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My hold on equanimity is precarious. I’m fixated on “Jake’s totally off the grid, if he’s alive and well.”
The implication is that he probably is not alive.
This supposition does not bring closure because there’s no body.
When others suppose your son could be dead, it only just barely penetrates your awareness. You can think the thoughts, but the actual possibility sits on the periphery, like the time your mother told you her cancer had metastasized and you were surprised when she died because you had this membrane of denial protecting you.
Except that membrane now has a couple of tears in it, and images of what could have happened to your son ooze in and take root and grow until all you see in your mind are barrels of acid, withered, leathery flesh, white bones, ragged t-shirts and holey shoes, a lone skeleton propped against a tree in meager shade.
It’s not just that he is dead. It’s how he died. Where he died. If he died.
When your son might be dead, you grieve and hope simultaneously.
The boy I swore to protect, my beloved young son–vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless.
I saw a license plate frame two days ago that tore the membrane: The best mothers graduate to be grandmothers.
Another mom’s celebration just tore my denial veil.
And again, I’m reminded of my mother. When she wrote about my decision to give a baby up for adoption many years ago, she described “grandmother empties.” But adoption is not death.
A disappearance is not death, and neither is another person’s supposition.
This is a comfort, this tiny flickering flame.
It’s wondrous that it has not been doused. It’s like one of those unkillable candles that you hate to have on your birthday cake.
I don’t usually tell people I’m praying for them because I think practical help is a better way to show love and support. But I accept and respect that others are praying for me because I sense this. I’m a strong person, but I can’t manufacture inner peace. I can meditate, but we’ve seen where my thoughts go. I’m dealing with monstrous grief and I have questionable coping skills and I have this inextinguishable flame. If you are praying for me, thank you.
I have no idea what will transpire. I cannot affect the physical outcome. I’m helpless, and I’m a reminder that we all are. But Viktor Frankl reminds me that I have the freedom to find meaning in the midst of my suffering. He states that even in the most miserable circumstances life has meaning. And he himself lived this truth when he was in a concentration camp. I’m living it now. Just as Jake is irreplaceable, so am I.
I have found that making quilts grounds me, so that’s what I do in my spare time.
Here is one I completed for my beloved Aunt Nancy:
I have to get up early tomorrow and do range duty as Chief Range Safety Officer for a group of men visiting from out of town. I’ve been doing RSO duties for a long time now, and this is not a big deal.
But I do not want to go. I would rather hole up at home and sew or read or binge-watch something that takes me out of the ache for a while. I don’t want to engage with people, and I definitely don’t want to get up early. Twice I’ve picked up the phone to call Skip, our scheduler, to beg off with the excuse that my heart hurts. He would then have to scramble to find another RSO, but he wouldn’t complain because he feels badly for me and he doesn’t want to add to the weight I carry.
Twice I’ve put the phone down, partly because I don’t want to cause extra work, but mostly because I know that once I get there I’ll be fine. I’ll be in the moment, I’ll enjoy being with the shooters, and I’ll have gotten out of the house. All I have to do is show up.
That’s all I ever have to do, and it’s the hardest decision to make. Sometimes I have to choose it every five minutes.
The last six months have been unaccountably difficult and lately I’ve been faced with the growing possibility that Jake is dead. I think about it every day, and the world looks so…barren inside the idea of no Jake on the planet.
Right now, I deal by showing up. I commit to things knowing that later I probably will wish I’d kept my calendar free. But I also know that just showing up works for me.
I have used emotional pain as an excuse not to show up before. I don’t any more because showing up feels better than not. (Seriously. Beating myself up for letting others down makes it worse.)
I keep thinking of the link between perseverance and strength, and this is true for me, here: “…tribulation brings about perseverance;4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5: 3b-5
And James 1:3: “The testing of your faith produces endurance.”
Well, I also think that trials and suffering produce resignation. I’m not a fan.
But I recognize strength.
The problem, for me, is that I have to wonder what’s next. I’m getting stronger for what?
My character could always use the refinement, but dang. Can’t we find a way that doesn’t involve pain?
I’m thinking out loud here.
I waffle about posting about what I’m thinking and feeling about my son being missing. I am not adding any new information, and much of what I share is about what I deal with emotionally day by day. It’s repetitive. The grief never subsides, although my awareness of it ebbs and flows.
I ultimately choose to post about it because I don’t have another safe outlet to talk about this ordeal. And right now I’m giving myself this little note to remind myself that I have permission to be repetitive, to grieve through the written word, to write the things that keep me up at night. I have to do this because I inevitably second-guess myself and castigate myself for not shutting up. And I’m doing this for anyone else who can relate.
So: lately I’ve been sleepless and preoccupied with questions I can’t get answers to. I cannot shut my brain down.
- Where is my son? This is an obvious, simple question, but thinking about it and trying to answer it take up much of my brain time. I still search ditch banks. This is a reflexive action; I cannot help myself. My brain says, “No, you might have missed something the last time you looked. Look again.” I drive down alleys. I scope out the local cemeteries. And I still check the unidentified persons database. I’ve managed to put some days between my searches, but for nearly a year I was checking every day. My brain says, “Many volunteers contribute to this database. You have to stay abreast of the new. Check again.” I have stopped short of volunteering to work for the database and help them add more unidentified bodies. It’s tempting to think that I would have more control over this horrible circumstance if I were helping in that way. It is not off the table.
- Is my son dead? This also takes up a lot of brain time. I’m not thinking it when I’m searching, nor when I’m teaching, nor when I’m engaged in any of the stuff I do to mute the agitated neurons. (I’ve signed up for a lot: Kiwanis activities, organizing an upcoming teacher conference, writing projects, teaching and research, enrolling in graduate classes, reading, someday-quilting, and Clash Royale.) This is also when I tap my inner tape that says, “It’s easier to disappear on purpose than by accident.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t fully believe it. It temporarily sedates.I don’t fully believe it because my son’s smart enough to do it right. The one real comfort I have is that he did not seem to be thinking clearly before he disappeared.
- Is my son homeless and helpless? In the summer I worry that he doesn’t have water or shelter to get out of the heat. I know he hates being hot as much as I do. We both have metabolisms that make us radiate heat. We are always hot, and the summer is particularly miserable for us. Is his face sunburned? Does he have athlete’s foot and jock itch? Does he have soap and toothpaste and deodorant? Is he thinking he smells like garbage, or is he past caring? Does he have coherent thoughts? When he was in high school he found errors in his calculus book, used Legos to build puzzling geometric problems, and went by the online name of 2brncells1gun. When he worked at the mine, someone asked him if they used fresh water or saltwater to excavate, and he answered, “I don’t know. I’ve never tasted it.Is that Jake apparent to anyone around him now?
I worry now that winter is at the door because toes and fingers need protecting. Heads need covering. Weak bodies suffer more.
Is he wearing a coat when it’s cold?
Does he have those cursed small boots on, still? Is he punishing himself?
Is he sleeping under a bus station bench and getting kicked by people who hate homeless people?
Does he have dirty hair and a dirty beard and grungy clothes that disgust people when they see him?
Does he get rained on and then have stiff frozen clothes when it freezes overnight?Is he wearing a trash bag over his clothes?
- Is my need to know where my son is more important than his right to be left alone? Am I invading his privacy by writing about him? Am I keeping him away because he is afraid everyone will shame him? If I shut up will he come home? If I do everything perfectly will he appear? Oh, toxic thinking.
- How can I best love my son? Am I doing it correctly now? When did I do it right? What did that look like? Is it too late?
- Do I have to parade my faith for it to be evident? I can’t make myself do that. I believe there’s a bigger picture that I can’t see. I believe I am not singled out for suffering. I believe that talking about my suffering gives others permission to talk about theirs. I think that is unconditional love in action. I believe that those pockets of indescribable peace come from trusting God. I think perhaps I don’t blurt my faith walk because I fail so much. If I trusted God more I’d have more peace, y’know? I worry about this because I think it’s built in me to worry about what people think. I need more songs to pipe into my brain to help me shed that habit.
- Today, a new question: How can I help other mothers? I grieve over suffering children, and today on Twitter I saw the link below.This is happening right now: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/yemen-blockade:-sick-and-starving-trapped/9143140
A few days ago, “…at al-Sabheen hospital in the capital, the ABC’s producer in Sanaa witnessed more than a dozen emaciated babies and toddlers receiving treatment in the
malnutrition ward. Their tiny skeletal bodies are evidence of the dire food crisis that is overwhelming this country” (Mcneill).I found this: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/world/iyw-yemen-resource-list/index.html
And this: https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/nigeria-somalia-south-sudan-yemen/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-famine
It feels so small. I feel so small. And I wish I could see the actual help.
I hope others will join me in this.
We are small. And we matter even when it doesn’t feel like we do.
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
From Notes from the Universe:
“Raise your sights and broaden your steps.
Because doing one without the other
is the same as doing neither.”
One time, I was advising a security guard student who had been shooting at 3-yard targets and his groups were sufficiently close that I moved his target to about 1-1/2 times the distance. Right away I could tell by the set of his pistol that his sights weren’t properly aligned, and his shots would either hit the bottom of his target or they’d miss entirely. I explained this to him, but he didn’t listen.
He didn’t pass.
He didn’t hit the target at all; his shots were where his aim was, which was nowhere near that target. I saw the dust from where they hit the ground beyond and below the target.
The farther away your target is, the higher you have to raise your sights.
And you may get lucky with closer targets, but any deficiency in your aim will be magnified the farther away your target is.
I tell my students it’s best to practice small distances a LOT.
I advise them to practice 50 rounds at 3-5 yards. Because they can see the target more clearly at that range, it’s easier to correct how they’re squeezing the trigger or gripping the pistol and then see an immediate effect on the target.
Once they’re hitting the target in a consistently small area, then they should move the target back a couple of yards and practice with another 50 rounds, keeping in mind that the farther their target is, the more important their sight picture is.
Ah, I need to take this sighting advice myself for life in general.
I don’t even know what my sight picture is right now because my gaze has been focused on the ground: one step at a time. Get through this minute. This hour. This afternoon. This day. It’s coming up on a year that Jake’s been missing, and I feel like, man, I just got through Christmas.
Every day feels like he just left. Not the event but the shock of it. It’s like I’m always in a daze of traumatic shock. And not even with the blessed numbness that comes with that. The everlasting suck of pain, man.
My birthday is May 1, and then there’s Mother’s Day.
I can’t hide.
Ever since he disappeared I’ve wanted to hide but I can’t because life goes on.
Life is so rude.
It’s saying, “What’re you doing? Get that front sight up.”
I grumble back, “I’ll show you my front sight.”
Here’s another Note from the Universe:
“If you understood the extraordinary gifts
that every single challenge in your life
makes possible, even inevitable,
you’d celebrate your challenges,
new and old alike, as the omens that they are
of new beginnings and spectacular change.”
Celebrate my challenges.
That really feels like a lot to ask.
I don’t know if I can do that here.
But I can pull my gaze from my feet.
And I can get curious about what’s ahead.
I’ve designed my life to be happy and exciting this year, and I’ve purposely stayed involved in the community so I would choose to honor my word instead of my fear. I continue to show up, and through this determined mindset I’ve gained a perspective about what is important to me, and about who loves me.
My friends keep showing up. People I didn’t know were friends keep showing up. My husband always shows up, and so does my son, Josh. I appreciate how each presence shows up differently, whether it’s a persistent invitation, a hug, a funny video in FB messenger, or a small gift. When people show up, I know that I matter and that Jake matters.
I think the “extraordinary gifts” mentioned in the quote not only pertain to insights but also to opportunities. Maybe I can’t celebrate right now, but I can lift my eyes and take longer strides. (Sorry, honey. Only so much these squatty legs can do.)
Upside down is not down. It’s really just a place where you don’t feel in control.
Control’s an illusion, anyway.
So maybe the extraordinary gift in this situation is finally understanding that.
And I can stop screwing myself over.
You gotta watch this vid:
The 5-second rule has helped me abolish about 75% of my procrastinating.
I do still put off doing the dishes.
You walk this thin line when you’re going through an emotionally dark time. On one side you’ve got an abyss of fear, and on the other is a pit of despair. You have to let go of things that throw off your balance. If you hold on to a thing that crowds your brain with bleakness, you tip toward the pit; if your imagination does the giddyup, you totter toward the abyss.
Most of the things I’ve let go of are energy sucks. I ask myself daily, how much energy does this [fear/resentment/thought] cost?
Resentments–woo, out the window, baby. Ain’t got time to have hurt feelings. Only room enough for one car on the pain train.
Worrying about what other people think–this really took the stuffing out of me this summer. I worried that I was too emotional, not emotional enough, too preoccupied, not preoccupied enough. I worried about how spiritual, thoughtful, loving, pretty, available, etc., I was. To my brain and my heart, I say, “I’m sorry. It’s enough to be upright.” This stuff’s scattering like the fall leaves I wish we had here in the desert. My version of the fall season, I guess. heh
I’ve been aware of the tightrope, of course, all summer long. I just didn’t realize what was making my balance so precarious until I let a cool writing opportunity pass me by recently. I could have written an essay about how I teach, but I could not bring myself to do it, and when the due date passed I was disappointed in myself. No, worse than that. I shamed myself. Something so easy, and I balked because I was afraid that 1) I would find out that I do actually suck, and 2) now people would know I sucked.
It took me some noodling to get to the root of my resistance, but when I found it I also understood that this was something interfering with my skittery tightrope walk. It has to go.
At the same time I was working through this, I came across a news video about the bombing in Aleppo. A small child is pulled from the rubble and set on a seat at the back of an ambulance. His face is covered in dirt and blood, and you can tell he’s barely waking up and is not processing anything. He must feel the weight of something on his temple, because he reaches his hand up to touch his head, and when he feels the wetness he pulls his hand back and looks at it briefly. Then he sees that it’s messy and his first thought must be to wipe it clean; he rubs his hand on the seat.
No one is there with him; he sits alone because rescuers are busy digging through the rubble for more survivors. He sits quietly, and his eyes are blank.
I can walk this damn path. It may feel like a tightrope, but it really isn’t. It’s just a hard thing. And what now propels me to write is something I feel self-conscious about, but I’m sharing anyway: Writing brings income, and I want to spend it helping children like that little one in Aleppo. (I want to add qualifiers (writing potentially brings income) but I will not. Will not.)
I’ll be writing more about the writing process, but will also post any updates about my missing son when I have them. Right now, all I know is that he’s gone, and his body has not been found. I am mostly trusting that he is alive. Some days, you know….
The two videos below resonate with me today.
Someone asked me where Day 1 was of the Blog of Missing. I started with Day 20, which is kind of a let-down, right? Where’s the beginning? There should be a Day 1. A way to find the genesis of the heartache.
And there should be words for every day of the missingness. We’ve got all the feels every day, and by we, I mean everyone who misses Jake. A post a day keeps the insanity at bay (except there ain’t no sanity clause….)
I don’t know exactly when Day 1 is. I know the first day he left.
I know the last day someone thought they saw him.
I know the first day, approximately, that I started worrying about him before he disappeared.
I know the first day he stopped talking to me three years ago.
I know the day he started talking to me again. And the day he said he forgave me and that he had been mad for dumb things.
I know the day I dropped him off at Denny’s.
I know the last day he called his dead friend’s phone.
I know many significant days.
Which one is the first?
Today marks 118 days since I knew he was safe, had shelter, and he was talking to me. Now I have hope that he is not dead. I don’t know about shelter, I don’t know his mindset, and I don’t know that he’s safe, but it’s comforting to feel mostly sure that he’s not dead.
This summer two people approached me to ask if I’d been checking Jake’s Facebook. When I said no, they told me that their messages to him in Facebook had been read by someone. I myself have seen that twice. I dismissed it because I believed (and still do) that Jake had sold his laptop. I figured someone had access to his Facebook messages.
I have reason to believe he is at least alive and has access to his Facebook account because I used to be able to see his friends list, and now cannot. A person with access to his account would be indifferent regarding privacy, I think.
You know as much as I do.
I can extrapolate a lot from this info, but I’ve learned I’m usually wrong about stuff when I do that. Too many assumptions.
This. It’s where my head’s at.
I’ve found a website that offers help to those who have been reported missing:
THE MISSING BLOG: HELPING YOU SEND A MESSAGE HOME
Here’s what the page says:
You might not be ready, want or be able to return home at this time, but still want family or loved ones to know you’re okay. You could be scared of how they might react or be worried about a difficult situation you left behind.
It can be very hard to make that first contact or find the words you want to say to someone, for a range of personal and individual reasons. That is why we have developed our Message Home service.
Remember, we won’t disclose your location if you don’t want us to.
Simply talk to us and provide us with information that will help prove your identity to the person we are passing the message on to, such as your date of birth or any memorable information. We will then get in touch with your family and ask if they’re willing to receive a message from you.
After, they will also be given the opportunity to pass a message back to you and we will check with you first to make sure you are willing to receive the message.
We will never pass on abusive, harmful , threatening or upsetting messages between family members or messages regarding legal or financial matters.
Want to talk? We are free, confidential and available 24/7.
Call or text 116 000
You can text us even if you have no credit left on your mobile phone.
Here is more general information for someone who is missing: http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/how-we-can-help/missing-adults.html
If you are reading this, know that there’s help available, and it’s okay if you don’t want to pass on a message. I love you.
101 days. No word. I still don’t know where my son is or if he is okay. I am thankful for people who ask about Jake. Please don’t stop.
I’ve been dragging my feet about posting because it means I have to unbolt the hatch to the compartment where overwhelm lives. Overwhelm is a troll and he gives me the willies.
Today I did a DNA swab, something else I’ve been dragging my feet about because of what it means. It means I’m traveling a landscape littered with dry bones, scoured by dusty winds that leave your eyes scraped and gritty. This desolate country is no place for mothers.
Today the troll is my shadow.
We walk on because we must.
I pray that Jake is, too.
A few days ago, I told a friend I hadn’t seen in a while about Jake being missing since May 1.
Aghast, she asked, “How are you still sane!?”
Moms always ask me this. Because, you know, they get it. I think every mom imagines this horror a thousand times before her child is a year old. I remember flying up north to see my mother when Jake was 7 months old. In the airport bathroom a stranger offered to watch my son while I went in the stall. A chill prickled over my skin and my brain froze for a second till I remembered that I had him right there with me. He wasn’t even gone but I’d imagined all the possibilities in that second.
Empathy always comforts me. It comforts me when you hug me tightly and tell me you keep me in your thoughts.
Yes, yes, I always want you to ask about Jake.
I saw a post from little *Kylie Rowand’s mom today that reminded me to pray for her. She states,
…it is important to us that our child be honored and remembered. It is our biggest fear that our children will be forgotten. They so easily fall off the radar because they aren’t here to engage you anymore. This breaks my heart. If you know of a child who has passed away from cancer, today, please honor them. Say their name. Talk about them. Send a quick note to their family that they were thought of today. That one simple act can change that parent’s entire day.
This is the picture of Kylie I hold in my heart:
This is what has reminded me to take peace and contentment where I find it.
That little baby — I still weep for her, and I don’t even know the family. I don’t know her mom.
But her mom’s faith made relax my grip –well. The grip I thought I had, the control. No, what do I mean….
It made me unclench my fist. The fist that both holds tightly and expresses anger.
Her mama’s faith inspired me to trust God when my son stopped talking to me. With her baby in one arm, that mama held out her hand to push back death, but she also trusted that everything would be okay. Kylie would be okay. She would be okay. Even if Kylie was not healed.
It’s so much … muchness.
Neither Kylie nor her mother ever lost their muchness. And in this whole ordeal I saw the grace of God.
Now my own muchness has been on the line.
I’ve not been insane, but I’ve been contentious, and I’ve felt glued in place in the face of a slowly encroaching mudslide. It’s still coming, and I’m still stuck, although, frankly, with this heat (115!) you’d think the glue would’ve melted. But no. The heat only makes me crabby.
Jake’s still missing.
I’m still grieving.
And I have this line from an Elton John song on repeat in my head: “Hey, hey, Johnny, won’t you come out to play in your empty garden?”
I’ll be okay, but half my garden is empty.
I gave a baby up for adoption 32 years ago. [You don’t know what I did there, so I will tell you. I first wrote that I’d given a son up for adoption. I changed it to baby because I’m ambivalent about calling him my son when I didn’t raise him.] Strange, that. Feeling like I don’t have permission to call that baby my son? I don’t even know what that is. When is a child yours?
I wrote about the adoption years ago. Distilled everything down to the two days after delivery. Love bears, is what it comes down to. Love bears all things. Bear the baby and let him go, at birth, or 27 years after.
When Jake was born, four years later, I said, out loud, “I get to keep him.”
Your kids never seem to remember what good stuff you did for them before age 10. I know I don’t remember a lot of what my mother did (but I’ve always thought it was because, you know, she didn’t do much good stuff.) (Wrong-o!)
Mine don’t remember a lot of my being present: holding Jake’s arthritic knee under warm water when he was a toddler crying from pain; playing hide and shriek in the dark; laying out on the lawn and looking at the stars; cuddling when he’d let me. Not a cuddler, that one.
Or: Swimming in mud. (Not me, thank you.)
Taking a break from mud play for a picture.
They knew they loved each other, once.
I hold these still frames tightly, the way I can’t hold my boys. I fooled myself for a while, but now, acceptance is trickling in. Or, well, resignation right now. Real acceptance’ll be later, I guess.
I am counting on this:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NASB
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Bears all things.
My boys: I love you.
This is me, hoping.
“The people who say you are not facing reality actually mean that you are not facing their idea of reality. Reality is above all else a variable. With a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before.” Margaret Halsey
I’m in this godawful weird place where I don’t know how to live my life. I don’t know where to look for my son, I don’t know what waiting looks like, and I still have responsibilities. I just got a reminder that I need to order books for my classes this fall, another reminder that I have to set a date for an upcoming Kiwanis installation, my cat wants food AND snuggles, and I have a pile of things that require my attention. It’s all my stuff. None of it’s bad. It’s just stuff I need to do.
And yet, when I take shaky steps forward, practice being present, small black shards splinter off inside me.
My youngest son said yesterday, “Mom. You forgot that last time Jake cut you off, he wasn’t going to tell you then, either. You found out by accident. Remember?” I haven’t really processed this statement. I don’t even know how. Is Jake being a nomad, or is he dead? Is he all right? Does he have enough to eat?
[See painting and info here.]
Reality is…all the shards.