“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” — Pericles
We meet in the mountains
because it is a little closer to heaven
and there, our sometimes narrow perspective opens wide under God’s great blue canopy.
Parents, brothers, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of Parker Bradford meet to mark the day an 18 year old boy gave his life for a drowning friend.
And so we gather, embrace, exchange introductions and pray. Generous and openhearted, the Bradfords have extended this day not just to commemorate Parker’s life but for many many others who have buried a child.
They are the most amazing people I’ve ever met; I never want to become one of them.
Lisa and Dean created a new Jiggystick just for the occasion ‘Huckleberry Hike.’ The Garlicks don’t simply talk about love, they express it in tangible ways.
As we ascend the mountain, we all drift from group to group sharing stories and connections, speaking of things as they really are and things as they really will be. Everyone is treated like family: offering snacks and water bottles, jackets and a hand to hold down the steepest part of the trail.
All paths lead to a mountain cabin where we wash our feet, share a meal and watch the kids form new friendships. My incredible friend Lisa unrolls a quilt created from Parker’s clothing. Melissa and Randall laugh and cry as they examine every square– the swimming suit the paramedics cut from his body, the basketball shirt from his last tournament, the wife-beater that he liked to wear when playing his drums under the Eiffel Tower (can you imagine how the girls swooned?).
I cried with them, mourning their boy and imagining– what if these were scraps Ben’s clothes sent home from Italy? Or Gabe’s after a car accident? What if Xander contracted an illness and I had a blanket filled with hospital gowns and tattered t-shirts?– I cannot comprehend their loss, but I have always had the gift of knowing how much my children mean to me. Each of them–their faces, their quirks, their faults and strengths and the scent of their hair– is a universe to me. To lose a child would eviscerate me, leave me weak and trembling, prostrate on the ground with grief.
My friends have lain on that dirt-covered ground, slowly pulled themselves to their knees and reached out to lift up others. As Mormons, we can sometimes be glib about enormous losses– “Don’t worry, you’ll see them again.” “They are in a better place.” “You need to move on.” My friends told me they were often told to forget that child, to put them out of their mind. But forgetting, (as Alma Callister said) is the antithesis of the sealing ordinance. We believe we are sealed as families for eternity, wouldn’t that inspire a continued relationship?
I never met Melissa and Randall’s Parker, or Lisa and Dean’s Jocie, but I feel like I know them through the words and actions of their parents and siblings. I’ve listened to stories of their goodness and their silliness– I’ve laughed at their antics and cried for vast black hole of their absence. Yes, there are people who become ‘stuck’ in grief, who can’t work, or sleep or care for their families. But Melissa taught me that those are people who have been to told to ‘move on’ and haven’t had an opportunity to express their sorrow– no one has been there to weep with them, to speak of their loss, to find a way to increase their bond with the person they have lost. I look to my friends in the way that they mark the birthdays, occasions and even the death dates of their children as a strong and healthy way to heal.
I know that angels attend each of us. I know my mother is with me; I feel her near.
True tragedy lies in breaking eternal relationships. No power, no person, on earth or in hell could separate me from my children. And if they precede me to heaven (no Lord, anything but that), I will extend my arms and heart and find them there too.