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.
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.
I sat with Joy on the back patio on a sunny afternoon in May 2017 as we talked endlessly about our sons. Her son, Kekoa, passed over to heaven in July, while our son Ian passed in October.
We had met each other only weeks prior at Griefshare, a grief support group we attended at a nearby church. Joy is a deeply spiritual woman with a solid footing in her faith. We grieved together with hope, knowing that our sons are now among the Lord’s saints in heaven.
Nonetheless … there were tears and pain.
When two butterflies suddenly started to dance on and around our hedges that afternoon, we chuckled about it. It was tempting to say these two dancing butterflies were our sons visiting us, but we knew better than that. Our children did not turn into butterflies, black moths or angels. They are still the magnificent souls they were here on earth but in a new and improved physical state in heaven.
Yet, as these two butterflies brought smiles to our faces long into the afternoon, Joy suddenly asked, “Do you see two butterflies hanging around like this very often?”
“Not really,” I replied.
We stared at those butterflies in silence for a bit of time, and then we laughed.
It felt good to laugh.
Something felt very special about those butterflies.
The hospital bed in the middle of our living room was surrounded by sofas that served as seating for those who came to say goodbye. Hospice workers came and went, addressing Ian’s “comfort” needs that changed drastically with each passing day.
Pastor Glenn arrived on Monday to pray with us, again. This time, he gently told Ian that while we continue to pray for a miracle, it was time to consider that God was preparing a place for him.
But Ian was not ready…
Even Jesus asked God to “let this cup pass from me” before going to the cross.
Pastor Glenn later reassured us that even if Ian wasn’t ready to leave, God had him – his child – by the hand and would not let go.
Six days after returning home from our Hail Mary attempt at the naturopathic treatment center, the good Lord dispatched his Angels for our precious Ian.
Dave was walking a bit ahead of me as Rosie pulled him quickly towards the park she enjoyed so much. He was a good 20 to 30 feet ahead, and this provided an opportunity for the emotions that were simmering inside me to explode like a mishandled pressure cooker.
“Why, Lord? Why Ian?” I cried out. Questions I asked often in those very early days.
“Lord help me,” I cried out audibly, but not loud enough for Dave to hear. I wiped away tears that surged and receded violently like tsunami waves.
Rosie stopped to sniff around and soon we were walking as a group again. I’m sure Dave didn’t notice my sad condition because happiness was altogether elusive back then.
We reached the center of the large open field as my thoughts swirled. I had a severe ache inside my soul. I missed our boy so much I thought I might die. As tears began to well up in my eyes again, I diverted them towards the ground hoping to spare Dave the trauma.
When I looked down, at my feet was a little yellow flower. I plucked it from the earth. This was not just any little yellow flower.
The voice over the car radio promotes a Champagne Brunch. The word Champagne sticks. And, it festers. Champagne. Champagne. Champagne Ponds…on the Big Island. Where we took turns swimming to literally keep our sanity while you lay nearby in bed at the naturopathic treatment center – fighting for your life. Fighting for the chance to one day swim in the Champagne Ponds. Our salty tears forever mixed into the Champagne Pond.
Champagne Brunch. I change the channel on the car radio.
I walk by the television and hear World Surf League commentators analyzing the pro-surfers in the line-up. I didn’t even know the contest was “on”. Our lives once revolved around WSL events – like other families’ lives might revolve around baseball or football. And, when John John hit the line-up, it was time to stop the presses. Drop what you’re doing. An adrenaline rush for JJ’s #1 fan. You paced the living room floor and yelled at the TV if the judges didn’t get it right.
I hear the WSL commentators, but I have to keep walking.
I run into the store. Just looking for one thing. A quick in and out. There she is struggling with the zipper on a piece of luggage. Two young sons hover nearby. Actually, they hover right over her. Perhaps trying to be helpful. Perhaps not. She’s engrossed with the suitcase. The boys are being mischievous. Just little boy stuff. She’s oblivious to their wonderful presence. Just caught up in her task. I wish she’d notice how adorable they are. How wonderful. How precious. She continues to struggle with the zipper.
I turn my gaze away from the woman I don’t know; the woman I can’t stop thinking about for hours.
Ian had been diagnosed with a rare cancer a few months before I got a text from my old college friend, Lorna. We had also worked together for several years at the phone company but had lost touch for many years – decades, actually. A mutual friend, however, had heard that Ian was undergoing chemo and radiation treatment and suggested that Lorna contact me since her son, Keene, had recently battled cancer as well.
It was truly good to hear from Lorna after so many years. We texted back and forth, but when I realized that Keene didn’t win his battle, my heart dropped and it broke. Cautiously, I asked Lorna what kind of cancer her son had. A rare cancer she told me: rhabdomyosarcoma.
That’s what our son had.
I then asked which of the two types of rhabdo – embryonal or alveolar? Lorna said it was alveolar, which is the deadlier of the two.