I look at this picture now, and think, "Who is that smiling woman? I don't recognize her. She looks so happy. Carefree. Light. She has no idea her safe little world is about to come crashing down." Only three months later, my beautiful son's earthly journey was over. No warning, no preparation, no final words. If I had known, I would never have taken that trip. Like the mama kangaroos we saw in the nature preserves in Australia, I would have stuck my own Joey in my pocket, with huge legs and tail falling out, and made him stay there, forever, protecting him, no matter how heavy or uncomfortable it would be for either of us. I have never been good at letting go of my children. My happiest place in the whole world is right smack in their midst. I recognize that this may not be happy or healthy for them, so I restrain myself. Except for the time I went on my daughter's honeymoon to bring her the bag she forgot at home, and sat down to chat while her new husband was waiting for her in the other room. Bad form. But usually I do restrain myself.
It wasn't easy letting go of any of them. But with my son, it was the hardest. I never stopped thinking of him, praying for him, being attuned to him. His two sisters were married to big, strong husbands, and I felt they were safe. But because of Joey's health issues, I always saw him as vulnerable. Even when his friends called him "Joe", and turned to him for guidance and counsel; even when his radiant smile, his smarts, his charm opened doors for him; even with his successful career and his confident opinions, he was always my sweet little Joey. We had a deep mother/child bond and my heart was always listening for his happiness and protection, or for any disturbance in the force. He wasn't a mama's boy, but he was this mama's boy.
Protection. A normal request in a dangerous world. He didn't have a lot of seizures compared to some, but they did sometimes come at inopportune moments. Once in a public pool, where he had time to crawl to safety on the deck; once when he was surfing with his friend Kevin, who knew to grab him and paddle him in to shore; once on a sketchy street outside his USC campus, as he was walking home from class one night, and beautiful strangers stopped to help him; once when he was alone visiting Notre Dame in Paris, and ended up being carried away by a French ambulance and spending the night in a French hospital. (He woke up in a panic the next morning, cursing his bad luck and wondering how he was going to pay the darn hospital bill, only to be told that the bill for everything was $35! One point, but only one, for nationalized healthcare!) He also had a seizure one month before he died, and this one alarmed him enough to call me about it...which he almost never did. He downplayed his seizures, but they were always a matter of prayer for me. Every single day. God protect him, surround him, keep him safe. And God did.
Heaven is as safe as it will ever get. I know that. Feel that. I've made peace with that. But he's AWAY. And it messes with me. When well-meaning friends are telling the bereaved to "get over it", I will say that you cannot imagine the longings that accompany the loss of a child. It is a physical craving. Visceral. In the chest, the gut, and on the skin. No matter what you know logically or theologically, it is a persistent force that doesn't let go. It drives you to sleeplessness, it crawls anxiously around inside your nervous system, it presses for reconnection, and it has to be forcibly blocked out with noise and diversion just to get some relief. How strange and surprising to find this out. It was never mentioned in the grief lectures I attended for my counseling practice. And now I live with that every single day, sometimes blessedly in the background, but often right in my face. And reminders of what might have been, and what will never be, and gatherings and holidays that will never be filled with total joy again.
Easter is coming. It is my new favorite holiday. It used to rank well down the list behind Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, maybe even shady Halloween. As a Christian it was supposed to be at the top of the list, but now it actually IS. Not the eggs and the bunnies and the pastels. Not good enough. That clashes now. Easter and resurrection have taken on such power and meaning to me, that anything that distracts from its preeminence is frivolous. For me now, it's a purple holiday, and velvet, and gold, inside a vast carved stone cathedral with towering spires, and symphonies, and angelic choirs singing alleluias, with music so loud it surrounds and swirls through every inch of space--from the dusty corners to the tiptop of the goldleafed and filagreed central dome. It is Michelangelo's exquisite Pieta, and the heavy presence of God, and hundreds of candles and a radiant sunrise that spills forth through stained glass. It is glorious frescoes with the victorious saints alive, and Christ the ruling King on His throne at the center of it all. Anything less simply doesn't come close to reflecting the meaning of the word Resurrection for me now.
The day Joey died, it came to me in a flash that resurrection was the most important, life-changing truth ever delivered to me. Nothing else compares. Not "love one another", not the power of prayer, not even the forgiveness of sins. But Resurrection. Eternal life. Eternal togetherness. Reunion. Life going on in two separate dimensions simultaneously, and someday all together in our physical bodies again. Eternal life bridges the great chasm between me and my precious son. Jesus' death made death die. It is the greatest gift, and the most hopeful truth in the universe.
It is the only one that can dry my tears and calm my fears. It is the resting place when I am weary from this sorrow-filled planet. It is the new song in my heart. It is the trumpet sound of hope. And though I have to wait, I also know that no matter what goes wrong...in the end, all will be well.
Thank you, Jesus for that HOPE. You didn't have to, but You did.