I Remember You

I dreaded the calendar flip from November to December, dragging me into a month of reminders that you are gone. Knowing the anniversary was creeping, often speeding towards me, I desperately tried to cling to the emotional stability I had achieved, I tried to stay busy. Still, the quiet moments were consumed with flashbacks to the morning I learned you were gone. Most of this month has been about pretending I could celebrate Christmas for the sake of your child, my Plum. The Christmas tress were up, all the presents purchased with the help of online shopping to avoid people and music and merriment, the cookies baked. Plowing ahead, moving forward as if each day were a separate 24 hours to get through. Then I saw the comet (lens flare?) and I regained some footing. I imagined you dancing through the sky, playing with your beloved Pony dog and my heart became lighter. Another day closer to the anniversary but also another day I had survived and glimpsed a moment of peace and clarity.

Next I went to dinner with my mother-in-law and was given the chance to really remember you. My mother-in-law has Alzheimers, she doesn’t remember you died. While at the restaurant celebrating her birthday, she asked me repeatedly how you were doing. What could have been excruciating, to tell her again and again that you died, I chose instead to recognize that she only remembers that you lived. With her diminished capabilities, she gave me the greatest gift. I too could focus on all the other days of your life and not just on the one day that you left us. “He is doing well, I think,” I replied the first time she asked. The next time, I considered carefully and stated, “He is strong and healthy and happy, I believe.” With each question, I affirmed what I had been told, by the comet and the pastors and my friends, that you are in heaven and no longer in the grips of addiction. I got to see you as you are, I got to talk about more of your story and not the last chapter.

Time continued without any help from me, today marks one year since you began to fly in the heavens. I remember you, your silliness and your laughter. I remember how much you made me smile. I see you cuddling pets, always cuddling pets and realize you are now taking your beloved Pony (the black lab we rescued after he was found swimming following hurricane Katrina. Please don’t ask me how he came to be called that) for walks in heaven, oh how you loved that dog. I am convinced there is Sriracha sauce up there, that you are eating steak and hot fries and one day I will join you and make my special pancakes for you.

I am sure you are listening to your son and glowing with pride at his wit, at his ability to play with words and cock his eyebrow just as you did. I cannot forget your face if I wanted to, I cannot escape you when this child is near. The same blue eyes, the same silly looks, I think each time that I am seeing you for a flash and that you will never fully be gone while this child walks among us. I can hear you laughing, delighted in his teasing of me and his quick quips. He has your intelligence and also your deep well of empathy. He sees the invisible around us, he reaches out to those who are vulnerable. I remember in elementary school when you chose to sit at lunch with the child others shunned. You came home and asked if you could share some of your clothes with him, did we have an extra coat? You had all the charisma, you drew everyone to you just by walking in to a room, and yet you often chose to take your place around those who had none. You elevated others without fear of your own standing. Your child does the same, he recognizes the lost and the hurting and shares his heart with them. H doesn’t worry what others will think, he thinks for the crowd and pulls them in the kindest direction. I know you are watching him and your smile outshines the stars I gaze at each night.

I have long seen you as an arrow, as a child with a choice of the direction you would fly. I didn’t consider that and arrow lays still without intervention, without a force to propel it forward. I tried for most of your life to be the bow, to hold you steady and direct your path and I failed. Or maybe I didn’t, maybe I became broken and loose and not able to withstand repeated walking, running to pick you up and start afresh. I do know that I gave you all of me until there was so little left that when you died, I became empty and useless and emotionally dead as well. A year, 365 days of surviving without purpose and then this morning I a reminded of a conversation with you shortly after you returned home from prison. You chastised me, your direct honesty and wise words are echoing within me today even more than that horrible phone call, the screaming and crying. You told me to stop, just stop mourning the estrangement with your sister and start living again. You said my sadness was robbing you, Plum, Chef of me. You said I needed to get a shower and stop wearing pj’s all day and begin laughing. I didn’t know then you were preparing me for this very day. You were showing me that I was more than the bow to hold you up, more than a punching bag for your sister. I was needed each day for a greater purpose and I needed to stop wallowing in past hurts and see the new day ahead as opportunity to find other parts of me. I hear you, I still hear your words and I know, just like the comet I am being given a new perspective if only I chose to see it. You have become the bow, I am the arrow.

I often say that you I am more than one chapter of my story, sometimes I say it with conviction, others I whisper it and wonder when it will feel true. By focusing on only the last chapter of your story, I lose the joy of remembering all the ones before, the ones filled with your huge presence and silliness, “Mom did you know mom upside down is wow?” and all the notes you left me, scribbles of sweetness and a request for a certain breakfast or a wake up time early enough that we could spend time together. I remember you Nick, with every breath and with each second and today I will try so very hard to shower and put on real clothes and do something, anything to take a step forward. The shower and clothes may be the only steps but forward, into the search for life and not mere survival without you. Today I will remember that you lived, that you loved and that you are forever a mama’s boy who took pride in that relationship. The hundreds of letters I have from you while you were in prison are beautiful reminders of the love we shared, the hopes you held and the successes you experienced.

You and I, we know our truth and we know you are living free and healthy and flying with support of the strongest bow, One who will not tire or lose strength. You are living fully now and I am given the choice to follow your example and your life and your words. Today, on the anniversary of your last breath, I will try to fill my lungs and begin to live again.

I See The Moon

I see the moon and the moon sees me and the moon sees somebody I want to see

God bless the moon and God bless me and God bless the somebody I want to see

This lullaby, written by Meredith Willson, was a particular favorite when my children were tiny, we almost reflexively repeated it each time we caught sight of the moon. Certainly as I was imprisoned, we chanted the words over countless phone calls, taking comfort that the same moon they looked at was within my view as well, we couldn’t truly be that far apart. I silently said these words during the time was daughter was on another continent, while my son was missing or jailed or homeless. Somehow, knowing the moon was watching us all, wherever we happened to be, regardless of the distance between us, gave us all peace. 

During the memorial service when Chef talked about our Arrow, he again used the imagery of the moon, illustrating how he was the brightest thing you would see whenever he entered a room, much like the moon that always overtakes the starlight. The moon has special significance in our family, each night for the past year, as sleep eludes me and I wander the house while Chef is seeking rest, I look out at the moon and the words to the lullaby echo in my thoughts. I chant the words, I wish to see someone I can’t. 

It is no secret that this year has tested my faith, that I have battled with the need to understand and the knowledge that I never will. The anticipation of Christmas has been excruciating, remembering how blindly I celebrated last year without the knowledge that just 4 days after all the presents were opened and the cookies eaten, I would hear the devastating news that my son had died of a heroin/fentanyl overdose. Christmas this year has brought dread, a reluctance to put up the decorations and hang the stockings, still knowing that the season is important to Plum, that we must carry on has forced me to go through the motions at least. Each night though, I look up at the moon and say the words and entreat God for what I cannot have. Often I take a picture of the moon, filling my camera roll with shots of the night sky to replace all the pictures I will never again take of my son. 

Two nights ago I was following my routine, sitting on my back porch and considering the moon when I noticed it was oddly shaped. Not a truly 3/4 moon, it seemed to have a bit more hidden but just in one section. Yet in the picture, the moon appears full and bright. Not understanding what I was seeing, I pulled out my camera to capture the image when I saw something else on the screen, a blue ball, a floating orb. I wiped off the lens and tried again. Same thing. Snapping several pictures, I looked to see if  changing my position would cause the ball to disappear. I inspected the sky, I couldn’t see it yet every time I raised the camera, it appeared. Finally I went back inside to get Chef’s phone, thinking surely it would be gone and the mystery would be solved, something must be wrong with my phone. It remained in the viewfinder. Wondering at the image and needing an explanation, I posted the photo in a subreddit called @whatisthisthing, knowing someone out there could offer an answer. What I learned has shaken me, given me pause and a sliver of peace and a large helping of hope. I apparently was capturing the image of the Christmas Comet, something  visible only that night and not again for centuries. 

I don’t know if it is really true that I saw the blue of my son’s eyes as it traveled in the night sky, appearing to play by the moon. Maybe it was a lens flare, as some redditors suggested. Yet I am embracing the ones who explained about the Christmas Comet, who posted links to astronomy sites and assured me it was so. What I can be certain of is that while I couldn’t see this blue in the sky with my naked eye, that I needed a strong, different lens, I could find it with the a different view. Much like I cannot know for certain where my son is and my view is most often cloudy regarding most things these days, with some help I can be offered the truth that there is more to the story, there is a greater plan and God rules the heavens and the earth and sometimes we can have a pleading to see somebody we want to see, if we look around differently. 

I was given a Christmas gift that I will treasure forever, the image of my boy traveling the sky under the watchful gaze of God, a quick visit to assure me that Christmas is still relevant and magical and deeper than the presents under the sparsely decorated tree in our home. I am still puzzling out what all it means for me, much like the shepherds of old who heard the angels sing, it is awesome and holy and frightening, to have had this encounter with the God who saw me too, who knows that I wander in search of assurance and beg for the closeness that disappeared Dec 29, 2017. I was given this sign that He does know there is somebody I want to see and he is blessing us both. 

Forever Altered

Several months ago a wind storm blew in, not entirely unusual during the fall but this one was different, more powerful. I listened from inside while the howling increased then settled, again and again. The sky looked normal, no threat of a tornado, merely ferocious gusts that erupted and abated. Trees older than me bent sideways, lost leaves but stood each time as the calm returned. Venturing out to take a look, I heard a crack, a splintering and watched in disbelief as a huge branch of our old maple fell right at my feet. Later when I took Chef outside to survey the damage, he struggled to see amidst the fullness of the remaining leaves, the mighty branches, just where the tree had broken. Walking amidst the fallen branches, I pointed out just where the tree had separated, glaring once he could spot the emptiness. 

As time has passed, with the ground covered in leaves and the winter sky above, the tree is marked forever by the part that is missing. Just as the weather folks warned of the potential for danger with this wind storm, so we were warned many years ago that addiction could take our son. We heeded the warnings, we sought treatment and interventions and prayer. Still, in the same way I couldn’t protect this beautiful strong tree, I was helpless to save my child. Every morning I look out at this tree and recognize that it is still standing, still providing shelter for birds and squirrels and probably raccoons, but it is broken, forever marred by forces stronger, more dangerous than  the strong root system or age. 

I wonder each morning if I am the tree, if I am still strong and mighty and able to continue a purposeful life, able to shelter others and experience joy as little ones gather around me, playing and laughing and watering more storms. Instead am I the broken branches which still lay in the yard, our grief robbing us of motivation to care, of the ability to do basic maintenance like shower and eat, never mind tend to our home? Most days I feel like those decaying logs, laying cast aside and neglected. I know that even those pieces do some good for the earth, for the smaller critters who burrow inside. Yet is that enough, to merely lay around and passively let live exist in my presence? 

Some days I can even claim to be the wind, to be strong and angry and forceful, seeking weak places and blasting my wrath. Mostly my anger has left me, the good work of the grief group I attended bringing me back into relationship with the God who created that tree and me and my son. All that remains is sadness. Big and deep and pervasive SADNESS. I look at the tree each morning and know that others may see just a tree, see that it has survived this latest storm and countless others. My eye though is drawn to the splintered spot, to the gaping hole where once a significant member lived. The tree will never be the same as before, that moment, that snap that forever altered it, is now part of the tree’s story, it’s history. 

I am broken, stuck in that moment just after a phone call that brought my nightmare, all of my fears into fruition. I hear the wailing, the keening, the screaming and know it was me, a howling wind that may have quieted for others but never leaves my soul. The branch of my tree that was my son lays in ruins at my feet, a promise of a life full and rich and joyful separated from the rest, from the strength of our family, from me. It is true that he is restored in heaven, that he is no longer haunted by his demons, his life may be characterized by all that I wanted for him here, now that he is there. Yet I am left looking at the missing parts, at the emptiness, at the destruction of hope. 

The wind came howling and broke my tree, opioids slid silently back into my son and broke him. I knew the power, the potential but we had weathered so very many storms before, I thought we could survive more, I thought our roots would protect us. Wrong, I was wrong. I could not protect him or us or stop the drugs from reaching him, anymore than I could brace the tree from a power so much greater than I.

Gentle breezes move the smaller branches, I take little notice. The damage is already done.