It was a car crash. It was barely a blip on the news—a page three story in the local paper. Only one fatality. Like there was some quota that must be met in order to make a lost life worth lamenting. It only took one fatality to make a difference in her whole existence. She'd find out the details in the weeks to come—details that would make her scream at the stupidity and senselessness of it all. She already knew the relevant facts. He fell asleep at the wheel and hit a tree. It wasn't because he was drunk or partying as so many kids his age did. It was because he was studying for exams that week, and a friend needed a ride home from work. A dark road, a sharp curve, and one old oak tree, was all it took to end him forever.
What the media didn't comprehend was the depth of his loss. They couldn't possibly grasp the waste of his precious life. They'd never know the dreams she'd held for his future nor the anticipation of all he would accomplish in the years he should have had. Who would report on the deaths of the children and grandchildren he'd never have? Would that have raised the quota to a noticeable number? What about the number of patients he could have saved once his education was complete and he'd become a doctor as he'd planned? Single car accident. One fatality. It wasn't enough; someone owed her an explanation.
On the evening of her son's death, she fell into a fitful sleep with the help of the medication a doctor had prescribed. She'd been inconsolable, weeping and screaming and crying out to God and the universe about the unfairness of it all. No one could comfort her—no one could even touch her without her lashing out in anger and unrestrained rage.
No, she would not make arrangements. No, she would not speak with friends and family. And no, she would not let her husband comfort her, and she would not set aside her grief for the sake of her other children. When asked to do anything, she retreated into hysterics and screaming. When she was hoarse from her wailing, and her eyes were bloodshot from her tears, she consented to take the medication.
She fell reluctantly into a restless sleep, and found herself in a large blank emptiness of white. It wasn't exactly peaceful; it was more an absence of everything. She looked around and saw nothing—felt nothing. It was then that God came to her.
He wore the faces of everyone she had ever loved, or who had loved her, but she knew who He was. He took her hand and they began to walk along a beach with the waves gently lapping at their feet. Her thoughts began to overtake her and the tears streamed down her face, her eyes blankly gazed at the endless ocean of the horizon. God then wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him tightly as they continued to walk slowly, with the sounds of the waves and the distant birds in her ears.
"I know you're hurting," he said, "and you know I would do anything if I could take away your pain, I love you so much." The beach was replaced by a forest trail, and they walked in pine scented stillness. Sunlight fluttered through myriad shapes and gaps in the upper foliage of the trees. The soft breeze caressed her face.
She stiffened beneath his comforting arm and stopped walking. "How can you say that? You have all the power and I have nothing! I trusted you to keep them safe, to always bring them home to me, and this is how that trust is rewarded!" She grieved. "My God, I know that bad things happen to good people, and I know that he's with you now, and I know that life isn't meant to be easy. I know these things—believe these things—but you knowme. You know how tender my heart is and how fragile I am. You know that I can't take this kind of loss. I trusted you! I've taken every hardship, every challenge you've given me and I did it because I knew that you would never ask me to make such an impossible sacrifice. Every prayer I've ever said was for you to protect those I love, and my children especially."
God gathered the weeping woman into his arms and whispered soothingly into her hair. "Hush my child it will be alright. I'm here now, don't worry." Again the landscape changed and they stood in a field of wildflowers. Snow topped mountains rose up with majesty in the distance, praising the heavens. Butterflies flitted from one bright bloom to the next, and the sun evading the clouds warmed her skin.
When she had quieted, God looked into her eyes and said, "I did keep my promise to you, you just don't remember. I knew you before you were in your mother's womb, and I spoke to you then about your life here in this fallen world. It was then that I explained that it was going to be hard. Disobedience, selfishness, pride, and many other sins, have changed my creation and made it a harsh place to live. I have a better home for you, but not yet. I told you then that you would have to suffer many things both great and small. I told you then, that I would always be with you and that I would always work to bring you through your hardships. I even allowed you to make some choices in your life before you were born."
The woman looked up confused and angry. "I certainly wouldn't have chosen this!" she cried.
"How could you have done this to me?" Her sense of betrayal hurt worse, because it was from the one she trusted the most. The view changed again to a red desert, with buttes and mesa's reaching through the wavering heat. Dried brush shaded the rocks, and a lizard stopped and eyed them.
"Oh, dear one, I didn't choose this, you did. You see, one of the choices you made was a difficult one indeed. For I showed you this very event in your life. You knew that you would have a child, raise him, love him, teach him, sacrifice for him, and he would thrive in your loving care. And just when you could see him flying free, becoming his own man, safely out of the nest, he would be taken from you. I offered to spare you the pain of this loss, since I know how much it hurts. Remember, I too lost a beloved son. More than that, every lost child is my lost child. I receive them home, but I feel the pain of their loss as well, because of my love for you."
"If I chose this, then father please let me make a different choice," she begged. "Please let me change this outcome, since I can't do this. I never knew I could hurt this much. God, I've always believed you to be so merciful, please show me mercy now and take this from me!" She collapsed at his feet weeping.
He stroked her hair and allowed her to cry, then helped her to stand once again. Tropical foliage surrounded them. Colorful birds darted through verdant vegetation, and multicolored flowers perfumed the air. A swarm of insects hummed past her ear.
"Precious one, I will take this from you, and you won't know the pain of this loss. But I want you to see the result of such a decision before you make it final. As you know, death is going to happen to everyone, until the day when my son returns. The only way to avoid the pain of losing someone you love is to not love them from the beginning. See what you would have missed if your son had not been in your life."
He touched her eyes and her memories were turned back to the day she knew she was pregnant. She saw the joys and fears she'd felt. All the plans and doctor visits, the crib, and all the baby clothes. One memory lead to another as she was shown the birth, the first look at her son, the amazement on his daddy's face. He grew, one memory at a time from nursing infant to rolling, scooting, crawling, standing, walking, and running. Every little milestone relived in it's perfect detail. His first word, smile, and laugh, followed by hurts, tears, and tantrums.
She watched him grow as if time didn't matter, and she felt the waves of love she had lavished on him. She relived the times she'd spent on her knees or showing him how to pray. She closed her eyes when she saw the mistakes she'd made, and she watched in rapturous delight as he grew and matured. Every goodbye was followed by an eventual hello, or even 'hey Mom, I'm home.' All the way up to the last goodbye and the phone call that told her he wouldn't be coming home again.
"Child of mine, you chose before you were born to have this in your life. I told you that you would lose him early, and you agreed that you would be strong enough to face it if you could hold on to the love for him. I've done all I could to make sure his time with you was remarkable, and full of rich memories and lots of love. I am proud of how you taught him and helped him become who he was supposed to be. But he's home now. The gift of loving him so deeply will always be yours until it's your time to come home. If you want, I could take this gift from you and you won't have to know his loss. But you also will have missed everything that he was while he was with you.
As her fathers words finally made sense, she shook her head slowly. Then she resolved, "No, I'll keep him. I'll love him, and I'll remember him now that he's gone—no—I mean now that he's home. I can do this God, as long as you're with me. Please don't let go of me, this is the hardest thing I've ever done."
"I'll always be with you and I won't let you go, just as I promised." She stood in the world of white, a reflection of her loss and emptiness. But she remembered.
The woman awoke the next morning still wearing the clothes from the day before. Her husband looked at her with red rimmed eyes and tried to speak but his voice caught in his throat. She looked away; the dream was over and the nightmare was real. The family picture on the dresser caught her eye and she gazed at the young man's face looking back at her. He had been so full of life. He had been clowning around with them just seconds before that picture was snapped.
A sudden burst laughter caught her off guard, and the tears were right behind it, as she remembered him the way he'd been. She remembered the little boy who used to leap from his bed into her arms. She remembered the young man who had stored everything from the first floor of their house in the garage, for an April Fool's Day prank. She remembered for his fifteenth birthday, he'd insisted they have a party benefiting the animal shelter. He told everyone he wanted dog food for presents. She remembered the first time he'd hugged her after being away at college for a semester; she thought he was going to crush her ribs before he let go. She remembered it all: his zest for life, his sense of humor, his kindness, and his love. Her tears trickled down her cheeks, but the love warmed her heart and she distinctly felt an arm wrapped around her shoulders. She stood up and went to her husband. Taking him in her arms she held him close and whispered, "Come on, we can do this." They left the room holding one another up, and their father, sight unseen, held them both up.