This March will be 27 years since I gave birth to my beautiful middle son. I knew him in the womb as my most active baby, turning somersaults whenever the urge struck him. I knew him as my baby happiest to stay in said womb three weeks past his due date. In labor I knew him as my “sunny side up” baby, as he refused to turn before he was actually being delivered. I knew him, moments after he was born, as my baby who survived a knot in his umbilical cord . I knew him in the hospital as the prettiest blond baby I’d ever seen, and all the nurses agreed! He was so blond his eye lashes and eye brows could only be seen in the light, they were so white-blond. I was asked to, and allowed him to be a shared baby in the hospital when a group of expectant moms with their toddlers came through for a tour of the birthing center. Looking back, that was the first of many scares with this young man – allowing a small group of toddlers to hold my beautiful newborn son. I knew him, when we got him home from the hospital, as a very happy baby with a great disposition and a quick smile. He remained a very happy baby and child who worked to keep the peace between his siblings throughout his childhood. I knew him as a believer in all things, including Santa Claus, even though I worked at keeping my children firmly rooted in reality. The Christmas he was about 3 years old, I remember telling him several times that Santa wasn’t real, but a made-up story that we all loved to pretend we believed in. One day he asked me yet another question about how Santa could get down the chimney to bring him his presents, and I repeated my “reality” explanation. In complete exasperation, with his hands on his hips, Izzy stomped his foot and said to me, “Not that Santa, Mom! I’m talking about the real one!” Oh, my lack of understanding!
As we got into the schooling years, I came to know him as a very unmotivated student. I had to work hard at finding ways to get him interested in reading, writing and arithmetic. I didn’t think I was having any success teaching him how to read, and wasn’t sure what more I could do, when one day while outside playing with our kids, Izzy looked up into the sky at an airplane flying overhead and proceeded to tell me what kind of plane it was, what it was used for, what type of fuel it burned, it’s top speed, and more. Knowing of his love for airplanes, but not knowing how he had learned all that, I asked him how he knew all that info. He pulled, out of his shirt pocket, some baseball-type cards that had pictures of planes on one side and some very detailed info about the planes on the other side. The little stinker could read just fine! He’d learned all those details on his own, reading each card over and over until he knew all about each plane. If only every subject in school could somehow be centered around airplanes and flying! I came to know him as a very focused student, when he was interested in the subject matter.
I knew him as a lover of all things sweet, and a hater of green beans and most other green vegetables. I learned he could climb about anything, including the microwave cabinet to watch popcorn pop. I knew he didn’t care for going to bed when he was little, and he would pretend he was falling up the stairs every night. I knew him as an artist who loved to draw just about anything, but especially ships, airplanes, cars and motorcycles. I knew him as a daydreamer in his jr. and sr. high school years. I’d oftentimes find him staring out the window of our school room, instead of reading or writing, or whatever he was supposed to be doing in school. I knew him as someone who had a desire to learn to play a musical instrument, but didn’t seem to have a knack for it. He took piano lessons when he was about 8, guitar lessons when he was about 14, and tried to teach himself the banjo in his late teens, never becoming proficient at any of them. I knew him as a very affectionate person with both his dad and I, and he had a great desire to be pleasing to us both. I knew his as a young man with a beautiful heart all through his childhood and teen years, never losing his ability to see good in others.
In his teens, I knew him and his older brother as skateboarders, with long hair, grungy looking clothes, and skate shoes. I spent many an hour reading a book while they visited the skate park. My husband built them a half-pipe in our back yard, where they spent many hours skating up and down it. I spent a lot of time praying! In high school, I knew he hated math – algebra, algebra 2, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry. But, he pushed through each one, and did well enough to pass. I was so proud of him. Later, while on the USS George Washington, working 12-16 hour days, he took college algebra at 5 in the morning, passed it and discovered he loved math. Maybe the problem was his teacher in high school! I came to know him as a very determined student in high school. He decided he wanted to go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, got on the computer and researched what subjects he needed to take in high school to achieve that goal, and went for it. I was so proud of him.
I always knew him as a person with a very tender heart toward the Lord. But, I came to know how tender his heart was when he was a junior in high school. He knew he wanted to go into the Navy from a very early age, and he thought he wanted to be an officer, and he wanted to fly for the Blue Angels. He was never a gifted student, and most subjects were difficult for him, so he constantly wrestled with whether or not the Naval Academy was for him. I knew of his constant wrestling with this all through high school, and always encouraged him to pray about it and trust that God would lead him. One afternoon in his bedroom, the Lord spoke to his heart about it, and he was deeply touched. I was in the basement for some reason and popped my head into his bedroom to find him sitting on his bed with a book about the Navy in his hands and tears in his eyes. He looked up at me and said, “Mom, do you wanna know what the Lord just said to me?” “Is the sky blue?”, I thought! But, I remained calm and said, “yes”. “He said, ‘What does it matter if you are an ice cream truck driver?'”. Now I was a bit flummoxed! So, I waited patiently for him to explain. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but it came down to he was asking God, again, what he should do – try to get into the Naval Academy and become an officer, or go in as an enlisted man and experience what enlisted men are treated like by officers before he becomes one? What a young man he was. I knew him, then, as a very tender-hearted, compassionate and humble man – not my little boy anymore. I always thought how perfect that God would use the example of being an ice cream truck driver to my young son. He was such a lover of sweets, and at one time, when he was really little, he wanted to be “the muffin man”! Ha! God knows our hearts so well.
Shortly after his encounter with God, my son enlisted in the Navy – unbeknownst to Dan or I – and came home as an enlisted man in the DEP – delayed entry program. He told me about it by showing me his handbook with all the requirements that had to be met before his actual enlistment date. He set about working at accomplishing all the requirements and when his recruiter came to our house to have me sign papers to allow him to enlist when he was of age (funny thing – he was of age already, but the recruiter never seemed to notice that, and I wasn’t going to tell!), the recruiter told us that Izzy was the most prepared for boot camp of any recruit he’d worked with. The recruiter also told me that day that he had been told by many moms that if he allowed anything to happen to their son or daughter they would track him down and do bodily harm to him. He said I was the first mom he actually believed! I thought, “You’d better believe it!” I came to know my young son as a dedicated soon-to-be sailor that day.
I knew my son in so many and varied ways throughout his 25 years here on earth. But, one day last October, I began a journey of knowing him in a way I hoped I would never have to. I sensed his spirit near me when the deputies came in my front door and told me he had not survived a car accident that morning. I think that was a big part of why I kept arguing with them, saying, “no he didn’t” when they told me he had died. I could still feel him so strongly and so closely that I was sure he could not have died that morning. I again felt his presence that same day in the hospital, hovering above the bed his body was lying on. I remember the nurse telling me I could kiss him, but I had no desire to, because I knew he wasn’t in there. I knew he was somewhere close to us, but not in his body. I still knew my precious son that day, but I knew him in a different way. Death does not cause the relationship to end; it changes it exponentially, but the relationship between mother and child does not end. There was an immediate and excruciatingly painful severing the day of his death and for several months after that day. I don’t have experiential knowledge of this, but my imagination tells me that losing a cherished child might be like losing a limb without anesthesia; like someone came along and tied a rope around your upper arm, then pulled so hard your arm – flesh, bone, ligaments, muscle – is ripped from your body. The pain is excruciating, and lasts for weeks, if not months. And, I’ve been told that when you lose a limb you have “phantom” feeling where that limb used to be. You’ll think you have an itch on a hand that is no longer there. I sometimes feel like I have phantom feelings of my son. I feel him near me at times. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure they are phantom feelings; I feel like his spirit is near sometimes. I don’t know, theologically speaking, what to think of that; I am ignorant of the subject. But, I know what it feels like when one of my children is near. Every parent probably does. Izzy was our one child that had a propensity to wander off when we were out somewhere, and I could tell when he did. There is an uncomfortable feeling, like a piece of my clothing just fell off, or something! I can’t really describe it. But, I know I can feel my children in my heart, and I know when they are well, or when they are lost. I am coming to know him as my one who is missing, my one who is lost, even though I know where he is. I am having to develop a new relationship with him, my son who is in heaven.
I had a dream recently that was so comforting to me. I’m not even sure it was a dream, because I was fully awake and thinking about death, then I was in heaven for a few seconds, then fully awake again. I was thinking about having sinus surgery, and my thought was that maybe I would die on the operating table and go to heaven to see my son. Immediately upon on thinking that, I was standing at the gate of heaven and I saw my son come loping up (he was running like he did when he was a teenager – like a baby deer learning how to run!), he skidded to a stop, half turned toward me, like he was in such a hurry that he couldn’t really turn to face me, said very emphatically, “Mom, I’m ok.”, then turned away from me and ran off. I was then back in my bed, fully awake, and so touched that I saw him for a second and knew he was ok, that I began to cry. When Izzy was stationed in Japan, we worried about him terribly, and when he was out to sea, we sometimes wouldn’t hear from him for six months at a time. We learned a great deal about giving our children to the Lord during those 3 years. But, when we finally heard from him, it was so comforting. He was alive and well! We could breathe again for a few days until the worry began to set in again. My dream was just like that. It let me know that he is alive and well, doing whatever it is our heavenly Father has called him to do up there. I know my son still. My relationship with him has not ended, even though at times it very much feels like it. He is spirit now, waiting to be reunited with his glorified body. I long for that day, and I know that day will come.
“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a heavenly building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20-21
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18