After Chris’s funeral, a friend sent me a note. He said he had been at the funeral but had not been able to greet me because he was worried his pain would be too great. He said his biggest fear was that one of his own children might die.
I suppose as parents most of us have these three principal fears, (plus a lot of other ones, both big and small):
- that our children will suffer
- that our children will die
- that we will die and our children will be left without us
Well, with Chris I know that he died, and it is quite likely he suffered. I won’t ever know how much, so I pray that it wasn’t too much and I give thanks that he is not suffering any longer.
But it occurs to me that many of us as parents think we have way more control over these three outcomes than we actually do. I suspect this has some correlation with the privileges we enjoy in our lives, but for right now I can only speak from my own experiences.
When Chris and Austin were still toddlers, I read an article of some sort in the newspaper. I don’t recall many details or who wrote it, but what I remember about it has always influenced the way I looked at worry and fear while raising my children.
The article was written by a mother who had two young children. One of the children had a terminal disease and the parents were, understandably, quite worried about this child. As it turned out, the other child died suddenly and first after she choked on some food.
When my kids were little, Chris would do things at playgrounds or on his bike or in the backyard that would make me nervous. I would tell him he could do whatever it was he was doing but I wasn’t going to look. He would laugh and do the thing I that made me nervous. Sometimes it was even sanctioned activities like gymnastics or Lacrosse.
During middle school and early high school, I would get worried about Chris. He was in that really unpredictable phase. He got caught one time with a couple of friends climbing on top of his three-story elementary school. Then, apparently, he got put on a list at the high school of kids to watch out for. He got caught lying to me a couple of times about where he was, and, well, he heard about that. One thing I always told him, though, was that I was likely to be angry with him sometimes, but no matter what, I would always love him. I told him, and I meant it, that there was nothing he could ever do that would make me stop loving him.
And then when he got to college, he traveled with a school group to Guatemala and he led groups through Wilderness Inquiry on the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix Rivers, to the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park, and finally to Glacier, where he looks so free and at home. Sometimes I would worry because I would hear weather reports about storms in the Boundary Waters. He told me there was one very scary night with lightning and a tree fell in the forest near their tent.
Even my more cautious Austin spent a few months traveling around Europe by himself when he was 18. He stayed mostly with my friends, granted, but he was still traveling by himself, to Spain, Italy, Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh, and Norway. I made him text me every day.
And Chris rode his bike everywhere, day and almost two years ago he called me at about 2 a.m. to tell me he needed me to take him to the ER because he had fallen in an egress window. He had to have two root canals and braces after that. And he was a young man in his 20s who enjoyed life and pushed limits sometimes. Nothing too terribly out of the ordinary, but sometimes when you live life with such gusto and to the limits, well…
So I had basically trained myself not to worry about my kids…too much. Because it mostly has been true that the things I have worried about most are not the things that have come to pass.
So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34
Throughout my kids’ lives, I have been somewhere between a helicopter and free-range mom. I tried out the app that lets you see pretty much where your kids are but I felt like I was spying on them and like I might become obsessed with it. If I didn’t trust them, then that wasn’t going to work anyway.
We can’t truly control life, or especially death. We can create the facade. We can live in denial (I used to be an expert at that before my own transformation a few years ago) and create illusions of being able to control death. But in the end, well, death comes to all of us.
We hope and pray death will wait until we’re older and more ready for it. But that’s not how it works. Of course, we can take certain precautions. Don’t get me wrong. And at the same time we need to live our lives and let our children live theirs, too.
And sometimes our children die before they, or we, are really ready. And holy moly, the pain seems unbearable at times. For me right now, I have found that it is so profound that I can’t seem to be able to pray. So I am relying on my community’s prayers for now. and I am relying on the Spirit to intercede with sighs too deep for words. Because I really don’t have them.
I’ve mentioned before that Chris has left me with many blessings. I was looking through some more books and papers today and I was blessed, once again, by a page he had marked in this book:
It is about gratitude and acceptance. This quote in particular stood out to me:
Am I saying, “Enjoy this moment? Be happy?” No.
Allow the “suchness” of this moment. That’s enough.
I had to learn to allow myself to experience the full spectrum of emotions, especially those that I thought were “negative”: fear, pain, sorrow, anger. And because I have learned to allow myself to experience these emotions, I have been able to much more fully experience joy and love and acceptance. Right now sorrow is overwhelming. And I know someday I’ll experience something more like the joy I had when Chris was alive. Someday. Not today. Not yet. Someday. So today I surrender to the things that I feel.
Today I throw flowers into the river and touch the tree we planted for Chris. And I weep.
So I end this post with some pictures of the river, first at the Lake Street Bridge, somewhere near where they found my precious Chris, and then near Bohemian Flats, the place where I was told they had found him, as I was surrounded by family and friends. And at the very end is another poem I just found today in a notebook where Chris had written down his dreams.
And I wish you a goodnight. Peace.