I am at Thomas’ wake. I have his memory box on my knee and I take out a few photos and pass them to a friend.
“He was a chubby baby!” she exclaims.
I reply, “He wasn’t really. Those photos were taken at the funeral home. He looked different at the hospital.”
I think about this. I remember how much I longed to see Thomas once more at the funeral home before his burial. He was in his coffin at the far end of the room and I hurried towards him. And then suddenly I stopped. He didn’t look like my baby. In some way he’d changed since I’d left him at the hospital. He didn’t look as I remembered. Tears rolled down my face and I wondered, “Did they get the babies muddled up? Is this really Thomas?”
My friend’s voice interrupts my thoughts. She is asking me another question and I open my mouth to reply. My lips move but the words won’t form. I try again, and again I fail to say anything. I have lost control of my speech.
My friend notices my difficulties and hurriedly says, ‘You don’t have to say anything. It’s OK.”
But it’s not OK at all. I want to tell her about my son but I can’t. I don’t want her to move off and leave me alone. But she thinks she is upsetting me. She pats me on the shoulder and hurries away. And I am helpless.
Yes, I remember the day I lost control of my speech. But it wasn’t just the ability to form words that I’d lost. I’d lost control of my whole life.
Life can go on the same, day in and day out. It is known and comfortable and we feel secure. We think we are in control. Yes, we have problems to deal with but we cope. And then one day we wake up and life has changed forever and we know there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
I am very aware of how life can change so quickly. I travel through my comfortable days where I am seemingly in control and I wonder how long it will last. What plans has God got for me? Will He allow my world to be turned upside down again? Will I once again sink into that pit of suffering?
I remember going to town a few days after Thomas died. As I walked through the shopping centre, I noticed two happy young women. As I passed them, I wondered how they could continue to laugh and chat together about nothing of real importance. Didn’t the air around them turn cold as I walked by? Couldn’t they see I was no ordinary woman but one gripped by the arms of grief? I wondered why their lives were so normal and happy. How could they enjoy the trivial things of life?
The trivial things of life? It is strange how unimportant some things seem when we are grieving. What if my world fell apart today? Would I continue my normal routine? Would I be interested in the little things of life? No, I don’t think I would.
I think of the possibility of more suffering and my heart skips a beat. A feeling of dread and fear overcomes me that threatens to spoil the present moment. And then I tell myself not to be silly. I say: Trust. Live life to the full and don’t look ahead. Be thankful for the joys of today. Don’t let thoughts of possible pain-to-come spoil the present. The future is God’s concern, not mine. My job is to concentrate on the little things of life.
So I get involved in the little things of life. I think about what I am going to wear for the day. I stand under the shower and enjoy the tingling of the hot water upon my skin. I spend time with God: I pray and read. I hang washing on the line and feel the warmth of the sun. Later I challenge my body to a long run. Afterwards I sit at the lunch table and devour my sandwich as I answer the girls’ eager question: “How far did you run today, Mum?” We work; we share books; we chat; we laugh; we write; we discuss what we shall cook for dinner. Then Andy arrives home. We hug. I pour a glass of wine and we exchange news. Eventually our ordinary day comes to an end.
My children arrive one by one to say goodnight. I think about how much I love my family. I love them so much it hurts and the present moment threatens to be spoilt by the question, “What if…?” But I don’t let it. I really have no cause to worry.
I think about Thomas’ death when I lost control over every aspect of my life, even my speech. I was sure my life was over. But here I am full of joy, surrounded by love and loving… I still have no control over my life. I don’t even want control any more. Yes, I am aware that God could allow any sort of sorrow and suffering to touch me. But I also know He will always be there to bring me through it. For hasn’t He already done that before?
So I live in the present moment and I enjoy the ordinary things of life which I suddenly realise aren’t so ordinary after all. Ordinary becomes powerfully extraordinary when combined with love.
So as each child comes to say goodnight, I enfold her within my arms and I hug… I hug tightly, my eyes closed, my heart overflowing with love. This is today. This is what is important. This is an extraordinary ordinary moment.