My husband and I had just settled into a booth at one of our favorite breakfast spots yesterday. It was a Saturday, a beautiful spring morning at the end of school vacation week, so the atmosphere seemed happy and boisterous for the small coffee shop with an upbeat mix of families, tourists, and couples like us hungry for waffles and omelets and buckets of coffee. Our waitress, a young girl who looked to be about a senior in high school, gave us menus with a smile. A minute later another young girl who wore a waitress apron appeared at our table, looking dazed and apologizing for poor service. I was going to tell her we didn’t notice, but she jumped ahead of me, telling me they were all very upset this morning.
“A woman who works here found out her son was dead this morning. He was twenty four. He didn’t wake up.” I realize the waitress is telling us this because she just needs to tell someone, this is close to her and she is stunned.
My husband and I expressed our sympathy and assured her we were okay. Strange how time will stop suddenly for us like that. Anyone who remembers 9/11 can recall the ‘other-worldliness” of the moment, as if slowly waking up in a different place, wondering if life will ever be the same. But unless the tragedy is yours, you will do everything you can to make life the same again, to find that comfortable groove and roll on. “Life goes on,” we say and we remember 9/11 on 9/11. Unless it was your son or daughter or husband or mother…
I grew up under the shadow of uncertainty that follows traumatic loss. Every time a child or young person died, my mother would get that peculiar far-off look in her eyes and slowly shake her head.
“Someone’s life will never be the same”, she would say. She knew. She lost a child at age 36. And we all knew she was right. It was a bomb that detonated inside our family, inside our lives, imploding in on ourselves and eventually scattering us like refugees, learning to survive on our own, emotionally feral. Her words echoed like a cannon shot when I lost my son. “Nothing will ever be the same.” Mama was right. But unlike my mother, I had an anchor for my soul. I admit at times the rope to that anchor was stretched to the last thread. But it held. And it held my family too.
I felt so suddenly sad, sitting in the booth with my menu in front of me, on this bright sunny April morning, and distracted, thinking of a mom somewhere, a mom with that awful gaping wound in her soul. “My son…” I’m grateful for my husband, who over the years has become accustomed to my bouts of sudden melancholy, and who didn’t look annoyed or roll his eyes when I began to tell him about something I’ve noticed in graveyards. This is over eggs and corned beef hash.
“I noticed that several times I’ve seen a grave of a child, then next to it, the mother”, I say, waiting and looking at him to see if he gets it. He does. “The mother dies after the child?”
I nod. “Soon after.” I pause again. “I can understand that. You die from a broken heart. ”
I can remember wanting the peace and quiet of the cool earth around me, the sanctuary of the cemetery, the absolute craziness in thinking that this would bring relief, to lie down next to my son and sleep. God, in His great mercy, understands that kind of sorrow more than any person can. His compassion fails not.
This morning in church, the pastor read part of an email he received from a missionary in Sierra Leone. This couple lost two daughters in one week recently to malaria, ages five and two. In his brokenness he said these words, “We were created for a place much better than this.” He had an anchor also. He understood; this is not our home. In fact he called this life a “temporary assignment”. He and his wife will survive the storm because of the light of hope set in the darkness before them. That small light will become a beacon of God’s glory.
I am still thinking of the waitress whose son didn’t wake up and praying she is anchored too, for this type of storm is like no other. I don’t want her to be another grave next to her child’s. For this woman I don’t know whose son did not wake up, to the couple holding their dying daughter, nothing will ever be the same. Except for this: Jesus is an anchor for the soul. His compassion fails not. And that makes all the difference in this very unpredictable world.