Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Amethyst remembrance

"Do you have any kids?"

I hesitate. In my new home town of Bellingham, I make new friends and new acquaintances almost daily. The majority of the attendees in my gym class are women, so this is a very common question. You naturally wonder about the lives of people you see every day and you strike up a conversation.

"I had two sons. One died in infancy, and the other one died while serving in the Army."

Where we go from there depends upon the response. One is extreme discomfort and what looks to be a desire to take it back. "Oh, I'm so sorry I asked." In this case, I usually change the subject and allow the awkward moment to pass.

But sometimes I get a moment of silence and then some gentle curiosity. In these cases we can start a conversation. "My son Stephen was 13 months old when he contracted spinal meningitis. He was only sick for a few hours before he died. I was 22 at the time, a long time ago."

Far more difficult is conversation about my second son, Chris, who died in 2002. He was married and stationed at an Army base in Germany. One morning at work I got a long-distance call from Silvia, Chris' wife, and she was hysterical. I could not make out what she was trying to tell me. I remember saying, "What's wrong? Where's Chris?"

"He's dead." More hysterics. I am in shock. A voice comes on the phone, a man who is telling me something about Chris having died in Macedonia while on an assignment. The man told me to go home and wait for the Army personnel who would come to see me and give me the details. Because I was unable to drive myself home, a co-worker took me there and I called my siblings to tell them what I knew.

Three young Army personnel, two men and a woman, came to my door. The woman was holding flowers that she had bought for me. Later, I realized how difficult this had to be for them, and I found out they had never done this before. (This was before the war in Iraq; now they must have done this numerous times.) Since Chris was married, the Army had no provision to get me to Germany. I was dumbfounded. I was his mother! Doesn't that count for something?

But no; I was no longer considered to be the closest living relative. My long-time boss felt this was unconscionable, so he gave me a business-class ticket and $500 and told me to go. I went. Business class was invaluable, because I was in no condition to be sociable.

I saw him one last time, behind a glass, him in full dress uniform, with Silvia's sobs providing the sound track to the memory. When I returned from Germany, I wrote a memorial to him here.

This is hard, really hard work. No need for endless details, because what I have written here has stirred up enough grief for me to process for days. It's always there, lurking and able to be accessed by myriad life experiences. And Stephen was only the first: now I have lost so many others, as well as my parents, that sometimes I wonder if I have become hardened to it all.

But every once in a while something will touch me so deeply that I cannot hold back the tears, healing tears, and grief. Emily Dickinson's poems often touch me that way. The title of this post is a tribute to one of her poems that reminds me of what I have lost.
I held a Jewel in my fingers -
And went to sleep -
The day was warm and winds were prosy -

I said " 'Twill keep" -


I woke - and chid my honest fingers,

The Gem was gone -

And now, an Amethyst remembrance

Is all I own -


ED, c. 1861
This picture is the last one that was ever taken of Stephen. He was my best friend back in 1965 when he went to join the angels. When I look at that mother's face (me) and I think of what she has ahead, what she must face, I get all soft inside and wish I could have told her it will be all right, someday you will be able to write about it, and open yourself to the healing rays of the Light.

32 comments:

  1. I am in tears. I had no idea. The grief we experience makes us feel so alone, so raw, so inconsolable at the time. Only later do we connect with others through sharing that grief.
    Blessings to you, comfort, and joy. L.

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  2. Dear DJan, So much sadness for you in your life, almost too much to bear! I'm sure that your sons are with you in spirit as you walk through life. No doubt you think of them every day and more on some days than others. A line of words that helps me when I think about death is this one:

    "Death is not the closing of curtains at the end of the day, but the opening of curtains on a sunny morning."

    and

    "we will meet again when the sun shines on both sides of the hedge at the same time."

    We all go to the Summerlands. It's just that some are called to go sooner than others.

    Please know that I am crying with you.
    Blessings, Star x

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  3. Thanks for posting that picture of Stephen. I don't think I've ever seen it, but he looks a lot like Chris to me. My only real memory of Stephen involves a small handprint in a cement step behind the Lake Worth house.

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  4. Thank you, my three loyal followers. There is so much more I could have said, but from your responses, I see it was enough. Your tears comfort me, and I add them to my own.

    I feel your blessings, and as I read your blogs, I know that we are connected in hearts and minds. Thank you.

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  5. You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story. Steven was adorable.

    I am deeply thankful for the service that Chris gave to his country. I am so sorry for what it cost you. You are the mother of a hero.

    In living your life to its fullest, you honor them. I'm glad I got to know you.

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  6. DJan, my heart breaks for you. A 22 month old baby . . . I have no words except to shake my head in sadness.

    And, there is no way I can adequately express my gratitude for the sacrifice your son gave as well as your sacrifice.

    Your courage to live life to the fullest is an inspiration as well as a beautiful demonstration of honoring both your sons. You walked through the fire and you are still standing tall.

    God bless you.

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  7. Precious Memories will always fill your heart and your profound way with words.
    WORDS<-----put on paper, when the voice will
    not provide, can explain the unexplainable.
    Thank you for being able to convey your feelings so very well.

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  8. Oh my goodness, you have my deepest sympathy. You have written so eloquently about it too, I can feel your pain and deep sadness..a Mothers heart that is broken..and won't be healed til you meet them in heaven. Thank you for sharing:) Connie

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  9. I said that I had read this and could not bear to look at it again, but I felt that I should. I often wonder if I really realize how lucky I am. I think I do after reading this.

    Hugs from miles away, DJan.

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  10. I am in tears. I have hesitated to read this, as I knew it would be difficult. I think it is worse, having known you now for awhile..

    I cannot even imagine losing a 13 month old baby let alone a 40 year old son. I know you have lost both your parents, friends, Pete and Moose...

    The more I learn of you, the more I like and respect your honesty, courage and authenticity.

    I am so glad we are friends...

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  11. When I woke up this morning, I thought I was too busy to blog, more so to read blogs... but I followed you here, DJan. As I mentioned in your other blog, I was drawn to your writing. Your writing is soulful. It stops one on the tracks and makes one think. You've been through so much. I guess that is what makes you a multi-faceted gem. Thank you for sharing this. It's beautiful.

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  12. You have much to teach the rest of us.

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  13. My heart breaks for you.
    My son was born with severe heart defects--long story--but he has been close enough to kiss death several times. When he was diagnosed as an infant I was told there was only one child with his particular rare series of defects who had lived past the first few months or a year or so on the outside--she lived in France and it didn't sound like they expected her to live much longer. I still cannot quite believe that my son (God willing) will be 37 in November. He has managed to live long enough for experimental surgeries and inventions. When he's gone into heart failure, they have temporarily patched and jerry-rigged his scarred heart several times. We have lived with angels on one shoulder and death on the other for all these years...

    ...and yet I know nothing of the pain and loss you had had to endure. My heart breaks for you. You are a strong, positive woman.

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  14. Ah, Djan, oh, the sorrow. It was hard to read because I too, lost a jewel named Chris, my only son, a few years ago. I too, never know quite what to say when asked, about my children. I too, have to make that decision to either share the reality of my firstborn being a part of my life, or deny it for the sake of others comfort. It's never easy, it never leaves us, the loss of a child, no matter the age. Bless you.

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  15. Two lovely Amethysts gone;
    Yet they live on
    In ways we can not understand,
    In quarries in a mountain lode?
    Together in their new abode!
    While waiting mother and their kin,
    To hold them in their hands again.

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  16. Two lovely Amethysts gone;
    Yet they live on
    In ways we can not understand,
    In quarries in a mountain lode?
    Together in their new abode!
    While waiting mother and their kin,
    To hold them in their hands again.

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  18. I am in tears. I can only imagine a mother's heartbreak at the loss of a child. Your two jewels are shining brightly still but in a different dimension or perhaps in the stars.

    Blessed be,

    Serena

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  19. i have only just barely 'met' you and already have such a deep respect and admiration for your courage and strength...

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  20. This is so sad. My SIL lost a son, age seven hit and killed by a neighbor's car. My husband lost his oldest son at age 13, a suicide. My daughter lost her husband when her girls were 7,5,3, and 1. My husband is a grief counselor now.

    Life is so short, so precious. A lovely post and tribute to your sons. Dianne

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  21. My heart breaks as I read this, and yet I'm inspired by your strength & courage, in sharing & continuing to live a full life by turning outward to others instead of inward.
    My grandmother also lost two sons, in their teens, and I've always felt that she's the strongest person I know. How she carried more loss & grief than a mother ever should have to, and yet her home was always a happy place for me, always loving & giving.

    My greatest respect goes to you as a mother, and my greatest sympathies, too.

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  22. Your experience and words moved me to tears.

    My heart really goes out to you. Children should never go before their parents. It is a grief I can only try to understand.

    The hope is that someday you will see them again. Hugs. xx

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  23. Oh my, just in tears. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing this with us. God bless you. I can't even imagine your grief. Take care.

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  24. Oh, DJan. I'm shocked and saddened by your losses. I and no idea your life included these two experiences. You are very courageous to write like this about those deaths!

    Blessings and extra Bear hugs!

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  25. No words.....
    (((((((HUG))))))

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  26. Oh my gosh... DJan...

    I just read this post and then started reading it to Art before I started choking up, unable to continue. You have suffered so much. You always seem to put forth smiles and friendship everywhere. You are truly my inspiration. I would give you a hug if I were there.
    I knew you'd lost a son, but I didn't know how and I didn't know there was another beautiful child. This post is so heart achingly beautifully written.

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  27. I could not read this pist wihout responding but words are so inadequate. Your precious boys, though you had them such a brief time, showed you the beauty in life. While I do not know you but through a blog, I think you celebrate life to the best of your ability...such a wonderful tribute to your sons.

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  28. I know this is an older post but being a new blogging friend I was browsing and getting to know you as best as one can via the Internet. I am so sorry for your loses and although I have no children I have felt loss. I can't write anymore because I am crying too much now...
    Hugs for now...

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  29. I offer you the love of another broken mother-heart. I too knew a day when he was here, and then, by nightfall, he was gone. I am Catholic, and tonight, I will remember you on my Rosary beads.

    Caitlynne

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  30. This writing is incredibly lovely and I am in awe of the woman who must of fought hard to get to the place where she could write it. Thank you.

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