10 years ago on Aug. 2nd, I was sitting in our church sanctuary staring at my 16 year old son’s casket. This isn’t a memory any parent should have, yet it’s reality for hundreds of thousands of parents around the world. I don’t recall much of that day. I don’t recall much of anything that first year, really. Truth be told, I don’t want to remember any horrific detail of that time.
The grief fog, the inability to process coherent thoughts, and the overwhelming pain have long since subsided, but at times, the disbelief comes rushing back. The horror of child loss stares me starkly in the face at moments like this and beckons me to walk down memory lane. But this path isn’t new to me anymore. I don’t have to accept the invitation that comes knocking. I am not crazy, though I certainly felt like I was going crazy those first many months.
I remember the shock of being asked to pay half the funeral costs up front. I mean, my God, my son wasn’t even buried yet. Who the heck has thousands of dollars lying around in a bank account ready to be forked over to a mortuary? Not us. We had seven children and were only concerned about diapers and the grocery bill. We intentionally picked the cheapest casket we could find, but also one that was simple, no frills; one that reflected his personality, because that’s what Matt would have wanted.
I still find it interesting that I don’t recall everyone who attended my son’s funeral. I remember looking through the guestbook signatures a couple months later and being surprised at seeing some of the names in it. I even asked my husband about one name in particular and he replied, “You talked to her.” I was shocked. I had no memory of the conversation with her. This is why, when people are conflicted about whether or not to attend a funeral, I often tell them that it’s more important that they be there a year later, two years later, five, and twenty years later for the bereaved. It’s easy to show up when grief is fresh, tragedy new. But when the wound is old? When time, years, decades, have gone by? That’s when it speaks deeply, comfortingly, reassuringly to the soul. Because one of the greatest fears after losing a loved one is that they will be forgotten. Great is the comfort when someone speaks my son’s name ten years later, who isn’t afraid to say, “Tell me about Matt,” and doesn’t put a time limit on talking about him. This isn’t being “stuck” in grief. This is healing. Healing necessitates speaking, giving voice to our loved one’s life, their legacy and memory. (Being “stuck” in grief would be still not getting out of bed months or years later, for instance, or never speaking of them or saying their name again.)
The month of July and the early days of August felt like whiplash, too, with Matt’s death and funeral falling just days between two of his sisters’ birthdays. Additionally, two of his other siblings share a birthday just over two weeks before his death date. The delicate balancing act of joy and grief are indeed summed up in the word “bittersweet.” I find it highly ironic, also, that we live (for real) on Bittersweet Lane.
I breathe a sigh of relief once we get past the first week of August. I no longer have the pressing anticipation of the “crapiversary” date, and I no longer have to intentionally force thoughts of the accident or memories of those early days out of my mind. It’s taken practice and a taking captive of every thought (2 Cor. 10:5) over many months and years. Early on I resolved that I would not dwell on or replay details because it was not productive to healing. For the most part, I almost never think of these things, but in the early days after Matt died and on the 5- and 10-year anniversary, it was more difficult to keep those thoughts out. Such is the nature of grief; it ebbs and flows.
Yet as I look back, I also recall God’s goodness, His overwhelming provision and love. The monetary gifts that poured in through condolence cards covered almost the exact cost of the funeral. We also had no idea that the cost of a cemetery plot and headstone were their own, additional expenses, but God provided the funds for those, as well. The financial burden grief brings is often left unspoken. The LORD revealed Himself as Jehovah Jireh, God our provider in so many ways.
I am grateful for those who reached out to us this last week, who weren’t afraid to say Matt’s name, and who continued to lift us in prayer. As has been said before, grief doesn’t end when the funeral does.
God’s promises and His word have become more precious to me than ever as the years go by. Heaven is a daily thought, and hope an anchor for my soul. I look forward to the day my God, my tender Father, wipes the tears from my eyes and there will be no more death, no more sorrow. My heart thrills for the day when joy, and only joy, will be all it knows. Thank you, Jesus, for Your great sacrifice on the cross, for dying for our sins and rising again, conquering death!
Angie, Mom to Matt (died age 16, 2011), daughter to Mary (died 2018), sister to David (died 2021) All ALIVE in heaven.