I lost a son a few weeks ago. No one actually died – except me, a little. I’ll explain …
Three years ago a freckle-faced boy peeked over my fence, eager to play with my seven sons. I was a bit leery of this latch-key kid at first (snob that I am). Nick made me nervous. He was a little rough around the edges, often taking the Lord’s name in vain, loudly, casually. I corrected him about this habit early on; Nick apologized with wide glassy eyes and never made the mistake in my presence again. Perhaps that’s why – or the fact that he was the most fun kid in the world, the most creative playmate who would lead my boys running through mazes in the backyard built out of recycled cereal boxes – Nick quickly became a part of our family.
During the pandemic, he’d knock on the door at eight in the morning and wouldn’t say goodbye until nightfall. He also spent his birthdays and many holidays at our house, because while Nick’s home across the alley was one with obvious love, there were also many significant challenges. One of his parents was disabled. The other, a recovering addict. But we only knew that when Nick was over, life was more fun and no one begged to watch TV. Nick also had a tender side. He’d always seek me out for a hug before he’d head home at night.
So you can imagine my horror when I learned Nick’s family was moving across the country – in a week. And sure, lots of friends hit me with advice for ways of keeping in touch; Skype sessions, air plane tickets, care packages, blah, blah, blah – but none of it’s going to work! Because the hardships that are leading Nick’s parents to be taken in by family are precisely what’s making staying in touch impossible. I’ve tried reaching out to his parents and extended family many times, but none of my calls have been returned (his parents never answered the phone when they lived across the alley). Add to that the fact that Nick and his mom are both illiterate; top it off with the family’s tenuous financial situation. In short, the trembling hug Nick and I shared on the porch a few weeks ago was – in every sense of the word – goodbye.
The weight of the loss has been shocking and brutal. I find myself crying at the strangest times and the pain is almost impossible to explain – “my neighbor moved away” doesn’t cut it. That’s why when a child’s story book caught my eye the other day at Mass, I gasped – it was the painting of Moses’ mom laying her baby in a basket. God spoke to my heart: “She had to send him away in a river; Nick’s only going to Florida …”
Trust me, was the message. And I’ve taken it with me into the quiet corners of my days. Folding socks and pondering the fact that everything in this life is temporary. That the time I had with Nick, and that the time I have with my own sons was never/ is never allmine to begin with anyway. Rather, these days are a gift, entrusted to me for just a little while from the hand of the Divine.
My oldest son recently started driving and talking about college. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna feel like two seconds before I’m calling on Jochebed again to pray for me. God certainly met her, didn’t he? Sending Pharoah’s daughter to find the child in the river and demand to keep him, amidst her father’s campaign to kill all Israelite baby boys. Pharoah’s daughter then hired Moses’ mom (Jochebed herself) to be her own son’s wet nurse – imagine being paid to nurse your own baby! Talk about Providence! (Exodus 2:3)
That’s the kind of Providence I’m counting on to take care of Nick, who said things before he left like, “When we move in with my uncle, we’ll start going to church again!” He mentioned a few other things about his new home that led me to believe he was moving to a better place. But in the end, I’ll never stop missing that little boy. I’ll also never stop trying to reconnect; I recently sent a care package with some self-addressed, stamped envelopes to Nick, as well as one to his uncle, requesting an update and suggesting ways for our families to keep in touch.
Lately, when I’m washing dishes, I look out my window, pondering the spot where I first saw Nick peek over the fence. Not only do I want to be like Jochebed who trusted the Lord with her baby so much that she’d lay him in a basket in the Nile River to save his life, I also want to be like the Pharoah’s daughter — with open eyes and open arms to each beautiful child coming my way.