Christmas is coming: Preparations and precautions

Well I guess I better get one more blog post in before November gets away from me. It is going on four months now since we lost  Jesse and I have still not fully comprehended the magnitude of the loss. It’s still hard to believe he is gone and we buried his body that horrible day in August and yet it is the first thing I remember every morning when I awake from a restless sleep of fragmented dreams, usually about him. Right before the recent U.S. presidential election I dreamed Jesse had been sentenced to death for accidentally emailing one classified document and I woke up saying over and over, “There must be something we can do!” Then I remembered he had already received the death penalty for an even more innocent accident: taking the wrong two prescription drugs too close together. At least based on the autopsy reports that is our best guess.

As the holiday approaches I have taken several proactive actions to help me live through the season. I often feel like all my routines and proactive actions are braces to keep my ragged body from collapsing to messy puddle of grief on the floor. One of my proactive actions is to drive to the mountains. We have taken a couple of trips westward: one for Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband and one to the Blue Ridge Parkway just for the hell of it, and are planning another trip for Christmas.

I am looking forward to Christmas with family and have already done way more frantic shopping than I usually do this far before the 25th. Christmas shopping is something that props me up – gathering pretty new things for other people. I am simple that way. But I nearly lost it at Kohl’s when I had to choose just one set of flannel pajamas instead of two. It was always a tradition of mine to get my sons new jammies for Christmas, whether they wanted them or not.

As I mentioned we are going away for Christmas, something we have never done. I guess I thought it might be a little less painful that way. I could not face putting up the big real Christmas tree and seeing all those ornaments I bought over the years at craft shows with Jesse’s name on them: the four teddy bears, the four stockings, the elves. And then there are all those “Jesse’s First Christmas” baby ones. My hands tremble at the very thought of touching those.

angel2
I used to like to  design Christmas cards. Have not been able to do this so far this year.

We have decided to put up a small tree instead this year, to start a new “angel tree” tradition in Jesse’s memory. Even that will be hard, but I still love Christmas and want to celebrate it as well as we can. Over the years I have gone through many different Christmas stages: loving it more than anything else in the world, dreading it, getting stressed out over it, having a love/hate relationship with it, wanting to love it more than I did, and many times, trying to simplify it and make it less materialistic and commercial. But this year more than ever, pagan origins or not, it is the celebration of the incarnation of the my only source of true comfort. There are many things that give me temporary relief from the pain of grief – shopping, work, writing, reading, going to lunch with friends – but these are like calamine lotion on raging poison ivy. The relief is superficial and brief.

Only when I turn to the Lord Jesus in concentrated prayer to do I begin to detect anything deeper that the most superficial relief of the pain. This is why I believe: because He is true and Real with a capital “R.” When you suffer the loss of a child you know what is Real and what is not. Only He can relieve the pain and solve the problem of death. Only in His promise of eternal life is there hope of a permanent solution to the problem: resurrection and the eventual reunion with the beloved.

Facing the holidays

Like a 19th-century American pioneer who has traversed the Great Plains and is now into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with the skies threatening a blizzard, I now face the roughest terrain on my journey of grief: the dreaded holidays. My main concern is that I do not cast a pallor on the holidays for those others who are still living in a grief-free world.

shepherdsOne thing I have realized is that when your child dies you no longer live in the same reality you used to live in. You have entered a parallel universe, slightly askew from the old one. However, you find that in your new reality you have lots of company. You realize that people have been suffering this grief the whole time you have been alive but you have been oblivious, dressing your children in their feet jammies and hanging stockings and anticipating their faces on Christmas morning and assuming you would be enjoying their presence for the rest of your earthly life. I have been reading other blogs written by mothers who have lost children and have been to my first meeting of Compassionate friends.

imageJesse was the most magical of children and seeing his bright face full of reverent wonder on a Christmas Eve was heaven on earth to me. No child fully lived that Christmas magic more than he did and no one expressed more joy on Christmas morning and no child (except Aaron) looked cuter in feet jammies. Now all those memories and pictures feel like a dagger in my heart. I don’t fully understand why. That child was long gone before he died. But the young adult Jesse was his continuation, the one who embodied the memories. His adult self was a satisfying replacement for the child who used to be. But now that embodiment is gone.

christmas3Well it is what it is and was what it was, and I am learning to live in the present. When I can let go of the past and live in the present, I can feel Jesse’s presence and can begin to appreciate his new kind of life and to look forward to being with him in that new life soon enough. We are doing some good things to help us get through the rough terrain of the December. We are going to celebrate his birthday on December 10th with a small gathering of family and friends – a potluck and cake and a slide show and maybe a candlelight trip to his grave, but I am really having second thoughts about the trip to the grave. I don’t think I want to do that. We are going to go away for Christmas to my sister’s house in the mountains – a big change in the way we have always celebrated Christmas. We are going to start a new tradition at home: an angel tree in Jesse’s memory and also to remember all the loved ones we have lost. Tom’s mother used to an angel tree and I always loved the idea.

christmas-with-aaron

This is my prayer for help during the holidays:

Dear Lord Jesus,

Out of all the millions of egg and sperm cells in his parents’ bodies You created wonderful one-of-a-kind Jesse, a beautiful child. His flame burned bright but short-lived on this earth and we are left broken-hearted, but not in despair as if we believed him gone forever. We live in the happy knowledge that he is alive and that the light he lit here on earth continues to shine and grow in the next stage of his existence.

I would like to stop looking back and what is lost and stop grieving for the kind of future that will never be. I ask Your help in living now in the new reality l, that You will help me to know and feel and experience the love and joy of what is now, and to be able to know and feel and talk to Jesse just as he is now. Tell him how much I love him. Amen.

When Jesse decided to run for mayor

by Aaric Callahan

Wes’ post was touching. I remember that day well. Reading that made me want to write about  Jesse running for mayor and how it started.

Like Wes said, for the majority of the time Jesse stayed quiet at work. He was even quiet when hanging out outside of work. If he said something, it was worth saying and worth listening to. Jesse didn’t waste his breath on much chit chat but I remember one night he got this idea, and he lit up taking about it.

It was a Saturday night and Chris (our boss & owner of Shiny Computers) wasn’t there. This is when both Jesse and I would sort of come out of our shells.  It was incredibly slow and Jesse and I were discussing music (my love for it and how he absolutely despised it). I kept coming up with different genres and he kept telling me “it doesn’t matter what you say, you’ll still get the same answer”.

An older gentlemen came in to the store and we were glad to have a possible customer. I started talking to the guy and he made it clear that he was not a customer but was running for mayor. He proceeds to tell me his plans and basically his life story. Jesse must have overheard him talking because he came from behind the work bench. At first I thought “that was really nice of Jesse, saving me from hearing this guy go on and on” because honestly, I wasn’t interested in it. I was wrong though, Jesse wasn’t just being nice, he was really interested in what this guy was saying and listened to him for at least 30 minutes.

When the gentleman left Jesse returned to his work bench and was silent for a few minutes but it wasn’t his normal silence where he would be quiet and concentrating on his work. He was sitting there deep in thought. After a few minutes he said “I am going to run for mayor and I want you to help with my campaign.”  Jesse had an amazing dry sense of humor and I thought he was joking at first. (I actually wasn’t 100% if he was just messing with me or not for a few days.) For the last hour and a half before closing time (it was unusually slow this night) Jesse told me the guy who had come in’s plans and then why his plans were better and why he would make a better mayor.

It took Jesse all of 10 minutes to start making plans for how he would better Portsmouth and help the residents and small business owners. It was great seeing him get excited about something and quite amazing how quickly his mind worked. Within a few days we had made a Facebook page along with a website (www.jesseapplewill.win). Jesse was really taking it seriously and I was too because Jesse had helped me so much at work, I wanted to help him. I also thought of how he could help the city of Portsmouth. He realized his chances were slim but thought he could possibly upset the vote.

jesse-for-mayor
Jesse didn’t actually own a suit but he was pretty good at Photoshop. Possibly he would have eventually bought an actual suit.

I really think whether or not Jesse had become Mayor, he would have made a difference in this world regardless. I know he made a big impact on my life and taught me so many different things.

There have been a few times when I have said or done something that only Jesse would get and I have heard his laughter. A sound I really miss. I know there will never be another Jesse Apple but I am going to take all of the things he taught me and be a better person because of having him in my life.

 

Wesley Stone remembers Jesse at work

“To Jesse Apple: May you watch over us all.”

Hello everyone. My name is Wesley. I used to work with Jesse at Shiny Computers. I thought I’d take a little bit of my time to write about my experiences and interactions with Jesse as a friend and coworker. I’ll try to keep this as short and sweet as I can.

When Jesse first came over to Shiny, he was very quiet and to himself. Day after day, Jesse would come into work and not really talk much. He was constantly focused on his work and he just wanted to do it right. At the time, I was the iPhone and iPad technician and he did a bunch of the computer side of things. I would teach Jesse how to do the iPads because he had already mastered the phone repairs from his previous job at Phone Home.

As time went on, Jesse eventually started to become very well rounded in all things “Apple” due to our boss, Chris, showing him the ropes. Chris and Jesse worked really well together. Both of these gentlemen were very intelligent and had an absolute love for technology.  Jesse quickly worked his way into a management position at the shop. His know-how, fast-paced repair times, attention to detail, and many other skills made this an easy decision. He did a lot for the Shiny Computers and helped set the foundation for how technicians should be.

He answered any ridiculous question I would have (there were a lot), and he never got annoyed with it. All in all, Jesse was the epitome of an fantastic employee/coworker. The one thing I loved about Jesse was his humor. Especially at work. His dry humor was so hilarious and would make you laugh for a few minutes. He just knew when to chime in to make us all burst into laughter and you could still see his smirk as he quietly went back to work.

There are so many great things about Jesse that I could write about, but maybe I can write a few more of these another time. I miss him. This was the first passing of a friend that I was close to. It hit me hard. It hit us all hard. I catch myself thinking about him a lot. Jesse was such an amazingly talented and brilliant person. There was so much hidden underneath his quiet demeanor that I wish I could have learned more of! I have plenty of memories with Jesse that I will cherish forever. The world could use more of him… Until next time, Jesse. I love you, man.”

shiny-computers-group
Jesse (third from left) with his boss and co-workers at Shiny Computers. I (Wesley) am fourth from left. Z104 would do these contests for businesses and would buy them pizza and we just happened to win. They asked who they should put it under and we told them Jesse. He thought it was funny when they came in because he had no idea. It was a pretty good day!

 

 

Something I have learned through loss

I have learned a lot through the experience of losing my son: mostly good, spiritually hopeful things. But good and hopeful or not, I would just as soon lived my entire life without learning a single thing if only I could have lived it with Jesse here with me.

One thing I have learned is what Hell is. Hell is separation from who you love. Okay I was sort of told that way back in Catholic School. They taught that Hell was the misery of being separated eternally from God who is Love personified. Those in Hell understand what that love is and are forever condemned to long and hunger for it with no chance of satisfaction. How a God who is pure love can allow people to suffer eternally I can never understand; but losing Jesse proved to me that separation from love is indeed the definition of Hell.

How, someone might ask, is learning about Hell a good and hopeful thing? Because for one thing, learning anything true is good because it advances you on the path toward what is good and eternal. By feeling the pain of separation, you gain a deeper understanding of what love is, and in my opinion, learning what love is and how to truly do it, is the whole reason we are here.

Love is eternal. You can’t get rid of it. To be separated from one you love by such a gulf as death is to taste Hell. I somehow know the love of God would swallow up my love for Jesse like the ocean swallows a dew drop or the full sun outshines a sequin. And if that is so, then the love of God must be a mighty thing indeed! Because my love for Jesse drowns my mind and burns my heart as much as my body and soul can take. To to be separated form him is as much misery as I can handle and yet live.

At times I wonder that I do not just drop dead from the pain. Then my little Hell would end and I would not, presumably, end up in Big Hell because, though I am far from perfect, I have thrown myself at the feet of Christ and told him I repent of anything he thinks is sinful. If I know something I did, said, or thought is sinful I having no problem with confessing it; but often I really don’t know if something is an actual sin. What about feeling resentful toward petty bureaucrats who seem to exist for the sole purpose of adding petty miseries to people’s already difficult lives? Is that kind of resentment a sin? Yeah probably. I am willing to err on the side of caution.

I have tasted a slice Hell and do not want to experience the real thing. Maybe the real thing does not exist or maybe it does exist but is not as we picture it. Some theology says that as God is eternal love all souls must eventually be saved. However since Jesus seems to indicate in the Gospels that there is a place of outer darkness where there is crying and gnashing of teeth, I am just going to go ahead and take His word for it. I don’t want to incur the slightest risk of eternal separation from God or Jesse or anyone else I am connected to by the golden thread of love.

The golden thread cannot be snapped but it can be painfully stretched and left gasping for breath. The oxygen of love is the face and presence of the loved one. Victor Hugo, one of my favorites who I hope to meet in the next life, wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I always thought that quote was beautiful but once I didn’t really understand how that worked. I understand it better now.

img_2732
Separated and yet moving toward reunion. Blue Ridge sunset.

No ribbons or pins for those who die of unknown causes

I have a friend, a former co-worker, who is a breast cancer survivor. She made a wonderful video talking about the experience, how she determined not to let cancer be the boss, and trusted in God throughout the treatment process. She also talked about all the wonderful support she has received – people to support her and rewards for making it through treatments. I am happy for her and glad people with breast cancer have such a vibrant and helpful support system around them.

But I also had another thought: I am going through something worse than breast cancer. I would have chosen cancer over the death of my son any day. I would have chosen my own death over his. It’s not that I want cancer – I most certainly do not. I dislike suffering of any kind. But given the choice between what occurred and cancer, I would have chosen cancer without hesitation. I can’t imagine the suffering would be greater, although it is suffering of a different kind. I would take physical suffering over spiritual and emotional suffering any day.

There are no bumper stickers for parents who have lost a child, no 5K fundraisers, no colored ribbons or necklaces or cute enamel pins. Actually, I think there are ribbons and support groups for people who have children with cancer – which is good. There are groups for people who lost children through drunk driving and probably for suicide victims. If these kinds of groups are helpful then that is a very good thing. People who have lost a child for any reason need all the help, love, and support they can get. But if you have lost a child for no apparent reason, if your child has just slipped away, fallen through the cracks, didn’t have a well-known disease or any disease that you know of, if your problem is just plain death and loss, you are mostly on your own.

I don’t say this to complain and I so appreciate the friends and family who have been truly loving and supportive. I have hardly been entirely on my own. And it’s not that colored ribbons or buttons or 5K runs would make me feel a bit better about Jesse dying. You can’t really collect money to cure deaths that happen for no known reason. It’s just a thought I had and this blog is to get these thoughts out of my head.  I know there is a group called Compassionate Friends for people who have lost a child, and if I can find a group that meets when I can go, I might try it.

It makes me think, “Well then, what would make me feel better?” Jesse coming back to me, that’s what. Or getting to go where he is and see him, maybe just to visit. Or getting to stay there. And I do have hope and belief that I will get to go where he is and stay there soon enough. Also, if I knew for sure that God had a really good reason for Jesse’s early death and is somehow using it for a good purpose, a purpose so good that it was worth the life of my son. That might help a little.

Paperwork, not knowing, and the holidays are coming

Feeling freaked out and scared and tired of trying to be positive and strong. We have not yet received a final death certificate and both insurance companies are “following up” and asking why I have not “provided the documentation they requested” and the funeral home is asking if we can pay more out of pocket since it is taking so long to get the insurance payment. The funeral home did a wonderful job and they deserve to get paid. It was quite an event. I was really hoping the next hugely expensive event in our lives would be a wedding, perhaps Jesse’s wedding, and not a funeral, but it is what it is and people need to be paid for their services. I really became aware of how needed the services of a professional funeral home are when the time comes.

But Jesse Jesse – why did this happen? Just a clue from the medical examiner would be so helpful. Maybe even a hint as to why it is taking so long to get results. All our guesses are just guesses, some of them wild guesses. It could be something really bad like someone slipped him so bad opium the night before or it could be something else really bad like his prescription medication mixed lethally with something else almost as bad like a brain aneurism or a heart defect or an infection that got to his heart. All of these things are nightmares that I would have done anything to prevent happening to my son, but I want to know which nightmare it was. I see these guesses as a deck of cards that I have to keep shuffling and drawing in my mind. If I knew the cause I would have deal with only one card and throw the rest of the wretched deck in the trash.  It might be they can’t determine the cause. I think I could find peace with that card. I would just see it as the card that says God decided it was time to bring him home.

Also I am feeling the stress of the holidays coming on. I am usually stressed at holidays but now even the thought of Christmas brings me to tears. What will I do when they start playing Christmas music in all the stores? I guess I should be happy Jesse is spending this Christmas in Heaven with the one whose birth we celebrate, and I will try to be happy about that, but my throat is as tight as a bowstring as I write this and my face feels like it is going to explode with grief. And I just miss Jesse and wish he were here and I was getting ready to buy him Christmas and birthday presents  and paying college tuition instead of funeral expenses.

christmas-with-aaron
Christmas morning with Aaron. Christmas 2002 (I think).

For Jesse’s birthday, December 10th, I am thinking of having some kind of gathering for friends and family – a dinner, a potluck maybe, and then go out the grave with some candles with whoever wants to come and say a few words and perhaps lay a Christmas wreath on the grave. My appointment with the psychotherapist last week was cancelled due to the flood and has not been rescheduled. I may still go through with trying to meet with her but have doubts that it will do a bit of good. Christmas will still come and Jesse will not be here for it. I don’t think anyone but God can help me with that.