In the early 80’s, Dan and I had an album by Steve and Annie Chapman that had the song The Secret Place on it. I loved that song, as it seemed to speak directly to me about things I kept hidden in my heart from the Lord. The line I most remember says, “My heart is like a house. One day I let the Savior in. There are many rooms, where we would visit now and then.” It goes on to talk about how Jesus visited the secret room of this person’s heart and cleansed them, even from that hidden sin that she believed He could never cleanse her from. I feel like my heart has “many rooms” more now, in grieving, than I ever have before. In fact, it feels like there are concrete walls between the rooms, separating my memories into “normal memories”, “happy memories”, “sad memories”, “tragic memories”, “horrifying memories” and “unbearably sad memories”. Some books I’ve read and people I’ve sought advice from would call this “compartmentalizing”. I call it a bit crazy! I feel more disjointed in my thinking than I ever have before.
There are places in my memory banks that I have learned to not go to – these “rooms” contain such painful memories of the week following our son’s death that I just keep the door shut. I remember asking a dear friend who was here the morning we were told by the sheriff’s deputies that our son had not survived a car accident he was in, if she thought it was ok if I let go of some things. She could not figure out what I was talking about, partly because I was crying so hard she couldn’t understand me. But, also because I was asking this mere hours after he had died. I asked it because I was continually “hearing” the sheriff’s deputies knock on my door, even though it had only been an hour or so since they had left. This is an example of one of those “horrifying memories” that I have put in a room and shut and locked the door on, so I can keep my sanity. I asked her if she thought it was ok to let go of that because it felt like I would be betraying my son if I didn’t hold onto that memory, but I couldn’t stand the sound of it in my head. It was weeks before I was able to let go of the memory of the sound of them knocking on my door that awful morning. A more accurate way to say that might be that it was weeks before I was able to put that memory in a room and close the door, because I am still able to “hear” that if I let myself. But, allowing myself to “hear” it is so non-productive that I keep it shut away.
I say all this to say that today I’m cracking open the door to that hidden room to let out a painful memory or two. As hard as it is to think about these seemingly insignificant memories, it helps me to look at them occasionally. If I don’t take them out and look at them occasionally, they sneak up on me and wreak emotional havoc. It’s kinda like knowing a co-worker dislikes you, and is going to insult you, and you pay her a compliment before she has the chance to; it lets all the air out of her sails, so to speak. I turn and face that grief monster before he has the chance to leap out of the shadows and scare me. I remembered one of those little seemingly insignificant memories this morning. It made my breath catch and my stomach knot up a little when I did, but I decided to look at it and write about it, anyway. It probably won’t mean anything to anyone but Dan and I, but that, to me, makes it worth remembering.
We spent the morning and the first half of the afternoon the day Izzy died sitting at our dining room table crying with family and a few friends as loving friends and neighbors came with food and offered their condolences. About mid-afternoon the hospital called to offer their condolences and ask if we wanted to come see Izzy’s body, which of course we did. After we spent some time loving on and crying over him, then praying together, the nurse came back in and asked us about his belongings, which were in a hospital bag. His boots were in a bag, which she gave to me, then after going through his clothes, she gave me his cell phone and wallet, which I placed in the bag with his boots; in fact, I think I dropped them into his boots in the bag. When we got home later that afternoon, I carried the bag to our bedroom and put it on the floor between the foot of our bed and the bathroom door. The next morning, as Dan and I were trying to get going, we heard a strange alarm going off. We both looked around the room and at our phones, trying to figure out what it was. The sound was quieter than either of our phones, and only happened intermittently. It finally occurred to me what it was and I just began to weep. As it dawned on Dan, he began to cry, too. It was our son’s alarm on his cell phone, telling him it was time to get up and get ready to go to work. We were still in shock and total disbelief that the son we hugged just 36 hours before was gone. His cell phone alarm beeping at us with no one to turn it off, get up and get ready to go about his daily routine, was a jolting reality check – a reality we were still in complete shock and denial about. I can’t really begin to describe to you how it felt to hear HIS cell phone alarm going off in OUR bedroom. It was so wrong. All of it seemed so wrong. He should have been at his apartment, with his cell phone on his night stand, getting ready to go to work, not lying in a hospital room waiting for us to decide on a funeral home so the hospital could have his body taken there to be prepared for his burial. There are no words to describe this feeling; I think only a parent who has lost a child can know what I am trying to describe. And, every parent who knows this feeling wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.
Sometimes it feels like my “cup” is so full of grief and I can’t seem to find a way to tip it and get some of the grief to spill out. Writing these memories down seems to tip the cup and spill a drop or two of the pain and give me a few moments, or maybe even a day or two, of blessed relief.