in captivitatem redigentes omnem intellectum in obsequium Christi
I can imagine it differently. I can imagine the sadness, the disbelief, the anger, the disappointment without the other parts. The joy, the trust, the peace, the hope weren’t guaranteed. All of this happened together, but it didn’t have to be that way. The healing was and is as frail as we are.
And tonight I know that there are parts of me still broken by grief. There are parts of me unhealed. These wounds continue to shape who I am becoming. In these places, I am less now than before. I’m not confident this can be altered. It is not healing; it is fracture.
Wading through these thoughts, I am again wondering why we promise so much to those who suffer. Why do we promise them that it gets easier? Why do we say that they will get through it? Why do we assure them that they will be better for it?
Are we that confident? I can imagine it not getting easier; many days it doesn’t feel easier. I can imagine not getting through it; I carry it with me. I can imagine not being better for it; I see fissures just below the surface.
Perhaps this is just what healing is. Fragile - our healing is fragile.
I am pleased to post an excerpt from Loving Samuel: Suffering, Dependence, and the Calling of Love. Attached below, you will find the preface and the first two chapters of the book. I have posted it here with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can purchase the book directly from the publisher here: Wipf and Stock Publishers
It was a game, a way to pass the time. There was one more task, but I told you we would complete it the next day.
We never finished our chart, Micah. I'm so sorry.
Unfinished work - and now a flood of thoughts.
Perhaps I write because it all feels so incomplete. Perhaps writing has become a way to try to finish this work of love in your life, Sam.
We could finish the chart; it would take only a few minutes.
But I want to leave it unfinished.
It is a reminder tonight that the work of love will always be unfinished.
As a father who has lost both father and son, I can tell you there wasn't enough time.
There wasn't enough time to be aware of the gifts and graces of a father who loved me well. And there wasn't enough time to be that father to a son now gone.
And because there wasn't enough time, I will take each day to weave as much love and grace into the life of the boy who is here, asleep on his bed, dreaming of being a ninja.
In this space, I have narrated my grieving. I have sought to provide entry into the depths of love where sadness and joy are interlocked. I have rarely given voice to grief’s touch on others in my family. In part, this is because their stories are not mine to tell. It is also because I cannot enter fully into their grief. Even when grief is shared, it is always experienced individually.
But I cannot stop thinking about words written in his own hand and conveying more than I can say. They are a wish for his brother. And his words call for an answer today and not some distant future. His wish is for a with - a being with his brother. And he knows his wish is good. He writes this explicitly. How many times has he whispered these words?
Now, as I sit here looking at his handwriting, the deliberate work of his six-year-old grip, the wish echoes in me. But today, it’s a wish for him.
Time does not heal, it distances.
It divides us, removing you from me - further now, a widening gap.
Perhaps it is the space that explains the dullness of the ache.
Then again, maybe it is the space that explains this ache.
You are an ever present thought.
I see it in your mother’s eyes. Others know her hopefulness and her grace; they know her welcoming and loving heart. They experience it and they see the smile of God. I see this too and then I see behind it the inner fracture - the broken heart, ever present.
I hear it in your brother’s words. He speaks of you and his words are always present-tensed; you are as real to him now as before. But you are also absent. His questions about you and whether you are still growing - wonderings that other children cannot grasp let alone entertain. He is so young for these thoughts.
Present to memory is present only in the weakest sense. And today we struggle, we wrestle with the absence that is always present. We try to fill up the absence with tokens of your presence. We do this work to remind ourselves of your breath and life. We do this work to remind ourselves that you are not merely thought or memory. We do this work because we do not want to think of you as an absence. We do this work because we need your presence to be as real as your absence.
It is not death,
or my death,
of even the thought of my death
that draws and bends me.
It is not death;
it is a whispered thought
of one so young
who stands with me now.
There is no death in him.
He breathes and reaches for me.
my hands loosely placed on his shoulders.
And there is a whisper -
dust crossed his forehead, then mine.
The ashes, insistent and ugly,
insisting the unthinkable.
It is not the dust on me I fear;
I feel it already inwardly.
But him - this child - they darken
his head and my thoughts.
trying to shake them off,
but their marks
are not so easily gone.
remains - remains inward.
and never received.
remains - remains within.
and never found.
I held him, his breathing, crying fame. I held him and felt his dwindling warmth. I cannot retain the vividness. These memories - I cling and clutch and try to catch them up, to gather them together and breath life into them. I try to remake their substance. But they are immaterial; they are mental ash.
I held his lifeless frame. Life gone but still together and touchable. His face retained some of its warmth; I know because I kissed him. It was a colder kiss. I recall these minutes after your death. Present, you were not yet dust but you had begun your returning. I do not find myself grasping here. You had already become alien to me. In a sense you were already intangible, unreachable, even as I held you in open hands. To release you was to let you be returned to the ground, to the dust.
I received his ashes. They were gathered bits of bone and dust, collected and encased. Three pounds and twelve ounces reduced to nearly nothing, I had them in my hands. They were not him; this was not to hold him again. Sifting them, we worked to entomb them safely and to keep them from falling to the ground. Within the small space of the urn, it was tempting to see it as insignificance. We would inter these remains, shutting your dust away, enclosed with memory and hope.
I return to dust, ashes of forged hopes disappointed. These are the ashes of breath now gone. These are the ashes of love that cannot now be given - neither received nor returned. I return to dust.