Twenty-four years ago, my 5-year-old son, Jason died. I am so grateful that on this sad “anniversary of the heart,” I am peaceful.
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “getting over” a tragic loss. Heartbreak changed me into a different person. I believe I cried so many tears after my son’s death that there just weren’t any left for this later time in my life.
When I wrote Jason’s story in 2010, I began to heal. I didn’t have to remember every painful detail of his life and death anymore. Eventually, I was released from the prison of grief that confined me for almost two decades.
All these years later, Jason lives on in my music and our love continues to inspire me. He also lives on in the memories of people he touched during his brief life.
A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a very special woman I knew a long time ago. Like a shining star, Jason shined his light upon my life again in such a beautiful way.
Some of my memories are hazy, but I’m summoning them up so I can tell a very touching story.
Jason was a “cardiac baby.” He was born with a severe congenital heart defect. After having an emergency C-section, I was still in a lot of pain when Jason was released from the hospital ten days after his birth.
I brought home a new baby that was too weak to nurse or suck a bottle; he cried continuously. I was a very inexperienced mother and it was beyond anything I was ever prepared to deal with.
My mother and husband tried to help, but it was futile. At doctor appointments and emergency room visits we were told Jason would require surgery in a few months. He would become bluer and bluer until then.
My mother came over several days a week and I found out later that she gave up graduating from college in order to help me. But it was a grueling schedule for both of us and we couldn’t keep going. I wanted to hire someone who could take care of Jason at night so I could sleep.
Hiring a nanny through an agency was far more expensive than I anticipated. A friend suggested I put an ad in a Spanish newspaper to find someone more affordable. The only problem with that was that I didn’t speak any Spanish.
I followed through and immediately began receiving non-stop phone calls in Spanish. It was overwhelming since I couldn’t communicate with anyone!
One woman called who spoke English. She said her sister had just come to the United States and needed a job; unfortunately her sister didn’t speak any English.
My heart sank and I wondered how this could possibly work. Then the woman on the phone said, “Look – why don’t you just meet her. We can come over right now.”
I felt so desperate that I was willing to give this young girl a chance. Within ten minutes my doorbell rang. Lupe stood there next to her older sister.
Her eyes were large and she was clearly nervous. She was nineteen or twenty years old.
It was slightly awkward as I spoke with her sister because Lupe didn’t know what we were saying; she stood there quietly. I looked over at her and smiled. Then she reached her hands out to take Jason who began wailing and was slightly blue.
I noticed how she held him with confidence. She swaddled him tightly in a receiving blanket and miraculously Jason became quiet. I asked her, “How did you do that?”
She carefully showed me step-by-step how to fold the blanket and fit him in it. The blanket was then wound tightly around him and tucked in.
With great relief, I hired Lupe that day and she began working for our family immediately.
Having this young Mexican girl living in our household was an adjustment. We had a small town home and Lupe’s bed was in Jason’s nursery. Those first few nights, I got up to check on her and Jason. I felt badly about her being kept up all night.
Gradually I relaxed. Lupe grew to love Jason and was able to even feed him better than I did. She was wonderful.
My life improved greatly after hiring Lupe. I was even able to work and take illustration jobs again.
I spoke to Lupe using a few Spanish words from a dictionary and we were able to communicate in our own way. Eventually, she learned English and was able to speak it fairly well.
Lupe worked for me for two years. During that time, Jason had his first open-heart surgery. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that time if it weren’t for Lupe’s help.
I can’t remember exactly why Lupe left. I was sad, but Jason was doing better and I had just signed him up for preschool. She helped me find a replacement but I really missed her. Later on, I heard from her sister that she moved to Texas.
Four years later, Lupe called to say hello. I became choked up when I softly told her that Jason had died.
She cried on the other end of the phone and I’d never forget her words. She was a mother now and had two sons. She said, “Jason was my first baby.”
Although Lupe lived in Texas, I told her that if she ever visited her sister and came to Los Angeles, she should definitely let me know. We could go together to visit Jason’s grave.
Twenty years later, in 2014, I heard from Lupe again. She had done an Internet search and found my blog. I was so moved by her phone call that I wrote this story: YOU’LL TOUCH SO MANY OTHERS
When Lupe called me last month, I was so happy to hear from her again.
I didn’t feel like she was a stranger because we were Facebook friends. I shared stories about my life on a regular basis.
Even if I didn’t understand her posts in Spanish, I always loved seeing her. Many of her pictures were taken in other countries and I was very happy for her.
It hadn’t occurred to me that she was solo in most of her pictures.
Lupe’s first words were, “How are you, Judy?”
I had so much to tell her and started out by saying I was fine. And then Lupe dropped a bomb.
She told me that two months earlier her husband had died. He was only 56 – the same age I was.
Lupe was anguished telling me how hard she worked to get him medical insurance. But he refused to see to a doctor.
More than anything, Lupe loved to travel. She begged him to go with her on trips, but he didn’t want to go anywhere. He hated leaving the house. So Lupe told me she began to go places alone. When her sister’s family went to China, Lupe joined them. After that, she signed up for a tour of Europe. She said, “Judy, everyone was with someone and I was alone. But I’m still glad I went.”
Now I understood her pictures.
She was very emotional as she shared how he had had a heart attack while she was on a trip to Mexico. She immediately she flew home, but unfortunately he died before she got there.
I hoped she didn’t feel guilty about her husband’s death and the choice he made to stay at home while she traveled.
We talked a little longer and I told her how I admired how she traveled alone. I wished I had the courage to do that. My eye problems held me back. I was vulnerable and depressed for almost four years. But now my eyes were better.
I had thought about traveling but wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. The truth was that going alone wasn’t very exciting for me.
Lupe reminded me that she flew on an airplane for the first time on a trip with me. She said, “Judy, when I went to Lake Tahoe with your family, I was so scared!”
With genuine affection I said, “Lupe, I would love to see you again. Maybe you could come visit me or I could come to Texas to see you.”
She paused and said, “Judy, instead why don’t we meet somewhere – take a trip together. It would be so good for me. My house is empty. I feel sad and need to get out.”
My heart jumped as I quickly answered, “Lupe, that sounds wonderful! Where would we go and when is good for you?”
Lupe replied that she wanted to go as soon as possible. We chose mid-October, which was when my birthday was. I mentioned ideas of places we could go. I had always wanted to see the autumn leaves changing on the east coast. Or perhaps we could visit some National Parks I hadn’t seen.
Lupe laughed and said, “Judy, do you remember when you took me hiking?”
I did. There were many pictures of those outings.
She said, “Well, I have to tell you. In Mexico, people just don’t go hiking. I never did it before. When you took me on my first hike – I hated it!”
So that explained why she was so serious in some of our outdoor photos.
Then she laughed heartily and added, “But now I love it. It’s the best!”
I hung up the phone and couldn’t believe it. This was truly a door opening in my life. I hadn’t imagined that it would appear like it did – just at a perfect time.
In only one more week, I am meeting Lupe. We haven’t seen each other in twenty-six years!
Our trip will have us flying on an airplane together again and we’ll be doing lots of hiking (which is good, now that I know she actually likes it!)
I will be leaving on my birthday (October 14) and flying to Mexico City; there I’ll connect up with Lupe. Together, we will board a flight together to Costa Rica where we’ll be staying for nine days.
The young girl I remember is now an adult woman with many life stories to share with me. But I know she is deeply grieving and I’m hoping this trip will be a respite for her.
How do I feel about this adventure?
I am filled with awe and amazement.
My angel son, Jason, brought Lupe into my life and his light continues to shine brightly.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2016. 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.
I am so glad you and Lupe have reconnected. You guys will love Costa Rica
The best part is sharing it with you – I love you, Norm! Thanks for your suggestions. I can’t wait to get there and will certainly share all about it!
Oh Judy, I’m crying after reading your story. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you to tell Lupe about Jason’s death, and how hard it would have been for her to hear it. I’m sure your family meant the world to her during that time, and your trip will be a wonderful reunion. Your experience with your own grief will give her the room to experience hers. Have a wonderful trip!!!
Knowing this moved you, Belinda, made me feel so close to you. Thank you for your sweet and thoughtful words. I agree – I will support her in her grief and it will be good for both of us. Looking forward to sharing lots of cool pictures of Costa Rica on my blog!
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It sure is!! I’m excited. And Lupe told me she really wants to travel to Australia someday. Wouldn’t that be cool – if I got to meet you? Always thinking of you with love.
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Dear Judy, I appreciate you sharing your most precious and intimate details of your beautiful son Jason. I have been moved to tears and the lump in my throat keeps me from responding to my daughters in the other room. I find myself drawing strength for myself from your experiences. My Lily also had cardiac issues so this story resonates with me on such a personal level. What a beautiful tribute for you and Lupe to reunite. I wish you both an amazing visit filled with love and memories. I hope the tears that are shed are healing and comforting. I pray one day I can share my experiences as bravely, raw and honestly as you have with us. Thank you. Much love to you on this lifes journey in healing.
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Oh, Shelly, you can’t imagine how much your words mean to me. As a fellow bereaved mom, I know you understand this journey. Perhaps I can offer a glimpse of the road farther ahead. You’ll never leave Lily behind because she’s with you in ways you cannot see. I am sad for you having gone through this horror; no one can ever imagine it.
Thank you so much for your words of support. I continue to heal in so many ways and hearing from you just warms my heart. I am certain you will help others and share your experiences when you are ready. Remember, it was 18 years after Jason’s death when I wrote his story. I’m so grateful if I’ve offered you comfort and strength. It’s all there and Lily is hugging you, too.
Judy your son lives on in all the things you love including your music! Your words are powerful and beautiful.
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Thank you so much, Allyson. I do feel him beside me when I sing. 🙂
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Very interesting story about Lupe. I’m so glad you reconnected with her and you’re going to go traveling with her. That just sounds awesome and to leave on your birthday how fun is that !!
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Thanks, Jone! I treasured our trip together and hope we can do something again soon. Love you so much!