"Jesus, Tender shepherd Hear me, Bless this little child tonight. Through the darkness, be down near me, keep me safe 'til morning's light...."
"God bless: Mommy and Daddy, Andrew and Wesley, Eileen and Karen, all my friends and loved ones, help me be a good little girl, praise in Jesus's name, Amen."
I don't know how old I was when I memorized this prayer. I don't know when my mom spoke it to me first, but I don't recall ever going to bed during my childhood without it prayed over me and with me. As I got older, I learned it was a family prayer because when saying bedtime prayers with my cousin on one of our many sleepovers, she held the same prayer in her little heart as well. And she shared how she added to it, to make it more inclusive of everyone she loved, which I immediately copied because I, too, wanted to pray for everyone I loved.
As I had kids of my own, the prayer changed to speak over my children as part of their bedtime ritual. While I don't know if my older kids still say it, I hope that one day, when words fail them, when they don't know what else to pray, that they have it to fall back on as I did this last year.
It has been a full year since my oldest brother, Wes, passed away. He was 49. I had just dropped my first born off at college and was a week in to a new coaching job at one of the most competitive high schools in our area when he passed unexpectedly. It was crushing. Actually, when I stop and let myself feel it, it still crushes me. In that first few weeks, I had no words to describe the grief, no words that I could think to pray, except for the childhood prayer I started my prayer time with every night before bed. Night after night, I prayed the familiar prayer and just ended with 'please hold us' as I quietly wept. It's all I had.
These last few years, the passing of so many loved ones, Andrew (14), Elliana (9), my dear friend Mary, and now my own brother, topped off with a pandemic and other personal struggles, has been rough. But as my big brother, a staple of my life, Wes's departure was so deeply shocking. I was not ready for the decisions that come with closing out someone's life. It was a level of adulting so unfamiliar, I found myself googling things such as: 'where to buy custom sports urns' and 'the first 10 things to do when someone dies'. Thank God for the internet. Whoever you are who put together such thorough lists to help guide others on a path that no one wants to have to take, thank you. Truly.
And, "through the darkness, be down near me," we got through it.
I knew the anniversary of Wes's death was coming. I had filled the schedule with distractions that err on the side of insanity ("You need me to host 43 teenage girls for a High School Soccer Team sleep over? I'm in!") and had done an inventory of my life and started purging the unnecessary junk, with a special emphasis on the "started" part because holy smokes, Batman! We have collected a lot of junk! There were a few choice words as I sifted through our stuff, a few terse things said to a couple less than excited kids....(sorry you guys!)...and a few moments that stopped me in my tracks as something would trigger a memory that I had not anticipated. (That tiger blanket that Wes used to throw over himself for us to try to fight him....that stuffed animal he gave me when I was like 8....the pictures....heart tugging reminders....)
My sister and brother and I had ordered flowers to send home, planned a zoom call, readied ourselves. I even bought a new watch for myself as if that would settle things up....Wes had a thing for watches after all... Yet, I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotions, the reminders, the sudden need to escape, the tears. Someone once said that grieving is like the ocean.....you will feel big waves of feelings that rush over you and over time, the waves get farther and farther apart. I had assumed, in my arrogance, that I was done with the waves. My grief surfing, as with the longboarding of my youth, was over. I had no more big feelings, just a little hole in my heart that I had learned to live with by pushing to the side and filling my time with everything but hard emotions. Insert face smack emoji here. Where is that surfboard to cling to?
"Keep me safe 'till morning's light...."
Today, all is quiet. We made it through. The sleepover, the zoom call, the flowers, the kind gestures of friends who quietly remembered. The waves. And, now I know how big and wide that ocean truly is. Wes loved the ocean. He loved to surf. And he loved his family deeply. He did not always know how to express that but there was never a doubt. It is unreal to me that it has been a year. But here we are. We are left with a silence we were not prepared for, an abyss that extends far beyond the absence of a birthday text this year from the guy who was always first to remember. We are left with the recognition of how important it is to love each other wildly and fiercely while we are able. And the waves ARE farther apart but the ocean, well, it is still so very wide and deep.
Rest in peace big brother. I miss you.
God bless....and thank you for existing in the first place. Amen.