A Better Prayer

Someone at church had the bright idea to add a graphic with the prayer of St. Francis right on the front of our bulletin, the paper everyone entering the sanctuary is given in order to have something to read during the slow parts of the sermon.  I think it may have been our pushy pastor, who seems to want me to be better than I am.  Actually, this is a fake prayer because St. Francis isn’t even believed to have written it. I graciously gave him some feedback after the service, letting him know I was okay with it all except the pardoning nonsense, asking that he please edit it out and I would be on board. Further consideration has brought to light though that I really am not okay with much of the prayer. I prefer my version to the one posted and invite you to join me in being a real Christian and living this out.
This is the version presented, you can see it is full of errors.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen
Lord, let others be instruments of peace, the kind that doesn’t infringe on my views and ideology and need to express my inner snark.
Where there is hatred, let others stop being passionate about their kids and causes and political stances and understand that I am right
Where there is injury, let others stop being so thin-skinned and to seek out how they have injured me
Where there is doubt, let others grow their faith while my fears are allowed to fester and grow roots
Don’t even talk to me about despair, mine is clearly deeper than yours and should be all we discuss
Where there is darkness, let others be the light to fire up other’s candles. Please don’t ask me to share this little light of mine.
Sadness, really? Joy is overrated and I prefer not to see cute pictures of kittens and your grandchildren. Let others find their own way out of that. Not my responsibility.
Yep, you God, give me all the consolation for my broken heart and don’t show me that of others. Me first, if any consoling energy is left, then you can start on the hungry, on the imprisoned, those who are afraid and alone or those worried about the next house payment or where their children are. Me Me Me.
Further, lets all seek to understand my struggle and journey and inability to shower as often as I should, the fact that I can’t seem to stop smoking and drink too much wine.
Also, I will graciously accept all the love, don’t ask me to love those who have hurt me or taken the parking spot I was waiting for or post stupid things on social media that I don’t agree with. My posts are of course never hurtful or judgmental, all spring out of infinite wisdom and the best of intentions.
I will willing accept all that is given if I want it and will give as it is convenient, left over bags of lentils and cans of beets are acceptable donations for food drives and cast off socks to Goodwill can be taken off my taxes without guilt.
(Here is the tricky part but I think this works best)
Pardon me for anything and everything I have ever done and will probably do again. You know my heart and it is blameless. The others who have wronged me and the list is long, Lord, you know it is, well, let them learn from their wrongs and beg for my forgiveness.
I choose not to let go of my sins, I’m not gonna die and bring forth goodness right now, just not a good time for me. I’ll get back to this one when the timing is better, I’m not yet ready to let go of my sinning. I definitely think others should work on this though, I can provide a complete list of those who have some behavior issues for you to get on, God.
Can I get an Amen?

Jesus and Broken and New Life

Today marks the first day of spring, bringing the promise of warm breezes and bursts of color, of longer days and more sunshine according to the calendar if not yet evident in my yard. I’ve always welcomed the changing seasons, arranging my concept of time along 3 month chunks, knowing whatever was going on around me whether bright like summer or dark as winter, only required my celebration or dread for a short time. Cold winter days and frigid nights were manageable for me, always the promise of Spring ahead as I crossed off days and looked for crocus to break through the snow. Fall brings the last invitations to stay outside more comfortably, bonfires keep us engaged in nature and breathing crisp air as it chills, the sun setting before we have even had dinner. I lived in California for a year, experiencing the slight changes the calendar brought, I was out of step and confused when leaves didn’t change color and the sun kept shining. I moved back home to Indiana where endless summers don’t exist and time is clearly marked for me. Now though, I want to stop the clock, stay in winter bundled under covers, wearing thick socks and heavy sweaters. I don’t want the calendar to move forward to a new season of hope and short sleeves, of children running through the yards and riding bikes. I’m not ready.

With each day, I wake to find the calendar is moving me further from the time when my son breathed and laughed and made silly faces. The moment he stopped doing any of those things brought a different invitation, a choice for me to keep marking calendar days or to stop seeing promises of new days entirely. I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle, rising each morning but dreading the move into a new season that my son will never experience. I’m dragging my feet into spring, leaving my heart in winter, choosing not to notice that I don’t need a coat as often, cursing the sounds of children playing outside games filled with running and shouts that carry through the air to my back porch. Losing a child has taught me that everything is now flipped, I don’t want anything that I used to relish. Spinning, tumbling through the days, I don’t seek out stability and security and warmth, signs of newness. I want my dark cave of winter where I can wail and moan, maintain my stuckness alone, less noticeable as others cocoon during the winter months. And what does it mean if I move into the next season, cross that line into the living without my son? It is clearly marked for me, I have to choose now more than ever to embrace the next promise or wallow in the one that was broken. Front porch wind chimes insist I hear even in my cave that the winds of a new season create beauty. I curse them too.

I heard my pastor pray over the congregation this weekend, saying words like Jesus and broken and new life that I have heard most of my life. Yet this man on this day said it and what I can only assume was the Holy Spirit who must have really wanted me to experience those words in a new way, shook me and woke me and altered me. Rather than focusing on the new life given through death, I really heard how He was broken. How He hung on that cross with a destroyed body and yet resurrection was just on the other side. Remembering that this God does know about mourning and breaking and so does His Son, I knew I wasn’t alone. I heard the story of wheat that had to be crushed and planted to bring more to life, I know about crushing and breaking and being buried under the weight of loss. I picture God in that in between time, when hope was just a breath away but the darkness was all around. He too knew that good would come but it didn’t change the sorrow of the moment. Newness couldn’t come without the breaking.

I have resisted the hint of anything good coming from my son’s death, a price too high for any joy that could come after to a mama’s heart. When news thatch of my son’s children received a Social Security check, I was filled with a deep nausea that has only mildly dissipated. While logic says this is good and ensures the children have college funds and a sure supply of food, I can’t help thinking that he was worth more dead than alive based on the checks. I want him instead of the money. I want him instead of a new day. I want him instead of anything and accepting the anything feels like I have turned my back on him, been bought off with daffodils and college tuition and trips to museums. The truth is that it was never either/or. It wasn’t a segment on the Price Is Right, trade in my child for a better future for his. Still, it feels as if accepting the calendar moving and one season siding into the next separates me further from the baby I carried, the child I nurtured, the young man I fought for, the man who left his earth too soon.

I’m with God in the dark days of mourning, He is with me, as I struggle to hold on to winter, as I celebrate that even if the calendar says spring it is cold outside and I need a coat. I’m not ready yet to move forward, each step into the future separating me from a past that holds my child. Time continues without consulting me, never asking if I am prepared for resurrection and buds on the trees. I’m not yet celebrating restoration and sun rays filling my front room. No Easter decorations adorn my front door, no bunnies or eggs grace my dining room table. I’m holding onto winter for a bit longer, even as it lets go of me. My son left us, he didn’t ask if we were ready to release him.  Still he is gone and I am left knowing just how little control I have, unable to save him or stop the warm air from coming. It must be the Holy Spirit whispering to me that it is okay to be broken, to be mourning and lost. One day I may again embrace the fresh scent of lilacs sweeping in open windows. Not today. Just as I cannot see through the fury of a snowstorm, I cannot find my path into sunshine with tear filled eyes. The seed that was planted all those years ago as I heard other prayers about Jesus and broken and new life, that was nurtured and fertilized with stories of others survival through broken times, that seed is pushing upward toward the light, willing spring to come anyway.

I hear you pastor, and Holy Spirit and wind chimes. I’m just not ready.

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.

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.