laptop down to the river and sat on the banks, written to him while I waited in a waiting room or an office; I’ve written to him as I sat in the passenger seat on our way to Fernie, woken in the early morning before the busyness of the day to write to him, and sometimes made it the last thing I did before I climbed into my own bed. It doesn’t matter where I am or what time it is… I look forward to my quiet time with Will and to writing him a letter.

I’ll need to explain a couple of things that won’t make any sense if you have no background of my relationship with Will. First, Will had many nicknames and I often refer to him in my letters as Willy (obvious), and the WillBilly (I’m not even sure how and when that started, but we called him that often), and “Little Mr. Blue Sky” (after his favourite song, Mr. Blue Sky by ELO). Secondly, for as long as I can remember, Will and I ended each day with a tuck in and the words “love you like a bus”. I know it doesn’t make sense, but when he was little, buses were huge in his world and he believed that you could never love anyone or anything bigger than a bus. And so, this phrase evolved and we used it always. So when I end a letter with that phrase which Will and I sometimes shortened to “lulab” (love u like a bus) you’ll get what I mean.

If you, too,  are a mom who is living the unimaginable loss of a child I hope that through sharing my Love Letters to Will you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  You  might find parallels in your own journey and are looking for a way to continue a relationship with your child, even though it is not the physical one that we on earth only know.  Thank you for allowing me to share my Will with you in this way.

To those of you who have your children I hope that my Love Letters to Will will remind you that Motherhood is a labour of love and that your children are gifts.  There are days when mothering is difficult, when we sometimes wish away the hard parts, but here is what I know for sure. Nothing will ever be as difficult as losing them.

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Those Little Gingerbread Boys

December 23, 2020

My dearest Will,

It seems rather fitting that yesterday, on the 22nd day of the month I decorated the gingerbread boys I somewhat reluctantly baked last week.  Each year since your passing the little gingerbread boys have become a tradition that I set aside time for and that I have always looked forward to. This year with COVID and how it has changed our world I stumbled, wondering at times if it would be worth it, wondering who would eat them all (other than us!), wondering if anyone would really even notice that the “boys” didn’t make it into their little holiday bags ready to be handed out to friends and family as in years past because we’re isolating and not gathering socially due to the pandemic.  And then it hit me – ultimately, it would matter to me and it would matter because of you. It would matter because it has become a tradition born from your passing and not even a world pandemic would stand in the way of those little gingerbread boys and what they mean to me.

I realized yesterday how much I enjoy the ritual and learned that it really wasn’t any trouble at all, but rather a little labour of holiday love in honor of you. I buried myself at the kitchen table with Christmas carols and warm tea, with little gingerbread boys and piped frosting and little white candy hearts. I thought about our Christmases together and though my mind got stuck on how 12 Christmases just weren’t enough I managed to flip the bitter to sweet and remembered how much fun we packed into the Christmases we did have together.

It is easy to complain about the busy-ness of the season but for me the days leading up to Christmas were always the best and the busier we were, it seemed the happier we were. The magic would build day by day, even when the magic of Santa became the magic of giving for all of us. After your angel date we adopted some new Christmas traditions because we knew Christmas would never be the same. To keep on as we did would magnify the empty chair, the empty stocking and the achingly absent “To Will, From Us” gifts under the tree.

Instead we chose to make you the star, the angel, the toque on top of our tree. We made you our morning Santa with socks and pajamas from you to all of us Christmas morning. We still hang your stocking on the mantle amidst all of ours but on Christmas morning it becomes the anchor upon which our Christmas dinner centerpiece sits. We carefully place it in the middle of our dining room table where we light the sparkliest of candles. The last present under the tree is a jigsaw puzzle or a game from you to us – a promised activity that we enjoy doing together. And then there are the coveted gingerbread boys. The boys I am glad I did not leave out this year. Now that they are decorated the world feels a bit right again, even in this crazy and strange world of unknowns and uncomfortable concerns about the coronavirus. Admittedly, I didn’t bake as many this year knowing that I’d eat far too many if they were hanging around the kitchen. There is nothing right about one small family having to eat 10 or so dozen of those little boys… they are small, but…

I enjoyed our afternoon, Will. Needless to say, I miss you more than ever — more than I did yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I am overjoyed that the little gingerbread boys prevailed and that we have them to enjoy over the holidays. Yesterday I discovered that without them it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas. The tags I included with the little boys in every holiday cookie bag over the years are printed and in the tin — an undeniable reminder that…

“Before they can be men, they must be boys.”

And so this is Christmas. And on this side your little light still shines as bright as ever.  I’m told some stars are like that, Willy. In my heart of hearts I know your spirit is with us today and yesterday and tomorrow and on Christmas and everyday. We carry you with us in all that we do.  Your little light is in each of those little gingerbread boys, a reminder that the little boy / the child is alive and well in all of us, if we just believe. 

I love you, my sweet boy. More than a bus and more than all the little gingerbread boys and men and sugar cookies and milk in Santa’s big belly on Christmas eve.

Love Momxo xo xo xo

The handsewn gingerbread boy that Will made with his tiny hands in grade 1
remains a Christmas treasure.
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