It was just a sign. I had passed it on the way to work a hundred times. It was always updated to reflect an upcoming holiday, a happening at the church it was attached to, or an inspirational message for passersby. But that day last week, it simply had a play on words: ‘CONGRADULATIONS.’ A block from the high school both boys attended, a week before graduation, it just made sense in a silly sort of way. Silly last year perhaps. In fact, last year they probably had the same sign up, and it probably made me smile in wonderment and anticipation that my youngest was graduating, and my oldest would be home for it, just a couple of weeks before his deployment. But this year…this year is different. Everything is different. And passing that sign last week, reading that simple silly word…in an instant it pulled the air from my lungs, and I struggled to find breath in a reality where there just isn’t any.
A world without Jake.
A world without Jake?
It took me a minute to unravel the thought, to understand why I sat pulled over on the side of the road over a simple silly word on a sign on my way to work. I couldn’t gulp it down as I’ve had to learn to do sometimes. I couldn’t stop the tears, and still wonder that there can be any left. And I just couldn’t find enough air to breathe as I traced the thoughts back to a year ago. A year ago today, actually. It was the last time we saw Jake. The last time. The last time??? The last time I watched him wrestle his brother on the front lawn, shaking my head and laughing (while also thankful the wrestling matches no longer ended in tears these days, with one of them wailing, “Mom, he STARted it!”), the last time I thrilled at his attentiveness to Bridget and his desire to be a good husband, the last time I rolled my eyes at our completely anti-social cat who practically leaped into Jake’s arms as soon as she saw him, the last time I watched him load up a furiously tail-wagging, eager to be with his boy Bo, and the last time we walked through the woods, on our way to that spot on the river we had visited so many times before. The last time I saw Jake scale a tree in seconds flat, the last time I saw him brave the cold water, the last time I saw him find a creepy crawly crab and proudly show it off, just like he was 5 again, flashing that carefree, confident, oh so beautiful smile that instantly takes me back to the days of frogs and cherry bombs, green beans and salamanders, minnows in paper cups, and climbing dirt piles just because. The last time? How can it be? How can there be a last time I wrapped my arms around his strong, muscled, able for anything body? How can there be a last time I wondered at the scratchy whiskers where yesterday it seemed there was smooth, perfectly soft, baby skin? How can there be a last time I felt his heartbeat as he hugged me tight until I let go? How can there be a last time?? How do you even begin to contemplate that?
My heart just won’t accept it. Yet somehow it has to.
It wasn’t built to accept it. Yet somehow it’s enduring.
Somehow, somehow it journeys through each day with this new knowledge, this new truth, as each day releases itself into the next. Some endless, some seemingly over before they’ve begun. But it’s only by God’s strength, His grace, His enduring love that it does, and by the prayers surrounding and lifting us. I know that. I believe that. But some days, that silly stupid sign day, the air just disappears and I can’t understand why the rest of the world hasn’t stopped too.
But… This blog isn’t because of the suffocating despair, it’s in spite of it. This blog is about Hope. It has to be. As the SERE (Survival) instructors at Fairchild AFB say, you can survive thirty days without food and three days without water, but you can’t survive three minutes without Hope. So this blog is about that. It’s about finding my 313. And 3/13 = Hope.
So why 3/13? Because the realization of it, one day in early March, is what lit the path toward mending my Hope and somehow bringing some healing to my heart.
There are triggers everywhere, and dates and anniversaries are big ones. Big ones. We had to face Jake’s birthday so soon afterward. And each and every month brings a first day of the month, which will always remind me of the phone call, the knock at the door on the first day of the first month of the year, the worst day that a mother could ever experience. And a date was the impetus for finally starting this note today — a year since the day that life felt so incredibly complete and my heart was so swollen with love, surrounded by my family…my boys…with such hope and anticipation for the future, as one graduated, one set off ready to deploy, ready to come home, ready to start a family…
So dates matter. Days and moments matter. And as I walked along the river that early March day, fighting an endless battle of trying to make ‘sense’ fit into a gaping hole, it occurred to me that there’s another date. And it isn’t a date that has any ability to tear at a gaping wound, because it’s a date that’s all about selflessness, about healing, about LIFE, and about Hope. It’s the date of Crystal’s bone marrow transplant. JAKE’S bone marrow, which saved her life and restored Hope to a family, by restoring life to a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, a friend, a mom… March 13th. 3/13.
It’s a date that matters, and it’s a date that doesn’t hurt. It’s a date that tells me Hope is healing, and that there’s healing in Hope. It’s a date I can hold on to in the midst of a grief that feels bottomless yet suffocating. And it’s my reminder that while I yearn for the day I can wrap my arms around Jake again (or as my mom said, feel his hands cover my eyes and hear his voice say, “Guess who?”), that I need to live each day fully, and live fully in each day, finding the Hope inherent in each one, and grabbing hold of it to carry me into the next. It’s a reminder that every choice matters, and the ones we make for others matter more. They matter so much more.
How thankful I am for that last time he was home. How thankful I am for the memories held close to my heart. How thankful I am that Cameron shares those as well, and is looking toward tomorrow while not forgetting what’s past. How thankful I am for a husband who knows when to hold me and do nothing but whisper I love you until the pain subsides. How thankful I am for friends and family who don’t grow weary, and continue to speak love directly into my heart. How thankful I am for a heavenly father who lets me scream in rage and disbelief with a rawness of pain that leaves me torn in two…yet who is still there with open arms and enduring love when the rage subsides. How thankful I am there’s a Crystal, who gets to be a mom to her kids because of my son.
In the midst of trying to make sense of something that just doesn’t, how thankful I am there’s a 3/13…