Why are the photographs of him as a little boy so incredibly hard to look at? Something is over. Now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memories, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. So it is with all the memories of him. They all lead into blackness. All I can do is remember him, I cannot experience him. Nothing new can happen between us.
~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
Death is never welcome.
It is always a reminder that I live in a broken world where sickness and time, accidents and sinful choices press the life out of bodies and I am left behind to mourn.
But when people die at a ripe old age, I look back fondly on what they’ve done, where they’ve been, the legacy of work and love and family they leave behind.
No one lives forever.
In the back of my mind I can make room for that fact, even though I don’t like to bring it out and consider it very often. Those that are much older than me will (all things being equal) leave this world before us.
I joined them.
There is part of their lives I know nothing about. And there will be part of mine they will not share.
But my child?
I have known my child since before he entered the light of this world! I felt him in my womb. I experienced who he was before anyone else met him.
I never, ever expected for my life to outlast his!
I always thought there would be new experiences between us, new memories to tuck away, new adventures to look forward to.
Out of order death is unexpected, unnatural, unbelievable.
Trigger warning: I discuss my loss in terms of falling. If you have lost a loved one to that kind of accident, you might want to skip this post. ❤
I really don’t know how to explain it to anyone who has not had to repeatedly face their greatest fear.
It takes exactly as much courage.
Every. Single. Time.
I have had a dozen major surgeries in my life. I am always just as anxious when they start the countdown to anesthesia. Doesn’t matter what they push in my IV line-that moment when I realize I am relinquishing all control to the hands of others frightens me.
I feel like I am falling over the edge of a cliff-nothing to hold onto, no way to stop what’s coming, no way to clamber back up and change my mind or change what’s about to happen.
It’s the same every spring since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.
From the middle of March to the middle of April my body responds to cues my mind barely registers. Sights, smells, change in the length of the day, the direction of the prevailing wind-a hundred tiny stimuli make my nerves fire in chorus declaring, “It’s almost THAT day!”
There is another underlying dissonance that begs the question, “Why didn’t you see it coming?” Or, at least, “Why didn’t you spend a little more time with him on those last two visits home?”
Dominic was busy that spring-an internship with a local judge, papers and responsibilities as a journal editor along with the demanding reading load of second year Law School meant he didn’t make the 30 miles home all that often.
But there were a couple days he came our way in the month before he died.
One was to bring a friend’s car and do a bunch of work on it. That day was chilly and I popped out a few times to chit chat as they labored under the shed in the yard. I made lunch and visited with them then.
Still, I kind of felt like I shouldn’t hover over my grown son even though I really missed him and wanted badly to talk to him about something other than car parts.
The jacket he wore and dirtied that day with oil and grease and dirt and gravel grit is still hanging in what we use as a mud room.
Because they were coming back to do more repairs in a few weeks.
It is only now finally free of the last scent of him.
The next visit was on a day when I was busy, he was busy and we were all frustrated over equipment that wasn’t working properly. He brought me some medicine from the vet in town for a sick horse and spoke briefly about whether or not we’d cut some fallen limbs in a bit. Then he went to help his brother try to get the backhoe cranked. I was suffering from a severe flare in my ankle so was only able to hobble out to the spot the stupid thing had stopped for just a minute before needing to hobble back inside to put my foot up and allow it to rest.
He left early because I wasn’t up to cutting logs and neither he nor his brother could crank the infernal machine.
I remember that before he left, I made a point of turning him to face me and hugging him tight while telling him how very proud I was of him and everything he was doing and becoming. A little unusual because Dominic was the least huggable of all my children. He was no cuddler.
It was not a premonition-I was prompted by the knowledge he was going into finals and had been stressed lately.
But I am so glad I did it.
And then-poof!-time flies like time does and he and his brother were off on a Spring Break trip. They texted me faithfully to let me know they made it safely to their destination, safely to my parents’ home in Florida for a few days after that and then safely back home.
I never saw him alive again.
Spring is not my favorite season anymore.
While my heart can appreciate the promise of new life declared in every budding flower, every unfurling leaf, every newborn bird and calf and lamb, it is also aware that every living thing dies.
I’m on the edge and falling off.
I can’t stop it.
And it’s just as frightening this time as last time.
Social media is full of rants about this and that. Television blares raised voices shouting over one another in what passes for news coverage. T-shirts are emblazoned with one-liners intended to provoke others.
We tolerate and even embrace anger as a legitimate emotion.
Yet we rarely make room for mourning. We hide our tears. We shame those who don’t hide theirs as “weak” and “soft” and “cowardly” or worse.
But many times what we think is anger, is really sadness.
I’ve discovered that sometimes in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, deep sorrow masquerades as anger.And I’ve become sensitive to that truth in other people as well.
Sadness over loss of any kind can be spewed out as anger:
Sorrow over declining health.
Despair over lost opportunities with loved ones.
Heartache that life has not turned out the way one had hoped.
The problem with anger is that it pushes people away.It creates an impenetrable circle that isolates a heart just when it needs to be loved, cared for and comforted.
Very few are brave enough to battle through another’s angry front to find the sorrow hidden underneath.
So I challenge myself to be more authentic in expressing what I actually feel and not dig a moat around my heart by acting angry when I’m really devastated by grief.
Because I don’t want to push people away, I want them to come close.
I need them to take my hand and remind me that I’m not alone.