There are certain experiences we expect in life…
love // loss
accomplishment // disappointment
rejoicing // regret
romance // rejection
… but there are some experiences that we never imagine or foresee happening in our own life until we’re plunged into the midst of them. We must’ve known, at least subconsciously, that these things do in fact happen to other people, but because of our ignorance (is bliss?) mindset we suddenly find ourselves blindsided – unprepared, and unequipped.
Walking my son through the loss of his brother is one of those unexpected happenings. I never know how to respond to his questions, how to navigate through his feelings, or how to encourage him in areas where I myself am struggling –
“I miss Cruz.” So do I, Bubba.
“When is Cruz coming back from Jesus’ house without his band-aids on?” He’s not, Baby.
“I want to wrestle with him.” Oh I’m sure he would’ve LOVED wrestling with you too!
“Is Valor going to come out of your tummy and go live with Cruz at Jesus’ house? Will he get to stay at my house with me?” I sure hope he gets to live with us, Buddy… that’s why we need to pray that Valor is healthy and strong like you.
“Are we going to visit Cruz?” Well – one day we will ALL get to go live with Cruz at Jesus’ house, but until then, we can’t go see him. I’m sorry.
“Jesus doesn’t live in my heart, Mama, he’s with Cruz!” Yes, Jesus is with Cruz… but He’s also in your heart as well. “NO, he’s NOT! Cruz is not inside me, so Jesus can’t be inside me.”
“I’m gonna have another brother, and Cruz is gonna have another brother too! Now I have 2 brothers, and they will say, ‘that is my BIG brodder Zekiel!’ “ Yes, both Cruz and Valor are going to love you soooooo much, because you are the oldest, and big brothers are always so cool!
“Is Cruz still at the hospital?” No, he went to be with Jesus, remember!?
“Where is Jesus’ house?” Heaven………. (how do you explain an invisible, spiritual location, to an intelligent & IMAGINATIVE boy, who’s flown in enough airplanes to know Jesus’ house isn’t literally/physically suspended in the clouds? He thinks the sky is for Star Wars spaceships and falling rain, so the idea of Cruz being “up there” only makes him more anxious)
“If I bring a same Hot Wheels just like mine to Cruz’s stone, maybe Jesus will come out and get it so Cruz can play with it! Then Cruz and me can have matching cars!” You know what, Z? You might be right! Maybe He will 😉
Time after time, he surprises me with his well-thought-out questions and comments, and I feel like I’m never prepared with the right words to say. Honestly I’m usually moved to tears, and I go to my theological/pastoral husband and beg him to answer for me. I HOPE the things that I’ve said in the moment are accurate or at least helpful. I never want to lie to him or create false hope, but I also want to put his unsettled mind at peace about this harsh reality. For some reason I just assumed that he would forget, and that Cruz would become a detail of his past that I’d have a responsibility to keep alive by reminding him with pictures and stories – but I was wrong. I don’t ever have to bring him up, because Cruz is constantly on his mind. It’s like his little gears are constantly turning, trying to understand something that is beyond his (and even my) comprehension. He was only two years old when Cruz was born… unable to fully talk or have complete conversations… I can’t imagine the impact Cruz’s death would’ve had on him if he’d been as old as he is now. Perhaps this is the biggest reason I’ve been pleading with God for Valor’s health?
In life, we have to make choices not only for ourselves, but for others as well. As strange as it sounds, I know I am girded up to handle whatever’s coming at me… but I don’t know if Ezekiel could deal with the loss of another brother. The hardest decision to make from here on out will not be, “should we have more kids?”, but rather, “should we continue giving Ezekiel more siblings?”. Things may go well with Valor, but what about the health of the sibling(s) after that? I don’t want to shelter him from hard things, but I do want to protect him from the disabling blows; Sheltering him just continues the vicious cycle of ignorance and sets him up for failure if/when his own life eventually meets the face of devastation one day – but – protecting him however IS my motherly inclination and God-given responsibility. In my effort to shield him, I am forced to run all my decisions and priorities through the filter of EZEKIEL. At first, the things I might instantaneously think would be good for him may not be… and the things that I think could be devastating might just be the very thing he needs. In the end, my prayer is that God will show me how to hold his hand and lead him through the repeating stages of grief, while I, too, am trying to navigate them as well.
I may have had to say goodbye to Cruz for a time, but losing Ezekiel some day because I failed to recognize and acknowledge his grief throughout childhood would be unbearable. Burying my boy was one of those things I never pictured myself doing, but I’m smart enough to keep my eyes off the irreversible past and prepare for potential, avoidable problems that now pose a threat to my family’s future. Anger, bitterness, resentment… these are all resulting roots that I can see growing and destroying Z’s little heart if we, as his parents, are so distracted with our own pain that we forget to validate his very REAL emotions. No matter how many kids I have, or how busy I may get with the normal obligations of life, at the end of the day I have to remember that none of those other siblings will have the wound of Cruz. Ezekiel will always be my son who lost his brother, and I will never overlook or underestimate this significant puzzle piece of his life.