I have no control over what happened to Jack. I can only control my reaction to it. I used to whine to my mom about my sister, “Mom, Liz makes me so mad!” Mom’s annoying response was always the same, “No one can make you mad. You choose how to react.” I knew it was true, and I’m sure she did to, but that calm philosophy didn’t always work for me, and it didn’t keep Mom herself from crying in the car when the three of us kids pushed her right over the edge. “I’m just so upset! I’m sorry I yelled at you kids. I know I don’t have a u-ter-us anymore, but if I did have a u-ter-us”-- weep, gasp, snuffle—“I think maybe I’d be men-stru-a-ting right now.”
Not sure what was worse, seeing my mom cry, or having her discuss lady parts in front of my brother. Another day we sat lined up 1-2-3 on the brown tweed couch in the living room. “I want to talk to you about something very natural called “nocturnal emissions.” They are a normal part of getting older and are nothing to be ashamed of.” I’m sure my brother wanted to crawl under the couch and die. I was confused and would spend a few years wondering if I was ever going to get what mom had told us could also be called, “A Wet Dream.”
I read a quote from a blogger Jennifer Boykin: “I am responsible for everything that stays in my life.” It reminds me of my mother telling me I can choose how to react. But to the death of my son? Hmmm. I don’t feel like there are a lot of choices here. Sure, I chose to stay positive after my mom died when I was a teenager. I had pushed through as “brave,” and “strong,” and "positive." I dealt with the painful secondary losses of other important relationships that followed. Sometimes I felt very much alone.
I yearned for big family reunions and multi-generational beach trips, and someone to watch my babies so I could take a class, get my hair colored, or sleep. But I knew that my ultimate goal was to have a family and be a mom, the kind of imperfectly wonderful my mom was to me. And I got that. Jack and Margaret helped redeem that early, painful loss.
It hasn’t really felt like I’ve had much of a choice in how to react since Jack’s death. It’s been more like a “hang the hell on and don’t get sucked so far into the depths that I can’t get out” kind of thing.
But I guess there always is a choice, and this path, whatever it is I’m choosing-- whether it’s called being positive, clinging to joy, or whatever-- beats the alternative.
I think of our traditional Christmas Eve movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I’m taken aback by Old Mrs. Bailey who has lost her only son to an accident. She has always seemed scary, bitter, shriveled and a bit wild to me. And I know that's an option.But I do not choose that. Not today at least.
What do you choose today?