Each Sunday, I am excited to take my little boy to church to teach him about God and Jesus and to be thankful for all we have. I love the community we experience as each person says good morning to us on our way into mass. I am delighted by the way my son’s face beams when he gets to hold a sign of faith and lead the procession of children back into the church after their lesson.
But this Sunday was different. I arrived at church alone; my son was with his father. It felt awkward and unnatural not having him with me. As I walked to my seat alone, I realized that my own identity was tied to having my son by my side. It was as if his presence, created a place for me. We always sat up front so that he could see what was happening, stay more engaged, and hopefully behave.
As I sat by myself in our usual place, I was reminded of the day I arrived at the very same church for my first-born son’s funeral. It too felt awkward and unnatural. I don’t think of my son’s funeral very often because I only have bits and pieces of memories of that day. I carried myself through that day, a shell of a person, to honor my son and to show the love I had for him to the world.
I do remember the songs during the funeral that tore me apart and still make me cry when I hear them now. One song was for me. “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest.” And one song was for Jackson. “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn. Make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand.”
What I find most interesting is that even then, the pain I carried in my heart was intertwined with messages of hope for the future and the Catholic belief in the resurrection. I certainly couldn’t see the hope through my tears but it was there, waiting on me to discover it as part of my grief journey. And as I left the church, I clung to the promise of the words written on a note I carried in my hand, “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain.” – Revelation 21:3-4
The experience of losing my son has taught me so many things but one lesson resonates with me today. It is the process by which we are cracked open by the death of those we love. We are literally brought to our knees as tears stream down our faces as the life we once held close is taken away. We are forced to stop and evaluate everything we thought we knew and our own reason for going on without them.
I believe that I was cracked open by the son’s life and death as a means of making way for something new. Something with more wisdom and something with more meaning that would give me the purpose for my own life and my own reason for going on without him. And as time continues on, finding my own meaning and purpose has brought me both joy and peace and the courage to share my story with all of you.
I personally value courage in the grief process. The courage it takes to show up, be empathetic and sit in someone else’s pain. It is courage that compels me to want to help others even when I am fearful. Even for me, it can be a challenge to hear someone else’s story and lean into their pain but each time I do, I am left feeling connected and grateful to be able to use the knowledge of my own experience to help someone else through theirs.
I thank all of you who were courageous enough to show up for me on the morning of my son’s funeral. I can only imagine the discomfort you must have felt to witness my heartache as I grieved my baby boy. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for being brave when you could have done anything else that day.
What we need to remember is that we can heal individually and collectively, when we are courageous enough to sit together in our grief, when we can open ourselves up to the pain and when we can share our stories of loss. So when the opportunity arises, remember these words. Be courageous and show up for yourself and for them.
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