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.

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