The pendulum of hope and grief

Warning: This is one of those sad posts. Sometimes I try to write upbeat and be somewhat entertaining, just like sometimes I try to live upbeat and think positive. But being upbeat and positive takes a lot of effort these days. Usually I can talk myself into being reasonably happy until maybe 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. I am a morning person who wakes up very early so this amounts to a good eight hours of being almost normally happy. After that my spirit begins to droop and once it droops it doesn’t take much to make it crash.

Writing is the best outlet available to me to relieve the pressure of grief. That’s what it feels like: a pressure that builds up. Some meditation at night and a decent night’s sleep might help me to wake up a little less sad, but then the hours — the news of the world, the ordinary chores, traffic, and interactions with other people that add up to my life wear me down and my fragile defenses against the sadness begin to collapse.

After he lost his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote down his thoughts and feelings. His notes became a book called A Grief Observed, now a classic, because everything he touched became a classic. A grief observed — in small letters and not destined to become a classic — that pretty much describes my notes on this blog. Jesse’s Dad wrote a post here and I’ve welcomed others to write something, but so far no one has come forth, so mostly it’s just me, observing my grief. I know it’s sad, but if C.S. Lewis could write honestly about his sadness so can I.

I know many people loved Jesse and miss him, but perhaps I may be justified in making the claim that I have loved him the longest and maybe I miss him the most. I am the only one who has known him intimately since 1992, months before he was born, who watched and tended with intense interest every millimeter of growth through the years, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Did I mention I love him? His absence breaks my heart – not merely because I am deprived of his company but because he died — he whose health, happiness, and well-being I devoted my life to.

It breaks my heart that he died alone in his room and no one knew until the next day when he didn’t show up for work. That should not have happened to someone as loved as my son. I hear about people who gather around their loved one’s bed and get to say good-bye, who get to be there at the blessed moment the soul leaves the person’s body. But my son drew his last breath with nobody there and his soul was gone by the time anyone knew he was dead. I have still not fully absorbed the shock of it.

Yesterday I had a bad day — storms of grief descending in the late afternoon. Later I did some heavy-duty meditation and felt a little lighter in the morning. I promised God this morning to try to trust Him all day — trust that Jesse is in his hand and all the promises about eternal life are true, trust that the Father loves Jesse more even than I do and that He has a purpose for his life in heaven as on earth, trust that Jesse is fully alive right now and that I will see him again in the not-too-distant future, trust that somehow I will end up a better, stronger, more loving person for having suffered this grief. And even though by afternoon my carefully constructed tent of positive thought and prayer drooped and collapsed, I really do trust God for all these things.

And so it goes, back and forth, like a pendulum swinging against the walls of my mind. He died but he lives but he died….  I cannot stay in the pit of despair so I turn my eyes to heaven and then I can’t ignore the stark fact that I just buried the body of my son and he will never come through that front door again. I feel hope and a faint sense of joy when I think of him in God’s Kingdom and then I look at pictures of the boy who used to hug me and remember the sound of the voice I will never hear again in this life. Eventually life will win over death. That I believe. Eventually.

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Still learning new things about my son

Jesse has gotten a lot of attention since he died. I have certainly given him a great deal of thought and I’ve also heard quite a bit about him from others as they recall memories and impressions. It’s a little ironic because Jesse was never one to seek attention. I have mentioned that he needed a lot of my attention as a small child, but that’s different. Once he started school he tended to be on the quiet side. The older he got, the quieter he got. In the few final years of his life he was soft-spoken, tended to dress in muted colors, and never talked about himself unless specifically asked about something.

 

About four years ago I was putting laundry away in his room and I came across a stack of some drawings. He had obviously spent hours and hours on these works of art but I had never seen them before. I was stunned by their intricacy and beauty. Later I told him I had found his artwork and how incredible I thought it was. “Oh thanks,” he said casually. “I get hyper-focused.” I asked if I could show them to people, maybe share them of Facebook. He shrugged and said, “I guess. If you want to.” He did most of these beautiful drawings on notebook paper with Sharpie markers. He never took himself too seriously.

jesse-flowers
By Jesse Apple
I thought I knew my son fairly well, but he was always surprising me with new facets of his personality. There was so much going on in his head and he revealed so little of it at any one time. Then all of sudden he’d start talking about something he had been thinking about or researching or making and it was like a tree suddenly popped out of the ground and you never saw the intermediate stages between seed and fully grown tree with fruit ripe for picking. For example, he had been working at Zero’s Subs and taking classes at TCC for a long time, and then one day he came downstairs and asked me to proofread his resume. The resume was very nicely written. It said he could repair all kinds of smart phones and that he had a perfect record of positive feedback selling refurbished phones on eBay. Shortly after that he got a job repairing smart phones.

 

It was like that with learning to read. He had trouble reading in first grade, so much that though he was in a “gifted kid” class the school put him in the remedial program for slow readers. I was a mere rookie back then in dealing with school stuff but it didn’t make sense to me to call a kid a “slow” reader before he had learned to read at all. It seemed to me they were using experimental techniques that were not working, at least not for my kid. He would come home upset and tell me they were making him do stupid stuff like jump onto big word squares on the floor. I bought Hooked-on-Phonics and taught him to read myself. But I couldn’t seem to get him to love reading books on his own. I felt frustrated but kept reading with him or to him.

By second grade he could read fine and by the end of fifth grade his standardized test showed he had the reading comprehension level of a 22-year-old. “How is it you read so well when you don’t read books?” I asked him. “Because I know how to read,” he said. It was like that with violin too. “You won’t improve if you don’t practice,” I’d say. He would not practice. But when he went to his lesson he would take out the violin and play the music very well. “How do you do that when you don’t practice?” I’d ask. “I can read the music and press the strings,” he’d say. The violin lessons did not go far, because though he could technically play the instrument he did not love music and he wanted to do what he loved.

That was a another strange thing about Jesse. He preferred silence to music. I recently said to him, “You are the only person I know who doesn’t like music.” “I know,” he said. “People at work are always trying to get me to listen to music, and I really don’t like it.” “That is an unusual trait,” I said.

 

The most shocking surprise Jesse ever gave me was suddenly leaving this world at age 23. I am still reeling from that one. But given the general pattern in his life it almost fits. I don’t mean he had a death wish or seemed “doomed” or anything like that. In fact, he seemed bursting with life, hope, ideas, plans, and potential. It’s just… I think of that strange pattern he had of sudden fruition. If he suddenly woke up in the next world, another dimension I imagine, and say he saw wide-open possibilities for discovery and learning….. and even if he had the opportunity to come back to this life where everything is so slow and primitive and you can’t get the equipment and resources you need, and the cars don’t even have artificial intelligence and you can’t get where you want to go by just thinking it, well, knowing what I know of Jesse, I can’t imagine he would turn back.

 

As well as I thought I knew him, there are several things I’ve learned about Jesse since his departure — from comments people have made and things I have found. Nothing bad. It is all just information that makes me understand what a unique and special human being he was and still is.

 

Four Things I’ve Learned About Jesse Since He Left This World

 

  • He was charming and social. I knew what a wonderful person he was but I didn’t know how much he interacted with other people and what a pleasant impression he made. I have found out that he was very friendly with both friends and strangers. The receptionist at his doctor’s office knew he was looking into getting a nano-degree and the pharmacist at Walgreens commented on what a warm friendly personality he had. There was no fakery in Jesse, he made no great effort to impress anybody, so I feel like any conversation he had with anyone was a sincere one. If he talked to you, he cared about talking to you.
  • He was proud of his family. I had felt that lately he was trying to distance himself from us to establish his independence. I think this was probably me projecting on him the way I was at his age. But I assumed he wasn’t really thinking much about his family at this particular stage of his life. Not true. A friend and co-worker of his told me he often talked about his Mom, Dad, and brother and made us sound wonderful.
  • He valued family history. I knew he was into genetics because he had his DNA analyzed by a company called “23 and Me” and bought DNA analysis kits for me and his Dad for Christmas in 2014. But I did not know that his interest in family history extended to more personal things. In a box of his most important papers I found a story that was written my father. My Dad, who Jesse always remembered as “Pop-Pop”, died when Jesse was 2-1/2 years old. Apparently at some point – it must have been 2010 or before because my Mom died in 2010 – Jesse found these several sheets of paper that contained the start of a science fiction novel written in the small precise print of my Dad. And he kept that story with him in a special place.
  • He identified with Jewish heritage. Now this may seem strange, but Jesse always told me growing up that he felt like he was Jewish. I grew up Catholic and his Dad is Baptist and Jesse was a sincere believer in Christ. In fact on his 18th birthday he had an eight-inch Christian fish tattooed on his chest. When we saw it he said, “This is the one thing that will never change.” But he was always intrigued by family rumors that he might have some Jewish in this DNA. His 2014 DNA analysis revealed that he did indeed have .5 percent Ashkenazi Jewish DNA which, as he explained, was significant given the tiny size of that population when compared to world population throughout the thousands of years that the analysis traces. I did not know quite how much this meant to him, until I discovered that at the tail of the fish tattoo he had gotten another tattoo – a tiny Star of David. I found this out from a photograph.

What I miss today: His presence

Today is an “I can’t believe he’s gone” day. The shock reverberates repeatedly through my mind and body. My baby? Dead? And every time I think that I hear his voice within me: “Mom! I’m alive, better than ever. You have to believe that.” And I say in my mind, “Yes Jesse I know. I know you are alive and well. But the life you had on earth was really important to me – your body, your personality, the six-foot-one guy who grew up from the baby I gave birth to at the dawn of that cold rainy December day in 1992, who Doctor Lehman, your brand new pediatrician, examined that day in the hospital room and said ‘He is perfect!'”

All those pictures testify to your constant presence in my life, though I need no reminding, of your established role in the family, your definite essence, all your stages and adventures, the absolutely solid place you occupied in my world. Everything since the day you were born, every decision I made, the way I scheduled my days, every plan, every thought, was connected with your presence. I shaped my life around you, your needs, your pleasures. No thought of present or future didn’t have you in it.

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Jesse and Aaron at roller rink. 2005.

“But I wasn’t the only one in your life,” you might say. “What about Dad and Aaron?” Well the truth is, from the moment you were born you had an irreplaceable part in my life. In a sense you were my life: my child, my responsibility, my joy, the one I’d die for. And though I’d die for Aaron too and I love him with with a special flavor of love created just for him, he had to fit himself into a heart where you already were. Of course he and Dad have equal but different places in my heart but you Jesse –  you had a place that cannot be replaced. Somehow you were my center, my pillar of purpose, heart of my heart.

So yes, I know you have only transitioned to a new life that we we all transition to, and it is a great comfort to me that you are happy and I rejoice that I will see you again one day. But I mourn what is truly lost: this life with you as my first-born son, the happy buzz of your exuberant presence,  your ideas, your funny unusual take on things, your discoveries, your big plans, your surprises, your hair, your exquisite  hands, the way you moved, the way you ate, that undefinable way you hesitated, the way you smiled, the way you sometimes didn’t smile but still conveyed satisfaction, the warmth of your warm physical presence.

image.jpegI will miss my annual Christmas shopping for you – the usual socks and pajama pants and picking just the right jacket or book or special thing, and seeing you open your gifts, how you looked as content and happy about socks as about the latest hot technology. This past Christmas was the first time you came over in the morning instead of coming downstairs. Only one Christmas that you didn’t live at home. I know Christmas was not really the day Jesus was born but I wonder if they celebrate in heaven anyway, for the sake of the children, and because heaven is a place made for human happiness? Would God really worry about technicalities of human calendars? But maybe there are many celebrations in heaven and there probably are no months and years.

I had planned to bring another cake to your workplace on your 24th birthday like I did last year. What will I do for your birthday this year? I feel hollow without you. My chest hurts like a major organ has been ripped out. It feels like it’s about over for me. I feel like I have just enough life fuel left to tie up loose ends and then I can lock the door and go to the bus station and read a book or do some writing until my ride home arrives. I will wait patiently until it arrives, constantly looking at my watch.

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15th birthday with Aunt Steph and cousins

Living in two worlds

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

I live in two worlds now: this material one and the other one that some might call the “spiritual,” but I call the Kingdom of God. I believe the Kingdom is more real than this world, but because I am still in my material body it does not usually seem that way. In our culture the word spiritual has all kinds of airy-fairy connotations and is often associated with charlatans, often with good reason. Many people, in fact, treat the whole concept of spirituality as first cousin of imagination, mostly because they are afraid of being deceived, also with good reason.

I guess it is natural to distrust what we cannot see or touch. We are physical beings who interact with our immediate world through our five senses. From our birth we are conditioned to experience the world that way. You might even say the purpose of being born is to live a bodily life in this particular kind of world – to  experience all its sensual delights, to find out how to live a good life despite all of its sensual temptations, to find the right path under the kinds of circumstances this world presents.

Although I am sure many charlatans practice deception, trying to make a buck off the idea of spirituality, it does not logically follow that this world is the only reality. If someone lies to me about being a doctor it doesn’t mean that doctors do not exist. Anyway, I can no longer think of the Kingdom of God world as less real than this world or consider it theoretical in any sense. My son is there and my son is real. He has not vaporized into clouds of memory and imagination. He – his essential conscious being – lives in another dimension of reality, the place where most of us will eventually go and where many have already gone. It is at least scientifically demonstrable that there is nothing permanent about this world with all of its rapidly decaying matter.

I have sensed Jesse’s presence often and feel a sureness that he is alive. I know some people will smile and say “Isn’t that nice that she believes that?” That’s fine. If something is true, it is true even if 100 percent of the human population does not believe it. Truth is not subject to the vote. Through this horrible experience, I have learned that I can receive gifts of information in meditation. I cannot force the gifts to come – cannot command God to speak or act or show me things at will and nor I would I want to. But out of God’s mercy I have received communication from Jesse himself that fills me with great joy. Don’t panic – if you see me around I promise not to go all mystic on you. These experiences are sacred to me and not to mix with workaday life. I may share some of them with friends or family who seem sincerely interested but I surely won’t go blabbing about them in the ordinary course of the day. The last thing I want to do is impose my experiences on those who don’t want to hear.

On the Kingdom level, which I can sometimes briefly visit through prayer and meditation, I understand clearly that God has an ongoing purpose for Jesse and for all of us, whether we are currently alive in this flesh or have transitioned to the next world. I feel joy and assurance. However on the level where I still reside in my day-to-day material life I miss him every moment of every day, my heart physically aches, and I can never be as I was. My heart’s capacity for worldly happiness has this huge leak and no matter how much I remind myself how much I still have to live for, I cannot seem to keep it from constantly deflating. The fact that my baby’s precious body is dead and buried has killed me, or at least something in me. What happens to souls after death is that they go to a place of beauty, light, and love, but still, the death of the body is pure horror.

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Photo by Aaron Apple

Small mercies and little memory triggers

It is Sunday, my most difficult day of the week now, because during the 16 months Jesse lived on his own, Sunday was the day he came over every week to have dinner, talk, and do his laundry. Tomorrow will be six weeks since we found out he had died, but we believe he actually passed the day before, Sunday August 7th. He did not show up that Sunday or answer my texts and calls. We thought he had overslept as he often napped on Sundays, his only day off from work.

I have gone over the sequence of events from the previous Sunday — July 31st — to Monday, August 8th, a hundred times. I am now starting to review his whole life, trying to see patterns or clues as to what led to what happened, which is difficult because we still do not know the cause of his death. Tom insists we stop conjecturing because we are just driving ourselves crazy and neither answers nor guesses will change the outcome.

All kinds of things go through your mind at such a time. You look for the smallest mercies. It was not violent…. We don’t think he felt any pain….The other day Aaron and I were making dinner, a delicious baked sweet potato and chicken recipe, and Aaron said he had been thinking what a good thing it was that none of us were out of town that day. Aaron had been on a camping trip the week before and Tom often travels for work.

“It would have been more terrible to be out of town when it happened,” he said, “or I could have been at work and not there.” I felt a pang. It could have been worse, yes, but somehow it’s hard for me to feel grateful right now. That is a bad state to be in and I hope I get over it. The Thanksgiving holiday is a sad thought and I dread Halloween. I wish I could get on a time ship and fly right over December, that looming month that contains his birthday and Christmas. How will I survive these times? How do I survive at all?

In the same conversation with Aaron, while cutting sweet potatoes, I said, “If it had to happen, thank goodness it happened in August, my least favorite month. At least it didn’t happen in October! I’d hate to have October ruined.” As if that makes it better. I will be sad in October just because it is my favorite month and Jesse is not in it. I am sure he will be seeing it though, and seeing more beautiful Autumn colors reflecting on clearer lakes, more splendid than the most splendid Octobers the earth can offer.

imageI have not sought to dull the sharp edge of grief through medication or alcohol. I do not think this would be productive for me. Writing, I guess, is my opium. And, just recently, I admit to a little retail therapy — although I have not found shopping to be particularly effective. Walking around in malls and stores is dangerous. You never know what is going to trigger a flood of memories. At the mall a laughing mother chases after a toddler and I think back to when Jesse was that age when my whole world focused on that little body full of energy, hope, and joy. And I suddenly need to quickly get out the public view.

Even the grocery store is treacherous. Today, by sheer habit, I reached out to pick up a bottle of cherry-cranberry juice and then realized I only buy that juice to have in the fridge when Jesse comes over. I will never buy that juice again.

Test of faith

Death is not right. It is such an intolerable condition of our existence that it is a major reason that most of us seek a higher reality. The finality of death simply does not work for us, especially when someone we love dies, so we know there has to be a higher truth. I believe our instincts about this are spot on. C.S. Lewis puts it well:

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” – from Mere Christianity

The death of my son has put my Christian faith to the ultimate test. The birth of a child locks your focus into this world. You are intensely focused on equipping the child to live a good and happy life within the world as you know it. Even if you are the philosophical or spiritual type, thoughts about the destiny of human beings are put on the shelf as you focus on your child’s day-to-day well-being. When a grandparent or some else close to the child dies, you have a talk about how the person is in Heaven now with God. If the child should ask, “Will I die too?” you say something like, “All of us die and go to Heaven, but not for a long long time.”

I remember how I thought about death when I was a child. It was a nebulous thing, something I did not doubt would happen, but so far away that it did not affect my here-and-now life — like I knew there were galaxies full of other planets billions of miles away or that someday the sun would burn out. When my paternal grandfather died when I was six it did not bring the reality of my own death a bit closer.

However, I remember the exact moment when that faraway fairy-tale concept of death abruptly changed. I was 13, lying in bad one night, and it struck me like a bolt of lightning that one day, on a day just like any other day, my own body would be lying in a coffin and this life, so real and present, would be a thing of the past. The thought that made my heart go cold with unspeakable terror was the thought that I might cease to exist. Now I was a good Catholic girl and the resurrection story and all its implications had been pounded into my head for the better part of my 13 years. Before this moment I had never once doubted that I was destined for Heaven — that is, sometime in the misty future. In fact, one cold rainy morning when I was seven I walked into my second-grade classroom and felt a heavy sense of depression at the prospect of another long, boring, droning-on day in school. Suddenly I had an insight: “This life won’t last forever,” I thought. “Someday I will live in Heaven where everything is bright and happy and never boring.” I had a beautiful picture in my head of myself being in that place and my depression instantly changed to a feeling of utter joy. But now I was 13 and I had forgotten all about that. Now I lay in bed shivering in terror thinking, “What if I cease to exist?”

Strangely, very soon after that night of terror — it may even have been the next day — I happened to pick up my parents’ latest copy of Reader’s Digest. The condensed book in that issue was Life After Life by Raymond Moody. I devoured that thing like it was my last meal, and as I read the accounts of near death experiences I felt the warmth of hope surging through my veins. This was just one of numerous times that a book has come along in my life at the exact right moment. Life After Life gave me enough hope to sustain me through my teens and twenties when I fell away from the Church and doubted everything I had ever been taught. I mostly questioned why anyone should believe anything just because someone told you it was true. This attitude is sometimes referred to as “a problem with authority.” If something was supposedly true I just wanted to know why I should believe it.

Only when Jesse was born did I sincerely begin to re-explore the Christian faith, and only when Aaron was born three and a half years later did I decide to commit my faith to Jesus Christ. That’s how long it took me to think it all out. I was so afraid of committing myself to something that was untrue. A that time I needed reasons for everything. Reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity is what sealed the deal for me — another book at the right time.

The thing about Christian faith is that you think your faith is strong and real and then something happens that makes it so much more real that you realize how flimsy and theoretical your faith used to be compared to what is it now. The levels of reality are many, like the rungs of Jacob’s ladder from Earth to Heaven. Each step up is a whole new realm, a new vision of life and purpose. The emotional and spiritual impact you feel when your child dies is so powerful that maybe you move up a whole bunch of rungs on the ladder.

If I was terrified by the thought I might cease to exist, the thought of my child ceasing to exist is 100 times more terrifying. Such a thought, if I let myself believe it for a moment, would be a level of terror incompatible with life. It simply cannot be. My faith needs to climb past all rungs that allow room for doubt, past the realms belief and into the realms of knowing. I need to get to the highest rung of reality that I can get to on this side of the divide and this is where I need to live for the remainder of my earthly life.

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Sunset scene taken by Jesse’s brother Aaron in May 2014. His beautiful photographs are gifts that keep on giving.

One thing I know for sure is that the love I have for Jesse did not end when his body died. In fact it seems to have increased. True love has to have a living object. Love does not just pool in your heart and spill over into the ground. Love is that it is a kind of energy that goes somewhere and does something. I have been spending a lot of time in the best and timeliest book of all, the Bible. I have always loved the words of 1 Corinthians 13:8- 13 but today they speak to me on a new level of reality. They seem to be, in fact, the exact story of my life.

“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail, whether there are tongues, they will cease, whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man (or a woman), I put away childish things.
For now we see in a mirror; dimly, but then face to face. Now I am known in part, but then I shall know just as I also miss am known.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Thoughts of a Dad on the loss of his son

I have shared lots of thoughts here, all from a mother’s point of view, but of course I am hardly the only one feeling the loss. Jesse’s Dad felt it was time to get his experience down in writing and has let me share his thoughts on this blog….

* * * * * * *

OH JESSE!

By Tom Apple

recent-jesseI think I can finally commit to writing a few thoughts on the untimely death of my son, Jesse. It’s been five weeks since he died. I’m doing OK for the most part, but there are still very painful pangs of grief that manifest themselves daily. As my wife, Carol, has written, our lives will forever be changed by that event. My perspective has changed in many ways. I try to immerse myself in work and hobbies to distract myself from the pain, but it is only a temporary fix.

We still don’t know the cause, it is hard to keep from speculating on it, scrutinizing moments in the past to see if there were signs we missed that his death was imminent. Signs that could have clued us that there was something needing to be done. He was such a kind-hearted soul, generous to others, and with a strong ethic, the kind of young man I think the world is in desperate need of at this time. I am overwhelmed with regret that I did not avail myself to doing more with him while he was here with us. I feel that I failed to protect my son from whatever mishap befell him. That thought pains me the most. Logically I know this is a normal part of grieving, but logic be damned, it still doesn’t make any sense to me.

The thing that has buoyed me up the most has been the overwhelming outpouring of support from family, friends, and colleagues. That support, I have learned, can be a powerful thing. I can understand how hard it must be to try and console someone who has suffered such a loss, not knowing what can be said to help. The reality of it is anything said does help. Even statements such as “I have no words” or the silly little heart symbols, it all matters. The simplest acknowledgement that someone empathizes with your pain matters. For all those who reach out with any sort of contact, it helps. It doesn’t have to be flowers or cards or anything extravagant; a simple contact on Facebook, email, whatever, helps. For all who have done this, I am eternally grateful. You don’t know how much I love all for you for doing so. Sometimes these expressions will bring emotions and grief to the surface, but it still helps. I feel so lucky to be blessed by knowing such caring people. Some of them I’ve never met, only had contact on Facebook through common interests, yet they reached out with their concern and unconditional friendship. I know some of them are struggling with grief or critical health issues themselves, yet they took the time to reach out. God bless you all.

One of the hardest things is the drive into work. It’s a time alone at the start of the day before work and other daily things become prominent in my thoughts. It is at that time that reflection takes hold, the impact of the loss takes hold, and it’s all I can do to dry my eyes before driving through the security gate at work. I feel like I need a change of some sort. I’m not sure what exactly, maybe a different job, or living in a different place, something…

Work has me on the road for two weeks with a brief stay at home between trips. At least on this first trip, I find I just don’t want to be here. It’s tedious, irritating, and I have to be careful not let myself get sharp tongued when irritating incidents arise. I haven’t always succeeded in this. I am instructing some Japanese workers in Yokosuka and they see my irritation and unfortunately they probably take it personally, not knowing about my grief. At some point I will need to offer my apologies to them before I leave.

The loss of a child is unlike any other kind of grief. It’s a relationship hardwired into our DNA. One that when broken in such a manner, carves a big @#%ing hole in your heart. I don’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy. It’s just not natural. I don’t know what else to say at this point. The keyboard is probably about to short out from the tears flooding it. Hug your kids ever day. Love them hard. And I swear if I ever see anyone abuse their child, I don’t what I’d do, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

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Jesse as a medieval blacksmith’s apprentice at Jamestown Settlement’s annual Military Through the Ages event. This is one of the numerous costumes his Dad made him over the years. He also used it for Ivanhoe Day in 6th grade at Stonebridge.