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Son,

Tomorrow is your birthday; you would have been 20 years old.  November 13th will always represent the day you were born, but now it also represents a deep and painful loss.  Last week I began to feel the quaking of new grief settle in our home, and could see the dark clouds filling the sky and threatening a storm of emotional turmoil.

Everyone was home, and we were sitting down to dinner. I dared to utter the words that hung in the atmosphere above us.

“Michaels birthday is next Wednesday, what do you all want to do?”  Everyone sucked in a deep breath, and heads bowed and shoulders slumped. Alexis whispered, “I don’t even want to think about it”, Emily agreed.  Caleb honestly stated, “I don’t know yet”.  Daddy just glanced at all your siblings and said nothing, I watched as the sadness washed over him.

And then there is your baby brother, Noah, the one that looks just like you, he spoke with all the innocence of an 11 year old,

“Instead of crying over Michael’s death, why we can’t just celebrate his life?”

Good question.

To be honest, I hated the beginning of your memorial, “Celebrating the life of Michael Ryan Black”.  How do you celebrate the life of a 19 year old, he hasn’t even started to live yet? My feeling have changed little in the past 7 months, I am still grieving the death of one the greatest joys of my life.  I am still trying to figure out the “why” and the “how”.  I still wake up startled and panicked that you were alone and in pain, and we couldn’t save you.

Still, yes, of course I celebrate the day you were born, I thank God every day for the 19 years you did walk the earth and the thousands of smiles and hugs you doled out over those years.  I know I am a better person and a better mother because God trusted me to raise you.

So many memories race through my mind, all day, and late at night when I can’t sleep. I remember conversations we had and the hard times in life when you were a little boy and my daily focus was protecting you, caring for your every need, and holding you close.

I remember most our ” mother/son 16th birthday trip” to Mexico.  For 4 days and 3 nights it was just you and me, no family, no cell phones, no friends.  We played in the waves, drank frozen concoctions, and bartered on the beach for cheap jewelry and t-shirts. We rented a jet ski, and you flew through the waves like a wild man,  I held on for dear life, the louder I screamed, the harder you would laugh and the faster you went. We went scuba diving and took pictures underwater, and on the boat ride back we got a little sunburned and talked about all the crazy marine life we had seen that day.  And I told you if I could be anything, I would be a fish.  You said I was a dork, but you loved me anyway.

My favorite part of that trip was the night we sat on the balcony listening to the waves hit the shore below us.  We smoked the cheap cigars that we bought at the market for your dad, agreeing  that we could always get more before we left. We never did.  We laughed till it hurt that night, and we talked, about everything.  I reiterated again every deep conviction I had, and everything I prayed for you and desired for your life.  As always, I pleaded with you to always do the right thing, to love God and serve people, never lie, be willing to die for truth and freedom.  Never forget the gifts God gave you, treat every girl like you wanted your wife, sister or daughter to be treated, and to always protect anyone that cannot protect themselves.  Blacks never throw the first punch, but always put an end to the nonsense with strength and leadership.  As always I repeated the basics, in case you missed them the 4 million times I said them while you were growing up. You laughed at me, blue eyes sparkling in the glow of the moon.  You said you would do your best, and reminded me that they didn’t make girls like me anymore; you said I was old fashion, and the world was a different place then the one I was raised in.

You were right. I will never understand this dark world of drugs, violence and casual sex. I will never understand the music and the media that encourages your generation to live in madness, and offers suicide as an option.   I can’t believe you are gone, I can’t believe I laid down my sword while a generation  is seduced and manipulated into a darkness they can’t pull out of on their own.  It seems all my prayers and convictions became lost and voiceless in comparison to a world that competed to steal your life and your destiny.

The dark world won.

All of us lost.  We lost you, and your future, your very life.   We will never see the happy ending to your troubled story.

Still, with all the things you struggled with, I wouldn’t change any of our talks, I do not regret how I mothered you, and I will continue to cast a vision for greatness in all your friends, all your brothers and sisters.

I am determined to go forward, to be a voice for the lost and the hurting, and to speak truth even though the lies are louder, and so much easier to find.

I remember one of our long talks when you first arrived at Lindenwood this last January.  You were so excited about the future; you told me all about your dorm, your roommate, and all of your new friends. The words you spoke that day are forever tattooed on my heart.  I could hear your smile when you said, “Mom, I met a girl like you this weekend! She is still a virgin, she doesn’t party at all, and she is beautiful, she is amazing!”  I was taken back a bit, and so I asked, “So is this serious? Did you ask her out?”  What I heard next was the thoughts of  man, not a boy, with a steady voice you said, “Oh no, Mom, she’s not the kind of girl you date, she’s the kind of girl you marry.”

I guess they still do make old fashion girls like me, and they still make very special young men to love them.

I wish I could call you right now and in a cheesy sing-song voice tell you what I always said on November 12th…“Michael, it’s your Birthday Eve!” you never seemed to get to old, or to mature for our little traditions, you would laugh with me, I know you would.

Happy Birthday Son, you are so missed,

Mommy