Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Resting Place

You know we have a stone bench at the cemetery instead of a headstone. When we made that decision it was out of protest because I felt outraged that my child would ever need a headstone, but also because I wanted to create a space where people could stop and sit for a while and think about Jack.

We don't go there very often.

I was trying to remember the last time. Not Christmas, not Jack's 16th birthday, not even the 3rd crapiversary of losing him. (Sometimes I feel like saying we misplaced him, rather than we lost him, because I know he is so very near, just out of sight, but that's a topic for another blog.)

I've heard from folks who do go to Jack's bench for us, and we are grateful for that.

Yesterday I was meeting a friend at a Starbucks almost directly across from the cemetery. If that seems weird, I'll remind you that there's a lot of weird in our lives: at least 6 car trips a day over the spot where Jack's body was found, Bible study once a week in our old neighborhood, and many, many other oddities about staying here in the town where our greatest joys and sorrows are intermingled. Today, for instance, traffic was stopped on the road while a work crew cut down trees that were encroaching on power lines. My car was stopped right next to the cross that marks where Jack's body was found. 

I was sitting there, listening to music and telling Jack I love him, when I got a text from a friend. She was directly behind me, stopped also, and the situation was not lost on her. Not lost on me was that if those trees had been cut 4 years ago, we would  not have lost power and things might have ended differently for Jack. In today's moment of loss, love, communion, and the mystery of God's ways, was a text from someone who cared enough to acknowledge that ordinary/extraordinary moment.

Okay, that was quite a digression. Let's get back to Starbucks.

So yesterday I waited at Starbucks for a sweet friend who didn't show up because she got the date confused. Long holiday weekends will do that to you. With extra time on my hands, I thought, "Well, I guess I could go the cemetery and sit on Jack's bench since it's right over there." So I did. Nothing dramatic happened, but it was a simple, quiet moment in my day. Later, my friend and I decided to reschedule for this afternoon, but when I got to Starbucks, I heard from her that she was not able to make it. She really had tried to stop me, but an earlier text hadn't gone through. I laughed to be in sitting in the same Starbucks two days in a row. "Well, okay," I thought,  "maybe I should give the cemetery another shot."

I drove the few feet down the busy road and parked, telling myself to keep my heart open for whatever the experience would be.  There was another car on the gravel path near Jack's bench, with two people tending a grave nearby.  I thought maybe I was there to reach out to them with a smile or encouragement. I mean, I hadn't been there in more than a year, yet there I was, two days in row and there were people not 5 feet away from where I was going. Please tell me I'm not the only one who enters random situations looking for how I can be of help. I sure hope it's more a case of trying to stay open to the nudge of the Holy Spirit than of thinking I'm God's gift to the world. Ack.

So, I smiled and said hi and, noticing the dates, asked the older lady if the grave was for her son. She nodded. I pointed to Jack's bench and said, "Mine's over there," but there was no recognition from her. Her son's gravestone was inscribed in Spanish, so I guessed she didn't understand what I was trying to say.

I went over and sat on Jack's bench. It didn't feel any different from the day before, but I did note that I couldn't get on my computer, or busy myself with other distractions like laundry and dog pee, which was good.

Soon, smoke was wafting over to me. Ugh. The man who came with the old woman was smoking a cigarette. The sun beat down, and the granite bench was hot.  I didn't have some lovely, spiritual experience, and I probably lasted all of five minutes. But I came away with the understanding that this place could be a place for me to sit and pray, not just a place for others.

"You leave so soon?" smoking man asked as I walked toward him, giving me the impression that their visits were more frequent and of longer duration than mine. I stopped to talk, and found out his brother was the one buried there. He had died of a heart attack at 35, leaving behind four children. The man asked about Jack, and I told him. I told him my mother was buried next to Jack's bench.

"You okay?" he asked, in heavily accented English. I nodded. "But you okay?" he asked again. "Yes, yes, I'm okay," I answered with a smile.

Because of the context of this conversation, I knew this wasn't the quick, "How are you?" "I'm fine," of so many conversations. This was a man who had lost a brother, who drove his mother to the cemetery often. Whose nieces and nephews, age 10-16, were fatherless. He knew that okay can mean different things.

It can't erase the pain of the past or a future we never wanted, but my OKAY can say:

  • I'm okay being here today, even though I don't come often. 
  • I am okay learning the rhythm of a different family life. 
  • The anger and despair have abated.
  • I experience joy and laughter every single day.
  • I can see beyond my own family's problems and pain now, and it feels good to care for others.
  • I am reminded again and again that LOVE DOESN'T DIE. Nope. 

Yeah, life is far from perfect, but I'm okay today. I don't know if I went to the cemetery for Jack, for me, for that mom, or for her son, but I'm guessing I'll go back sooner rather than later and be open to whatever the experience is like.

I also realized I want to plant a big 'ole tree there. If mama's going to hang out on the bench every once and a while, there might as well be a place to hang a birdhouse and get some much-needed shade.


Julie said...

Perhaps today, that man was there for you, rather than you for his mother. The kindness of strangers, the knowing that you needed to be asked if you were OK and have someone REALLY mean it. So many ways that God lets us know that He is there, giving us His grace.

Kate said...

how lovely. seems like there were greater forces at work other than a date confusion to bring you to the bench.

Emily said...

Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes moments don't seem all that special...but there's something special in every moment if we look for it.

Noelle said...

I remember the first time I had heard about your blog was the fall of 2011. After spending way too long reading your story I got in the car and the song Anna's Sun came on the radio. It was the first time I had heard it and I immediately heard it as Anna's SON instead. Now everytime I hear it I think of Jack. Thank you for sharing and writing so beautifully. Such an inspiration!

Kate Coveny Hood said...

I always enter situations thinking, "how can I help." I for one would like to hear more about your time "on the bench." xoxo

Ann said...

I'm one of those parents who spends a lot of time at the cemetery. It's not that I feel close to my son (his name is also Jack and he died at the age of 15 from complications of muscular dystrophy) because I don't. But, it's a place where I can go and still "care" for him - even if it's just caring for his grave marker. There is definitely a certain unspoken camaraderie I feel with other people I see at the cemetery. Grief has a way of connecting people.

jana said...

Every time I read one of your posts like this, I'm struck by how similarly we move through our life after loss.

This: "Please tell me I'm not the only one who enters random situations looking for how I can be of help. I sure hope it's more a case of trying to stay open to the nudge of the Holy Spirit than of thinking I'm God's gift to the world." -- this is me. And if I fail to look for the place i'm needed, it finds me.

Plant your tree. Watch it grow. Let it be a sign of life for you.

Sharon said...

I'm so glad that you laugh and feel joyful Anna. I never got the pleasure of meeting your Jack, but I know that that is what he would want for you.


Jenn said...

Beautiful, Anna. And such a comfort for me to know that my friends who have "misplaced" their children have some hope of okay - in whatever form it might take and for however many moments it might last. Blessings to you.

My Inner Chick said...

I love your words, Anna.
I have a feeling we'd be friends, darling.
We'd have A LOT ot talk about.
Life. Death. Mourning. Moving Forward. GOD.


Alexandra Rosas said...

I feel another book in you....

Unknown said...

Anna, I love when you write this kind of stuff - the stuff that makes me cry and feel a huge lump in my throat, but
that also reminds me that love and pain and joy and life are all jumbled up together and that's such a powerful thing to experience.

Krista said...

I have been reading your blog since I googled " my twelve year old son died" last July. Aidan died unexpectedly of a massive brain hemorrhage. Jack was your first born ; Aidan was our baby. I am touched by this post ( although so many resonate) because suddenly my daughter wants a headstone and AJ was cremated. Now, we are faced with yet another choice. Yes, we can bury some ashes, but will it really be a place of prayer and solace. Who would ever have fathomed that this would be a dilemma I would face? I also like to say misplaced because he is here, I'm just not sure where. Although my heart knows he is where we all long to be. I just am too selfish to accept it right now. You seem to have come so far; I wish I could see myself there.

Anonymous said...

I also look for the way to help IMMEDIATELY and ALWAYS, and while part of me likes being this way and enjoys when I'm able to help, there's also something not so great going on (as I've discovered during my mid life crisis). It's that I'm never adequate just showing up and being with others and enjoying myself and enjoying their company. If I'm not actively helping, I feel lost and worthless. And I'm NOT a busybody -- most of the time I do the helping behind the scenes where no one can even see it. I guess like all things, it's complex. I'll never stop helping, and I wouldn't want to, but I wish I felt it was possible to just BE.

TMI, I know.

Bless all those who suffer. And their helpers too.

Alison said...

I love everything about this, Anna. Much love to you and your big, loving heart.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. You had something to share today that I really needed to read. What a blessing.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I do believe God wanted you there. Those were definitely Godincidences! Always love reading your posts.

cousin Cindy said...

Sweet post Anna.....I haven't been on here much (computer) so , I had to catch up on your post. I think of you so often...I prayed for you this morning after reading several post.. I hope this is a good day for you:) And, definitely, plant a tree and definitely, hang a bird house or feeder!!! Happy Summer even with all the Louisiana rain and heat we are having..maybe it's a little better where you live. BTW...I take care of a little 5 yr. girl that has a very large creek running behind her house. I have put the fear of God in her about not going near that creek unless an adult is with her. I've told her all about Jack.
Love and Big Hugs to you!