Dispassion

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It’s a spring afternoon of 2009, nearly two years following Parker’s death, and the counselor at our children’s school in Munich has invited a short list of students and faculty whom Dalton has hand-selected to gather in an empty upper floor room during an extended recess and lunch period.  The whole building will be empty during that hour, the counselor’s assured us, so that we can count on no disturbances whatsoever.  We’ll need this time.  Dalton’s been preparing for many months for this moment.

“Now, all of you’ve been invited here specifically by Dalton,” the counselor begins after we’re all settled. There are about a dozen girls and boys sitting to my left and my right in a circle, twelve and thirteen-year-olds all of them.  Dalton’s favorite teacher, his English professor, is sitting directly across from me, and Randall is to my immediate right. The four chairs to my left separate me from Dalton.

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“He’s invited you,” the counselor continues, “because he has something he wants to share and he trusts you. What we will discuss today stays here, unless Dalton invites any of you to share this information further. Is that good with you, Dalton?

He nods.

“Good with everyone else?”

Everyone else nods.  I’m focused on the middle of the circle where we’ve set Parker’s djembe, his treasured African drum.

“I wonder,” says the counselor, “if you all could just note on this slip of paper I’ve given you something that you’ve lost. It can be something intangible or it can be a home or a person, anything. But I want this to be a thing whose loss has really hurt you. Maybe it still hurts you. Just write it down and then you can place your paper on top of here.”

She points to Parker’s drum.

I watch as these kids and their teachers soften, and a spirit of thoughtfulness and sincerity seeps around the circle.  I also watch Dalton carefully. He had been sleepless and cramped on the floor of the bathroom all night.

“I’m not sure I can do this, Mom,” he’d said as I’d wiped his forehead with a cool washcloth around 3:00 a.m.  He was on his side in a quasi fetal position.  “What if. . what if I tell them and. . .”

“And. . .and what?” I asked, running the cloth under cold water again. I squeezed out the excess. I dabbed his face.

“What if I tell them and they just. . .they. . .” He was sweating, holding his stomach.

“They don’t do anything? What if they don’t care, you mean?” I knew my boy. And I knew this same leaden, justifiable fear. What if I bare my soul to someone and he leans away from, not into, the conversation? What if I expose the enormous hole in my torso and no one sees it, no one feels it?

That’s the great fear.

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And that is why, for nearly two full school years, Dalton has made acrobatic contortions at school to avoid any discussion about his family.  He’s done everything to avoid mentioning his brother, the one who had been Dalton’s living idol one month before he’d arrived at this new school, the same one who had been buried two weeks before landing here.  In this new community, everyone asked that thing you always ask when you meet the new student, “So, do you have any brothers or sisters?”

Dalton decided to lie.  He had no older brother.

But the deception and the denial were literally making him ill.

So on a spring day during a noon hour, we’re in a schoolroom where the students are writing down and then talking of their various losses: grandparent, aunt, uncle, pet. They write about lost friendships and missed opportunities and forfeited stability because of moving from country to country their whole lives.  Some write down a lost possession – their home in another hemisphere, for instance – some write down “lost time”.

Not one, however, writes about losing a big brother.

“Thanks, everyone,” says the counselor.  “Well, you’re here today because Dalton has lost something that is extremely valuable to him, more precious than almost anything else in his life.” The counselor is no way maudlin, just serious but warm.  I breathe heavily with love for her and for what she’s doing, with love for all these youth who are taking their lunchtime to be sitting here, circling our boy.

“And because Dalton cares so much about this thing he’s lost, and because he cares about you, too,” she adds, “he wants to share some of that loss with you. Is that good?” She scans the circle. All eyes are fixed, alert. “Okay, Dalton, would you like to share with us?”

I watch my boy – soft, blonde, cautious, eyes like chips of aquamarine –- I watch him take a breath. I watch the muscles around his mouth, the place you usually catch the first cracks of breaking apart. I also watch his friend, a small Jewish Israeli boy named Itamar, who’s sitting at Dalton’s elbow, his mop of almost-black hair just brushing into his thick dark lashes, those huge soulful eyes watching Dalton, our Nordic prototype, as he begins to speak slowly, deliberately.

“I want to tell you. . .” Dalton begins as he stretches his fingers out on a gold-brown spiral bound book he’s been holding flat on his lap, “I want to share with you someone who is important to me. This,” he lifts up the album of Parker to show an enlarged photo of a handsome teenager with dark hair, a crimson red rugby shirt and half a grin, “This is my big brother. His name is Parker.”

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Burning creeps up my face and I look over toward Randall with an impulse to take his hand in mine, but I don’t because in the tension of the moment I know the slightest movement could topple things. I wipe my palms discreetly on my pant legs.

The counselor is smiling at Dalton, helping him along. His English teacher is quiet, her eyes large and already rimmed in shine. The boys and girls in the circle, as I quietly look around, are motionless, reverent, even.

“Parker is what I have lost,” Dalton adds.  He lifts his brows, his mouth is pinching and then shaking a bit, “He passed away in a water accident not so long ago when he was trying to save another student from. . .”

And right then, a sound like a rabbit being injured arises from behind Itamar’s dark mop of hair that is now hanging toward his lap, and his delicate shoulders under a black and rust speckled sweatshirt were rounded over.  They’re shaking. Dalton stops speaking, and turns his widened eyes toward Itamar. The black-haired boy raises his head. There are already tears dripping down the light olive face, and pain transforms those brown eyes.  He’s crying openly, like this is his own loss.

As if by synergy, Dalton’s eyes fill with tears, too, but his eyebrows are raised. These are tears of surprise. But more than that, they’re tears of relief and joy, the look you’d see on someone who’d slaved day and night for weeks but still never thought he’d deserve to pass the big final exam, but got – holy cow!—the highest score in the class. Surprise, relief, joy! Then Dalton touches Itamar’s shoulder, as if comforting him, while Itamar continues to wipe the flow of tears with his grubby, oversized sleeve.

“I want you to know about what happened to Parker,” Dalton says,  “because he’s a great brother and he’s so important to me.”

While the rest of the world outside our building grows more and more quiet (I wonder what’s happened with the afternoon recess and all the children’s laughter and screaming from moments earlier), Dalton begins narrating with a stronger voice.

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He sits straight and tells a bit about the pages of the album, holding each up and turning the book so everyone in the room can see: Parker holding his arms around his two younger brothers at basketball and volleyball championships;

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Parker with arms around his family at high school graduation;

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Parker hiking with his family;

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On family vacations;

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Teaching Dalton and Luc to bike or swim;

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Hanging out and watching movies with Claire and his brothers;

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Going to church;

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Eating his favorite, ice cream;

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Laughing in the sunshine and goofing around beneath starlight;

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Pictures of a real live person, a brother, friend, an actual human being. A reality.

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The students are first speechless, and two girls to my right are wiping under their eyes. Everyone – every last person, I note – is leaning into the conversation, reaching their attention toward this story, asking to hold the book themselves if Dalton doesn’t mind. Could they just see – his name’s Parker, right?– if they could see Parker. If Dalton could just hand them all his pictures of this real person, this brother named Parker.

**

Compassion does not always look like Itamar.  It’s not always unfiltered emotion, the free flow of tears. (And by the same token, not all tears express compassion.) Some people cry easily, unselfconsciously, comfortably. Some weep with abandon.  Others are biochemically unable or culturally forbidden to show tears.  Still others might suppress tears for selfless reasons (they’re worried about how their tears might affect others); others will not cry for selfish reasons (they’re concerned about how their tears will reflect on themselves).

More often, (and this should make co-mourning possible for all of us, even the most severely tear-challenged) compassion might look somewhat like the students and teachers in that circle.  Some cried. But more didn’t.  Still, everyone had certain traits in common, all of which were facilitated by the wise (and compassionate) counselor.  Everyone was present. They came, gave their time, opened their ears and hearts.  They gave the moment their full attention.  They didn’t tell Dalton (or Itamar or anyone in their circle) to stop crying, nor did they show any signs of being uncomfortable when they themselves started crying. In all, the impact of the moment came from everyone’s posture: they leaned into the story. They spontaneously encouraged Dalton to tell more, to share all he wanted, because he could be sure it would be honored by and safe with them. There was no question that they cared. Dalton became a new boy thanks, to a great measure, to that one liberating and loving moment.

I’ve revisited this schoolroom experience so many times in my mind, wondering about the significant, even life-altering learning that might have been lost if instead of compassion dispassion had driven our approach to grief.  What if no one had provided a safe environment for Dalton to share his sorrow, his Parker?  If someone (a parent, a teacher, a friend) had instead told him to forget his brother, to get to work and lose his self-pity in some distraction, to get on with life, to suck it up, pull his wagon, keep a stiff upper lip, to be big boy? (He had, after all, turned thirteen by then.)

What if someone had instructed Dalton not to cry, not show any vulnerability, not to articulate what is of deepest and eternal value to him? What if he had been trained already at that age – the age when society and hormones are already well at work impelling boys into a toughening phase – to mask his pain (which would mean masking his love), by playing the stoic, the macho?

What would those other students have not experienced, if they had not been in that room? Watching a young man be frank and tender, another moved by pure sympathy to sobs? If they’d never witnessed their teachers, too, all adults and authority figures, also moved and softened?

And what would I have missed, had I not observed this precious, powerful hour when my child, frightened by his sorrow and sorrowful because of his fears, was able to express and receive love? Love in the form of an Israeli boy who had never met or seen or talked with a person named Parker, but who was, by some sudden rush of unadorned humanness, able to feel something of what his friend was feeling.

As if that list of learned lessons is not enough, there’s more. I’m not quite finished with our story yet.  The classroom is still full, we’re still in a circle. Let me share with you the last thing we would all have missed, had we not allowed this hour to happen.

At this point, the room on that second floor of the school building is rather quiet, except for some whispering as Dalton begins turning pages and narrating his photo album, and the sound of Itamar blowing his nose into a tissue the English teacher has just handed him. Students start to chat softly, two and two, as they pass the Parker book around the circle.  I keep my eye on Dalton, whose entire posture has changed from closed and shadowed to open and gleaming.  He’s pointing to the page with a shot of Parker playing a drum solo in his senior class talent show at his school in Paris: “Of everything Parker did,” Dalton’s smiling now, “basketball, volleyball, swimming, hanging out with all his friends, even eating ice cream. . .I think what he loved the most was drumming. That’s why we brought his drum today.”

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Right then, from directly beneath our feet and as if on cue, someone begins playing a drum set.  An explosive, vibrating drum riff that goes and goes and goes. It startles Dalton, the English teacher shoots me a glance, I reach to squeeze Randall’s hand, two of the boys look at the floor then all around the walls and then back at each other, perplexed but oblivious. And Itamar holds the tissue at his nose.

I softly shake my head. Randall grins.  By that time, these kinds of coincidences aren’t entirely new to us anymore.

We listen for several more minutes while Dalton tells all he can about his brother, and while some stranger wielding pretty wicked drum sticks tears it up under our feet.

The kids need to return to class, the tin of cookies we’ve shared is down to crumbs, light is shining through the windows, there are no more tears, and the invisible drummer retreats to whatever mysterious place he’d come from.

But his silent rhythm follows us all the way home and beyond.

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67 thoughts on “Dispassion

  1. Melissa, thanks again for your writing. Parker is such a handsome man with a wonderful blend of the features of both you and Randall. I want you to know that your writings helped me quite a bit in preparing and delivering a sacrament meeting talk yesterday. As I may have mentioned earlier, the topic was “The Power of A Positive Attitude”. Your contribution of thoughts and quotes found a perfect place in a section at the end that I subtitled “Cautions”. Jack

    • Jack, Really?? You gave the sermon yesterday at church? I wish I could have been there. (This Atlantic Ocean thing is a hurdle.) Do you have a copy? I’d love to have it on file. And in the forthcoming posts, the ones on what we CAN do, all the positive stories about where we humans get it right, you’d maybe fine more material for an address on “Positive Attitude.” I think that over “PMA”, I’m most comfortable with language like Hope and Strength and Vision and Grace. . .:-) But you knew that about me already…M.

  2. This left me breathless. And teary.

    I loved seeing all these pictures–many of which I’d never seen before. Beautiful Parker. Beautiful family. Ad infinitum . . .

    • I never stop gasping for breath either, Sharlee, it never gets old or common. Will I stil be saying, in forty years, “It’s impossible, I’m surviving without him here to share with others, it’s impossiible” ? I have to say pulling these images up and pasting them brought me almost, *almost* to tears. But I kept reminding myself (which I must; I have had to train myself in this in order to not despair) of Parker’s continued presence, his rhythm, his humor and buoyancy, and how pleased he must be with himself when he dips in and touches his family with laughter. We’ve made it this far, we will make it. Only through love.—M.

      • A proud soul though of poor peace
        Since Carnal oft his senses seize
        Slave itself to a fiercer thing
        Self the thing of Carnal king

        A sage a saint I am not he
        Save Grace deems so to render me
        From proud prince of mean so slight
        To humble knight in Heaven’s sight
        Tempered by the fiery flames
        Of Him who owns the Name of names

        O Fire O Fire
        I would not live if you did tarry
        A fire A fire
        I fear not what I needs must carry – Dietlof 7/2012

        So sorry for your loss!

      • I’ve posted a song for you on my blog M. fordtknox.wordpress.com
        Since I’m really new at blogging I know of no other way to get it to you, sorry! The song’s name is Mary by Patty Griffin. Enjoy and Godspeed to you and the rest of your family. Love Dietlof

  3. Oh Melissa– by the time I got to the sentence, “Not one, however, writes about losing a big brother.” I was sobbing. I had to walk away for a minute before coming back to all these photos of your beautiful, beautiful boy.

    And maybe that’s why people turn away? Because it’s literally painful to see what you’ve lost. My heart hurts. I’m so sorry. So very sorry.

    • A girlfriend who had watched Parker grow up in Paris said, “He had looks that were goofy as a clown or, Wham, he could stop a train.” And that’s true. He was never more beautiful, though, than in his very last minutes. It was a holy encounter.

      And yes, it is far too painful to look at. At times, I have to run away myself.

      you’re good to me.—-M.

  4. Such a beautiful passage. It brought me to tears and took awhile for me to read through the entirety of it – so much emotion and love. The pictures brought back wonderful memories of Paris, getting to know Parker and your family through volleyball, basketball, band concerts, bus rides.

    The strength and compassion that you and your family have shown through the years has made such an influence on everyone around you and I have the utmost respect and love for your family.

    Miss you all so much …

    • Ashley, Our Parker cared and still cares so much for you. This is a gift to find you here. And somehow, I am plain glad the reading and the pictures bring you to tears. Love gushes out that way. he used to talk about the bus rides shared with you, the concerts, the phone calls. And I can only imagine him shaking that nice head of his right now, amazed and grateful that so much love has grown from so much anguish.

      We have strength only because we have been strengthened. That’s the thing. It’s love that strengthens, carries, gives new life. Your messages and contact over these years have been a source of that love.

      And we ALL thank you—M.

  5. After reading of this experience, I am struck by Dalton’s bravery. I always struggle with the questions: “do you have any siblings?”, “Are you the oldest?”, etc. Every time somebody asks, I wonder if I should lie or tell the truth. It hurts to pretend my older brother doesn’t exist, yet it is scary to tell the truth for fear of the response. I have even been told I should lie, because the truth makes people feel stunned and awkward – that the truth is a social faux pas. 4 years later, and as a 22 year old woman, those questions are still a struggle. To hear of Dalton, at such a young age, sharing Parker with others brings me joy; I admire it so much, because I know I am often unable to do so myself. Yet, I know the happiness that sharing memories of David brings. I admire Dalton’s bravery, and I am happy for him that he had this moment of sharing, acceptance, and love.

    • Rebecca: something instructive for us all is the fact that Claire (now almost your age and a missionary in Italy) has never had that sort of open sharing. nothing even close to it. She dealt with the horror quite differently, and by remaining so private, has had some clear advantages, no question. And disadvantages, also no question.

      She and Parker were soul mates; people used to comment in awe at their uncomplicated, noncompetitive, loving, sweet friendship. They were fiercely, passionately loyal. Inseparable. This loss, as you can understand, Rebecca, because of the tightness and love between you and your handsome David, took a toll on this young girl (she turned 16 the week after Parker died) that cannot – must not – be underestimated.

      If ever she allows me to, I’m going to write about it here. But only with her permission.

      “Those questions are still a struggle.” This breaks my heart for you. if you were here, I would listen to stories of David until all the Alps and their valleys fill with snow. .. .

      Always with tenderness—M.

  6. This is the one that has made me cry. I suppose because my experience with grief is through the role of being a sibling. Dalton is a brave person.

    • I’ve thought much of you while organizing these thoughts. To lose a sibling who is your other part, how do you survive? And how do you manage the most frightening explosion of feelings when you don’t have the reserves? And you lose something of your parents at the same time. Truly like a bomb going off in your life (not to minimize literal bombs, though, since I’ve had my eye on Syria. . .) I find no answer to “how does one survive” but through God’s continual grace. I think Dalton wouldn’t say he’s Brave as much as he would say he felt an inner prompting and trusted the source of that prompting would carry him. And it did. It still does.—always with love to you, Janina–M.

      • Isn’t that what bravery is? I have had many promptings in my life but not always the courage to follow through with whatever I was prompted to do, I admire what he did. I have also thought about the idea of losing your parents when a sibling dies. It is true, my parents aged and there was a sort of disconnecting, but I also witnessed an increase of love between my parents and a stronger commitment to the things they believe. While losing a part of my parents I was gaining an eternal family.

  7. What a remarkable experience for Dalton – I love that Itamar kid. I feel the gaping hole as I look over these photos – I love the one of Parker in your Paris apartment at the piano – no other city has windows like that – or wood floors over a century old. I love the Provence family togetherness and joy. I love the look on Parker’s face as he plays his favorite instrument – I am no longer surprised by your stories – referring to the drum playing at school. Most if all I am so glad Dalton found a safe circle to share his great loss…and that it was received with “the milk of human kindness.”

    • Itamar’s parents knew loss, what Israelis have not? That kind of life-pressed-up-to-death causes in many (as in Itamar’s parents) an openness and softness, a lack of vanity and pretense, a focus on the core of things. Who has energy or patience for the surface after having been in their own grave? And you know, Sarah, there’s a big story behind each of those pictures. Did you see the one with the rock band toward the end? That’s Chronomètre, an ad hoc band pulled together for the American School of Paris’ big 60th anniversary celebration, and all the members were students or alumni. Parker was on the drums, of course, and I (the only non-alum, and intruder, just his Mom) got to sing leads. All night long. Until 4 a.m. With my baby beating the rhythm. Pavillon Porte Dauphine, Paris. The memory is one of those stingingly significant ones. How could I have know then as we were doing ABBA, that it would be our last time making music together?

      “Milk of human kindness.” Yes. That is a good descriptor for you.:-)

      M.

  8. Hello Melissa. I found you through the Freshly Pressed post. Thank you for your beautiful musings on grief and hope. You are very right when you say that Parker has a “continued presence” – you keep his spirit alive through your love. Thank you for sharing your lovely writing and the pictures of Parker and your family. I am truly sorry for what you have been through.

    • Lori, Pulling up and posting that album filled me with sorrow/gratitude, that strange new cocktail whose taste I’m still getting used to. He is a beautiful boy, was and still is an attentive brother, and is undoubtedly blown away by the fact that he is the subject of so much writing and commenting. I know that he wants these things shared, though, as help for those in distress and need, so I keep at it with his (and the rest of my family’s) encouragement. He was always strong willed. 🙂 love to you—M.

  9. Sister Bradford, thank you so much for sharing and tell Dalton thanks for letting you share! Of course I was a little Itamar myself – it is such comfort to me to know how close the spirits of our loved ones are. THANK YOU for sharing that powerful message!!! Love and miss you guys …
    xoxo Katherine

    • Katherine, So great to see you here. I’ll pass your kind and loving words on to Dalton. He’s not always comfortable being put in a spotlight like this, but he also sees what that moment meant to him, to others. We’ve been fortunate and blessed to have experiences like that one, that show us so clearly the innate goodness of humanity and the great, pulsing presence of God. Miss you, friend. oxoxo M.

  10. Melissa, you do a wonderful job of giving Sorrow its due, then standing up, offering a parting embrace and stepping away until the next time. No doubt you, Parker and the rest of your good family are bringing comfort and clarity to others who are likewise aquainted with mortality’s primary companion. God bless you and yours.

  11. Melissa, I never tire of seeing Parker — what a beautiful son! I feel blessed to know him. I felt as if I was also there in the circle as Dalton told of his great loss. And yes, there were tears in my eyes, too.

  12. Thank you for taking the time and showing the courage to process your grief publically. What an amazing event. I am so glad to see that Dalton’s school, his friends and his family supported him in this growth. What a powerful moment for him and for others (those in the room, and those now reading this post). I always enjoy your prose. It has so much lyric quality. Thank you, thank you. KDA

    • Karen-thank you for being here and being so overgenerous with your compliments 🙂 As you know, “processing publicly” is what I do to give a voice to others who might feel, as I did when new to this kind of devastation, that their experience or reaction is abnormal, somehow “wrong.” I do have an entire torso-full of similar stories to share. I’ll keep at it. Much love to you—M.

  13. Michelle posted the link to this post today, and somehow reading it healed a little broken part of me, too. Tears can be a welcome blessing. I always love your writing, and this is no exception. Thank you for showing us what a gift pure empathy and charity can be.

    • Kerri–That wonderful, sneaky Michelle. Always up to something good. Thank you for your loving and tender comment here. It’s of huge value to me to hear from readers whose hurt is addressed by something I might write. I just find it incredible. Thank you for your sensitive presence. I’ll keep writing and writing and writing, reachiing and reaching and reaching. . .–M

  14. This was a beautiful contrast to something I read yesterday- NPR’s Morning Edition has a short series called ‘Losing Our Faith’. The questions asked there have been interesting for me to consider as a person with faith, but yesterday the episode focused on people who have no religious conviction through grief and loss. It was dark and agonizing, while your post is sweetly heartbreaking, subtly instructive on how to deal with loss, and filled with faithful hope for a future reunion. This contrast has added to my faith. While the grief in my life takes a different shape, I gratefully thank you for showing me the path forward, one illuminated with love and optimism. Thank you for sharing this publicly.

    • Jen, Love NPR. Devour Morning Edition. But haven’t been following as closely as I’d like since this recent big move. Your comment here, besides being so beautifully written, is helpful. Thank you.

      While it’s not my primary aim to instruct others on how to confront or absorb their own loss, and while I don’t want to imply that my way of dealing is better than anothers’, I know that in telling this story publicly it might read that way, as prescriptive. I think you’re telling me it doesn’t sound too heavy-handed. Whew.

      In sharing what’s gone well in this journey, it might sound oversimplified to some readers and even Nutri-sweet for others, particularly for a reader in the vice grip of acute grief. I get that. I threw one memoir-like grief book across the room, and another I chucked out my car window on the highway. Their tidy, get-well-quick messages did not speak to me in any way. On the contrary: I found them untrustworthy, aggravating and alienating.

      That’s why in my writing I make no bones about dwelling long and deep in the agonizing and nearly debilitating part, because it is brutally looong and it is frighteningly deeep, and it is as valid and as necessary a part of this rebirth process as have been the brilliant beauties and guiding personal epiphanies. And so, at this vantage point 5 years and 6 months removed from impact, I can say that my heart is overfull with gratitude. And I can feel deep, abiding joy.

      Hmmm, I said more than planned :-), but hope you take that as a sign of respect for what you’ve given the trouble to write here, Jen. With warmth and hope—M.

      • Definitely not heavy handed, which really facilitates the instruction, it is soft enough to take, or leave, depending on where a person is in their grief. I love that you threw a grief book out the window on the highway! My friend who lost her husband last year would appreciate that, I sent her a link to your post. Thank you for every word of your reply.

      • Jen, Yessir! I hurled that book. First time in my life, since I usually treat books with a bit more. . .patience:-) Please tell your widowed friend that she’s doing fabulously if she’s vertical and can still sign her name. She’s blessed to have your inspired friendship.—M

  15. This article was a beautiful tribute to both of your sons. The deep love your family feels for each other is so sweet. I have dealt with a lot of loss of family (two of my brothers and my parents have passed), I lost one of my brothers when I was 14. I could relate a bit to your story. The love within a family does go on. Both on this side of the veil and the other. Thank you for sharing.

    • Tammy-Your experiences with loss could teach me much, no doubt. Two brothers, both parents. . .all waiting for you, aware of you, full of love and concern for you. I’ve experienced this myself and believe it to be true, but of course that kind of conviction isn’t reserved for people who self-identify as “religious”, like myself. Consider this passage from Columbia University clinical psychology professor, George Bonnano:

      I knelt before the altar [in a N.Y.C. China Town temple] and gave the three salutations.
      Then I thought of my father.
      “Hello, Dad,” I whispered.
      Scenes of my father’s life flipped rapidly through my consciousness. . . .
      A warm sensation enveloped me. I felt calm again, almost serene. But something new was happening. The words I had spoken were surprisingly forceful, as I had summoned some great power. The act of reaching out to my father in this public temple, this place where such behavior was fully accepted, seemed to have magnified the effect. Immediately, I began to feel my father’s presence, much as I had when I had occasionally spoken with him in the past, but this was like opening a door to another world.
      ––George Bonanno, The Other Side of Sadness, 191–192

      All my best to you! Thanks for being here, Tammy—M.

      • What a wonderful passage. The older I get, the more I realize how much I still need to learn from others (I am in my early forties). You are a gifted writer and I am glad I stumbled onto your site from a facebook post. I can only imagine the heartache of losing a child but I saw my mother live with it everyday for the rest of her life, especially after Jerry’s (my brother) accident. My other brother died as an infant.
        I was with my Mother when she took her last breath. And though it was hard to see her go, I was happy for her because she was finally free from an Alzhemiers body and with the children (and husband) she had lost years before.
        I look forward to reading more of your entries and I wish you and your family the best. You deserve it!

  16. I am so happy for Dalton that he got to have such a sympathetic and enlightened teacher to arrange this for him. I am so happpy that he got to release some of the suffocating pain and start to repair the hole that it leaves in you. I am so happy that the students were compassionate and understanding. This is a beautiful story of human nature and fills my heart with love for all involved, especially sweet Dalton. You are chipping away at that frozen sea within me my friend and I am starting to get a few gasps of badly needed air in these lungs again. Thank you for sharing the photos of beautiful Parker as well. Again, I am so sorry for your loss. It is true the saying “Out of great pain, comes great art,” you are living proof of that.

  17. A friend stumbled upon your blog (her words) and shared it with me. I lost my son, Zach, almost 4.5 years ago in a drowning accident. It has been pure agony, and still is some days. I will also share this blog with my other son and daugher who have both shared with me that they have lied when asked the “brother” question. I know that they will relate to Dalton. Haley finally started sharing about her journey in losing Zach, but Jered (17 months younger than Zach) still won’t really share. And his unhealed wounds reflect that. He is finally taking baby steps toward real healing, so I will pray for the right timing to share this with him. Thank you for your words – I have felt them all. I actually wrote a book that shared my son’s story, and I maintain a website for it at http://www.thedarebook.com... just in case you ever want to drop by. Your Parker is beautiful, and this mama knows the ongoing need to never stop talking about him. Fellow sojourners for sure… Shane (Zach’s mom)

    • Shane- Hello, fellow sojourner.

      Time takes on a whole different dimension, doesn’t it, when it rips to a stop? That otherworldliness, that floating out of time and out of contact with the mundane world. Ugh, I can conjure up that sensation in one breath. Your Zach. Drowning accident? four 1/2 years ago? Uncanny. Our three surviving children were so close to their brother, and each has responded differently. And their responses have evolved, too, and impacted every relationship (friends, teachers, family) since. It’s a webwork of complications. BUT. But. . .your children will grow in strength as they find one safe place after another to process this loss in their lives. My kids have felt their brother alongside them, helping and guiding them, at times speaking brief messages of encouragement to them. They all talk about that differently, and I suggest they keep it all written some place. As we make our way forward, we do our best to set an example of openness and honesty. Yes, we believe in being real.

      I’m interested in your book, Shane, and so I’ve taken your invitation seriously and I’ve read. . .and read. .

      This is magnificent: Sans peur et sans reproche.

      Much warmth and hope to you and your family.–M.

      • Wow, Melissa, I am humbled and honored that you would read our story. I surely don’t share your gift for such eloquent writing, but I do try to write from my heart. I also need to get better at writing more consistently as things come to my mind and new lessons are learned. We actually have a fourth child as well. Her name is Sydney. She was 9 when Zach died and actually shares his Aug 3rd birthday. She has grieved the loss of her backyard soccer buddy and her grief journey has matured her beyond her years, which can be a gift some days and a curse on others when you’re 13. I’m sure you see that in yours, too.

        I was just re-reading the Sans Peur post. Funny how much a year changes my perspective. Although it is surely true that our family has seen much healing, we are actually still waiting on the moment when Jered finally breaks free from the horrible place that grief has taken him. He has been so changed by the trauma of it all that he is a shell of the person he was before our tragedy. But, I know God is faithful and His timing is perfect. Jered did finally agree to go to counseling, which is a good step for him. He needs to reframe how he has chosen to view all this.

        I am just so glad to have met you, even if via this crazy thing called cyberspace! I look forward to conversing more in the future, as we both continue on this devastatingly beautiful journey of life after great loss.

        Shane

      • Shane, as a third-party interloper of sorts (a friend of Melissa), I must say that the tenderness of your words came through even a small digital screen this early winter morning.

      • Shane—“Devastatingly beautiful journey.” I second that will all my heart. You have put it in words I wish I would have found. Thank you.

        You have four, too? And Zach is your oldest? And the youngest was 9 at impact? Hmmm. Our youngest, Luc, was 7 at impact, Dalton 11, and Claire had her 16th birthday (we’d had such big plans for a party with a surprise visit from her best friend/older brother, Parker. . .) the week after Parker passed away. The instantaneous change in each of four children from the brutal yank into chaos was frightening. Gone, childhood. Hello, hard alien world. The dynamics continue to shift and evolve. How I have grieved for the loss my sweet children have suffered. Just like you.

        Our youngest seemed to fair the best at first, it seemed…The evolution of his grief has surprised us, kept us on our toes. Fabulous school and church teachers along the way have helped more than I can begin to measure, although,as you can maybe appreciate, a couple in there we might have perhaps done without.:-) I’m sorry to read about Jered, and hope for him and for you that he can feel the tremendous love of his brother encircling him and giving him courage and refuge.

        I have a post or two in draft form addressing sibling grief, what I have seen in our situation as well as what I’ve learned from others, what we are all still learning. I hope you’ll feel more than welcome to chime in when those are posted, Shane. Open invite. I’ll be waiting right here at the door for you!–Melissa

  18. I was doing ok, then I decided to read this and now I am in tears and missing Parker more than ever again. I look at those pictures and want to reach into them to hold his hand and hug his body…..

  19. Melissa! You have a book coming out! So glad to see that! I have not been back to visit since my last read through your blog… seems life took me in a different direction for a while with my masters studies. But, I often thought of you and wished you would write a book! So, today, after feeling nudged for a couple weeks now, I revisited your blog. Imagine my happiness to read about Global Mom coming out when I looked for you on Facebook! I can’t wait to read it!

    Shane

  20. Shane! And I have just taken a moment to reread our previous exchange! My book, Global Mom: A Memoir, actually came out last summer (can get it through Amazon and most indie booksellers) and in it you will find a light rewrite of this very post/ this experience with Dalton, tucked into the chapter called “Oktoberfest” (pp 234-238). And I have another book, Loss and Living Onward, coming out this spring (2014). Thank you very much, Shane, for coming back and reminding me of this particular post and the thread that followed. You’ve followed inspiration, because you brought me to something I needed ot read again. I leave on a 12 day book tour next week, and just tonight I was organizing thoughts and excerpts to share with several audiences. What we’ve exchanged here on this page will certainly be part of my presentation. And great for you, that you have continued with a master’s degree. Whatever it is in, you’ll be heroic. Best to you and your family, and never forgetting Zach.–M.

    • Yes, never forgetting our sweet boys! So now I have one book to get and one to look forward to!! I will surely be waiting on the Loss and Living Onward book from a very personal place in my heart. My masters degree is in counseling, and I just graduated in December. It is my prayer and passion that I will be able to walk beside others as they choose to live onward through their own pain – from grief, from trauma of all other kinds. This life just deals out pain so many times, and it is my charge to help people discover the healing and true joy awaiting them when they courageously face it. I am sure your book will do the same. I have never met you, yet I know our hearts are forever connected through our personal losses and the similarities held within. Heaven will surely be sweet!! Shane

  21. Pingback: Gabriel at eleven » My great Wordpress blog

  22. Dear Melissa,
    first and foremost I would like to thank you for this honour, and tell you I am deeply touched.
    I feel like it is going to be difficult for me to express my emotions right now. I did not notice Dalton’s message back then, directing me to this touching piece of writing. Now I feel it is not by chance that I have come across your writing just now. As you probably know, Israel has been fighting the terror organisation Hamas for about a month now. This period has been really difficult for me for numerous reasons. We, Israelis have been dealing with the threat of rockets and missiles being shot at civilians this whole time which you can imagine is horrible, but I would like to focus on a different side of this war. 64 young men have lost their lives fighting and defending their home and people, 20 year old children, who will never come back to their families again. I feel like the heaviest burden that has been placed on my heart is the loss of these children, beautiful children, who had their lives ahead of them but sacrificed themselves to protect Israel, to protect me. I must say I am shivering right now, after reading “dispassion”. Your detailed description of that unforgettable afternoon has brought back memories and emotions. I feel like the way I reacted back then, is the same way I reacted a week ago, when seeing the names and pictures of the fallen soldiers was too harsh for me and I bursted in tears. Reflecting back on Parker’s death, I now feel that I have a better understanding of your sorrow. To me all fallen soldiers are like brothers, and to me Parker’s death felt like my own relative’s death. As an Israeli, I have learnt to grow up knowing soldiers die to protect me, and that death is something I must accept. This war, was the toughest one for me mentally seeing as lots of my friends now serve in the army. A boy, 2 years older than me who graduated my school has fallen during this recent operation “Protective Edge” in the name of Israel and of the Israeli people. A girl from my school has recently said to me: “Itamar, you do realise that next year it could be one of us don’t you?” that line still ecos in my mind. Death of the young has never been closer to me before, and I now see Parker’s death in a different perspective. I have seen families who lost their sons, too many lately. Your family’s story has touched me in so many ways I cannot even describe. It is a tradition in my high school that the previous year’s seniors come to school on memorial day wearing I.D.F uniforms and honouring the dead, just the thought of seeing a new picture, a new name on the fallen soldier’s wall makes me feel horrendous. I want you to know, that you are one of the strongest, most unified families I have ever met, and your way of dealing with Parker’s death is remarkable. I feel like the way I reacted to Parker’s death back then would be the same as my reaction right now at the age of 18, bursting in tears, to me there is no other way to deal with the death of a young boy. I miss you all very much, and I really want you to know, how unique you are, and how amazing your family is! The way you dealt with death is just something I cannot explain. I wish you and your family all the best,

    Itamar Beck Barak.

    • Itamar, friend-

      Tonight, in my new home in Frankfurt, Germany, I’ve returned to my blog after several weeks’ hiatus, and I’ve found you here. Such a powerful blessing to read your words. Thank you, dear Itamar, for pouring out your goodness on this page. We miss you and miss your good family. God’s blessings on you all.

      You, our Israeli comforter in those harsh early months of our trauma, now write to us from your place of pain as war’s blackness swirls and crashes around you. I’m in safety now, as is your friend, Dalton. We delivered him to a training center in England just yesterday, from where he’s on his way to London to serve as a full-time volunteer for our church for 2 years. Not military service, I know, and not on the horrifying front lines you speak of, but in more than just a symbolic way, it’s Dalton’s part in holding back evil and increasing light and hope in a turbulent and violent world.

      Itamar, Dalton counts you among his most valued friends, and I hope you can remain in contact while the two of you engage in different but similar battles on two sides of this besieged yet beautiful planet. God is moving among us. We pray for you and yours, and are forever grateful for our friendship.

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