Hey Jude – Unavoidable Fear

A month ago, three things happened at the same time: a girl I danced with as a kid lost her baby at just over a year. Her baby had been born with a rare form of Down’s Syndrome. Most babies with this condition do not live to birth. If they survive birth, they usually pass away early on. I believe I read about 5% of babies make it to a year. Few, very fear will live into their 20s. They will have multiple struggles and health issues. None the less, my friend had and loved her baby despite what I am sure were multiple fears.

A girl from my home town who is a few years young than I am published a piece in The Huffington Post with the polarizing headline that she wish she’d aborted her first child. The piece was well-composed and heartfelt. The author, a former cheerleader, was raped by someone she thought was a friend in her own home. Like many young girls, she kept the assault a secret. Her grades dropped. She lost weight. Her health suffered. When she did finally see a doctor, she learned that the worst had happened—she was also pregnant. She was halfway through the pregnancy, too far along, she notes, to do anything about it other than see it through. She knew the baby would be born with issues, and she was. The baby was born to the young mother. The baby had multiple health issues and had to be on several heavy drugs. She died of natural causes at just over a year, breaking her mother’s young heart.

The third thing, of course, was the law that was passed in New York, which caused uproar throughout the US. I am, for many reasons, religion being a major one, not supportive of terminating unborn babies. That does not mean that I don’t understand. I hate that we live in a world where pregnancy isn’t always a willful decision or where when pregnancy does happen that it isn’t always the right time or affordable. I know there are unimaginable circumstances, people who are afraid to have babies because of their governments or their resources or what-have-you that are so far beyond my little cultural bubble that I can’t even process that they exist.

One thing I have observed, and that I did observe in considering an unforgettable story I read about a woman who had an abortion somewhere in the third trimester, that these stories all have one theme in common: fear. The woman who had a late-term knew her baby wouldn’t live far past birth if he lived at all; if he did, he wouldn’t be able to breathe or eat on his own. She and her husband had wanted the baby, but the cost, financially and emotionally, were too great of burdens to bear. This was not a decision they made lightly.

They went to Colorado for the procedure. Things went wrong. Very wrong. There was no presentable body to bury. The mother suffered substantially after the procedure with bleeding and illnes

Of course, that is not the point. The point is that she and her husband were afraid…afraid of the disabled child. Afraid that their child would die out of their control. Afraid that their child would suffer a pain worse than their own if they did live. Afraid to watch that baby suffer. For many people, it is a greater sacrifice to not have a baby who will suffer than to have one that will.

Certainly, one of the few things that I am thankful for is that Jude never suffered, that he left this world peacefully and naturally. I will always wonder what would’ve happened if we’d have been with a more experienced team (the doctor on call was very new and misread the ultrasound, conveying to us that Jude was dangerously underdeveloped, which was inaccurate), if he’d have lived if he’d have been delivered, or if he would’ve had developmental issues.

I don’t write about this aspect of Jude’s loss often, but in the hours before he died when I was in the hospital on the monitor, believing he was in the lower 5th percentile and having read that meant he would likely be born with severe mental or physical problems—at best he would have Down’s, I was scared. Remaining calm was almost impossible, and yet I couldn’t stop reading. I kept looking for some kind of indication that my baby would be normal. Was there a chance that he’d be okay even if he was that underdeveloped?

Even now, I still feel the anxiety of that fear. The fear was very, very real. I had no control over what was happening. I cannot remember everything I prayed for. I prayed he’d be okay, of course. I prayed he’d be “healthy”. I envision that parents who believe that their child will be unwell or will suffer are gripped by a similar fear. Fear compels us to take action.

Generally speaking, most people are compassionate, and I believe that some people choose to avoid what they have been told by doctors will happen by avoiding it. This does not mean that they avoid pain, though. There is no way to avoid pain. There is no way to avoid grief, nor is there a way to avoid hardship. Choice does not grant that.

I’ve been teaching writing for over a decade. Roughly half of my students are victims of sexual abuse by family members, rape, drug exposure, or a combination of those things. Of those, several have had pregnancies that were unwanted. Different students handled them differently. One story that stands out is of a girl who, after having a difficult life, became pregnant as a teen. Her family threatened to abandon her if she didn’t end the pregnancy. She did and was never right again.

The reality is that when we are confronted by fear, we believe that we have no choice. I find it interesting that advocates for a woman’s right to choose cite choice. I cannot think of anyone who has made that choice because they felt they had a world of options. They felt like they had no choice. And the reality is that we don’t always have choices or control. And it’s not fair, and the pain is real, and it hurts. But it can’t be avoided. Not at all.

The only area where we have any power is in our ability to love. Losing Jude hurt. Last December on his fourth birthday, I visited his gravesite alone, knelt down, and cried. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I wept over and over, even as I had no idea what I was sorry for. I still don’t know. I’m sorry he died. I’m sorry I didn’t got to a different hospital. I’m sorry I’ll never know if it could have been avoided. I’m sorry for…all of it. And more. I’m sorry for being so happy when he’s not here. There is no rational reasoning in any of it. The pain is still there, but amidst the pain and swirling around it is love, so much love.

Jude humbled me. He opened my heart more widely than I ever could’ve imagined. He helped my marriage. He made me brave. He is a source of pure love for me, even though there is pain and sorrow. Unavoidable pain and sorrow. Even if Jude had been born with disabilities, I would have loved him. I imagine the pain and sorrow when he did pass would’ve been greater. I cannot imagine what his little life would’ve done for our family in that capacity, just as I cannot imagine what my friend’s baby did to and for her family.

I do know that when their baby passed, they were sad but also full of love. Swirling around their pain was a year of moments and memories that no doubt bonded their family closer and helped them grow in their faith, in the understanding that we don’t have control and we don’t have to. The pressure to have control, to always do the “best” or “most right” thing is crippling and is exhausting. I for one am thankful to realize that. It enables me to have peace, even in the face of difficulties, such as Sean’s cancer diagnosis.

I couldn’t control losing Jude. I couldn’t control the pain of losing him. As much as it hurt and as traumatic as the experience was, I’m thankful to have seen him, all 4 lbs and 2 oz, to have seen his face, to have photos, to have been able to bury him, and to celebrate his short, magnificent life. I feel fortunate that fear didn’t rob me of those small-yet-precious gifts.

So, as I reflect on the three things that happened last month and on the stories of others, I feel a great sense of sympathy for people. Fear and pain are unavoidable. Life will carry on somehow regardless. Your heart will pump and bleed no matter what. The tears will flow, hot and fast. You won’t be able to breathe for grief and fear. But that’s what happens. You don’t get to choose how you feel. You cannot choose it, and you cannot hide from it. Choice that might somehow make an agonizing decision or situation better is an illusion. Don’t be disillusioned by it. Instead, look for the love and fall into it.

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Hey Jude — Making the Most of This Life

Dear Jude,

Hey you. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. Sometimes, I try too hard to think of what to say or of saying it the right way when what I should do is just talk to you, the way I talk to your sisters. In fact, I should probably think before I speak with them…some of the time, anyway.

In four months, you’ll be four-years-old. I’ve been looking at our friend’s children who are turning four and thinking, “Oh wow, he’d be such a little person right now.” Specifically, I watched little Catherine at her birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese as she wandered around seemingly lost but also quite self-assured in the way that only preschoolers can be. She was wearing a Bat Girl costume just ‘cause. What would you like? Dinosaurs? Trucks? Space? Bugs? Balls? Cars? Costumes? I told Sean that I bet you’d love to watch the Earth program on Netflix that he likes to turn on and watch with the girls in the evenings.

What would you like to eat? I’d like to think you’d be somewhere between Lillianne and Eilie…a little finicky but not so much that your entire diet is comprised of goldfish crackers and organic milk (like Eilie’s does).

I imagine you playing with the gusto of a little boy. You were by far the busiest baby. Your movements had no rhyme or reason—you just wanted to be on the go.

As I visualize the happier aspects of what your life would be like, I neglect to imagine the challenges, like getting you to listen. Would you be a good listener? I kind of feel like you’d be Lillianne made over and maybe a little wilder…less imagination, but more action-packed. I really would give anything to be able to fuss at you when you’re naughty or when you wake the baby or fight with your sisters over toys. I’d give anything to be able to feel like I was suffering from simultaneous rage strokes and heart-attacks because I’m so overwhelmed.

I’m sure every parent who lost a baby before she ever met them feels this way just like I’m sure every parent who lost a baby after meeting them—and perhaps fussing at them or feeling frustrated because of lack of time or sleep or whatever felt ashamed and possibly tortured with guilt.

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The emotions that come from losing a baby or a child at any age are so nuanced they defy logic. The perspective, too, shifts paradigms.

To begin, you realize how unimportant everything else is compared to those little lives. Money. Work. Legacy. House. Status…whatever, is completely irrelevant. You’d give it all away and never ask to have it back just to have that person back. The irony is that no one is standing around wheeling and dealing and willing to make that offer.

Then, you learn to live with what happened, with the pain of the loss or the grief. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that in our / my case, the faith that I didn’t even realize I had enabled me to grow in ways that I never imagined. While I wouldn’t wish our loss on anyone, I also wouldn’t begrudge anyone experiencing the absolute love and comfort and peace that we were given after losing Jude…in the weeks, months, and years.

To begin, Jude helped me realize one of the hardest lessons of all, which is that we are not in control. I still struggle with that one, to be honest, but I also know that the things that make me hit the emergency brake on my brain—like when I imagine a freak-accident, our child running across someone’s driveway as they’re backing out, a car wreck, choking on a grape—are things I can’t control just as are the medical maladies that paralyze me with fear.

Last week, a little girl who suddenly developed a deadly brain tumor lost her life.  I look at my vibrant and healthy little girls and take it for granted. I take for granted that none of my children were born with some other kind of cancer or allergy or genetic disorder that at any moment could cause them to cross beyond the veil; however, I have friends who have babies with these problems, and I’m perpetually awed by their faith and resilience. I know that it’s ironic given what happened with Jude, but I can’t imagine.

But then I realize that the fear isn’t what God want us to feel. These challenges, these terrifying, awful, challenges have purpose if we allow them to, and they can transform us in ways that we never realized.

To begin, one of the most remarkable things I learned when I realized how little control I had was that…that’s actually quite okay. Someone else is in control, and I can only do my very best.

Another thing is that one of the most beautiful aspects of tragedy is when you’re able to use what happened to you to help others. This, too, is a Biblical precept as Paul advised in his letters for people to take their struggles and to help those who struggle similarly. Sometimes, I allow myself to revisit Jude’s funeral in my mind, and the people who stand out the most are the ones who came because they’d also lost children or suffered a traumatic loss.

Finally, I understand why suffering is important. In nearly four years, I’ve grown so much emotionally and mentally. I’m more understanding, loving, and compassionate. I’m not perfect, but I want to do better all of the time for my family and my babies. In our Sunday School class a few weeks ago, we talked about why suffering is necessary or why God allows bad things to happen.

I think about things like that a lot because for people who find people like me, people who have faith, to be tedious is that we often can’t explain why suffering is allowed…natural disasters, pedophiles, hatred, evil, etc. I won’t go back to Genesis to explain that, but I will say I started to think of a story idea one day (a total non-starter) about a world where there was no pain, no suffering, no bad, etc. While I realize that Christians believe that is the very definition of heaven, I also cannot imagine being as grateful or as compassionate as I am now if not for suffering. I tried to picture what the conflict would be in this story, and there wouldn’t be. How would the characters grow? Without conflict, how would they evolve into a better version of themselves? So, I believe suffering is allowed in part because it allows us to behave in a way that shows our courage, our love, our compassion, our patience, and our forgiveness for our fellow man…all virtues that God shows to us on a regular basis.

As I look ahead, I know my future will include more suffering, more trials, more challenges to the aspects of my person that I am sometimes too afraid to relinquish. I don’t fear the unknown nor the unexpected. I don’t allow myself to worry about what may or may not happen. I don’t worry about what suffering life will bring. I believe in taking each day as it comes and in doing my best every day and in being kind to myself because sometimes, I think we forget to be kind to ourselves, especially when we are dealing with something that aggrieves us, when we think perhaps we could have done better or had we acted differently, things would have been different.

So, my Jude, thank you for all of that. I love to imagine what kind of little boy you’d be if you were here, but I know that’s only ever going to be fiction. The reality is that the little boy you are now is more than I ever could have conceived or hoped for.

One day, I’ll see you again. For now, you’re in my life, and you’re in my heart. You sweet, beautiful boy. Mommy misses you.

PS: I love that today was one of “your” days because I feel like you were there with our family and your dad this morning. Big hugs.

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Hey Jude – Extraordinary Faith

Joshua

Last week, our Sunday school class covered the events of Joshua 10, which were honestly quite extraordinary. It was the day that the sun stood still in which Joshua and the Israelites were able to defeat predator armies because God essentially froze the moon and sun in the sky, which provided enough light for Joshua and his army to advance as needed. He also threw in a hailstorm on the enemies of the Israelites for good measure. I can only imagine it was a lovely day…to have a full sun and a full moon simultaneously….unless you were on the losing side.

Anyway, in our group, the question was asked as to how one has faith when we aren’t always presented with extraordinary circumstances. I reflected on this because at no point has the sun or moon stopped for me (I’m not even sure death would stop for me, nudge, nudge, wink, wink Emily Dickinson). I’m being flip. But truly, we have extraordinary things happen to us all of the time…it’s just that sometimes the end result isn’t always something that we think is what we want or deserve.

I did comment some to the lesson during class that day, but when we were asked if we had an example of how extraordinary events were transformative for our faith I didn’t respond. The answer was fully-formed in my mind, but I couldn’t talk about you, Jude.

 

Jude

I couldn’t explain the story about how I went in for monitoring because I hadn’t felt you move as much on 12/26/14. I couldn’t explain that while being monitored, they lost your heartbeat. We went in for an emergency Cesarean delivery. I was literally in shock; I shook from head to toe as oxygen was administered and I was rushed into the OR. I couldn’t even think clearly. I just kept saying, “Oh God,” as if by repeating the mantra, God would appear and make this all okay and save my son.

My last conscious and cognizant thoughts before going under for the surgery were of Sean and Lillianne, “God, please let me wake up,” and my last spoken words as I felt pin-pricks along the previous cesarean scar line that had delivered Lillianne, “Wait, I’m not asleep!” And then I inhaled the gas. Must get to sleep. Must get to sleep.

I woke up, and Sean was by my side. The world was fuzzy. “How’s our baby?” I’d asked. The baby hadn’t made it. “I named him Jude, Jude David,” Sean said, and I started to sing, “Hey Jude,” which had been the impetus for me wanting to go with the name Jude (ultimately). Originally, Jude had been a boy’s name that we both just loved. When we found out we were expecting a boy, Sean had wanted to explore other boy’s names to be sure. Aedan became a close contender, but after a night of Beatle’s tribute music and hearing “Hey Jude”, I knew that Jude was the name I wanted for my son. It was a name that represented the person I’d forgotten how to be…a person who could be sentimental and emotional and who felt deeply. I’d become very unhappy with many things because what they don’t tell you when you have the audacity to get married and to pursue “happily ever after” with a kid and some guy you hopefully didn’t meet on the Internet, it’s really stinking hard to come close to “happily”. Love really isn’t enough; it’s not even close. You have to also both be good, sacrificial and understanding human beings.

 

Marriage & Parenting

Sean and I loved each other, and we wanted to understand each other, but we may as well have lived in the Tower of Babel for much of Lillianne’s first year and the subsequent year when we were (as planned) pregnant with Jude. I wasn’t happy; my feelings were like a valve that was slowly being turned into the off position. This was the cumulative result of my 20s plus the impact of becoming a wife and mother without truly understanding what any of that actually did to a person who would –if I’m being honest—could’ve been complete without any of those amazing things. I could have. I know I could. I’m thankful I’ve been chosen for what I have, but if nature had decided I couldn’t have kids, I’d have been okay. Sean wouldn’t have. He wanted kids; craved them. He definitely had no idea what he was signing up for, but he had the yearning that so many humans have that I didn’t.

 

Un-Plans

I’m not being melodramatic. I know that if we hadn’t started doing natural family planning (because I was very aware of the heightened cancer risks after 30 and my family history with cancer) and if we hadn’t been so aggressively bad at it those first four months and happened to get pregnant, I’d have never looked at myself or my life or my selfish ambitions and said, “Yes, now’s a great time to have a baby.” And maybe, for the first time, I think that perhaps Lillianne was God’s first effort to get my attention.

 

Plans

And then we got pregnant with Jude. Jude was planned. Sean and I were both close in age to our closest siblings (Sean was 13 months younger than his brother, and I was 20 months older than mine) easily knew we wanted our children close together. Ideally, Lillianne and her sibling would’ve been 18 months apart, but stress literally hindered our conception plans, and it so happened they were destined to be 20 months apart…at least that’s what it seemed at the onset. Jude’s gestational due date was 2/15/15. We were sure we’d have to do a Cesarean, so I chose 2/11, my mom’s birthday, as his DD.

 

Testing Faith

Then, on 12/26/14, Boxing Day, the day after we celebrated Jesus’s birthday, it all went wrong. Jude went to heaven. He was gone. I’ve written extensively about how surreal that first night was in the hospital with Sean by my side in the twin hospital bed. How every time I woke up after falling asleep, I’d have to remind myself that this was real. My son was dead. I was no longer pregnant, even though I could feel twitches in my body, like baby kicks. Little phantom kicks. I’ve never been so raw.

I had to pause just now in this writing because to revisit that room and that night and that space in my mind is all encompassing. I had been a Christian, that is to say, someone who had no problem believing in God and having “faith” in God and the Bible, my entire life. I never went through that edgy phase some kids go through where they challenge religion and spirituality and faith. I had reason to, mind you. I was bullied at times. I wasn’t beautiful. I really just wanted to be loved. I was an introverted artistic kid who was pre-Meyers-Brigg obsessive “what about me” anti-bullying culture. I had an eating disorder for eight years. I was literally afraid that I would die from it some nights as I lay in bed. I didn’t lean on God during many of those times, but I didn’t reject Him either.

When I lost Jude, it was like a wake-up call. I did, for a brief time, wonder if God hadn’t taken Jude to force us to the wake-up call. I had to wonder if I wasn’t such a horrible human being that God had to kill my baby for me to look in His direction. I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I sometimes wonder if perhaps, Jude’s death wasn’t entirely preventable. We have always been lead to believe that it was a complete medical mystery. I’ve been okay with that because it’s something I can cope with. There’s not one person or one mistake or one thing to direct pain, frustration, and rage at, so I don’t express those things.

Even thought I don’t think God took Jude to wake us up, that’s what happened. Sean and I both remember Jude’s funeral on New Year’s Eve of 2014. It was a cold, clear, sunny day with a beautiful blue sky. We wept as the wake started. He was so tiny in that little white box. Oh, how I cried when I saw his little coffin. Parents who’d suffered so much more than I did –and who would suffer so much more than I would—came, cried, and hugged me. Eventually, I stopped crying. I just felt…at peace.

Sean stopped crying, too. We felt peace. Later, afterward, we agreed that we felt…peace. We also were surprised at how much faith we had. Suddenly versus that had been words really meant something. I could do all things through Christ that strengthened me, for example.

 

The Extraodinary

And that brings me back to Joshua and the extraordinary things that Christ does that gives us cause for having faith.

An extraordinary thing happened to me and my family. It was an extraordinarily bad thing. We lost a baby. A beautiful, health, 4 lb, 2 oz baby boy went to heaven at 33 weeks the day after Christmas for reasons we may never know. Sean and I were broken. Lillianne was a haven of joy. We had nothing but our faith to rely on and so began a journey. I craved being closer to God. I needed the water of life that is only found through faith. Sean said that he felt like Jude saved his life because without losing Jude, he wouldn’t desire heaven the way he did.

Yes, God does do extraordinary things to transform our faith. Sometimes, they are mundane things. Sometimes, they are terrible things. God has the power to take negatives and positives and to heal us and help us from them.

I realize that I’ve never seen the sun and the moon stand still at the same time, and I probably won’t, but at the same time, I also know that my world has stopped spinning, and I’ll never be the same.

“And there has been no day like that, before or it or after it….” Joshua 10:14

 

Dear Jude,

I love you. I do miss you. Your sisters miss you. I know you’re with us, but I wish I could hold you. It’s hard to believe that you’re almost 2 ½, darling. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. I really wish I could see how you look. I look at your pictures, and I just miss you. You’ve done so much for me. I don’t know how I could ever ask for a more beautiful boy. You give me so much to look forward to one day.

Love forever,

Mommy

Hey Jude – One Second

For two months, I’ve neglected to post something on Jude’s site. I assure you, it’s not for lack of love or remembrance of my baby boy. I think about him all of the time; Jude Bear still shares our bed at night. In fact last night, I put him between Lillianne and Eilie who were snuggled in our big bed with us and thought that Jude Bear is about the size of my baby boy who would never grow or age another second. The idea of a second is one that I’ve thought of a lot in the past two months of being unable to properly put my feelings into words.

 

It was an unassuming Tuesday when at 7:24 I woke to a missed call from Sean; the call came in at 7:22. He never calls. I thought and pushed to redial.

The story spilled out and I was drawn into what can only literally be described as a living nightmare. Someone close to Sean had taken his own life only a handful of hours before. My nerves pricked, and I repeated, “Oh my God, oh my God,” as if the mantra would somehow reverse the reality and I could wake up for real.

This man, someone I admittedly barely knew, is someone’s son, husband, father, and brother. He was expecting a son. He was so much to so many, and in one moment, one second, his saga on Earth ended.

 

My mind swirled around the circle of grief as I thought of his mother, wife, and sisters. I imagined their pain. His mother, I could somewhat relate to; it’s an inexplicable phenomenon of loss and grief when your baby precedes you in death. There’s nothing that can prepare nor is there anything that can explain how and why you can wake up each morning afterward and step out of bed.

Her loss, I felt, was the more substantial for many reasons because even though I could relate, I couldn’t imagine. After 36 years, you feel like you’re safe. After your baby is born, you feel life your baby is safe. Your baby will do what babies are supposed to do…they’ll live their life, find happiness and fulfillment…their smile will be the last thing you hopefully see before your own life ends one day.

Of course, with Jude I learned that there’s no such thing as a safe time. You’re guaranteed nothing…not after the first trimester…not after the second…not even after that baby is born or can no longer stumble into sharp corners or can no longer choke on grapes…. It’s not a reason to be fearful, but it’s the truth. I’m sure at no point when in 1979 she looked at his gummy baby grin and dark eyes that she envisioned that baby would only have 36 short years to be heard and to be embraced. I’ll admit that even though Jude’s loss was so much less painful, the fact that I don’t have any memories to sustain on makes me feel sad and empty. Respectfully, none of it’s fair.

His wife…I could only imagine. I’ve woken up to a text from Sean almost every day since 2008. He’s the reason I look forward to 5 p.m. I get excited about the weekends because he’s usually here. The idea of not looking forward to those things is painful. More agonizing, I think of my babies asking for daddy…missing daddy…wondering when daddy will get home. Lillianne is almost three. Most mornings, the first words out of her mouth are, “Where’s Daddy?” and I get to say, “He’s at work, but he’ll be home soon.” Of course, then I think of us with Eilie; how many times have I said, “Look! Look!” because she smiled or lifted her head up or was making a cute face? I text Sean dozens of photos almost every day because our kids do something funny or adorable. I would miss sharing those sharable moments with the only person who cared about them as much as I did. So for his wife, my heart continually breaks.

When I thought of his sisters, I thought of my brother…the only person who uniquely shared my lifetime of memories and secrets. He’s the only other person who truly understands what life was like in our house. They were supposed to be able to raise their own children together, support each other through life’s pains and triumphs as they had when they were younger. The sibling bond is special, which is why I hurt so much for Lillianne after we lost Jude. She lost the best friend she never knew she had. Even though Adam (my brother) and I aren’t as close as we used to be nor do we talk as often as we should given our proximity to each other, I wouldn’t be complete without him. I mean, we shared more than a house and parents for the most formative years of our lives….we shared a womb; we share DNA. We’re (in some ways) the same person. If he’s not here, part of me isn’t here, which is how I feel about Jude as well, and it’s why I’m often sad for Lillanne and Eilie.

 

We drove out of state to attend the funeral…showing up felt like the least we could do and at the same time, it was the only thing we could think to do. A friend suggested that we do or say what we wanted when we lost Jude. For me, the answer was nothing. I didn’t want anything. I didn’t want to make conversation. I didn’t care about food. I was shell-shocked, but in hindsight, I appreciated the people who showed up one way or the other (physically or with calls, cards, and flowers).

 

I looked at him before the funeral Mass started. He looked peaceful. Surreal. A clip show of photos played on the other side of the room. A lifetime was being conveyed in a series of photos. He was athletic. Spent summers with his family at the beach. Posed for the camera in tee shirts and shorts like every other dorky kid from the ‘90s. He smiled infectiously in every image; he was harmless. Sweet. I met a person I hardly knew in a series of photos…probably the person his mom and sisters remembered best.

Too soon, the slideshow ended, and the Mass began. The finality of the closed coffin seemed to make it more real. I’m never ready for the coffin to close; I wasn’t ready for Jude’s coffin to close. During Jude’s wake, Sean was by his side, holding his little hand; I was only a few steps away, but I wasn’t next to my son. I somewhat regret that. I also regret never seeing his eyes or dressing him. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was allowed to do with him; he was mine, after all, and at the time, when we were in the hospital, holding him and brushing my hand across his cold cheek seemed like enough.

The guests took their seats at his Mass. His daughter’s attire was entirely apropos for the sad occasion; her innocence was highlighted profoundly by her purse. It was a little pink toy-like purse as though it wasn’t really her father’s funeral…just a morbid game of dress-up. I started to cry.

As children will often do during church, mine became restless, and I slipped out with Lillianne; we heard the rest of the Mass from the foyer. Sean soon joined us as Eilie was also getting restless, and we heard the remainder of the Mass from there.

After, we stood and watched –almost intrusively, like voyeurs of grief—as the family entered the foyer. He came first followed by his very pregnant wife then daughter and mom and grandma and sisters in turn; arms tenderly outstretched to one another, providing support and simultaneously reaching for it. A cloth was ceremoniously draped over his coffin. I clutched at Sean’s elbow, weeping for them…for him…for them.

 

During the procession to the cemetery, I flash-backed to Jude’s procession and had an outburst of emotion. I cried unrelentingly for a few moments. I was reminded of that chasm of pain that literally engulfs you when you have a loss so significant that you can’t even fathom it. It’s the kind of loss that your mind has to do absolutely wondrous and incomprehensible things to facilitate coping. It’s the kind of phenomenon that reminds you that there’s a higher power and a purpose. It’s the kind of thing that you realize, wow… I can…survive this un-survivable devastation and life can…have purpose.

Within the past year, I recalled reading a fascinating piece about a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. It was riveting to say the least. Regardless of how you feel about the war, the first-person narrative of what they experienced was profound to hear of. And it reminds me that I’m not the only one who’s loved and lost so deeply. It’s something I’m reminded of often; in fact, just as with the story of this very important and wonderful and special person, I’m the least-suffering of anyone who has ever suffered, I feel.

Perhaps that’s because I know such mercy and grace, and I’m really thankful for that. Maybe I don’t know how badly I could or should have it, but I just…don’t. I don’t have it bad. I tell people all of the time that I’m blessed. I know I’m blessed. It’s not because Eilie is here, either. I’m blessed because I’m a child of a loving God.

Yes, I suffer, and I know pain. The world suffers, but there’s something beyond that. Have you ever seen people rise up in the face of pain and adversity? Band together? Overcome hatred and anxiety and stereotypes because they just had to help someone? I feel like that’s the point of pain…it helps us to be human and to become our best selves while having faith that it really will somehow all be okay.

To this family who suffered such a loss, I love you all so much. I don’t know where you are as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but know that we love you. Know that I love you. Know that your boy is holding mine in heaven, and that they are bringing one another joy. Know that we are here to bring you love and joy and peace and hope and prayers. Life isn’t always fair, but at least we can say there’s always love. We love you.

 

Related: On March 9…a day after (wow) a blogger shared this piece via Mental Health America: ”Open Suicide Letter.” I read it March 21, and it was –still is—profound insight.