Carry on

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where …

—”He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” B. Scott/B. Russell

Dear Son,

I think this may be my favorite picture of you. For several reasons. I like to see you in such a peaceful setting, walking that country path beside lush green fields, under the blue summer sky. You were walking with a friend, so you weren’t alone. You told me that her puppy followed youI still can’t believe that’s just a puppy; he’s massive!and he got tired, so you picked him up and carried him the rest of the way.

That is why I love the photo so much. It captures the essence of who you are.

Quietly bearing your burdens, no matter how heavy. There have been many in these past few years. Ever how burdened you were, ever how twisted and dark the path became, you kept on walking.

No one knows better than I what a long, long road it’s been, from the day you started college to now. Graduation being canceled, just when the end is in sight, feels like a coup de grâce.

It all started off on such a high note, didn’t it? Getting that phone call two weeks after you finished high school, a church looking for a music director. Your childhood dream. I still have your kindergarten “All About Me” book with the prompt ‘When I grow up, I want to be’ … where you drew yourself as a choir director in crayon. You attained it at seventeen, before your formal training even began.

That summer was glorious and brief.

That fall you started college and almost instantly the shadows came.

Your father‘s diagnosis of ocular melanoma, the loss of his eye, the weeks waiting for pathology to reveal no cancer cells had spread. Despite your new job and your courseload, you stepped up to help him readjust.

On the heels of his healing came Ma-Ma’s stroke, the beginning of her slow decline over the rest of that year. She knew how much you loved her. She treasured every minute with you; she savored every long phone call you made from the time you were little. She couldn’t keep from crying whenever you played the piano and sangremember how she organized for you to come play at her nursing home, near the last? I will never forget her wet, shining face. She was inordinately proud of you. She loved you fiercely.

How grateful I am that you and your dad were there, holding her hands, when she died.

And so you bore her loss on top of an unexpected one.

I know you’re marking the date. Three years ago today, the accident that took your friend. Your little childhood playmate who sang with you in preschool choir, your high school band mate, the organizer of the Sunday-nights-at-Bojangles gatherings. As I write, I hear her pure, high voice echoing in the church to your harmony and piano accompaniment. Her going left all of us reeling—a swift, severe, deep cut to the heart, a knotty scar we’ll bear forever. And yet you play on. You still sing. You stand by her family in their remembrances, your presence the only comfort that’s in your power to give. She would be graduating, too, this spring … but no one is graduating this spring …

It’s one of the hardest things in life, losing people, and not only to death. People will come and go because they choose to, no matter how much we wish they’d stay. You endured this, too, with uncommon grace, never lashing out, just walking on with your invisible pain. I knew it was there. I could feel the weight of it.

Seems we were due a respite, and if there was one, it was those few weeks of vacation last summer before your dad’s heart attack. You and I had just come home from walking when the officer arrived in the driveway to say your dad’s truck had run off the road and hit a tree, it might have been a medical event, maybe a seizure, no, he wasn’t sure what condition your father was in, EMS was working on him when he left, and did we have a way to get to the hospital? With your big brother too distraught to drive, you did it. Calmly, carefully, you drove us to the emergency room where the nurse met us at the door. You were beside me when she ushered us to the little room where the doctor met us to say your father had been resuscitated and was being prepped for heart surgery.

You were there with me that first night of sleeping on the waiting room chairs, not knowing what tomorrow would bring. You were there with me throughout that long week of his hospitalization, until your dad came home, battered, bruised, trying to recover his memory. You got his prescriptions so that I wouldn’t have to leave him … and when I took him back to the ER with chest pains a couple of weeks later, you met us there. Another hospital stay. Another heart surgery. Two more weeks of sleeping in the hospital. Do you remember the surreality of it all? How we felt like it would never end, like we were caught in the web of the wrong story, a movie with a terrible plot twist we didn’t see coming? How could this be?

Somehow you managed to keep your studies up, only leaving for your classes and your church services, making the music and leading the worship for others.

So here we are, at last. Your dad, recovered and restored … able to drive me back and forth to work with my broken foot … until this tiny pathogen bent on world domination closed the schools. Here you are, completing your final weeks of college online, being denied the walk to receive the reward of all your labors … it is unthinkable.

I think about the whole of your young adult life. How your road has been so long, with many a winding turn, through many a dark shadow. I watched how you went around, through, or over every obstacle on this arduous journey. You’ve endured what might have caused others to quit college, others who might have actually enjoyed their studies; I know you never loved the “game” of school and that for you it’s been a test of endurance, in itself. But the end is in sight—despite a pandemic. A plague. Who’d have ever believed, in our time …

You have come this far, bearing every heavy load. You’ve carried on. Often you, the baby of the family, carried the rest of us. You’ve fought internal battles for your own wellness more than anyone else knows; in this spiritual war, you’ve earned a Medal of Honor for exceptional valor. I know it and God knows it, Son. I stand in awe of your heart, full of love and mercy, so self-sacrificial, so willing to lighten others’ burdens as your own grew heavier. Like carrying a giant puppy during a long walk on a hot summer’s day, because it got tired.

That is why I love this picture. It is your story.

There are no words for how much I love you.

Keep walking, Son. Carry on. You are strong.

I am stronger because of you. Soon my foot will be well enough to walk with you again.

When we come through this present ominous shadow, college will be over, we’ll find ourselves in a whole new chapter in our lives, and we’ll celebrate all of it. Just a little farther alongI know that in your quiet way, you’ve already made your peace with it. I can almost hear you singing:

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
...

All my love, my always-little darling,

Your forever proud, grateful Mom

24 thoughts on “Carry on

  1. Oh, Fran. No comment I make could ever do this beautiful slice justice. Your son sounds like an amazing young man. God has great things in store for him, having learned so much so early in life.

    Thank-you so much for this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a beautiful, heart felt letter. Through the photograph and your words, I got to know your son, just a little bit. He is a grateful, caring young man. I also felt your gratitude and love for who he is – who he has always been. Obviously, you and your husband nurtured and respected who he was since kindergarten. Here’s to brighter days ahead – they will come!

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s the most peaceable person I know and really a ceremony is a small thing in light of what’s currently happening in the world – and doesn’t compare to people having to cancel/postpone weddings! Yet he’s come through so much, uphill all the way … I mourn the “closure” for him, but we’ll just have to wait a while longer to celebrate. He’s a gift. Thank you, Dawn.

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  3. There is so much to love about this letter. It captures your love and the strength of family and your son’s fortitude. You have all been through a lot. Yet, your spirit shines through. Congratulations to your son and you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It just doesn’t seem fair, to see one who has worked so hard not receive public acknowledgment for his work. But you’ve done it here. He has walked across the stage of this page in front of us, his accomplishments laid out by a presenter who has loved him hard since his beginnings, who has intimate knowledge of his hopes and dreams and struggles. Your letter does so much more than a cursory handshake and the flip of a tassel on a mortarboard. And you, too, can share in this achievement, because you’ve been there to support him all along. You’re graduating, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The ceremony will be moved to December and he can walk then if he wants to; he’d already applied for graduation, etc. I am taking it harder than he is – I wanted him to have his “big moment” and celebration, knowing all that he’s endured (I kept saying “Graduation will be here soon! Almost here!”) but when things began shutting down and he got word of the cancellation, he just said, “Well, that figures.” Writing was a good outlet, of course – and I’d wanted to write about that photo for a long time. Now I know why. Thank you, Chris.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fran, I’ve had to read this a couple of times to let it fully sink in. It’s been sitting as an open tab on my computer for several hours now as I try and find words to do this work of heart adequate justice. Bottom line? I can’t.

    Right from the (figurative AND literal) title, to your thoughtful recounting of all your son has seen and experienced, this letter of gratitude and acknowledgement is a beautiful way to show that you see him for all he has done and for all that he is.

    Hoping that, in addition to celebration, there will also be a big fat hug at some point in all of this. ❤

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    • Lainie: Thank you. I know it’s a hard post to respond to. I’d had the idea of writing to that photo for a while, in regard to his character and all he (we) have endured these past 4-5 years … but it was the graduation cancellation that solidified it. Needed to be done, and now it has. On a lighter note: He wanted puppy last Christmas and we got him one. Not a Bordeaux as in the photo – 😱 !!! – but a mini dachshund – Dennis weighed 3.5 lbs when we brought him home! Not hard to carry at all! 😊💕

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Speechless, but full of tears over this heartfelt letter to your son. I have no words for what your family has gone through, but like your writing, your son perseveres. This line captures his spirit- “I stand in awe of your heart, full of love and mercy, so self-sacrificial, so willing to lighten others’ burdens as your own grew heavier. Like carrying a giant puppy during a long walk on a hot summer’s day, because it got tired.” Thank you for sharing this piece of your heart with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your words. It’s my letter of gratitude to him. In that line is a secret code to my boy, but I’ll share: He loves all kinds of music and The Beach Boys are his all-time favorite. “Love and mercy” is a nod to his great affinity for Brian Wilson (the new puppy we got at Christmas, a mini dachshund, is named Dennis after Dennis Wilson). Little joys. 🙂

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  7. Oh my word. How you have the power to move your reader to tears by inviting us into your personal, intimate world through words, is beyond me. The admiration you have for your son is deep. Your relationship is such a blessing. His selflessness is due to both God and his guidance in His word, and also due to your parenting. You must be bubbling with pride. What a heart-felt, authentically beautiful tribute to your son.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading – it wasn’t light fare, I know, but it’s real, and one thing graduation had come to symbolize to me was victory, like finally receiving some long-awaited prize. The idea of the closure of it is now like falling across a finish line, exhausted, and someone saying “Um, no – we’ve moved that line quite a bit.” At any rate, my son handled it with the quiet grace he always does; it hurt me more. But it always hurts us more, for our children … that’s what drove the whole letter … thank you for your deep perception and your words. 🙂

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