Autumn has always been my favorite season, with October being my favorite month of the year. My husband and I got married in October, 36 years ago. Over the years, we have spent time reminiscing and renewing our love and commitment to each other during the many Octobers since our first married one years ago. We not only love the month for the significance of the beginning of our marriage, but we love the cooler weather, the leaves changing colors, the smell of the air, and everything else about the changing of the season. None of our children were born in October, and neither were my husband or I, so this beautiful autumn month has always been, to us, exclusively for us to celebrate the beginning of our lives together as one.
And then came October,2 years ago. Twelve days before our 34th anniversary we got the most horrific news any parent can ever receive. On a cool, rainy Monday morning, the sheriff came to our door and told me our middle son had not survived a car accident. This most horrendous of news threw us into a fog of shock and disbelief, followed by a week of busyness preparing for a funeral I was sure was not really supposed to be happening. All during this week it was either cloudy or rainy every single day, with the heaviest rain of the week happening during the burial service.
I used to love cool, cloudy, rainy autumn days. Now I cry throughout days like that. I sometimes don’t even know why I’m crying on those rainy days. Then I realize that in my mind, I am at the hospital, seeing his recently deceased body for the first time. Or I am with my family, gathered around the big table at the funeral home, discussing funeral details. I look up and see my oldest son “lose it” and begin sobbing for a second before he gets his emotions under control again and helps us decide what photo will be in the newspaper to announce a passing we don’t actually believe has happened. Or I am at the funeral home a couple of days later and hear my oldest daughter gasp when she sees her little brother’s body lying in a casket, dressed in his Navy uniform.
I see my own hands shaking as I am trying to pin the gold wings given to him by his Commander friend, who spoke at his funeral, on his uniform before the funeral started. I hear myself telling my family that we should pray before they close the lid to his casket. My husband stepped closer to me to hold my hand as we prayed and stepped slightly in front of our son in the casket. I couldn’t have that. He had to be a part of our prayer circle, as always. My husband stepped back and I felt better that he wasn’t blocking my view of our son lying silently in his casket.
We all cried……and cried……..and cried. It rained…….and rained…….and rained that awful beautiful day.
I recently visited with our counselor about this juxtaposition of my feelings regarding the month of October. He knows us well enough now to know what I am referring to before I finish telling him, which is sometimes a little unnerving, but usually quite comforting. After I spoke for a few minutes about trying to balance the joy I feel in October as I reminisce the beginning of sharing my life with my sweetheart, with the sorrow and anger I feel as we are re-reminded of those first horrific days after our son was killed, I saw him thinking about what I was saying, and could tell he was really pondering my dilemma. He started to tell me what he was thinking, but I interrupted him to add that I cannot forget what happened to my son. I cannot. As tragic as the accident and subsequent death of my son is, it is a memory I cannot let go of; it happened to one of my children, my most precious blessings. I hate it, but I can’t forget it. He knew I was communicating that to him, and said he “heard that loud and clear”. Thank God for wonderful counselors!
He likes to use metaphors to help me understand what he is trying to communicate to me, and it just so happens that I love and understand things better when a metaphor is used. He held his hands out in front of him, palms up, and slightly cupped, like he was holding something precious – like a baby. And he said, “Can you wrap those painful memories of the day Izzy died in the joy of your memories of the day you married Dan?”
I was stunned into silence and tears ran down my face. What a beautiful picture. A picture of something I think I can actually do. It won’t be easy and will take some brain work, but that seems to me to be a lot of what is meant by “grief work”; it is a lot of mental and emotional brain work. It’s hard and it hurts and I hate it. But this is where I am at, and I have to play the hand that has been dealt me.
I can take my love of this season – my pleasure in the changing leaves and temperatures, my delight in warm bonfires and cuddly sweatshirts, my memories of beginning school years with my precious children, and my joy in remembering and renewing my love for my other half – and like a cozy, comfortable, comforting warm blanket, I can wrap the excruciating pain caused by the gaping hole in my heart – the memories of the tragedy, the visit from the sheriff’s deputies, the phone call from the hospital, the sound of my other children weeping, the vision of one of my babies in a casket, and the horror of the fact that his body is still in that casket buried beneath the surface of the earth – I can wrap that pain caused on the 6th of October in the joy brought about on the 18th of October 34 years previous. With the help of my loving Heavenly Father, I think I can do that.
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Ps. 73:21-26