This is a repost that Jess graciously allowed me to share – you can find the original over here and you can, and really should, consider following her blog, ‘Jess in Process’ – in this piece she talks about losing her four year old son, Henry, 14 months ago, to a brain tumour.

Jess and Henry



How have you been, Jess?

I hear this from time to time.  It’s been 14 months since my 4-year-old son, Henry, died from a brain tumor.

14 months.

Over a year.

I remember right after Henry’s death someone told me about another grieving mother.  That mother was having a very difficult time.  Her child had died roughly a year prior.

I remember thinking, Why is she still having a rough time?  Surely I’ll be doing waaaaaaaay better in a year.

After all, death is an event, right?  In Henry’s case, it was a horrible, unexpected, unplanned event… but it was an event.  An occurrence.  An experience.  Something we all survived.  We knew we’d see him again, eventually.  And in the meantime, surely time would ease the pain.

That was 14 months ago.

How have you been, Jess?

This video helps me explain…

Sometimes when I look at this baboon, I see myself.  Edgy and bewildered, protectively swatting away flies, padding through dry grass with a limp carcass in my teeth.

How have you been, Jess?

How do I answer?  How can I answer?

To be honest, sometimes I’m great.  But sometimes I’m overcome with grief.  Sometimes I’m crying in the corner of Kmart because I just saw my first yellow helium balloon (or any other random object) since Henry died.

Sometimes I’m full of energy.  But sometimes I’m exhausted from the undercurrent of pain that runs beneath every holiday/anniversary/birthday/etc. we celebrate without my son.

Sometimes I feel powerful.  But sometimes I’m crippled by the pain of one grandchild missing in the family photos, one cousin too few trampling through the yard.

Sometimes I’m full.  But sometimes I’m empty, like last Christmas when I hid the Hot Wheels coloring book and marker-set that I’d bought… on a whim… and didn’t know who to give them to.  Deep down I knew who they were for.

Sometimes I’m creative.  But sometimes I feel completely paralyzed, like when a bunch of kids blew past my 3-year-old daughter at the park last week.  She looked at them wistfully before hanging her head and saying softly, “I wish Bo-Bo Henry was still my friend.”

Sometimes I feel like I’ve healed enough to fit in with those around me.  Sometimes I’m sure I never will.  When I hear other mothers stressing about their children’s vaccine schedule, educational challenges, or picky eating, I often feel more solidarity with that baboon than with them.  But they aren’t doing anything wrong.  Those things once meant the world to me too.  They mattered when my son drew breath.  They mattered when I could hold him and fret over his future.  And with a precious daughter still in my care, they’re beginning to matter a little more every day.

But for now there’s a quiet chasm between most mothers and myself.  It’s not their fault.  It’s not mine.  It’s just the way it is.  That’s what this kind of pain does.

My Facebook feed epitomizes my reality.  Filled with healthy babies and thriving families, it seems like there’s no place for this extended and intense pain.  It’s improper.  It’s offensive.  It’s a downer.  It’s unproductive.  It’s old news. It’s as if the world keeps saying, “It’s time to move on, Jess.”

So when I hear that fateful question, I hear it as a shout.  It echoes over the noisy parade of society’s celebrations, “SO HOW HAVE YOU BEEN, JESS?”

And I think of her.  The baboon apart from her pack.  The one who’s not running or thriving or keeping pace with the smiles.  She’s alone with her dead child.  She’s trying to make sense of her existence alongside its absence.

She refuses to let go and she doesn’t apologize for it.  She sits with the ugly, the unnatural, the devastating.  She brazenly eats with death, sleeps with death, and lives with death.  And she doesn’t care who’s watching.  I envy her.

But I have something that she doesn’t.

Last spring I sat outside at dusk, whispering my pain into prayers.  At first those prayers seemed to evaporate into the oranges, purples, and deepening blues of the streaky night sky.  But I continued anyway.  “I just miss him so much,” I confided.  “I want to talk to himso bad.”

And within the silence that followed, my spirit felt a gentle whisper, “Do it.”

So I did.  I imagined Henry’s dimpled smile, his dancing blue eyes, and the cow-lick of straw-blonde hair on the crown of his head.  He was leaning against a column beside me.  He looked happy, calm, and ready to hear his mama talk.

“Hi,” I whispered, my tear-soaked face breaking into a smile.  “I love you so much!  And I miss you so, so much, my Little Love.  I want to hold you… so badly… I want to hug you and squeeze you and give you lots of kisses!  I promise I will again-” and then, to my surprise, this tumbled out, “But for now, Mommy has to stay.”

And with that simple confession, life and passion swept into my soul.  “I have to stay here a little longer,” I reiterated with fresh clarity and building momentum, “And tell people thatGod loves them. Some people don’t know how much God loves them.  So I’m going to stay here a while longer… and tell them.”

14 months later, this is what makes the difference.

This is where God meets me.  I sense him most strongly when I release the limp wrist clamped between my teeth and use my mouth to share the love of Jesus.  When I profess the truth that Henry’s death was neither beautiful nor peaceful nor sent by God for a mysterious higher purpose, I find passion.  I find strength.

When I hear from people all over the world whose lives are being transformed as they reexamine the scriptures and realize that the character of God was fully revealed on Calvary, I find momentum.  When I pause to contemplate the stunningly beautiful, enemy-loving, self-sacrificing essence of God, I find joy.

What do I have that the baboon doesn’t?

I have Jesus.  I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe who walked this earth long enough to demonstrate how we are to love one another and then gave his life to defeat the powers of darkness.

I also have the knowledge that my pain will be met with purpose.  I don’t believe that Henry’s life was savagely taken for a mysterious greater good.  But I do believe that this pain will be met with purpose as I partner with God to spread the knowledge of his great love.

And this helps me let go of what can’t be… at least for a moment.  Though I pick up my old hopes and dreams again and again, in the moments that I release them – when I release Henry into God’s care – He meets me there in a powerful way.

How have you been, Jess?

I’ve been high, low, up, down, furious, apologetic, happy, sad, rejuvenated, defeated, driven, and stalled.  It seems to depend in-part on how I spend my time, and where my heart is focused.  But regardless of how I feel, I choose to stay, and tell people that God loves them.  I choose to keep sharing my testimony.  I choose to share the God of the Bible revealed on the Cross.  Until the day I hold my son.

When you run into me, on the other side of eternity, be sure to ask: How have you been, Jess?

That’s when I’ll answer, Whole.  Complete.  Perfect. 

*** Note: If you post happy family pics/videos (like I do) – please don’t stop or feel bad about it!  Sometimes your baby’s fat cheeks or your kids’ goofy grins and belly laughs are a sacred balm to this battered soul.  Your precious offerings are a reminder of the beauty in this world and I am thankful to celebrate with you!

For more from Jess, make sure you head on over to Jess in Process: Seeking God through the lens of Calvary