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“He is in a better place.” That is one of the first things a mother will hear after learning of the tragic and sudden death of her child.
“But he is not with me” she will quietly cry inside. A grieving mother is justifiably selfish. The world may not be perfect but at least it was bearable when he was still a part of it.
“Here, just have one to calm your nerves.”
The anguished mom will gladly accept whatever variety of fiery liquid you are attempting to ply her with. Only to learn later that the pain is merely intensified when the numbness wears off and everyone has gone home.
“You will see him again one day.”
“Really, how many of your dead loved ones have shown up for Christmas dinner?” The broken heart will think but never utter. A poor attempt at a smile will be her only response.
It was warm for October. I was busy scouring thrift stores to construct the perfect Halloween costume for my ten-year old daughter. My mind was jumbled by financial worries that come as a result of a major career change and I nearly missed the red light. My car came to rest just short of the entrance to Southwest Baptist University. I glanced at the marquee. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” The hairs of my forearm stood at attention as a smile formed at the side of my mouth. My phone alerted me to a text message as I turned into the Wal-Mart parking lot feeling as though God Himself had just whispered into my heart. Little did I know that He was warning me of troubled times to come. I flipped open my out-dated Nokia and read the last words my son would ever text.
“Now maybe there will be peace.”
A stabbing pain shot through my chest as I felt my knees grow weak. There was something very ominous lurking in those simple words. I hurriedly called his number; no answer. I returned the text, “Joshua, you’re scaring me.” What did he mean? Oh God where was he? I quickly dialed 911, not certain of what to say, unable to articulate the dark foreboding sensation that lingered deep within my soul.
“Please…you’ve got to help my boy!” I did not know then that there was nothing more to be done. My 20-year old son had taken his own life.
He’d been staying at a friend’s house in Pleasant Hope while undergoing a tumultuous divorce. The drive that morning was a blur. My Garmin seemed to be speaking a foreign language as the emergency operator shouted questions in my ear through one wrong turn after another.
“Is there a key to the house hidden outside his residence? Do you have any reason to believe your son would hurt himself?”
Not my Joshua. He’s the strongest person I know. He was there for us all when his father died. He was the youngest supervisor in the history of his workplace. My Joshua would never hurt himself. “So why am I so afraid?” I shouted out loud.
The small street in front of the little beige house was lined with a myriad of emergency workers and law enforcement from several neighboring counties. Cement seemed to form in every chamber of my heart weighing it deep into my lap. A young officer grasped my elbow as I stumbled from the car. He reached in and turned off the forgotten ignition.
“Is he okay?” My soul was pleading for the life he’d already given away. “Is my son alright?”
“I’m sorry ma’am. There was nothing we could do. A single, fatal gun-shot wound ended your son’s life. We believe it was self-inflicted.”
The pavement was warm and mushy against my knees or maybe it was my own body that turned to mush I could not tell. The ghastly scream of an injured animal pierced the autumn air. It came from my own throat. “It cannot be. It’s just not true.” I pulled angrily on the kneeling officer’s pant leg. “You’re lying to me!”
But it was true. I stood in the adjacent driveway for hours as the officers worked the scene. Each time the screen door screeched open I expected Joshua to come running out. Surely at any moment the Chief would walk over and tell me that they had made a terrible mistake. So I waited. Then the coroner came. I watched in horror as the men wheeled a gurney toward the van. Though a white sheet veiled the resting occupant from public view I knew the precise shape of my boy. I saw the outline of his stout legs, muscular torso and broad shoulders…then I saw nothing. There was no outline of the beautiful face I knew and loved. This was real. My baby was under that sheet. I felt multiple sets of arms restraining my body as the injured animal howled once more.
A kindly, aged woman I did not know spoke as someone maneuvered my limp body into the passenger seat of my Toyota. “He’s in a better place, dear.”
My brain could not send the words of my heart to pass over my swollen vocal chords. “But he’s not with me!” I screamed inside my head as my world went black. “Lean not to your own understanding…” trailed a haunting voice somewhere in the darkening distance.
In the four years that followed I have heard many words of comfort but even more that sting.
“I know exactly what you’re going through.”
“Yes of course you do. I am sure losing your beloved basset hound was devastating.” again words that never escape the grief-stricken parent. Sorrow is not a competition. Nor is one person’s pain even remotely similar to yours.
“Remember all the good times you had. Try not to dwell on the death itself.”
“How does one not dwell on the very thing eating away at the soft tissue of your brain during every painful moment of your life?”
“At least you had twenty good years.”
Shock at the absurdity is all the mother can muster. A thousand years with her babies would never be enough.
“You have to be strong for everyone else.”
“No, I do not. I have to be real.” Pretending that a very large part of me did not ride on that gruesome gurney and tumble into the ground as they lowered the casket is of no help to anyone.
“Time heals all wounds.”
I am still waiting to see if that one pans out. My pain is just as raw now as it was the day I read the words, “Now maybe there will be peace.” I function but will never forget. You survive the loss but the gaping hole in your heart remains forever. The words of well-meaning friends and strangers lend no comfort to your anguish.
So what does one say in such utter tragedy? My sister-in-law probably said it better than anyone. "I cannot know the depth of pain you must be feeling. Even losing my own father cannot compare to your grief, but I am here for you." Sometimes the most helpful approach is to say nothing at all. Just hold her and let her cry. That is what Joshua did for his mama the night his father died.