When I was young, I believed if I were a good girl, nothing bad would ever happen. I was raised to believe in God. I wasn’t sure what role He was supposed to play, I just knew I needed to go along with it. As for what I thought about heaven, I believed what my grandmother told me.
It was the great city above the clouds where God lived. My grandma said God greeted all the people who die at the magnificent Pearly Gates. And, my grandma’s name was Pearl, so I thought she must have been someone really special.
She died when I was just 12, and there was so much that died with her; questions I forgot to ask. Like, how she made her applesauce, and why did she want me to read the Bible? I pictured her arriving at the Pearl Gates, and it was a surreal image of a rose covered arbor path that led to white gates. It lived in my imagination for the longest time.
Then, my son died and all my beliefs were at risk. I was good, and yet something really bad happened. My image of the Pearly Gates betrayed me. I asked, Why would God do that? To my son? It wasn’t his time! Not at 16. Not when he was so vibrant and alive the day before. I thought, maybe I was mistaken. Maybe there’s not even a God.
We often question our beliefs, but never does it feel more important than when we lose a loved one, especially a child. All of our magical thinking gets thrown into chaos.
I was at war with my beliefs, but I was afraid to stop believing. If there was a God, he had to take care of my son. I hoped there really was something above those clouds. The place where my beautiful boy met his Grandma Pearl for the first time and felt the comfort of her soft squishy embrace.
Right after Garrett’s death, I read a book C.S Lewis wrote about his struggle when he lost his wife. ‘A Grief Observed’, was made into a movie called ‘Shadowlands’. His rumination resonated with me. He spent his life writing about faith, and yet even he questioned his beliefs when his beloved wife died.
“Our rational, intellectual mind does nothing to soothe the grieving heart.”
When we struggle with such a loss, faith is all we have. Our rational, intellectual mind does nothing to soothe the grieving heart. But, my vision of Grandma Pearl waiting at the Pearly Gates for my son did. As silly as that might sound, I discovered my belief in faith was the best I could do. If I believed in nothing, I got lost in anger and hopelessness.
Sometimes we think…give me a sign. But wasn’t my child being born sign enough that there is something much greater than we can ever fathom?
I discovered through the grieving process my faith actually began to grow. I opened my heart and my mind to the possibility of miracles. Bereaved parents often report signs from their children. They come in many forms like dreams, nature, even a song on the radio.
Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays often accentuate loss. I’ve learned to look for the miracles, and trust they will arrive. The first time this happened for me was the Friday before my first Mother’s Day without my child. My heart was heavy with sorrow.
I picked up my children, Trevor and Julianne, from school, they climbed in the back seat beside my baby, Jackson. We headed to the grocery store. As we perused the aisles, the kids were throwing things into the basket. I was blind to it. One bag of groceries turned into six, but I didn’t care. I was deep in the mental fog of grief.
“I have to make one more stop before we go home,” my voice trembling. The children heard it, and it made them quiet. They were suffering, too. Garrett’s loss changed us all.
I pulled into the cemetery at dusk and parked.
“Start your homework, I’ll be right back. I opened the trunk and pulled out a fully stocked basket with paper towels, marble cleaner, and plant shears.
It was a ritual I’d begun as soon as Garrett was buried. I felt robbed of the years ahead folding his clothes, straightening his room, and picking up dirty socks. I transitioned my duties to making sure his gravesite was impeccable.
As I approached the grave, I could feel my eyes stinging with tears. I threw my basket down and fell to my knees in front of the stone marker.
“Where are you, dammit! It’s Mother’s Day. I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to be strong.” My anger turned to despair.
“Please Garrett, please let me know you’re with me. Tell me, you’re here, give me a sign…” I pleaded, hoping for a magical response.
I glanced to see the children watching me from the car. Call to duty. Straighten up. Be your best… for them. I packed up my tools, stood up and walked back.
We got home to a dark house. I flicked on the kitchen lights and saw the message button flashing on the phone. I pushed it. David’s voice played, “Hi, Sandy. I’m gonna be a little late tonight. Go ahead and feed the kids.”
Trevor came into the kitchen, “I’m hungry now.”
“I’m fixing dinner as fast as I can, sweetie.”
“But I’m hungry, now. Can’t I just have some crackers?”
“No, Trevor, I’m fixing tacos.”
“Tacos!”, he groaned, “We had those last night.”
Julianne came bounding in. I sat Jackson in the high chair and handed him a fistful of Cheerios.
“I have a good idea. Go clean your rooms! Now! They’re a mess! When you’re done, dinner will be ready.” They retreated to their rooms.
Patience. I scolded myself. I poured oil into the frying pan and waited for it to sizzle to cook the tortillas. Silly. I could have bought the pre-made taco shells. They wouldn’t have cared. Garrett would have, though. He was always my picky eater.
“Mom… Mom…” I lifted myself from the daze to see Trevor beside me. He was clutching a handmade card. I looked at him and touched his face. “I’m sorry, honey, I’m just really missing your brother right now.”
“Mom…” holding the card out, his hand began to tremble. “I found this stuck behind Garrett’s desk drawer when I was cleaning it out.”
Trevor asked for Garrett’s old desk. We moved it into Trevor’s room just a few days before.
I took the card from his hand. It was Garrett’s handwriting, written on stationery he’d received as a middle school graduation gift years before.
I read it aloud, “Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!” I looked at Trevor, dumbfounded. I opened the card:
Mom, you are a very special person ― you really are.
Who else could write two books and raise four kids at the same time?!
A big heart is needed to do both of those things,
And a big heart is what you have.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom
I love you very much,
Trevor said in disbelief, “He must have written it before he died, Mom!”
“But he died at Christmas!”, I said in awe.
A feeling of peace flowed, filling all those empty places in my grieving heart. Garrett heard me, he’s truly here, he gave me a sign... a miracle.
“Trevor, thank you for finding this; you’ve given me a wonderful gift.” Trevor smiled so sweetly. I hugged him close.
Look for the miracles. Invite them into your life. It can be a butterfly, a rainbow, or clouds shaped like angel wings. They are like postcards, reassuring you there is a place above the blue sky where your child or loved one entered through the Pearly Gates. They want you to know, it’s beautiful there, and they are happy.
You can believe it or not... I choose to believe because a miracle is all I’ve got and because my Grandma Pearl said so.