Christmas shopping is fun for most of us. But for our son Ryan, one year it became his mission to find the perfect gift. With all the love he had for his mama, he wanted to give her the gift of memory.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, our 6-year-old son, Ryan, was looking through the sales circulars in Sunday’s newspapers. He asked his grandmother “Nanny” to help him look through the sales papers as they browsed through the Christmas wish list pages.
This little guy described exactly what he was looking for, and could not be persuaded to consider anything else. As he looked, Nanny would point out “What about this?” He shook his head and said, “No, that’s not the one.”
Sales circular after sales circular they looked until he found exactly what he was looking for. “Nanny, I want to get Mom THAT one.” “Are you sure? What about this one?”
“No, Nanny, I want to get her THAT. This is the one.” He was too weak to make the shopping trip with her, but he made her promise to go to the store and get that exact gift.
The Gift of Memory
Ryan didn’t live to see me unwrap the present he’d lovingly selected for me. He died 15 days before Christmas Day, December 10, 1985 from acute lymphocytic leukemia.
I don’t know why he wanted me to have THAT particular musical jewelry box, but he couldn’t have picked a more appropriate memorial gift. The box was in the shape of a heart. When the lid is lifted, the melody of the song “Memory” from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Cats” plays.
This is one of my favorite Broadway musicals, based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Elliot. It tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make the “Jellicle choice,” deciding which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. Grizabella is chosen and sings “Memory” before her departure.
Memory all alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days, I was beautiful then
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
The tune is hauntingly beautiful. The heart-shaped design of the box was significant enough to me, but when I researched the actual lyrics of the melody it played, I understood Ryan’s insistence on getting his Mama “THAT one!” I believe he had a sense he wouldn’t live until Christmas.
The Gift of Heaven
A few weeks before he died, I was laying with him in the hospital bed as he received a blood transfusion and watched a favorite TV sitcom. The topic of the show was about a family member who had moved away and how much he was missed. Ryan said, “I will miss my family. I will really miss you.” Pushing back my emotions, I replied, “We will see you again in heaven, you can count on it!” He responded in a sweet sad voice, “I’m so glad.”
I am thankful we could share the hope of eternal life and heaven with our son. How sad for parents who can’t offer that to their child? Personally, if I didn’t think I’d hold my son again and for all eternity, there would be no desire to live.
The Gaping Hole of Grief
It has been 34 years since Ryan joined Jesus in heaven. Burying a child is a pain no one ever gets “over.” A gaping hole in your heart never refills or heals. Maybe scar tissue forms over it, but little things like hearing the song “Memory” in an exercise dance class or seeing his favorite food triggers the pain and sadness of my son’s absence.
The amount of years without him now exceeds the few 6 years we had with him, yet the pain of his absence still erupts when I least expect it.
Last week I was rummaging through storage boxes and came across a gray windbreaker, a red cap and a flashlight that I’d saved of Ryan’s. Oh! The grief that washed over me as I clutched that jacket and cap to my heart. Against all odds, I sniffed the coat to see if by some miraculous chance, it still contained his scent.
It’s a given, I’ve observed, that the time around the death anniversary of a loved one is difficult. This year for Dennis and me has been unusually hard, and I’m not sure why. We have both had intensive counseling and grief work to process life without our son. Could it be there is unresolved areas of grief we’ve not dealt with?
You Never Get “Over” it
We recover from colds, viruses, and some diseases. But you never get “over” losing a child. Processing the loss will be a life-long process. And, to be honest, I agree with my husband’s assessment: that the empty void in our hearts left by Ryan’s absence will not be filled until we hold him in our arms again in heaven.
Part of the grief process is the fear we will forget what their voice sounds like, what they look like, what they smell like.
Let me assure you, there is never a day that you won’t think of your child. Your child is so much a part of you, the void his or her death left will always be felt.
How can a hole that size be filled?
When there are no answers to your “WHY?” may you feel comfort in knowing that your child lives on through the gift of memory. Look forward to the hope that you will hold your child again in heaven. I believe the promise that God
..will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things [will be] gone forever.” Revelation 21:4
Let the Memory live again….
P. S. The musical movie “CATS” is currently in theatres. Yes, I want to see it–But when I walk into the door of the theater, a box of tissues will be under my arm.