She was getting to be an old lady. You see, she was 26 years old. She did her best and was quite reliable but she tended to huff and puff every time she came to a hill. And she was hot, uncomfortably hot on a sunny summer's day.
One day I said to my husband Andy, “If we had a vehicle that wasn’t quite so ancient we might be inclined to travel further afield. And if it was air conditioned, we could go places even in summer.”
So one Saturday afternoon we travelled up to Sydney to have a look around a few second-hand car yards. Before too long we’d found the perfect vehicle. Andy said, “Let’s go home and think about it,” but I replied, “Let’s just buy it.” He likes to think about things for a while. I like to be decisive.
The girls were so excited when they heard we were getting a 'new' car.
“It’s got cup holders?”
“And air conditioning?”
“We’ll be able to go more places…”
“… even when the weather is hot.”
“Will we be able to go to the beach, please?”
“When will Dad pick up the new car?”
“On Tuesday afternoon.”
Tuesday arrived. As the girls and I walked up the driveway, on our way to the bush tracks for our early morning run, I said, “Take a last look at the van. It won’t be here when we get home. We won’t see it again.”
All of a sudden we felt rather sad. What would happen to our van? Would anyone want such an old vehicle or would it end up at the wrecker's scrapyard?
“It was a great van, wasn't it?” I said.
“Yes, it took us to a lot of places.”
"We had a lot of fun in it."
“It hardly ever broke down...”
“,,,even though it was old.”
We stood lost in thought for a moment. No one was smiling.
Then I said, “When Dad gets home this evening, he’ll be driving the new car.”
We all smiled.
“Stand by the van and I’ll take one last photo,” I said, holding out my iPod camera. So the girls lined up and smiled and I clicked a few times: some memories captured forever.
We bought that van a few days before our son Thomas was born. We didn’t really need a new vehicle. There were 7 of us and our vehicle had 7 seats. Even with a new baby soon to be born, we wouldn’t need an extra seat, because no one expected Thomas to live after birth. But I insisted we buy a new car anyway. Why? Despite the doctor telling me we had to accept the fact that Thomas would die, I guess I couldn't let go of hope. We might have buckled him into a baby seat and taken him home. God could have worked a miracle. I needed hope to survive, so we bought a bigger vehicle with one extra seat: Thomas’ seat... just in case
And Thomas did travel in that van. For a whole week and a half we occupied the driver’s seat together, Thomas tucked up safely under my heart. But we never buckled him into a baby carrier. He never sat on his very own seat.
Thomas was born. He lived a day and then he died. Several days before we buried our baby, we visited him at our local funeral home. We held him one last time and kissed him goodbye.
And for months afterwards, whenever I drove past that funeral home, I couldn’t help thinking, “Thomas was once in that building.” I imagined him as we’d last seen him, dressed in his frothy cream baptismal gown. I remembered how he’d felt, his legs escaping my arms like a rag doll’s.
Then one day, when my eyes turned automatically towards the funeral home, as I drove past, I got a shock. The funeral home was no longer there. It had moved to new premises, further down the road. A science research centre now occupied the building. I was rather distraught. How could someone have done such a thing? Didn’t they know that this was one of ‘Thomas’ places’? The room where we’d last held him was no longer the same. It now had another function. What was standing on the spot where Thomas’ coffin had stood? A desk? A printer? A piece of scientific equipment?
Another one of ‘Thomas’ places’ disappeared on the day we traded our old van for the newer car. On that Tuesday morning as we walked towards the bush tracks I thought about how I would never again think, as I drove along, “Thomas once travelled in this van with us.”
Andy came home that evening with a shiny silver 7 seater car. The girls jumped up and down, their faces alight with delight. They climbed in and out of the car. They tried out the cup holders. They buckled up their seat belts quickly when Andy offered to take them for a ride. So much excitement over a car!
Our first big outing in our new vehicle was to the beach, just as the kids had hoped. I am sure we smiled the whole way there, as Andy drove effortlessly down the steep windy road towards the coast. And despite it being a very hot day, we remained beautifully cool, an air-conditioned breeze blowing in our faces. The girls spent a wonderful afternoon riding the waves and building a sand mermaid. I just sat on the sand and drank in their happiness.
So another of ‘Thomas’ places’ has gone. Something else associated with our baby has disappeared. I could be very sad about this, but I'm not.
Sometimes we have to let go of the old so we can receive the new. New adventures and new joys lie ahead of us.
“Maybe I could arrange another beach holiday for next spring,” I say. It’s been a few years since we last went away for a proper holiday. “Perhaps we could travel all the way up the coast to Smiths Lake again. It would be a very easy journey in the new car.”
“Oh yes!” The girls are bouncing up and down. They remember the magical beach house across from the golden sand, where we stayed last time.
A new car means new joys and new memories… but we will never forget the old.
Thomas' places can disappear but no one can take away our son. You see, he lives on in our memories. He will always be part of us.
Yes, it's quite okay to let go.