Until her own death in February 2014, I had no real appreciation for the loss my mother felt upon the death of her youngest son a few years earlier. At her graveside service, the pastor read a letter she had written. In it, mom said she really had just one question for God: Why did he take a son away from her?
Her youngest son, just like his older brothers, was imperfect. He married young, quickly had two sons, split from his wife soon after and then essentially left my mom and dad to care for his kids. (In a decision my parents should have opposed but didn’t, the judge awarded child custody to my brother so long as he lived with my parents.)
My younger brother also had at least one run-in with the law; I remember riding with my dad to pick up my brother’s Jeep after he got arrested for driving while impaired.
But my little brother, though he died in his 40s in a car crash, was also my mother’s baby, the last of her three sons. He was her flesh and blood, a part of her.
I find myself struggling here to convey what I think to be my mother’s sense of loss. The words in the paragraph above don’t do her loss justice, and yet those are the only words I have. Perhaps that’s because I’m not a great writer. Perhaps it’s because my mother and I, even though we talked often during her battle with cancer, didn’t talk much about our feelings. Or maybe it’s impossible for a man, even a father like me, to comprehend the loss a mother feels upon the death of a child. Maybe no words can adequately convey that loss.
When she got to Heaven, my mom could have asked the Good Lord anything. She could have asked him to explain the universe. She could have asked why he took her parents at an early age, her dad in his 60s, her mom in her early 70s. She could have asked him why he chose to let her fight – and lose – a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. Instead, she chose to ask him why he robbed her of a son. At the end of her life, that was her greatest heartache.
I thought about my mom and her loss as I read the stories about the Cleveland community mom who wanted to know what happened to a ball park sign commemorating her son, who died at 14. The leaders of the Greater Cleveland Athletic Association, which oversees the ball park, took offense at Amy Spence’s campaign to learn what happened to the sign, and the GCAA demanded an apology from Spence.
Had the GCAA leaders been at my mom’s graveside service, had they heard the words of a woman devastated by the ultimate loss, they would have been the ones offering an apology, not demanding one.