My eighteen year old turns twenty-one today.
I still can’t believe you would have been 21 today. Crazy, right? As you know, I was never in a rush for you to grow up; yet, here I am thinking of how fast 21 years flew by. Ready or not, birthdays come and our children get older. What are birthdays like in Heaven, I often wonder. Do you celebrate, but never get older? Will children stay children? Will the elderly stay elderly? Or is there that one prime age that we will remain for all eternity? Perhaps, there will be no age at all? Personally, in my heart you’re forever eighteen. Yet, I cannot let this day pass without celebrating the birth of the boy who changed me forever.
But, celebrating you – well, it becomes so complicated. Everything about you not being here is complicated. I was allowed to love you as much as I wanted while you were here; and, even though they say that grief is the equivalent to love for a loved one who has passed, I still feel there are societal rules and restrictions on how I’m to grieve you. The problem is that most of them come from people who have no idea what I’m going through. Most of the experts on grief haven’t ever lost a child. It’s complicating when people judgingly say, ‘well hasn’t it been over two years,’ or ‘are you gonna keep doing the balloons every year?’ I feel sad because sometimes I feel like I’ve run out of ideas to keep your memory alive or to make your day special for Dad and your brothers and sister. I wish you could just visit us on these hard days.
On your birthday, I constantly wonder what you are doing up there. Is this the day you get to watch us from heaven? I feel this pressure to put my best foot forward so that death doesn’t win or take anymore of my life away from me. But, secretly, I want to stay in bed all day. I’ve seen people move on, and, although I get it, it hurts like hell. There’s a Women’s Luncheon at the Venus Demili today. I told a very close friend that it hurts me to think of everyone smiling and laughing today – on a day that’s so utterly painful for me. I also told her that I know how completely ridiculous and irrational this feeling is. But, I was glad I could be real with her and express where I’m at. I know that you would want us all to be laughing and reflecting on all of the happy and funny memories. So, I guess when I’m down and out, I feel sort of like I’m failing you.
The bottom line is – I wish you were here. Here to celebrate. Here to have ice cream cake and blow out 21 candles. Here to let me see the man you’ve grown into and maybe even introduce me to the girl you’ve been dating. Here to share your life goals with us and reflect upon the goodness of God in your 21 beautiful years of life. Instead I have to go to an empty grave to show my love.
This doesn’t make me happy. It makes me sad. Very, very sad. You were filled with so much promise, and your life was snatched away – just like that. And, although I know that you’re not missing out, I’m missing out big time. That is the truth. Saying that doesn’t make me selfish or weak or of little faith. I’m missing out on the daily blessing of mothering you. I’m not going to pretend that my reality doesn’t hurt. This is my truth. This is my reality; and I am forced to live with it each and every day.
Do I know this isn’t the end? Yes. Do I know I will see my son again? Yes. Do I trust God to bring good out of the physical death of my child? Yes. Does that make it easier? No. Does that make me grieve less? No. Does that make me miss my son less? No.
The Bible tells us not to grieve like the word does because we have hope. Some have chosen to think that means that I don’t have to grieve as hard or as long. That is not what this means.
Levi Lusko, a pastor who’s seven year old daughter tragically passed away from an asthma attack, one said:
“We do a disservice anytime we try to rush people through the process of grief, as though it were spiritual to put a happy face on a horrible thing. Masking pain doesn’t heal it any faster; it actually slows it down and stunts your rehabilitation. Expecting someone to bounce back as some sort of benchmark of holiness is kind of like asking a person who has had an arm amputated if he is over it yet. Here’s something you need to know: hurting with hope still hurts. The sting of death might have been removed, but it still stings. It hurts like hell even when you know your loved one is in heaven. No, we might not sorrow as those who have no hope, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be sad.”
Hope for our future doesn’t erase the pain of the present. Someone who is dying of cancer, and knows that heaven is their home, doesn’t escape the physical pain of their physical body deteriorating. In all grief and in loss, even though the mind may grasp one thing, the heart doesn’t process things the same way. The heart is physically effected by grief and by separation – it cannot just be told to shut off.
Jesus has heart. If He didn’t, he would not have been able to fulfill his destiny. It was his heart that had compassion on an adulterous woman and his heart that prompted him to raise Lazarus from the dead. It was his heart that led up him up that mountain on Calvary to die for our sin and his heart that asked His father to forgive his killers.
Christiano often said that he felt that too many Christians lacked compassion. He hated the idea of suffering, and he never understood why some of us could be so self absorbed when there was a lost and dying world out there. He was never satisfied with Christianese and called me out on it anytime he felt I was resorting to it. He felt that if people were hurting, we should help them. He loved people better than anyone else I know – in words and in deeds.
As I write this, I am reminded again of who you were – of who you are. I’m realizing that the best gift I can continually give you is just to love others with a real and practical love, to have compassion on people and not be self absorbed. Over and over again, I hear that message. When I’m frustrated that people don’t get or understand grief, it is because of what I’ve been through that I can take a stand and speak truth to it. Just like Levi Lusko, Rick Warren, C.S Lewis and the people who have gone before me on this lonely journey, I must inspire people – even if I can change the whole world. 💙
Happy 21st Birthday, baby. Thanks for teaching me so much and continuing to inspire me, every single day.