Josh's friends are either at college or will be there soon. He would've been one of them, if he were still here. Tim and I have looked forward in anticipation to being empty nesters but because of Josh's death, what should be a great time in our lives is now just hard, difficult and sad.
Being college sweethearts, we got married right out of school. Nine months later, I was pregnant with our first and by the time our fourth and last child (Josh) was born, I had just turned 30. While it would've been ideal to have time in our marriage without cribs, diapers, strollers or car seats, and to be more financially secure, we adapted and had fun with our large family. We used to joke that with the six of us, the Anderson clan didn't just visit, we invaded.
While there are many good reasons to delay having a family until older and more established, there are some perks in doing it our way. One: raising children takes a lot of energy which is more abundant when younger and two: when the last child leaves home, you are still relatively young and have a lot, Lord willing, of good years to look forward to.
"Pre-Josh", this was my hope. At those times when raising four active children was overwhelming, challenging and took every ounce of energy, Tim and I would look at each other, sigh and ask when they were all leaving. We obviously loved each of our kids and would do anything for them, but we also yearned for the time when they were out of the house, on their own and we could just focus on ourselves.
Today, the house is quiet since Gillian left for UVA last week. At times, I am caught in a fantasy - deluding myself into thinking that Josh's room is empty not because he is dead, but because he is at school too. In those moments, I think about what Tim and I would be doing, together, sans children. How would I be feeling now that our empty nest nirvana is here? Would we have gone out to a nice dinner to celebrate our new found freedom? Would we raise our champaign glasses in a toast to the next stage of married life saying, "Here's to the future - we are blessed to be young and healthy enough to enjoy it"?
Then reality comes crashing down and when I peer ahead to the future, instead of seeing a bright new stage of married life, all I see is a life without our beloved Josh. An amputated and crippled family. Struggling to survive this earthquake that has shaken our very core. I don't think Josh would want me to be sad and look so bleakly at the future, but then why did he do this to himself and to us?
I had mentioned a book called The Grieving Garden: Living With the Death of a Child by Suzanne Redfern and Susan Gilbert in the previous post. For this post I want to share a poem that expresses where a mother is at in her grief journey, twenty-eight years after her nine year old daughter died of a rare disease. While I cannot relate now, this poem does speak to me and gives me hope that peace, joy, contentment and happiness may be in the future.
HE IS GONEYou can shed tears that he is gone,Or you can smile because he has lived.You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.Your heart can be empty because you can't see him,Or you can be full of the love that you shared.You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.You can remember him and only that he is gone,Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.David Harkins, Silloth, Cumbria, UK 1981
I will end this post with a picture from Homecoming 2008, recently sent by a fellow mom whose daughter knew Josh. Even though he is in the back, this mom knew that I would want to have it. She is right.
Rest in peace, our dear son. We miss you so much.