The Long Saturday

Many years ago, our family watched a movie together that struck the children deeply, The Passion of Christ. None of us have been able to attend a second showing, the images of Jesus nailed to the cross, suffering and mourning so clear, we got the message and haven’t been able to shake it, even during difficult times. I remember Arrow being especially moved and vocal, he was angry at how Jesus was treated, he couldn’t grasp the cruelty. During later years as he moved away from believing, when he resisted going to church and he began to play with other religions during his incarceration, I trusted that the child who once read every book in the Left Behind for Kids series and who ached over this movie still had the seeds of faith within him. No one was witness to his last moments, we cannot say for sure that he called out to God or begged for forgiveness or even rejected it all as he took his last breath. I can only continue to believe that the Holy Spirit was with my son, given to us by God’s Son during his last breaths.

I attended the Good Friday service this week at our church, or part of it. I made it through the beginning songs but when members stood on the altar and portrayed those who witnessed Jesus’s death with an authenticity I could feel and get lost in, I found I couldn’t witness this murder. One young man gave insight into the soldiers who carried out the job of crucifixion, a horrible job that becomes doable when only with detachment, the separation of one’s heart and one’s body. I have been that guy, witnessing horror, participating in the destruction of others by mocking and questioning and above all, not stepping in to say no. Plum asked me the other day if there was ever any kids I didn’t like when I went to school. As I struggled to answer his question, memories of one particular little girl came to mind. She was different, annoying, she was too skinny and wore odd clothes. She had no friends so the day she decided to sit with me at lunch, to join my group, what to me was an implication that I accepted her and maybe could be like her, my fragile identity and need for acceptance from the larger group resulted in a shameful bullying incident that has haunted me for 45 years. When she refused to move even after we told her to, I dumped my tray of spaghetti on her. I cringe as I write this, unable to fathom the cruelty I lived out. When I was disciplined, it was not with suspension or spanking, instead a favorite teacher took me into his room and said the worst thing possible, that he was disappointed in me. That moment solidified for me that I had a choice about how I was going to grow into my character. I could follow the group, I could seek acceptance by behaving horrifically, or I could see the humanity in all around me and choose kindness. I evaluated the popular group I so wanted to be in with and found that I really didn’t have anything in common with them, I really was more like the girl on the fringe. I cannot say that she and I became great friends but I never again rejected her, I did eat lunch with her and I found she had gifts I had previously overlook and discounted. As that respected teacher spoke to me, I lost the ability to detach my heart and crucify others. I didn’t share the whole story with Plum who is kind to the odd kids and would be shocked that his grandma once behaved so poorly. One day though, he will hear this truth and will know that kindness is always our best choice.

Our pastor gave a moving portrayal of the man who hung on the cross next to Jesus, his gasping breaths and last minute acceptance of the offer of salvation, so real and true and horrific, I wanted to bolt from the room. I have been that guy, living a life of deception, suffering the consequences of mistakes that have taken away any dignity or hope, only to turn my soul over to the only One who continued to hang with me, the One who has offered me forgiveness again and again. When I was first imprisoned, when I sat in the jail cell in shock trying to absorb my reality of two and a half years away from my children, I too was gasping for air, only to find it stale, piped in, rife with desolation as others struggled to breathe as well. I begged God to let me die, I sought some means to end it all, the agony of it all wracked my body. Yet in the darkest moments, when I couldn’t escape my horror, I was flooded with the presence of the Holy Spirit, the reminder of the Footprints poem would not leave me, I found a peace I didn’t want, didn’t believe I deserved, as I knew Jesus would carry me when I couldn’t walk. I survived, I healed, I returned a stronger, surer woman who was determined never to be used by a man again, who would seek out God for my redemption always. Unlike the man on the cross, my conversion moment has been stretched over decades, a constant need to turn my eyes away from the harsh realities of this world and focus on God.

Next came the sounds of Jesus’s mother, wailing as she watched her son die. During the last three months as I have sought out God to make sense of my son’s death, I forgot about another mother who lost her son. Alternating between finding comfort knowing God fully knew my pain and being angry that He didn’t stop the loss, I never imagined how Mary must have felt. Yet her son offered comfort even to her in that moment, He instructed another to be her child. He assigned her another son, he solidified that even if she was childless through His death, she would continue to be a mom. He knew they would need each other as they grieved, as mourning threatened to destroy all hope. My wounds are too raw, too fresh, my other child is not joining with me to mourn. Mary’s sorrow was too real to me, I had to leave. As she proclaimed that she didn’t want Him to be Jesus, savior of the world, but just her son, I knew in that moment her mother’s heart just wanted her son back, not this man who made His own choices and suffered the consequences. She couldn’t rescue the baby she had carried, bereft, she cried out at the injustice, at the death of her joy. I have truly been Mary, my son  imperfect but loved by so many,  he too left way too young, he had much left to do on this earth.

Listening from outside the sanctuary, I heard bits and pieces of the witness of others. I considered that Jesus was someone different to each, multiple levels of mourning and relationship were evident during His execution. Friends and followers watched, confused and searching for answers. Left wondering how it all could go so wrong so swiftly, dreams of a better future shattered, swept away as the crowd celebrated. Considering how my son died as suddenly, warning signs clear just as Jesus foresaw His own death, yet ignored, discounted. Still those around my son mourn in shock. His friends, his family, co workers, teachers, all  replaying what happened, searching for answers, desperate to find a different truth than the reality that this was inevitable, that the choices Arrow made led him to his own destruction. Our sins led to the death of Jesus, we are complicit, our very nature made it necessary for the sacrificial lamb to die. Is the same true for my son? What did we miss, what wrongs were committed that encouraged his substance abuse? What more could we have done over the 11 years of his addiction to help him chose life over this disease? Yes, the witnesses to his death are left wondering, wishing for an answer to explain this loss, knowing none will ever bring him back. Hopes for a better future died that morning as they both took their last breaths. The long waiting through Saturday, after that horrific Friday, filled with confusion and seeking ends with the joyous discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday, for the followers of Jesus. My Saturday blanketed Sunday and Monday and all the days after. I’m struggling to get to Sunday, the day of restoration and affirmation.

My son’s birthday falls close to Easter each year. I know there is a story in that, preparation during 26 years to remember the promises of God at the end of the story, to not get stuck in the desolate Saturday of a hard life. As I look back on each year with him, as we baked cakes and blew out candles and sent cards to prison and rejoiced that he was among us for another chance of a bright future, I was being trained, conditioned. Don’t look merely at the emptiness of my heart, rejoice in the transformation of a life. Watch as my sins as a bully in elementary school and his drug use are opportunities to turn toward the light, see grace scatter shame like bits of colored egg shells swept into the trash. The good stuff is inside of us, the flashy colors and decorations an enticement to us to go deeper, find the prize within, to gain nourishment for our souls. Still I am stuck on Saturday, a seemingly endless wait to discover joy again and accept all the grace that Easter brings. I replay the voices from the sanctuary, listening to the witness of believers and doubters alike and know that Sunday will come, one day I too will delight in the empty tomb. Spring is late this year, vacillating between sunny 70 degree days and late snow showers and I find comfort in that. I’m easing into this slow spring season, beginning to notice the birds excitedly chirping, allowing the rain to fall onto my head and sprouting shoots of early flowers to remind that Sunday is around the corner. Embracing the humanity of those who witnessed the execution of my Savior, of those who missed signs to save my son, I realize there is hope enough for me.

 

 

A Return to our Love books

“If you’re still my small babe or you’re all the way grown,
my promise to you is you’re never alone.

You are my angel, my darling, my star…
and my love will find you, wherever you are.”  Nancy Tillman

 

Each night as we settle in, PJ’s on and snack at the ready, we read books from Plum’s ever growing library. Three to six downstairs, then as sleepiness begins to overtake him, we move up to his bed and read a couple more as he eases into the night. For many years, our routine was strict, we read our “love books,” a beautiful collection by Nancy Tillman. Rolling over, snuggling in, he would drift off to sleep as I quietly read, moderating my pace and volume until his eyes closed. Completely conditioned, the words that expressed how deeply and widely he was loved were the last he heard each night. Deep peace filled me as well, I cherished the opportunity to speak words of love, knowing the last that he heard each night was how special he is to me.

Sadly, this routine got destroyed when he began to read by himself, he chose books about battles and Pokemon and ninjas and resisted the “love books” enough that they sat neglected on his shelf.  He preferred to chatter and tell some deep truths and horse around with grandpa, fighting sleep and too many cuddles. I often revisited the books, suggesting we read those, at least one but was unceremoniously told no. The child was growing into his boyhood and didn’t want the mushy stuff. Recently though, I won the book selection choice and I read words of love to my grandson and also to myself. I heard not my voice as I read but the relentlessness of God, who loves me on good days and bad, when I am playing and sleeping and think I’ve been bad. Pease entered my soul again, I realized how much I had missed our nightly routine of centering ourselves on unconditional love. As I reached the point in the book that says, “If you are still my small babe or all the way grown, my promise to you is you are never alone,” I found I was speaking to Nick. That I had spoken this to Nick, when he sat on the bed and listened to me read these books to Plum, back when he joined our home again. When he first came home from prison, he eased into our routines first by watching. Then he took over reading the books to Plum as I sat on the bed, listening to the sound of his voice speak love to his child. The circle was complete.

This night when I read the words aloud I was reminded that I needn’t fear that my son doubted my love, that he was alone as he died. My love has followed him everywhere, through the misery of his drug use to the fear and anxiety of imprisonment to the glory of his recovery. He knew my love was ever present, even on days he knew he had been bad. Plum and I speak often about the difference between accepting bad behavior and unconditional love. Plum, just like his father, knows that I love him at his worst and at his farthest away. Peace filled my lungs with each breath, each word I spoke. Grief can bring doubts and fears and regrets that rob us of the joys that abound. This night, I was offered a sweet memory that settled the raging worries, offering truth and perspective, highlighting forgotten joys.

Sneaking the books in to our routine several times since, I can admit that I have picked this particular book up several times to read just to myself, even though the words are etched into my memory. God’s love will find us wherever we are, when we are grieving and broken and filled with sadness.

 

 

 

On The Bridge

Growing up, I didn’t hear much about evil in church.  The focus was more on gaining a relationship with Jesus, accepting God as the foundation for our lives. Yet more and more I realize that light cannot be appreciated without darkness. I’ve read tons of quotes about the stars shining brightest in the dark of night, I get the concept. What I didn’t realize though was the role of evil, how much the hard times in my life have been the devil attacking me when I am the reaching out to God, when my faith was getting stronger. I have to admit it feels weird to even type that, such is my discomfort with “devil talk”.  What has seemed like a foreign way for me to understand and practice my faith, an attitude more fitting for those other kinds of churches is now becoming a clear concept of how this world works. It certainly has aided me in recognizing the role of shame and insecurity and even depression, removing my sense that I have brought this stuff on myself, furthering the need for self-punishment. I’m not suggesting I don’t have personal responsibility for my actions but understanding the goal of magnifying and distorting and oppressing me is strictly that of the evil one, I begin to find the power of choice, of turning to the Light.

When it became clear that the abuse I experienced as a child was deeply impacting my relationships and I needed help to right my thinking again, I entered therapy. This time though, I didn’t search for a counselor who had years of experience dealing with sexual abuse, although she does. I sought out a faith-based therapist who could help me resolve the questions of how could God have allowed this to happen. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t have that answer but what she did offer was a bridge to God that encouraged me to cross over into trust, where I could see not a God who shares responsibility for my suffering but a God who ached with me and wants more of my life. She has also exposed the role of the evil one, something I had always discounted, pooh-poohed as more hocus pocus than spirituality. Opening my mind to the dangers of darkness, the way my heart and soul have been pursued not just by a relentless God but also a sneaky destructive evil, I have become empowered to make different choices. I can not only desire the light, I can choose it.

When bad things happen, we instinctively wonder where God is, how can these horrible events occur, much like the admonishing Jesus endured on the cross: if you are who you said you were, why can’t you stop this, prevent this, make it all better. What I am finally grasping all these years later is that the two are not mutually exclusive. God is indeed who He says he is and bad things happen as evil seeks to rule this world. It comes down to choice, when we have the option to magnify hurtful words and promote violence through bullying we have turned away from the light that seeks to shine through it all. We give power to the oppressor, we abandon the One who aches to accompany us even when all is horrible, maybe especially when our hearts are broken and we are frightened and when we begin to feel blanketed by sadness.

I was almost to the surrender part, the place where I could see with clarity that God had not left me alone in the room with my father, that God had not left me to sit in prison with a shattered soul, that He had been right with me and gave me tools to survive, then unexpectedly my son died. Rocked, shocked, shattered, I almost gave in to the darkness, allowed the loss of my son to turn me away from God. Seriously, could there be a better time to question the faithfulness of a God who didn’t save my son? Yet over and over, in spite of what felt like the ultimate betrayal of God’s love, I found countless ways that He was shining through. His disciples have walked with me, guided me back to the bridge, bringing dinner and sending cards and asking me again and agin how I am, listening to me cry and giving me opportunities to serve in the midst of it all. God spoke to a friend who was herself feeling darkness of fear and hopeless descend and she offered me the opportunity to sit daily with her mother, a beautiful woman who is losing herself to Alzheimers. In the midst of my sorrow, I was given hours each day to step outside of my pain and stay just in the present moment as I guided her through daily living tasks and listened as her snippets of past memories replayed on a continuous loop. Each time she told me about her time as a bus driver, we spoke as if I was hearing it for the first time and I felt delight. Each time. Because I was with a woman who was living out her joys over and over, not one who sat in bitterness and shame and sorrow. She was not reliving the hardest times, those she had already released from her memory. I saw the power of looking always towards the Light.

Turning my perspective away from a personal character flaws and into realization that evil is afoot, hardening hearts and sowing discord, I am free to see the real person, the true struggle and feel compelled to share more of my light, more of my hope and certainly more of my prayers. For too many years, I internalized the darkness, accepting the blame for circumstances, doubting my own worth. Bad things happened, I must be bad. God must not extend His promises to the likes of me, why else would all this keep occurring? These days, I am leaning into the complexities of words like because, in spite of, even though. When taken into context of relationships, causation and blame and responsibility are highlighted. Heartbreaks don’t find us BECAUSE of God, He remains present IN SPITE OF our circumstances and the evil we face, He will bring good and joy EVEN THOUGH we may not see it or even want it. It all changes how I see our Father.

More clearly I perceive how evil breaks up marriages, how children are led into estrangement, how we accept others as lesser because of color or bank accounts or political beliefs. Giving into the darkness of judgement and division, of depression and resentment, satan wins and we all lose. Conversely, where the Light shines, we live out   grace and forgiveness and compassion and a deep desire to right wrongs. The Light is always there, waiting to warm us and show us joy and purpose. A bridge has been built and I am stepping onto it, trusting that I will be held securely even when I stumble, even when I fall.

Will you join me on the bridge? The view is amazing.

 

 

On This Day

Early each morning, I grab my phone and search Facebook, not for the latest pictures of a friend’s dinner or the promoting I receive to go to the same events as all my friends, but to look at the compilation of pictures and posts that Facebook offers through the “On This Day” generator. Still, I have been dreading this one, my son’s birthday. It has been barely 3 months since he died, since I learned we will celebrate no more birthdays, hear his laugh and watch him with his son never again. His birthday is so close to Easter each year, my faith is refreshed or challenged even greater every year, depending on how much he has struggled with addiction, how long he lived in sobriety. Today, as I looked over all the previous posts and prayers and pictures I had posted, I was reminded of the faithfulness of friends who have joined us, not just yearly but daily as we prayed for our son. I am reminded of how hard we fought to give him a chance. I am reminded reminded reminded but I will not get lost in all the memories. Still seeking the promises of Easter, I am looking to the Light. This child’s birthday was no accident even if his death was. Long ago God knew that I would need to be surrounded by purple, the color of resurrection and Arrow’s favorite when the hurt and worry and fear would be threatening to destroy me.  The knowledge that I will see him again soothes a mama’s aching heart on this day, my son’s birthday.

Until we celebrate together again, happy birthday Nick. My love will follow you everywhere.

April 5, 2016

“I am thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength” Alex Elle

April 5, 2015 

Happy Birthday to my favorite son! I know you no longer share my faith yet how amazing that your day, the day of your miraculous birth falls this year on the greatest day in the life of a Christian.  You see, you were a miracle to me, always have been.  My mother struggled with fertility, lost many babies before uncle Joe was born and then several more between he and I.  When your father and I wanted a family, I couldn’t get pregnant right away and began to freak.  what if I did the same as my mom?  it took a long time before sis came a long and then I lost one between you.  I was so very sick and on steroids and lots of antibiotics during the pregnancy with you, i was terrified you wouldn’t be ok.  and then my grandfather died right before you were born.  I just felt it was an omen.  but you came and were perfect and always so very sweet and healthy and your heart was the biggest part of you.

Scott feels like my life has been a test of my faith and a chance to say i still believe in the midst of the storm.  I have had too many storms, I am growing so incredibly weary, yet I still believe.  My faith in God isn’t gone, just my faith in my ability to weather all of this.  The story of Easter is that Good Friday is the worst day ever, the day Jesus was killed for me.  a horrific death where he was separated from His Father.  then Saturday comes and it is all about the waiting and the confusion for the followers, wondering now what.  because we know that on sunday, they roll the rock away and the tomb is empty, that God had fulfilled His promises.  Pure Joy on Sunday.

But for me, at this point in my life, I am stuck on Saturday.  I am waiting for the pure joy of reconciliation with Alex and the joy of seeing my granddaughter.  The confusion and worry and frustration are non stop.  But in the midst of this, God reminded me about your birth.  It comes on this most special sunday.  And you are still alive.  and you are amazingly mature and full of thoughts of the future and taking ownership of the past.  This is the miracle of Easter for us this year, the promises kept.  it was a long 9 years of saturday.

So whether you believe or not, God is using you in many ways to pick me up off the floor and get me back in the game.  Happy birthday my miracle.  I love you.  thanks for growing up and not just getting older.  you mean the world to me. I cant wait to celebrate so many more birthdays with you.  mom

April 5, 2014 

“Sometimes God makes better choices for us than we could have ever made for ourselves.”
― Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 

April 5, 2013 

It’s just a phase it’s just a phase it’s just a phase it’s just a phase

April 5, 2012  

today i am so very very grateful for the chance to say it is my son’s 21st birthday and he is safe and sober, i can trust he will be alive to see the next one.

 

April 5, 2012 

blessed with friends who take me for coffee and lunch, who listen to me blather on about my woes and hug me when it is over. blessed to walk in to church and share a story, a smile, a tear and communion. blessed to spend the evening with Plum who helps heal an aching heart with his joy

April 5, 2011 

20 years ago i met an incredible boy, one who has great wit and intelligence, charm that should be spread among many, and a smile that will melt your heart. i praise God that we get to celebrate this day and i thank so many friends for all the diligent prayers. what a blessing today is!

April 5, 2010 

okay prayer warriors.. today is Nick’s birthday and I want to thank you all for your dedication to getting him here! he turns 19 today but we can’t let up now, he is really in a battle and some days I fear we have lost him for good and other days I see my son shining through. so if you have a moment, please lift him up, that he might find a way out of this hell of addiction.

 

How Do We Get Back Up?

Listening in church this past week to a young man who is a Rwandan genocide survivor, a thriver who has overcome all the odds and inexplicable evil to become a doctoral student at Purdue, I was in awe of his ability to keep getting back up, his persistence in moving forward. The world is filled with evil acts waged against both large groups of people and specific individuals every day, how can one find meaning is all the horror? I left the sanctuary wondering how I can keep moving forward in the face of all the evil I have experienced, is there a point where it just becomes too much? I certainly haven’t watched my family murdered in front of me, lived in a refugee camp with no food, maybe my life is not so bad. Yet my soul cries out that the view looking back is gruesome in its own right, that my heart has broken along with my spirit too many times to track. How does this man keep going? What can I learn from him that will encourage me in the belief that tomorrow will be better, that hope is worth investing in, that joy will come in the morning when it more often feels like only more pain and evil await?

I quietly celebrated the end of our Wednesday night church groups, the meals I create to feed 130 people each week have drawn to a close for this session. This round started only two weeks after my son died, I was given the chance to back out of the commitment and hand it off to someone who wasn’t lost in mourning, but I stuck with it, placing myself around believers and grace givers each week intentionally, allowing their hope and faith to feed me while I sprinkled cheese on pasta and browned hamburger seasoned with onions. Having lost any sense of God’s presence, I chose to be close to those who hadn’t. A tiny step towards hope, a belief in something, anything bigger than my loss. As staff filtered through the kitchen each week while I prepared the salads and stuck chicken in the oven, I was gifted with space to be sad and angry and vacant, and also to be included in conversations about ministry visions and next steps. Sometimes the getting back up looks most like going back to church, overcoming the stronger desire to lay down amongst the rubble.

I shared with a friend that the contrast between my two circles truly confuses me, I can’t find logic or understanding in how both can be real in my world. My church community lifts me up, hears my brokenness and accepts me as I am. The other circle, one of former relationships and fringe engagements, is united in causing more pain and cruelty, in judgement and bitterness. How can I be involved in both? She told me, “Lisa, they are not your circle.” Six words that swept away the helplessness and returned my power. I can choose not to be connected to that circle, to not continue my role as punching bag and doormat. She is absolutely right, that is not my circle anymore, maybe never was. Wise words that offered me a view of a hope-filled life, a nudge that said there will be a better day, a better next five minutes, grab onto this. Truly a peace that passes understanding filled me, a serenity that makes no sense in the current climate of my days and nights and anger and pain. Freed of the bondage of evil, I chose to visit a greenhouse and look at the new life coming, see the greens that will soon be filled with colors as flowers erupt. I saw the deliberate work of gardeners who trust that the seeds they have planted and the shoots they are nurturing throughout the artificial warmth will produce a breathtaking bounty. A greenhouse at the tail end of winter is a true illustration of the choice of believers, to rest in faith and to do the hard work of nurturing that which gives nothing back for an extended period, knowing that one day the real sun will shine on the leaves and the roots will be strong. The greenhouse is my circle, my community that seeks out the good. The containers filled with rosemary and thyme, just like those I see each week at church as we brush our lives against each other,  release the scent of hope a fragrance that fills the air and reaches my soul when I touched the tiny leaves.

The children in the Wednesday night programs heard about the life cycle of butterflies on their final night. They painted pictures of butterflies and investigated containers of larvae, watching as the tiny beings began to slowly, so slowly make their way to the top as they prepared to transform into new beings, completely unrecognizable as their former selves. How do they know to climb, to spin, to wait while wings are being prepared for them, for the freedom that comes with flying? These tiny beings know there is a better tomorrow coming. Plum was given his own small container to take home, a deeper need to see hope and God’s hand in all creation recognized in this child who lost his father with no warning or real explanation. This is my circle, filled with those who see suffering and move to alleviate any piece of it, people who show love every time they look at us. We are watching in anticipation as the large make their way up the sides of the plastic container, but more, I am watching my own transformation. I am being restored, pursued by a relentless God who knows I am stuck on the edge, struggling to find the way back into the light and away from the evil that surrounds. I am climbing back up after every fall and know that I am in the right circle where wise words, sweet understanding and continued prayers beat back the darkness.

Choosing hope, believing that while this world is filled with evil it is also brimming with goodness, knowing that tomorrow may bring more pain but also more healing, trusting that God can turn all the ugliness into something good, I rise and face this day. That is how we survive, even move to thrive. We just get back up.

What Will I Remember?

I have been spending a good chunk of my day time hours with a woman who is in the later stages of Alzheimers. Her home has been sold, her husband died a few years ago, she lives with her daughter and son-in-law for these last months or even weeks while that is still possible. While my presence allows her daughter to leave for work, to have a few hours of respite, I am really the one benefitting from this time. My lack of patience and quick anger dissipate as I drive up and exit my car. I know exactly what we will be talking about, four basic conversations on a loop that occur between her frequent naps. My responses are mostly set now, I know how to prompt her to better memories as she vers toward paranoia and her confusion about current moments threatens to overtake her. But more than the fact that these interactions are not taxing on me emotionally or mentally, I am learning a great deal from her.

Much could be said about the sadness surrounding the situation yet I feel blessed to be trusted with her, to keep her safe and drive her to get a hamburger and a Coke each day. With determination I seek out her laughter, a pathway to travel back to old pets and various employments, to find her smile and watch her mostly vacant eyes light up. Remembering also that her daughter has quietly stood with our family, has supported my Arrow for many many years behind the scenes, how he benefited from grace during his vulnerable times, I am grateful for the chance to be with her mom while she is most vulnerable.  Rather than sad, I find myself energized when I get in my car and leave the house, a purpose ahead of me rather than long days of ruminating and crying. Giving back to a friend who has never needed anything I could offer, this feels like closing a circle. Even more though, I am learning the danger when one begins to question the motives of those around, to forget the kindnesses of family and friends, to lose touch with all the good you have done in a lifetime. I see how lost she is when scary thoughts cloud out the current reality. A warning to me, I grasp that I could easily forget where I am, who I am, all the joy I have experienced if I stay in the darkness.

We look at old pictures and recall better days, she doesn’t recognize herself in her wedding picture or one from when she was a teen, yet there are some middle years that she can still recall and that is where we find our most laughs, when she can add bits of detail to stories each day. I feel at ease with her, I too have lost much of my history and struggle to recall details that add joyful color to my life. These current days are fraught with pain and second-guessing that push away the memories of my children as children, before they became adults with difficult choices and missteps of their own. Watching old home videos I am reminded of hugs and silliness and laughter, so much laughter and giggles and sweet sweet smiles. Those images remind me that our lives were love filled also, that darkness didn’t always have the edge. Being with my new friend reminds me to look back a bit further, to seek out the details of our lives and not fixate on the confusion that comes when I question why or how. Even more though I am aware that each day I have the choice to add more light, to see more light. Alzheimer’s may have taken this choice away for her, one of the many tragedies of this disease, she may not be able to so readily access happier times but I still have a chance. Thus I steer our talks away from why her sister doesn’t call (she does) and toward times when she was young and followed her sister around everywhere. We are focusing on her joy moments and she finds peace again. This is my roadway back to my own peace.

When I am older, when my faculties are strained, if I am blessed with someone who will visit me, who will listen to me reminisce, I pray I am brimming with stories of delight and not regrets, that I am able to settle into times when my purpose and worth are evident, when I was following my calling and who laughter surrounded me. Darkness will always seek to overwhelm the light, I will never be whole again, the loss is just too great. Yet I have today and another chance to create a memory worth celebrating, one that I can look to when all feels heavy and scary. The sun is shining, the coffee is hot, I slept most of the night. I can find blessings if only I remember to look. God has placed me with a teacher who may never know that she saved me by her example and the easy acceptance she offers as we chat and drive and walk outside, but I know and I will remember.

I Don’t Care and I May Never Again

A friend texted me that she was sorry to say it but this is my new normal. She knows, she has lost a son as well. She knows the struggle to be a friend, the struggle to find yourself after you have lost a portion of your heart. Can we really live with just pieces? I watched a dear friend donate a kidney, watched her recovery. She gave to a stranger, not because a family member needed it. She has been preparing for this her whole life, her health choices leading to a swift and full recovery. Yet the stories of those who give out of urgency, I understand their battle to regain their daily life, to live without pain meds. I too have only sliver of my original heart, it barely beats enough to sustain me, I am existing with the knowledge I will never be whole again. I lost the portion of my heart that cares, that holds concern, that oozes compassion with each beat.

I can no longer meet someone new. It just comes down to that, the realization that I will never enter into a new relationship without fear of the opening get-to-know you questions.  Do you have any kids? That moment of choosing whether to skip all the details or answer with truth, much like the moment when someone asks “how are you today” is paralyzing. Not including the information that my son has died is the easy route but still causes me to abandon all further discussion, no relationship is built. Alternatively, if I share what is really threatening to break me beyond healing, this new acquaintance might flee for the nearest exit as well, too much heaviness too soon. How do you respond to that overshare? Maybe I would be met with compassion but that threatens to destroy the thin hold I have on public composure as well. My living room, curtains drawn, alone as the tears freely flow, no expectations of a recent shower or combed hair, I am at my most honest. I barely note that the dogs want out or the cats need fed. Dust coats everything and I don’t care.

Keeping my circle of friends just the same as it was 8 weeks ago is safer, as if my ability to relate and behave acceptably in social situations died along with my son. Maybe this truth will be fleeting, lasting only during these early days of grieving, when mourning overwhelms my senses and requires all of my energy. The truth is that even chatting, even quick interactions with a cashier or the dental hygienist frustrate and anger me. My thoughts are on a loop, the refrain “I don’t care” beginning somewhere between the “hello” and the “How are you?” Introspective by nature, now I am self-absorbed, lacking empathy and devoid of compassion. Recognizing that I am not the kind of person I would want to get to know, I wonder if I ever will be again. Protective of my meager social skills and aware of just how exhausted I am, my interactions these days are limited to those who know and expect little of me. Putting on a mask to get through the check out line, responding when someone in passing nods or waves, I can’t keep it in place for longer than 5 seconds, it slips and I am lost again in memories that bring comfort or those what haunt me.

Sitting in the dentist’s chair, standing in the entry area at church, walking through the store all bring anxiety and the fear that I will scream out, “My son died! Stop talking to me.” Can you imagine? How alarming would such a breach of etiquette be, how could any of us recover from such an outburst? So I slink away when I can, I avoid whatever social situations I can. When stuck, like in the dentist’s chair or with a real talker as I try to scan my groceries, I check out mentally and wonder when they will notice that I am no longer present.  Attempting to connect with me, many people share stories of others who have lost someone important in their lives, an honest attempt to let me know they get it and yet the very act snaps the thread between us. I cannot accept any donations of more pain, I am at capacity. Thus chit chat overwhelms me, other stories of loss anger me. No, my circle has to be small enough that my instincts to host or be accommodating don’t war with the desire to scream. Worse yet, I can’t muster the desire to care how I am perceived.

Certainly there are people who know I can only be engaged for moments, they offer the space for me to float in and out without judgement. These folks are my inner circle, the friends who share grace with one who is full of judgement and anger. They know I have little to nothing to give and am selfishly taking, taking, taking. They join me for lunch and know it might be silent. They help me with meal preparation church and realize I am far away even as we stand side by side. They ask me how I am doing and really want to hear the answer.  Hours later as it occurs to me that I didn’t ask about them, that I showed no concern for their well-being, I wonder if they still see ME through the haze of my grief, if they believe I will one day be concerned about more than my broken crumbling heart. I can’t find me anymore, though I am not looking very hard.

To be the most honest, my Chef gets the worst of me, maybe that has always been true but my bad was not this horrible. My anger explodes is rapid bursts, I forget to ask about his day or check out quickly as he answers. He doesn’t have the luxury of sitting at home like me, he puts on the mask daily and enters the public arena where he laughs at jokes and shares basketball scores, he interacts as expected, I just can’t fathom how he puts on such a show. When he returns home, he is met with silence, an oppressive air of sadness that permeates the rooms and coats the walls. I remember years ago when we helped my mother move from one house to the next, nicotine could be seen dripping down the walls, leaving a stain noticed only when a picture was removed, when a planter was picked up. I know now that was sadness, not merely evidence that she smoked constantly inside. My sorrow has tainted my home, my relationships, my desire to be nice. He comes home to this, exhausted from holding his mask in place and finds me, sitting on the couch, with nothing to offer. The painful reality that he has tried to avoid all day confronts him as he puts his key in the lock. Yes, many days I even want to scream at him and he already knows. My son died and my heart is failing. Our relationship is stained and coated with tears that won’t stop.

I am lucky to have those deep friendships to keep me stepping out into the world, telling me that it is okay when I say shitty nasty judgmental things, they accept my anger. It could be that they are paving a way out of this darkness, pushing my heart to function in my new normal. Maybe one day I will say the words out loud, I will be able to share orally that my son died and then know how to say something else. Today, I can’t, all my thoughts stop there. No new relationships, minimal interaction with strangers, venturing into public for short bursts and no eye contact, this is my current reality. I don’t even care enough to apologize. The things I am sorry for are much deeper than poor social skills, much wider than forgotten niceties.  My son died. His heart stopped and I can’t find a way to make mine beat again without screaming out in agony.  We both ceased being us on that day.  I know I will never again hear him laugh, I can’t imagine ever doing so again either. I will never again watch his smile brighten the room, see his eyes sparkle. I cannot find the strength to lift my own lips in greeting, my eyes are dulled by devastation.  The cobwebs grow around me as relationships falter, as interactions sputter to a halt. I don’t care anymore and I may never again.