With Strong Wings He Flies

When we were making arrangements, we made the decision to have him cremated. Well,  I made the decision.  I think everyone was still in too much shock to contradict me.  Somehow, putting his body in the ground seemed to cryptic to me…too lonely.  I didn’t want him to be forgotten somewhere 6 feet under while total strangers walked all over him as they hunted for their own loved ones.  I recalled my half brother who passed 7 years ago at the age of 23.  My husband and I would go often to “visit him” and put flowers on his graveside.  I looked at people that had died years before and remember thinking how sad it was that they were forgotten.  The once shiny headstones were covered with dirt or over grown grass.  Time and weather had eroded their engraved lives away.  For whatever reason, family and friends had either moved away, moved on or there simply was no one left to honor them.  I vowed that I would not forget to visit my half brother, but life started getting in the way.  Our visits stated falling by the wayside.  Excuse after excuse would creep up.   I had good intentions but ultimately I had failed him.  I feared others would fail my son as well.

A few weeks had gone by and we had not heard from the funeral home.  I was actually OK with not knowing where we were with the process.  I felt that the longer it took, the easier it would be to pretend this had never happened.

I was sitting in the living room with my daughter when I heard my husband come home.  He walked over to us, gave us a kiss and went back outside.   We would hear the back door open and close a couple more times, but I figured he was giving Alix and myself some alone time.  After about 30 minutes, Alix said she wanted to go to her dads.  I think she worried more about him than me. She had never seen her dad cry and fall apart.  A strong veteran officer of the law who has seen the worse of the worse, had become feeble and broken. Her tough as nails hero, a man that once was untouched by any tragedy had suddenly become a fragile and shattered  stranger.

As we got up from the couch, we looked over to the kitchen.  There on the table were 4 boxes.  I stared a them for a few moments trying to wrap my brain around was right in front of me.  I felt this overwhelming fear come over me.  A knot formed in my stomach and I thought I was going to be ill.  My daughter wasn’t sure what to make of these boxes yet.  I walked to the table slowly and pulled out the chair to sit down.  I gently opened the first box my husband handed me.  He said “That one is Joe’s”.  It was a beautiful cherry oak box with my son’s name and his date of birth and the date of his passing.  The next one was Sarini’s. A heart shaped velvet box with a small onyx urn inside.  He then slid over the 3rd box.  “I ordered this one for you” he said with tears in his eyes.  I opened the box and it was a beautiful stone carved angel sitting on a rock.  It was engraved, “Your Little Angel.”  Joey always signed his cards or letters to me, ‘I love you mom, Your little angel, Joey.’ I pulled all of the boxes, including the one with the ashes we are going to scatter, into my arms, close to my heart.  The sadness was overwhelming.  My body was wrenching in pain.  I was crying so hard I couldn’t breath.  My handsome, amazing,  strong son was now in these small boxes on my table.  This was all that I had left of him.  My heart died all over again that evening.

My daughter wanted to take her dad’s box to him.  She would have Sarini meet her there as well.  It was fine with me.  I don’t know if I would have been able to let him go.  After she left, I opened a large envelope that was next to the boxes.  I pulled out the papers inside.  Did you know that a birth certificate and a certificate of death are almost identical?  I quickly glanced at it quickly and once I realized what was staring me straight in the face, I immediately shoved it back into the envelope.  I hurried to our bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, feeling broken and devastated.  This was it….it was over.  The final step had come to fruition.  My son was gone.  He was really gone.  By some miracle, he would not be walking in through my door, cracking up in that contagious laugh of his as he told me it was all a mistake! He would explain that he really wasn’t dead, he was just lost but had made it back home to me. My husband crawled up next to me and held me as I sobbed into my pillow.  I kept asking why…why my son…why my baby.  My cries were loud, almost deafening.  I couldn’t muffle my screams or contain them.  I thought I was going mad…I was finally losing my mind to despair.

All of a sudden, something over powered my cries.  I stopped crying and looked over at my husband.  The sound coming from outside was so loud I thought maybe I was imagining it.  He looked at me with a puzzled  look.  He heard it too!   Almost simultaneously, we asked each other where that sound was coming from.  We walked over to the windows and then out to the balcony.  There, all over the trees in our back yard, were birds!  Blue birds, black birds and especially humming birds!  They were everywhere! In the pine tress, the palm trees, the rose bushes! Then, I saw it…I saw the one humming bird.  He was stopped in mid air right in front of me.  It was if he was staring right at me..into my heart.  He would flutter away for a few seconds and then come right back to me. This lasted for about 15 minutes.   I laughed because I remembered Joey’s favorite comeback line to me. Whenever I would asked him what he was going to do, he would always get this huge grin on his face and quote his favorite line from Forest Gump… “I’m going to fly far, far away, like a little bird.”

My son had come home.  He wasn’t in the ashes.  He was everywhere. He was free.  

 

 

 

The Anger Dwelling Inside

After my son’s death, I became angry.  Very, very Angry.  I would lash out at loved ones, in particular my husband, or at total strangers.  I recall one evening after work, yelling  vulgarities at Scott.  He was trying  to comfort me after a particularly hard day.  He couldn’t understand why I was not coming out of my funk. After all, he continued, ‘he was trying his hardest to ease my comfort by doing the laundry and washing the dishes’.  Not a good thing to say at that moment.

There were moments when I yelled at total strangers because I felt they were looking at me the wrong way.  Or threw my fist up at a car I passed because it was driving too slow…yet they were driving the limit.  I almost got into a fist fight with a small group of 18 maybe 19-year-old girls at our county fair.  Under my breath, I had made a disparagingly remark at one of them.  She made one back, and it was on from there.  Thank God for my husband and best friend, or else they would have had to bail me out of jail, or worse.  There were 4 of them and only one me.  I had no fear only anger and fury.  Here I was, a fifty some year old woman, having words with a kid because she cut in line.  Another person standing in line tried to interfere by telling me that I was a fifty year old woman and to try acting like one.  He wasn’t immune to my tongue lashing, either.  You would think that the sight of a 7 foot, 300 pound Samoan would snap me back into reality, right?  I didn’t care.  My defense to him was to yell at the top of my lungs in a crowd of hundreds, “MY SON IS DEAD, YOU A** H***!  MY SON IS DEAD!!!!”

Fortunately, or unfortunately, my beautiful daughter inherited my fiery personality.   Several months earlier, we had purchased tickets to a concert.  When the day of the concert came, I was desperately trying to put some normalcy back in to my children’s life.  Unwilling, my daughter and I attended this concert along with another group of girls.  Secretly, I went for my daughters sake…I think she went for mine.  We both tried to enjoy ourselves, but inside we were both writhing in pain. Back in the car after the concert,  I was desperately trying to get out of the horrendous traffic and get us back home. In the midst of this gridlock, as everyone was trying to squeeze their way out of the parking lot, a man stopped and stood in front of my car.  He proceeded to stick his hand out towards me, as if he was a New York traffic cop, and then started to wave other cars out to get in front of me.  My daughter, being of my genes, leaned over, and laid into the horn which led him to give us the middle finger salute.  That action then caused the people in other cars to laugh. IT WAS ON!  I was furiously taking off my seat belt in an attempt to pounce on the nearest car. Ugly, spit covered words were spewing out of my mouth!  My daughter, in between screams of F’s and U’s, was hurriedly putting her hair up into a pony!  We looked like mad women on a mission!  I can still see the shocked faces of the passengers in the cars around us.  I think they began to fear for their lives.  Even though I can laugh about it now, I am embarrassed at our behavior now, but at the time, I didn’t care.  We were both so angry and all we needed was an excuse to release this rage inside of us.

There are still moments when I can feel the fiery storm start to build up inside of me. If I let it be, it takes on a Tasmanian devil persona.  It starts off slowly and picks up momentum if I don’t  control it.  As  frightful as anger can be to ourselves, catching us off guard the majority of the time,  it can also be a good teacher.

Anger has taught me patience and compassion.  It has taught me to be more sympathetic towards others.  I am quicker to forgive hastiness or an indiscretion.  Anger has cultivated a sense of empathy and understanding inside of me.  I am less apt to judge a strangers poor demeanor and have become more tolerant of boorish behavior.  This isn’t because this type of behavior is now permissible to me or that I believe good, kind human being behavior is suddenly lost in our society.  It is simply because  I can not know what has transpired in this person’s life 24 hours ago.  I may not know what innocence they have lost or the pain and desperation that is taking place in their heart.  They may have a Tasmanian devil beginning to pick up speed inside of them.  Just as the guy in the parking lot didn’t understand that I wasn’t merely trying to get out of a crowded lot but in reality, I was trying to escape the massive pain picking up speed in my heart.

There But by The Grace of God, Go I….

 

At What Age?

What hurts more?  To lose a child when they are a mere days old, a few years old or as an adult?  As a younger child, do you mourn the memories that have yet to be made or as an adult, do you mourn the memories that have been made?

I have had parents approach me and tell me that they understand my pain.  They go on to explain how they lost a child right after they were born.  Some say that due to modern technology and genetic testing,  they were aware of the harsh reality.  As if some cruel joke, they  had to go through the entire pregnancy dreading the grim outcome.  Where once they were embracing this wonderful and magical gift from God, they were thrust into a land of misery and despair before they were even able to hold their child. Others have had the blissful, beautiful moments of parenthood when unexpectedly and unannounced, death has visited their once peaceful  and innocent lives. They disclose the painfully memory of walking over to pick up their newborn only to feel a cold lifeless body.  Or the parent that turned their back for a second to grab a towel, and when they returned their child was underwater.  I have heard about family bike rides that have lead to the unthinkable and watching their child be dragged off by a car.  And the teenage driver that became distracted by the dinging of a cell phone and never made it home.  Which death hurts more, I wonder?

When I read the newspaper, I always read the obituaries.  I used to scan the last names to see if anyone looked familiar, followed by glancing at the ages of the deceased.  Now, I look at the ages first.  I scan to see if the person was close to my son’s age.  I can’t explain why.  Maybe I want to feel like I am not alone.  I want to know that I wasn’t targeted and treated unfairly or unjust.  It sounds horrible, I know, but when I see that someone close to my son’s age has passed, I feel some sort of relief.  Just putting these thoughts to paper make me feel ashamed.  Am I cruel to want to have this horrific event in common with another human being?  I think abut their parents and the ugliness and pain they are trying to maneuver through. I wonder how they found out of their child’s untimely death.  Did they know it was an unavoidable event or were they slapped in the face with this brutal reality of pain so hard that the scar will always be visible?  At what age is the hurt not as profound or intense?  Is there even a distinction?  I think not…

Death is ugly…the death of a child is a ferocious beast.

 

 

Storing Memories

All of my son’s things are in a storage unit. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go through it. For now, his dad and I pay the fee every month.  Once in a while, his brother will go and check on his things, maybe “borrow” some shoes or hats.  I said that eventually, , we will go through it…some day.  We will divide things up among his siblings, best friend, his girl friend, and the rest to charity.  I don’t know, though, when that time will be.  For now, I am just fine paying the hundreds of dollars per year to keep his possessions stored. Maybe one day, I’ll know when the time is right.  If that time ever comes.

Joey was always borrowing our carpet cleaner. He used it far more than we ever did since 95 percent of our home is tile and his house saw a lot of traffic with his baby dog, Leo.  When his items were placed in storage, our cleaner was among those things. I wasn’t a part of the “move” so I had no idea it had been placed in there.  I only remember needing to safely store all his memories, but I couldn’t bear to do it myself.  My brothers, his best friend and my son had the painful duty of doing that.  I wanted everything stored..EVERYTHING.  Do not get rid of anything…not even his toothbrush.

In the middle of our living room, there is a large throw rug. In the first few weeks after his passing, it saw a lot of traffic.  You could see that the once vibrant colors were now dingy and dirty.  I told my husband that it was time to clean it. I would ask my daughter-in-law if I could borrow hers or I would just rent one of the grocery store ones. My husband kept insisting that we just needed to get ours from the storage. I would change the subject.  Every time the it was brought up, I made excuses…too far, too inconvenient,  too tired.  Then one day, without my knowledge, my husband called Sarini.. my son’s girlfriend and they made arrangements to meet at the storage place to get it out of the unit.  When he called me later that day to give me the “good news”, I felt sick to my stomach.  I got angry! How dare he remove something from the sacred area!  It was like a knife in my heart. I felt betrayed.

I can’t explain why.  In  a way, I felt that by removing it from the storage, it meant we were taking it away from his memory,  we were taking it away from Joey.  It’s a stupid rug cleaner that was ours anyway, for crying our loud.  But somehow and for some insane reason,  it hurt me deeply.

I knew that when my husband brought it home  later that day, it was not going to be pretty. I would have to explain my pain and my disappointment.  I would  tell him that he broke a sacred bond by removing this inanimate  object.  Yes, I know it’s just a carpet cleaner and yes I know it was ours.  But, he had it last.  He would look at me strangely, shake his head and tell me he was only trying to help. I would have to explain that this machine was going to be a constant reminder of him.  As silly as I might have sounded, it was still painful and heart wrenching.

When he brought it in that evening, I cried.  He looked at me and without saying a word, took it right back out and stored it in our garage.  He came back inside and said “I’m sorry.  I didn’t think. We can by a new one.”  I smiley weakly at him.  No, I said…then I feel as if I am replacing him.  He smiled, shook his head and kissed me on the forehead.

One day….Some day…Maybe

Finding Hope

I have heard from many people who feel like they can share their loss and their own journeys with me.  It is like we share a connection that no one else can comprehend.  A secret club where the members are unwilling victims. A  dark and frightful place.  One that is surrounded by a moat of tears and mounds of thorns.  No one wants to join but once you  do, you never can leave.  Secretly you know you don’t want to.  You are bonded with this people forever…they have become your salvation, your secret keepers, your light at the end of the darkness.

We ask each other questions no one else can answer.  When was the first time you laughed again?  How long before you stopped waking up praying that this  hell you have been living through is only a nightmare? When were you able to look at his/her picture without crumbling to the floor crying?  How long was it before you were able to spell out their name or say the word ‘died’ without wanting to throw up?

Not long ago, I saw a picture of a pastor and author, Dennis Apple, and his lovely wife, Beulah. It was on the back page of a book he wrote, “Life after the death of my son.”  The book was about the unexpected loss of his own son, Denny at the age of 18.  I remember feeling some sort of relief because they were both smiling ear to ear.  I’m sure it was one of those professional pictures were you are posed and directed how to tilt your head and smile like “you really mean it”.   After all, who wants to see the face of a grief  torn, tear stained, lack of sleep parent who’s life has been ripped apart.  Yet, I recall that it gave me hope.  One day, I will be able to smile again too.

Dennis’s book was one of the ones I had ordered in the early days when I was trying to find answers. It was a couple before my son’s birthday and right before the holidays. By chance,  luck or a sign from above, I opened it to the chapter of his own son’s birthday. It painfully described how they maneuvered through Denny’s first birthday since his death. I immediately emailed him and was pleasantly surprised when he emailed me back right away.  I later learned that it was many years until he was able to smile like that again. That one e-mail led to many more.

 Unwillingly, I  had now become a member of this club…Dennis Apple became my salvation