Friday, March 14, 2014

An Unexpected Gift

I don't have any "real" gifts from my son.

When I say real gifts, I mean the things we buy with money. When we grow up and start working and we want to give things to the people we care about -- sometimes just because and sometimes for special occasions. Sure, there's some compulsion there, some expectation, but we do it because we love them. Ethan never took his own money that he had worked for and chose to spend it on something for someone else.

He bought things he thought would bring him happiness -- video games and drugs. He "loaned" it to his "friends," people who never expected to repay him and found a spirit that wanted to help others but somehow didn't really know how, so was willing to give what he had to people who manipulated him.

The first Christmas after he had been in jail for a few months, when he was clean and working, he wanted to buy me a juicer. He told me to be looking for it because he thought I'd enjoy it and he saw it on TV and called and ordered it. But his credit card was overdrawn and I never got it. I still wish I had it. In fact I can sit down and cry over it a hundred times and probably will because one time he wanted to give me something.

The Christmas before he died he was living in a homeless shelter and the shelter director took the residents shopping for Christmas so he was able to buy, on someone else's dime, gifts for his nieces. Someone donated some items to the shelter and among them was a woman's football jersey in pink and white, but it was for the Carolina Panthers and he knew I liked football. He asked if he could have it as a gift for me. I know I'll treasure that second hand shirt with the wrong quarterback's name for the rest of my life.

I never received a Mother's Day card or a birthday card from my son, either. He never spent time standing in a card aisle looking for some commercial way to tell me he loved me. I don't know what part of him never felt that need to recognize a societal convention that way. I have no cardstock treasures to remember him by. He didn't even call to tell me happy mother's day or happy birthday. Ever. They were just meaningless days on the calendar to him. If the family had a gathering to celebrate he would usually show up, but last year that didn't even happen.

But as self consumed as he was -- and as all addicts tend to be -- when he ran into a need face on, he wanted to help. He'd scrounge through his cabinets to feed a stray dog or cat, or even birds when he had an apartment with a fire escape where crows sometimes lounged. If he ran into an older lady from church at the grocery store (when he was going to church) he's keep her company while she shopped, push her buggy and get things off of high shelves. The friends who used him pleaded needs he thought he was helping with, a little boy going hungry so he'd spend his food stamps on him and the friend would give him cash for drugs, if he got around to it; or a broken down car or insurance due that he could take care of with a loan of Ethan's meager savings, until there were no savings left, no money repaid and the friend was doing time.

His generosity though was for strangers. For me and his grandparents, he would seldom do a chore without expecting to be paid and then complain that he wasn't paid enough.

That disconnect within him is one of the things I struggle with sometimes. Perhaps there was a streak of Jesus in him that he gave himself away to others, but at the same time he was so miserly with the people who really loved him. And to be quite honest it just breaks my heart that I don't have something he thought enough of me to buy me, stupid as that may be. And among all the things I've been broken-hearted over the last three months, that is a small thing.

So when I opened a pink envelope in the mail this week and took out a necklace with his name, an angel's wing, a crystal that could be his birthstone, and the saying "I have an angel watching over me," I felt overwhelmed with the perfection of the gift. There was no card, but I had a hint who it was from and was able to confirm it later that night when we were actually both awake on opposite sides of the world.

A young woman approximately Ethan's age, since she graduated high school only two years ahead of him in Sydney, Australia, had sent it to me. I didn't know her before Ethan died, I'll probably never meet her or even talk to her on the phone, but we connected through Ethan's death, through my blogs about addiction and loss. We chat on Facebook and she asked if she could call me Mom instead of Angela, because... well, maybe because I need another child and she needs an extra mom (who doesn't sometimes).

Then last night, when I took it off to shower, the terrible dichotomy between what was and what should have been hit me and I cried and I'm still crying off and on. Ethan should have loved me and bought me things to touch and think of him. Ethan should be sending me hearts and hugs and messages on Facebook. Ethan should have given me something to hang onto before he left me feeling so lost and bewildered and wondering what the hell happened to my life and more importantly to his. Ethan should not have left me at all; he should have got his shit together and been the person he was meant to be.

At the same time, I have not been left with nothing as it initially felt.

Out of my loss, I've been given other gifts: friendships I would never have had; confidences I would never have shared; the chance to love people I would never have known; opportunities to help, minister to and support people I could not have reached. I try to put it in the balance and it doesn't replace my son, but then I realize that my son had his salvation and I know where he's gone, and perhaps in his journey or mine we'll be able to show someone else that direction as well. Because my tears and prayers are no longer just for the two of us, they're for what seems like a world of people facing the same pain and heartache, and the love that breaks my heart has also set it free to love as Jesus told us to love.

So I try to remind myself not just of the things I've lost, but of the things I've found, without and within.

My necklace is symbolic of all of that, even though the giver probably never knew the chords it would strike would run so deep. In a way, I know it is something Ethan would have wanted me to have, had he ever thought to give it.

My son never gave me any "real" gifts, but because of him I've received many gifts. One of them is a necklace.

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