Copyright © Tayfun Eker. All rights reserved.
On December 16, our only child, a son, left this earth and found his place at Jesus’ table. Graham’s passing was unexpected and sorely painful, but Sandy and I are finding, in the mess, the beautiful handprint of God. I’m attempting to write in the rawness of this near-season, because that’s how I process. Please forgive any puzzling sentiments; this is brand-new territory. And be patient with me; this may be the first of several postings.
Burying your child bites.
At any age.
And Christmas, no less.
If it wasn’t so sad, it’d seem almost ‘made-for-Lifetime-tv’ cliche.
An empty stocking. A poignant absence. A cask of memories stoppered, it’s aroma sealed off so that only the fragrance left over could be imbibed. It’s tough sledding.
Yesterday I returned two books to the library for my bride. The sweet girl with the kewpie doll voice asked about our holidays. I paused a couple of ticks, then lied.
It was great, etc., etc., family in town, etc., great food, laughs, etc., etc….
Her co-worker overheard and added, ” oh that’s good; mine was the best in memory.”
I bowed and took my leave. I could’ve sucked the air out of the atmosphere right then with a story made for Kleenex, but what possible end would that achieve? I wheeled toward the exit, smiling, and kept our library a tissue-free zone.
My next stop was the neighborhood hair cuttery. What the heck, I thought. It happened. I can’t hide it forever. So when the smiling girl behind the counter asked my phone number, I knew her screen would pull up two names, mine and my boy’s.
“Are you Scott?”
“That’s me,” I said cheerily enough. A few clacking noises of fingernails on keyboard, then, I took a breath and took my chance.
“You can remove Graham’s name.”
I did it. I requested the erasure of my son’s memory from their hard drive.
She laughed, probably a little too loudly for anyone’s comfort. “Remove it?” she half-smiled, but now seemed momentarily puzzled.
“Yeah, go ahead and take it out.”
In retrospect, I’m pretty sure she thought I was being facetious?
Because now she smiled a full-white-teeth smile.
“I know its morbid,” I continued, “but he’s no longer with us…”
What happened next caught me off-guard.
“Okay, Mr. Mitchell, right this way…”
She never even acknowledged what I said. I followed her to her station and parked in front of her mirror where I saw the reflection of a dad who had just lost his son, laid his body to rest, and would never know the feel of grandkids bouncing on his paralyzed lap. In ten minutes, the insipid business of clippers on head and hair on floor was over; I paid, tipped generously, and quietly removed myself from the premises, already on to the next jejune errand. Sigh. Life goes on.
Tonight, as I compose these thoughts, I’m surrounded by the din of small talk and redolent aroma of coffee in a bookstore cafe. No one here knows me, thankfully, or what I’ve just been through. I find the juxtaposition of conflicted feelings has got me all Sybil-ed out. On the one hand, I’m safe in my nest of anonymity. On the inexplicable other, I want to tap on my cardboard cup with my plastic spoon and announce to the room I’m grieving. I somehow think if I did that, a few might be mildly irritated by the interruption, some would be confusedly alarmed and others might smile, nod in deference, then return to their paused-on paragraphs, none the wiser.
Who would it help? No one, most of all me.
I easily relent.
It’s been almost two weeks removed from “the call” (next post) and the suddenly-childless couple are braving the public. We want to, yes, need to, get out, but we’re not yet ripe for frivolity.
The day after laying our son’s body in a scar in the earth and paying our soulful respects, someone wanted us to leave all that weight and grief behind and let Madea turn our mourning into dancing with them. Completely understandable. But nowhere near our radar.
There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Amen, Clive. I so get you.
It’s hard to be on Facebook these days. For all its good, it can be painfully obtrusive or, even worse, obtuse. Aloof. People’s lives (rightfully) have already moved on past our momentary grief. We’re just not that interested in friends’ parties, get-togethers, selfies and animal snaps. But I too have been the unaware perpetrator of similar ‘crimes’ against others’ sorrow. Sitting here atop my own ash heap of dirge, I’m acutely aware of it.
We’ll move on, yes, but grief is, paradoxically, healing.
So we’ll heal here in the warm bath of hurt.
And praise Him in the pile.
On the day I knew of my son’s departure from this hard earth, I was visited by a friend. He came to the house, drew a chair close beside my own in the dining room and wept there with me, wordlessly, for fifteen minutes. Tears didn’t run down his cheeks, they flung outwardly to the floor. After he hugged me and held my hand, he prayed a few-second prayer, hugged me again then left. I still talk about that visit. There was no Romans 8:28, though it’s no less true. No counsel, though we welcome words of life into our soul. No bumper sticker theology. No tweets. No platitudes. Just grief. Good grief.
We’ll be okay.
We are okay.
We’ve been prepared for this. God has made us ready. And when our Father requires us to redeem our suffering by entering into the suffering of another – which He will – we’ll most gladly tell of His good deeds, gracious intentions, expert wisdom and unfailing love – without words, if we have to; with simply being present; with silent sobbing; with resurrection hope; with His authority, because of a new degree added to our schooling.
On the night before Graham’s funeral I wrestled with my responsibility to share something. The people need to hear from us. I didn’t want my silence to be translated into depression or hopeless grief. The pastor in me wanted to explain, expound, exposit and exhort. The encourager in me wanted to encourage the many who came with question marks. It turns out, my pastor friend handled it with all the eloquence and grace I pined for. He was magnificent.
I, on the other hand, listened to my wife who said, “it’s okay for us to grieve, Scott. Just for today, would you be a Dad instead of a minister?”
Yes, my love. Yes, a million times over!
I like Dad mode. Who says it’s supposed to be over?