101: Rows of Grief

101: Rows of Grief

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Rows of Grief

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.

~Havelock Ellis

There was no wake, no funeral, no graveside service, but I lost my son today.

In reality, I lost him long ago; today is the day I accepted that reality. What happened to the infant I consecrated to God at his Baptism? What happened to the adventurous toddler I had to rescue from our maple tree? The curious youngster who took apart a radio and put it back together... at age four? The adolescent whose humor defused so much stress when there were five teens in the house? The sensitive youth who knew when Mommy didn’t feel well, and urged his siblings to be quiet? The man whose wedding I witnessed and at whose reception I danced? The man who drove me through three states to fetch tangible memories when my mother died, and who extolled his love for his wife and children all the way?

What happened? Drugs happened.

Parental neglect. Fiscal irresponsibility. Criminal behavior. A twelve-year prison sentence. That’s what happened.

A mental health care professional whom I trust helped me to see that today. I read her his latest letter. She pointed out the blaming, abusive, hedonistic attitudes common to addicts. I know in my knower that she is right; I appreciate her directness in getting through to my heart. There’s such a fine line between encouraging and enabling. Repeatedly crossing it does no good for him. Or for me. I must detach, for both our sakes.

My heart is so heavy I can hardly pick up my knitting to pray my grief in inches. I make it through one row. This shawl is cocoa brown, with a wide ribbing pattern. The ribs remind me of prison bars. I put it down.

Next, I turn to the shawl of variegated shades of fig, chocolate, and orange. My son asked for those colors—the grape and orange. I don’t know why. I can’t give it to him while he’s incarcerated and I’ll probably be dead before he’s released. I usually pray for him while I work on this one, but not today. This is the shawl I’ll use to process my pain. I will finish it, of course, and pass it along, like all the others, to the sick and dying in our congregation. And I will pray that my pain and grief will assuage someone else’s.

Finally, I reach for the soft burnt orange worsted. There is no right side or wrong side to its basket weave pattern; it is reversible, each side a mirror of the other. The color, too, seems to symbolize different ways of looking at the same thing: it glows like embers of a dying fire and it blushes like a summer sunrise.

Tears blur my vision. Mechanically, I knit three, purl three for three rows. Then I purl three, knit three for three rows. Repeat. The checkerboard squares climb under and over each other, intertwined. “Comfort, Lord,” I pray, “for me as well as the recipient... Healing... Forgiveness... Detachment. I release my son to you, O Lord.”

I knit until my arms are sore. One hour? Two hours? Three?

I fondle this shawl as it shrouds my lap, my knees. The tears continue. I have forgiven this child many, many times. I pray that my emotions will catch up with those acts of will. Soon. But I know it will take a long time. Long after his family and I emerge from the financial crises his addiction created. Long after his children get the therapy they’ll need because of what his lifestyle exposed them to. Long after his wife, whom I love like my own daughters, finishes school, finds a job, and addresses reality. I already hurt for her in that process. My God walks with me in my sorrow. He’ll walk with her in hers.

He is my son; I will always love him. I will cry until I don’t need to cry anymore. With God’s grace, these floods will lessen; the triggers will be less frequent.

I will pray by inches for his salvation. He rejects God now, but I believe that the God who created him is always reaching for him. Where there is life, there is hope. I will pray for my son to be open to God’s love all the days of my life. Then, I will wait expectantly in Heaven for him to come home.

In the meantime, I know I can face this the way I’ve faced previous trauma—with hope and humor. There’s a bumper sticker that proclaims: “Sh__ Happens.” Well, “sh__” is manure and manure is fertilizer and fertilizer helps things grow. When this latest excrement recycles, my family and I will bloom large!

~Diane C. Perrone

More stories from our partners