Christmas is almost here even though it definitely doesn’t resemble December outside. I’m literally exhausted, drained, a twisted mess physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s a kind of tired I can’t explain. I don’t want to adult today….literally don’t want to adult. I want to stay in my warm, comfy bed, snuggled up with my dogs and sleep until January. It’s so dark outside and they are calling for severe weather in the form of thunderstorms and tornadoes, not snow like normal for the end of a year. Just when I was starting to give myself a little credit for spending a day knocking out almost all the shopping and wrapping and being ahead of my normal procrastinating self this time of year, I fell off the wagon. I am dizzy, disorientated and my head aches from the tumble. An old familiar fog is back. Ever since that day of shopping and night of wrapping presents my emotions have been helter skelter.
Grief can do that.
It has a way of sneaking in at awkward, unexplained moments that tip the wagon and spill the contents of real life emotions at your feet. You can’t move because of the mess surrounding you. You know how painful it can be to spend time trying to fix it, and who really wants to get back up on the wagon that randomly seems to throw you out on the ground when you least expect it?
I don’t want to adult today. I don’t have it in me to re-right the wagon and get back on.
If you expected to read something cheerful and uplifting about Christmas and the wonderful holiday season you should just stop reading now.
I was all alone in the house the other night for several hours and couldn’t wait to get all the gifts wrapped up and under the tree. For close to two hours I was a wrapping machine in a robotic rhythm. Measure, cut, tape, label. Over and over and over, repeat. I was so proud of myself for being motivated, for not procrastinating, for actually accomplishing something in a timely fashion which hasn’t been one of my strong suits for several years in a row now. I’ve been running myself hard and fast to get everything taken care of for the holidays. For once I could picture myself having the holiday responsibilities completed before the dawn of Christmas morning.
I had two easy, square shaped gifts left to wrap for the night and envisioned myself doing a little victory dance in front of the tree with all the dogs in celebration once that task was completed. I could see myself prancing around the kitchen while baking up a storm of Christmas goodies, jotting down a quick letter to stick in our cards, and finishing up some cleaning and laundry all in record time. I actually believed I was going to be avoiding my normal routine of excuses and apologies for all the things I intended to do but never actually accomplished.
I finished wrapping up the first of the last two gifts, grabbed a cute little name tag and wrote out the name of our young nephew from Minnesota who would be opening the gift in a couple weeks.
That’s when it happened.
I stopped as the room surrounding me felt suddenly dark and cold except for the glare of the tag illuminated brightly before me. I slowly traced the freshly inked letters with my trembling hands. My chest tightened and I swallowed the vile that began creeping up the back of my throat. A flood of emotions over took my body as I collapsed to the kitchen floor, staring out into the darkness and crying out the name on the gift that I hugged tightly to my chest.
In a split second I was jolted back to a beautiful September Saturday evening last year and hot tears filled my eyes threatening to spill over. I desperately tried to will myself to stop the backtracking knowing it would force my brain and emotions to relive the deep seeded, excruciating pain still fresh from that day.
The sounds of a high school football game, enthusiastic fans, parents and two small communities cheering on their team, chanting cheerleaders, grunts and yells from the sidelines of players, and the shrills from referee whistles roared loudly in my ears. I raised my hands and covered my head knowing what was coming next. My mind raced through endless memorized snapshots from that day in a rapid fired motion in a matter of seconds.
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.
The five stages of grief gripped my twisted heart and soul in unison.
I am lost in a different time. A cellphone rings and I am staring into the eyes of one of my son’s friends, who I have known for sixteen years standing next to me at the fence. He is frantic, panicked, flailing around, an utter mess of human emotions. He is gripping me with all his strength and saying things that are unbelievable. My brain cannot process or comprehend the words that are coming from his lips. I’m encased in a cone of silence yet surrounded by noise and people. I’m trying to make sense of the information I’ve been given that makes absolutely no sense to me.
I glance over, and in the fog I see my sixteen year old son playing his heart out on the football field unaware of the events unfolding on the other side of the fence.
People around me are laughing, engrossed in normal, happy life conversations.
I can’t think straight.
I cannot wrap my mind around what is happening.
In a single unexpected moment nothing is normal any more for me or my family.
I don’t know which way is up or down and I can’t breathe.
I paced the perimeter of the football field for the remaining three quarters of the game, alone by choice, trying to conjure up strength from some where deep in my soul. Strength I know I do not embody on my own.
I pleaded with God.
I made countless bargains with Him.
I begged for a different ending to what started out as a beautiful September fall day.
I didn’t want to be an adult.
It’s funny how the mind works. Some days I can’t remember what I ate for lunch a few hours earlier, what I’m supposed to be getting from the grocery store, or what I even wore to work the day before.
But that September day is locked forever in the depths of my mind, heart and soul as it is for so many others.
The grief is still fresh, the pain still incredibly excruciating.
My son’s team won the game that night but I have no recollection of the game or score after the first quarter. I vividly remember strolling across the football field a couple hours later beckoning my son to leave the safety of his team’s victory circle, to join me at the place where I stood alone on the grass a short distance away. My heart ached in ways I never imagined was possible with every step he advanced towards me. I stood in silence, with my sunglasses still planted firmly on my face attempting to hide the traces of make-up streaked around my tear stained eyes.
I looked up at the sky.
I looked down at the ground.
I looked up into the sweet, carefree face of my only, still young and innocent son knowing this moment about to happen between the two of us would forever change us both and never be forgotten.
I tried not to shake uncontrollably as I attempted to form words with my trembling lips. The hitch in my voice caught my son off guard. I removed my sunglasses and stared into the most beautiful set of troubled blue eyes as he gripped my arm tightly asking me what is wrong.
I said the words I never expected to say in my life time and didn’t think I had the strength to say.
The enormous mom heart beating rapidly in my chest burst into a million tiny pieces as I watched him fall to the ground in the middle of the football field, crying out why into the darkness of the night before depositing the contents of his stomach at my feet.
I watched grown men be brought to their knees with their own tears streaming down their faces as they hugged and gripped my son tightly.
The scene that unfolded that night and the next several days resembled a nightmare.
I have not witnessed such real, raw, powerful, pure grief like that again in my life.
That day the axis in our comfortable little happy world shifted and everything changed and some how this story all four members of my family are living a little over a year later is drastically different for each of us.
More so then we ever expected or imagined.
Dear, sweet, wonderful, marvelous Evan!
Oh Evan, how I miss you!
How we all miss you so very much!
Evan, whose unexpected death devastated and shocked a community to its core and rocked my family and numerous others in ways none of us had ever experienced before in life.
Grief is a daunting, tricky, staggering, mind-altering, heart-burning emotion. It comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. In long, hard, body beating restless waves, in silent whispers in the middle of the night, in heart shattering episodes spurred by a song or memory, in completely unexpected moments while you are standing in your kitchen wrapping Christmas gifts.
Instead of my normal stoicism to the delicate pain, jagged emotions, and rush of memories, I decided to embrace the moment of grief in my kitchen and wept profusely on the floor. The sounds that escaped my body were ravaged and brutal and honest. I willingly succumbed to the tears falling profusely and uncontrollably for the young man who brought so much joy to our lives in seventeen short years here on earth.
Once my breathing had steadied and my body stopped shaking I picked myself up off the floor and gathered up the gift for our nephew and headed to place it under the tree. But just as quickly I stopped, wiped the tears from my cheeks and started laughing at what I saw before me. I put my head down on the breakfast bar in our kitchen and laughed one of the hardest, realest laughs I’ve had in a very long time. I realized I hadn’t even wrapped the correct present and had mislabeled the one I did wrap. I lifted my eyes to the heavens and thanked God and Evan for giving me that moment.
To feel the pain
To grieve in solitude
To laugh hysterically at my dysfunctional self.
Evan and I alone in the kitchen again together.
It was this exact same spot in our house where our last face to face conversation ever took place here on earth. His visit towards the end of summer that day last year was unexpected. He barged in the door like an over sized bull and scared the living daylights out of me as he embraced me in one of his enormous bear like hugs while at the same time picking me up like a rag doll which he loved to do. His grinned from ear to ear while towering over me which turned into a playful banter of me punching him in the arm for scaring me and almost making me pee my pants and him laughing hysterically while dancing back and forth across the kitchen. We talked about normal teenage things, his Senior year that was starting shortly, basketball, and what he and my son had been up to lately while searching for a pair of basketball shorts he just knew he had left somewhere at our place.
I am forever grateful for that last day alone with Evan in my kitchen last year. I thank the Lord repeatedly for that moment in time, that precious gift I can hold on to.
I found the shorts he was looking for months later and cried my heart out that day as well.
Everyone deals with grief in their own individual way. I never want to judge how someone grieves because we all are built differently, we all go through different battles. We all possess different wounds and scars. We all just try to cope some days.
I watched my son take his grief and pour his heart and soul out on the football field for the remainder of the season last year. His body was badly beaten, he needed surgery on his knee, he was taped from head to toe and limped something awful nonstop. People were concerned I was pushing him to continue playing every week but I couldn’t stop him if I tried.
His heart was bruised and broken.
The field was a place where devastating news was delivered.
It was also the place that helped him begin to heal, where he could lay out his frustrations, his anger, his grief.
He never stopped.
He never quit.
It wasn’t easy. The days weren’t sunshine and rainbows filled with laughter. We all struggled to make sense of what was going to be the new normal. Some days we were in denial, we were angry with life, with God, with each other. We bargained for one more day, one more conversation, one more fraction of time that we could never get back. We had moments of depression and despair and worked hard at trying to accept the things we knew could never be changed.
I stood on the sidelines the rest of the season, the hot tears stinging my eyes and pride and amazement burning in my heart for the young man who would go on with his head held high every week, pointing his finger to the sky in remembrance, while wearing his best friend’s purple socks and jersey for comfort. He was supported by a huge group of individuals, family and friends who had known him since he was a tiny little boy. But it was the band of coaches and brothers that helped support him daily on the practice field and under the Friday night lights that probably shocked me the most. A small town and community of people who had never met Evan demonstrated numerous acts of kindness that my family can never repay.
I thank God for the gift of Evan Bruce Workman in my life.
The magnitude of the reality that he is no longer here on earth is so much more excruciatingly painful than others on some days.
When the grief rears its head and the sobs overtake my body I am reminded it hurts so deeply because of the true depths of love I have for him.
I don’t ever want that feeling to end.
So I apologize that my normal Christmas letter won’t be arriving in the mail this year, that the holiday goodies and treats may show up at your doorstep more towards New Year’s, and for whatever else I forget to do or just can’t find the motivation to do this holiday season.
I’m in remembrance mode, dealing with my grief the best way I know how this week of Christmas.
4 thoughts on “The Gift”
Mandy can you share this and do you mind to the evanstrong page. This is written from your heart and it shows what was going on in your family.
This was beautifully written Mandy. I am deeply touched, and can relate so well to that tragic day.
A wonderful memory. Thank You