grief, RECOVERY

CAPACITY

Sometimes we’d rather believe the worst possible lie than face the truth.

The thing about the world is, you can’t change it. No matter how much you want to. It doesn’t matter how much you wish it were different—or easier—or less frightening and ugly. You just can’t change it. It’s like an out of control freight train on a track that heads straight to hell.

To love, to live, to forget, to pretend, to dream, and to die—human beings have so damned much capacity, even in a world that we can’t do anything about.

Sometimes I wonder if we actually have the capacity to draw the line between what is real and what never was—to distinguish between real life and fantasy or even dreams as we hold on for dear life, speeding through space, darkness, and time.

  • Do we ever really know what reality we’re living, or what even constitutes reality?
  • What is it about the truth that makes us lie so desperately to ourselves?
  • What keeps us yearning and trying so hard to reach for something more than the actuality that we face?
  • Why do we constantly strive to get to a place—any place—that is different than the one we are currently in?

I have a lot of questions like these, and by rights, I should have. I can’t think of too many people who should ask them more than I should. Because I’m dead. Lifeless.

All this time—all this time! I believed that I existed! That I woke up unprovoked one morning and found your cold and stiff body. As horrifying as that was, I could make some sick and twisted sense from it.

The very idea that you had left me had my mind reeling in shock—oh, but hadn’t you prepped me for this very moment by asking me in advance to forgive you? “Will you forgive me, Mother?” you said. “Will you ever forgive me?” And in my innocence, I answered you with a mother’s true love and said, “You’re my child, I’ll forgive you anything!”

Mikey, fishing

I, in my small mindedness, had the audacity (or you could even say, the CAPACITY) to believe that was true! That I would forgive you for anything! I wasn’t thinking about the comment you had made earlier in the week, when you said that you’d often thought about sneaking into my room at night to kill me. I knew you were just talking—of course you were! You’d never do such a thing. But you did, didn’t you, Son?

Never would I have believed that you would follow through on your casually spoken words! No one could have ever made me believe that you would be a threat to me! I brought you into this world—I did! As your mother, I loved you so much more than anyone else (past or present) that you might purposely or accidentally encounter. I’m your Mama—you didn’t mean it! You could not have, because that would mean that you were someone that I didn’t know—had never known—and that just is not possible. You’re my baby. I love you more than my own life.

I wish that clarity could have come in some other less unforgiving way, that on the day that I was destined to find the truth there would be a laughing acceptance and the flippant toss of the head and “I knew it all along,” spilling out of my mouth.

Oh, if only I wasn’t standing here invisible, looking at you, and what you have become in this world and screaming, “NO, NO, NO, NO!!” This is my BABY!! It cannot be the way it is and yet—my mind knows now, and I do not have the ability to make it any other way. You have done what you threatened to do—in fact—you reached that goal long ago. I thought I found you dead, instead they found me.

How can the dead refuse to be dead and even insist that there is life and recovery and all the things that most human beings strive for after a loss so complete? How did I get to this place where I thought that the worst that could happen had already done so? Capacity. I lost the capacity to snatch the truth out of the swirling particles of reality and fear in front of me. When you are dead, you cannot know the truth.

Proof of Life

What about those babies that I love so well? They scream my name and run into my arms when they see me! They grab my leg when I try to walk and say, “I don’t ever want to let you go!”

Proof of Life

None of this seems odd to me. I have been there! I have! I have lived! You did not kill me! You could not have! You are my Son! I cried for you, for years on end—how can the dead just not stay dead and slip into the infinity that we claimed would be consumed with our love for each other?

Even more—how can I not now find that my greatest wish has come true—that YOU are alive?? Because if I am the one who died—then YOU LIVE!! You live! My baby lives! I know this must be true in the same moment that I realize that I am not alive, and do not live, and indeed, have not for many years.

Can the dead be crazy like the living? Does the mind just continue to fabricate an existence to protect us from the things we cannot face? But—maybe I am wrong! I must have found some OTHER way to die—some accident that no one saw coming and never thought to warn me about—That has to be true. I could NOT have died BY YOUR HAND! Not the hand of my Son—the hand that was once so tiny and fragile and the only thing of you that I could hold when you first made your entrance into this world.

The Truth

The truth is such an elusive (and in some cases, abusive) creature. We can tell ourselves anything—we all have the capacity to believe our own lies and act on them. Somehow though, if our foundation is steady, we make our way back to the truth eventually. Whether we like it or not.

I did, indeed, die by your hand. I died a million times inside, remembering what you said, and knowing you could never take it back. I died when I found you asleep forever, lying as if you might get up any minute and argue with me about who was going to cook supper or wash dishes.

I died as they tore your body away from your Mama’s hands and loaded you up to take you away from me forever. I died with the flood of memories which took me back to every single thing that I had ever done to hurt your heart—each time I yelled at you—when I snatched your cap off your head because it annoyed me—when I gave it back to you because it annoyed someone else.

Mikey, with his cap pulled over his face

You Killed Me

I died when I realized that I could never make it right. I died when I remembered telling you that I would forgive you anything and realizing that it was not true. I died a million times and in a million ways and it was by your hand—because it was your hand that held the pills. Your hand that lifted them to your mouth to swallow them. YOU killed ME in that moment, more effectively than if you had actually snuck in my room and cut my throat.

I have so many memories of you, my son. So that one statement that you made to me in that one moment shouldn’t weigh so heavily on my heart—and if you were here now, laughing with me over something silly that you said almost 13 years ago—it wouldn’t be significant at all.

The World is a Heartless Place by Mikey Black

Instead, you are not here, and I am alone in my room, my pen moving across this page so fast that I can barely read the words while my mind tries to make up ANY scenario that keeps you breathing on this earth—EVEN IF IT MEANS THAT I AM NOT.

The Capacity to Love

Because Mikey—I love you. Whether you are dead or I am dead, that does not change. I love you even though you killed me by killing yourself.  Even though it wasn’t an intentional act on your part, it forever changed things. Still, it did not even remotely touch the fact that I LOVE YOU. I loved you then, I love you now, and I will love you forever. God gave us the capacity to do ONE thing eternally—to LOVE.

He also gave us the capacity to forgive, and I forgive you—on most days. I forgive you for killing us both that day, and for not killing us both that day. Regardless, I know that God has resurrected us both, but not in the same way. You are in your place that God had ready for you, but I am here in this one—struggling to overcome and live a life of purpose. You left this world, Son, but not in vain. Because God always has a plan. He alone has the capacity to turn destruction into beauty.

LOVE YOU AN INFINITY OF INFINITIES

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound–that saved a wretch like me…

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.”   John Newton

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A railroad crossing with a stop sign on a misty morning.
RECOVERY

The Train Is Coming

Today I was reminded that I am not the only one who grieves.

I read a post on Facebook from someone I have known a very long time who has lost three sons, just like I have—two as infants, one not. That child got killed in a tragic train accident, and there was no way that anyone could have stopped the train or pushed him out of the way. It was not an accident that anyone could have predicted. Sometimes awful things happen, and we can’t make sense of them because we live in a broken world. My friend said that today he felt like a failure, and I tried to muster up the words that would somehow make him see himself as I see him, while at the same time understanding from my very soul exactly how that feels, because even though he was in no way to blame, he is a Daddy. A Daddy always feels responsible for his child, as does a Mama.

I say “Daddy” and “Mama” because that’s what we call our parents here in the South, and that’s what our children call us. Anyway, we love our babies and all their lives we believe it’s our responsibility to keep them safe. If something happens to them, we blame ourselves. It’s what parents do, right or wrong, and something did happen to our kids.

I call it a “Failure to Protect” as it relates to me, and of course I don’t see it the same when I look at my friend’s situation. It doesn’t matter if this is rational or not. When your child dies, rationality flies out the window, and only flies back in once in a while.

I wrote out a little bit of my story one October, and here that is:

It had rained so much that week that we were stuck at the house and I had just had surgery, so I wasn’t doing much anyway. We got tired of watching the trash float by so my husband set up a stuffed bear in the yard, and we sat on the front porch and took turns shooting his eyes out. It’s astonishing where the mind will take you when it needs some stimulation! Mikey walked back and forth, cooking steaks on the grill and shaking his head, muttering to himself about who was really crazy–us or him. He stopped a few times to take his own shot at the bear though, sometimes laughing and sometimes just handing the gun back with no expression after he made the “kill.” 


Those were the best steaks that I had ever had, and ever WILL have now. Mikey had a secret ingredient that he used in everything he cooked. I was pretty startled when I found out what that secret was. It didn’t always work out for the best, but it made a steak that day that my mouth still waters for—as do my eyes.


It’s hard to believe how much detail I can remember from that week and how little I remember from the next couple of years!

 We missed one Dr.’s appointment because of the rain, so we combined our appointments that day and went together. After I got out of my appointment, Mikey wanted to shop for a guitar. I didn’t have the money to buy one, but we decided to look anyway. We found a music store and right away Mikey spotted the Warlock. The cashier said that for that day only they would let us put it on layaway for $20. 


I had started out with money, but we had eaten, then I had bought Mikey a couple of green drinks—something energetic I think. I had $18 and he wanted the guitar so bad that I went to my truck and scraped up all my “gummy money” and gave the sticky mess to the sales girl who was very gracious about it and laughed with me. I’m pretty sure that Mikey was both embarrassed and relieved. He was so EXCITED about that guitar that I had to choke my tears back, because he hated it when I cried. 


The next day I went to get Mikey’s prescriptions filled, and this time he stayed home. He was agitated and angry and when I got home, we argued, but later he came into the house and lied down on the couch, because he just couldn’t keep his eyes open.

A lot more happened that day and that week that I have shared at times with others, but what I remember right now is the way it got cold overnight—much like the way it felt this morning when I woke up. Because it’s THAT week, and tomorrow is THAT day.

I got up that morning to get myself a blanket, and so I got Mikey one too. I had checked on him all night long, but when I threw the blanket over him, I accidentally brushed his back with my hand—and the horror that would become my life started when I realized that he was dead. I could not scream him awake, could not shake him awake, could not join him in that place to even simply ask him how he could leave ME like that. 


I cried and cursed and screamed to GOD that I had PRAYED, I had STAYED, I had done EVERYTHING that I thought He was asking me to do, so then “WHY did He take my CHILD—my —BABY, one of the reasons that I existed and found the courage to let my feet hit the floor each morning??” 


Sometimes there is no answer for things. I still don’t know, although God and I have made our peace and I do know that Mikey is safe in His Hands where we all long to be. But…I am only human, and at times I forget the GOODNESS of God, and only remember that He ALONE had the power to save Mikey yet chose not to do so. That’s when He reminds me that HE DID. Mikey was rescued from a world that he did not belong in, and taken to God’s Kingdom, where he never has to worry about being labeled this or that and can just be “Mikey.” 


I love my son, and I miss him, and no day goes by that I don’t still say a prayer for him. So now, as always, I whisper, “God, please take care of Nic, Tiff, and Mikey and keep them safe,” and He whispers back that He is….

So that’s my struggle, at least my biggest one. It’s the heartbreak of the thing that has led me finally to reach out to others in their loss and desperation. To embrace the semi-colon. To say that we will live to fight another day. To cry with those in the depths of their own sorrow and notice those who, just like Mikey once told me, are out there and just like him. The people on the outside–the fringes– the remnants–the ones left behind. It might be the guy sitting on the side of the road with a dog and a sign, the lady standing in line at Walmart with hollow eyes, the desperate addict with nowhere to turn, or the homeless and jobless person who everyone has given up on, but it’s always either someone seeking something but not knowing what it is, or someone who has long since given up the search but is still here.

I want to reach them because I know what some people didn’t know and couldn’t know—that the train is coming. The train is coming, and I have the responsibility to push as many people as I can out of the way before it gets here. Wouldn’t you do that if you could? I know someone who would have, but never got the chance. Today I am asking God to give that Daddy and Mama comfort and the peace of knowing that there is nothing bigger than God. Not even that train.

KCS Railroad Track Jefferson TX