There was a tree.

We flowered it, my husband and I. Grew it from a tiny sapling with our love, watered it with our dreams of a thriving future. The tree grew strong, its branches thick, wiry; the flowers budded. The seeds of this tree were sown by our parents, yet we branched forward as our own family, anticipating the future with warm hearts. Our first child, then his siblings, and their children after, more roots within the ripe earth, more twisting limbs and branches pointing through the glorious blue sky.

And then the spark hit.

Lightning? A cyclone? An act of God? Who knew. We would never know.

Without warning, the tree burst into flames. It withered and died in an angry, violent blaze. Our dreams along with them. Our son along with them.

What was once up in flames, is now in ashes. Black ashes around the sky, flitting like feathers across golden rays of happiness. The ashes tinge everything, the semblance of an almost normal life. And the rough, burnt edges carry his memory; the ripped corners of a photograph, the pieces that remain a part of you, like a burnt limb with black fingers—unfeeling, immovable, yet always there.

Today my son is a word that lingers on my lips, unspoken. When I speak his name—to mothers who awkwardly look towards the floor, rather than in my eyes—to people who believe they must console, when they never truly can—he comes to life within seconds, the joyous memories of his brief life wrapped around me like vines, cutting off my oxygen, smothering my soul.

Today my son is a forbidden topic—the whispers between the cracks, the baby elephants in the room. My loved ones who once “suffered” alongside me now appear resolved, a page turned within their own lives. Whether from selfishness, “well wishes,” or discomfort, they assigned closure to my own pain and suffering, the logical (or not) conclusion to the birth of my rainbow: ‘she must be fine now, she is healed, she is normal again.’

Two years after my son’s death, and the birth of my living daughter, I have emerged from two places: my own heart’s cloister, grieving like a monk; and society’s own caverns of exile. Instead of being pushed into the corner, a wounded animal that none knew how to tend, I am treated like a human again. Now I am considered a real life mother, with a real life child.

Yet the heart will never stop hurting. My son will never disappear. The hole will always be present—albeit a bit smaller, it is still there. People fail to understand that these holes never truly shut, the gaping memories of our loved ones that will forever ache. People fail to understand that we want them to remain open, we want the edges to heal jagged, we want the ghosts and the nightmares and the lingering memories. Because our love is pain. We remember our babies through our pain.

And the pain of a mother remains the same, whether my child is dead or living. Give me the burden of loving my dead son. Give me the nights of yearning for him, cloistered in my room amidst the happiness of my home. Give me the awkward conversations and the silences when I say his name, my lips lingering at each syllable. Whether I am “healed” or not, “have closure” or not, I still carry his soul with me, I still love him fiercely, I still am the caretaker of his little life, even in death.

I would not have it any other way.

What does “closure” mean to you, if anything, post-loss? How do you address those who think that the passage of time, the birth of another baby, or anything else, has “healed” you? Do you bother to address them?