Mom, son gripped by grief’s unthinkable embrace
The boy looked confused when I called him into the bedroom, like he was about to be scolded. Inside, I was the one tied up in knots of doubt and disbelief.
It had taken me 36 hours to get to this point, reading up on mental health and the things that drive a person to suicide, pulling myself together, trying to figure out how to explain such a thing. I had one mission in life, to protect my son from the kind of pain I was about to deliver. I needed to get this right, or as right as I could.
I gathered the 7-year-old into my arms. I drew a deep breath and tightened my embrace.
“Son, I need to talk to you about something important,” I said, resting my hand on the top of his head. “Your daddy has been sick for a while, up here.”
Then I moved my hand to his heart: “And for longer than Mommy knows, it has been moving all over his body, and stopped here. And now he is in Heaven, with not only God but with Uncle Zack.”
Realization dawned at the mention of Zack, my older brother, who had been so close to us and who had died just two years earlier. If Daddy was with Uncle Zack, my baby wasn’t going to see him again either. A wail that no mother should ever hear rose from deep inside and his little body melted into mine. I held on and let him scream.
I cannot protect my son from everything.
The day of the funeral seemed all wrong. It was early summer in Texas, and the blue, sunny sky and warm breeze betrayed everything I was feeling. The mid-length black dress I’d bought at Ross was uncomfortable. My son wore a two-tone button down, white and blue, and his cow-licks fought the gel I’d employed to make him look tidy. Like his hair, everything felt forced.
My sisters, Carolyn and Krystina, drove us to Kirbyville for the service. They didn’t try to make us talk, or to make us feel better. We stopped to buy flowers, and I picked out the most beautiful sunflowers and dark red roses they had.
The boy held onto the bouquet, snuggled under my arm and close to my heart. I tried to talk about his daddy and how much he loved him, but the tears on his cheeks stopped me. I began crying, too. I held him tighter and focused on the road.
Too soon, we pulled up at a country church off Highway 62, where Nathaniell’s family had made arrangements. My legs wobbled as I got out and helped my son. He clutched the flowers tight and my hand tighter.
I felt suddenly ridiculous in my off-shoulder dress and clumsy ankle boots, stepping into what felt like a spotlight. I wasn’t the widow, but the mother of the dead man’s son. I’d also known him longer than any of the couple dozen young men, mostly, who seemed too scared to go inside.
We’d all grown up together in Buna and they knew us as Sierra and Nathaniell, high school sweethearts. Maybe they’d heard about our breakups, or my pregnancy after school, or his subsequent marriage and kids. Or maybe they’d moved on to jobs and families of their own and not given us much thought.
Dylan Jones broke from the crowd and walked right to me. He looked the same, just older. I had known him since before Nathaniell moved to town and he was a good person. We had lost touch along the road to adulthood. He hugged me tightly, and suddenly I was 16 again, not a 27-year-old working mom putting herself through college. He held onto me and let me cry. I finally felt the fatigue of pain and grief.
Then I pulled away, returning to my role as a mother facing her son’s father’s funeral. The boy was still holding tight to my fingers. He was hiding his face behind the bouquet of flowers.
My mascara-stained tears dried quickly as we pressed forward into the church, past a blurry mass of still-familiar faces. If I could just find a seat, I thought, I could wait it out and get back to focusing on the boy.
Then Nathaniell’s mother informed me it would be an open-casket service.
Sierra Kondos grew up in Southeast Texas. Read more from her next Sunday in SBTwo.