I was reading some of my older posts the other day and I couldn’t stop thinking about the tagline I have below the title of my blog. Off the Diving Board: A grieving dad’s leap of faith into a life without his son. A leap of faith? Faith in what?
In all of my posts, I’ve always written “when Charlie went to heaven” or “Charlie is in heaven.” I have never written the following sentence. Charlie is dead. Maybe I thought that if I didn’t write that sentence it would not be true. But it is true. My sweet, engaging, beautiful, and loving son is dead. He is gone forever. I have a hard time believing that I will see him again. The stories about heaven and being reunited with your loved ones, while comforting and idealistic to most, provide zero solace for me lately. I know I once wrote, and honestly believed, that the best part about today is that I am one day closer to being with Charlie again. I’m not believing that lately. All I believe is what I know and all I know is Charlie is dead.
You be forced to make the decision to end life support for your son. You hold your son when he’s taken off the ventilator and physically feel the life leave his body as it goes limp in your arms. You go to the funeral home to check to see if your son looks “ok” in the open casket the day before his wake. (He doesn’t look ok. He looks dead.) You go to the cemetery to pick out a niche suitable for your son’s ashes. You walk into his empty bedroom every morning and night. Actually feel the grief of losing your child- not grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or friend- ripping apart your insides and then you can talk to me about heaven and all of it’s promises. But even then, I’m still not listening. (I’m not diminishing anyone’s grief over the loss of a loved one. But if you’re a parent, you know without a shadow of doubt that if you had to choose between your kid or anyone else you would choose your kid to live everytime.)
I don’t want empty promises about being reunited in heaven. I don’t want sympathetic overtures about having an angel look down upon me. I don’t want quotes from the Bible, reassurances that God has a plan, plays to my ego that He only gives these burdens to those who can carry them, or that He only takes the good ones early. You say God has a plan, huh? You obviously like this plan b/c in this plan you still have your kid. He only gives this burden to those whom can carry it? You realize that means you’re not strong enough. It means you’re weak. When people tell me, “I don’t know how you do it,” I get pretty annoyed. What else can I do? There’s really only one other option than not living and that’s ending my life. I’m not going to do that but it doesn’t mean I’m more capable to carry this burden than you or anyone else. He only takes the good ones early? According to your illogical declaration that means your kid, and everyone else that is alive, is not good. (Hey, you said it. I didn’t.) Nothing you can say to me, especially regarding God and heaven, will make Charlie’s death any easier for me to accept.
I’m not angry at God. I’m not happy with God. I guess it’s more of an indifference glazed with some disbelief. I know Charlie is dead. . . I felt him die in my arms. I don’t know if heaven is real. . . I’ve never been there. I’ve read many books, including much of the Bible, that claim otherwise but I’m still not believing. I remember someone telling me, “You will hold Charlie again.” I cried. Not because I missed Charlie at that moment but b/c I didn’t believe him. (This isn’t an invitation for anyone to try to convince me otherwise. It’s something I have to work through by myself.) Immediately following Charlie’s death we went to church every week but the only reason I went was b/c Vanessa wanted to go. We eventually stopped going but I’m not sure why. I just know Vanessa stopped asking if I wanted to go and I wasn’t about to force the issue b/c I didn’t feel it helped me. I didn’t feel any closer to God or Charlie at church. I just replayed Charlie’s funeral mass over and over in my head or I spent most of the time torturing myself by watching other children that were Charlie’s age interact with their parents. The rest of the time I spent asking God, “Why?” (I soon realized that I’ll never know why and have completely stopped asking myself that dangerous and unanswerable question.)
My tank is running low on faith but it’s not empty. I have not found peace through prayer but that doesn’t mean I’ve completely eliminated it from my life. God has always been a part of my life. I went to a Catholic elementary and middle school. I even went to a Jesuit university. It’s been a while since we’ve gone to church but we’re going on the 23rd, Charlie’s Death Day. The 12:10pm mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago has been dedicated to Charlie. January 23rd. Just another Monday to everyone else but not to us. I’ll go to church. I’ll ask God for forgiveness for all of the bad things I’ve thought about Him, my sins, and my dwindling faith. I’ll even ask him to take care of Charlie in heaven. (I said my faith was running low, not completely extinguished.)
When I told Vanessa the other day that I don’t think I believe in heaven she seemed shocked. After all, it was me in those early days after Charlie died that was reassuring her that he was safe in heaven. It was me that told her that Jesus personally came to lead Charlie to heaven and that he was never scared or alone. It was me that promised her that we’d see Charlie again. And I believed every syllable I uttered to Vanessa. Now here I am telling her I think it’s all bullshit. That I don’t believe in heaven and I don’t think I’ll ever see Charlie again. Vanessa was quick to say that if she doesn’t have faith in God then she’s left with nothing. No hope of life after death. No hope of being reunited with Charlie. No hope of achieving even the slightest amount of inner peace. Vanessa is keeping the faith and helping me hang onto what little shreds I have left. Honestly, I want to believe. I want to have faith. It’s just so hard. I am not as strong as you think. I am broken and a lot of my faith has seeped through the cracks.
“Off the Diving Board: A grieving dad’s leap of faith into a life without his son.” I believed it when I first wrote it six months ago. I even thought it was clever. After all, Charlie loved that diving board and he jumped off without any hesitation b/c he had faith in me being there. I stand on the edge of a different diving board. My board is over a vast darkness that represents the void in my soul. I walk out to the end of that board everyday I wake up. Some days I’m like Charlie. Unafraid and eager to take that leap. Most days I’m scared and paralyzed with the fear of the unknown. The fear of facing another day without my son. The fear of not knowing if I’ll ever be with Charlie again. I need to find the strength to make that leap. I need to believe I’ll hold Charlie again. I need to have a little faith.