September 18, 2022

There are moments I can still see his brown eyes looking up at me. It was always on a “good” day, when things weren’t so tenuous, when everything he did didn’t bring me to my knees. One of his brothers would say something snarky, and he would clasp my hand to get my attention, shake his head, disappointed, and give me a look like- You deserve better, Mommy. That wasn’t nice. I would know his heart was tender then. In those rare instances, I saw the real Isaiah peeking through the dark clouds of mental illness that held him and our family hostage.

Yesterday marked two years and seven months since my son passed away.

I first penned most of the words in this post months ago. Still, I sat in them, letting them simmer, as my heart was not yet ready to open. I’m still not sure it’s ready.

Last year I lived inside myself from November (possibly even October) until May, as all the big dates passed back-to-back. I fear this will be my new normal. I can feel myself getting ready to curl into it again, though I wish I didn’t have to.

The holidays are excruciating when you’ve buried a child, and most are too busy in the rat race to look up and notice. Last year, I opted for the church potluck on Thanksgiving, as even the idea of cooking holiday food felt like drowning.

Christmas was just as suffocating.

Then there was another year changing on the calendar my son will never see.

His birthday in January.

The anniversary of his passing in February.

The day his birth mom overdosed after I told her he passed. I loved her almost as much as Isaiah.

The seventh anniversary of the day she signed her rights away for us to adopt him on March 5th.

The fifth anniversary of his adoption on March 22nd.

April 1st, the day we brought him home at two months old.

Then, because it came so late this year, Easter. He told me once it was his favorite holiday. I wonder how he celebrated in heaven.

I barely made it through Mother’s Day. When it passed, I almost felt like I could breathe.

His mom’s birthday was a few days later.

In the latter years of his life, I found it ironic he came to us on April Fool’s. The nature of his mental health condition unfolded and was ripping our family apart. But on the first anniversary, we celebrated. We were not sure what was wrong. I was still busy rushing him to therapies almost every single day, five to eight appointments a week for well over a year. I lost count of how long, though, his thick stack of paperwork I hold on to would clarify. Physical, occupational, speech, and an ITDS, chiropractor for his torticollis, helmet shavings for his plagiocephaly, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I hauled all four boys with bags of homeschool and educational CDs for the car ride. The kids and I did workbooks in the waiting rooms, read Sonlight books in the doctor’s offices, and drilled for Memory Masters for our Classical Conversations class.

On the first anniversary, I was still making him the homemade baby food he threw up on me at every meal. I was cloth diapering him in his own special set of Bum Genius I bought when he came to us because I was determined to treat him the same as my other boys. I would spend most nights standing over laundry piles, trying to determine if I should wash the vomit or the diaper load. As he grew, sometimes he was kind enough to lean and barf directly into the hamper, making my decision easier. But at exactly one year, the judge changed the goal of his case from reunification to adoption, and he was one step closer to being mine.

Easter Sunday marked two years and two months since my son met Jesus, and I think part of me has been stuck in the stage of shock. It seems impossible to come close to processing his death when I’m still trying to wrap my heart around the tortured life my son lived, to make sense of what happened to our family as we struggled to be his. I’m still trying to understand the image of my seven-year-old in his tiny casket, the first time I saw him at peace.

Few things sustained me in the darkness of his condition, not the least of which was the image of dancing with him on his wedding day. Like the edges of a photograph already taken, I held on to the hope of that dream. I was sure on his wedding day I would hold his hand in mine and tell him he was worth every sacrifice I made, every struggle we endured.

At the end of his life, my son loved Jesus. But the more he wanted Jesus, the greater the split in his mind and mental health became, and the more we saw the darkness vying for control.

For the rest of my life, I will always remember his brown eyes looking up at me. I hope I can remember how they looked on the good days, those beautiful moments I treasure, but that also wreck me. His are the first eyes I want to see after I meet Jesus. Because of Jesus, I know my son is more alive now than he ever was on earth. Because of Jesus, I know even though I will never dance with him on his earthly wedding day, one day I will dance with him in heaven. I will take his hand in mine and tell him he was worth every sacrifice we made.

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