A Poem about Dealing with the Dreaded Cemetery

In the year and nine months since Jesse died I have focused primarily on where and what he is now — or I have remembered him as he was when he was with us, with much scouring of the past to understand what had happened. I prayed, I meditated, I developed a close relationship with the spiritual world. I even (recently) visited a spiritual medium and had a profound experience that leaves no doubt in my mind that Jesse lives and is in a good and happy place. Perhaps I will write about that at some point.

But there is another aspect of Jesse’s death that has been even harder to deal with: the aspect that began with the funeral and ended with the burial, a blur in my memory, a day I can hardly bear to think of, one of many days I spent feeling exactly like there was a dagger in my heart. At the same time, I am aware that the love shown by friends and family that day was a great light in the darkness. I will be forever grateful for all of those who showed up, called, sent cards, spent time talking, and prayed or us. No one could have made it less sad, but many people made the funeral a loving and beautiful testimony to Jesse’s life. Now his body, the body I gave birth to, lies in a grave at Holly Lawn Cemetery, a fact I have had a very difficult time coming to terms with.

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To tell this difficult story, I turned to poetry. (Please don’t expect Shakespearean or Emily Dickinsonesque literary talent here. This is mere therapy.)

Cemetery

The first year, I didn’t go at all,

traumatized to oblivion by the horror

of burying my son, his grave stoneless,

a patch of scraggly earth with a sad plastic sign

his faded picture the only identification.

 

When a year had passed I went to the

florist, bought three grave vases and bouquets

of carnations and each time I returned 

the flowers had died. It was hard to bear

that the grave was still unmarked.

“Please Lord,” I prayed, “Send money 

to buy a tomb stone.”

And the money came – an unexpected bonus.

The bill came to the exact amount.

When the grave was 18 months old

they installed the stone engraved

with the date of joy and the date of grief.

 

I put live flowers there now. Only

a small pot will fit the marble vase

so I must water them daily.

I could not bear to find them dead.

The first, a pot of purple impatiens,

wilted and nearly died. I took it

home, watered and coaxed it

like an intensive care nurse. 

It now flourishes and resides

in my garden where I call it the

Resurrection flower.

 

Each week I visit the garden store across from

the cemetery. I buy a new potted flower.

The previous one I take home and give it a

place of honor in my garden because

through dark nights and scorching days

it has bravely stood beauty guard

at my son’s grave, 

 

These days I walk along that row of graves,

along a gravel treeless lane,

avenue of early death, where families

had no time to plan the family plot.

They have become family to each other.

Some I have read about in the news —

the toddler who drowned in the pool,

the 22-year old honor student who

died of opioids,

the young man shot downtown.

Almost two years it has taken me

to emerge from the prison of my tragedy

and see the others.

Every time I hear of an overdose,

a suicide, a car accident, a shooting, a drowning, 

cancer, or war, that line of graves extends

on and on until the marble stones fade into the horizon.

Desolate picture, the vibrant spirits gone.

 

Why do I put sweet flowers through the trial?

Why can’t I trust the birds to do it?

They are not trapped in a narrow pot.

Perhaps they do come by to check.

But why the flowers?

 

Because I am still in the flesh and

the year without going there was a shame.

Though his spirit is in joy now,

his life in that dear body

must be remembered as long as I am here. 

Cut flowers wither too soon and 

live flowers must be watered.

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The Strangest Things Trigger Memories

For the past two days, a song has been playing continuously in my head – you know how sometimes you can’t get a tune to stop. “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Yeah — the one who lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist on a land called Honah Lee. I’m not exactly sure what sparked this ear worm but it might have started when I saw Beautiful: The Carole King Musical a couple weeks ago. That experience sent me on a musical odyssey down memory lane for the next several days, researching the music and artists of the 1960s. But Puff did not come up in that research even though it was a Peter, Paul & Mary hit in 1963. By the time Puff showed up in my head I had left the ‘60s behind and returned to my regular classical listening habit.

Wait a sec … last week I re-read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton for the umpteenth time, a book that refers several times to dragons and also references fairy tales in general  (because fairy tales provided GKC with the foundational template for his belief system). So maybe music from the 1960s combined with G.K. Chesterton and percolated under the surface of my consciousness until the ingredients burst forth in the form of Puff the Magic Dragon.

9144621B-8D4F-42CA-89D1-F504CA2DAF53But I think what kept the song going, the energy that fueled it, is the line, “Dragons live forever but not so little boys.” It made me think of Jesse. Not that there is ever a moment that Jesse is not on my mind on some level, but this was a whole new way of thinking about him, set to music. I looked up the lyrics. I figured as long as the song insisted on repeating itself in my head I might as well remember all the verses. The lyrics mention how Puff’s little friend Jackie Paper played pirates and liked to bring him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, reminding me even more acutely of how Jesse was as a little boy and how intensely, madly even, I loved him. I loved to get him toys – plastic swords from Dollar Tree, pirate ships with little guys, John Smith action figures (from Disney Pocahontas) – and watch how he joyfully embraced every new thing. He liked his toys but even more he loved playing with simple things like string and Scotch tape.

There was only one play thing he ever rejected. I once tried giving him a coloring book. He looked at it and then said with disdain, “I can draw my own pictures.” I think he was three. I never bought him a coloring book again but he went through reams of blank paper.

How can I bear losing that child of my heart and soul? He was so like me, so in me, woven into every fiber of my being. Today it is 20 months since he died but it seems like yesterday. It’s funny that such a silly song should bring the memories so vividly to the surface. Jess didn’t like music all that much, except for the occasional Mozart or Pink Floyd. He would certainly not have liked a jingle like “Puff.” He preferred silence, probably because he was trying so hard to organize and navigate the noise and information flooding his mind.

Better, right now, not to open cans of worms about the difficulty of finding good mental health care. Best to look forward with hope, knowing in my heart he has moved on to a different and better life and I will join him soon enough. All things will, eventually, be rectified, forgiven, resolved, and healed in the light of our Creator’s love. Best to learn as well as I can the painful lessons this life has to teach. And believe.√

A Dream about Jesse

First of all let me say I don’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea of communicating with the those on the “other side.” It seems like dangerous territory to me – like going into a foreign country you know little or nothing about. You know or believe there is a good and loving being in charge of the place. You know or believe your loved one is there. But you also suspect there are other entities along the way who would like take advantage of your love, your desire to talk to your loved one, and your utter ignorance to deceive you.

On the other hand, the thing about losing a child is that you can no longer pretend that death of the body is far away or irrelevant to your existence. Part of yourself has gone into the beyond and the rest of you wants to go there too. At least I do — since he died I have only been half in this life and the spiritual world seems very close, so close I can reach out and touch it. I cannot stop wanting to talk to Jesse, to see what he is doing. I’d be happy with a distant glimpse — as long as I could see for myself that he is okay. Since he died, three people have told me they saw or heard from him in a very real way: one in a dream, one through electronic phenomena, and one during a near death experience. But I have not seen him, even in a dream. I often think I hear his voice or get messages from him, but I cannot be absolutely sure it is not my active imagination.

Last Sunday was a miserable cold rainy day and I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesse. Different days I think about different times in his life. Sunday I was thinking of his young teen years. As I got ready for bed I prayed that God would let him come to me in a dream like he did with that other person. Since I rarely remember my dreams, this would be an unusual circumstance for me. And do you know – that night he did! It was a highly symbolic dream but so full of his essence and personality. I was awakened suddenly by a noise at 3:30 am and there was the dream, so close and vivid I wanted to go back to sleep and get back to it. But I couldn’t.

The dream was about his death. It seemed to be about helping me to understand — not why it happened — but rather how it happened. Perhaps it answered, or tried to answer, some deeply underlying questions I have had, questions I was barely conscious of. Consciousness is a complex and multi-layered thing and the dream seemed to help me understand at least a little more about it. Dreams are notoriously hard to explain, so if you don’t like people talking about their dreams, you have my permission to sign off now.

The narrative, as I have said, was very symbolic, but much of the dream’s reality came from the feeling. Jesse looked about as he looked just before he died or perhaps slightly younger. He seemed to be on some sort of school field trip and I guess I was tagging along. There was this row of queen-sized beds, made neatly with white sheets and lavender-colored bedspreads. Here’s where it gets weird(er).

These beds had swimming pools under the sheets, covered with white plastic lids. Jesse went into one of these pools, exploring and being mischievous. We (me and unseen others) realized at some point that he was gone and knew somehow he had gone into the pool. We wondered how he did it without disturbing the sheet or bedspread. Then somehow we knew he had drowned and I had a feeling of great grief.

A little time passed (who knows how the perception of time works in dreams) and I found out he had somehow sent message from the pool before drowning. I was in a room, like a funeral home room, and there was a small poster propped on a table with a note written in his cartoon writing with lots of clouds and doodles. The note said, “OMG. The MOiB!” This part was very visual. I can still picture that poster, even though the rest of the dream is fuzzy.

That’s when I woke up, the poster still clear in my mind. I had no idea what a “MOiB” was but I felt strongly that it related to the lid of the pool which, in the dream, he realized was locked or stuck. Since I could not get back into the dream I reached for my phone and searched DuckDuckGo (Google alternative) for “MoiB.” Apparently this can be an acronym for several things but the definition that jumped out at me was that it is a term that somehow relates to GPS — Global Positioning System — technology. I had the sense that the dream was about Jesse leaving his body and then finding himself locked out of it.

It did not have a scary or ominous feeling. Had I dreamed this while he was alive, I might have been terrified, but since he has already passed on, it seemed to have more of an explanatory nature. Beds and sleep issues were a huge theme in his life from babyhood on, and in the end, his bed is where he died.

I believe it was a message from Jesse. It had his slightly warped sense of fun and a bit of both art and technology.  That essence was present in the dream. I will take whatever messages I can get, however they are delivered. We are still awaiting delivery on his tombstone, which will be engraved with “Artist ~ Scientist.” 

537″]hardnocksent The poster in the dream was similar in style to this picture[/caption]

Beginning a new year and a some thoughts about happiness

As the candle wick of 2017 burns down to its last ember, I contemplate the past year. It is Friday, December 29th. A few hours ago Tom and I sat in a the small office of a Mom & Pop outfit called Suffolk Monument Works filling out the paperwork and writing the check for a tombstone for Jesse’s grave. It will take two to three months to get delivered (!) but will be a beautiful rose marble stone with a matching vase for flowers. It will say:

Jesse Thomas Apple
Beloved Son and Brother
December 10, 1992 – August 8, 2016
Artist ~ Scientist

And it will have the Christian fish symbol (or ichthys) that he had tattooed on his chest on his 18th birthday.

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I feel a bit out of sorts from the experience of purchasing a tombstone for my child; yet I think, all in all, 2017 was a good year — at least as good as my first full year since 1992 without Jesse in it can be. I can’t feel unambiguously good about anything in this world. Goodness in this present world is never pure light; it’s more like a flashlight in the darkness, but I am grateful for that little light nonetheless. This sense of light in darkness is really only a clearer understanding of something I have felt all my life.

As long as I can remember I have had this thought at the back of my mind, that happiness is not quite real, and if it is real, then it is sort of heartless. Worldly happiness is like being temporarily absorbed by or acting in a movie or a play. I might be at a festival or laughing at a dinner table full of friends and family or I might be dancing at a Christmas party and an image will flash in my mind of shivering people lined up in front of a gas chamber. “That happened,” I think, “to humans just like me — and people are suffering right now.”

I have always felt that happiness is like a bubble, more or less insulated by walls of willful ignorance or forgetfulness or simply disguise. And yet I entered that bubble quite willingly. I wanted to be happy. I think we are meant to desire happiness. Perhaps these mental bubbles are part of God’s provision — as essential to human existence in this world as air and water. Or skin.

There is an allegory by C.S. Lewis I read long ago called The Pilgrim’s Regress, a play on the John Bunyan classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, the hero encounters a community of miserable people huddled in dark caves. They can see each other’s insides and are full of despair and disgust by the “truth” about what our bodies actually are. The hero is almost sucked in by their reason of despair when he realizes that, in fact, we have skin. The fact is we do not generally need to view or even think about the ugliness of our insides because God has made us with beautiful and pleasing exteriors. What we see and experience with the capacity of our ordinary human senses — that is the level of truth in which we are made to live and thrive.

And yet humans cannot seem to stop at the natural and ordinary. We have this tendency to take a good thing too far, to take honest human pleasure and expand it until the truth fibers are so stretched and distorted that its inherent ability to provide pleasure is destroyed. A glass of wine is nice but when you expand the glass of wine into full-blown alcoholism the simple pleasure evaporates, replaced by despair. We are allowed and encouraged to be happy but we let it go too far. We turn happiness into a refusal to acknowledge that suffering has anything to do with us, to actively avoid thinking or caring about anything outside our bubble, to allow ourselves to become callous and functionally heartless.

I am not sure how we are supposed to draw the lines, when we open and shut the doors of our hearts, when to cast our pearls and when to preserve them. I suspect that coming to terms with decisions like these is a huge part of growing as human souls. If we find that sweet narrow path to the kingdom, that perfect balance, we grow and thrive. A little to one side and our hearts freeze and die; a little to the other and we drown in the world’s heartbreak and sorrow. However, to drown in heartbreak is better than to die with a cold calcified heart. So if we must err, we kind of know in which direction to lean. Hint: The right choice is almost always the more difficult one.

The day Jesse died my bubble burst completely and in those first months I stood uninsulated in the raw wind and fire of suffering. Perhaps some people would have sought drugs to help with the emotional pain. I knew in my heart that would be a mistake for me. There was a point in the week after the funeral when I fully understood what hell feels like. My body was in great pain and suddenly burst into the feeling of being on fire, and I don’t mean in any sort of romantic or metaphorical sense. No — this was intensely painful, like being on fire but not physically burning.

Fortunately I thought to call out to the Lord Jesus and He came quickly and tamped down the flames. Then He comforted me with a vision of Jesse with Him in a garden. In that vision Jesse looked a bit contrite, but safe and protected and I had the sense he was okay. Later I received knowledge in visions that he had adjusted to his new life and is happy.

So all through 2017 I have slowly, carefully built a fragile new membrane of happiness. The walls of my new bubble will always be thin. I wouldn’t have them any other way. They are no longer built to block out suffering but rather to stay close to the spiritual world where Jesse lives so that I can better prepare to enter there when my turn comes. I have a sharper awareness that this life is fleeting and then we continue our soul’s journey in a different kind of existence, in a world where the light of happiness is full and permanent.

After Jesse died, I told God I was finished and He could take me home now. He said “Not quite.” The message I “hear” is that I should think, learn, and write and then think, learn, and write some more. By doing this with an attitude of patience, love and forgiveness, I am supposed to develop into a better human soul. God does not seem to expect much from me, but what He expects, He really expects.

With these small things in mind I resolve to write more regularly in 2018, starting with my neglected blogs. This piece is here on Jesse’s blog because it has so much to do with him and because he is so much on my mind. This year I want to write much more for my current events/politics/philosophy blog, which is called “isaythiswithlove.wordpress.com”. And I have an idea for anew “epistolary” blog to promote the lost art of letter writing. Who knows. It may turn out to be the last attempt to promote letter writing in human history.

 

Letter to my son on the 14-month anniversary of his death

October 7, 2017

Dear Jesse,

I ask the Lord to convey this letter to you and I believe in my spirit He will. It is 14 months since you left this earthly plane, and although the initial shock of losing you has softened a bit, I miss you more every day. I long to see your face and hear your voice. As time passes I realize more and more, in thousands of ways, the magnitude of our loss. I cling to the promises of Jesus and believe that joy will one day wash over my present grief like the ocean washes over a sand castle.

I am not sure that you follow events here on earth since you departed, but I suspect you do, with great interest. In fact, I have a strong feeling you are preparing to participate in events yet to come. I hesitate to write the things I perceive about you, because I plan to share this letter, and people might think I am crazy, meaning they will think my mind has become detached from reality, though in this post-modern era, few us fully grasp what “reality” is.

We say we are living in the post-modern era, which means various things — haha. The spirit of post-modernism says that nothing means the same thing to everyone. We can’t agree on what is true about anything, even what the term post-modern means. I think a big part of what we are experiencing is that the very nature of our world is changing because humanity is slowly losing its strict identification with the material world. I think this current iteration of the world, this ho-hum matter-oriented version of reality, is merely a phase.

This world began with the thought of God, pure Spirit, and gradually, over ages and ages, solidified to the kind of material density in which you lived your 23 years and 8 months. I sense deep within my spirit, that the world is slowly beginning to lose its grip on that density — the atoms or particles or whatever binds matter in place are beginning to loosen. And humanity will soon be entering a new era with new forms and new modes of thought and systems of operation. I imagine you have more information than I do about what is going on in the cosmic sense.

People will probably say I am experiencing “wishful” or “magical” thinking. I hate those kind of terms – because they seem like attempts to minimize the small stretches of our minds toward spiritual growth. Even when I did not experience so many spiritual perceptions I could never understand why so many people scoff at the very idea a world beyond mere matter. Perhaps they are afraid of being deceived so they equate a lowest-common denominator material existence with freedom from deception. If that is the case, their attempts at avoiding deception might be leading them straight into the greatest deception of all: that we are nothing but matter and this is all there is.

It’s sort of like John 12:25: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Maybe this means something like if you love your life only on the material level without longing for the spiritual dimension, you will not only lose the material level, you will lose the spiritual as well. But if you seek spiritual truth, you will not only gain spiritual life, but you will also not lose the material life. Or as C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity:

“Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

I have so far to go to even begin to grasp these things. I only have a sense that this seeking of the right things and not grasping after the treasures of the material world has a direct connection with the resurrection of the dead.

Anyway, about what I have seen concerning you Jesse – the images I cannot shake – are that shortly after you went to Heaven you were given a beautiful white horse. You named him Tesla. I have seen you walking around a big ring, training with your horse. Pippin is running around the ring at your feet. Later you are riding the horse; now you are dressed in a shining white tunic, white pants, and boots. Your hair is golden brown, long and curly, like it was when you were 18 — but maybe I see you that way because I so loved that hair. Next you are galloping through a forest of tall trees. Later still you are among a huge army of riders, all on white horses.

When I think of you Jesse I almost always see one of these images. As Aaron points out, you didn’t even like horses, and certainly never had any interest in them. I guess I like horses well enough but have never had any sort of strong interest in them. I never gave horses much thought, even though as a child my Dad used to take me to the horse races. If that did not awaken an interest in horses, I don’t suppose there was much of an interest to be awakened.

Could I have made these images up? It just doesn’t seem like I did. It seems to me they just come into my mind and I cannot change them to something else. My rational mind comes along and says, “No this is wrong. Jesse would not be riding a horse named Tesla. He would be driving a shiny beautiful Tesla car.” I try to imagine that but the car image will not stick. I cannot sustain the thought. It is just my own idea and does not attach to any deeper reality, like seeds sown and blown away by the wind. You on the white horse come galloping back into my mind in glory, and the image seems rooted in the soil of truth.

Love you forever,

Mom

 

 

 

 

Thoughts and hopes the night before the solar eclipse 

It is the night before the total solar eclipse. I am sitting on the porch of a cabin in Bryson City, North Carolina, writing and listening to my brother-in-law playing country songs in his guitar, music that blends perfectly with the mountain air and crickets of this lovely evening. The cabin is called the “Trot In.” It is surrounded by tall trees that encircle a disk of clear blue sky. It so happens that the sun will be visible right in the middle of that patch of sky when the eclipse happens. I look forward to the celestial show but I am hoping for something more than a show, however spectacular. 

This solar eclipse is probably a providential sign of Big Doings. There are many theories that have been put forth by watchers of signs in the sky — war, the end of the world as we know it, the second coming of Christ, a counterfeit second coming to be staged by enemies of humanity, etc. — and I do not doubt it is a sign of something. But I am hoping, probably as Linus hopes for the Great Pumpkin, for a more personal sign– at least that the eclipse might show me something or tell me something or cause me to realize something that up to this point in my life I have missed. 

I am hoping that by driving the eight hours to this place in the path of totality I will find an essential key to the puzzle of life and after it is over, some new understanding will snap into place and things that don’t make sense today will make sense tomorrow. Like why my son Jesse, who would be so fascinated by it and would have so many funny and interesting things to say about it, is not standing beside me on this mountain, watching the eclipse.


Will he see it too? Will he see it from the other side of the sun? Does he know the meaning of it all? Will he somehow clue me in? Does he know things that no one here in earth knows, like why the shadow of moon will travel west to east when the moon generally travels east to west? Does he know if God uses such signs in the heavens as harbingers? Does he know if I will see him soon? 

I will just watch and listen with all my heart and soul and see what happens. Whatever happens I do not think I will be disappointed.

A year without Jesse: Marking the day

Today is one year since the day we found out Jesse had transitioned to the next world. I do not like to say “died” because the word has so many connotations I do not believe: finality, lack of life, ugly things. He, what he is in truth and spirit, did not die. He transitioned, the same as all of us humans have done or will do. If there is one thing that has become more clear than ever this past year, it is that we are not our bodies.

None of this is to say that I am okay with Jesse’s early departure. I don’t know which state of grieving I am in — I wander back and forth in and out of all of those rooms — except the one labeled “acceptance.” I have not gone into that one. Not ready. And although I know Jesse is still the essence of Jesse, I am not okay that his body lies in a grave at Holly Lawn Cemetery next to the Farm Fresh grocery store. I would give my very life to see him walk and talk in that beloved body one more time.

Yesterday, August 7th, the date I believe he really departed, I visited that grave for the first time since the funeral. I just have not been able to go. I had to walk in the park adjacent to the cemetery for several days before I could bring myself to go. Closer and closer every day for a week. When I went I brought a bouquet of bright yellow daisies. I cleaned up some old flowers someone had brought and felt very little that I didn’t already feel. He was not there. Today Tom and I went again with more flowers. We talked about getting a nice head stone, what we want it to say. This is a conversation I never wanted to have and still don’t want to have. But his memorial is important and needs attention.

I remember 20 years ago when we were having our house built in Suffolk and I’d drive out from Norfolk and drive around and dream of raising our little boys in this town, discovering the places to go — how long would it take to get from our new house to Farm Fresh. I didn’t notice Holly Lawn cemetery next door to it. If I had noticed it I never would have dreamed that the little boy, whose every reaction to every new thing in his life I cherished, would lie in a grave in that cemetery by 2017. His body that is….

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August 1997: Moving into the new house
I remember the day we moved into our brand new empty house and four-year-old Jesse ran up and down the stairs and in circles around the family room with his toddler brother and said with wonder in his sweet voice, “Are we going to live here forever?” He did live there all the years of his life on earth except the last one, but lives forever in a place I hope to join him soon enough. Then it will be my turn to run around in joy and be amazed at where we will live forever.