Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bike ride part 2

(Continued from previous post...)

Was I relieved and grateful to have C.T. back in my arms, safe and sound?  Of course.  Did we brush off our knees, wipe our tears, skip on back to our messy, normal life and say to ourselves all is well that ends well?  No.  Truly, all is not well, nor will it ever be.   

Going on with life, trying to do "fun" things, normal things, in the aftermath of Zachary's death, is difficult.  Every day I wake up with an oppressive sorrow and a despondence, a numbness, to this new life of mine.  I see his precious face.  I see the nurse's hand  cluelessly silencing the alarm on his heart rate monitor.  I hear him moaning in pain, suffering and fighting the infection.  I see his eyes, crisp and bright, and then frozen, almost lifeless.  Nothing we have planned for our day makes sense or has any significance when held up against the torment I face upon waking.  

It never goes away.  It still takes everything I've got to will myself out of bed, to face the day and all it brings.  To submerge the sorrow, don a smile and an attitude of excitement about a bike ride, or some other adventure with C.T., is still a significant undertaking for me.  

After working up the enthusiasm to do the bike ride, the scene that ultimately unfolded on the trail felt an awful lot like being mocked and ridiculed.  In the end, my manufactured fun-mom persona stripped away, the raw me was exposed.  Humiliated, traumatized, trembling with fear, perpetually grief-stricken mother, Gretchen.

What were you thinking?  Out riding bikes, pretending to be living,... pretending to be enjoying life?  Ha!  You fool.  Did you really think you could keep them safe in your fragile state?  Just like you kept B.W. and Zachary safe?  Don't you realize all of your plans, all your devices of control, are a mirage?  C.T. might have returned to you this time.  This time you were lucky.  But you really should have known better.  Death Lurks Everywhere. 

I couldn't have felt more demoralized, as if someone had taken my sweaty, tear-streaked face and smashed it in the gravel of the trail.     


As I've pondered it over the last couple of weeks, I've come to realize that a good chunk of my exasperated tears on the bike trail were in recognition of the loss of prayer in my life.  Since Zachary's illness and death, I do not pray.  Not for myself or my family.  Not for people affected by natural disasters, starvation, cruel dictatorships.  Not for families displaced by war or children in precariously dangerous situations.  Not for anyone.    

It's not that I'm heartless or unmoved by the sad situations which unfold daily across the globe, or even in my own extended family.  No doubt, they exist.  In some cases, they are tragic.  I want healing and remedy and justice in this lifetime as much as anyone else does.  It's just that after watching my healthy, innocent son wither away and die, amidst mountains of authentic prayers, I no longer believe that my intentional, outcome-seeking prayers have any impact for me or others.  I no longer believe that God intends to protect, heal and bless us in this lifetime, as if we are all one-of-a-kind, precious snowflakes, doted upon daily by our Maker.  I simply cannot believe it. 

When your prayers of greatest worth and circumstance, prayers for the very lives of your children, go unanswered, you can't help but question the very fundamentals of prayer.  Even very basic would-be prayers of gratitude, for B and C.T., for food, shelter, comforts and conveniences I don't deserve any more than anyone else, don't actually form in my head or on my lips anymore. 

After what I've been through, I simply cannot bear to talk to God. 

My gut told me I could not, should not, call upon God when C.T. was lost.  Why would He be concerned with a boy lost on a trail when He allows so many terrible things to happen daily?  When He allowed B.W.'s death, Zachary's tremendous suffering and death?  I also didn't feel I owed Him praise when C.T. was found.  I felt grateful, even unworthy in my gratitude, but I had nowhere to place that thanks. 

Realizing it was truly beyond my belief to pray for C.T. that day left me feeling deflated and alone, especially since prayer was something I used to cling to.  I now have an aching resignation that this relationship with God, this ability to actually influence our modern everyday lives and the lives of others by communing with Him in prayer, is actually something sold to us, without much biblical truth, by the church.  Shit happens.  Really awful, hideously wrong, horrific, tragic shit.  It's distributed unevenly.  It's not fair and most of it will not be remedied or redeemed in this lifetime.  And God, for reasons unknown to us, allows it all, regardless of our prayers. 

I suppose it is still a hard pill for me to swallow. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bike ride part 1

For three months now, I've been dealing with a bad case of plantar fasciitis.  One of many daily annoyances to cope with, on top of the ever-present grief.

It has been pretty bad, to the point that I have trouble getting around and executing basic daily tasks.  The steps I take each day must now be carefully planned and monitored.  If I will be on my feet to make dinner, I cannot also do laundry or run errands.  If C.T. plays outside with a friend a few houses away, I call by walkie talkie or by texting his friend's mother instead of "using up" my steps by checking on him every so often.  

The one activity I'm still able to do with C.T., without pain because it's not weight bearing, is ride my bike.  And, at seven years old, even without gears on his bike, C.T.'s little legs are now able to conquer a 10-12 mile trail ride easily.  He loves going fast and being out in nature, pedaling hard to summit a slope, calling out on your left to alert trail walkers we are passing by.  Despite not having Zachary in a kiddie seat attached to my bike, which hurts every single time, it's been a decent activity for us this summer.  We are both getting (some) exercise and fresh air.  I am not in physical pain.  The stroller mommies, with their talk of sippy cups and naptime, can be largely ignored as we zip by them at high speed.   

One day last week, we invited C.T.'s friend E to come along on one of our morning bike excursions.  We planned to ride a trail C.T. and I knew well, but it was the first time I was taking someone else's child with us.  I wanted to be certain we were taking reasonable precautions to avoid confusion, a fall or accident.  The plan was that C.T. would lead, followed by E and finally me, so that I could have my eyes on them at all times.  At all significant crossings, we would carefully stop our bikes and walk them across.  There was to be no sudden stopping (unless absolutely necessary) to avoid collisions from behind. 

We talked about the plan at length and then we were off, C.T. proudly leading the way.

Things were going well.  C.T. seemed happy to have a friend with us and E was having no problems keeping up.  We went further on the trail than I had expected, further than C.T. and I had pedaled on our previous trips.  At our second water stop, probably six to seven (maybe more) miles from our starting point, I suggested we turn around and stop at the park on the way home.  None of us were tired yet, but I reminded them we had to pedal back the same distance we'd come, and that the temperature would be creeping up.  C.T. and E, neither prone to taking risks, agreed, and we began our bike ride home. 

About a mile into the final leg of our trip, just before a winding, forest-dense part of the trail, E suddenly could not pedal his bike.  He came to a stop as carefully as he could.  I hopped off of my bike and yelled Wait up, C.T., as I set my kickstand down.  My hands grasped E's handlebars and I sat down on his seat, tried to pedal.  Sure enough, they were completely jammed. 

I looked up and didn't see C.T.  I thought to myself, He's probably just turning around up ahead, standing up on his pedals like he does.  He'll be here in a few seconds.  My focus back to E's bike, I knelt down to inspect his bike chains, assured him we'd figure it out. 

Ten or twenty seconds later, still no sign of C.T. 

I dropped E's bike and began running ahead on the trail, up around the first winding part, assuming I'd see C.T. goofing around or examining a squashed bug just 100 or so unseen yards ahead of us.  E became anxious that I had left him but also sensed something was seriously wrong.  I yelled over my shoulder, reminding him I'd be back in just a few seconds.  I yelled C.T.'s name, then screamed his name several times.  No answer.  C.T. was gone. 

There was a moment when I could no longer see E behind me, and with no clue where C.T. was ahead of me, the reality of the situation began to sink in, sending waves of panic through my body.     

I ran back to E and quickly explained that we needed to focus on finding C.T.  We'd find and fix his bike later.  Abandoning E's bike trailside, I dialed his mother while mounting my own bike and explained our suddenly scary predicament in a few seconds.  She said she'd come and see how she could help.  Not really knowing if he could manage, but with no other choice, I told E he would have to run alongside my bike as we looked for C.T.

We took off, me darting ahead on my bike, but then slowed by the knowledge that E was on foot.  I lunged forward from my bike, screaming and wailing C.T.'s name over and over again, as I pedaled frantically and E tried to keep up.   

Where are you?
Please come back. 

I imagined C.T. struck by a car, his body laying in the street, at the first intersection he'd have to cross alone.  I imagined someone grabbing him, stealing him, dragging him down to the river, with no parent to protect him.  I thought about how scared he must feel, not knowing where I was.  I started to imagine telling B I had lost C.T., our only surviving child. 

About ten excruciating minutes from the time I first realized C.T. was missing, we found him.  He was pedaling back towards us, about a mile away from where E's bike broke down.  I dropped my bike and we threw our arms around each other, weeping and trembling with fear turned relief.  C.T. was severely shaken and angry with himself for getting lost, for upsetting and scaring his already-broken mother.  My knees in the dirt, head in my hands, I could not stop wailing.       

C.T. hadn't heard me call to him when E broke down.  He'd been distracted, riding, leading the way, when he finally realized we weren't behind him.  Confusion set in and he wondered if maybe we passed him and he hadn't noticed.  He kept pedaling forward, too frozen by fear to turn around.  He broke down into sobs when he explained:    

I had to stop someone and tell them I lost my mom.  I was so scared.  She told me I should turn around and see if I could find you.

My C.T.  He is still so little.  He was with me, in my care.  And then he was gone in an instant.  Right under my nose, he was gone.     

(To be continued)