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.√

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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.

Small mercies and little memory triggers

It is Sunday, my most difficult day of the week now, because during the 16 months Jesse lived on his own, Sunday was the day he came over every week to have dinner, talk, and do his laundry. Tomorrow will be six weeks since we found out he had died, but we believe he actually passed the day before, Sunday August 7th. He did not show up that Sunday or answer my texts and calls. We thought he had overslept as he often napped on Sundays, his only day off from work.

I have gone over the sequence of events from the previous Sunday — July 31st — to Monday, August 8th, a hundred times. I am now starting to review his whole life, trying to see patterns or clues as to what led to what happened, which is difficult because we still do not know the cause of his death. Tom insists we stop conjecturing because we are just driving ourselves crazy and neither answers nor guesses will change the outcome.

All kinds of things go through your mind at such a time. You look for the smallest mercies. It was not violent…. We don’t think he felt any pain….The other day Aaron and I were making dinner, a delicious baked sweet potato and chicken recipe, and Aaron said he had been thinking what a good thing it was that none of us were out of town that day. Aaron had been on a camping trip the week before and Tom often travels for work.

“It would have been more terrible to be out of town when it happened,” he said, “or I could have been at work and not there.” I felt a pang. It could have been worse, yes, but somehow it’s hard for me to feel grateful right now. That is a bad state to be in and I hope I get over it. The Thanksgiving holiday is a sad thought and I dread Halloween. I wish I could get on a time ship and fly right over December, that looming month that contains his birthday and Christmas. How will I survive these times? How do I survive at all?

In the same conversation with Aaron, while cutting sweet potatoes, I said, “If it had to happen, thank goodness it happened in August, my least favorite month. At least it didn’t happen in October! I’d hate to have October ruined.” As if that makes it better. I will be sad in October just because it is my favorite month and Jesse is not in it. I am sure he will be seeing it though, and seeing more beautiful Autumn colors reflecting on clearer lakes, more splendid than the most splendid Octobers the earth can offer.

imageI have not sought to dull the sharp edge of grief through medication or alcohol. I do not think this would be productive for me. Writing, I guess, is my opium. And, just recently, I admit to a little retail therapy — although I have not found shopping to be particularly effective. Walking around in malls and stores is dangerous. You never know what is going to trigger a flood of memories. At the mall a laughing mother chases after a toddler and I think back to when Jesse was that age when my whole world focused on that little body full of energy, hope, and joy. And I suddenly need to quickly get out the public view.

Even the grocery store is treacherous. Today, by sheer habit, I reached out to pick up a bottle of cherry-cranberry juice and then realized I only buy that juice to have in the fridge when Jesse comes over. I will never buy that juice again.