I was worried about it, as any mom would be. I even kept a measurement of it, so that I could know firsthand if it was growing. It was as easy to miss as it was hard to miss. Splashed on his bottom lip was what looked like a dark ink blob that simply became part of the beautiful landscape of our son Ian‘s face.
No, it wasn’t bestowed as a beauty mark from birth. This doozy came to Ian after the world’s worst case of chapped lips. He was probably in middle school and was just beginning to discover his extreme love of the ocean. After a long weekend of fun in the sun, Ian developed miserable dry, cracking chapped lips that hurt like heck and made it hard to smile.
For some random reason, once his lip healed and natural moisture returned, a permanent dark splotch remained as a reminder of the painful incident.
I open my brand new 2020 Weekly Calendar to begin my annual ritual. I carefully carry over the events that repeat year-after-year and log in those new activities scheduled over the past few months. There are birthdays, anniversaries, car registration renewals and volunteer work. There’s a trip to the airport, an upcoming dentist appointment and the long-awaited conference.
I mark them carefully onto the pristine, unspoiled pages that have yet to see any signs of white-out or scribbled entries added in the rush of a busy day. For now, my handwriting is neat and tidy. The yellow highlighter adds emphasis to those especially important entries.
When I’m done, I close the book and stare hard at the gold embossed numbers that grace its cover…2020.
What I expect to feel next simply eludes me, again.
There is no swell of hope and promise that should come with the dawn of a new year. No rush of joy that I’ve felt for so many decades before. Not this year, or last year, or the year before that. Not since 2016…when you left for heaven.
If there was ever a mantra that fits the world of journalism to a T, it’s the saying, “It’s never done. It’s just due”.
Someone told me this early on in my public relations career, most likely because I have a hard time deciding that my writing is completely finished. If you write for a living, you know what I mean. A piece of writing that appears to be “done” at one moment can go through more and more rounds of edits until the deadline is upon you, and you simply must stop working on it. Oh, how you could use just a few more days, a few more hours, or even just a few more minutes to finish the work.
“It’s never done. It’s just due.”
Ian was a writer, too. It was in his high school years that I recognized his knack for it, as did his teachers. His research was usually quite solid and his thought process on point, but what really made my heart soar was Ian’s ability to turn a phrase with flair and style. He was on his way to being a true wordsmith.
In a study of Genesis, I listened to a pastor taking about rainbows. He spoke about the scientific definition of the rainbow: A beautiful multicolored arch in the sky caused by the reflection and refraction of the rays of the sun shining on falling rain.
Then, of course, he spoke of the biblical significance: The rainbow as a token of the covenant which God made with Noah when he came out of the ark that the waters should no more become a flood to destroy all of humanity.
The rainbow in the sky is the “sun in the storm” AND the “son in the storm.” The son, my Lord and savior.
Today, more than two years since Ian left us after an eight-month battle with cancer, I live my life under the Rainbow.
The storm, I fear, will never completely blow over.
There will always be clouds in my sky; the unrelenting soul-crushing missing that happens when you lose your child.
But, now and then, when the conditions are just right, the sun shines into my clouds and creates surprising beauty.
At first, it is faint … just a light hue of color as I gaze onto the faces of those I love and a glimmer of hope falls over me. Yet, slowly but surely, over time, I find myself in moments of vibrant colors. I am surprised to find that my smile is real, my laugh is deep and a sense of happiness feels true.
But there is no weather forecast on this journey.
Today, it may rain, the sun may come out, or — on the best of days — the rain and the sun may interact to create a rainbow over me.
Those days have tears and pain brought on by bittersweet memories. And, they have hope and love brought on by — those very same memories.
We walk in faith, looking forward to a day of reunion with Ian and all our loved ones who already call Heaven, home. I thank the Lord for his faithfulness to walk with me through this storm and for the rainbows that cover me.
There I sat wiping away tears in a crowded restaurant – again.
I gazed down onto the three letters I – A – N … strung together in a manner so that I could pick it out in a line-up of a hundred other “Ian” signatures. It was his actual signature cast perfectly into a delicate silver ring. The signature looked exactly how I had seen it so very many times before when he signed his name to an important letter, note, and later in life, on a sales contract.
The ring featured the “neat” version, not the signature he used when signing a check or on one of those ridiculous credit card machines. In those cases, you’d only see the “I” and the rest was barely more than a straight line. I remember that I chuckled the first time I saw it. I think he was in middle school and I asked him if he thought he was a doctor or a rock star. Actually, I love that he learned to use the sloppy signature at such a young age, as if he intuitively understood that sometimes it mattered and other times it simply did not. Sometimes you steal away a few seconds to keep for yourself – because seconds add up to minutes, minutes add up to days.
We know — all too well — that every single second matters…
Ian stared up at the ceiling from the bed at the naturopathic treatment center, unable to move any part of his body below the neck. For most of the 10 days we spent there, he was getting intravenous high dose Vitamin C and a host of last-chance protocols commonly used in European countries to fight cancer. During this time, Ian’s mind was relatively strong. Except for the last few days his life, he was aware of his rapid decline.
I often wondered what was going through his mind.
This was new for me. I had always known exactly what was going on his mind — Ian could talk and he loved to share! He easily filled up an entire 30-minute drive home from school with colorful stories of the day’s adventures. Things didn’t change much when he started his new job straight out of college. I knew about the potential clients, the presentations, the contracts that closed and the ones that did not. He texted me often and kept me posted on just about everything.
But, here I am, 22 months since our beloved son’s passing to Heaven, and I’m left still wondering what was he thinking in his final days on earth? Was he devastated? Was he still hopeful? Did he ever resign to his soon departure? If he did, he never shared that with me. He chose not to talk about the end.
One thing I know is that through his entire 8-month battle with cancer, he never uttered one word of victimized complaint to me. I never heard him ask, “Why me?”
One day, in the middle of the chaos, I dared to dream that the hedge would make it.
I imagined how we would later tell the story of the dying hedge in our front yard as a metaphor of how you faced down your near-death experience with cancer, but you came back with vigor to live out the rest of your days with renewed focus and perspective.
We would explain how the dry branches appeared beyond resuscitation. It was that pesky, destructive white fly that snuck in under the radar and spread relentlessly beneath the abundant beautiful green leaves and orange hibiscus blossoms. Continue reading “The Hedge”→
Is it strange that I count the months you’ve been gone in the same way that parents count the months of an infant child’s life? Each month, as time slips by, I can’t believe we’ve made it this far without you here.
Yet, if the pattern holds true, I’ll stop counting the months soon. Just a few more months and we will likely start referencing your absence in years — should anyone ask how long it’s been.
No matter how or if I express the breadth of your absence on any given day, I always know exactly how long it’s been …
because losing a child is nothing like having a child.
To watch your child grow is the ultimate privilege. Fully in awe of the miracle, you instinctively know that he or she is a gift and you celebrate the milestones, month by month, and then year after year.
When there is life, this formula is sustainable. It propels you forward.
When there is death, this formula is difficult to sustain.
For 18 months, I have quite literally been walking with my head turned in the opposite direction … looking backwards.
If I continue this formula, I fear it will sink me.