Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rest Easy, My Son

On 8/20/12, one month ago today, I lost my 19 year old son, Neal, to a motorcycle street racing accident. My life will never be the same. I could say all kinds of things here about how parents should never have to bury their kids. How this is the worst possible thing to happen - all of it's true. After a month of having heard & said it all, I'm left with the emptiness of knowing he's never coming home. Ever.

Losing my only child has changed me. A self-described cynic, I have spent the last years shaking my head at people, amazed at the idiots we are. These days, the John Watson quote better speaks my heart: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." 

I went to the grocery store the day after Neal died. I was surrounded by people shopping and standing in line, knowing that not one of them had any idea of my pain. Which meant that I had no idea of theirs. Something like unconditional love for humanity, for our flawed and fragile selves, overcame me. In that moment, I knew that if even one person in that store was feeling even a fraction of the pain I was feeling, I'd better be gentle.  I forgave us, me - so caught up in daily life that it takes a slap by the hand of God to get our attention.

I sleep in his room. In his bed. I no longer wake only to remember that he is gone. I know it the moment I open my eyes. Some days, it fills me with such grief that I'm crying before I turn off the alarm. Other days, I say hello to his room, his big-ass TV, his clean shirts hanging in the closet, his painfully empty shoes. Then I start another long day.

My days are filled with questions. Where are you? Are you safe? At peace? Are you near me? Can you hear me when I talk to you? When I grieve out loud at your graveside? Will I ever see you again? A quiet inside voice tells me that he's safe. At peace. With me. With us.

I face a life that is suddenly very different. For nearly 20 years, I have poured myself into raising this child. Most of the time it was just the two of us. His toothless, dimpled smile made me forgive all men and I was healed by his presence. His birth changed my life. His death changed it again.

I need a new purpose, a new direction for my love and energy. A Neal Burlington Race Fund has captured my imagination. My mission is not to get kids off of their bikes. That's never going to happen. Racers gonna race. I want to launch an effort to get street racers off of the streets and onto the track. Track racing takes place in a controlled environment. There are no oncoming cars and no telephone poles. One killed my son. The other seriously injured his friend, Justin.

In 1989, after a premonition of his own death, my brother Russell, an avid street racer, left the streets and signed up for the Penguin Racing School, held monthly at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. For the next 5 years, the entire Burlington family was involved in Russell's racing. I worked the motorcycle safety crew as a corner worker. Mom manned the stop watch. Dad the grill. Rain or shine, our family & friends camped, cooked, laughed, made fun of each other and watched Russell & his crazy friends zoom around that track. Our family relationships thrived. We developed life long friendships with other racers & their families. Our loyal participation kept Russell safe.

Stay tuned for the next leg of my journey as I face life without my only child, Neal Michael Burlington. He was born on May 4, 1993 to a single mom, searching for meaning. He died on August 20, 2012, leaving behind a single mom searching for new meaning. Rest easy, my sweet boy. I love you.


Mary Hohmann said...

Most beautiful, Sheree, especially about being immersed in the moment of our common humanity and unknown pain.How lucky you are to be thinking along these lines, ANY lines, because the gyroscope of your being has tilted.We who love you think with you daily. New threads to the tapestry are being woven. please keep sharing. Love, Mary Hohmann

Robin Homsey-Blaine said...

sheree, i remember the day i was driving in the limo heading to my brother jay's funeral, then 4 months later, in the limo heading to my brother glenn's funeral, then 4 months later in the limo heading to my husband Dennis' funeral thinking, "What are these people doing out shopping and walking around? Don't they know a wonderful man just died?" Your words just helped me tremendously. We, each of us are all fighting our own battles and I need to be gentle on others because I have no idea what battle and challenges they are facing. I wish you peace Sheree.
Robin Homsey-Blaine

molly- See you downtown said...

I cannot fathom the pain of losing your child and wish for you healing and lessening of the grief. I am so very sorry. Words stating a sympathy so difficult to express.

Sheree Burlington said...

Mary, Robin, Molly - thank you for your words. They are received by a grateful, slightly broken heart. XO - Sheree

christine adolph said...

My condolences to you Sheree. I can't imagine the pain. I haven't checked your blog for a long time and I'm regretful I didn't know about this. sorry to see this. Please know I will keep you in my prayers.