Monday, December 15, 2014
The Last First -- The Anniversary of Goodbye
A year ago I awoke not knowing my world had shifted on its axis. At noon I received the call that my 23-year-old son had been found dead of an apparent accidental drug overdose.
Every day since then has been a journey into uncharted territory. Burying a child. A Christmas without him when I had hardly come to terms with the idea that he was gone. His birthday. Mother's Day. Birthday parties and family gatherings. The anniversary of the last time we touched in August, the last time we talked a week ago. Finally today. The last first.
I wish I could say that it has gotten easy, but at the same time that would feel like a betrayal if it were true. In fact, I still feel almost guilty if I go a day without thinking about him and the fact that he's gone, if I don't spend some time every day mourning him. But the fact is although when I have a hard day, it is almost as hard as it was a year ago, the hard days aren't every day and there are days when I can think of him with a smile instead of with tears.
When I got that call last year, I was alone and it felt like the most lonely time in the world. But the year since then has been filled with a fellowship and grace I never have expected to find. From the moment I told the world that Ethan was gone, I was wrapped in virtual and physical arms and held up in the prayers of people I may never meet across my home county, the nation and around the world. I'm still in awe of the God that would put these people into my life, and put me into their lives as well. Instead of walking a dark road of pain alone, we've held one another up with text messages, phone calls, visits, and occasional long dinners filled with laughter and tears and an occasional glass of wine.
Although I lost the church that I cherished a few months ago to the all-too-human failings we don't manage to check at the door, I never lost God's grace. On the day of Ethan's funeral, when I felt I just had to get through the unbearable idea of burying an unopened casket that held my son, I had a vision of him laughingly shaking off his scarred and pain filled body and glowing with an inner light as he rose holding the hand of being of light. I've wept and worshipped and prayed. I've felt Ethan's presence around me in the sunlight, been visited by his visage in my sleep and heard his voice at unexpected times saying "I'm fine, Momma."
That's not to say I haven't struggled. I've asked God why a million times; why sometimes faith and prayers are followed by earthly healing and sometimes by the ultimate healing; why me and also why not me; and then expanded that why to embrace those who've joined me on my journey as they've grappled with children lost to addiction, accidents, illnesses and sometimes an unexplained fate. The closest I've come to an answer came from the message of a fellow grieving mother who in counseling was told that divine intervention was rare, but that God feels our pain. He may not fix it, but He shares it. Mine and everyone else's and I've taken comfort from those words in Digging for the Light. I've largely come to accept that untimely death is simply part of life in this world that was sent off course by sin -- largely.
For a time, I had to quit listening to my favorite radio station KLOVE, because it was too positive and encouraging and the whys would leave me weeping, but I soon found that other songs would make me think of my son as well. There are times when it's as much about my mood as it is the lyrics of the song. More recently when I've found myself singing the words of worship, I've realized that they apply not only to me, but to Ethan as well. I've found special peace in "I Will Rise," by Chris Tomlin. I will rise when He calls my name, just as Ethan already has.
Through the last 365 days, death has gradually taken a back seat to life.
Two of my three granddaughters, who spend most of every other week with me, have been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and although many of their symptoms have been far different than the struggles Ethan faced, there have been similarities that have made me believe he may have been grappling with the same disorder. I can see his preschool face quite clearly in the face of the oldest, in her expressions and smile and bright blue eyes and I know that losing him may mean saving them because we won't discount their discomfort.
There have been job schedule changes that have disrupted life; a family vacation to the beach; illnesses and broken bones and bills and all the things that fill up the lives of everyone, whether they've lost a child or not. Those of us still on this earth have gotten older and changed and life has gone on, one first after another.
For a long time, I virtually abandoned my writing. It's one of those things that is hard sometimes. I didn't mean to neglect what I know I've been called to do, but it was easier to not dredge up the emotions, even if doing so meant that, like dredging a river means the water runs freer afterwards, I would feel better and maybe share something that helped someone else. Yesterday my new spiritual leader talked about doing God's work and accepting whatever it was we'd been given to do, and then this morning a friend reminded me how much this work of mine has meant. So although it may mean typing on my iPhone while the baby naps, that still small voice has reminded me that this is what I'm supposed to do with both the gift of my words and the pain of my life.
Tomorrow everything begins to be the second time. The second Dec. 16 when I wake up knowing Ethan is no longer in this world. The second Christmas when he isn't here, his second birthday in his first home and so on. I'm sure I'll add the numbers in my mind every year as those dates roll around. It will be two years, then three, then 10, and at the same time it will always feel like yesterday, moments ago in fact, when my heart shattered.