I post the same pictures every year. I post the same photos because there are never any new ones. Almost ten years have gone by (Dear God, I cannot wrap my mind around those words, that number of years!), but my son remains 16 years old in my mind because there are no more years with him after 2011. I let him get a job, his first job, and nine days later he died while driving to work one sunny summer morning near the end of July as the corn fields stretched high.
They warned me, those in the grief world, the child-loss mamas who’ve walked this road longer than I, that these increments of five are harder. They were right. They weren’t kidding because it felt incrementally harder as each day of June flipped casually by bringing us closer to the heartbreak we never saw coming that day almost ten years ago. Now the dreaded month of July is here, the month our son died, the month Matt’s brothers’ and sisters’ lives changed forever. I think of the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also a bereaved parent: “That was and still is the great disaster of my life – that lovely, lovely little boy…There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were before.”
I try never to think of the details of that day. I remember how, in the beginning, I was resolute in believing that thinking of the details was not productive. It was not. So I did not. But something about the ten year death date approaching dregs the details up like a bad case of food poisoning. They come heaving up, the details of that morning vomiting violently out of my memory. I try not to think of them, but they come like flashbacks, small lightning bolts of trauma that pierce their way through the more than 3,600 days since my child died.
I marvel that we have survived this long. I am in awe that God’s grace has, indeed, been sufficient. I’ve learned much after experiencing the death of my child. I feel as if I’ve aged a 100 years. I’ve wrestled with prayer. I have, figuratively speaking, beat upon God’s chest and fallen into my Father’s arms, accepting that sometimes there are no answers to the why? questions, but knowing that He is still good. I have a compassion that wasn’t there before Matt died. I have a joy that runs deeper than any earthly circumstances. I am quicker to forgive and never forget that this life is short. I don’t take time with loved ones for granted. I look for good and purpose to be thankful. I think of heaven daily and remember that the veil between here and there is thin. I experience deep joy and peace in the happy circumstances of this life, but never without the presence of sorrow, a silent, sitting companion to each event.
Life is good, and life is hard. Life, 10 years after child loss, still holds grief. But it also holds faith, hope, and love. Love is richer, deeper, and more abiding. Those who remember my 16-year-old are now far fewer than those who don’t. Matt’s smell from his blankets has long since gone, and the sound of his quiet, deep voice a distant memory. His saunter and forays to the kitchen cupboard at 9:30pm nightly a dim recollection.
But through it all, through the loss, through all the ache, all the tears, all the longing for what was, I (we) have never been alone. Others may have forgotten, but God has not. The LORD is faithful. He is good. His love endures forever. My faith is deeper, anchored in His character and not in my feelings. He has supplied and His grace sufficient. My son’s death took my eyes off this world and set them upon my true home. This world is temporary, and the separation now, while painful, will someday be no more. A reunion awaits. There will be a permanent joy, and only joy.
Praise God that the falls into the pit of grief come far fewer and are farther between than in the beginning of this child loss journey. The pit, however, remains deep no matter the amount of time. But having had nearly ten years of slogging through this ugly grief pit, I have come to carry with me a few “ropes” with which to cast upward in order to ascend my way out. One of the strongest ropes to throw is thankfulness. It’s not the easiest rope to throw, but it is vital, crucial, essential. Another rope is hope. Hope is the anchor, the line that I have learned must not go slack. As time wears on, the heavenly reunion seeming to tarry, I have to remember to pull hard on hope, to not cast it away. Faith is the main rope; a rope that is firm, sure and certain to guide me out the darkness as long as I don’t let go.
Ten years. Ten years of holding on, of enduring. Ten years of tears. Ten years of joy. Ten years of grief. Ten years without my boy. I still cry, though tears fall mostly on holidays, death date anniversaries, Matt’s birthday, and other random times when grief overwhelms. Trying not to remember the horrific day of my son’s death as it approaches or the details of that morning and the days following, I hoist the rope of thankfulness over my shoulder and focus on Matt’s sisters’ and brother’s birthdays in July. I’m trying my hardest not to look ahead, but to stay in the moment, to stay in today, to give thanks for what I have, and to be thankful for what I had…sixteen years with a precious boy who made me so proud to be called his mom. He left an indelible mark on me and his dad, on his siblings, and on all those who knew him.
As the 29th approaches, ten years without my son, I call to mind the words from Rev. 21: 4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” I remember that we are held by 1 Cor. 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I love you, Mateo. I will miss you until I see you again.