Monday, April 18, 2011


I have found another way to get my pictures up. Not as easy, but it does the job. This picture was taken in New Zealand, just three months before Joey went to Heaven. We stopped to pick up some globally omnipresent Starbucks, and the clothing store across the street is named "Jay-Jays", which is my son's childhood nickname. Of course, I had to photograph it for him. As an adult, he no longer appreciated the nickname and liked to mock it, and therefore we relished teasing him with it. This was my idea of a joke. Yes, I am that funny.

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 the end, all will be well.

Thank you, Jesus for that HOPE. You didn't have to, but You did.


Gberger said...

This is a fabulous piece of deeply-felt writing. It should be included in a newsletter for grief counselors. You can now teach what was not taught to you - perhaps that is part of Joey's gift. While I am sorry you & your family, including Rachel, have had to go through this, I am thankful for what God's love has given you. Your hope is beautiful, and your love is beautiful.
(That honeymoon-helper story is a riot! I'll bet they will be telling that story forever.)

Marina said...

Hope - that is what we all need. Thank you for reminding me of the Hope we have in Jesus and his resurrection.
Love you Karen

Pam said...

Such a beautiful heartfelt piece! There really isn't anything more powerful than taking that which has no life here and giving it eternal life in another place. Looking forward to the day we are all united with those that have gone on before us.

Beckypdj said...

Amen, clinging to the HOPE :)

Covnitkepr1 said...

I write and maintain a spiritual blog which I have titled “AccordingtotheBook” and I’d like to invite you to follow it.

If you chose to put a follow wedgit on your site here...I would gladly follow.

Daisy said...

Karen, you never cease to amaze and inspire me. Coincidentally, a couple of days ago, I had the same thoughts when I saw a smiling oh-so-happy picture of myself from years back.

In the last few years, when things become too much for me, I sometimes watch Mel Gibson's The Passion. It's one of the few things that will put things back into some kind of perspective for me. It's a movie that I never thought I would ever watch again (beautifully done but so painful to watch). Yes, more than ever, the resurrection is the focus.

That picture of Joey is beautiful and well chosen.

Anonymous said...

Don't you know we all get it Karen as well as God Himself!
"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."

The good news is that He gets it! He gets it more than any of us will ever understand.
I think into Eternity we will always be amazed at His love, and showing you that Joey is also safe in His pouch as well!
Happy Holy Week!
Why Jesus came!

Sarah Harris said...

Wow. That was so beautiful! I couldn't stop reading and I feel like I never truly understood you until now. I sometimes wondered why you stayed so franticly busy. Now I know you're just trying to keep going. I admire you for that Karen. I can't wait to meet Joey someday. In your joy of seeing him, don't forget to introduce us.

Karin Carlson said...

Absolutely the most stunning description of grief and hope that I have ever read. Thank you, Karen. You and Joe are two of the most courageous, real and inspiring people I know. It's an honor.

Anonymous said...

Such incredible words. I am glad you poured out your heart so that everyone could soak it up. I love you both so much. Will have you in my thoughts this Easter weekend. Love Sharon

A Maui Blog said...

They say "time will heal" but not all the time. It does not get easy, doesn't it? The "dynamics" of grieving changes, but the longing is always there. I wish I have the right words to say ... but nah. I am glad you are able to pour out your heart here, and I am sure somewhere out there, many grieving people are comforted by this blog when realize how they are not alone in their feelings of loss....

In case I don't get to stop by here tomorrow, I want to wish you and your family a "Happy Resurrection Sunday"!

Anonymous said...

You have a beautiful way with words, my eyes are wet with tears...
Love you, God bless you and Joe.
Jim Sisco

Lisa said...

What a beautiful, honest post (and funny too). Even as the Lord ministers to you, you minister to all of us through your transparency. I hope you will write a book (or two, or three) someday because you really have a way with words that make feelings and concepts so clear. I miss you, my friend. It's such a blessing to have blogs and facebook to keep in touch. Love, Lisa.