It seems like yesterday, and then it seems like a bad dream, then the painful reality of truth. Those are some of the emotions of this loss, a 31 year journey I never thought I would, or could, endure. How can any parent even imagine their survival after the death of a child? I never thought of it. And, if I had, I think I would have quickly shuddered at the thought with overwhelming panic and fear. That fear consumed me that day. Shock reverberated throughout my whole being. It was as though my heart stopped but I kept breathing, each breath one of pain and disbelief. I kept praying, actually begging, that God would spare my child while, at the same time, my heart already knew and yet I still kept breathing. I didn’t feel alive. I felt empty, abandoned, scared, lost and oh so helpless. I was helpless. What could I do? I just sat there in the little private waiting room. A sweet and compassionate Nun had ushered me there when I arrived at the hospital. She asked me what I needed. I told her I just needed to pray. She asked me who she could call for me. My mind was whirling like time was moving faster than I could keep up. I couldn’t concentrate on who to call while my son lay lifeless somewhere in that hospital. I was alone in a deep vacuum of unknowns I didn’t want to think about. Who should she call and why couldn’t I remember any numbers? My mind couldn’t concentrate, but I still kept breathing. Somehow I remembered a number, maybe my sister’s telephone number. I just continued to pray. It seemed like time stood still for a while. I just kept praying. Family began to arrive at the hospital; my sister and my other son. Then, the door to the room opened. A white haired doctor entered the room. His face was red and there were tears in his eyes. The most dreaded words I’ve ever heard were spoken. “We tried but could not save your son.” Yet, I still kept breathing. It didn’t seem possible. Surely this was a nightmare and I would wake up. But, it wasn’t a dream. I was still on this path of helplessness, waiting to see and touch my son in that hospital. I was taken to the place where his body lay quiet and still. I wanted him to breathe, I wanted him to wake up, I wanted him to live, I wanted him back! I didn’t want to let him go. He was so peaceful I wanted to go with him, yet I was still breathing. Then, there was this dreadful feeling that I had to leave. I couldn’t stay there yet, how could I leave him there alone. I felt as though I was abandoning him during this time of dreadful unknowns. How could I do that? How could I walk away and just leave his body there alone in that cold room. Alone! That’s all I could think. He would be alone and I couldn’t help him! I couldn’t process all of this. How could this be happening and how can I escape this nightmare? I think I just turned off my brain and walked away, not allowing myself to think, not allowing myself to feel, just walking away and not looking back. I couldn’t look back and walk away. I just kept walking. I wanted to sleep hoping that when I woke this would all be over and it would have just been a dream. I have to admit I don’t even remember how I got to my sister’s house. I must have been driven there by family but I don’t know by whom. Interesting how the mind closes down when the pain of reality is too much to comprehend. I do recall that I got to my sister’s house and immediately lay on her sofa and went to sleep. Now, that sounds almost unbelievable to me. How could I just go to sleep? I think I truly thought it had to be a nightmare and, if I went to sleep, when I woke up everything would be “normal” again. This certainly was not normal and I could not cope with the loss. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a nightmare, it really had happened, my son was gone, and I was still breathing!
I don’t know where I stayed that night. I don’t remember much of the next few days except picking out his burial clothes, picking out his casket, seeing him for the first time in his casket and, the hundreds of people at the funeral. I remember thinking, where did all these young people come from? So many classmates I’d never met telling me how much they cared about him and how much they would miss him. It was all so overwhelming. How did I get through the funeral? How did I get through the next days, weeks, months? It’s all a blur, yet I was still breathing.
Finally going back to work, I tried to focus on my computer aided design job. The door to his room remained closed for a year. I got up each day, went to work, still going through the motions of living while, at the same time, part of me had died. I wasn’t the same. Nothing was the same. So many lives were changed that day. Our family had changed, the lives of his friends changed, his school had changed. His life that ended that day had an exponential affect. I know because, even after 31 years, his classmates still contact me with their shared memories. One even provided me with a photo taken just minutes prior to his collapse at school.
He, as always, was smiling. That was his character, his personality. That, among others, was one of the reasons he was so loved and so hard to forget. Who could ever forget that smile?
I’m still breathing, while desperately hanging on to God’s promise that my son will share the glories of heaven with me when I get there. That’s my comfort, the promise that allows me to continue this life without him while I wait to spend eternity with him and Jesus. Thirty-one years later, and he still lives in the memories of his classmates and friends, his kind and sweet gentle spirit remains within each of us in our family who were blessed by his short life. God help us to keep breathing, to keep remembering, to keep hanging on to that promise and keep thanking you for the blessing of his life and the memories we share. Help me God to focus on your hope and his beautiful life, not his death. How great is our God that He would give his Son Jesus as a sacrifice for all who accept that gift. For me, the depth of that great love is very real. I can hardly wait!
I Thessalonians 4: 13-18
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.