Quiet Spaces of Life, Loss, and Grief
Every morning I wake up to the sound of silence. But, his face is the first face I see when my eyes open and whenever my eyes close. Three years have passed by, and still, our home continues to miss the sound of his loud voice. His laughter. His patience. His smile. His happiness. Most of all, His love. He is our son, our big brother; He is Joe.
It’s May 29, 2021, and I can still remember the phone call three years ago; it changed the course of my life forever. Little did I know what was coming my way. It’s been 1,096 days since Joe left this living world. And, today, I face yet another year without him. (Note: I started writing this on 5/29/2021 but couldn’t finish. It was a difficult day. Then again, every day of life is a difficult day without Joe. I’m still out here.)
I woke up this morning knowing I would have to keep my mind busy, trying not to look at the clock. I was trying to avoid things that took me back to May 29, 2018. But, my mind kept thinking and thinking as if it was racing faster than what I could keep up. Four words repeatedly continued to speed thru my thoughts; your son has died. I remember her voice, the woman who called me; raw, harsh, stale, and cold. It was early in the day, 11:14 am; I always wonder if she had to reach more parents that day? Did she know she was about to shatter my world as I once knew it? What did she do after we hung up? Did she cry? Go to lunch? What did she think about at the end of her shift? Did she talk about her day to her husband and kids? Did she have kids? Was picking up my son’s body even a moment’s thought at the end of her day? Maybe, maybe not, I’ll never know. Does it matter now? Three years later, does it matter? Yes, it matters. Joe mattered to me and many, many more.
How did I survive the past three years? I would often tell Joe if anything ever happened to him, I would not make it. Yet, here I am. I’m still here. I’m embarrassed to say I tried to leave this world but failed. I guess God has other plans for me. He showed me my purpose, I finally listened. He reminded me of my beautiful daughters, my blessed grandchildren, my loving husband, all my extended family. But, the sadness of Joe not being here, with us, still bleeds. It will always bleed. There is no end to all of this empty and unthinkable pain. It sits, waits, watches, and then resurfaces in the most unexpected moments. It’s called grief. I’ve since learned, “Grief is LOVE with nowhere to go.”
I wanted to honor Joe on his 3 year anniversary. So, I started planning a private prayer for him to take place at the cemetery. I invited family and close friends. My priest from our church was scheduled to lead us in prayer. My godson was going to quietly play music on his guitar. I had purchased a bundle of white flowers and 100 white balloons to release after prayer, and we were all going to have lunch afterward. I sent out invites, made beaded chains with a picture and prayer of Joe attached to each one. I was going to give these out to everyone. Saturday, 5/29/21, was set to go and two days away.
Then, something shifted in me. I began to question whether I was doing the right thing or not. This prayer, lunch, balloons, flowers, was this something he would want? I asked if anyone wanted me because I was doing this all alone. Nobody offered to help me. I knew deep down that my husband did not wish to pray, but he would attend because of me. Whatever makes you happy, Elaine, he tells me. Even if it kills his soul all over again, I just kept thinking of him and the torture it would do to his soul. I thought of my girls, knowing the mere fact their brother is no longer here sends them straight to anxiety and intense pain. Allie told me once; she feels like her heart stops when she thinks about her brother being gone. It feels numb, she says. Reliving the emptiness of his life shatters their heart a million times over. I thought of my family, not me; it was the night before, and I decided to cancel everything. I told my husband, we both cried, but I could feel the relief coming from him. It was as if someone had unlocked the chains on his chest and legs, and hands. I contacted everybody to notify them, and then I walked upstairs and cried myself to sleep. When I opened my eyes, it was the following day. I felt completely alone. But, I knew I had done the right thing.
I called my Godson; I needed some validation. And, if there’s anybody who knew my son better, it was Nicholas (my Godson). He and Joe were brothers. After my sister died in 1993, Nicholas came to live with us. He and Joe were inseparable from the age Joe was six or seven years old, and Nick was 11. Losing Joe has turned his life upside down. It’s been as hard for him as it has been for us. He spiraled downward briefly, but he’s coming back to be my Godson again. His beautiful soul I helped raise and Joe’s closest brother in life.
I messaged Nick; I asked him to give me an honest answer to a question, even if it’s going to hurt my feelings. He agreed to do so. My question, “what do you think Joe would say to me having this prayer on May 29th?” I waited for several minutes to get his reply. He messaged me back, “I know Joe, and please don’t take this wrong or personal, Nina. But, I think Joe would say…alright already Maaa. I think everybody knows now.” At that moment, I felt bittersweet because I could actually hear Joe’s voice saying precisely those words. But then a sharp pain hit my heart so hard I found myself hunched over on the floor of my bedroom. Crying.
At the end of the day, what I realized, what may be right for me doesn’t mean it’s right for my family. Self-awareness kicked in, or it was Joe sending me a quiet message. As much as it hurt to cancel his prayer, it was the right thing to do.
Instead, what we did was go to dinner – just us. We laughed, talked about Joe’s funniest moments, toasted his life, and quietly enjoyed our time with each other. It was perfect. Exactly what Joe would have wanted us to do on the day he unexpectedly left our living world.