Honoring a young person who died, on the first birthday since he’s been gone, is one of those landmark times that only the parent of a lost child can really understand. To those of us who were close to him, his death is still so recent, and hearing or saying the words is somewhat unfathomable. We stumble over phrases like Peter’s funeral because … really? His funeral? It doesn’t feel right to be saying that. But of course we do, because it did happen, and because we won’t ever forget him. We carry on talking about him so no one feels timid about saying his name or bringing up something that they remember of him. If people avoid ever speaking of a loved one gone tragically, I don’t think it makes it any easier on the mom or dad or sister; they miss him every day whether we bring him up or not. True, there are times we’re hesitant, we tread gingerly, because we don’t want to be the one to bring on the tears (although sometimes the tears are cathartic) when they are with us and are, for the moment, thinking of something else and perhaps, even smiling. So we’re careful. But let’s not be too careful, for we wouldn’t ever want them to think that their beautiful boy is receding from our present world, or our thoughts.
It’s just plain hard, no matter how you look at it.
And so today is Pete’s birthday. Today he would have been nineteen.
He was obviously a great friend to so many – his friends are posting almost every day, still, to his Facebook page. Telling of dreams they’ve had of him, sharing their memories, or aching with missing him. After four months gone, that says a lot to me about the person he was.
I now think of him as like a fish, squirming, so inherently slippery, and in a flash, he slipped through our fingers despite trying to hold him, to keep him safe; he just wriggled through as a fish will do. Like a flash, too, he swam away. It’s what’s so stunningly unbelievable about it all.
There has been comfort in many ways, through the grace of God; as his aunt, I am thankful for those gifts. I believe.
I believe he’s in Heaven, his soul no longer mortal like ours; his understanding like nothing we can comprehend due to the constraint of our humanity. One day it will be our turn, and I believe that he, and the other souls I loved – my mother, my father-in-law, my grandparents, and even the sister I never knew – will meet us, and that will be something new. It won’t be like meeting as humans, with human relationships. Because we still live here, on earth, our minds yearn for that full understanding but our faith tells us it’s a mystery. Yet there is so much evidence of this, for those who pray quietly, with faith and trust, and who are still, and open enough to listen for it, to hear it. Yes, I yearn for more, for complete understanding, although I know that will come in the fullness of time.
Does it make the missing of him any easier? Well, we miss him all the time; his parents and sister – they experience the loss on a deep and visceral level that a faraway aunt can’t possibly comprehend except through the spiritual gift of empathy. But it’s not the same as actually having the breadth of their experience, and so I pray for them daily, and remember Pete daily. On his birthday, and other special occasion days that matter deeply to us as living mortal beings, we want to remember him even more vigorously. I can’t be at the special Mass in his honor with his family, so I will be there with my thoughts and prayers. I can’t be at the pizza lunch his parents have planned for the family and his friends: which I think is just a wonderful way to remember him, for he was loved by so many. And then they will visit him privately. For this December 11 is Pete’s day, and I know that nineteen no longer means to him what it does to us, because he’s a soul that’s moved beyond needing years…while those of us still here, do.
Until the day comes, when we, too, no longer need our years, we try to be open to what God has in store for us. Whichever way that goes, and whether we like it or not, our free will remains. How will we respond to the unexpected and painful things that happen to us, things that we might not understand? Or things that leave us deeply angry or wounded? For me, it’s ever-changing. I’m trying to be refined by the process. Being that we’re all part of the Body of Christ whether on earth or in Heaven, I now have another soul to whom I can connect and relate, because he’s my nephew. Gone too soon, but there for us all.
I have to say this, because I am still human and so this is my context, “Happy birthday, Peter. Give my mom a kiss for me, and one for yourself too. Help us, help your friends – so many of us are on journeys that need God’s help. Perhaps on your birthday there’ll be a little extra grace for us all, and most especially, your mom, dad, and sister. You are missed so much.”