Happy Memorial Day, son. I remember you every second of every day. I visit often this place where your body lay. Strangely a place of peace and great unrest, slowly learning to live while coping with your death.
This August: Featured Essays on the Making the Most of Time
I remember driving to the cemetery after work one day only to find my sweet wife knelt quietly at the head of my son’s place of rest. The grass was still mending from the funeral and you could see the painful outline of where exactly he was buried. I never imagined grass could be so brutal.
I reverently approached my best friend but gave her space – for I saw her suffering an agony only a mother who’s lost a child can know. While I carry a father’s sorrow, which is heavier than anything I have ever known, I reverence my wife’s grief differently than my own.
Mitch had such a tender relationship with his mom. He often called her “Mommy-Lommie” as a term of endearment. He would always tell me how he thought his mother was the kindest, most beautiful lady on earth. “Don’t you just love Mommy?” Mitch would say with great feeling.
I have tender photos that I’ll share at a later time that show his sweet expression whenever Mitch was in her arms. This little boy loved his mom. And she loved him.
Mother’s day is around the corner and I can’t help but turn my heart to my dear wife. I struggle to know what I might do to show her how much I love and honor her. Everything I can think of falls short of what I feel. I know the gift she really wants I cannot give. Though I would gladly take my son’s place, I cannot. How that pains me so.
Our grief journey so far has been more complex than I ever imagined. Perhaps that is one of the reasons grief is so difficult to process … precisely because it is so complex. If it were simple, it might be easier. But it is not simple: grief is a tangled web of wanting, longing and loving something you can no longer hold. It is a briar patch of self-doubt, what if’s, and wonderings. It is the isolation of being misunderstood or simply not understood. It is learning to breathe in an emptiness that suffocates.
As difficult as it’s been, grief has also been a beautiful teacher. It has taught me how to be more compassionate and patient. It has taught me to better appreciate light – having experienced pitch darkness. Grief has taught me how to talk to my Father as a child might talk to a parent. Most beautiful of all is seeing those I love discover heavenly gems.
It wasn't long ago I was asked to speak to a group of women about the extraordinary influence they can have in the lives of others. The night before I was to speak to this group Natalie and I were talking about our journey so far. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Chris, I remember feeling betrayed and saying to God, ‘I tried to do everything you asked and THIS is what I get?’” Natalie paused a moment, with tears in her eyes she continued, “Then it occurred to me: this is my price to know God.” Tears filled my eyes and my heart filled with peace as I felt the truth of her words.
I have marveled at the transformation I have seen in my wife over the last 2 years. I can see the hand of God shaping her, tenderly and sometimes painfully, into something beautiful, not bitter. Yes, her heart is broken and tender – but it has become wiser and more caring. Through her suffering, she has come to know her Father in deeper ways.
My dear wife, you precious mother … I love you more than any other. Yes, I love our children as much, too … for they came to life from me and you. But, my love, you are where it started: my heart, my life, and our son departed. My dear wife, you precious mother … because of you, Mitch was blessed above all others.
When I peer out my window
There’s so much to see.
My eyes and heart, overflowing
At all the things of beauty.
But when I see my wife and kids
My soul begins to sing,
For they are all I've ever wanted,
I am richer than the richest king.
Though I ache to see my son,
To hold and kiss his face,
I know that I will see him again
In that other place.
The time will come, to see my son.
Of that I’m sure.
For I have heard a quiet whisper,
Spoken without a word.
Thank you, little boy,
For teaching me to see.
To look far past my grief and sorrow,
And appreciate life’s great beauty.
To those who've fought for freedom and peace,
And those left behind to battle wars of grief,
I reverence you.
To military officers who reached out to my son,
To love and encourage him, as though he were the only one,
I thank you.
To the men and women who stand in harm’s way,
So little boys like mine might have lived another day,
I honor you.
To those who have fallen, in love or in war,
And the souls left empty handed and yearn for “just one more”,
I understand you.
On this day of remembrance may we never lose sight,
Those who fought battles and surrendered their life,
I love you.
May we remember those who gave life their best,
And live in a way that honors them, whatever days we have left,
I promise you.
And though our hearts may be weary and in need of rest,
May we remember our fallen, and life’s greatest test,
Lest we forget.