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 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.

 

Something is Rising

We celebrated Palm Sunday, the day Christians everywhere rejoice in the One who came to save us, paraded into town as we grabbed onto the hope He brought. I have heard the story related countless times, always a bit reluctant to join in the chorus, knowing much more would be asked of me through the church calendar in just days. Yet I can admit here that I am a much better Palm Sunday Christian than a Good Friday one. I am most comfortable following this man, this God among us, when things are going well. I can raise my hands and proclaim He is my king when I am filled with blessings and the mortgage is paid and the children are safe and happy. Yeah, party! Who doesn’t like a chance to see greatness, to snap a picture along the parade route of the biggest celebrity around? I am most fond of this humble man who sends out invitations to join His way of thinking, to be in relationship with His Father.  I can celebrate with the best sideline believers, waving my palms and singing praises. The real test comes on Friday, the symbolism not lost on me as I mark that day each week, remembering the phone call that came to tell me my son had died on an otherwise unremarkable Friday morning. Can I be a real follower even on Friday?

The progression from Sunday to Friday offers me countless opportunities to live as if I believe even when my heart is broken, even when I am fumbling around in the darkness. I wish I could say I seize those chances, that I trust the Light will always shine. I wish I could say that I once did at least, until my son died and my faith was severely tested. The truth is that I struggle to see Him when the parade is over, when I am alone and faced with the choice to believe. I continue to look for others who also joined the parade but have kept waving their palms, those who know and speak the truth to me as disciples, who don’t shout out for persecution when life is at its hardest. No, I am definitely a second wave believer at best, one who gets converted through the life and walk of those who understood the first time around. When Jesus was carrying the burden of my judgements and anger and shame on that cross, even then I was focused on Him not being who I wanted, not fulfilling all of my immediate needs. I miss the truth over and over, rejecting grace in favor of misery.

I wonder what it will take for me to go all in, to just lay down my doubts and stop hiding behind the waving palms of others. How many times will I be shown through the example of those sitting next to me in church, those who refuse to let me sob alone as the praise team fills the sanctuary with music and all I can feel is sorrow? How many times do I have to experience the grace that overflows when I share frustrations and anger and faulty perspectives with a friend and find I am still accepted even as I am gently nudged into kinder thoughts? Coming to accept that maybe I will always need the witness and example of those more firmly rooted in their faith to keep me walking towards the promised land, I can stop blaming and shaming myself for not being good enough, strong enough to walk in a way that leads others as well. Offering grace and compassion to myself, finding space to be good enough, that is the first step in accepting Him and his unconditional love for me. The steps over the last few years have been leading me here, to this day when I can say, “Oh Honey, you did the best you could.” I realize now Jesus was walking with me, asking to carry my cross the whole time.

As I inch forward and stumble and start again, the relentlessness of God is undeniable. He sends folks to walk with me, to share their struggles and how He has answered their prayers while they reach out a hand and help me up. When I am confused and questioning, clarity comes in the shape of truth speakers sprinkling bits of wisdom and hope like glitter that sparkles and sticks to me even as I try to brush it away.  He sends me out to care for a woman who has lost most of her identity and memories to Alzheimers, maybe the most unlikely of disciples solar, yet I find healing in recounting my own stories to someone completely unable to judge, someone who cannot take sides or evaluate my choices. She is forcing me to stay in the moment, in the conversation happening between us, to find niblets of joy without any self-consciousness. When she laughs, when she tosses her head back and her eyes sparkle with a memory, I forget about all the memories that hold pain and see that I can reorder my own to include ones that bring smiles. In the end, resurrecting every wrong or disappointment or humiliation  is just too much work and adds weight tot he cross I keep trying to carry alone.

We are heading into Friday, days where I can chose to see who God really is, the fullness of His love, or I can chant persecute and wonder why He didn’t live up to His promises. Fridays are hard for me these days, yet I sense something rising within me. I may be becoming one of the disciples, after all. I am being offered another chance to be a believer even when all goes wrong, when my soul is crushed under the weight of mourning. As I watched the children at church parade up to the altar, waving their palm fronds, I felt pulled to let it all go and join them, to unabashedly trust with them that while Fridays are horrible, Sunday does come. Another witness, sent to show me the way, these faith-filled children may have been the last straw. As I gave the thumbs up to my Plum as he stood before the church, I realized I wasn’t just saying good job to him but also affirming with he was doing was good and right and beautiful. And I was agreeing to stay course, to keep walking towards the altar myself. Sunday is coming.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

How Pictures Keep Him Close

For all of the negatives that smart phones have brought into our culture, I remain grateful for mine. My most used feature is maybe the same as yours, the camera. Having the ability to snap pictures and grab moments at any time, to crop and get just the right view, has allowed me to document and keep not just the big events like weddings and celebrations, but the odd moments of day to day life. When my grandson Plum was born, I became the photographer in the family, continuously snapping shots of him and his parents, of everyone around gazing at him. Arrow, my son, dubbed me “mama-razzi” and often bemoaned my dedication to preserving these moments. Still especially when he was in prison, those previous pictures and all the ones I took daily were a blessing to him, I sent over a 1,000 to him throughout his stint. These pictures that were for him are now my most treasured possessions.

I start each morning watching the video that mama made for the memorial service, the highlight reel of my son’s life. As soon as my sleep ends and the reality of a new day hits me, I find comfort in the thought of visiting with him, if only through pictures. “Good morning honey,” I silently greet him as the images flicker across my screen. Pause, stare, inspect, fall into each view as I remember that day, that slice of his life. Pictures are powerful gifts, their value growing as time moves on.  For now, looking at him over and over feeds the denial that he is truly gone. I am fighting acceptance, dragging my feet and heart into realization that my world is forever damaged, like the images that pop up and fade into the next, I can only hold this new reality for a flash. I jump to the next picture where he is alive and big and laughing and there is only joy.

My father died of a massive heart attack when I was 14, while he was in the hospital being teated for the one or two he had suffered the previous week at home. Closeted in the separate waiting room, the one where they gave the bad news to families, I remember overhearing a nurse say that he had tried to jump off of the table, his pain was so great. For 40 years I have considered that level of pain, that desire to escape what is happening within our own body, a futile attempt to leave, to stop the excruciating nightmare. Until that morning 6 weeks ago,  I was never truly able to understand. Maybe it is harder for those of us who learned to dissociate at such a young age.  My challenge has always been feeling the pain, acknowledging what is happening to my body, until I learned that my son had died. Now every morning, countless times throughout the day, I want to scream, to jump up and roar that this is too much, to leave where I am and go somewhere that the pain cannot follow. I long for an escape, to go someplace else where this attack on my heart cannot reach. Resisting the outbursts that bubble within me, I don’t scream or jump or roar, instead I look at pictures.

I hear his deep voice calling me mamarazzi, asking me to send him all the pictures I have taken as he poses and plays with his son, as he snuggles with our beasts and cuddles the cats gently with his huge hands.  Reliving each moment, I hold him close and forget for mere seconds that I will never take another of him, seconds that stop me from jumping out of my skin in anguish. Click, the video starts again. Good morning honey.