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January 30, 2020

Seven Years Ago Today

It was January 30, 2013. That was the day so many of our hopes died. That was also the day hope was reborn. A bigger, better, longer-lasting hope. It was the day our 20 year old son left behind his earthly residence and entered his Heavenly home.
His forever home. 

How ironic that hope can both die and be born on the same day. Much like the irony of our son dying in the same hospital where he had been born. He drew his first breath of life just one floor below the level where two decades later the last sigh of earthly air gently and permanently left his body.

We didn’t immediately recognize or discern this exchange of hope. As with any major shift in thought, feeling or direction, it took time. Like the old analogy of a large sea-faring vessel, the force of momentum and the lack of agility results in a slow, gradual shift in direction.

The captain of reason and reality told us our earthly hope was gone, and it was time to change direction. But my mind and my body resisted. They didn’t want to let go. They wanted to stay on the same course of hope, the hope that our child would get better. If only the Lord would touch him, he would be healed. If only the treatment would work, he would survive, if only we tried a new course of recovery, maybe then his life would be sustained. If ONLY…

It was hard to grasp the stark reality of him being gone. For over twenty years he was a part of our lives here on this Earth.  The sudden disruption to our way of thinking, the jolting reality of being forced to change course, it all took time to absorb, time to make an  adjustment to our way of thinking. Even to our way of living.

In the early days, I found my mind automatically generating ideas that might result in his recovery.  We had been in problem solving mode for so long. For seven straight months, we had been focused on sustaining and preserving life. Our minds were trained to come up with answers. Unbidden thoughts of, “Maybe we should try… “ or ”Maybe if we just…” would be presented by a brain that had been programmed to find solutions. Thoughts from a brain that didn’t like the outcome and was still wired to find a solution. Another solution. An acceptable solution with an acceptable outcome.

Do you know that in the early moments, days, even weeks of grief, one can forget that the loved one has died? Grief is a powerful, ever present, visceral feeling. Yet a slight, momentary distraction would create a brief respite from reality. And then we would remember. Suddenly, joltingly, shockingly remember. “Oh, that’s right… He’s gone!” “Oh no! He died! He’s gone. And he’s not coming back!”

Then slowly, gradually, the facts settle in, taking up residence in a weary mind. Creating new lines of thinking. New neurological pathways. Along with the disappointment came a resignation to the fact that our dreams, our expectations and our fiercely held hopes had died. The realization that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how hard we prayed, no matter how much we wished for it to be different, our son was gone. We would not see him again this side of Eternity.

We had such great hope that he would recover. That he would again be healthy and vibrant. That we’d be able to continue joyful interactions with him for many years to come. That we’d see him get married and raise a family. That he would be here for countless more meals around the dining table, talking and laughing and reveling in the love of family. That’s the hope that died. It wasn’t just our son that was gone. It was both our son and hope. That hurts. Even now, seven years later, it still hurts. The pain isn’t nearly as acute, but a dull ache continues. As a quote someone recently shared with me explained, “Grieving never really ends, because love doesn’t.” But at the same time, it’s okay. We’re okay. Okay because we have a new hope. A comforting hope. A beautiful hope.

A lasting hope.

We realize that no matter how long a person lives, this life is short. REALLY short. And eternity is long. REALLY long. We WILL see him again. And our joy WILL be full. And perfect. And complete. No yearning, no regrets, no sorrow. We will finally experience what we long for – fullness of joy!

Psalm 16 in the Bible tells us, “In His presence is fullness of joy.” Today, on the anniversary of saying our mortal good-bye to our son, that verse came to mind. I picked up a Bible he had used in his last months – it seemed fitting to take it in hand today – and began to look up the verse. Incorrectly reading the heading, I mistakenly turned to Psalm 116. Well, it probably wasn’t a mistake. More like a gift from my Heavenly Father. As I flipped open the Bible, a verse jumped out at me. Psalm 116:15 – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” And then, while looking up another scripture, I inadvertently landed in Psalm 84.  Specifically, verse 10: “A day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Sweet. A couple hugs from the Father of comfort.

Just now, in the middle of writing this post, a delivery vehicle pulled into our driveway.  Out stepped a man carrying a beautiful flower arrangement.  A sweet friend of our son and of our family had again remembered this significant day. With each passing year she has sent flowers to comfort and celebrate his Heavenly birthday. Reading the card brought smiles and tears.  “Celebrating the guy whose only goal was to make Heaven crowded…” 

Thank you to all who reached out today. To those of you who remembered. To those of you who offered a prayer for us. To those who simply thought about our son. It’s a comfort to know he still matters.

If you know of someone who has suffered loss, don’t be shy about remembering along with them. Don’t be afraid of mentioning their loved one’s name for fear that it will only remind them of their loss. They haven’t forgotten.  We don’t forget. And having someone else remember is a comfort. The flowers, the cards, the text messages, the prayers, the kindnesses – they all matter. They don’t erase the grief, but they help us know we’re not alone. They help us know we are loved, and love strengthens us. They help us know someone cares, allowing our hearts to relax just a bit – because we don’t carry the burden alone. They help us know someone else remembers, bringing a gentle wisp of joy. A fragrant, soothing cup of joy in the mourning.