On Saturday mornings, Tim always grabs the sports section of the Washington Post to read about the previous night's high school football games, paying special attention to the two schools that Josh played for: Langley and South Lakes.
The regular season is now over and All District players were named. Tim read me the names of kids we knew that made the first or second teams. While happy that the boy's hard work and accomplishments on the field were recognized by district coaches, there was sadness as we thought about "what if"? What if Josh were alive and played this season, would he be on this list? Probably so.
For those parents who have lost a child and if that son or daughter was involved in a particular activity during a specific time of year, as our Josh was every fall, there is experienced a double sense of loss. Luckily for Tim, he was asked to film the LHS games which put him on the field and kept him involved. In the two times that Langley and South Lakes did not play at the same time, he went to the SLHS games and was invited to stand on the field with the players/coaches.
For me, I went to the first LHS game but it ended up being so sad that I had to leave at half-time and cried all the way home. In retrospect, I probably should have known it would be too much, but on the other hand, you sometimes don't know. In fact, I felt fine driving to the game. It wasn't until I walked through the gate, and saw all of the healthy, strong boys on the field - so alive and one in particular, who told me that he was going to wear Josh's number, 33, and dedicate his season to our son - that the tears started to flow.
I probably could have made it through that first game had I stayed with Tim on the field. But I went up in the stands to sit with other moms and as I watched the boys and listened to the regular banter about the start of school, classes, teachers, dances, senior pictures, it just got harder and harder. These topics no longer applied to me. Irrelevant. Continued evidence that my life was not the same as theirs. I was on the other side.
It is quite uncomfortable to be in the midst of laughing, happy people while attempting to hold off the dam that is about to burst. Also, I didn't want to be responsible for bringing down the spirits of others around me, so I said my good-byes and left.
Since Tim is like most men in the uncanny ability to remember a game, play-by-play, including how much time was left on the clock at each particular play, I was able to keep up due to his thorough rendition afterwards. I've often wondered how he can remember sports stats galore and yet cannot remember where certain kitchen items are stored. Selective memory, I guess.
Eventually, I did end up going to another game. It was last week between the two schools. A perfect night - clear, crisp and cool. As the game got underway, I looked to the heavens and wondered if Josh could see. And if he could, what was he thinking?
My thoughts were clear. "You silly, silly boy. You should be here on this field. Playing in this game. But for the stupid mistake that started the events which culminated in your death that horrible night - you could still be here." In moments like this, his loss seems to be a dream - did it all really happen? Is he truly gone? In vain, I look on the field for him and cold reality hits again.
It was a hard fought game with both teams being winners, in my book. There was a moment of silence to remember Josh with a loud applause when the moment was over, touching Tim and I deeply. Both cheerleading squads wore ribbons that had JA and 33 painted on the ends. All of the boys helmuts were adorned with a "JA" football sticker. While this district game was important, the greater significance, at least to me, was that a fellow teammate, classmate and schoolmate had fallen and his life was remembered on that night. I'm glad that I stuffed a lot of tissues in my pocket - I needed them.
A few moms came to visit me during half-time and once again, we contemplated Josh's fatal action. And talked about the rash and impulsive behaviors that can overcome teenage boys with seemingly no thought to consequences. I can only hope and pray that any young person who has seen the devastation that Josh's decisions have caused for himself and his family would think twice before acting. Sometimes a few minutes of fun is just not worth it. And as a kids gets older, rules and laws are less forgiving. We learned this the hard way.
I just read a short book called The Empty Chair by Beryl Glover, whose daughter ended her life at age 23. In it she quotes another author, Doug Manning who wrote in his book, The Gift of Significance the following: "People are not going to move forward in their grief until the significance of the person who has died has been established. People who can establish significance, make progress. Those who cannot do so, hang on and hurt."
This sentence rings true in my heart. I am not sure how much "progress" I've made, but perhaps it is the reason why this blog has been my lifesaver. With each post and comment, Josh's young life is being established as significant. Or when our son is remembered on a Friday night football game. Or when I receive an email from his close friend in middle school, who sent me a draft of her college essay about Josh's death and the resulting impact on her life. All of this establishes the significance of his life and for that, I am grateful.
Here are some pictures from that beautiful, Friday night....
Thank you for the thoughts and prayers.
And most of all, for continuing to love, remember and miss our beloved Josh.