‘I just haven’t been able to feel happy since Christiano died, Mom.’
These are the words my son used to describe how he’s been feeling, and it causes my heart to break again in the already shattered parts. Just like me, he isn’t looking for the clichés. All he wants is for Christiano to come walking through our front door, but he knows that won’t happen. He feels alone, he tells me, like everyone has already moved on, but he can’t. How I wish I could take every pain from his heart and every doubt from his mind. I know that the God of all comfort is with us all, but I also know what it’s like to just want a tangible hug from a friend or for someone to promise that everything will be alright. So, in my fear of messing up, I try to be that for him. Yes, I feel inadequate, just like many of you. I wanted to be able to take all of his pain away; to make him smile again, if only for a second. I wanted it for me, for my husband, for all of us. I felt so helpless. I’ve been stuck feeling helpless for too long, and I had been here many times before. I remembered a certain time, in particular and in an instant I I was brought right back there; right back to the fourth grade.
When I was nine years old, my best friend lost her father. I was spending a Friday night at her house when we heard a knock at the door. It was the police, and they only stepped into the house long enough to deliver the sad news of his death. I watched my friend have all sorts of emotions that night. In the matter of minutes, she went from anger, to laughter, to uncontrollable tears. I sat by her side and followed her around the house like a puppy dog. I knew she was upset, but as the night went on, she chose to act like nothing had happened. I just went with her flow and ended up staying at her house for the whole weekend. Her mom and brother were crying their eyes out, and I thought I should be there. I remember coming home Sunday night and just crying myself to sleep. I was so sad for my friend and her family. I didn’t grow up with a dad, but I always wished that I had. I couldn’t imagine having one my whole life and then losing him.
The next day I went to school, but didn’t expect my friend to be there. We were in the same fourth grade class, so I thought about taking her schoolwork to her or something. I just wanted to help her in any way that I could. To my surprise, my friend had already returned to school. When I walked in she was talking and laughing among all of our friends, and I was glad to see her. She remained very upbeat for most of the morning. But by the afternoon, she was clearly having a hard time. She walked out of class to go to the bathroom, and I immediately chased after her. I don’t even remember asking the teacher for permission. I just had to be with her. We sat on the floor in the handicapped stall for a long time. She cried, and I either listened, or stroked her hair, or told her that I was always going to be there for her, but I didn’t say much. I felt helpless. This went on for a couple weeks, and that bathroom became our home away from home. I didn’t feel like I did much at all because when you watch a friend grieve you just want to take their pain away and make it all better. But, I saw my friend look for me every day. She seemed to find peace just being with me, and I was happy to be there. A few Fridays after this awful tragedy, much to my surprise, my teacher and principal presented me with a good citizenship award. My teacher had tears pouring out as she called my name and said, ‘I’ve never in all my life seen a nine year old, or even an adult, be the kind of friend that I witnessed Shannon be to _____. ‘ I was excited to receive the award, as any nine year old would be, but I felt so undeserving and inadequate. I thought, ‘well isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?’ I really wished there was even more I could have done.
I share this to thank all the good citizens that have been there for us; those who have given a hug or lent an ear, those who have sent a text or a quick email, prepared a meal or a written a check, those who have prayed or offered a kind word. I understand the feeling that tells your mind you are not doing enough or feeling like you don’t know what to say. I’ve been in both positions; I’ve been there, and now I am here. I don’t know what to say half the time either, but ignoring, leaving, or hiding is not an option for me. I have no choice, but to stay and live this nightmare. But, all of you, you do have a choice. Some of you have opted to stay away, but many of you have chosen to stay with us; even when it’s hard. I’m thankful for you. I know from being on both sides, that its not an easy feat. If you’ve reached out to me, my husband, or my children in any way at all – thank you.
When my son expressed his pain to me last night, I was overcome with compassion; not only for our son but, also, for our friends. Just thinking about how inadequate you all might feel filled my eyes with tears. Even I, his mother, didn’t know how to make it better, and all I wanted to do was help him. I just said, ‘I know, buddy. I know.’ And, I hugged him, I prayed for him and told him that I loved him. It didn’t feel like enough. In fact, It never feels like enough. But, it’s what I must continue to do; to listen, validate, embrace, pray, reassure, and most of all, LOVE. But, I don’t have a choice – I have to stay in this messy muck and rely on The Lord’s help. For all of you, it’s optional. Thankfully, so many of you have opted to continually reach out your hands to us; big hands and small hands. Every hand matters; not for their size, but for the love that each hand brings. I’ve learned through this that love comes in many forms. It’s communicated through words, hugs, laughter, handshakes, cookies, flowers, eye contact, pictures, text messages, scriptures, homemade meals and take-out, too; games of catchphrase, prayers and more; and, it’s even found in toilet cleaning.
God is love, and He has executed it so beautifully through some of you. This morning, I’m thankful for the love.
Just a few pictures that represent love for me.
Christiano in Guatemala while on the mission trip he attended through Hearts in Action.
His arms of love still reaching far and his hands outstretched to touch many more.
A notecard and gift from three of Christiano’s closest friends; Mary, Richelle, and Patti. I received this on one of my hardest days.
One of the many ‘I love you’ texts communicated between us. I’m so grateful that if have these to look back on. I also have enjoyed receiving many texts from so many of you. I may not respond, but my heart delights. Thank you.