When you were a child, I would sometimes tell you that you were teaching me how to be a mom. Then, when you were about 10, you stopped me with this: “Wait a minute! Does that mean Joe gets a better Mom than me?” Your thinking was always a step ahead of mine.
Throughout life, you challenged me, laughed with me, forgave me, and told me what you needed. I did the same. When you were about 16 and our relationship was strained by your need for independence and my need for parental control, we each read and then discussed the book Parent Effectiveness Training based on the concept of mutual respect. It helped us understand what we were not getting right. That’s how much you cared. Even at 16, you were engaged enough to read that book so that we could negotiate strategies to benefit us both.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Such was the case in late 2016 when I was in the Medical Mission Sisters’ chapel. After the service, upon leaving the chapel, the tiniest little whiff of a nun, Sister Gertrude, was suddenly standing before me.
It was October 31, 2015. We had invited Ron for dinner that
night. Our Hollywood, Pennsylvania, home was set at the geographical center of
town in such a way that year after year not
one child would find their way to our door unless they were toddlers
brought there by their parents, usually in the afternoon.
We planned to have Ron come for dinner that evening. He called
and said he could finish work sooner than expected and said, “How about if I
get there early enough so you can show me the new walking trail you’ve been
telling me about before dinner?”
At around 3:45 Ron arrived at our home to drive me to Lorimer
Park. We parked just outside of Rockledge Park so I could show him the whole
scope of the new trail extension.
It was a grey October day, not chilly, not warm, a little
damp. We walked from his car, through Rockledge Park where we picked up the
Montgomery County trail. I turned toward the property that belongs to the
Medical Mission Sisters and told him one of the reasons their founder, Anna
Dengel, loved that location was its proximity to Lorimer Park.
We crossed the high bridge, looked down on Shady Lane, and then reached the point where the new trail began. As we walked we comfortably chatted about many things. The conversation grew more serious as we talked about his childhood, our years in Roslyn while I was married to his dad. He had sweet memories of his parents together and we talked wistfully about them. No hard or sad memories of years gone by would be broached that day but tender ones. It was around 4:15 and growing a bit darker as happens early in the autumn.
I again spoke of my interest in Celtic Spirituality, and the belief that this was considered the most sacred of all nights, the night when the veil that separates the living from the dead is at its thinnest. It is the night when those we love who are on the other side of the veil are closest to us and it comforts me to believe that. Ron listened without comment. In Celtic Spirituality, the night is called Samhain (pronounced Sow een’).
We reached the point in the trail, about ½ mile in, where there is an opening on the right. Pausing there, I told him that this is the place where the upper and the lower trails connect and that, if you go into the park from there and keep to the right, the trail connects to Fox Chase Farm, which connects to Pennypack Park which ultimately goes all the way to the Delaware River. Ron spontaneously said, “This is so cool. I love it, Mom. Someday, I’ll run through the park and we’ll meet on the trail.” That was the quote we captured for his bench.
We turned back at that spot deciding to go home. The stew was
in the crock pot, Tom would be arriving home soon. Ron decided to take a slow
ride through Rockledge. It was approaching dusk and some neighbors had hauled
fire pits to their front yards. There was an air of joyous Halloween
celebration along with the smell of burning wood as parents and kids walked up
and down the street greeting one another and gathering around fires. We were entranced
by the old timey neighborliness of Rockledge. On subsequent Halloweens I have
driven through Rockledge at what I think is about that same time but never
could again find the streets with the fire pits.
That Halloween was to be my last time alone with Ron. It is a
night I will treasure for always, a conversation about life, love and the sweet
intimacy of people whose history is deeply intertwined.
This year I hoped to recapture the Celtic spirit of Samhain
by going to the park, light a bonfire and offer libations in honor of Ron and
other ancestors who have gone before with the notion that they are closer to us
that evening than any other night of the year. Mother Nature, however, seems to
have other ideas so the Celtic ritual of the bonfire and libations will hold
for another time.
All Hallows Eve
I shall always remember
where we stopped on the path
curiously pausing at the old grotto
that imagines midnight visions.
Quiet conversation as we walked.
It was a sweet
conversation, wasn’t it?
I thought so, but memory
The stew I made for
dinner turned out painfully bland,
lacking an elusive savory ingredient.
Standing at the stove,
I turned around
and saw a look of love in your eyes
that made me catch my breath.
You made an observation about
what the stew needed.
You were exactly right.
“I don’t have it to add
now. Next time I will be sure to.”
What was that elusive
I have tried to remember
I ask, but you cannot answer.
And the next time, the
promised next time, was never to be.
Yet here we are again on
another Celtic Halloween.
In the days before Christmas, my sister, Patricia, who knows me inside and out, posted this for my benefit: “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break and all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go, love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. ” L.R. Knost
Our son, Ron, died on December 25, 2015, Christmas morning. Tuesday, December 26, 2017, was Day 1 of Year 3. That Christmas Eve and Christmas morning of 2015 run through my mind like an old newsreel. I am at once remembering everything I did, every conversation I had that Christmas Eve, while simultaneously imagining every step Ron was taking in planning to end his life. I contrast my Christmas Eve joy to his Christmas Eve sorrow, my Christmas morning happiness to his Christmas morning resignation of his fate and ultimately his death.
When your child dies, they take an almost unnatural place in the heart and the psyche of the parents. Perhaps the shock and pain of a sudden, tragic death exacerbates the intensity of the sorrow, which may seem to border on obsession at times. What is the way forward? Is true healing even possible? We love our other children and grandchildren very dearly. We love the place they hold in our lives. But the one whose death was so sudden and crushing has, at once, opened a hole in our hearts and our lives while, at the same time, taking up more spiritual, emotional and psychic space than the others. Continue reading “If healing comes, what will it be like?”