Many people have commented on the way they perceive my grief. I think most people try to put themselves in my shoes and imagine how they would feel, act or react, and since they don’t see that in me, they question whether or not I’m even upset that my son is no longer here. Others base how they think I should grieve on how they have grieved. It’s been brought up so many times that I want to try to explain it.
First, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and yes, I miss my son. A friend of mine is fond of saying it’s the “dash” between the date of birth and date of death on a headstone that matters. That dash is a representation of the life you led. Hagen’s dash separated a short span of 22 years and 5 months. His dash had some accomplishments and fond memories, but they were overshadowed by mental illness and in the last few years of his life, drug abuse. I am fully aware of every minute of his dash because it is part of mine.
What hurts worse - watching your child suffer or not seeing him but knowing he is no longer suffering? Most will say there is no greater pain than losing your child, but for me the pain of watching him be tormented day in and day out was far worse. All I could do was love him and as strong as that love was (and still is), it was not strong enough to save him. It may have brought moments of comfort but ultimately it didn’t change anything he was going through. My fear, helplessness and heartache was so great it affected my health. My prayers and talks with The Lord were centered around Hagen and what I was supposed to do to help him.
His quality of life was miserable, as was mine and neither of us were truly living. His illness and addiction were causing me illness and saving him was becoming my addiction. Through all of this The Lord was making me stronger, giving me peace to accept that He, not me, was in control and that He, not me, loved Hagen most. You see, Hagen wasn’t the only one that needed saving from the hell he was living. I’m a momma. My boys’ pain is my pain. My boys’ sorrow is my sorrow. My boys’ darkness is my darkness. It was Hagen’s hell, but I had fallen in it too. I wasn’t dragged, I went willingly chasing after my child. It’s what we mommas and daddies do.
I went after him covered in head to toe armor.
I prayed more.
Without ceasing and without resting I prayed for him and how to help him, not seeing that I needed to be praying for myself too because I was falling down the same rabbit hole.
It took almost two years to pull myself out of that hole, while Hagen kept falling. I never abandoned him, I just refused to fall with him. I took my focus off my son and turned it towards my Savior. The Lord showed me that I had to let go of the self-imposed responsibility to save his life because it wasn’t my job. My job was to love that boy unconditionally, which I did, and it was God’s job to save him. It was so difficult completely taking my hands off and letting God have full control of both the situation and me. Taking the first step was terrifying. Had I heard the Lord correctly? Would I be abandoning my son? If I didn’t let go of him, would I survive?
I let go but I didn’t abandon.
We talked every day - I just didn’t go near the hole. I let go of the addiction, the fear and uncertainty and started to live my life. My prayers started coming from a place of victory instead of defeat, and I saw my sweet son in a different way. Our relationship had always been strong, but it became great. I knew who had the power to change it all and I left it up to Him to do it trusting Him no matter the outcome. The One who loved ME through all of that - who gave me peace and joy regardless of what my child was doing - is the same One loving me, giving me peace and joy through my loss. He never changes. I’m not in mourning because I choose every day not to be. I’m not dressed in black holding onto memories and wishing things could be different. I know how harsh that sounds, but my baby isn’t suffering and he isn’t dead. He isn’t dead and I’m not going to live like I am. We are going to be reunited one day, and each day behind me is a day closer to that reunion. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the life I’ve been given and not take one moment for granted. I have another sweet son that needs a mom to be fully engaged in his life, not the shell of the mother of his dead brother. I refuse to let grief become a grave I inhabit while still alive.
When Hagen was in Navy boot camp, we drove to Great Lakes, Illinois to attend his graduation. While there, we stayed at the Navy Lodge across the street from the base. We checked in the night before the ceremony knowing we wouldn’t be able to see or talk to him until the next day. I hadn’t seen him in 9 weeks and oh was I excited! As we unloaded the car, Taps began playing on the base. All conversation and movement ceased as soldiers, sailors and veterans stood dead still with their full attention on the flag. I watched them in awe and felt every note the bugle played. I knew that somewhere across the street, Hagen had stopped and was standing perfectly still, eyes focused on a flag. The emotion was overwhelming. To be so close yet so far away from him, to hear the same thing he did, but not be able to see him. I missed him more in that moment than I had the whole time he had been gone.
That is what this season of life is for me. With awe I see and hear all that is around me (believing from time to time the Lord allows Hagen to see as well) and knowing that he is so close yet so far away. I keep my eyes focused not on the flag, but the cross. This is what my grief looks like because I know that I’ll see him “tomorrow after the ceremony.”