In a moment of true (i.e., Godly…we had no ability to come up with this on our own) inspiration a few weeks back, we’d decided to pursue grief counseling – as a family – near Sarah’s university. It would give us a scheduled time of togetherness…of being able to process our grief as a family, in spite of our distance (both geographical and internal).
I’d called the university to ask if their counseling center would take us. “No, but here are 4 names of local counselors.” Through a combination of intuition and just hitting dead-ends, I narrowed down their list to one woman. That same day, I spoke to a pastor – a friend of a friend who called to express her love and sympathy – from a Methodist church in that town. She reviewed the list of counselors with me and said the woman I had chosen would be her first choice. As it turned out, that woman was unavailable but she had already contacted another colleague, Terry*, who agreed to take us as clients.
Done. Thank you, God.
Our first appointment with Terry consumed a full box of tissues. But it was “good” – we could see how our girl is doing (about the same as us), talk about our days and what we are each thinking and feeling.
I mentioned my back-rubbing dream and Terry commented “maybe he’s still adjusting [to heaven]. Maybe Mark’s just as surprised to find himself there as you are that he isn’t here.”
I found that fascinating. I had also wondered whether it’s just me, just us, who are getting adjusted. How I wish I understood this mystery better.
From there we all drove south to Virginia Tech, Mark’s beloved school. We had decided to retrieve his belongings from his apartment, and the university offered to dedicate a fresh wreath in his honor at the same time. My dad joined us, driving down with my brother…the test-pilot-nearly-an-astronaut uncle who, just by following his passion, inspired our son to pursue aerospace engineering. I continue to ponder the impact we all have on the world, just by living. We have no idea who is watching us.
I didn’t sleep much Saturday night, in the hotel. I had one brief dream of a very large man (whose true body was concealed by some sort of stretchy covering), who said he had come to carry me. I stood on his shoes, arms around his waist, with my face buried in his midsection, as he walked…somewhere. I felt safe, in those moments. The dream was too short.
When I realized trying to sleep was futile, I got up and threw sweats on over my PJs, and wandered into the lobby to find coffee. I went outside into a misty, cold dimness, and began to walk; within moments my feet began to carry me toward Mark’s apartment. I wanted to see the route he’d ridden so many times.
A couple of hours later: packing up his stuff, while his roommates stood by, not knowing what to do or say, was terrible. Mark was SO excited to live off campus. He loved his “bachelor pad” – hanging with the guys, having his own room (and a little bit of drinking…yes, we found those pics on your phone, Mark…and the texts). He loved Every Single Aspect of his life. Why, God, why?
On his closet floor I found the unopened package of strobe lights his dad had given him, to wear – or stick on his bike – when he was cycling. I wondered if those might have saved his life. Can a broken heart just keep shattering into smaller and smaller pieces? Apparently so. I tried not to get mad at Mark. But dammit.
After lunch at Panera with several of his most-loved friends, we went to the wreath ceremony. The most incredible day had unfolded – deep, deep blue skies (his favorite and mine) streaked with numerous jet contrails; a perfect backdrop. The Chamber Singers choir, with which he’d sung the prior year, showed up and shared their beautiful voices, and afterward, a couple of the members told us some great stories about Mark – how he just made everyone smile. Later, one young man said, when I commented in an offhand way that my son was a pretty good kid, “No, he was good, Mrs. Slough. He was GOOD.”
Pride, joy, sorrow and anger arise. If he was so good, God, why isn’t he still here? Making us all happy?
I’d contacted the police detective in charge of the accident investigation a few days earlier, just to check in. We all felt it was just that: an accident…but due to the fatality, it had to be examined. When the detective said he wanted to meet with us after the wreath ceremony, I had carefully explained that I was not prepared for details…I wanted to know if the report would upset me. He said “it’s not written for parents, it’s written for the police.” I envisioned the report securely sealed in a large envelope that I could choose to leave unopened. He said he thought we’d meet for about 15 minutes and he’d answer any questions we had.
We didn’t get the report (which wasn’t ready due to a delay in the medical examiner’s contribution) – what we got instead was what I had dreaded: a 45 minute, detailed, moment-by-moment breakdown of the morning our son died. How he ran the stop sign, looking right but not left in the dense fog, missing the silver car headed toward him. How the driver, while going slightly over the limit, tried so hard to stop. How Mark also tried to stop, hard, but the momentum and his heavy backpack carried him over his handlebars and under the car. Although my husband and daughter later reported they weren’t so bothered by knowing more, it was completely overwhelming to me. I could barely speak on the ride home and the next morning it was all I could do to breathe.
I finally left the house at 1pm on Monday and headed for the lake, my refuge. Instead of walking clockwise around it, though, I went left and cut through on one side, to another neighborhood, and walked the route Mark used to bike all the time, to his summer job at the country club.
When I got there, standing at the intersection and staring across at the club, at the little outbuilding where he worked by the pool, I realized he’d been crossing a major 4-lane road all summer…on his bike, without a helmet (he refused to wear one after he turned 18). I just never knew to worry.