I Remember You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I See The Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever Altered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrow Graduated

The first Sunday in November our church recognizes those who have passed on to be with God during the previous 12 months. A picture appears on the screen, a chime rings out as the name is spoken with reverence. This year was personal, this year my son would appear on the screen, just another reminder of what I was missing, how my heart was crushed by this grief. I knew it would be impossible to endure the service without tears, I didn’t expect the sobs that overtook me. More than the memorial services, this was the evidence that he is no longer with us. Yet something unexpected has happened since that chime rang out, since my smiling boy graced the screen. I saw not only what I have lost but what he has gained.

Most of these 11 months I have been angry at God, questioning why He didn’t save Arrow one more time. I felt tricked into believing in His power, I felt abandoned in my love for this child. When my pastor spoke about those people who all appeared on the screen, he opened my soul to a different perspective. Like a group of high school seniors, receiving their diplomas, ready to enter into the next phase of their journey, all those people on the screen, this class of saints, had entered into heaven. I saw the pictures of those my Arrow had joined, there were some real rock stars of the faith in his class. He is in amazing company. Further, my pastor reminded me that Arrow is no longer hindered by the demon of addiction, he is living his best life whole, without misery and pain and sorrow. He is finally who I knew he could be.

I heard a whisper this morning, a question from God, asking if I could see that He had had saved my boy. I realized that God had truly ached alongside us as we worried and cried and prayed for Arrow’s safety, for his freedom from drugs and alcohol. I heard God say, “Lisa, we tried everything and I knew it was time to bring him home, bring him closer to me. I will protect him for eternity. He is safe now.  You will one day see his smile, hear his laughter and you will rejoice as well.”  I know it sounds crazy, I rely on others to hear from our God, my hearing loss has been acute when it comes to the voice of God. Yet, still… today I heard the reassurance from the one who has suffered my anger and nudged others to comfort me in His place. I found a truth so deep in my soul that even I couldn’t ignore it, rebuff the knowledge. My arrow is safe and I no longer have anxiety bout the next phone call, about who might hurt him or who may be in the way of his drug-clouded choices. I know where my son is, I know who he is with.

His graduating class is one of true honor, some friends who I know are welcoming him and letting him know how much I miss him, they watched me grieve as well. I know he will be also be on the welcoming committee for those who come after.  He is safe.  He is whole.  He is watching his children grow, able to give his full attention to them finally. And I am able to forgive God and ask for forgiveness for my hardened heart. I get it. I finally see that he is indeed in a better place and he is a better man now.

I will surely still shed tears, I will spend some days sobbing over what I have lost. I will look at his son and see all the promise that Arrow once held as well. The anger though, that has surely evaporated, replaced with the breath of hope and unexplainable love that  entered my soul this morning.

Changing Time

The wonder of waking to see that my phone and the clock that has rested on the table on my Chef’s side of the bed are an hour apart, understanding that someone somewhere created a program to automatically adjust time while I slept on my device, leaving me with the chore of adjusting all the other clocks around the house to accuracy as time change Sunday arrives. Mentally considering each one that must be pulled from the wall, manually turned back to give an extra hour today, I can’t help but question why I should stop at just one hour, why not go back days, weeks, months. I was given an extra hour to sleep today but what if I had an extra year, 4 years, to go back and redo all the wrongs and the angry words and the missed calls and and and.  Where would I stop?

Ten and a half months have now passed since my son died, 7,665 hours that continuing to accrue and yet I am given this one extra? I want more, I want to go back years. I want to travel to the days of relationship with my daughter, I want to return to when her laughter filled my soul. I want to go back to the days before Arrow’s addiction charted a course we couldn’t alter, back to when he was silly and safe.  How many times must I twist the dial to get back to when life felt sweeter and full of possibility? Each day now brings me closer to the anniversary, December 29, which means all the first times so far have been preparation for this big event, the milestone that shows I have survived without him against what I have often desired. I made it through his birthday, his son’s, mine, Chef’s. Through holidays and spring flowers and starry nights and full moons, through little days and every damn Friday since I got that call that will always mark the before and after of my life. I could go back to before that, but really to set things right, I would have to go much further.

We must be careful with adjusting time, taking only that one hour. If I go back 9 years, I could mess up the sequence and never know my Plum, never hold that tiny baby and sing him to sleep, never teach him to drink from a cup and drop the bottle, never potty train this little boy or help him learn to sleep in the knowledge that he was safe and secure.  I wouldn’t hear his giggles and find Lego everywhere in my home. No, I must only take the 1 hour given, there is still too much to lose by going back which means I must have a reason to go forward. Just as I taught him to tie his shoes and step into the world with confidence, I take the next step and the next, stumbling and tripping and resting often, but moving ever forward.

Looking back is risky. My breathing slows, my thoughts create an impenetrable fog, I miss the sunlight on the leaves. Trusting that timing is above my station, that I cannot return to former days and cannot rush forward to a place where it doesn’t  hurt, I am left with today. One extra hour to wallow, to wonder, to wish, yet still the same 24. A fresh start, a chance to not make the same mistakes and seek forgiveness for those already committed. An opportunity to live into trust, that someone is programming the time to be exactly what I need. I’ll take that extra hour to be gentle with myself, I’ll offer kind words to someone who needs them, I’ll go to bed a bit early tonight and pray to visit with my children at least in my dreams.

How will you spend your extra hour today? May it bring you a sliver of peace and an offering of grace, a chance to tell someone you are sorry and you love them and you delight in their presence in your life. As we move the clocks back, we still must go forward awash in the grace of the Ultimate Timekeeper who understands every minute counts.

 

Gratitude Again

Where friends and family are pondering entering into what for many is the busiest season of the year, holidays hitting with rapid succession, my season has just ended. Preparing meals for our church gatherings each Wednesday and Thursday, two funeral meals, two huge church celebrations, and finally last night a catering for a rehearsal dinner. 7 weeks of intense cooking and planning and shopping all behind me, the quiet again ahead. The constant motion has provided little time to sit and think, to stew and reflect on all of my worries and heartaches, a respite from my emotional pain even as my body ached and rebelled and wished for sleep. As I consider my one neglected home and my critical need for a haircut, I can only see the blessings of this season and know that the sheer ability to say that is progress.

My sanctuary is the church kitchen, the place where I can just be, where friends wander in for a quick chat and a nibble, where people appreciate the gifts I have to offer and there is no pressure to smile.  Yet the smiles and laughs come easily there, the room where children come in and ask if “Miss Lisa needs any help” and proceed to carry out whatever crazy task I give them. Where sweet potato mishaps and a counter covered in leeks are merely part of the story.  This is the place in our church where people 20 years older than me come in to help wash dishes and set out salt and pepper shakers, where people trust me to guide them. I have been amazed at the grace that flows so freely, at the undeniable goodness of people I encounter. Each interaction, every single one, has been healing for me, as if each person took hold of my hand and chose to walk a bit of the journey with me, bringing me back into a restored relationship with the One who sent them into to the kitchen.  They may have thought they were painting a ham with marinade or finding serving utensils, but truly they were showing me a God I could love again, evaporating my anger with every bite of a steak sandwich or the hauling of tables around the room.  Grace, they all offered me grace that I lapped up as eagerly as they consumed the shrimp at the low country boil.

The disruption of two funeral meals in the midst of this chaotic season could have destroyed the momentum I was feeling, the deep sadness threatening to send me back to the couch. An elderly gentlemen who joined his wife in heaven, a man who exemplified a servants heart, that was tough. Then a young man, was too soon, just inconceivable that this could be happening again, although in much different circumstances than my Arrow. I felt honored to be in service, behind the scenes as families gathered to mourn these saints. I felt the wash of my grief even as I recognized that neither event was about me, not about my tears. I remember little of the memorial service we held for Arrow, I attended moments of each of these and allowed the words and songs to minister to me as well, selfishly trusting that the faith on display that we would see these men again to cover my son as well. Unbelievably , friends held me as I sobbed, surrounded me in my own pain and not a single one shamed me for not being able to focus on this very loss and not my own. How could I deserve this grace and love? The generosity of kindness reminded me that I will never deserve any of it, yet it is freely given.

Monday of this week I was given the opportunity to speak to a local fraternity about addiction and consequences. I looked out at these young men and saw promise, saw hope. Even as I shared our struggles with Arrow’s demons, I told them I don’t expect my story to change theirs, that no amount of talking and begging and pleading could save my son, surely they would ignore a stranger in front of them pouring out her heart. What I did remind them is that someone loves them as dearly as I loved my son, that they have value and worth in their very existence and someone would be devastated and broken if they make the wrong choice. I shared the truth that no one wants to grow up to be a heroin addict, that there are hundreds of choices that priced that end result and those steps matter. Looking out for their friends and loved ones, making hard choices to share secrets and act on concerns, that is where I pray they will go. These young men listened and asked beautiful questions and spoke one-on-one with me after. They offered me the opportunity to share my love for my son, something I regret not being able to do at his memorial. They offered me healing with their attentiveness and respect. Another step closer to restoration of my faith.

Finally last night, I was given the opportunity to cater a rehearsal dinner, the first time both sides of the wedding families met. It was glorious to be hovering around such sweet gentle people who laughed and shared stories and accepted the challenge to expand their own sense of family. What a blessing to be on the periphery of this joining, to hear the chatter and watch the groups morph into family, as if I were watching a birthing. New life happened in front of me, around me even as my heart was heavy over the loss of such a young life celebrated mere hours before. Circles, I saw the continuity of life and loving and again, felt my soul accepting the grace and healing so generously given.

Aching feet, groaning back muscles, the aroma of pesto and cartelized onions. I brought all into my home late last night to be greeted by a little boy voice. “Gran, will you snuggle with me?’ My Plum was supposed to be asleep already, I anticipated a glass of wine and my feet on the stool but instead got to hear some giggles and reminiscence from his day, the absolute best way to grow closer to the God who made all this impossible. This morning the dishes are done, the calendar is cleared and a weekend away with my Chef and Plum await. I know I will be traveling with a lighter heart and with too many people to thank for assisting along this journey. Grateful.  I am grateful and I haven’t felt that way since December 29th. I am being restored, a process that causes aching muscles and exhaustion. but my God, the view from the other side is amazing. Thank you to each of you who have held my hand, you are my hero and my deepest friends and I can say with honesty that I am thanking the God I have avoided for months now, for all of you.

No Light, No Grace

When I began this blog and considered the title, it seemed fitting to establish my roots in faith. I sought examples of God’s light and wanted to document experiences of grace as I journeyed through each day. But what now, when darkness seems to close in unexpectedly, when grief overcomes my ability to see or trust the Light? Certainly I have been shown grace as my emotions rule, as tears flow in the midst of everyday conversations or when I appear hardened and aloof, trying desperately not to feel in order to complete tasks. Truthfully though, I have discovered during this mourning time that I don’t find the light to be bright enough,  the grace I once knew was from God is little comfort. Marooned, angry, unable even to recognize a thirst for healing waters, I realize I have lost my ability to write as well.

What was comfort, a means to express what I often couldn’t say out loud, now feels like whining and moaning and pointless. Shall I say each day that I am sad? Shall I list all the ways I have displayed my anger? Who really wants to read such depressing drivel? How can I find my way back as a light-seeker when I am distrustful of the rays that break through, knowing the night is coming again, the inky blackness that mutes colors and turns all who move around me into shadows? Eleven years I was faithful in praying to a God, asking fervently for the prayers of others who seemed more deeply faithful, that my son would be given a way out of his addiction, that he would be safe and redeemed and restored. A pastor told me once, through the darker times, that my Arrow was working on his testimony, that one day he would share his witness. Taking this as a promise from one who had the inside track to God, I just knew Arrow would stand in church one day and thank everyone for coming alongside him in prayer, for propping up his family and caring for his child He would say he was now a believer and committed to a different life. I held this as a promise even when he was homeless and filthy, even when he was missing and the police were searching for him. I trusted this plan when he was in danger in prison and when he attempted suicide. I trusted God with my child, yet God took him anyway.

Tricked, I feel tricked. I search for a way back to God, a reason to go back to God. I still beg him to protect my daughter, to keep my husband safe, to watch over my grandchildren but I know He may not be listening to me. After all, why hasn’t He restored my daughter to us? Why is life often complicated and difficult with Plum’s mom? When is it going to go our way, when? Yes, we have a safe home and food in our fridge, we are mostly able to pay all the bills and our health allows us to participate in our church ministries. Still my deepest yearnings, my fervent prayers lay at the altar, abandoned neglected shriveled. I want the easy joys of restoration and relationship and celebrations, when do I get my share, my payback for the mistake of taking my son? Kubler Ross might notice I am angry and bargaining and oh so far from acceptance.

I listen as others who are mourning or have grown in their grief talk about the assurance of a better place for their lost loves, knowing I am rejecting their faith, rejecting the idea that the timing was God’s intention. How can I believe that Arrow was supposed to die alone in his kitchen with drugs coursing through his body, destroying the chance of listening to his children laugh and walk and run and play football? What sense does that make? How can I not feel rejected by the One I have followed, to give me this child only to rip him from our lives?  No, writing does make me feel better, see truths I may have missed. I can only rant and scream out with the ragged voice of one who has suffered a wound so catastrophic that wholeness will never be possible.

I am sad. Everyday I am sad. Every minute I ache and I search for answers that won’t come. Acceptance of this loss and of a new relationship with the One who pulls the strings seem far off, out of reach to a mother who just wants to hear her son laugh again.

The Long Game

A whirlwind weekend is coming to a close, today will be just as busy and yet the string of holy moments deserve to be considered each on their own. A vision begun over a year ago for a ministry pursuing restorative justice culminated in a 13 hour training with 25 folks who are interested in exploring mentoring relationships with those returning to the community after incarceration, those who are on supervision with the probation department. Each step of the wondering, wishing, planning, researching came together as we learned from a man who traveled from Vermont to help us establish the structure and resources and boundaries to take the next steps. His evidence-based approach has proven results and his wisdom was astounding. He gave to us freely, he challenged us deeply, he gave us much more than his presence for the 4 days we have spent with him. While I celebrate him, I am also in awe of those who chose to participate, those who supported us by providing meals and cleaning up the kitchen. The broad base of encouragement we have received allowed us to be fully present, to not miss a word.

I thought originally I was moved to be involved in this project after reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, a book which spoke to my social work heart. After developing a relationship with the men and women at the local probation department, later interviewing my own officer from almost 30 years ago, I thought I was doing this for my own healing. I even considered I was doing this because I had lost my son after 4 years of his own incarceration, it was 3 years ago today that we picked him up from prison to bring him home quickly and then on to his half-way house before he could finally return completely to our nest. I thought I wanted to be involved in this ministry to provide what my son lacked, a circle of support and accountability that would ensure a greater chance of success. I am motivated to save another mother’s child, even while I mourn the death of my own. Or maybe it was the echoes of the voices of women I left behind in prison, those who begged me not to forget them, to do something, anything to make their lives better. Each step along this journey has proven that my deep involvement with the ministry is personal, is healing to me as well, even as I see how it is already touching the lives of others.

We watched d a documentary of the Vermont program in action, we listened to the stories of  folks who are the core members of these circles as their lives post-incarceration unfolded.  Ugly resentment and jealously rose up in me as I desperately wished we had started this program 3 years ago so my son could benefit even as I watched a young man battle with his addiction and eventually return to prison. I became so invested in his success that when he fell, I was heartbroken again, tears too numerous to discretely swipe away covering my cheeks. And yet, and yet, there is hope.

Hope in the questions and searchings of those who attended the training. Hope in the commitment of those who filled out paperwork to come along side those struggling in our community. Hope in leaving where we are comfortable to step into an unknown, a place with no guarantees of big joys or happy rewards. I found hope and healing being in the presence of a community that is willing to see addiction and violence and manipulative behavior and then look deeper. I found the washing away of stigma as the flood waters of mercy and acceptance flowed around the room and my heart broke some more but in the best possible way.

I cannot not see the timing in this all, the fact that the grief group I agreed to attend begins tonight, an expected circle of my own of support and accountability, a place to look at my aching heart and my lost dreams and find comfort. I cannot not see the lights above the stairways at every entrance to the courthouse, small circles of light that shine on everyone who passes through the doors, lights that were shown to us at our very first meeting with probation, something you have to look for, that are missed everyday and yet they are unmoving, they are constant. I can see God deeply present in all we are doing, reminders of His love and unrelenting pursuance of our souls, of mine.

While I am filling my days with activity, pulling on stands of connection in order to avoid the overwhelming sadness that surrounds me, maybe I could be accused of avoidance, of not facing the loss and grief and devastation head on. I certainly point that finger at myself often enough. This weekend though, all the days and weeks preceding, meetings and copies and emails and planning, have kept me returning to the church, kept me within my safe circle where I can be vulnerable and authentic and still contribute to something bigger than the hole in my heart. That very willingness, that draw to connect, to accept the grace that is freely offered to me, I know I am merely riding on the backs of those who have stronger faith, deeper spirituality, less doubt. And that is okay. We all need to be carried sometimes, we all reach out, we lift others along the way too, if we are truly committed to this Jesusy thing. In the midst of all that is wrong and broken, I am borrowing the hope of others, the joys in possibilities, the new beginnings and the shared  pain of endings.

I see you God, I see what you are doing in placing those who deserve my trust right in my path, knowing that one day I might just extend that trust to you. The long game, where ultimately I offer up my entire life and heart to you, I see it. Today I can give the pieces that reflect your light, ever crowding out the darkness that once controlled my choices. This day I will rejoice a bit and be glad of new ministries and circles of support and accountability and maybe find some rest.

 

 

Sweet Discoveries

I noticed the special bags of candy already appearing in the grocery store as I ambled along, I resisted at the first pass but gave in to another display. Bags of bite-sized chocolates, sweets that curb cravings without the guilt of full bars. Hiding this treasure in my office where mostly no one goes, I thought they were safe, that I could dole them out slowly and gingerly to the child, to my hubby. Instead, my Plum chose that weekend to explore my get-away, he loves the rolling chair and the bowls and baskets of gran’s specials. He found the candy, a pile of wrappers on my desk shouted tiny portions be damned. Aside from the issue of him not cleaning up after himself, I know now that the candy was leading me to a sweeter discovery, equally unhealthy if I over-indulge.

An old flash drive filled with pictures and videos, a remnant of an older laptop wiped of important content, lay forgotten in a clay pot my mother made many years ago. When Arrow died and I sought pictures to no avail, knowing I had them somewhere but my scattered thoughts and shocked soul couldn’t formulate where to look.  Swooshing silvery packages into the trash, my eye finally noticed the equally tiny drive that held the memories I sought for 8 months. Once it was attached to my Mac, thousands of images greeted me, luring me into high school, to days before Plum was born, to Stella and her cats and her new car and Sunday dinners with her friends each week of her early college career. Scanning, clicking, devouring the photos like my Plum surely indulged in the 3 Musketeers and Twix bars, I couldn’t stop. Then I found the videos.

Stella holding Plum, gently moving on the porch swing while Arrow blows bubbles, the delighted giggles of my Plum as he watches his father’s face and the resulting laughter of both my children. It is all there. Off-screen, separate from the joy of the moment but recording it unaware that the day would come when hearing that voice, watching that face would mesmerize me. Stella and Arrow, united in bringing joy to the child they both loved first, fiercely. Here in the sanctuary of my porch while they focused on the baby, I recorded my son engaging with his. I can’t stop watching.

I am seeking a new hiding place for the candy jar, somewhere out of reach of my Plum. I wonder if I need to do the same with this flash drive, I have that sick feeling in my stomach that comes from too much sugar. I watch, I get lost in memories, I reject the knowledge that my Arrow, so big and funny and full of life, will never appear in another video, that he will never elicit giggles from his children again. All motivation, the forward movement, the busyness that has kept me rising each day has disappeared, replaced by the sugar low of watching the scene unfold over and over and over. Layers of my denial litter the table where my laptop rests, a trail of tears as messy as the evidence of Plum’s binge.

Was I supposed to find this treasure trove of memories right now? Can I believe that the Holy Spirit led me to by bags of candy and stash them exactly right there? How much of a reach is it to think God believes I am strong enough right now to revisit those days and not get lost? Seeking affirmation that I can do these hard things, magical thinking that assigns power outside of me, I know that if I don’t hide that jar, Plum too will sneak more and I will stay in that day 7 years ago when joy abounded.

Tomorrow I will move the candy and hide the flash drive, maybe. Knowing they both exists though, Plum will search and I will sneak. That moment when the chocolate coats his tongue, bliss. That moment when I see my smiling son, ecstasy.  Pretending we won’t feel sick afterwards, ignoring the warnings that scream for moderation, he slides into my office, I click the play arrow again. Tomorrow, tomorrow we will regain self-control.

 

Selectively Mute

I keep wondering about the first word uttered by someone who is selectively mute. Imagining all the words unspoken, sounds and sentences swallowed and smashed within the soul, the pressure of holding it all in, finally some phrase escapes, repaving the path for those that follow. The trust involved in sharing that first vocalization, or is it anger  pushing it up and out? When I received my son’s death certificate, I stopped writing. I wanted to scream and rant and point fingers and hurl insults at God and all who enabled my child’s drug use. What could only be the Holy Spirit guiding me, I chose to go mute, lasting now for over three months. I didn’t ask for guest writers to fill the pages of my blog, I didn’t warn anyone that I was taking a break like I did after suffering the second concussion. I just stopped, a bad move when numbers of followers is the measure of meaningfulness to writers of blogs. I became mute.

The words wouldn’t come at first, too deep was my sorrow and too personal was my pain. Words that once were my catharsis now were treasures to be shared sparingly with only a close circle. Requiring absolute trust meant my utterances were heard by only a few, tentative whispers and long howling cries to sanctuary friends who accepted that I was sad, still sad, no end in sight to my sadness. My child died from heroin, fentanyl, speed and xanax. There, you know the truth I have carried for 3 months, a truth I suspected but secretly hoped was false. What if he really had died of some natural cause, how would that be better? Yet 11 years of fighting his addiction seemed wasted, the money, the energy, the hopes. Still, there was comfort in believing he most likely fell asleep, like we say of the elderly who go peacefully. I try to tell myself he wasn’t in pain as he lay in his kitchen, overdosed and alone. I know though the truth, that his life was painful and agonizing and miserable, his use confirms it. Addiction is a bitch, a horrid monster and he was consumed with it. Three months to speak this truth. Finally the pressure to hold the words in has become too great.

I watch friends and family and fellow worshipers watch me. They celebrate and congratulate me when I seem to be having a good day. “You look so good, it is great to see you smiling.” Meeting the expectations of those who prefer to hurry me along in this ugly grieving causes me to laugh and share a joy and put on clean clothes and shut the door to my anguish in public. I go silent. I don’t say that I showered only once that week or that as soon as I leave church or their company, I will collapse exhaustedly for another week. Pushing down sorrow is slave labor. There is no rest, no escaping the ache that is deep within my bones. There is no cure for an apathy that screams , “I just don’t care,” an act of rudeness that would hurt others, that allows for no return. I cannot trust myself to speak kindly, with compassion to others, I go silent. Remembering the anxiety during my first pregnancy, wondering what labor truly would feel like, would I be strong enough and would I embarrass myself by pooping on the hospital bed, I fretted and worried and dreaded, almost. Yet actual birth, the contractions as my body sought to expel the child within was fast and glorious and surely hurt like hell although I don’t remember so much. I do recall that my body took over, an engineering feat that could only be designed by the Master of all. Grieving is desperately trying to reverse that process, trying to hold tears in and push away thoughts and keep from shitting on friends. Silence is preferable, until the pressure is unbearable and the expectations be damned.

I have often wanted to write of joys, indescribable blessings that surprise me and bring a respite from the pain, like those moments when the monitor says you are in between contractions. I have wanted to write of my anger, the fury that sharpens my tongue and explodes from my body as I light another cigarette and throw the damn ball for the dog. I have wanted to write of the tiny moments of peace, of the disturbing dreams and the emptiness, but I went silent, knowing my thoughts were not fit to express in polite society and could cause harm to others. Selectively mute for three months, resisting the urge to wipe the dust away from my laptop, pushing pushing pushing the words back inside. Until now.  Until this day when I can safely say that I am sad, I am still sad. I can’t find the light and I have little grace to offer.

Choosing to break the silence has become an equal burden to maintaining my quiet. Progress? Please do not expect that.  Wisdom, I have none. Every breath counts when you are giving birth and when you are dying and when you are trying to remember that smoking is bad and pop tarts aren’t dinner. I am still trying to breathe, to bring air into this messy soul and shattered heart. I have broken my silence, though, if only to relieve a bit of the pressure within, if only to say that I am still here.