Friday, December 20, 2013

'Don't Cry For Me Down Here'

Yeah, when I get where I'm going
There'll be only happy tears
I will shed the sins and struggles
I have carried all these years

And I'll leave my heart wide open
I will love and have no fear
Yeah, when I get where I'm going
Don't cry for me down here

Melvern Rivers Ii Rutherford

Getting ready to go bury my child yesterday, this song as sang by Brad Paisley began playing in my head. Not word for word, but the chorus. Funny how my country roots have been showing this week.

I fumbled for the right things to wear -- somehow I'd never purchased a wardrobe for burying my son -- finally settling on black pants and a dark shirt, the black leather coat I bought the winter I was expecting Ethan and couldn't button when I was pregnant.

We were running late driving the 30-minute route from our house to Galax. Of course, I was riding shotgun, and the roads were more familiar to me so I might have made better time, but I was reasonably sure they wouldn't start the procession without me. His sister and her family were caught in traffic on the interstate, so I was glad we went the old roads. An accident clogged northbound traffic all day, but she was at the cemetery about the same time we were.

Traveling through Galax, I put my head down to pray for the strength to make it through yet another tough day. I had no more uttered the prayer than my mind was filled with a vision. It was Ethan, stretched out in the floor, but there was a figure of light above him and it reached down toward him and pulled him free of his earthly shackles. He rose up with a light of his own, and his face was split by the biggest smile I've seen in many years. I knew that he'd shaken off the addiction, the pain, the suffering that only he could understand and that he was free. God had sent me what I needed to know and the strength to get through the day. I could miss him, but I couldn't want him back in those bonds.

His best friend and that young man's mom, who had like Ethan and I battled the same addiction, were the first people I went to at the funeral home. They were Ethan's second family, just as in many ways my house was his second home, for years. He has a family, escaped the addiction, had to make the difficult decision to not spend time with my son, and I just wanted him to know that he did what he had to do to survive. I wanted him to know that some of the love I can no longer give Ethan will be his as he goes forward.

I cried with his mother, who had known both the little boy and the angry young man and, like me, loved them both. I am sure there was a part of her that shuddered at how close she came to being where I was at, a part that mourned and was also thankful that she wasn't bearing the full brunt of it. Had the roles been reversed, I would have felt that way as well.

The drive to the cemetery was peaceful and the weather was warmer than expected. The leather coat went in the back seat by the time we reached the rural cemetery where Ethan was going to join generations of his ancestors, my grandparents, and a whole sea of people I didn't ever know. My parents plan to be buried there. The view is rolling hills, trees and fields of cattle. The sun was shining bright as we gathered around the grave.

I expected a small, sad gathering of family members who could get away from work, maybe a few folks from the Hope House where he lived a while (they agreed to be pall bearers) and some people from his church. I was totally overwhelmed by the number of people who were there. It was rush of activity to get us seated and everything ready for the service.

My chair almost toppled down hill when I sat. My first thought was how funny it would be to just fall over and topple the whole family like dominoes down the hill -- how Ethan would love it.

The pastor from the church where Ethan had found the only job he liked, but where he still couldn't manage to stay on track, knew the young man that he spoke about. He said that he knew we were all asking if we could have done things differently, and the answer was yes, because we are all fallible. That nothing could separate Ethan from his God, including the demons who drove him. We shared a few stories and a prayer and the Vince Gill song "Go Rest High On That Mountain" was played. We gathered in a gusting wind and released 23 bright colored balloons into the heavens.

After that, I had a chance to see who had come. I was even more blown away than I had been at the sheer number. There were people from Virginia who knew and cared about him, many of whom I never got to meet. People from North Carolina who knew and cared about us. People who came just for me and brought love and support and an outpouring of grace that I never expected from the time we've spent together. Family that I hadn't seen in years and years. The love poured out on me at the side of my son's grave wrapped round me like a warm blanket and helped carry me through the afternoon.

While the gravediggers finished their work, several of us gathered in the old wooden church and sipped coffee. E1 and E2, who had hardly got the chance to know their uncle, ran the aisles and played, freed from the need to keep their good clothes nice for the ceremony they did not understand. E3 cruised the pews and complained about the disruption in her eating schedule.

Before we left, my husband and I walked back to the grave topped with holiday flowers. We knelt and prayed individually, then stood and prayed together. I thanked God for giving me Ethan and for the blessing that was his life and the lessons I learned from him. I wished I could have kept him longer. I questioned why his life had to follow the course it did. I asked if there was any way to let him know how much he was loved and missed.

Of course, there was food and conversation at my mom's house following the ceremony, more noise from boisterous little girls, a drive home in the cooling afternoon to resume the routines of life, late night texts from a sister who is now an only child and beginning to feel that loss more keenly.

This was the day I buried my son, still with no answers as to how he died, but I think, thanks to a gift from God, some understanding of why. The time was not right for me, or for his sister, or for the many people who cared about him, prayed for him, and held onto a hope that one day he'd be all they knew he could be. The time was right for Ethan, walking with God, to be free of the pain of this life and get on with what comes next.

From a day that I expected only sadness, I found the closure I did not think I'd find. I found a peace that may make it easier to deal with the sadness. I found the strength everyone had said I had, but I found it did not come from within, but from without from those same friends who gathered around me and from the God who made the decision I still wish He had not made.

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