I stood over his pale, hairless body. His eyes closed, he shivered even though he was wrapped in blankets lying on a lounge chair in the warm sun beside the pool.
He was in agony and the morphine did nothing to ease him. I was helpless.
Aunt Jodi was visiting and had escorted my youngest daughter from Portland to California. This was supposed to be a joyful reunion trip for Jordyn, but her baby brother was unable to function. As a 11 year old, she was uncomfortable with his appearance, looking away frequently for fear of Really Seeing . Adults did the same.
When he left home, he had been ill, yes, but not like this.
Each of his three older sisters had already come to stay one at a time for a few days. There had been a day at Lego Land, the beach and other child-friendly venues, but the accumulation of proton radiation had finally taken its toll.
On Valentine’s Day 2005 Josh set his fork down on the restaurant table, looked up into my eyes, as slow sad tears trembled down his cheeks.
He could no longer eat.
Later when questioned, the radiation oncologist proclaimed, “Of course he’s in pain. He probably has fourth degree burns in his throat.” These words spoken by the same woman who had assured me before treatment started that he would have little to no side effects from proton radiation. Had I misheard her?
Fourth. Degree. Burns. Inside. His. Throat.
Later, I sat in my dimly lit apartment shrinking into the corner of the couch as Josh slept fitfully in the other room. His tiny body dwarfed by a queen sized mattress.
Aunt Jodi had flown home. My husband and Jordyn were driving go-carts at a local track. Our desire was to create a memory of excitement and fun for her, but Josh’s disease weighed heavy and thick around us.
I nursed a glass of red wine. Maybe it was two. Alone.
I had never felt so alone before. The agony of watching my son suffer was overwhelming. He was wasting away before my eyes, unable to eat or play, he seemed more a shadow than my son. The consequences of radiation and chemotherapy was barbaric.
But in that moment, in that silent space of bleak misery, I felt astonishingly Alive.
“So this is what it is to be alive”, I thought. Life and death tangible as one tiny human hovered between two worlds. This Mystery: to ache with deep pain and to be connected with the Divine all at once. I felt fully awake.
I sat in that moment of Solid Knowing, then it slipped away.
His birth had been traumatic. Unlike his four sisters, he presented face up. My crooked tailbone, damaged in childhood, inhibited his path. Pushing for four hours was futile. I strained so much that I popped the blood vessels in my eye balls. I writhed on the hospital bed begging for a C-section. I was a mess.
Yet, in my core, I knew His Presence. It surrounded me. I saw His face. He knew my pain. He understood. Christ was in me and I was in him. We melded. Love engulfed me.
The hospital shift change came bringing with it a new OB GYN. He breezed in like a hero in a movie, handsome and confident. After examining me, he leaned close to my ear and whispered: “We can do this. When I say push, give 150%” and I did and he used his vacuum extraction tool and drew my son from me.
Intense. Torment. Sacrifice. The Mystery of Oneness of God and Mother in suffering. A Miracle.
“Jesus wept” is tattooed on the inside of my right wrist. It is my reminder. Fully divine and fully human, he is Both And. He wept. His Passion. His Presence.
There is nothing hidden from the Divine. A Mystery beyond Time.
Eleven years after I sat curled up on that couch in that grief-filled apartment with a glass of wine in my hand, alone, yet feeling so alive and carrying the weight of my son’s physical burden, I allowed myself to revisit that space again.
The practice of Centering Prayer invites me to sit in Presence, to be silent and listen and sometimes to ask. I re-entered that moment, fully in the emotion again, then I lifted up above and gazed down upon myself and my son. Watching.
“Show me what was, what I could not see” I whispered.
Then I saw a golden mist permeating, swirling, and mingling. LOVE. I felt it. I had not been alone.
I had been sitting on Holy Ground.
There is sacredness in suffering and purity in pain which ushers in a Mystical Oneness with Ultimate Mystery. We only need to be willing to look.
We are, after all, spiritual beings made in their Image. The Trinity.
Relational. United. Community. We are invited to participate as Spiritual Human Beings.