The fifth anniversary of our son's death is in a few months, and I feel its approach with a sense of impending doom. I am bracing myself months in advance, which I guess means the doom is already here. It's almost as if I am standing before a firing squad that is loading its weapons to take aim and the shot is coming. That is strangely violent imagery, to be sure. But for anyone who's lived through the death of a child, they would likely agree that it's a pretty accurate picture of the dread involved with anniversaries.
Even though I have been through four previous anniversaries, I am sometimes still filled with incredulity. Could it really be five years? Did all this really happen? Strangely enough, I, at times, have had to look at pictures from those days just to convince myself. A few days ago, in one such moment, I revisited the pictures of my son's memorial service. I haven't been able to look at those particular pictures since they were taken. The reason for that? Some of the people had smiles on their faces and it crushed me that they could smile in the midst of my devastation. Mind you, I also had a smile on my face in many of the pictures. But mine was fake as silicone, plastered on under the imaginary caption of, "Isn't she strong and together!". Actually I was coming apart at the seams; no, at the molecules. I was like a cartoon character that gets hit by a bat, then cracks from top to bottom and in the next frame crumbles into a pile of rubble.
The smiles got to me. The first time I saw the pictures, they told me that people didn't really understand; that our loss wasn't that big a deal. And so with fear and revulsion I put them away and decided not to look at them ever again. The other day, almost five years later, I gathered my fortitude, and I opened those pictures. I saw something I didn't expect, something I hadn't seen before. Sad eyes, drawn expressions, serious unexpected sorrow in the faces of our friends. Yes, there were some smiles, but mostly just polite social smiles. This time I saw that there was shock on people's faces, and sorrow and urgency and compassion. I sobbed... and I felt relief, and deep comfort. I could see something that I wasn't able to see the first time I looked at those pictures, when I was out of my mind crazy with loss. It made me want to thank everyone who came to stand by our sides...all over again. And if you are one of those reading this... from my heart... Thank. You. Again.
The world of grief is a strange country where the social rules change. Smiles are not the most valuable currency. Hugs are. The best gift you can give? To tell the bereaved parent that their child was beautiful or funny or special, and made a difference in your life--then name a specific way or memory. The second best gift? Simply showing up. It matters for a long time, and your absence hurts. The most precious words that can be spoken? "I will miss him/her and never forget them. They are a part of my life forever." When all else fails, this works, too: "I am so sorry for your loss." or "I am hurting for you and cannot put it into words."
I still need to hear those words five years later. I will never tire of them. It is an awful pressure feeling that time moves on and therefore so must I. A grieving parent can never move on from the loss of their child...it violates the core of parenthood and feels like abandonment. So instead you carry them with you wherever you go, like a backpack full of gold. It is a heavy load, but so precious.
This old 30's movie theater in Hollywood is the home of my son's church, Ecclesia Church, and the place where we held one of his memorial services. It was originally called the Hollywood Pacific Theater and was the home of the Academy Awards for many years.
These letters are original, inlaid into the terrazo floor and they stand for Hollywood Pacific.
Using black tape, this is what our friends made of those letters.
The sad faces of our friends.
I am not sure who even took these pictures. They just ended up in our possession.
Three brothers with whom my son grew up.
Dear friends for many years.
I held Joe's and Rachel's hands. Human touch is so important at a memorial.
The serious crowd, full of my son's friends and many unfamiliar faces, still means so much to us.
...never underestimate their power.
Sometimes words just can't do justice to a moment.
The eyes say it all.
Group hugs give strength.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a wise statement after 9/11, and I have come to understand its meaning in a personal way. Upon being questioned after attending every single memorial service for those who had died, he said, "You can miss a wedding, but you cannot miss a funeral". It is so much more important to be there at the saddest moments in someone's life, than in the happy ones.
Oh, the lessons I've learned.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.