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.”

190px-horatio_spafford
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.

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!

 

 

The two-month mark

Two months ago today I found out my son had died. I don’t know if it is this anniversary or the fact that it is a dreary rainy day when it should be a sunny autumn day or if it is just another sad day like each of the last 60 days, but today I am unbearably sad. I cannot reason myself out of it and today even prayer hardly makes a dent in this dark night of my soul.

img_0240Jesse is in heaven – I have no doubt of that. God has a purpose that will be clearer to me some day. I am sure of that. I will see Him again, and mourning will be to turned to joy. Yes I am sure of that too. But today, in this moment, my precious baby, the one I gave my heart and soul to, the warm little boy I held so many nights, who I read to and laughed with and labored over homework with, who I drove to school so many rushed mornings, for whom I screamed “Go Jesse!” at so many track meets, is dead. That my son, a young man with so much promise and so many ideas and plans, should have died for no apparent reason is still incomprehensible.

Many friends have reached out to comfort me these two months, and I have appreciated every one of them.  And our talks and lunches have helped, and I am profoundly touched by anyone whom has made the least attempt to offer comfort. It is not an easy thing to do. If there is anything this life is about it is offering love and comfort to people who need it and right now I need it. I hope to be able to do the same for someone else at some point.

I try to cheer myself up by thinking of ways, even the simplest ways, I can make the rest of my life mean something. Even if the rest of my life were not going to be very long, I’d want the minutes and hours to be as full and meaningful as they could be. Aaron and I have decided to start trying to cook Indian food and I have bought our basic starter spices. We made chana masala last night with mixed results. Little things.

The problem is the life seemed to be sucked out of me. The things that so recently were important to me like improving my art and writing good essays and stories seem very near devoid of meaning now. I have tried to draw a little but the spirit for it is not there. I am able to write  but only about Jesse and grief. My other blogs are sadly neglected.

In half-hearted anticipation that I might want to eventually start anew, I am thinking of approaching The College of William and Mary and asking if it would be in the realm of possibility to finish my Masters degree. I did all the coursework before Jesse was born. That gives you an idea of how long ago it was. But they still have the transcript with my 3.8 GPA and maybe they would consider that I have continued my literature studies all my life and let me take the comprehensive exam or write the thesis to get the Masters. Can’t hurt to ask I suppose.

I have also ordered a whole bunch of books on tutoring reading and writing. I am somewhat qualified for this kind of work. I did teach Jesse to read when he was in first grade and I homeschooled Aaron for 8th, 11th, and 12th grade. Also long ago I did some tutoring. I don’t think I’d want to do classroom teaching but working one-on-one might be a way I can do something meaningful. The ache in my heart should not stop me from doing what I can with my life. I don’t think I could do any of this right this minute because I still keep crying at inopportune moments and I don’t want to make people sad or uncomfortable. But maybe someday. And I can at least start preparing for that someday.

These verses, Colossians 3:23-24, have been seeping into my mind today: “And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ.”

I understand the need to do things as unto the Lord and totally want to do that. It’s the “heartily” part I am having trouble mustering right now.

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.

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.