I didn’t remember until my son recently reminded me. He tends to remind in very big ways, ways that rock my world. It’s always been that way. He reminds me in ways that make me cry or scream or become impaired by some new level of behavior that I do not know how to respond to.
He left me a note on my bed after he went to bed. It read something like (and I paraphrase in a meager way.)
I am having trouble falling asleep. Please come talk to me before you go to bed. I need to tell you something.”
I worried. And then I calmed myself down. I find over the years I get so involved emotionally with my son, Mack, that I can lose perspective. I am trying to handle those things now as they come, to be aware that he holds my heart in a way no one else ever has or ever will. I immediately become glued to his words so that I stick to them and feel the very strongest feeling I possibly can. If it’s fear he feels, I feel the worst kind of fear. If it’s happiness, I become frenetically happy for him. Sound crazy? Well, maybe. But he feels things that way, so my level of empathy for this child I know so deeply goes with him. He is that soul that I can feel from across the world. I can tell if he’s upset at school because we are so connected.
But there’s part of this that I have to understand better as he gets older. He was the beginning of a series of traumatic events that I haven’t fully let go of. His birth was the beginning of the loss of control I didn’t need in the universe before he was born. And I’ve never regained my sense of “being ok” since he came into the world and not wholly because of him. But it is something I seek as he gets older, and I try to teach him to take care of himself in ways that he has been slow to accept. And each time he learns a new skill, I breathe a little lighter because it’s a piece of something I can let go of. And I have begun letting go. I have begun to trust that my health and his strength will allow me to return to that sense of “being ok” that I lost long ago. And in turn will inspire him in greater ways than my total empathy.
So yes, I went through all that because it’s part of my personal healing process. And you’ll see that I don’t make these things up. I went in to see if he was asleep. He wasn’t. And then… he said…
“Mom, I’m trying to remember all the things we’ve done together. Just in case one day when you die, and we don’t have time to go over them all… I’ll be able to remember them. I remember when we went bowling and when we…” He rattled off a few things he remembered.
I remember loving my dad like that. I was overwhelmed. I just showed calm. I felt calm and sad and happy and frustrated and beautiful and sacred and sad again. I remember going to bed sometimes as a child and crying because I wanted to remember everything about my dad too. I couldn’t bear the idea that he would age or that we wouldn’t speak every single day. I couldn’t bear that I wouldn’t see his big teethy smile or hear his laugh or see the way he looked at me, like I was the most precious child on earth.
And I was sacred and beautiful because my son saw me so beautifully. He wasn’t thinking about anyone but me. He was afraid of losing me. And I was sad that he worried about losing me. I am going to live to 101 I told him, and I mean to do it. I mean to do it well. I will be the healthiest 101 year old in the world. And I will do it because I have so much to live for, in part hugely, to him.
We sat and talked. I have to be careful not to be dramatic. I have to pick simple phrases even though that’s not the way I think or speak. I have to listen with my heart and say less and answer the questions he asks instead of the ones I am running through. And my mind runs everywhere all at once, and I do things quickly in my mind and thoroughly. And yet that’s my journey. It won’t help my son right now. I sat with him and just talked as simply as I could. He doesn’t think simply either. He probably thinks like me in some ways, when I read what I wrote. But we needed to keep this simple.
“Son, you can’t forget those things. I won’t either.”
“But when my soul leaves my body, when I die, I won’t have my brain, and my brain holds the memories.”
Wow, this was going to be less than simple, but good plan, me.
“Well, you’re right. Right now your brain stores these memories, but who you are, your experiences, your life will go with you to heaven. And then we will see each other again.”
I’ve always told my son we don’t know if there’s a heaven. I don’t know if I truly believed it until that moment. I believed in a heaven. I believed that if nothing else, heaven would be there for Mack and me to meet one day because I had told him we would. I wouldn’t break that promise. I believed in God for the first time in years when he was born, and now I’m conceding on heaven. It’s funny what our children do to our principles. I was becoming a Bible beater. Okay, I wasn’t. I’m not. But I knew why people believed in heaven. For me, it was because I wanted my son to know that our memories would not be lost. I wanted him to know he didn’t have to worry about dying because he would miss me because we would always be together. I wondered if there was no heaven if we would still float about the universe together. I would find him. I would. We could make a heaven.
I grew up with a lot of religion, too much for my taste. I grew up worrying about life and death and sin and hell. I worried about dying because I wasn’t sure I’d asked forgiveness for all those sins I didn’t know I’d done and needed forgiveness for before I went down to the fiery furnace in a freak accident. I had no space for my children to worry about that. But my child needed to know something, something more. Yes, I believe in heaven now. I am choosing not to believe in hell yet. But that’s all the changing I can do in one day.
Yes, we will find each other if there is no heaven. Yes, he will continue to struggle with his own mortality. It’s part of who he is. And lucky for me, I no longer blame myself for that. I rarely worry about my own mortality. I have made peace with the life I have been given, and I hope and pray to live each moment fully.
And once my son got to sleep, after crying on my shoulder for awhile, for a couple nights… I started reading the Bible to him too. I even had him say a prayer. I didn’t want my family to be raised with ridiculous rules with no basis except someone said so. But I also feel the deep call of the spiritual. And it’s Mack’s fault. He will make me a better person in every way I won’t grow myself. I’m not calling myself a Christian or a Buddhist or a marine biologist. I am just me, searching for the way to find peace for a beautiful soul whose life would never be for naught, whose love is so deep each day, whose presence is felt by those around him and whose footprint could never be wisped away by small amounts of dust over time. He is forever ingrained in my heart, my brain and my soul. He has changed me. We were meant to be mom and son. And in this crazy life, sometimes you see yourself. I saw me in the rippling water, staring back at me… almost 40, a good version of me, a mom, and with the most fragile job in the universe. I must be honest with my son, true to my beliefs and help him see his worth. I have no idea how I’ll raise this child who constantly questions things like this. But if this is a challenge, I am thrilled to have it. It’s the best challenge I’ve had in awhile.
I love you son, as I always have and more each day. I have no idea how I’ll be what you need in life. But I am sure you will be enough for you. You have greatness in everything you do. I hope you find the path you choose is the best it can be, the brightest available and the most fulfilling spiritually. And I imagine one day you will lead me.