Remembering conversations with Jesse on an important anniversary

Today I found out one of my close co-workers, a man I worked with for eight years, passed away this past Friday. I should say I officially found out. I already sort of knew. Fred was in the ICU Friday morning and was being removed from life support. As I worked on the computer in my living room on Friday afternoon, I suddenly felt that buzz in the air that I have learned to recognize as a visit from the recently departed, perhaps saying good-bye. I felt that buzz the day Jesse died but I did not know at the time he had died and did not recognize the phenomenon for what it was. I wonder – has anyone else had this experience?

I wanted to be sure to write something today because today is the one-year anniversary of the last time I saw Jesse on this earth, July 31, 2016. It was a rainy Sunday with the kind of torrential summer downpours we often get around here, and he was supposed to have come for dinner but had overslept and I had been having a horrible premonitions all day and was worried sick about him and then he came over around 10 pm and we had a long and lovely conversation.

Talking with Jesse was always a delight to me. It was sometimes hard to get him started but once he started talking he always surprised you with the depth and originality of his thoughts and his unique perspective on things. He always knew more about the subject than you realized he knew. And he was so dry and funny! How I miss our conversations and wish I could hear his take on all the crazy current events. It hardly matters what his take would be — the joy would be to hear his voice expressing his unique opinion. The only thing about his opinion I ever cared about was that it was his opinion.

The year Jesse was four years old I kept a journal and then typed all the journal entries into a little homemade book called “Being Four.” I found that journal a couple months after he died. Here are a couple of conversations recorded that year. The first one devastated me when I first found it. It occurred around January 14, 1997. The second one is dated January 31st.

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Consciousness and body: Thoughts and memories

What is this life anyway? Suddenly out of nowhere, as young children, we become cognizant that that we exist. Is there one moment that this happens, like a bolt of lightning, or is it a gradual process? I guess I should not refer to my own experience as “we” because it’s too much to assume that my experience is the same as that of other people.

I remember when I was three years old, watching my Mom ironing, and being acutely aware of existing as a self or consciousness. I wondered if other people were like me – looking at the world from the inside, like looking out of a window – but I don’t remember the exact moment I became aware like this. I have always been aware of myself as a consciousness that interacts through my body but which is a separate entity from the body, dependent on the body to interact with the world but not dependent on the body for existence. There have been times in my life when I was so insanely busy with the activities of life, such as when my kids were in school and sports, that I forgot for years at a time that my self and my body were not one and same thing. But whenever I have slowed down enough to contemplate, I remember and get that awareness again.

I’ve always assumed that other people have the same sense of essential self but now I am wondering if this is an incorrect assumption. For example, I have come across quite a number of people who proudly claim to be pure materialistic atheists. They say they believe this material world is all there is. So then ….. I guess they must not perceive themselves as a consciousness separate from their material body. Otherwise, how could they believe there is nothing other that the world of matter?

I suppose there must be a variety of ways to perceive our own existence, but the only one I can experience directly is my own. Reading and writing fiction – or acting – are ways we can imagine experiencing the consciousness of another person, but we still have to draw upon our own consciousness to even imagine. Since Jesse died I have done a lot of reading on the nature of consciousness and especially near death experiences. From my reading I gather that when some people leave their bodies they can then experience the consciousness of other beings.

For example, in Heaven is Beautiful by Peter Baldwin Panagore, the author tells the story of nearly freezing to death during an ice climbing expedition at the age of 21. During his NDE he experienced all the times he had hurt another person – either intentionally or unintentionally – from the point of view of the other person. So I suppose he was able to experience the consciousness of other people.

 

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Jesse – About 17 months old
When Jesse was born he was like all healthy infants: he could suck and cry and sleep and not much else. Very soon he could smile and gurgle and grasp my little finger. I wondered about his perceptions – whether he was already looking out of his own window – and was excited about seeing this newborn transform into a person with his own thoughts, personality, and memories. I did not have to wait long. I thought about how he would always remember me as his mother and pictured him as an old man remembering his childhood. I felt determined to do what I could to make those memories sweet ones. I never pictured myself remembering him after he was gone.

 

I do believe he remembers me now and I look forward to the time when he and I can remember those sweet childhood days together and together solve the mysteries of consciousness. I am sure of one thing: there is plenty more to find out.

 

Grief is the ocean and hope is the sky

I have become acutely aware of the universality of grief in this world. Since the death of my son, I have naturally become aware of the number of other people whose children have died from miscarriages, SIDS, freak accidents, cancer and other illnesses, suicide, drug accidents, and murder. I feel each death that comes to my attention like a stab and say a prayer for the family and for the soul of the departed one.

Millions of us are aware of how grief swells and subsides like the ocean and never goes away. Perhaps the ocean with its vast area on this earth is the physical symbol of grief, the constant companion of the human race. Maybe that’s why our tears are salty. Only God knows how all the pieces of the human story fit together, but I believe our personal histories – how each fits perfectly into the story of humanity will become clear, probably sooner than later.

This past weekend, Saturday really, my grief swelled to tidal wave proportions. For a while, perhaps a month or so, I had been able to keep the grief at bay, keeping busy with my new projects and trying to “move on” – but there is only so long such a roiling ocean can be kept quiet. I can either let it vent a little each day or I can dam it up for a while and then drown when it forces its release for a day.

By Sunday the storm had died down a bit. But Saturday I could do nothing but let myself be drenched in pure wordless grief. I could not write or work on my Etsy store or read a book or clean house. I could not image any immediate future – only that distant one, beautiful but shrouded in mists. The sky that day was stunning – with giant thunderhead clouds as far as the eye could see in different shades from brilliant silver to blue-grey to nearly black against a deep blue sky. The clouds were so varied and so layered that they looked like vast landscapes of mountains and lakes, only more beautiful than even the most scenic on the earth. I was only able to stare at the sky and wonder at God’s glory, how He designed this exact sky with its ever-changing configurations of clouds and heavenly objects specifically to speak to His human creatures.

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I failed to take a picture of the sky that day. This picture, taken in the mountains about a year ago by Aaron Apple, is nearly as beautiful.
But was it saying? The sky speaks to me of things that are beyond human language. On that day of grief I did not try to reason with God or make sense of Jesse’s early death. I did not seek “growth opportunities” or try to comfort myself with thoughts of eternity. I am clear that the eternal is real and Jesse is still Jesse and I will see him again. All that. But the ocean of grief is what I was experiencing in the present. I just let it wash over me. I had no choice. I could do nothing else.

Whatever human beings are in the eternal realm, God made us in this life and in this world to know each other in these bodily forms, and the bodily form I gave birth to and cherished for 23 years and eight months is gone. There is nothing that can reason away the grief of that. You have to go through the storm and though eventually you will come out on the other side, you will not emerge unchanged. The grief will have permeated every molecule of your being. God tells us through scripture that grief will be turned to joy. That is the blessed hope but it is not the current experience. If the joy to come is in proportion to the grief of the present, then many of us have something magnificent in our futures.

We know so little about heaven, earth, and each other

What can I say about Jesse that hasn’t already been said? I can say that I am sure he has experienced more wonderful things since he left this life than he did between birth and that day 10 months ago when he left the earthly plane.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Corinthians 2:9 (New King James Version)

As long as I can sustain that belief, I can achieve some measure of peace and happiness, but the minute I let unbelief slip through a crack in the door of my heart, it sinks like a ball of lead.

I guess I knew my son as well as anybody, but I also know he was an iceberg, the kind of person who has massive depths but shows only a tiny portion of himself to the world. That is why he was able to continually surprise us. Just seven days before he died he showed me a new website for his campaign for mayor of Portsmouth. This was very surprising and I worried a little. He was only 23 and had no political experience and as far as I knew. In fact he had always been the most non-political person I had ever known – in the sense that he never played anyone to get what he wanted. If he wanted anything he stated his desire directly, and only after he had thoroughly thought it out. His yes was yes and his no was no.

Somewhere on that “Jesse Apple for Mayor” website he wrote a little post. I can’t find it now – much to my dismay – so I will try to remember it: “I know I am young and my chances of being elected are slim. But I want to run anyway. I have lived or worked in Portsmouth since the age of fifteen and have studied politics since long before that.”

Until I saw that post I did not know he had been studying politics since childhood. How I wish I could talk and laugh about the politics going on now. We talked and laughed about the crazy election last summer and then he didn’t live until election day. I know his observations would have been priceless.

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Abstract thought. By Jesse Apple.

10 Months Later: Sorrow and Joy

Jesse’s passing has been an intense spiritual journey for me. All my life I have considered myself to be on a spiritual journey, but the death of my son dramatically deepened and accelerated it. The grief is still always there but sometimes lifts a bit and sometimes crashes down like a ton of bricks.

Yesterday my heart felt sodden with sorrow all day, the floods ever threatening to spill out of my eyes. I was a little confused. Just when I have become more sure than ever that this life is a mere blip in our eternal existence, only a threshold – and as either C.S. Lewis or another guy says, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience – instead of being freed up to feel the joy of this truth, I am once more cast into to hard grip of sucking sadness.

But now the sadness has taken on a different quality than it had in the weeks and months immediately after that horrible day. Rather being focused on the loss of Jesse, it is a more diffused sort of sorrow for the plight of humanity – all the ugliness, coldness, violence, fear, and suffering in a world that God made to be a human paradise. Why is this beautiful world of sea, sky, mountains, and trees not a paradise? The earth is made to provide humans with all we need to live and be happy and yet we choose to fight, kill, grasp at possessions, and do harm to each other.

I believe that “Your will be done, Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” means pretty much what it says: that one day earth will be restored to its original glory. I believe this fully and deeply and I feel assurance in my spirit that Jesse exists in that other dimension where he is safe from all harm, and a part of my soul is able to rejoice. And yet what I feel most intensely and pervasively is utter sorrow.

 

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Sunset on the road to Pulaski. Makes me think of sorrow and joy.

I take great comfort from the verse that says I will be comforted: “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” I believe this comfort will be more joy than I can possibly now imagine. It will be a complete healing. It will involve a reunion with Jesse but much more. I take great comfort in the whole fifth chapter of Matthew. Another favorite is “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” To me this is Jesse’s verse. Few people knew his heart as much as I did and I know his young heart yearned to make things right in the world, or at least better. I believe he is now working with the Lord to make it happen.

I am sure some people will think these thoughts are the crazy imaginings of a grieving mother. So be it. I believe my thoughts are the feeble stumbling imaginings of a mind that cannot begin to conceive the beauty and joy that await all who seek God and His truth.

 

 

It is well with my soul

It has been a while since I wrote something here on my Jesse blog. I am pretty sure I have been going through the depression stage of grief and for me this means that when I sit down to write the spirit to do it is absent. I wish I could write. I have things I want to say. But I cannot seem to do it. I find would rather lay down on my bed and watch apocalyptic conspiracy theories on YouTube.

I had the intention, sometime after starting this blog, that I would scan the hundreds of pictures I have of Jesse and honor his life by writing about the wonderful memories. But right now it is difficult for me to deal with the photos. I am trying to clean the junk out of house, get rid of all that is unnecessary, and in my cleaning I keep running across photos – and report cards and certificates and t-shirts, all kinds of mementoes of the 23 years he lived as my son. I just sigh and put the photos and things aside. There has been a Shiny Computers t-shirt in my laundry basket since before his death and I have not been able to bring myself to remove it. I am trying to get functional and am trying to avoid falling into these caverns of loss.

I have to breath deeply and remind myself of the basic facts:

  • This world is not all there is. It is a speck in the ocean of eternity.
  • Jesse lives in eternity. He now lives in the presence of our Father in Heaven and His son Jesus Christ.
  • Jesse was not perfect – none of us are – but he was saved from damnation by the death and resurrection of our Savior. So he is alive now, fully himself as created by God.
  • I am still here on this speck. I have to try to live the rest of my life as well as I can, which means I must give each moment to God and do each thing as to the Lord.
  • Soon enough I also will be in Heaven where I will be reunited with Jesse, as well as my parents, in-laws, and many others.

I was not a perfect mother. I did many things wrong, sometimes out of flawed understanding, sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of selfishness. I am most devastated by this last thing. But as I will discuss in a moment “….my sins are nailed to the cross and I bear them no more.”

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Horatio Gates Spafford, from Wikipedia

These words come from an old hymn that I heard this morning on my way to work: “It is Well with My Soul.” Of course I’ve known this song for many years and used to sing it with choirs, but it touched me this morning even more deeply than it usually does. The hymn was written in 1873 by Horatio G. Spafford. Spafford wrote the hymn on a ship bound from New York to England where he was travelling to meet his wife after she had survived a horrible shipwreck. Their four daughters however – Annie, 11, Maggie, 9, Bessie, 5, and Tanetta, 2 – had all drowned.  Two years earlier the Spaffords had also lost a 4-year-old son to scarlet fever. Interestingly, Jesse also came down with scarlet fever at the age of four, the only serious childhood illness he had. What happened to the Spafford child is a reminder that many of us get to live longer lives due to the blessing of modern antibiotics.

The part of the hymn that touched me the most today was the third stanza about his sin being nailed to the cross and bearing it no more. This is because when you lose a child you tend to dwell minutely on every mistake or possible mistake you made as a parent. This self-blame makes a heavy burden even more tortuous. He was the one who had sent his family ahead of him to England on that ship. He could have unreasonably dwelt on that fact, searching for fault in himself as to why he did that, but instead he chose to dwell on the fact that all sins, all errors, are truly washed away by the blood of Christ.

It is Well With My Soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Grief and hope after five months

I am having such a hard time getting back to all the writing projects I used to think were so important. And yet I still think writing has something to so with my mission in life, so I still do it every day. I just can’t seem to squeeze out much I want to share with the public. I used to write about books nearly every day, and in fact, I am still reading quite a lot, but my books and my life seem to melt into a blurry puddle and I cannot seem to extract a clear enough thought to shape into words.

I go about my life, going to the office, grocery shopping, cleaning house…. but when I sit down to do my life’s work, writing, I find that my spirit has melted into a lump of grief, all smooshed into a gray ball that is trying to find its way to the light. As you see I am doing a lousy job of expressing this in words and even if I could, who would want to read it? What good are words when it comes to knowing the truth? The truth is beyond words. Words can only capture the general direction of it.

The world seems so full of heartbreak now that grief is as common as breathing. Yesterday I read about a 21-year-old guy killed in a car crash on Route 58 near my house and I thought about his parents and said a prayer for them. I dread the thought of the horror they are now going through. The guy’s crashed car ended up hanging from a tree off the highway. Every day someone is facing the loss of a child, the regret, the guilt over every harsh work, every argument, every time you didn’t give them enough attention, every time you could have spent with them but chose to do something else, like pay a bill or go to work, or God forbid, do something just for yourself like read a book or go out with your girlfriends.

Blessed are the oblivious. I wonder at how oblivious I once was to the grief that permeates this world. How can this be given that I had lost all four of my grandparents, my own parents, and my in-law parents? But all of them departed with life in the right order: grandparents first and then parents. I was supposed to be next.

Sometimes an acquaintance would lose a child and I would think how horrible that would be, in fact unthinkable. So unthinkable I didn’t think about it, at least not in terms of such a think happening to me. We all witness death practically every day on the news and in the movies and on TV. We get used to seeing death as a remote fact that happens to other people on glass screens and cannot touch us. When it happens to someone we know it hits home and makes us think; but in a week or so, or 24 hours, we file that thought and continue on in our belief in our own immunity. We are so practiced in putting death in the glass box, a sanitized wall between us and the messy blood and grief of it.

It is now just over five months since Jesse’s death. Not long enough to recover from the mere shock when I see all those hundreds of photographs of his radiant face, usually such an innocent and trusting face. Not long enough to get my mind around the fact that though Jesse still exists, that particular life in the photographs is over.

When he was barely four he asked me if he was going to die. I told him everything that lives will die but he did not ave to worry about that for a long long time. “But what if some people don’t want to die?” he asked, starting to cry. “It’s just like going from one world to another,” I said.

And I am convinced that is the truth. But why are we so blocked out from that other world into which we so easily slip when we leave our body? What is it about these bodies that makes us so blind to the eternal reality? According to the many near death experiences I have read, the minute we leave our bodies, we see the expanded reality and what is going on in this world too. It’s like our physical body is a locked room with the shades drawn.

Here is what I think I understand about it. There is very little we actually understand about the nature of reality, either in this world or the next, but it seems there is an element of choice. Just as I might decided to concentrate my pen on a single piece of notebook paper or limit my attention to a single book I have committed my attention to living this material life with its full set of natural laws as a resident of this material body. The body is  the bottom line of the contract. When the body can no longer house the spirit, our contract with this world ends.

Our bodies and minds come with certain limitations, and some souls live in bodies with more limitations than others. When the spirit leaves the body it also leaves the limitations. Jesse’s brain had some issues with the processing and organizing of information, issues that he struggles with most of his life. He did an amazing job of compensating and overcoming his limitations.

He researched ADD and knew his condition well. He found workarounds, many natural and lifestyle oriented, but also found that certain drugs seemed to help him function better. He wanted to be a productive person so he used the drugs, and as far as everyone knew, used them carefully with close attention to safe dosages. But apparently he make a mistake with drug combinations and this led to his early death. There is recent research that says people diagnosed with adult ADD have a greatly increased risk of premature death. I did not know this until afterwards.

I believe that when Jesse left his body he experienced freedom from his information processing issues. I believe he found that his full intelligence was free to explore, understand, experiment, understand, and do whatever project or mission God had in store for him. That’s what I truly believe he is doing right now – his next project, one perfectly suited to a soul with his curiosity, desire for adventure, and intellectual abilities.