As I typed, my throat was very tight. How could I have not felt the anguish?
I knew that looking inside the dusty box I had kept of Jason’s things for eighteen years was going to be difficult. However, I also knew that the worst part of my grief was a long time ago. Still, there was no way around the anguish that the box represented.
As I write this, I am describing the present. I have not yet gone back to my memories of his birth, tragic life, and death. My story is certainly not unique, because every bereaved parent has one. All that is left of our child is the story of their life and death, and we are the ones that hold onto that.
Sadly, it took at least ten years before the “opera” of Jason’s death stopped. I describe the opera as, “The last moments before the curtain dropped.” That means day after day for years, I relived the last two days of my son’s life, over and over again. It was truly the only way that something unbelievable was eventually accepted.
I noticed the box had become disorganized over time; there were a few, more recent cards lying on top. These were “anniversary of the heart” cards. An anniversary of the heart is the birthday and/or death day for their loved one who has died. For someone grieving, whether it is a child or not, these days carry intense sadness, emptiness, and anticipation. The anticipation can begin sometimes a week or more in advance. And of course, often there is depression that follows after it is over.
My stack of “anniversary of the heart” cards were from my “partners in grief” at Compassionate Friends. Every single one of these notes said exactly what I needed to hear.
I saw there was a card from Lori, who recently shared that I was with her when she took a pregnancy test that was positive shortly after her son died. It was at that moment that I decided to try to have my fourth child. Her card thanked me for influencing her to have another child so soon after her son died.
Believe it or not, I still receive cards for Jason’s anniversaries of the heart from my sister-in-law, Jo. It is beyond thoughtfulness that she does this, since I don’t even discuss these days with anyone, not even my husband.
There was a yellowed, funeral announcement.
I noticed that my funeral speech was there. This was prior to computers, so it was handwritten. It was only recently that I remembered how I gave the speech to a tape recorder the day before the funeral. How could I have possibly spoken on that day?
I wonder whether I will type it up for the blog. But I could do that later. I was told it was a very moving speech, and because of it I made a good friend.
I just remembered that I have one friend named Susan who also calls me on those difficult days. She reached out to meet me six months after the funeral, because she was intrigued by my speech.
My mother recognized Jason’s death day only as the “Jewish” one or Yartzeit. She always reminded me to light a candle. That actually gave me two, death days to mourn. Although she doesn’t recognize it, his death on October 6th is very real to me.
My mother was very upset that the surgery was scheduled the day before the Jewish High Holiday, Yom Kippur. I felt there was no other choice. Every year as those holidays approach, I feel tremendous sadness and grief to this day.
Inside the box were many of my mother’s cards. Here was one:
Dearest Little Jason, our beautiful grandson,
If I knew your address in heaven, I would send it there, but since I don’t I’ll send it to the one who has you deep in her heart and soul. We all miss you so much on this your birthday.
Love, Grandma and Grandpa
On the card above, there were drawings on it made my Jason.
I opened up a folder and it was filled with children’s drawings. It was from his preschool classmates. The envelope had a note stapled to it that said, “Dear Jason, We hope you can come back to school soon. We will miss you. We made these pictures for you.”
Before his surgery, I remembered a kind mom from his class had presented me with a plastic desk and coloring set for him to use while in the hospital.
I remember that desk. It was personalized with his name on it. The desk that would never see a crayon. There were no words for the torment of seeing it on that worst day of my life when I came back from the hospital without my child. I had held my dead child for the last time, and would never see him again. But there was that desk with his name on it!
I quickly put it outside in the trash!
Another envelope was filled with donation cards. I remain in awe of how many people made donations. I panicked as the thought came to me. Had I sent thank you notes? Normally, I always did that, but when my child died I was incapable of functioning normally.
For certain, I was extremely grateful to my Aunt Lillian and Uncle David. They gave me money to help with the funeral expenses, as well as a generous donation Jason’s preschool at the NVJCC (North Valley Jewish Community Center). It allowed for Jeffrey to continue there on a full scholarship.
I was amazed at a how a “meal rotation” was created by the NVJCC. Every night, someone would come to our home with a different, casserole dish. I received so much compassion! And there it was, a list of all the meal arrangements, with names, phone numbers, and meal descriptions. The lady that did all this for our family has since died.
Only three months after Jason died, this woman put me in touch with another family who had lost a six-year-old daughter to the flu. We both had “subsequent” children who were only one day apart in age. We stayed friends for many years, however as my challenges grew I drifted away.
I reached in and pulled out something that choked me up. It was something he had made: “A Book About Me – Jason U., June 1992”
His name was scrawled next to his picture. It was dated March 18, 1992. His weight was listed at 35 lbs, and he was 3 ft. 4 in. height. Jason was very small, because he could never eat. There was a tracing of his foot and hand. Looking at It, I was able to believe he actually existed. I remembered looking at bushes and trees, and always thinking, “They lived longer than my son.”
When I saw his picture again, it was strange. That was because I had looked at his pictures for more years than I had looked at him.
There was a clipping from my friend, Janis. She and I have remained close throughout the years. Many friends who had children the same age as Jason felt understandably uncomfortable, but not Janis and her husband, Yoram. Janis had sent me a clipping created by her son, David, as a class assignment. It was entitled, “My Hero.”
“My hero is somebody that used to be my best friend. His name was Jason. He wasn’t born healthy. When he was born his heart had been reversed. He almost died when he was born. He is my hero because he lived for five years with a smile always on his face. As you can see there are many reasons why he is my hero.”
There was a black and white drawing of a lion. My artist/friend, Emilie, made it for me to use on his gravestone. Jason’s favorite song was, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and we played it at his funeral. For years, I carried the picture of Jason’s gravestone in my purse. It helped me face reality daily when I looked at it.
Aha! I found a list that said, “Thank You For Your Donation.” So I did send them. That’s good, because it’s a little late now.
Now I have found an envelope from my mother-in-law, Ruth, for whom I have not yet mourned. She wasn’t up to coming over for many months before she passed away in November. Sometimes I have imagined she’s still ill and will be coming over again soon.
Ruth kept some special items of Jason’s in a “Where’s Waldo?” lunch box he had treasured. Inside it was a pair of his Bart Simpson underwear, sticky pacifier, and a pair of Chuck E Cheese sunglasses (Jason loved Chuck E. Cheese). Each item I mentioned was cried over more than I want to remember.
There were lots and lots of pictures and cards. Most of the cards were ones that I gave to her before he died. I pasted his face on many cards – this was of course, before Photoshop!
There was one card with the envelope addressed to: “Jason Unger, Up Above the Clouds So High, The Universe and Beyond.”
On the outside was a picture of a teddy bear looking sadly at a dark sky with one bright star. She marked the bear as “Granny Ru” and the star had an arrow that said “Jason.” Inside the card was printed “How I wonder how you are.” It was dated on May 28th, 1996, so that was on his birthday four years after he died. The inside of the card read:
I love you and miss you so very much. I wish you were here right now so I could say Happy Birthday! In my heart, my head, and my memories, you were, you are, and always will be my beloved grandson whom I worship and adore. I wish I could hear you singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. How I wonder how you are.” Granny Ru loves you forever.
As I read that card, it gave me a moment of pause to grieve for my dear mother-in-law.
I felt in my heart that perhaps she was with Jason again. I know that with bereavement, some people either have a lot of faith to guide them or none at all. I wish I could say I found faith, but I was and still am very unsure about god. I have looked to my children and to my own heart to survive.
There is truly no category reserved for bereaved grandparents.
They are welcome at Compassionate Friends. Grandparents have the burden of losing their beloved grandchild while at the same time mourning the sadness they cannot alleviate in their own child. It is a double burden. My father would cry with his car parked in the driveway for ten minutes before he could come inside my home; this went on for many years.
I am moving on from my mother-in-law’s effects. I still have not reached the large envelope of sympathy cards. I know there are some very, special cards there. I will save that for another time of writing.
I have started to fatigue now from all these painful memories. I wonder what the purpose of all this is for me. I have missed Jason for such a long time! I used to worry so much about forgetting him. But it was precisely the loss of the sharp memories that has made life bearable again!
Rosa came in and to see what I was doing. Her eyes were squinting with tears. She told me that the dinner table was incredible tonight. She said she hadn’t seen me this happy in such a long time. Laughter at our dinner table was completely new; usually there was abundant arguing, insulting, and fighting. My mood was different now.
I asked Rosa to remind me how she knew that Jason had died. She was in Mexico at that time. She told me she felt the moment when he died. That was something I had also experienced. He was at the hospital recovering from his surgery, and I drove home to get a few hours of sleep.
However, I was unable to sleep. Suddenly, I was overcome by total “dread.” It was like a cold chill ran through me, and seconds later the phone rang. He was already dead, but I wasn’t told that.
The nurse on the phone said, “Your son is not doing well; can you please come to the hospital?” At that moment, I didn’t remember how to tie my shoes or drive a car. In a bathrobe and slippers, I picked up my parents while in a total panic.
Rosa told me how thankful she was that I had sent money to Mexico to help her to come back to the United States. I did not remember doing that at all, however, it was a wise thing that I did!
Lastly, I opened an envelope was filled with his artwork.
I remembered there were two pieces of his artwork that were significant. It felt like the Twilight Zone again for me. I had treasured those items, but had forgotten about them after so many Zombie years. I decided to scan and share them.
Jason was not able to write his name too well or make drawings that were clear. He was a very, very articulate child and he loved music very much. He was often breathless when he spoke, and would turn blue when he danced and sang.
I found the meaningful pictures he had drawn. One was an angel. What really stood out to me was that it had a red heart on it, and the heart had several black marks. My interpretation was that he knew his heart was not healthy and this was a “self-portrait.”
The other picture was a crude drawing with a story that he dictated. Here was what he wrote:
“Once upon a time there was a person that lived along the lane and walked and walked and got tired and he smelled some lollipops. He went back on his bench and ate a couple of pops and he walked along the lane again and ran home.”
Somewhere in this tale, there were metaphors for me about his life.
Now I felt tears, they were falling somewhere inside where it has been dry for a very, long time. I had managed to finally get them to come out. “Up and out” was where I needed to go, and that time had come.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.