Its engraved into my memory. Friday, 6pm. July 9th, 2010.
After ten years living with the Iso people, God has called us to move on to Asia to train cross-cultural workers. A bitter-sweet meal with colleagues for old time’s sake — and I don’t mean some weird food combination. Never got used to saying good-bye. Felt like the food gets stuck between excitement for the future and reflection on the past.
The phone rings. It is really annoying to receive phone calls from unknown numbers. Then, I hear the words spoken, and time freezes, “I am so sorry to tell you that you son has just died.” I am calling out to my husband, but no sound is coming out of my mouth. I am not breathing, I think I just died too.
What followed was a blur, contacting friends in our home country to help, while not being able to think clearly. This can’t be true. It’s urgent to tell our daughter in Ohio, otherwise she will read this on social media before we inform her — only God can give such presence of mind, and the courage, to phone her. How can I tell my pregnant daughter that her brother of nineteen just died?
You just do.
I have no tears. It worries me. Why am I not crying?
We were scheduled to fly to our home country in exactly one week to move to Asia. God, what is this with Your timing? Couldn’t we see him just one last time? Our Iso friends come over to mourn with us. They are well-trained in mourning — most of the women have lost at least one child. This is not sympathy, but empathy. The women just sit with me, no words needed.
Then we flew home. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, won’t think. This can’t be true.
He didn’t have a testament, this is a problem. Who has a testament at age nineteen? I am mad at him for causing us so much trouble. What happened anyway? I thought he was healthy. The doctors at the clinic who tried to revive him, explained that he had an aneurysm. Dead on the spot where he fell in the mall. So, I should be happy he did not suffer? Never got the autopsy report though.
He loved Jesus. Like Enoch, he walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Gen 5:24). “He is in a better place now”, people assure us. I don’t want him to be in a better place, I want him to be with me! I want to celebrate his birthdays, see him fall in love, and babysit his children.
Still not eating, sleeping, only thinking. No tears.
Can’t be angry at anyone — he was not murdered, he didn’t have bad friends who made him do stupid things, he did not do drugs, nothing. So, it is no ones fault. This is good, right? Frustrating to not being able to vent your anger, so I blame God. I am mad because He doesn’t tell my why. Best friends tell one another everything, right?
Are you going to leave Me now?
Where will I go, Lord, You have the words of eternal life.
Here is a quiz for you: Children whose parents die, are orphans. Married couples who lose their spouses, are widows and widowers. So what do you call parents who lost a child? Devastated. And, you join this club involuntary.
Its like this — you had an accident and your leg is amputated. Very painful and traumatic. You almost die from shock. You are sick, can’t do anything. Then the wound heals slowly. Tender to the touch though. You have to re-adjust and do certain things differently. After more time you get fitted with a prosthetic leg, and you learn to walk with it. Eventually, you can walk in the street, and if you wear long pants, no one will know that you have only one leg. But you know. Always will. You cannot grow another leg.
Who do you invite to your nineteen year old son’s funeral? What songs should be sung? Really? No parent should be making decisions like these. But you do. God is there, comforting, carrying, crying with you, long-distance through His faithful ones — the Jesus-lover friends who awkwardly want to help, but do not know how. The ones who drive you around, bring you food and papers to sign, and help you to choose a casket. The ones who cry so much, you have to comfort them. The ones who drink coffee with you without tasting it, and looking as if their child has died too. Your pregnant daughter half-way around the world, who helps you decide whether to bury or cremate him.
Great funeral — should be illegal to use this contradiction. But it was. Decided to write on his casket. Bizarre. And liberating, but don’t know why.
It is Sunday, two days after the funeral. We have nothing else to do, expect grieve, or maybe go to church. Church, grieve, church, grieve... Will do church. This was a waste of time — didn’t hear a thing. Left my brain at home, so I do not have to think. A woman came to us after the service, offering her condolences. Apparently, they also lost a child, because she told us that she knew EXACTLY what we were going through. No, please don’t. I do not have the capacity to hear someone else’s tragedy.
They had a hamster, that died two weeks before. They are all still devastated. She knows what we are going through, she says. And, when the kids come home from school, they see the empty cage and cry again. Then she has to try to console them, again. Assured us again that she knew exactly what we were going though. We told her that we were so sorry their hamster died. Was he in a better place too? We could only manage to walk back to the car slowly. No words.
In the safety of the car, my husband and I gave each other one long look, still no words. Then, explosion of laughter. Really? Our son would have laughed his head off about the dead hamster. This was his kind of humour. We had to tell our daughter. More hysterical laughter. She succinctly summed up the situation: if it was a race horse, or maybe a pedigree dog, that died, it would do justice, but a rat?? More laughter. Oh, it is good to laugh again. And finally the tears came.
Postscript: God DID tell my why He allowed our son to be taken away in the blink of an eye — in His perfect timing, when He knew I could think clearly again, and would appreciate His awesome, good and perfect will:
The righteous perish,
and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
After seven years I have adapted to walk quite well with this prosthetic leg. Sometimes I still have this fleeting thought, “It didn’t really happen, did it?” Often, I just don’t want to remember, because it makes me too sad. But, I WANT to remember, because I worry that I will forget him — the sound of his voice, the way he smiled for photos with his eyes closed, the way he laughed. People tell me to think of all the good memories. That is supposed to make me happy.
I have learned that ‘hope’ is not a vague concept, like hoping you will not gain weight if you eat a whole jar of peanut butter. Hope has become an absolute certainty about Jesus’ amazing promises. I am not hoping that I will see my son in heaven one day. I know I will. I just have to wait.