Like in the nightmare, his mother found him in his bedroom, he whom she bore in her stretched-out body for most of a year. Dead and shattered, just months after his high school graduation from an elite Christian high school. He, brother to three, son to two, indispensable to an innumerable, he who struggled for years with depression no one could fix. He who was loved more than life, he who had more prayers lifted up on his behalf than most sons.
"We did everything right," she says.
My neighbor, another mama, silent these four years we've mowed our lawns side-by-side, whose children and grandchildren I've watched come and go in a revolving door of men and women and kids. Who belongs to whom I'm still not sure. "They're all alcoholics, all three of our boys, and I don't know what we did," she finally confides, her head hung low, her eyes weighted with a thousand sorrows.
In yet another family, a son walks away from his faith. He texts my son, his own age, his childhood buddy, treatises on how God is fake, on how nothing can be proved, on how atheism is "working for him" now that he's an enlightened junior in high school. I think of his parents, our friends, diligent, loving, teaching him at their knee since birth.
What is a parent who "fails" to do?
One day I am astounded by children who, despite the failings of their parents, love each other, stand by their faith, admonish each other to be charitable to others. The next I am undone by actions that have me thinking each of them is but one breath away from apostasy. It keeps a body humble, this knowledge. The cliché says we're all one paycheck away from disaster. The same holds for souls, or so it feels.
The fingers of fear start to creep around my neck as I think of how fragile we all are, what a delicate hold we have on life and each other. What do I do, what do I say when firstborns kill themselves and babies go astray?
There is no panacea, of course, to take away such hurts. To offer flat platitudes to wounded parents is cruel. Instead, as I wrestle with these recent sorrows, I think of my friend Annie who lost a little girl to SIDS several years ago. As we cleared tiny folded nightgowns out of the baby's dresser she told me how she was coping, how instead of railing and questioning and shaking her fist at God over this loss, she had decided to accept it. To say, OK, God, I don't get this and this hurts like a burning fire and I hate it, but I'll trust you on this one. She called it her "shortcut through grief."
Jan Karon, in her Mitford books, speaks of this very thing, calling it "The prayer that never fails: Not my will, but thine."
Such words may not be instant healers, but perhaps they're a place to start.